Talon and Tail
Chapter 11: Detention with Snape
Post date: 12/20/17
Author's note and disclaimer: I'm baaaaack (finally) and despite the passage of time, it still all belongs to Joanne Rowling! Enjoy!
Harry peered over his shoulder, but again, there was nothing there. He had felt tense since returning to Hogwarts. Nightmares of Voldemort plagued him every night, and he thought the lack of good sleep must have been getting to him, because he had been unable to shake the feeling that he was being followed. He often thought he heard a shuffling noise or a light step behind him, but it only ever happened when he was alone. The teen was still ruefully studying the corridor he had just passed through when his forward momentum was interrupted by the presence of a warm body with a familiar crisp, woody scent.
If it weren't for Draco's quick reflexes, they probably both would have fallen, Harry thought, but the feeling of the blond wizard's strong hands gripping his shoulders only encouraged the prickling hot blush creeping up his neck. He was a bloody athlete; why was he so clumsy? Harry recoiled, shaking off the other teen's grip.
"What are you doing here, Malfoy?" he spat.
One blond eyebrow quirked upwards and a sneer spread across his pale features. "Manners, Potter, please. In case you've forgotten, Slytherins are housed in the dungeons…" He paused, smirking at Harry before continuing. "Furthermore, Professor Snape has seen fit to give us both detention tonight. Perhaps he thought it would be a suitable context to have a private chat with the two of us, you see?"
"With the way you've been acting, I don't really foresee any conversations I'd want to share with you anymore, Malfoy," Harry hissed, glancing over his shoulder again before adding hotly, "Do you honestly enjoy ramming your tongue down Parkinson's throat or is it all just part of the Death Eater training?"
To Harry's surprise, Draco's face remained expressionless. "Whatever, Potter. You know, when the Weasel's around as a point of comparison, I tend to forget how stupid you really are," the blond teen drawled coolly. "But now I've been reminded… you really don't know anything, do you?"
"I know you've been acting a right git!" Harry snarled, studying Draco's blank face and drawing in a shaky breath before continuing more quietly, "It's like nothing's even changed–"
Draco broke in, moving closer to Harry again. "Finally, Potter. You've started seeing sense." His gray eyes were flinty. "You are a Gryffindor. I am a Slytherin. Nothing that really matters has changed, not here in this school. Cuddle with the Weaselette, try to free the house elves with bloody Granger, do whatever you want for all I care, but mind your own business and stay out of mine, because you know nothing."
Harry glared at the infuriating blond and balled a fist around the handle of his wand. His throat felt tight with anger and he wanted nothing more than to hex Draco… was there some memory curse that would take the impudent brat back to the summer, when politics mattered but didn't seem as omnipresent? Hermione would know, he thought abstractly. He opened his mouth – either to tell the other teenager to get bent or to throw a curse, he wasn't exactly sure – but before he could say anything, Draco had already turned away dismissively, moving toward the door of Snape's office.
"Just leave it well enough alone, Potter," the blond muttered darkly. "Let's get on with this," he said, knocking on the oak door of the Potions Master's office, "or Snape's going to give us an actual detention instead of this fake one."
The words had barely tumbled from the teen's pink lips when the door swung open and Harry felt a crackle of magic that made Draco crumple, collapsing to the floor. Harry cried out and bolted forwards into the office, narrowly dodging Draco's prone form. Before he could look about the room, however, a low voice hissed "Legilimens," and Harry felt himself fall backwards into his own mental version of Hogwarts.
Harry immediately found and recognized Snape's forceful mental presence, which he felt now as a wintry cold wind that rushed angrily through the stone halls of Harry's mind. The teen still didn't understand how to use Occlumency with his new mental form, but he didn't want to see a repeat of the ill-fated lessons from fifth year again, either. Harry watched the green-tinged wind that represented Snape's mental self approach a long hallway that was lined with doors on either side, and bit down his sense of powerlessness. Instead, he tried desperately to imagine that it was the third floor corridor from first year, and that Hagrid's three-headed dog Fluffy stood guard, snarling, at its end.
