Chapter 3: The Art of Lying
Soot and ashes erupted from the seldom used fireplace in the unlit study of a neglected manor house. The dark cloud swirled about the dusty room adding another layer of grim to the furnishings. A cough followed by a heroic sneeze issued from the stooped man exiting the grate in the clouds wake.Severus sneezed again, his eyes watering from the soot and deposited his burden on a ash covered sofa. He produced a black handkerchief from his sleeve and wiped the worst of the grim from his face and neck. He paused, uncertain for a moment, looking down on the unconscious boy. Harry's face was soot streaked and his clothes blackened on one side, the side that had not been resting against Severus chest. With an abrupt exhalation from his nose Severus knelt and carefully wiped the dark powder from the pale skin. Harry made no response, laying limp and silent. Severus looked up, his gaze wandering the room in dissatisfaction. Whispers could be heard from the portraits on the wall, to old and faded to make out there subjects. One wall was dominated by a vast glass case filled with decks of cards, intricate links of rings, saws, and knives. Other things less recognizable. A muggle magicians cabinet. This was his fathers study. The dark antique desk facing away from the rooms only window. Papers were scattered across the top, yellowed and illegible. A high, cold chair sat behind the desk, it's brocade seat rotted the stuffing spilling to the decade rugs.
"Bloody, bloody hell."
Severus murmured closing his eyes briefly before rising and turning to the closed door at the left of the room. He opened it with some caution, giving every indication he felt something might be waiting on the other side. Nothing was. He returned to the couch again gently lifting the slight boy and carrying him from the room. The hall he stepped into was dark, along both sides objects draped in white rotting clothes line the walls under portraits silenced by heavy curtains. Some of the sheets had begun to disintegrate revealing tantalizing glimpses of the artifacts beneath. Severus gave the darkened space a quick once over before proceeding down the shadowed hall with a brisk but wary walk. This was Snape Manor after all. A long empty Snape Manor at that, Merlin knew what might be lose in here. The Snape family was both ancient and infamous, a line that counted within its ranks both unprecedented geniuses and unparalleled madmen. Severus Snape was the last of his bloodline and often uncertain into which category he fell. The Manor was the work of one of his forefathers that had inarguably fallen into the latter. Once a stately and elegant old manor house, Silurian Snape had "renovated" it. The manor followed no logical plan, in fact logic seemed to be the last thing considered in its reconstruction. It was a labyrinth, literally. If you didn't know it well you could become lost for days, or dead, depending on which wrong turn you took. Varied and bazaar were the architectural travesties visited upon the old manor house, yet the Snape family had continued habitation for all these many years, generations growing up in the tangled halls that many felt reflected the minds of the eccentric bloodline. Those generations had added to the manor, both above ground and below. Adding to the maze of rooms, stareways, and halls. The old pureblood line had also horded books and artifacts. Light or dark, fair or foul, magical or muggle until the manor resembled a labyrinthine museum of curiosities.
Severus now traversed his childhood home traveling deeper into the lower corridors, finally reaching the room he was seeking he pushed open the heavy door revealing a long abandon potions lab. Dust and cobwebs covered the once immaculate workspace. This room was where, long before the Sorting Hat choose his house, Severus Snape discovered potions. This room was were he had mastered them. By the time his letter arrived from Hogwarts he was creating potions of his own design. A child prodigy. Not that anyone knew. He had rarely left the manor as a child, his youth marked by isolation, silence, and his fathers slow insanity. And Potions.
He laid Harry carefully on one of the work tables. He looked closely at his face, pulled open one eye, examined his wrists. When he was satisfied he turned to take in the room. The room was just as he left it many years ago, the last time he had employed it in the service of the Dark Lord. Many of the ingredients had by now spoiled, rotting unused in their jars and casks. He hoped some were still usable. Harry was in need of a blood replenishing draft, pain relief and doubtless a calming potion. He wished for his potions cupboard at Hogwarts, as he set about cleaning one of the tables. As he worked he forced himself forget everything that had transpired earlier, focusing solely on the task at hand. After clearing a workspace for himself he began looking through the jars for the components he would need. Finding this spoiled, that eaten by rats, and that hatched and doubtless leading a rewarding life somewhere in the manor walls, revising and reworking what to make and how he could with what was still viable. This would be a challenge to even his skill. Not a challenge he could not overcome however. Had he not taught Neville Longbottom potions for five years? He had taught the Weasley Twins! Without one student death or permanent disfigurement . This was nothing.
