Hello, readers, both old and new! This story is NOT abandoned or on hiatus at all. I know it has been months since the last update, but for a very wonderful and lovely reason - I had a baby!

Baby Delacroix was born in June 2020, happy and healthy. Since then, as you can imagine, all of my time and more has been devoted to new parenthood. I have been able to get moments of writing in here or there. But, I don't have the ability to write at my usual speed, for now. This means UPDATES WILL BE SPORADIC but they are not paused nor ended, at all.

I appreciate everyone's continued support, favorites, alerts, and reviews; I'm happy to hear from people in my PMs, as well. I love reading them in the late night hours with my bub in my arms and it definitely inspires me to write as much as possible, so I can update more often.

Now, without further, ado - the long waited update! Cheers!

CHAPTER X: Probe, Part II of III

Severus found himself unable to move, struck with a sudden rush of anxiety as Lord Abraxas Malfoy came to stand before him, poised and regal - but undeniably cold.

"Mr. Snape, I am Lord Abraxas Malfoy, son of the late Lord Augustus Malfoy, grandson of the late Lord Marcellus Malfoy." A pale, bejeweled hand was offered to him and a bit numbly, Severus clasped his hand, in the brief, cultured gesture that he'd been taught was a pureblood greeting amongst gentleman wizards. "With the time we have allotted, I am urgently interested in discussing a number of topics with you. Come, let us talk between ourselves, young man."

Severus knew it wasn't a question. But somehow, despite the chill of his expression, Lord Malfoy made it sound like a cordial suggestion. Of their own accord, Severus's legs propelled him to rise. He followed Lord Malfoy to a far corner, nervously eyeing the stately wizard as erected a rather tightly-casted Privacy Charm.

"Young man, you will listen as I talk and you will not interrupt. To get the most out of this discussion, please make your answers brief but truthful." Lord Malfoy gave Severus a look that made a shiver course down his spine. "Am I understood?"

Severus nodded, jerkily.

Whatever he'd expected the wizard to say, it hadn't been that. He didn't think this would be warm and encouraging chat, but neither did he expect this blunt intensity, bolstered by the sharp gleam in Lord Malfoy's thundercloud-gray eyes.

"As a son of Slytherin House, I have faith that you understand the value and strategy behind the ancient Roman tenet quid pro quo. Right now, young man, I offer you a proposal in the spirit of said tenet. You may have a moment to think, but only a moment. Am I understood, so far?"

Severus nodded once more, but this time, his dark eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion.

"I see upon your neck the markings of a Nondisclosure Charm. From a distance, I could not discern how recently applied this charm is, but now that we stand before each other - the smell of the magic indicates that this is quite recent. As well, this charm is being deeply resisted by you, which is likely causing affects and alterations in your behavior." Lord Malfoy smiled slowly, his perfect, pearl-white smile gleaming with unpleasant satisfaction. "I can see from your expression you weren't expecting me to know this."

"How did you know?" Severus couldn't help but asking.

"I am skilled beyond the boundaries of traditional magic, Mr. Snape," offered Lord Malfoy, his words clipped but not unfriendly. "How I know is neither here nor there. What is here and now is the few minutes we have left and the crucial answers I am now seeking from you. Please confirm with brevity and truth whether or not this rather risky supposition of events is correct or not."

Severus braced himself, but stood straighter.

"The use of a Nondisclosure Charm is ordinarily applied to an individual who seeks to keep a secret but is unwilling to risk the integrity of their soul with the use of a Fidelius Charm. When applied to underage wizarding children, the Nondisclosure Charm is meant to act as an on-demand Silencing Charm. It is meant to be a non-lethal but highly unethical and potentially harmful means of preventing the child from revealing information that an adult wishes to keep secret." Lord Malfoy peered down his nose at Severus. "Now, you are hardly a child, though you do technically qualify as an underage wizarding person. What I need to know from you is: what adult within this school placed a Nondisclosure Charm upon you?"

For a moment, his breath left his body.

This was indeed risky.

For the past two weeks, he'd been resisting the power of the Nondisclosure Charm as covertly as he could. If he'd been outright defiant, the Nondisclosure Charm would have cinched around his throat sharply enough to make him pass out from lack of oxygen - and then, he'd likely find himself brought back to consciousness by Dumbledore, who'd be instantly alerted to an attempt to breach the charm.

If he passed out while speaking to Lord Malfoy, right in front of Dumbledore's eyes...

Dumbledore would instantly know the cause of his sudden and seemingly unexplained fainting episode. Dumbledore would know that he'd told Lord Malfoy the secret he forbidden by magic he'd been forced to keep since the Full Moon a couple of weeks previously.

Severus pressed his lips together, resolutely.

