Talon and Tail
Disclaimer: All recognizable ideas and concepts belong to J.K. Rowling. Original plot ideas are my own.
Author's note: Story is AU, beginning after Harry's fifth year (OOTP). Several elements of HBP and DH are incorporated. Warnings: Severitus-based and eventual slash pairing. Reviews are very much appreciated!
Chapter 1: Unending Summer
Anyone who glanced haphazardly at Severus Snape at that particular moment might think that he was petrified for how still and quiet he was. The castle itself matched the man's status; the summer holidays were more than halfway through and all was silent in the dungeons as in the rest of the vast building. That would explain why the Potions Master wasn't muttering to himself as he often did late on school nights, grading papers with scarlet ink and sipping his fourth cup of strong black tea. But it was quite odd, or at least it would be for anyone who knew the man well, that there was no potion bubbling at the small station he kept in his office, no thick new book open on his desk exposed to his intense study, no fresh herbs waiting to be crushed in the marble mortar and pestle… In short, anyone who knew Professor Snape well could attest that his behavior was somewhat off.
Indeed, upon closer examination, Severus Snape looked a bit like a man possessed. He peered into a small, broken mirror fragment with peculiar fascination, and every now and then, his thick brow twitched very slightly, interrupting his utter stillness momentarily.
What absolutely no one would expect was what exactly Severus was viewing in said mirror. Surely, even if he stated outright, "I'm watching Harry Potter sleep," nobody would believe it. Honestly, the sallow wizard hardly believed it himself… Yet, in the seemingly interminable month since Remus Lupin's unexpected visit to Hogwarts, it had become his nightly obsession.
As Severus watched Harry breathe, sigh, whimper, toss, and turn in his sunken twin bed in the smallest bedroom at Number 4, Privet Drive, the man's thoughts positively raced. He turned the werewolf's words over in his head, time and time again. "Severus," the wan man had murmured when he was on his way out of the room, long fingers already on the polished door handle, "Maybe it's finally time." Snape hadn't responded, and Lupin didn't turn back to see his expression.
But Snape had started to believe that Lupin was right. He was grateful for the mirror, for the insight that it granted him into Harry's life. Remus said he had found it among Sirius Black's effects after the Ministry catastrophe, that he recognized it as something the Marauders had the habit of using to talk to one another over the summers back when they were in Hogwarts. "There used to be four pieces," he explained with a sigh. "But two of them have been lost, and the other… well, Harry has it." The lanky man hesitated, and his voice hitched slightly. "I think Sirius wouldn't mind you having this piece. I hope you use it well."
Perhaps Remus hadn't known the depth of what he was doing by giving Severus this fragment of the Marauders' history. But honestly, it was more likely that he knew exactly what he was doing, and exactly how it would affect the man… Severus sighed as he examined the dark-haired fifteen-year-old on the other end of the magical mirror struggle and fuss, even in his supposed time of rest. Tonight, after weeks of contemplating it, he was finally, finally inclined to agree with Lupin's hesitant proposal. Perhaps it was time for Severus to be a father to his troubled teenage son at last, after all.
His fingers trembled and he put the mirror down on his desk with a sharp tap. Harry wasn't going to take this easily. Yet, at his next thought, Severus couldn't restrain the faint smirk that twisted his face: Draco Malfoy wouldn't be too keen on his role in Snape's plan either. But there wasn't too much either of the teenagers would be able to do about it, was there?
Many miles away, Harry Potter's eyes snapped open and immediately went to the small piece of mirror that was propped up on his chest of drawers as he cursed his sadness and his nearsightedness for tempting his aching heart. He shoved his glasses on to be sure but, yet again, there was no movement in the broken mirror shard that Sirius had gifted him several months prior. It was just his tired brain and fuzzy eyes playing tricks with his emotions, teasing him into thinking he had heard Sirius's snapping fingers or seen a flash of his godfather's thick dark hair. But why was his mind plaguing him this way for weeks now, when before, the pain had principally manifested in long, agonizing nightmares about Sirius's fall through the veil?
