Disclaimer: Characters and places are the Intellectual Property of Ms Rowling. I'm just borrowing some of them for my own amusement and, hopefully, the amusement of others. No money is made out of this. (…as if somebody would pay)
WARNING: Contains spoilers from all books and major spoilers for PoA and OOTP. Will possibly contain some slash in future chapters (or not, I don't know yet). Will NOT contain teacher-student romantic pairings. PG-13 to be on the safe side.
Chapter 1: The Spy and his Master
Hogwarts School. July 10th
Albus Dumbledore was patiently sitting on Professor Snape private quarters, waiting for his Potions Master to return from a Death Eater meeting. His outer demeanour was calm, but the famous twinkle was absent from his blue eyes. He was always worried when Severus was summoned, and eagerly awaited his return. Most members of the Order saw Severus as a useful tool, but he genuinely cared for the man. He closed his eyes wearily and didn't open them when he heard a small pop followed by very light steps moving about the room, followed by the chink of plates and glass being set on the table before him.
'Headmaster Dumbledore shouldn't worry so, sir. Young Master Severus will return. He always does'.
Albus opened his eyes and smiled while Mandy, Severus' trusted House Elf fussed with some food and drink for him.
'I can't help but worry, Mandy. Sending Severus back to spy has been one of the most painful decisions in my life. Difficult as well, because if Severus was openly in the side of Light he could become a defining force in Slytherin House. Most of his students really look up to him for guidance, and I fear that He would find it much harder to recruit followers if Severus could show plainly that one can be a proud Slytherin and at the same time refuse to follow Him in his path of destruction and madness'
Albus sighed and reached for a sweet cake. Mandy usually indulged him in his preference for disgustingly sweet and sugary desserts, and had even created some recipes for him. He looked at the old Elf fondly. He was sure that having Mandy bring him up had been Severus' saving grace. Not enough to steer him out of trouble, there was too much pain and anger for that, but enough to make sure that when the young Slytherin realised that joining Voldemort and his Death Eaters meant the recognition and approval he craved, the knowledge he sought, and the chance for revenge he desired, all at the price of becoming a heartless murderer and torturer, Severus found himself so repulsed that after a couple of months he had started to leak information anonymously to the Headmaster. Some time after that, when Severus Snape had gathered an impressive file on Death Eater names, meeting places and plans, he had come in person to the Headmaster's office and placed the documents over the table. It had been one of the very first breaks for the side of the Light, and a real mine of useful information. Why to him? He still wasn't sure. He hadn't done a thing to prevent the bullying the boy had suffered at school. Damn, he hadn't cared enough to notice how it was getting out of hand, and after the Shrieking Shack incident he had been so concerned about Remus' safety and about to secure for the side of light the first member of the Black family to renounce the Dark Arts, that he had only given the most cursory of thoughts to Severus' well being. Slytherins looked after themselves, didn't they?
'Harry shouldn't be so shocked to find out that I'm fallible. After all, I've messed up some young lives before', thought Albus.
When asked about his reasons to choose him as his runner, Severus had simply stated that he thought the ministry was full of incompetents or worse, that the Aurors would have been more willing to catch and punish the small fish instead of using him as bait, and that the only person he could think of with the brains and the ruthlessness to actually allow a Death Eater to continue his heinous acts because at the same time he was providing information that could prevent worse deeds was the Headmaster of Hogwarts.
Albus musings were interrupted when he noticed the wards of Severus' quarters being lowered. After a few moments, he turned to see his Potions Master stepping through the door and raising again the complex wards he protected his personal space with. Those were much, much harder to break than the ones he used for his office. The ones in his office were tough, but not enough to stop Barty Crouch, or even a determined student. The wards on his personal rooms wouldn't stop Albus Dumbledore, but even the Headmaster would have had to put an effort if Severus hadn't given him all the passwords and explained all the subtleties beforehand.
Before he could say a thing Mandy reappeared in the room, bringing a few vials. She looked over at Severus, decided that he was more or less alright, set the potions at the table and simply asked
'Master Severus wants coffee or something stronger?'
Snape smiled at the House Elf and asked for a bottle of good brandy and two glasses. 'Leave the headache potion on the table and take away all the rest. I don't need anything else tonight, Mandy'
Mandy bowed and popped out. She reappeared after a few seconds with a bottle and two beautifully cut crystal glasses in a tray. She laid the things at the table and with a short bow to both men popped out of the room again.
Albus could hardly stifle a small laugh. If the students realised that Professor Snape actually trusted a House Elf with his own personal stores of potions, they would have a fit.