"The adult in question is the adult with the highest authority at this school."

Lord Malfoy didn't quite smile, but his full mouth twitched for a brief moment and his eyes glowed maliciously. His bejeweled hand came up to scratch at the back of his head - and Severus didn't miss the brief flicker of his fingers nor how a wizard with blond hair darker than the Lord Malfoy sat up straighter, from his seat upon the dais.

"You're doing very well so far, Mr. Snape. I appreciate your honesty and brevity." Lord Malfoy laced his fingers together, his expression cordial as he asked: "Would you like this Nondisclosure Charm removed from you so that you may speak freely today?"

Severus narrowed his eyes.

"I thought the Nondisclosure Charm could only be removed by the caster?" asked Severus, cautiously.

"Another lie about from the highest authority at this school for the record," replied Lord Malfoy, crispy. "I can not only remove it, I can do so, right before the fool's very eyes. Decide and decide quickly, Mr. Snape."

Severus didn't have to think twice or hesitate. "Yes, please, Your Grace. I would be in your debt - "

"Ah, ah, let us not get ahead of ourselves, speaking of debts, young man. That is a conversation for another time and place." Lord Malfoy stepped closer to him, putting a hand on his shoulders as if encouraging and reassuring him. The grip upon his shoulder was tight, making Severus feel locked into what was falling into motion - though, he wasn't particularly complaining. "I shall remove the Nondisclosure Charm and you will be able to speak and testify freely before the Board of Governors, on record. It is my guess that once you speak freely of whatever is under this Nondisclosure Charm, you shall get the vegeance you seek. However, in doing this favor for you, you must uphold your end of this agreement and do a favor for me - the quid pro quo we discussed moments ago. Are you willing to do this favor I'm about to ask?"

Severus found his mind racing.

He was a Slytherin and as a son of Slytherin, he could see all the layers in what Lord Malfoy had just said.

If he accepted the offer to have the Nondisclosure Charm dissolved, he'd be in the debt of Lord Abraxas Malfoy. If he accepted the removal of the charm that had been driving him mad for the past fortnight, he would be able to speak freely - speaking freely would create a crisis he had no possible idea of knowing the outcome of. If he accepted the offer and sealed this agreement with Lord Malfoy, he'd be drawn into the use of powerful wizards in the pureblood aristocracy - and this entanglement with pureblood aristocracy would not the schoolyard rivalry he had with Potter and Black.

Severus made his decision as he stared up into Lord Malfoy's hoarfrost eyes.

"Yes, Your Grace, I am willing to return the favor that will be due to you for relinquishing the grip of this unwanted Nondisclosure Charm." Severus didn't break contact with Lord Malfoy, despite a pushing, tingling sensation behind his eyes that briefly made his head ache. "What is that you would have me do?"

For the first time in their exchange, Lord Malfoy gave him a sincere smile. A smile that made his eyes glitter like mercury and shattered glass.

"Mr. Snape, all I ask in return for this favor is that you tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth - word for word, action for action, and without holding anything back. Is this something that you can do for me?"

Severus didn't have to think twice.

"Yes, Your Grace - you have my word. I will do as you wish."

Lily couldn't help the pinch of unease that unfurled inside of her, as she sat quietly and took in what was happening around her.

This was more serious than she'd initially believed.

When Lord McKinnon resumed his seat, after declaring the alloted twenty minutes of preparation and dialogue for each side had begun, an instant dull roar of conversation had filled the room. An annoying buzzing was all that she could hear, when she tried to listen to a particular group or what they were saying. The use of Distortion Charms only strengthen her belief that something more was going on with this disciplinary hearing.

Madame Pomfrey had spent all of breakfast briefing Severus, his mother, and herself about what could be expected. Lily had listened seriously, preparing herself for a very formal hearing that would lead to punishments and promises of marked permanent records - but, this was something entirely different.

She was looking around with eyes that saw differently than before.

While she'd known that Potter and Black were wealthy, privileged boys who came from important families, Lily hadn't quite understood what that meant, truly. She had known that the Wizarding World had its own aristocracy, though no monarchy as the Muggle World did. Fabian was a part of this aristocracy as the youngest Lord in Wizarding Britain, as was Marlene as the daughter of a Lord and Heiress to her family's title. Yet, it had never registered what this meant, until now.

Potter would be the next Lord Potter, claiming the Lordship after his father - perhaps as young as Fabian had claimed his Lordship, if the elderly appearance of his father was any indication. Black would soon inherit the Lordship of his family, though he would likely be a Lord much later in life than Potter, as his grandfather was still the Lord Black and his father had yet to rise past his Heirship. Pettigrew, though without noble blood himself, was a part of this same aristocracy, and briefly, Lily wondered what a Steward was and why it seemed to be as important as Lordships.