The dog came to being in Harry's mind as a thin, wispy form, which Snape's gale quickly banished. "Try harder, Harry," the wind whistled darkly. But Harry didn't know what else to do, and as he struggled to think, to figure out some defense, the opaque wind lashed against door after door. Harry watched helplessly from some undefined point above as each door yielded, one after another, allowing a flood of memories to spill out – he saw Draco's stony gray eyes in the corridor from a few minutes prior, then a vision of the teen intertwined with Pansy Parkinson in the Great Hall exploded in front of his face. When that cleared, he watched the blond loom over his petrified body with wand raised on the train, saw Draco excitedly handing him Regulus's sketchbook, then felt the heat of the other teen flush against his own body on the ground of Grimmauld's garden. When the prickly feeling returned to his groin at the memory of Draco pressed against him after the Quidditch game, Harry cried out in shame and imagined a golden wind of his own that furiously gusted against Snape's dark presence, pushing him away from the memories of Draco.
The professor's wind seemed, momentarily, to yield, since it dwindled and grew faint. But then Harry felt it surge violently in another area of his mental castle and the thick stone walls of his mind trembled. Harry heard himself cry out – the attack seemed to rock his very foundation, as though he himself were a castle that was being assaulted by Muggle bombs or cannons – and he wondered abstractly if the cry came from his physical body or was only in his mind. Then he wrapped himself in the imagined golden wind and launched himself downward, toward the pain.
He whipped down staircases and through passageways and finally found Snape's emerald squall in a small, dim courtyard that was overrun with lush, creeping ivy, wild lilies, and thick moss. Harry tried to imagine a storm of light that would overpower Snape's presence and shake him from his mind, but then the man's own tempest lashed against a group of thick black vines that were choking a pale tree in one corner of the courtyard. Suddenly, snippets of visions and nightmares inundated the courtyard: red, flashing eyes in which a fiery blaze reflected; the horrific screams of a group of Muggle children at a school; a slithering snake with jaws open wide; a stampede of centaurs with their eyes gouged out; a towering giant that threw a unicorn foal off a cliff; a high pitched laughter that grew madder and madder as Harry cringed, forced to listen…
At last, the cold laughter broke and Harry felt Snape withdraw from his mind as the shadowy dungeon office came into focus around him once again. He was cold with sweat and could feel his knees trembling in the wake of the unexpected mental assault, and he was sure Snape could read the fury in his eyes when he finally managed to look up. Before Harry could say anything to the man who stood rigid before him, wand in hand, however, Snape coolly declared, "I have three simple questions for you, Mr. Potter."
"Have at it, then," Harry snarled, straightening his shoulders.
"Have at it, sir," Snape whispered dangerously. "We're back in Hogwarts, Mr. Potter, and we must remember our places, or others will see fit to remind us of them."
"Ask away, sir," Harry said, raising his chin defiantly. "I'm next, and I have plenty of questions to ask."
Harry's insolent tone was met with a stoic expression. "First, Mr. Potter, why did you fail to protect your ally?"
"I didn't exactly expect my professor to attack us in detention, did I?" Harry snapped, feeling his hands balling into fists by his sides.
"Then you have learned nothing from young Barty Crouch, or from Moody himself, or from Tonks, or from Lupin, or from me, for that matter," Snape hissed. "Need I preach the old refrain? Constant vigilance… remember it, or someone else will remind you."
Harry felt himself flush hot, but before he could respond, Snape continued. "Next question. You lived with your Muggle relatives a long time, did you not?" When Harry jerked out a nod, the man proceeded, "Vernon and Petunia didn't have a habit of leaving their front door unlocked, did they?"
"No, sir," Harry replied tightly, feeling both angry about the reminder of the cruel family members he was forced to spend his summers with and confused by Snape's reference to them.
"As I thought," Snape drawled, inspecting his fingernails as though he were rather uninterested in Harry's response. "Third question, Mr. Potter. If my memory serves me well, the Dursleys keep a reasonably impressive garden. Do they allow the weeds to grow amuck in the summer, or do they pull them out?"
"I pull them out," Harry countered crossly, "and have done since I was four. And they always lock the front door, much like how they used to lock the cupboard they made me sleep in. What's your point, sir?"
Snape's eyes flashed, but he answered in a silky, quiet voice. "When I originally taught you the craft of Occlumency, Potter, I instructed you to clear your mind, even though I knew, of course, that there were other methods of approaching the art."