He was just removing the last caldron from the burner to cool when he heard the chime that signaled someone arriving by floo. He had forgotten the chime. It played Three Blind Mice when someone flooed in.
Merlin knew why.
No one knew he was here. No one should be here. No one came here. They would have arrived in the study as he had, it was the only open floo. Better to find them then have them find him. Or try to anyway. No one but a Snape could navigate the manor. He looked over his potions once more and checked on Harry. The boy should remain stable until his return. He again entered the hall with caution and began the bothersome journey back to his fathers study.
As Severus came around a corner into the hall that held the room he was seeking he spotted his guest. In magenta and lime robes, peaking under the cloth covering one of the many curiosities hidden in this house was Albus Dumbledore. Severus stopped, unsure of how to proceed. Did Albus know he had Harry here? Well, why else would the man be there? When Albus demanded the boys return what then? Severus was unsure if he was willing to defy this man in person on the confused mumblings of a troublesome boy and the advise of a house elf. It was one thing to hide Harry from Albus until he awoke, quite another to fight Albus for the boy. No, he would relinquish the child and be done with this blasted night, and get drunk.
It was unfair that he felt ashamed of his decision. It was unfair he felt guilty.
He set off down the hall to meet the elder wizard just as Albus straitened from his examination.
"Severus, I am surprised to have found you here."
He really did not sound surprised. His eyes did not twinkle.
"Then I must ask Albus, if you did not expect me to be here to find, why is it here for me you are looking?"
Severus replied, carefully reapplying his legendary mask.
"Ah! That is an odd story my boy."
Albus was looking closely at Severus, watching his face as he spoke.
" You see, when I tried to send a house elf to fetch you. The elf, Dobby I believe, told me you were no longer at Hogwarts. When I enquired where you might have gone he said he did not know, but he was sure you had not gone home. He insisted in fact you could not be at Snape Manor. When I was unable to locate you elsewhere I thought perhaps his unprompted insistence you where not here was confirmation that this is where you had vanished to.
I wonder why you did not inform me, Severus?"
Albus said all this conversationaly and yet his eyes held a trace of suspicion.
"With the conclusion of hostilities I saw no need for such communication Headmaster. I am no longer operating as an agent of the Order, nor are my services as a scholar or Potion Master presently required in expedience. I thought I once again carried the title of teacher only, so have conducted my personal affairs accordingly. It is holiday after all."
Severus answered calmly.
"Why did you instruct the house elf to keep it secret then, I must assume from it's behavior you did so?"
Albus still maintained a tone of light questioning.
"I did not. I did request that the knowledge of my departure and present location be kept confidential. I have grown weary of reporters and Ministry persons hounding my steps. Questions and accusations have driven me to flight from my habitual haunts."
Severus had meant to hand the damn boy over, but the Headmaster had not mentioned him yet, and the Potion Master deduced he did not know Harry was there. Albus was suspicious, but not because he had a reason to be. Rather he had no information and that was why he was suspicious. Severus let his mask slip a fraction, allowing the exhaustion, pain and confusion he was experiencing from his earlier encounter with Harry to show on his face. Use what you have. Make the lie truth and it will be believed.
"You know that I am a privet man Albus. I have never liked being looked at, being watched. I rather would that no one knew my part in this bloody play and I could hide behind the curtain now that my scene is finished. I hate the cry of encore from the crowd. I did not mean for the elf to keep this from you, but my orders were admittedly rather vague. I simply wished to escape all the eyes upon me. What other reason to come here? You are aware of my distaste for my family home."
He allowed a little more weariness to show as he slumped against the wall and gestured to their surroundings. It seem to satisfy the older wizard, at least he stopped scrutinizing his Professor of Potions and turned his attention to the surroundings. Lying had never bothered Severus. He felt it was an act of creation, like painting or potion making, an art. He had been after all a duplicitus acolyte of two great enemies, the delicate art of truth, half truth, and falsehood kept him alive and free.
"Yes, you never come here. Not that I blame you Severus, it is rather…well, dark, I suppose. Speaking of dark things, it has been a tragic night and I do have need of you."
Dumbledores demeanor became more grave as he spoke.
" I know you do not appreiciate dithering over bad news, my boy. So I will tell you the facts without suger coating. This night has truly been one of lifes sour ones."
Albus heaved a sigh, set his face solumly and continued.