Only Lupin seemed to be the odd one out in their gang. Lily glanced at Remus, who still stared at his hands with a deeply trouble expression; his isolation from the other boys, who were now grouped together as their parents were with Laurus Prewett and whispering heatedly, seemed to be more than a seating arrangement.

One day soon, maybe sooner than Lily knew, these boys wouldn't be schoolyard bullies who played merciless pranks and picked upon their classmates for the entertainment of themselves and others.

Potter and Black would be Lords of Ancient Wizarding Houses, with power and influence and resources that stretched beyond the halls of Hogwarts and the opinions of their peers. Their power would not be on Quidditch pitches or Duelling Clubs, but instead within the Ministry for Magic and Hogwarts Board of Governors. Their influence would have the potential to dictate laws and public policy and academic guidelines, instead of which of their classmates was liked and who was a target for their bullying. The resources they would command as Lord Potter and Lord Black would make the Wizarding World their playground, much as they treated Hogwarts like their own toy chest - with people as the toys, bent and broken to their whims.

They may have all been sixteen and still students, but that wouldn't last forever.

Lily swallowed, as her throat became somewhat dry.

Mrs. Snape had been correct, it seemed. Initially, the taciturn witch had seemed dramatic and antiquated, especially as Severus had protested that times had apparently progressed since her youth. Lily didn't think so anymore.

Severus might have his moment now, but what would happen next? What would happen if he did succeed in seeing the Marauders thoroughly trounced, cowed, and punished?

Lily turned her nervous gaze to back to the dais.

The Board of Governors were no longer a collection of stuffy school officials, who ordinarily went sight unseen by the students. She had known that the Governors were responsible for tasks such as deciding on courses, school holidays, and the like. Boring, unremarkable administrative matters that were ultimately upon the professors and staff to see implemented.

Before now, she would have never guessed that there were noble Lords presiding and leading the Board. She hadn't even known Lord McKinnon was on the Board, the Chairman of the entire body and in an important position of leadership. What did it mean for the world outside of Hogwarts, if nobles and aristocrats were the ultimate authority over students at Hogwarts - students who'd eventually leave and enter the wider Wizarding World?

Apprehension was creeping upon her, as Lily turned to Severus to share her slightly panicked thoughts -

Only to find that he wasn't seated beside her anymore.

She'd been so twisted in her own thoughts, she hadn't noticed Severus standing up and leaving the table, going to stand with Abraxas Malfoy in one of the far corners of the room.

The Lord Malfoy was speaking rapidly, his pale lips moving too quickly to be understood by anyone but Severus. Lily couldn't help but frown at the expression on Severus's face. He was completely enthralled with whatever it was the Lord Malfoy was saying, his dark eyes glittering with a hunger and eagerness that worried Lily.

Abraxas Malfoy was the father of Lucius Malfoy, if Lily had to guess. There was enough resemblance between the older Slytherin that Lily remembered from her first and second years that she would be surprised if she were wrong in her guess.

Lucius had never failed to turn her stomach in knots and his father appeared to be no different.

While Lucius had been above reproach during his time as a student and there wasn't anything clear or obvious she could pinpoint about him that inspired the feeling...Lily trusted her own instincts. There was something dark and insidious about Lucius. There was no reason to suppose that the same couldn't be said about his father.

Lily twisted her hands together in her lap, as Severus and the Lord Malfoy continued to use their allotted time, intensely.

She didn't have to be told that it would be untoward and inappropriate to go over to the pair and try to find out what they were talking about.

But, she dearly wished she could.

Lily couldn't explain why, couldn't gather her words, but suddenly, she felt that a point of no return had been reached. She wanted more time to talk with Severus, perhaps one last time to discuss whether or not they should really be doing this - but, there was no more time.

Lord McKinnon rose to his feet again and called order.

The hearing was moving forward and there was no looking back, now.

Lord McKinnon rapped his gavel against the podium sharply, bringing the collective attention of the room solely upon him.

"We shall now move forward with the testimony from the Complainant, as named in these proceedings as Severus Snape." Lord McKinnon looked toward their table, motioning to for Severus to rise. "Mr. Snape, you will be questioned by the Board about the events on Saturday, 26 June 1976. You are invited at this time to testify to these events and the allocution you provide will shall go on record. Are you ready testify against the Accused at this time?"

"Yes, Your Grace, I am." Severus spoke clearly and surely, his voice carrying throughout the Headmaster's Office.

Lily watched as Lord McKinnon nodded, her heart beating faster in her chest. A scroll unraveled before Lord McKinnon, floating in the air the same as it had for Heir Macmillan, and clearing his throat importantly, Lord McKinnon began.