The professor paused, casting a glance at Draco's still shape. Harry fought down a fierce pang of guilt; after everything that had happened at the Ministry a few months before, after Cedric, Snape was right – Harry should have been ready to defend Draco. The man before him, however, seemed unperturbed by the unconscious body as he continued, "You may have developed a new method of defense, Mr. Potter, but your mind is still quite vulnerable. You have had more visions."
"It's not exactly easy to stop them, sir," Harry responded through gritted teeth. He felt like his blood was boiling; back at Hogwarts it seemed that Snape was just as intolerable as he had always been before, just pointing out all his failures without ever teaching him how to do it right.
"So I have seen," the man replied, although remarkably, his tone wasn't sardonic, but somber. "Shall we test Mr. Malfoy's mental defenses, then?"
Snape turned abruptly to Harry's left, and with a wave of his wand, the blond teen at his feet awoke. Before the warlock could complete the utterance of his invasive mental spell, however, Harry yanked his wand from his robes and cried, "Expelliarmus!"
Yet, rather than seeing his professor disarmed, he watched the man dodge his spell with a quick step backwards. "Very well, Mr. Potter," the man conceded with a small nod. "I see that some lessons do eventually stick, after all. Now, Mr. Malfoy, a quick examination is in order, if your ally here will allow it," he drawled. "Legilimens."
Harry watched the magical exchange with a sort of perverse curiosity. Draco seemed to fare better than he had, Harry could admit, although the blond teen's face was tense. Snape also appeared to spend less time rooting around in Malfoy's head than in his, Harry noted.
When Snape released Draco from the spell, Harry saw that the blond wizard's hands were trembling slightly, but he was quiet and appeared calmer than Harry himself felt. In turn, their tall professor's face was grave as he looked back and forth between the two teens. "Doors can be opened or broken down, Mr. Potter, and castle gardens must be carefully kept. In turn, Mr. Malfoy, pools of water can be drained and the contents left exposed, or they can even be used to drown an opponent in his or her own mind. It is much harder, however, to identify the weak points of a clear expanse of water."
The man wheeled around and made his way further into the gloomy chamber, motioning to tell the two teens to sit in the chairs in front of his desk. Harry followed Draco over to the desk and dropped into the chair closer to the door, eyeing Snape, who had settled into his own seat, steepling his fingers together. "If you find this strategy more manageable than simply clearing your minds," he said, studying the two teens, "then you must learn to use it with care. You both know more now than you once did, and while knowledge is power, it is also a vulnerability – especially with the Dark Lord," he murmured sinisterly.
"If you mean what we learned looking through Regulus's things over the summer, sir, than I'd say we still know rather too little," Harry spat, one hand massaging his throat. He glanced sideways at Draco, but the blond remained impassive.
Snape quirked one brow, then opened his robe slightly to pull out a vial that was tucked in a pocket against his chest. "Perhaps so, Mr. Potter." He held the flask up so that Harry and Draco could see the silver strand of a memory that quivered inside. Then he twitched his wand, and a large basin floated over from a nearby shelf to rest on the desk between them. "Have you ever used a Pensieve, Mr. Malfoy?" At Draco's jerky nod, Snape opened the glass bottle and gently shook the memory into the bowl. When the memory began to shimmer on the Pensieve's surface, he gestured to the bowl. "After you, gentlemen."
Harry felt himself tense – his last escapade into a Pensieve in Snape's office had not gone very well. But there was nothing for it. He and Draco leaned forward, and when his face touched the cool magic of the Pensieve, he felt himself whirl into a different type of world for the second time that evening.
Draco immediately began scanning his surroundings when the Pensieve's magic deposited him into the memory. He had observed memories with his father several times in the Malfoy Pensieve and had never felt like he was in any danger, but recent experiences had taught him that it was probably better to just always be on guard. He recognized the room from the memory as Snape's own office, but it was different – for one, instead of Snape sitting behind the desk in the severe wooden chair he seemed to prefer, there was a stout, fat man with shiny blond hair perched on an overstuffed armchair. The man was picking through a box of candied pineapple in his lap, and was surrounded by half a dozen teenage boys, who were all wearing Slytherin badges.