" The Ministry contacted me nearly an hour ago with the sad news that Remus Lupin was found dead in his home, apparently by his own hand. As tragic as this new is, I fear a graver problem overshadows it. As you know Harry Potter was staying with Remus, he has disappeared. The Ministry conducted a thorough search of the house and surrounding area to no avail. We can only guess at what took place within that house but I fear for young Harry. He is no doubt fragile and confused. I…I hesitate to say this aloud Severus. You have been a great ally to me, and I trust you implicitly; I fear Harry is not stable. I have for some time worried that the rumors regarding his mental state were more then idle gossip. Now with the death of Remus, however he died, I fear even more. Harry is quite powerful and should he turn away from his friends then I fear we could have another 'Dark Lord'."
As the Headmaster spoke he never let his eyes waver from the Potion Masters. His voice carried dramatically in the shadowed corridoor, his eyes flashing as he confided his fear. Severus almost felt like clapping, appluse surly was in order. Severus did not know what was going on, but he bloody well new when he was being manipulated. He generally allowed Albus to use him, to push him this way or that, he was accustomed to it. He did know it was happening however, and now he did care that Albus was trying to imply Harry had killed his fathers friend, the last of the Mauraders. Albus was offering the Potions Master the weapon everyone believed he wanted, a weapon that could destroy Harry Potter.
"Severus, we must find Potter. I know I can trust you in this delicate task, it is important he not be sequestered by the Ministry. However, he can not remain…unattended. Find him and bring him to Hogworts, I will determine what his needs. This need not become a public spectacle."
" Of course, Headmaster"
Severus painted a pleased smirk across his mask.
"It is time the child was brought to heel. I have always maintained he needed closer watching. I assume I am permitted the use of force if he should resist?"
"Whatever you deem necessary, Severus. I must return and see that things do not become…unnecessarily complicated with Remus."
"Allow me to see you to the Floo Headmaster."
Severus walked with the older man the short distance back to the study, putting on a show of reserved pleasure at his assigned task.
As the famed elderly wizard was whisked away through the joined hearths of the wizarding world Severus Snape sank into the ragged embrace of one of the tattered chairs that sat before his fathers desk. He needed to feel. Analyze everything he had seen and heard since Harry had entered his office. Allow himself to experience all the emotions roiling within him. So far he had been reacting, not acting. He had to purge himself. One of the memories he had locked away in the dark corners of his mind reserved for forgetting had been forced back to the surface. But the terror was numbed, the ache of shame dulled. There was now another memory irrevocably linked to the rape. Lupin's. Remus was not going to hurt him. Had never wanted to. Remus had fought to stop his friends.
Remus was dead.
That thought sent a jolt right to his core. Remus had killed himself after reliving the same memory. After Harry had forced him to remember. Severus began shaking. This was to bloody fucking much. Remus, Harry, Dumbledore, Dobby. His mind was reeling, ricocheting off questions and emotions. He was not going to be able to purge himself until he had more answers. He needed to calm himself. Let the emotions go and think. He looked over to the case containing the muggle magic tricks. He approached and slid the glass door open, removed a deck of cards. He began shuffling them, soon the cards were dancing through his hands. Aces and Queens appearing and vanishing on his whim. Not magic, illusion. Another oddity of the Snape line. How long the family had practiced this Severus did not know. The Snapes were Pureblood wizards, wealthy, powerful. They were also magicians. Card trick, rabbit-out-of-a-hat, muggle magic magicians. Many wizards might well scoff had they known. Not many knew, those few who did just considered it another eccentricity. They did not comprehend it's usefulness. Why learn muggle tricks when they had real magic? Slight of hand was, however, a powerful tool. Illusion and misdirection could baffle the most competent wizard. Card tricks might not seem a terribly useful weapon, but apply the same skills to secret documents or vials of vertiserum. Severus had seen early in life how useful knowing "magic" could be. The knowledge had served him well, indeed there were rumors of the "wandless magic" and unknown powers of the Snape line. Smoke and mirrors had mystified and befuddled the inner circle of the Dark Lords elite. Now, as Severus let the cards move through his hands he at last felt the tension of the night ease, his mind settle. It was not until he noticed the room growing faintly brighter as the sun struggled through the begrimed windows that he realized the night was past. A new day now awaited for him. Harry Potter was in the old potions room of Snape Manor awaiting his healing drafts. Albus Dumbledore had set him the task of finding the boy hero he was hiding. Remus Lupin was dead by his own hand. And a house elf named Dobby would have the art of lying explained carefully to him as soon as Severus got his hands on him.