"Mr. Snape, the Board of Governors received a mandatory reporting claim from Madame P. Pomfrey on the morning of Sunday, 27 June 1976, detailing your admittance to the Hogwarts Hospital Wing the previous day, Saturday, 26 June 1976. This report declared that you were a victim of an aggravated assault by a fellow student, through the use of the banned practice of spell-hacking." Lord McKinnon looked at Severus intently. "Let us start with said previous day of 26 June 1976. Mr. Snape, please confirm to the Board if you were present in Hogsmeade Village on the specified day of Saturday, 26 June 1976."

"Certainly, Your Grace," said Severus. His lean shoulders were squared and his back was ramrod straight; there was a certain edge about him that Lily hadn't seen of him before. "I was indeed down in Hogsmeade Village on Saturday, 26 June 1976. I departed the castle after breakfast with intentions to spend the day in the village, as is my privilege as a rising upper-form student."

Lord McKinnon nodded. "So confirmed. Mr. Snape, when you arrived in Hogsmeade Village, what was your intended purpose for spending the day in the village?"

Severus titled his strong chin upwards, almost defiantly, as he declared: "I was on a date, Your Grace. My companion and I met up after breakfast and it was with her that I departed the castle."

"If we may have the name of this companion, for corroboration, if necessary." Lord McKinnon demanded, without skipping a beat.

Lily was warmed by the brief, heated glance that Severus gave her, before answering.

"Lily Evans."

Lord McKinnon brought his gaze from Severus over to her.

His dark eyes were austere and dignified, but Lily could see the flicker of warmth as he studied her for a brief second. He wasn't showing any hint that he knew her beyond the recognition of her name, but Lily could understand. As the Chairman of the Board of Governors, he was supposed to be impartial; showing that he was deeply fond of her and would soon see her at his manor later in the summer, for her annual stay with Marlene before the school year, would be far from impartial.

"At this time, I would have the named companion come forward and confirm her name for the record."

Lily couldn't help but flush as many eyes fell upon her, when she rose to her feet.

Mrs. Snape and Lord Malfoy were staring at her with the same pinched look, though Lord Malfoy had a certain chill in his eyes that Mrs. Snape did not. The Headmaster and the Heads of House were looking at her intently, while from across the room, Potter and Black and Pettigrew all shared the same twisted expression. Potter's eyes were burning with anger, Black's full mouth was thinned with disgust, and Pettigrew seemed to not know what to make of her. Remus did not look at her at all, continuing to stare down at the table as if hoping to not be noticed. Only Madame Pomfrey gave her a look of encouragement that steadied her, the pert nod making it clear that she was doing well and had no need to be nervous.

"Um, I'm not certain how the formal address should go - " Lily began, relieved that her voice didn't tremor.

Lord McKinnon nodded in understanding. "As you have no magical heritage or pedigree in our world, simply confirm who you are. That will be sufficient for the record."

If it were anyone else, despite the kind lilt to his voice, Lily would have been offended at his choice of words. She knew Lord McKinnon, personally, though. His gentle tone was exactly the same tone he used to explain the cultural aspects of the Wizarding World to her over the years - and not the dig at her Muggle heritage, as it could have been, coming from someone else.

Reassured, in spite of the numerous eyes still trained on her, Lily spoke clearly and confidently.

"I am Lily Jessamine Evans. I am the companion that Severus Snape speaks of spending Saturday, 26 June 1976 with. I can confirm that we were down to Hogsmeade Village on a date."

Lord McKinnon nodded in satisfaction, prompting her to reclaim her seat.

Cautiously, Lily did so.

As Severus was directed to continue, answering the questions about the smallest details from various Governors, something loosened within Lily's chest. The knots and tangles of anxiety and fear that had begun gnawing at her eased with the passing of each bland question and Severus's clear, assured answers. There were no trick questions, no interruptions with declarations of disbelief, and the more Severus spoke, the more grave and troubled the expressions upon the faces of the Governors became. Once more, Lily was called upon to corroborate something that Severus had said - bearing witness that Potter had indeed been the first to draw his wand and attack Severus, unprovoked.

Lily waited with bated breath as the questions continued on for a little while longer.

Then, Lord McKinnon rapped his gavel once, directing Severus to reclaim his seat and thanking him for his testimony.

That was it.

That was the full sum and length of the testimony that Severus was to provide.

Although she was sure it was silly of her to expect something more heated and wild and explosive, Lily couldn't help but feel that it had all been rather anticlimatic. Questions and answers in a bland, formal exchange that was mostly for the benefit of the furiously scribbling quill seemed to be quiet uneventful for an event that she was told could be very, very complicated and tense.