The teenager consciously slowed and deepened his breathing the way that Hermione had taught him, and his fingers balled into fists much like Ron's did when he was feeling pressured. Harry was determined. He would not let the visions he faced in his sleep start blurring into his wakened reality like he had over the past year. He sprung up from his bed and went to the dresser, firmly poking the corner of the mirror fragment so it fell on its face. He looked, forlorn, at Hedwig's empty cage. He knew it was better to let her fly free as much as possible during the summer months so as not to provoke the Dursleys unnecessarily, but he missed her. Tucked underneath the corner of the cage was a slightly crumpled letter from Hermione and a clipped Daily Prophet article. At least the Ministry was finally coming to terms with Voldemort's return, Harry thought, reflecting on Rita Skeeter's slightly panicked tone in her latest article. The journalist really was more suited to gossip than to advice about how to properly ward one's home. Still, at least something good had come out of the disaster in the Ministry, since Fudge was at last willing to address the crisis with the British public. And Hermione seemed to be enjoying traipsing around Australia, of all places, with her parents.
His heart only slightly lightened with thoughts of his bushy haired friend, Harry returned to the bed with a resounding groan. He just wanted to sleep until September, even if the nightmares did torture him. At least when term started back he wouldn't be so alone.
Meanwhile, Draco Malfoy lay rigidly in his bed in his corner bedroom on the second floor of Malfoy Manor. His fingers twitched uneasily around the brilliant silver snitch his father had ordered specially made for him as a gift in fourth year. He, unlike Harry, very much wanted to be able to stay as awake as possible until September, thank you very much. Trust him to be able to sleep with Bellatrix Lestrange, of all people, in the house, and the Dark Lord coming and going at all hours. No one had bothered to offer Draco an explanation for why the Dark Lord had gotten the madwoman out of Azkaban so quickly, yet had left Lucius locked up to rot. But Aunt Bellatrix showed no lack of confidence in her position. She hadn't, for example, been hesitating in the slightest to taunt Draco about the task the Dark Lord had laid on him… to kill Headmaster Dumbledore by year's end.
Draco shuddered at the thought. He wished he could talk to his mother about it, but Narcissa wasn't much for talking these days and silently quieted him with a flick of nervous eyes anytime he was tempted to try to discuss anything of importance. Draco had soon understood that things had changed, and irrevocably so. Simply put, the Dark Lord was rising quickly, and although Bellatrix appeared to be keeping pace, the Malfoys decidedly were not.
The blond teenager squirmed a bit on his cold bed, tossed the silver snitch aside, and jerked up the left sleeve of his sleeping robes to scratch furiously at his forearm. He wasn't marked but still, the clean flesh there itched constantly, seeming to mock him, as if to remind him at every hour that soon, his arm may not be clean any longer. Finally, Draco drifted into an uneasy slumber, still clutching his left arm in the darkness, the Silver Snitch buzzing quietly in circles around his toes.
The following morning welcomed in a blossoming heat wave that pervaded the castle and provoked Severus to wake feeling even more unsettled than he already had over the past month, with a thin trickle of sweat dribbling down his back and his robes sticking uncomfortably to his skin. His muscles were tight and sore from sleeping upright in his armchair once again, and he wriggled slightly in his seat.
As seemed to be the trend this summer, his first thought was on the two pupils that constantly consumed his mind, to the point that he often dreamt about them both. After watching Harry for days through the magical mirror and seeing Draco in passing on a few visits to Malfoy Manor to meet with the Dark Lord, the Death Eater-turned-spy certainly had plenty to keep his thoughts occupied. If anyone were to ask Snape for counsel regarding either Potter or Malfoy, he mused grouchily, he would undoubtedly prescribe a vial of Dreamless Sleep for the former, a round of Cooling Cream for the latter, and a couple of dosages of a good Calming Draught for the both of them. However, as no one thought to consult the Potions Master on such topics, he had decided that it was just about time that he repositioned himself so someone might.