"That's Tom Riddle!" Draco heard Harry hiss. He glanced at the other teen, who pointed out a tall, handsome young man with thick dark locks. "It's Voldemort, when he was back at Hogwarts," Harry spat.
Draco immediately turned to his right to verify this new information with Snape, who nodded curtly. "Yes, Draco, Harry is right. And the professor is Horace Slughorn." When Draco heard Harry's sharp intake of breath at the name, he couldn't help but feel that he was horribly out of the loop. But before he could muse on how little he knew of his father's sworn master, Snape instructed them tersely, "Now, pay attention."
Draco returned his focus on the activity in the center of the room, where the boys were all gazing at Professor Slughorn, as if waiting for his response to some question.
The professor smiled at the Slytherin teenagers around him before looking at Riddle and pointing a wagging finger in his direction. "Tom, Tom, you know that it's not my place to confirm any rumors," he said with a wink. "But I have to say, I'm glad not to have to keep any secrets from you; you always know more about the goings-on in this school than half its staff!"
The dark-haired teen grinned and the other boys laughed and looked at him admiringly. Draco glanced sharply at Harry, who was intently watching the scene unfold and didn't seem to notice Draco's gaze.
"You've certainly got a way with people, my dear boy," Slughorn chuckled, gesturing to the gilded box of sweets with one hand and raising his wine glass in a toast to the teen in the other. "In fact, I very much anticipate that you'll rise to become Minister of Magic within a couple of decades. Less than that, even, if you keep sending me pineapple – I have a very good network at the Ministry."
The young Dark Lord responded with a small smile as the others chortled again. Draco studied their faces. He didn't recognize any of them as someone he knew personally, but an older boy to Riddle's left had the Parkinson line's short nose and might be Pansy's uncle, and a thickset boy closer to Slughorn had the chestnut curls typical of the Rosier family. What they all had in common, though, was the evident deference they showed to Riddle as their leader, even though some of them were older. They were all also obviously from families of the sacred twenty-eight, Draco judged, studying their refined features and careful postures on the stools that surrounded Slughorn's desk.
"I'm not sure I would enjoy a career in politics, sir," Riddle said when the other boys fell silent. "My background isn't exactly appropriate for the field."
Draco saw a few of the other Slytherins smirk in response to Riddle's remark, and he suddenly realized that he had no idea what the Dark Lord's lineage was. He had never thought to ask his father, since he imagined that Lucius would only ever agree to bow down to a pureblood of impeccable ancestry.
"Nonsense," Slughorn declared, shrugging off Riddle's negative reply. "I'm always right about my favorite students, Tom, and I know you'll thrive in any future you choose."
The brass clock on the walk sounded the turn of the hour and Slughorn jumped. "Sweet Merlin, it's already past curfew. You had best be on your way, boys, or we'll all be in trouble. Parkinson, I expect you to have that essay done by tomorrow, or I'll have to take points. Same goes for you, Rosier."
The boys smirked again and bid the professor good night, filing obediently out of the room. Draco studied Riddle, who had stayed behind, and then shot a quick glance at Snape, who was still standing to his right, but was looking across toward Harry, rather than watching the memory progress in front of him. When the professor noticed Draco watching him, he nodded curtly towards Slughorn and Riddle and Draco redirected his gaze to the pair.
"Go on then, Tom; you're a prefect, you know, I wouldn't want you to get into any trouble on my account," Slughorn said sternly.
"Yes, sir, I just had a question for you."
"Well then, what is it, my dear boy?"
"Sir," Tom said quietly, "I was curious what you know about – about Horcruxes?"
Draco heard Harry suck in a breath, and his own muscles stiffened on their own accord. At his side, Snape was utterly still. In the brief pause that followed Riddle's question, Draco examined the old Potions professor. Slughorn's visage had changed and Draco could see that he was hesitating. His fat fingers were tense around the package of candied fruit. Yet, when he answered, his voice was steady, only slightly higher pitched. "Doing a bit of research for that Defense Against the Dark Arts project, are you?"
Draco recognized that Slughorn was showing his true Slytherin colors now. This conversation had become a dangerous dance, and it was obvious that Slughorn knew it, and knew that Riddle's conversation had nothing to do with schoolwork.