Lord McKinnon allowed the Marauders to have their turn, as promised, to refute the accusations levied against them and provide a counter testimony to Severus's testimony.

Lily found herself becoming angry as she listened to an indignant Potter, followed by a desperate Pettigrew, and finally, a very sullen Black give their testimonies. Likely coached by Laurus Prewett, Lily wanted to deny and correct every twisting, slippery word that each of the overprivileged boys declared to the Board of Governors. Potter was making it seem as though Severus had agressed upon their group first and he was simply defending himself, while Pettigrew insisted that they'd never be violent or misbehave outside of school bounds, for all that they could be mischievious and cheeky within school bounds. Black made it clear that he hadn't once thought about engaging with Severus until Pettigrew had been threatened by wandpoint by Severus - and he believed all these accusations to be slanderous and simply untrue.

Her anger only deepened, as Remus supported every word and utterance from each of his friends.

Remus hadn't even been present, either of the times that Potter, Black, and Pettigrew had accosted her and Severus. He might have been in the village, certainly. That much was not a stretch, considering that where one found Potter and Black and Pettigrew, Remus was not far away nor left out. However, it was a blatant lie that he could say what happened or what did not happen.

Whlie she had been there and was telling the truth of what she'd seen, Remus was only repeating what he'd been told to say by his friends. It disappointed Lily deeply to know that when it counted the most, Remus was not acting much like a Gryffindor, at all.

Instead, this was behavior she'd expected from a self-serving Slytherin or a Hufflepuff that was determined to stay loyal no matter how undeserving.

Lord McKinnon rapped his gavel twice, indicating that all testimonies had come to an end and that they would now hear from the respective advocates from each side. Laurus Prewett raised his wand, eager to be heard before the Lord Malfoy - and Lord Malfoy allowed this with a gracious nod, which Lily did not expect.

Laurus barrelled ahead with his impassioned defense and advocacy of Potter, Black, and Pettigrew.

Lily wanted to roll her eyes so hard they could have gotten stuck, if it wouldn't have been the height of impropriety to do so. Laurus was making it seem as if all the grisly, humilating, and rather cruel behaviors of the Marauders were a simple misunderstanding. A disconnect between a half-blood with a Muggle parent and the children of purebloods, whose schoolyard culture differed greatly from what Severus was likely used to as a half-Wizarding child. There had been a time when Lily hadn't been too far from this opinion herself - but, that time had passed.

No longer did she believe the Marauders were simple bullies that picked on classmates but didn't mean any true harm.

When Laurus concluded his impassioned speech to his peers, Lily wondered how many of the Governors believed him and how many had not been swayed by his words.

"Thank you, Regent Prewett. You may be seated. Your remarks will be taken to record and considered in the final deliberations towards a decision at the conclusion of this hearing." Lord McKinnon looked towards the Lord Malfoy. "Lord Malfoy, you may have the floor now. We will hear your advocacy on behalf of Mr. Snape at this time."

The twisted, knotted sensation returned as Abraxas Malfoy rose to his feet, a bright gleam in his eyes that make him look distinctly serpentine. Lily couldn't help her shudder.

While Lucius had been smarmy and slick and too charming to be trusted, his father was something else, entirely. Lucius didn't come close to the chilled, unsettling aura his father radiated like a Lumos Charm. He likely aspired to such, but no - Abraxas Malfoy had him beaten by leaps and bounds.

Lily glanced over at Severus, expecting that he was as apprehensive as she was about the Lord Malfoy.

He wasn't.

If anything, Severus was enthralled with the pristine and regal Lord of the Ancient and Most Sincere House of Malfoy. His dark eyes burned and glittered with a hunger that had a dark edge to them as he watched Lord Malfoy descend from the dais to come stand before him, so as to speak on his behalf as his advocate.

Severus wasn't appalled or apprehensive or anything that he should be from the sudden, stark attentions of a powerful, sinister nobleman.

Instead, if nothing else, Severus seemed pleased.

"There is much that can be said about what we have heard from both the complainant and the accused individuals in this hearing today." Lord Malfoy began, somberly. "As a parent, a Hogwarts Governor, and an alumnus of Slytherin House, equally - I, personally, find myself lost for words at the testimony that Mr. Snape put forth. I am further disturbed by the attempts of the Accused to dismiss and downplay these very serious charges in their own testimony. Simply put, this is not the Hogwarts represented by the Hogwarts Charter activated centuries ago. This is not the Hogwarts that I wish to be represented in the present day, as both a school official, a parent, and a gentleman wizard."

Severus was hooked upon every word coming from Lord Malfoy, as was everyone else in attendance - but, his fierce attention was for another reason.