With a lazy flick of his alder wand, Snape's robes tightened momentarily around him as they were magically cleansed, then released again with a faintly fresh scent. The wizard stood and looked round at the clock above his desk… half past seven. He had no need to reflect any further, to try and strengthen his resolve. He knew Remus was right; he needed to talk to Dumbledore. Oh, he wouldn't tell him everything, not by any means… but Severus was ready to start putting the wheels into motion, and he was going to convince Albus to let him take on Harry and Draco both.
With that thought solidly in his mind, Snape strode rapidly from his chambers towards the nearest staircase, black robes billowing behind him. It was time to talk to the Headmaster.
Almost an hour later, Snape and Dumbledore seemed to be at somewhat of an impasse as they sat in silence looking at one another across the Headmaster's massive desk. Severus noted that it was still quite empty since Harry had wrecked many of the delicate contraptions that Dumbledore so fancied in his rage at the end of the previous school year.
Even after so many years, Severus thought, he didn't know how Albus managed to look so serious yet still maintain that blasted twinkle in his eye. The wizened warlock was peering speculatively at his Slytherin spy, and he seemed to be enjoying the man's impatience, apparent in his slight fidgeting. Snape refused to be goaded by the relentless gaze, and instead just returned it complacently and tried to avoid looking at his mentor's blackened hand and forearm.
Although several weeks had passed, Dumbledore's wound still bothered him deeply. Yet, he supposed that on some level, Severus was uneasily grateful for the Headmaster's foolishness with the ridiculous cursed ring. It was Dumbledore's injury and his subsequent confession of certain suspicions about the Dark Lord as much as Remus's reluctant promptings that had convinced him that it was time to get more actively engaged in Harry's life. Severus's most recent idea to bring Draco into the picture was an added perk, even if it would complicate what was already one tough potion.
Severus knew that Dumbledore would soon die, due to the natural course of the poison if Snape had anything to say about it, but at Snape's own hand with Draco at his heels if Albus got his way. He also knew that Harry was going to have a hard year ahead, what with Albus's speculations about what it might take to finally kill the Dark Lord.
The pale wizard gritted his teeth. He was sure that he could help Harry and Draco both, and he felt obligated to do so… Perhaps, as Remus had insinuated some weeks prior, it wasn't even about just feeling obligated to protect his biological son and the "son" he had sort of adopted as his own. Perhaps, with James, Lily and now Sirius all gone, and Peter firmly entrenched in the Death Eater ranks while Remus himself was busy ingratiating himself in the werewolf packs of central London, Severus could finally step out of the woodwork, let go of some of the secrets, and just be a father to his boy and "actually live a little," as Remus had put it. Yes, of course it would be complicated with the war, but a deep corner of Severus's heart, a corner which was often denied and silenced, shut away under lock and key, craved it. He had watched Harry from afar for years; he had acted the part for years, and he was aching to reach out to his student, to his son… And to Draco also, whom he knew needed his Head of House desperately, now more than ever.
Yet, Severus knew he wasn't ready to tell Harry – or even Dumbledore – about his true relationship with the green-eyed boy, or about the full extent of his connection to Lily and the Marauders. For now, it would suffice to rest his intentions upon his continued love for Lily, which Dumbledore already knew about, and a desire to shield the Malfoy heir from imitating his own treacherous path into the dark.
Finally, the graying wizard nodded solemnly. "Alright, my dear boy," Albus said slowly. "You've surprised me, thinking to pull young Harry and Draco together like this. But perhaps you're onto something…" He paused for dramatic effect, as Severus knew he liked to do. The younger wizard resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Albus continued, "If you really think you can help Harry to heal and Draco to escape from his father's influence, then I give you my approval. Mind you, we both know it will not be easy. Both young Harry and young Draco are well set in their ways; Harry resents you incredibly and he and Draco believe they hate each other also… But, you have surprised me more than once before, have you not?" The wizard examined Severus again before continuing. "You can take them to Grimmauld Place; Spinner's End is not suitably protected."