"Just so, sir," Riddle answered with a deferent nod. "I ran into the term while doing some extra reading, but I didn't fully understand it."
"Of course, of course… as it happens, the Hogwarts library is rather limited on that particular subject, Tom…" Slughorn said slowly, peering carefully into the glass of wine he still clutched in one hand. "They're very Dark, Horcruxes, very dark indeed…"
"But surely you know everything there is to know about them, right, sir? – Sorry – not to suggest – I just know how well-studied you are, so – well I thought if anyone would be able to tell me, you could – but I don't mean to be a bother, sir –"
Draco could have laughed, if the memory were a bit different, if it weren't the Dark Lord himself who was so clearly manipulating the corpulent Professor Slughorn. He recognized the hesitant tone, the earnest expression, the subtle flattery, all carefully measured. They were all strategies that he himself had used at different times to get what he wanted from people. It was apparent to him that Riddle was fervently seeking more information about Horcruxes, whatever they were, by any means possible.
Slughorn continued to avoid Riddle's gaze, instead leaning over to slosh more liquid into his goblet. "Well, I have always known you to be a dedicated student… an overview of the subject can't hurt, then, can it? Just to give the adequate background for the other research you're doing, of course… A Horcrux is the term used for an object in which a person has hidden part of their soul."
"I don't really understand how that works, though, sir," Riddle answered, his eyebrows knitting together in apparent confusion. Draco eyed the handsome teen's hands, which twitched slightly, and thought that they belied his voice and face.
Slughorn was now utterly incapable of hiding his discomfort, but he continued nonetheless. "Well, someone who wants to make a Horcrux would have to split their soul – separate part of it and hide it in some chosen object, outside the body. Then, although their physical body might be destroyed, they cannot die, because part of the soul remains undamaged. But of course… existence as a fraction of a soul in a Horcrux… it's a horrific alternative to death. Most anyone would say that death is preferable."
Riddle was leaning forward eagerly now, eyes glowing, and he prompted Slughorn further, "But how do you split your soul?" Draco felt a shudder run down his spine.
"Well," the Potions professor hesitated, "of course you know that the soul is not intended to be divided… Splitting it is unnatural, it's an abhorrent act."
"But how would you do it?"
"The soul splits when you commit an act of the deepest evil – when you murder an innocent soul. A wizard who wishes to create a Horcrux would kill someone, and purposefully employ the damage in his soul to his advantage… he would capture the torn piece –"
"Capture it? But how –?"
"There are ways, I would imagine, I do not know!" Slughorn threw up one hand as if to ward off a physical attack and then stared at Tom for the first time in several minutes, taking on a desperate, pleading tone, "Do I look like a murderer? Do I look as though I have tried such a thing?"
"Of course not, sir," Riddle blurted, "of course not. I apologize, I didn't mean to offend, I'm merely curious…"
"Don't apologize, dear boy…" Slughorn said brusquely, now waving the hand he still held up in the air as though he was shooing away a ghost. "It's natural to be somewhat curious about such things… Wizards with your level of intelligence are always inquisitive about certain areas of magic…"
"Yes, sir," said Riddle. "But, sir, I do wonder – I'm just curious, that is – would just one Horcrux be sufficient? Can the soul only be split once? Wouldn't it be preferable, and make you more powerful, to divide the soul in more pieces…? Seven is an important number in magic, wouldn't seven pieces be –?"
"Merlin, Tom!" Slughorn cried. "What a thought! Seven?! Isn't it bad enough to imagine killing just one person? And to divide the soul so… it's bad enough to divide it once but in seven pieces…"
Slughorn was gawping at Riddle with open despair now, and Draco peeked to his right to see that Snape, rather than horrified, was grave and had an air of stern determination.
Draco looked back to the memory to see Slughorn gripping the edge of his desk with trembling fingers. He sucked in a breath and then muttered, "But then, all of this is merely hypothetical, of course… Just an academic query…"
"Of course, sir," Riddle reassured him quickly.
"Yes, of course, just normal academic curiosity… but all the same, Tom – you mustn't mention the topic elsewhere. It's a banned subject at Hogwarts, you know… but of course, you're just a dedicated scholar, that's all…"
"I swear won't say a word, sir. Thank you for your trust," Riddle responded smoothly, and he finally made his way from the room, passing by Draco and his two companions with an expression of jubilant, eerie happiness.