Lord Malfoy had made it clear that within his words, there would be a signal. If Severus wanted the Nondisclosure Charm to be broken and to publicly seize the chance to reveal the secret that he'd been unwillingly suppressing for the past two weeks - he had to pay a close attention and be ready. He was responsible for recognizing the opportunity for what it was. He had to respond decisively to the shrewd cue that Lord Malfoy would give, so that their exchange could be carried out as promised.

Severus would have the oppressive charm upon him broken and Lord Malfoy would get an indisputable piece of evidence that proved Dumbledore's misconduct.

He had to be ready to strike when the Lord Malfoy aligned his aim towards the Headmaster.

"The issue we face today is not simply a group of students run amok. This is beyond young wizards becoming reckless and risky with their developing magic and the shuffle of pecking order that we all remember from our own Hogwarts days. Bold as it may be considered for me to say, this is an issue that goes deeper - right to the very core of the trusted authority and leadership, right here at Hogwarts."

Lord Malfoy was getting close. Severus tried to keep calm, keep his hands from trembling too terribly.

"My fellow Governors, what does our school represent when Mr. Snape, who is half-Muggle, does not feel safe here in the hallowed corridors of our ancient cultural institution? What does it say for the clear and present forward progress of Wizarding-Muggle integration, if the child of a Muggle is threatened by the best and brightest of our world - our pureblood sons of nobility?" There was a slight rustle as Lord Malfoy came dangerously close to implying that purebloods were more superior than a half-blood. He didn't miss a beat, however, as Lord Malfoy continued: "Do we now accept the open violation of the Hogwarts Charter? The disrespect of one our core principles - to welcome, protect, and educate any child of Wizarding blood that wishes to become a qualified wizard or witch? Do we turn a blind eye to the use of Complusion Magic against our students by the adminsitration, perhaps in pursuit of covering up a greater failure on their parts - "

Severus stiffened.

There it was.

With the sleek ease of a viper, Lord Malfoy had spun everyone into giving him their undivided attention - and, not one single pair of ears missed the declaration of magic being used against students by staff. There was one tense moment, a shocked silence radiating in the room.

Then, something akin to chaos erupted as many people began talking at once.

"I beg your pardon, Abraxas - Compulsion Magic, against a student?"

"What did he just say?"

"What a moment! None of this was in the notes or the report - "

"Students? As in more than one? Which students - ?"

Severus looked at nobody but Lord Malfoy, who looked at him for the barest second - and winked a pale gray eye at him, meaningfully. Severus nodded, imperceptibly.


The pounding of Lord McKinnon's gavel had been enhanced by a Sonorus Charm. Severus was not the only one to clutch at their ears as the Chairman's booming voice deafened everyone into a sudden, jagged silence.

"I don't want another person to say a word. I rule for tribunal silence and nobody shall speak again without being called upon!" Lord McKinnon was on his feet, both angry and scandalized all at once. He looked around fiercely for a moment, ensuring nobody would dare test his mandate, before rounding on the Lord Malfoy, furiously. "Abraxas, what is the meaning of this? What do you call yourself doing by making such a wild and unfounded claim?!"

Lord Malfoy was completely collected and unruffled.

He hadn't so much as flinched as people had begun shouting at him, several had leapt to their feet in protest nor was he startled by Lord McKinnon's roaring Sonorus Charm.

Calmly, he stepped closer to Severus and beckoned for him to stand up.

"This claim is very much founded in truth and indisputible evidence, Magnus. As Deputy Chairman of the Board of Governors, I would never make a statement on record as such, without being able to prove it." Lord Malfoy gestured to Severus, encouragingly. "Severus, young man, please come around the table and stand before us. Come now, you've nothing to be concerned or fearful about, any longer."

Severus was genuinely uncomfortable with the dozens of stares upon him as he followed Lord Malfoy's cues, obediently. He came to stand before the Lords Malfoy and McKinnon, his head slightly bowed with the respect both nobleman deserved according to their stations in life.

"Your Grace, Your Grace," murmured Severus, quietly.

Lord Malfoy gave him a brief, cordial nod, but Lord McKinnon looked upon him with narrowed eyes. Severus tried not to fidget. The sharp look the Lord McKinnon had him pinned with made him feel as if the wizard could see right through him.

Holding his hands up and turning to slowly look around the room, Lord Malfoy very seriously declared: "My claims might seem to be outrageous and unfounded, but please - if not a Compulsion Charm of a severe degree, then what is this magic binding this child's neck in that particular spell pattern?"

"Enough, Abraxas. You've made yourself clear." Lord McKinnon turned sharply toward the dais. "Lord Carrow, Madame Rowle, Madame Marchbanks - I request your presence on the floor at once. I cannot let this pass by unaddressed. As each of you have achieved Mastery or beyond in Charms, please, I ask your assistance on verifying Abraxas's claims."