'It seems that the meeting didn't go too badly tonight, Severus'
'Define too badly, Albus', came the dry reply. 'Not too badly for myself, because He doesn't see me as part of the disaster of the Department of Mysteries. Potter actually went there, as was intended, and He thinks that I helped in that. A notion I carefully cultivate, of course. By the way, I'm trying to give the impression that I'm working in undermining the boy's trust in you. Not very hard to do, the way he seems to act with such Potterish recklessness. I have given him the information that Potter went berserk in your office and He was delighted to hear of it. He is more than a little worried at your display against Him. The fact that you wouldn't even try to kill Him makes Him doubt. Doubt about his own powers, and doubt about the plans you have for Potter'.
'Which brings me to the most important piece of information I have gathered: The Dark Lord is impressed with Potter, and I fear He is starting to view the boy not as a plaything to revenge upon, but as a real threat to his plans. He will try to move again against the boy and do it soon. Now that he is half trained and has only luck and courage on his side is the time to strike again. Of course', he added with bitterness, 'the way Potter goes on he will be half trained all his life and will keep on trusting his luck and be as foolish about all this as his father was'
'Now, now Severus', Albus interrupted, 'do not bring James into this. Harry is most definitely NOT his father. There is more than a streak of his mother in him, and he wouldn't make many of James' mistakes'
'He has the arrogance, the stubbornness, the refusal to accept anything but his own views on anything, the idea that just luck and courage will see him through everything…'
Albus thought privately that many of those faults could apply to Severus himself, but he let the younger man rant on for a few minutes before cutting him short.
'Enough', the Headmaster said sharply. 'Mr Potter failure to learn Occlumency is in part his own doing, but you don't stand blameless in this matter. You can't antagonise the boy at every step and afterwards expect him to put those feelings aside. He is only fifteen, for god's sake. He should know better, of course, but so should you. Kicking him out of your office was not the most mature and wise thing you have done, and you know it'
Severus Snape felt his cheeks burning with anger and shame.
'If the blasted boy had put a single ounce of effort into his lessons, we would have got somewhere. The boy has strength and potential. He even kicked back once and broke into my mind, but he didn't even try the exercises I told him to do every night. Of course he said he was doing it, but he couldn't deceive me. I've been teaching for a few years now, and I can say when a student is lying to me. His lack of progress was painfully obvious, and you know Occlumency cannot be mastered without effort and dedication'.
'But Severus, his lack of progress was not the reason why you discontinued the lessons, was it?' Albus knew he was treading dangerous ground, but he was determined to do his best to keep the breach that threatened the unity of the Order from growing too wide. If he had to reopen some of Severus Snape's very old wounds to do it, he would. After all, the only way to deal with wounds that had closed while still infected was to reopen them and hope to clean them better this time.
Severus Snape's face was flushing an ugly deep red. He downed the contents of the anti-headache potion in one gulp and angrily filled both glasses with brandy. His hands shook badly and some of the precious drink spilled on the table.
'He is an insufferable, obnoxious, treacherous brat and deserved no less'
Albus remained silent. He took a sip of the ancient brandy.
The silence grew uncomfortably long. Severus knew he wasn't going to be left off the hook any time soon, but found very difficult to put his feelings into words. Mercifully, the headache had vanished thanks to the potion, and not even this most unpleasant conversation was enough to overcome one of his better creations.
Severus sighed. He should know better than to try to stall in the Headmaster's presence. Albus Dumbledore had the patience and toughness of rock.
'He broke into my pensieve when I had to leave the office for a few minutes to attend some mishap concerning one of my Slytherins. I left him alone and he had the cheek to take a look into the pensieve you lent me. He witnessed some scenes I'd rather not mention and I got beside myself. The brat knows no boundaries, no respect, nothing', Severus was shouting now. In his anger he was recalling the jeers, the taunts, the time when the Headmaster proved every day that he couldn't care less about what happened to the ugly little Slytherin outsider. YOU requested that he should be kept away from seeing how nice and wonderful his father and his sidekicks were, that he should be protected from that, and what did wonderful Mr Potter do when he had half a chance? Of course, break into them. Entering someone else's pensieve isn't a light matter, Albus. It is a very serious offence and shows a major lack of respect. Anyway, I don't know why you were so concerned. I'm sure he lost no time into telling all his friends how pathetic Snivellus was and toasting his father's pranks with Black and the werewolf'
Albus realised that things were bad. The breach was already wider than he imagined. He had to work fast to close it as soon as he could.
'Severus', he said softly, 'I understand your distress, and I agree that Harry should have never looked into your pensieve. He is quite reckless and maybe something should be done to curb his impulsive nature'. The man before him snorted, but before he could launch another tirade against the boy Albus went on. 'But I don't think he has a cruel nature. It is not his way to laugh at others, or to mock them. Nothing has reached my ears about this, and I'm sure that if Harry had spoken to any of the Weasleys about this I would have heard. He was certainly angry with both of us in my office, but never once did he mention anything about your past'.