"That is all, Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Potter," Snape said calmly. "Let's retire to my office."
Draco carefully restrained a shudder when he pulled out of the Pensieve and looked around at Snape's office once again. It wasn't until he saw it with his own eyes that it sunk in that the Dark Lord had really been here, in Hogwarts, years prior. For some reason, he had never given much thought to the Dark Lord's early life, and it was disturbing to observe the dark wizard that he so feared at an age so close to his own.
At his side, Harry was already on his feet, leaning forward over Snape's desk and staring intently at the man before him. "So – the diary – it was a Hor—" Abruptly he choked and sputtered, and Snape let out an exaggerated sigh.
"Sit down, Potter," he drawled, gesturing to the wooden chair that stood vacant behind the raven-haired teen. When Harry hesitated, Snape merely raised one eyebrow. It wasn't until the teenager threw himself into the chair, rolling his eyes, that Snape murmured the counter-curse and Harry gasped, massaging his throat. "Really, Mr. Potter, you must learn to control yourself," the professor murmured.
"Can't you remove that stupid curse now?" Harry spat. "We know what they are now! So, the diary?" he repeated, glaring fixedly at Snape. Draco thought Harry must have already seen this version of Tom Riddle more than once before, since he himself was still processing that aspect of the memory, and hadn't been able to really think through the full implications of the Horcruxes yet.
"No, I will not remove the curse," Snape said softly. "On either of you. I will only do so when I am confident enough in your Occlumency skills that the knowledge won't get either of you into trouble. Understood?"
Draco rapidly consented with a sharp nod, and when Harry finally muttered his agreement also, Snape continued. "And yes, Mr. Potter, the diary was a Horcrux. There was also a ring, which the Headmaster and I have every reason to believe was another Horcrux, and which he destroyed during the summer. If we presume that the Dark Lord followed through with his plan to divide his soul into seven pieces – and I suspect he did so indeed – and that he kept one piece for himself, residing in his body, then there would remain four Horcruxes yet to be destroyed. One of those four, I suspect, is the locket that you saw in Regulus's sketchbook."
The room fell silent for a moment. Draco glanced uneasily at Harry, then at his Head of House. He felt very out of place in the conversation, and wasn't sure why Snape had included him in it – he didn't know why the man hadn't just obliviated him, really, but he wasn't about to ask, either.
Draco saw Harry's hand balling into a fist around his wand as he slowly framed a second question, his voice gruff. "How long have you known about this, sir? And Dumbledore?"
"I began to suspect that something was amiss in your first year, but I was only told minimal details of the diary at the time, and thus was unable to give a name to my suspicions until this summer, after the Headmaster's encounter with the ring. I imagine Dumbledore knew much longer, knowing what he did of the diary. But neither of us had any idea that the Dark Lord might have made as many as six Horcruxes until I was able to retrieve the memory from Slughorn mere weeks ago."
Harry flew out of his seat once again, and the chair clattered to the floor with a bang. "HE KNEW ALL THIS TIME, AND HE NEVER THOUGHT IT WORTHWHILE TO TELL ME?!" the teenager roared. "THERE'S A BLOODY PROPHECY SAYING IT'S VOLDEMORT OR ME BUT HE NEVER THOUGHT THIS LITTLE DETAIL MATTERED?!" Draco, horrified, couldn't rip his eyes from Harry's angry profile. There were red spots high on his cheeks, and his chest heaved. He seemed to have forgotten entirely that Draco was even in the room.
Snape, however, was still unbelievably composed. He rose to his feet and with a wave of his wand, Harry's chair was righted. "If you wish to continue this conversation, Mr. Potter, you will sit down and discuss it with at least a decent performance of calmness."
Harry let out a furious groan and flung himself back into the chair. At that, Snape continued quietly, "I demand control from you, Harry, because if you are unable to control yourself before me, you will never be able to control your mind before the Dark Lord. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, sir," Harry scowled.