Severus didn't recognize either of the prim witches that descended the dais, but the dark blond wizard who followed in their footsteps - he was the same wizard that Lord Malfoy had covertly gestured to earlier, before the testimonies. Lord Carrow came to stand among their small grouping, his eyes dark with glee and curiosity.

"I'm not even certain how to address this - where to begin - a Compulsion Charm on a student - "

Lord Carrow snorted, somewhat gracelessly. "This is very simple to verify, Magnus. Watch and learn, lad."

Severus was not prepared for Lord Carrow to grab his arm and pull him away from their grouping, making him stand alone in the middle of the floor. Everyone in the room could see him clearly.

"Boy, tell us now - who cast this alleged Compulsion Charm upon you?" demanded Lord Carrow, his too-dark eyes looking upon Severus coldly.

Severus looked at Lord Malfoy, briefly; the wizard nodded at him with a fractional movement of his snow-blond head. Knowing full and well what would happen, Severus took a deep breath, braced himself.

"Headm - "

Darkness seized his vision frighteningly quick - the floor was rushing up to meet him before he realized it.

The Nondisclosure Charm worked exactly as it was meant in the event of deliberate defiance, a deliberate attempt to speak about what was magically sealed in secrecy within Severus.

There were both gasps and cries of outrage, when Severus collapsed to the floor like a puppet with its strings abruptly cut.

The Slytherin boy laid motionless on the stone floor. He looked like little more than a crumple of black robes, illuminated by the summer sun pouring through the temporary glass ceiling. There was an uproar from many places in the room, as Severus lay unconscious - clear and present proof that Lord Malfoy's claims were horrifyingly true.

"What is the meaning of this?!"

"Headmaster - did he say Headmaster, before he collapsed - ?"

"How do we know he wasn't saying Head of House - ?"

"Abraxas, how did you know - "

"Please, people - out of my way! I must get through!"

Madame Pomfrey pushed past the Lords McKinnon, Carrow, and Malfoy, shooing away Madame Marchbanks and Madame Rowle as the two witches began fretting over the collapsed boy. Kneeling swiftly, she tried to rouse Severus with a common, medical-grade Reviving Spell.

Severus didn't stir and a nasty crackle of magic forced her wand back. She recognized the repelling action, instantly.

Madame Pomfrey swallowed, uneasily. She glanced up as a shadow fell over her and Lord McKinnon stared down at her with a hard expression.

"Well, Matron Pomfrey? What's the diagnosis?" asked Lord McKinnon in a clipped tone.

"Your Grace, I'm afraid that Lord Malfoy was correct in his assessment. Mr. Snape is under a Compulsion Charm as alleged...the charm is a Nondisclosure Charm."

Lord McKinnon stared for a very long moment. Then, he turned sharply on his heel and quieted the room once more with a well-placed Sonorous Charm, calling for order and absolute silence. As the tribunal-like room collected themselves once more, Lord McKinnon called for everyone to resume their seats, except Madame Pomfrey.

"The Matron had informed me that there is a Nondisclosure Charm upon Mr. Snape and that this is the cause of his collapse. When rebelled against, the charm renders the subject unconscious, only to be roused by the person who cast the charm, originally." Lord McKinnon announced, his words rustling everyone in the room. "Nondisclosure Charms can only be removed by the person who casted it...therefore, at this time, I call on Albus Dumbledore to remove the charm that he placed upon Mr. Snape, immediately."

There was a ringing silence. Nobody seemed to know what to do or say, as Lord McKinnon boldly stared at Dumbledore, who sat without blinking.

"Are you so sure that it is I who will be able to revive Mr. Snape or remove the enchantment?" Dumbledore stared at Lord McKinnon with a hard look in his eyes. "Mr. Snape wasn't particularly clear or coherent before he collapsed."

"Albus, please remove the charm." Lord McKinnon insisted. "As it is, this has gone far beyond a simple disciplinary hearing. This is now a crisis of faith in the staff, the adminsitration, and the core leadership here at Hogwarts. If I made to repeat myself, then I must start considering this as your resistance - and, we'll have a deep problem on hand than we already have."

The silence was now deafening.

There appeared to be a battle of wills happening.

It was quite clear what the next move would bring. If Dumbledore did as he was told, then it would be essentially be a confession, admitting without saying a word that he had indeed used an unethical Compulsion Charm-based spell on a student and an underaged wizarding child. However, if he continued to refuse, the guilt would be implied - unless he declared his innocence or alleged that one of his Heads of House were the guilty party. He had done neither of those, simply remaining seated and causing an uncomfortable stalemate.

