Part of the SEVERUS SNAPE FUH-Q FEST @

Challenge: It's only safe to meet in the magic space in-between.

Warnings for non-consensual sex and incest (though neither graphically depicted).

Implies spoilers up to Book IV - no OotP whatsoever.

Beta: Go Seaward (with many thanks).

Chiaroscuro

"Liquorice Ripple"

Severus Snape entered the Headmaster's office with his usual reluctance. Visiting Albus was always a difficult bargain with self-interest. The winter evening was fading through the windows. Fawkes rustled and resettled in the dappling light. To one side of the Headmaster's desk sat Draco Malfoy, his expression partly shadowed.

Head of House business, then. Although he didn't relish any conversation with Lucius Malfoy about his son - despite evident intelligence the man persisted in believing that Snape could command attention and esteem for Draco solely based on his claims as the Malfoy heir - it was merely annoying, and not life threatening.

"Headmaster," he said, glaring in anticipation at the boy who, somewhat disconcertingly, neither met his eyes nor avoided them. He just looked, as if at something no one else could see.

"Severus," Snape noted the informal use of his name, highly unusual in front of a student, "please have a seat." He took the only other chair near the desk, across from Albus, which meant without an obvious effort he could only see the boy indirectly.

The boy acknowledged him with a nod and a quiet, "Professor Snape." This was clearly not about the characteristic Malfoy arrogance, then. Severus had been rather too busy to focus on students who needed neither his attention nor his discipline. Perhaps he should have noticed how unusual it was for Draco not to be in both of those lists.

"Draco," Dumbledore said with a gentleness that made Snape's stomach twist, because it could mean only dreadful things, "would you like to explain the situation, or shall I?"

"I would rather you do it," the boy said immediately, not looking at Snape.

The Headmaster paused, and Snape couldn't stop himself snapping "Merlin, Albus, just tell me."

Dumbledore folded his hands on the table. "Draco has approached me for assistance because his father has arranged for him to take the Dark Mark at Christmas." Snape turned almost involuntarily to face the boy, who was now looking at him directly. But there was nothing to be read in those grey eyes in that moment.

Snape consciously did not take a breath before he said, as coldly as he could and with a careful eye on the boy's reaction, "Mr Malfoy cannot seriously be suggesting that his father is a Death Eater." A slight movement of the hands, towards each other. He turned to the Headmaster. "This is doubtless some adolescent struggle for independence, into which the boy imagines we will be drawn if he makes outrageous accusations." There was nothing in Draco's demeanour to suggest he was about to either retract or fall apart.

The Headmaster nodded his understanding. "Mr Malfoy has offered to take veritaserum."

"What? Are you mad, Draco?"

"He does not want to be handed over to the aurors for interrogation," the Headmaster continued.

"I should think not."

"And thus the only way we could administer the truth potion is to do so secretly. . ."

"You cannot be serious. . ."

"Thus leaving us, and particularly you Severus, open to Ministry charges."

"A very convenient impasse. We cannot test the boy and yet he can insist we should believe him."

"I thought perhaps there might be something else," Dumbledore suggested. Snape did not respond. "Something not on the restricted list that might help ascertain whether or not Draco's fears are genuine. Draco insists he is willing, even if the process is somewhat. . . experimental."

After a silence, the Potions professor said, "I have no idea what you mean, Headmaster."

"I am only asking that you give it some thought, Severus," the Headmaster said, reaching for his wand. "Perhaps we can have some tea while you do. Draco?"

The boy shook his head mutely and when Dumbledore pressed a cup in his direction said only, "No thank you, Headmaster," in a quiet voice.

"What are you playing at, Draco?" Snape muttered.

Albus gave Snape a long and sombre look as he passed him a cup. "I believe, Professor, that Mr Malfoy is, how shall I put it. . . at a loss to explain."

Snape breathed in. He felt the boy's eyes on him.

"I have a very good memory, thank you, Albus," he said eventually. The cup rattled only slightly as he placed it on the desk as he stood.

He looked down at the sixteen-year-old scion of the forces of dark wizardry, currently boring a hole in Dumbledore's desk with half-lidded eyes. "Very well. Bring him to my office," Snape glanced at the clock, which said only Time for Tea, "just before dawn."

* * *

Dark hair leant over bright hair, and the man's low voice whispered, "Are you sure you want to do this, Draco Malfoy?"

"Yes." The boy's voice was soft and somewhat distant.

Snape watched his eyes blink and open, his mouth open on a breath and close. "Very well." Snape placed both hands on the back of Draco's chair, just touching either side of his head. "What is your father's name?"

"Lucius Malfoy."

"How old is your mother?"

"I don't know."

Snape waited while the boy shifted uncomfortably and nodded, "The potion also impels you to satisfy me with your answer. How old is your mother?"