Snape started a bit at the offer; he himself would never have thought to take them to Spinner's End, but rather, had been considering bringing them to Hogwarts. Dumbledore seemed to have guessed his thoughts however, and put up a hand before the younger professor could speak. "I think it will do Harry good to be in Sirius's old home again; it will help him heal. And if you really think you can make progress with young Draco, then it's time for him to start seeing things from the other side of the wand. Grimmauld Place is still Order headquarters, after all. You will bring him in blind so he does not become a de facto Secret Keeper, and, of course, make sure he doesn't learn anything that it wouldn't do for him to know. But Severus," Albus stroked his beard and looked sharply at the man over his half-moon spectacles, "I actually have quite a good feeling about this idea of yours. Well done."
And with that, Dumbledore popped a lemon drop in his mouth, leaned back, and stated calmly, "Now, my dear boy, you just have to convince Voldemort, Narcissa Malfoy, and, of course, Draco himself to play along. I'll take care of Harry."
Severus sighed as he rose to his feet. The day was yet young.
Several hours later on the same warm Tuesday in late July, Severus Snape found himself in the extravagant parlor of Malfoy Manor, on his knees with his long fingers digging into the plush rug. The clever spy knelt now before his other Master, locked once more into a watching, waiting game, parallel to the one he had played with Dumbledore just that morning. Snape bit his tongue as the old resentment bubbled up within him. He knew without a doubt that he was just a puppet for them both, but at this particular moment he would do well to remember the full implications of this role and not upset the Dark Lord with any rebellious musings that might slip out of his mental grip.
He met the Dark Lord's fiercely probing gaze as humbly as years as servitude had taught him to manage, seemingly yielding entirely as the cruel wizard forcefully searched his mind. He did not dare spare a glance for Narcissa, who stood with a bowed head and bated breath somewhere to Severus's right, or for Draco, who twitched nervously by his mother's side, repeatedly rubbing his left arm. Nor did he allow his eyes to wander towards Bellatrix, tall and haughty and with a mad glint in that wicked grin, standing boldly beside her beloved lord. Severus knew that to break his master's gaze meant sure torture, and to let any errant thought be seen by the Legilimens was also out of the question.
At last, Voldemort's pale, stretched lips warped into the tiniest of smiles, and Severus released a slight sigh as he knelt deeper to kiss the edge of his master's thick black robes. "It is my deepest pleasure to serve you, milord," he murmured as he slowly stood.
"Yesss, Severusss, my loyal ssservant," Voldemort responded, twirling his wicked yew wand in between skeletal fingers. "I know Bellatrix is more than willing to train young Draco herself, but it pleases me to imagine my two Hogwarts spiesss working together…"
The Dark Lord's eyes snapped immediately to Draco as the teenager let out a shaky breath. Narcissa discreetly shoved her son forward and the blond dropped to his knees before Voldemort's scrutiny. The Dark Lord's cold, hard fingers clutched the boy's chin and forced his gray eyes to look upward, into his own. He chuckled, a horrible hissing sound reminiscent of his familiar, Nagini.
"You will go with Severusss, young Draco. You will learn from him; you will strive to surpass him, even…" He ran a long fingernail across the boy's cheek. "And perhaps, when you kill that wretched Muggle-lover Dumbledore, you will finally be worthy of the Mark that bonds us, mmm? And if you succeed, I'll revisit the matter of freeing your troublesome father Lucius…"
Draco trembled and rushed to kiss the border of Voldemort's robes, following his professor's example. "Yes, milord, thank you, milord."
Inside, Draco felt like he was drowning. His mother and his favorite professor looked on with stone faces as he groveled. Somewhere in the distance, he heard his aunt's dreadful laughter.
Alone in the dark, swaying slightly on the rusted swing at the Little Whinging playground, Harry Potter felt like he had finally been able to get above water and breathe again. He read through the brief note that had arrived less than an hour before with a flurry of Fawkes' flames for the fifth time and couldn't hold back his grin. Dumbledore was coming for him tomorrow evening. Only one more day! The Headmaster didn't explain where Harry would be going for the rest of the summer; Harry thought that perhaps it would be the Burrow or maybe back to Grimmauld Place again (which was now technically his, his traitorous mind reminded him)… But honestly, he didn't much care. He was more than ready to be away from the Dursleys and back with some of his own kind. Finally, this unending summer was starting to look up.
To Be Continued…