"Headmaster, are you going to remove this charm or not?" asked Lord McKinnon and the sharpness of his voice made it clear, it was the last time he would do so.

Dumbledore stared for a moment longer, before finally rising to his feet and drawing his wand.

Nobody spoke as he descended the dais toward the pooling of dark robes that was Severus Snape. He stood before Lord McKinnon, his wand hovering over Severus but doing nothing.

"If I am made to take this action, what comes next cannot be undone." Dumbledore stated, gravely.

Lord McKinnon actually sneered. "There should have never been the opportunity to for you take this action. Whatever is happening at this school that required an underaged wizarding child to be bewitched and forcibly made to keep a secret of unknown specification - it will come out right this second. It will no longer be the responsibility of a child to keep the secrets of an errant Headmaster. Remove the charm from the boy, Albus."

Dumbledore shook his head, sadly, as if Lord McKinnon had no idea what he was ordering to have happen, and did as he asked.

Severus gasped, arching up off the floor. His eyes fluttered wildly as his thin, pale hands went around his neck, clutching and grasping as if trying to pull something off himself.

When he sat up, he looked around - and his expression transformed as he realized, he could finally speak freely.

He could finally share what it is was that Dumbledore had risked everything to keep him from revealing to the world.

Lily pressed her hands over her mouth, her head spinning from how quickly her mind was racing.

A Nondisclosure Charm? Professor Dumbledore had cast a Nondisclosure Charm upon Severus - but, for what reason?

There was no doubt that the Headmaster had done so, for he was the one who had just removed it.

The charm was the severe Compulsion Charm that existed and it was rarely meant to be used upon humans, from what she understood. Certainly not anyone who wasn't an adult. Ordinarily, a Nondisclosure Charm was used upon magical contracts and ethically, not the best choice for someone wanting to keep another person from speaking upon the subject to be held secret.

Lily couldn't help but look at Professor Flitwick.

The diminutive professor was ashen, his lips pressed together thinly. She could imagine what he was feeling right now, as fierce of a proponent he was of high ethics in charmwork.

Instead of the uproar or outburst of before, the room was deathly silent. Lily was not the only one who'd realized the implications of Professor Dumbledore removing the now-confirmed Nondisclosure Charm from Severus. The tension peaked as Lord McKinnon gave Severus the chance to gather himself and get on his feet.

"Mr. Snape," Lord McKinnon began, when Severus finally looked up, angry and wary. "Before we go any further, let me be the first to formally apologize to you on behalf of Hogwarts and its authority. Clearly, there is a corruption and a lapse of ethics within the current staff and administration - and it should have never went so far as to have you be the victim of improper use of magic against you."

Severus said nothing, but Lily was familiar with the simmering, sullen twist to his face. She'd seen that look many, many times from the time they were children. Severus was well and truly angry, a nasty head of steam built up for who knew how long - and it was all about to come out, very unpleasantly.

"At this time, seeing as the Nondisclosure Charm has been removed," Lord McKinnon said tightly, "I would request as Chairman of the Board of Governors that you share with us the secret that was being suppressed by said magic."

Lord Macmillan cleared his throat from the dais, sharply, as Severus still hesitated and merely glared. "As the Chair of Student Welfare, I can promise you that you have the protection of the Board of Governors and do not have to fear from retribution." The look that Lord Macmillan gave Professor Dumbledore over the rim of his monocle was absolultely filthy, enough to make Lily want to squirm uncomfortably herself. "You are safe now, Mr. Snape. Whatever you fear from the Headmaster or were threatened with because of whatever secret there is - please know, it is over now, and you don't have to fear anymore. You are safe, young man."

Lily twisted her hands in her lap anxiously. Severus was still staring, his too-long dark hair falling over half of his face and giving him a shadowy look. He had stopped rubbing at his throat, but now, his hands were curled up tightly, as if straining to reach for his wand or hit someone.

"Headmaster Dumbledore forced me to be put under a Nondisclosure Charm because of what happening two weeks ago, on the night of 12 June." Severus said. His voice was low and very hoarse.

"What was it that happened that night?" asked Lord McKinnon, a touch apprehensively

Severus looked over at the table that the Marauders were collectively seated.

Lily had never seen such loathing on one person's face before. It was hatred and absolute bitter, hardened anger, twisting Severus's lean features into a mask of darkness that made her heart lurch painfully in her chest. Truly, without a doubt, Severus hated James Potter, Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and Remus Lupin -

And, there was nothing like the realization of why this was, when Severus finally answered.

"That night, Sirius Black and James Potter tried to murder me by luring me out of the castle and leading me to a werewolf - and, said werewolf is Remus Lupin, sitting right there at the end of that table."