"Perhaps older than she seems, and there's no record." Draco relaxed somewhat as the impulsion let him go. "I've looked," he added.

"What was the last school rule you broke?"

The boy hesitated, and his mouth twisted. "I. . ."

"You must co-operate now."

"I helped kill Neville Longbottom's familiar," Draco said in one breath. "It was stupid."

"The toad?"

"We fed it to Mrs Norris."

"It's been gone for more a year."

"I've been good." Snape raised an eyebrow, but the boy seemed comfortable. "In terms of the rules."

"What, then, have you done that we would not want you to do?"

"I spy on you," Draco said softly. "For my father - for Lucius. On everyone, but mostly you."

"Why?"

"You know that. Because he wants to know everything that happens. Especially here."

"And why on me in particular?"

"Because I want to." The boy actually blushed, at which Snape pulled away from him. "Because you're the most fun to watch."

"And are you working for your father now?"

"No," there was a pause, in which a nauseated look crossed the boy's face and he bent his head as if concealing it, "but that doesn't mean he won't find a use for it. Whatever I do, I'm always working for him."

Snape moved a chair to sit next to Draco. He tipped the white-blond head back so he could see the boy's face. The grey eyes were flat and his face wan and drawn. Not exactly beautiful now - Snape suppressed a wave of something uncomfortably close to satisfaction.

"Is your father a Death Eater?"

"Yes."

"How do you know?"

"He has the mark; he brought Voldemort to our house," he breathed out audibly, "to meet me." Snape let go the boy's chin, and looked sharply up at Dumbledore, leaning back on the chaise lounge near the fire, stroking his beard. The older wizard didn't look up, but the firelight and the indirect light through the still open light-tunnel lit his face in complex shadows.

"Do you want to become a Death Eater?" Draco shook his head, rocking slightly. "I need to hear you say it, Draco." The boy lurched forward as if in pain. "Stop fighting the magic."

"I don't want to," the boy said weakly, "but I don't want to die."

"Do you want to testify against Lucius, send him to Azkaban. . ."

"No! I want to help you stop him, and save my father."

Snape sat back. "Help us," he said flatly.

Draco looked up, a gaunt face. "I know you're a spy," he said, almost conversationally. "That you have the mark and attend the meetings but report back to Dumbledore." Licking his lips, his eyes flicking away, he began to breathe heavily again.

Snape pulled himself to his feet, looming over the pale curved boy. "This is a very dangerous game, Malfoy."

"I know you're a spy, they don't know. I've seen you there, you never saw me." Draco threw his head back as if wracked by a sudden pain and fisted a hand in the side of Snape's robe. "I can help you, I want to."

Snape pulled away abruptly, and the boy collapsed forward in the chair. He glanced at Dumbledore, still looking into the fire. Snape felt suddenly angry at that distance, at being forced to take this role. The Headmaster looked around at him sadly and Snape turned away. The boy seemed on the verge of crying, his legs drawn up against his chest in the chair.

Snape thrust the waiting cup of water into Draco's hand, and he nodded something like thanks, or maybe defeat, and brought it shakily to his mouth. He sipped at it delicately, with quivering lips.

"The potion in its present form accumulates the symptoms," Snape said calmly, but without looking back at the old man. "He will become progressively more ill until he passes out, but we can use spikes in the escalation to track a lie or even intent to conceal."

"Do you feel well enough to continue, Draco?" Albus said from the lounge.

"I'm not sure," his voice trailed off into a sharp inhalation, and the boy vomited copiously across his arm and the chair and Snape's robe.

Snape merely looked up at the hourglass on the table. "The potion will have been absorbed. The answers are still reliable."

"Don't we have enough?" the Headmaster asked. Snape despised the compassion there, which managed to be detached from guilt. Snape's hand on the knife and the cup, not his.

Shaking his head Snape said stiffly, "Many of his answers have been open to interpretation."

"We can at least clean the boy up, Severus." Dumbledore muttered a charm, not bothering with his wand, and produced a pillow for Draco's chair.

Snape returned to his position leaning in over the huddled boy, who blinked under his shadow. He looked about twelve, his robe in disarray and his hair ruffled. The buttons on his formal sleeves were still undone where Snape had checked him for the mark, exposing a frail forearm on one side, and a naked blue-veined wrist on the other. The wound where he had drawn the boy's blood was still a livid dark line against the white skin.

"Why don't you want to be a Death Eater, Draco?"

"Him," the boy said in a soft voice that retained only an edge of the Malfoy drawl. "He disgusts me." Draco tilted his head back, as if it was a struggle to hold it upright. "And you," Snape stiffened at the slow smile shifting across the boy's upturned face, "I could never watch you die."

* * *