'Angry with me?' Interrupted Severus. 'Whatever for? I did my best to find out whether the mutt was safe. It is not my fault if the boy was led by Umbridge to the forest…'
Albus slammed his hand on the table, drawing out a surprised yelp from the Potions Master. 'Sirius Black, whatever he did to you, was a valued member of the Order of the Phoenix, and I won't accept your calling him such names in my presence. The man died trying to protect his godson from Voldemort, and his fall is a grievous loss'.
Snape looked mutinous, but wisely remained silent.
'And', continued Dumbledore in a somewhat kinder tone, 'when he had the foolish idea of calling you Snivellus in front of me a few months ago I told him off much the same way'.
A long silence ensued, this time somewhat more comfortable. Albus wished he could stop this game of carrot and stick with almost all the members of the Order. Of the lot, only Tonks, Lupin and at times Bill Weasley seemed to take Severus' moods more or less in their stride, and kept from voicing their doubts about where his real loyalties lay. Albus didn't know what irked him more: the stubbornness of Moody, most of the Weasley clan and the departed Black to accept his word or their belief that Albus Dumbledore would trust a known Death Eater without incontrovertible proof of the sincerity of his wish to change sides. He was not only one of the better adepts at Legilimency alive, he knew enough about potions to use well any number of truth serums. He no longer found it necessary, but Severus Snape was no stranger to the effects of Veritaserum, something the young Snape had taken almost for granted saying that if Dumbledore had simply trusted his words without question he would have had to revise his opinions of the Headmaster's brains.
After a few moments, Severus spoke again, his voice not completely under control yet.
'I apologise, Albus. I… seem to be unable to keep calm when any of them is mentioned. But when I spoke of Potter's lack of effort I wasn't just being objectionable. And his recklessness isn't a product of my imagination. A trait, I might add, that you have encouraged in the past.'
Albus smiled sadly. 'You might very well be right, but Harry faces a task that requires a great deal of courage and resourcefulness, I have tried to encourage those. But I agree on one thing: Harry must realise that he needs to improve his training in aspects other than duelling, something not even you can deny he excels at'.
Severus shifted in his seat, and Albus looked at him expectantly.
After taking a long pull at his drink, the spy started talking. 'I don't know how to put this without sounding like I'm trying to get the boy into trouble, but it must be said: at the meeting, Bellatrix Lestrange claimed that Potter tried Cruciatus on her. The attempt was a failure, or better, not a complete success. Are you aware of this? The Dark Lord was so glad that he stopped punishing Bellatrix almost at once. I can't get confirmation from other sources, because it seems that the boy was facing her alone', a small tinge of admiration was in Severus' voice, 'but it worries me. It didn't sound like she was making it up'.
Albus Dumbledore was shocked to the core. Harry had actually tried one of the Unforgivables, and with some degree of success?
'It must have been right after she sent Sirius through the veil. I can't even begin to understand how the boy felt, after having his Godfather ripped away from him before his very eyes. But it is worrying news if it is right. You really think Lestrange was being truthful?'
'It might be that she was fishing about for something to appease His wrath, but Bellatrix is completely devoted to her Master, and I doubt she would lie in a matter of such importance. Cruciatus has never been enough to make the smallest dent into her devotion, and I don't think that is going to happen now. The long years in Azkaban have only increased her madness and her absolute loyalty to her Lord. If you lend me your pensieve, I shall show you'.
The Headmaster sighed: 'I don't think it is necessary. You know her much better than I do, and if you are convinced that's enough for me. I will contact Remus Lupin and ask him if he knows anything about this. I know you must be tired, but I need to have a full report of anything else that happened first thing in the morning'.
Severus snapped his fingers, and Mandy appeared into the room bowing low.
'Bring me some light food, Mandy, and please light the fire'. 'Albus, there is a blessed absence of students at the castle. I don't mind late hours if I can sleep over in the morning, please finish your drink here, unless you would like to eat something as well?'
'Thank you, son, but I've had dinner, and Mandy was stuffing me with some of her delicacies before. I have much to think about right now. I won't refuse your wonderful bradny, though'. Albus served himself another time. 'Mmmm, Severus. This is really good'.
Saverus laughed lightly. 'I must confess that muggles have their uses, and their alcohol far surpases anything we've got'
They finished their drinks in a companionable silence. Not long afterwards Albus got up and retired, wishing Severus a good night. He answered in kind and went up to his desk where he found parchment and quill set ready, a plate of sandwiches and a jar filled with cold water. Mandy was truly invaluable. He sat down, ate a sandwich in two hungry bites and set out to write. He had a long report to finish tonight.