"Very well. The Headmaster has made many wise decisions regarding the Dark Lord and your role in this war, Mr. Potter, but he has also made some with which I disagree. We have arrived at a point in which I believe it prudent to begin deciding some things for myself. My intentions are to win this war by whatever means necessary, but also not to uselessly endanger the people who are the unwilling pawns of it, namely yourself and Mr. Malfoy here."
Harry buried his head in his hands, and when he spoke again, his voice was hoarse and somewhat muted. "I've always listened to Professor Dumbledore. But lately, he hasn't told me bollocks. Instead, it's been you and bloody Malfoy who are always around." He slowly raised his head, glaring at Draco, then at Snape. "Why should I trust either of you?"
Snape shot an appraising look at Draco before redirecting his gaze to Harry, who had dipped his head back into his hands. "Peter Pettigrew betrayed us all, Harry. There were signs, but nobody wanted to see them. It was easier, after the fact, to think that Black was the traitor, than to realize that we should have seen Wormtail for who he was all along." Harry's shoulders quivered, but he didn't look back up. Snape continued, "I can't tell you to trust me, or Draco. All I can tell you is to pay attention to our actions, not just our words, and then decide things for yourself."
Harry jerked to his feet and hurriedly turned his face away from Draco and their Potions professor, making his way to the door. "Thank you, sir, for showing me the memory," he said tightly, before slipping out of the office.
Draco ran a shaky hand through his blond locks before looking up at Snape, who had stood again at Harry's abrupt exit. "So, a prophecy, huh?" he asked, although with everything that had happened that evening, somehow this felt like the least surprising news. "Is it even possible to win this, professor?" he whispered, peering at the man. He felt certain that the Potions Master could read the panic and desperation in his eyes.
The older man was quiet for a long moment, and then he reached out and squeezed Draco's shoulder in an uncharacteristic show of warmth. "We'll find a way, Draco. Harry is strong, and so are you. You, Harry, me, Weasley, Granger, even Dumbledore – we'll all have our parts to play in this before the end." He paused and then squeezed Draco's shoulder again. "We'll find a way. Now go on, and get some rest. We'll talk more about all of this in a few days, once Potter's had a chance to calm down. Just keep practicing your Occlumency defenses and be careful."
Draco nodded, and made his way to the door. "Thank you, sir, for trusting me." He hesitated with one hand on the door handle, swallowing back bile at the idea that he was echoing the Dark Lord's words from decades ago. Yet, he felt it needed to be said, so he continued, "And I swear, I won't tell a soul – about any of it." He didn't wait for any response before exiting the room. He need time to think all this through.
As the clock struck midnight, Severus poured himself another glass of Firewhiskey, which he quickly threw back with a groan. He had known that this would not be a pleasant conversation, he reminded himself. His son had every right to be furious – hell, he was angry too.
But right now, Severus was more worried than angry. He had seen something dark and insidious in Harry's mind the night of the vision with Nagini, and this evening, for the second time, he was concerned by what he saw there. The dark vine in the courtyard at the center of Harry's mind frightened him, even more so because he didn't know what it was, or what it meant. The way it lurked in Harry's mind reminded Severus of a long-term Imperius curse, or even a powerful Memory charm, but the boy's brain didn't show the normal signs of trauma that such spells would cause. Maybe what Dumbledore always said was right, Severus finally mused, and Voldemort's attack on Harry when he was an infant had just left permanent traces, scar tissue, as it were. Nonetheless, although Severus knew he would be busy training the young Slytherin and Gryffindors for what lie ahead, and tracking down the remaining Horcruxes, he promised himself he wouldn't forget about the mystery in his son's mind either. He meant every word of what he had said to Harry and then to Draco. He would find a way to win this war, whatever means necessary, and more than that, he would find a way to get his son out of this mess, alive.
Author's note: As you will all have realized, the scene with Slughorn's memory is heavily based on Chapter Twenty-three of The Half-Blood Prince, although I tried to change most of the descriptions and dialogue. Credit where credit is due, Ms. Rowling. That being said – guys, I'm back! I hope I still have some readers out there. It was never my intention to leave it this long, but 2017 has been a heck of a year. Now I'm ready to continue on this journey once again! I'll do my best to update with Chapter 12 much sooner, but in the meanwhile, feel free to let me know what you think of the long-overdue Chapter 11!