Thank you for reading. This is Book II; follows Of Dreams, Delusions, and Demons

As ever, standard disclaimers apply.

The Dancers at the Precipice

Cautious Interlude

"Albus," the recovering Severus Snape gasped with raw pain and awful horror as his obsidian eyes came to rest on the eldest of the half dozen or so Order members that had come running to his bedroom in response to the startled cry that had reached them two flights of stairs away, "I am your spy and I have a job to do. He is calling for me." The ill wizard threw off the covers with a trembling hand.

It had been such a short time since he'd regained the scant few memories of his tattered life and even these were full of holes, and shadowed by the misshapen events of the summer and early fall. He'd been a prisoner, he'd been tortured and used and he'd been stripped of his mind. There had been a single week's respite at the Order's headquarters under Molly Weasley's care until someone, a man with a foul smelling pipe, had returned him to captivity. Most of it all was as much a blur as his original memories. All of it was terrifying and filled his sleep with nightmares. But a few days ago a veritable avalanche of memories had returned and he had remembered his role for Albus and the Order. The role of a spy in the camp of a dangerous enemy, a scourge against humanity, an insane but not unintelligent wizard of great power and resourcefulness.

"You cannot answer, Severus." The elderly Albus Dumbledore answered with a firm gentleness while two other wizards moved to restrain Snape from any escape. "You have not regained your health."

Severus used all his energy in a futile effort to wrench away from the two who shoved him back against the mattress and pinned his arms to his sides. They did not seem to be having any trouble holding him down and indeed his body betrayed him by losing all strength to uncontrollable shudders. By then, though, the searing in his left forearm had diminished to an almost tolerable level.

"There, you see? You cannot yet answer this summons."

"Besides, you still have a lot to answer for," a gruff voice shot from the back of the crowd.

"Alastor, I shouldn't start up if I were you," a woman's voice retorted.

A thin lipped Molly Weasley studied the now placidly recumbent wizard whose eyes had half closed with heavy lidded exhaustion. His chest rose and fell with each panting breath he gasped. "Right. Clear out you lot. Severus, you need to rest. You'd splinch if you tried to apparate anyway." She figured he'd not taken this little detail into account and her reminding him of it would surely put to bed any argument he might think to give. She used her hands in that universal gathering gesture that herded the others out of the room. She didn't follow but moved in closer to the bed and, brushing away the lank dark hair rested her wrist on the pale forehead. "Definitely splinch," she huffed at him as she rearranged the blankets up over his shoulders.

She turned to leave then and found that one had stayed behind. "Albus..."

"It's all right Molly, dear. I'll just be a minute. They could use a bit of time to get themselves organized." He smiled his twinkling smile and the Weasley matriarch gave a nod and bustled out the door.

Albus Dumbledore pulled the stuffed chair closer to the younger wizard's bedside and settled himself comfortably in it.

"What?"

"Not tonight, child, but soon we will have to ask our questions." He raised a hand to forestall any reply. "You need time to regain your strength and memories."

"I don't want them!" The dark eyed wizard hissed back.

"I know, my dear."

Severus could only sigh with weary resignation. "The man... The one with the eye..."

"Alastor Moody."

"Yes. Let him ask his questions." The husky voice issued the request as a demand; firm, resolute, even a touch annoyed.

"Very well. But not tonight. It is late and you are tired." he reached out and lightly caressed the younger wizard's cheek. "Now sleep, Dormio," he whispered the charm and smiled briefly as it took effect. He sighed. This Slytherin had the power to break his heart as well as rouse his anger.

He rose from the chair at last and returned downstairs to the kitchen of number twelve Grimmauld Place to continue the Order's meeting. The others had of course, broken into smaller groups discussing a variety of topics only some of which were related to Order business. As it must be since no one could be certain what anyone else knew or should be given to know.

All talk ceased with the aged wizard's return. He looked at them with an amused glint in his eye. "I don't suppose you've solved all our problems while I was upstairs?"

Moody snorted. "Amusing Albus, but now that he's awake--"

"Alastor, say nothing. I have not yet forgiven you. Let us return to business, please." He took the empty seat at the head of the table, folding his long fingers and resting his hands on the old tabletop.

"Headmaster, there hasn't been even the slightest reaction to the ...erm... fight that took place outside Malfoy Manor. Not a word of complaint, nothing, even when we had both Aurors and Hit-Wizards combing the place." Shacklebolt took up where he had left off.

"But neither did they get inside," Remus added, "So perhaps set off no alarms that summoned either Lucius or Narcissa."

"As if Lucius could leave the henge," Podmore Sturgis, (now out of Azkaban), remarked dryly.

"Narcissa is either with him or in hiding, then." Shacklebolt observed. "Any owls for young Draco of late?" He glanced from Remus to Dumbledore directing his query to them.

"If she has been in contact with the boy, she has done so sufficiently surreptitiously that we have not learned of it." Dumbledore replied with his usual unflagging calm.

Bill Weasley cleared his throat loudly and all heads turned toward him. "Erm..." he began hesitantly, clearly unused to being the center of attention, "Why didn't the authorities get inside the manor, then?"

"Fudge, the old goat." Tonks muttered. "Said that since the place was attacked from the outside and the owners hadn't invited us in, there was no reason to even ask to enter."

"I tried to reason that perhaps they weren't able to respond, seeing as there hasn't been a single word, not even of complaint from either Malfoy. But he wasn't buying it." Added Shacklebolt. "Neither was Bones." Amelia Bones, still head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was a stickler for protocol and procedure. "In fact Fudge decided that an official note should be owled to them apologizing for the inconvenience."

"Has that been done?" Lupin asked

"A ministry owl was sent just this evening. I assigned an Auror to track it."

Another witch, dark haired Hestia Jones, made a small sound of annoyance, "I suspect we can safely assume Lucius is holed up with You-Know-Who at Stonehenge. Which is not all that far from the manor. I wonder if that proximity is more than mere coincidence."

Moody offered a grunt of agreement and added, "Only Snape knows those wards. He very nearly got Sellinger in, he could do better for us."

"And wouldn't that look great on our records, then." A disgruntled Tonks retorted sharply.

"Only if we're caught," Moody admonished, his frustration making his comments ever more waspish.

"What's your thinking, exactly, Hestia?" Shacklebolt asked.

The witch threw up her hands in frustration. "Well, the Muggle had Snape bring her there."

"To destroy the property and ultimately murder Lucius and his family," Dumbledore reminded them quietly. "But you are correct, Hestia. Malfoy Manor was built very near Stonehenge not by mere whim or accident. Stonehenge has always been symbolic, though once powerful magical Rites were held there. The Malfoys have always wanted power and to be associated with power." The old wizard shook his head. "Much more than that is unknown, but one may speculate on further significancies."

"So we're just going to sit back and wait for some catastrophe to attack?" Moody's frustration was getting the better of him. "It's time -- no, past time -- we took the initiative, Albus. It's time we attack first."

All heads turned toward the elder sorcerer. Surprising everyone, he nodded, a slow dipping of his head barely eliciting a sway to his long silver beard, but a nod nonetheless. "Yes. Perhaps we have been too long merely reacting," the old voice wavered uncharacteristically. "But before we rush headlong into misadventure, we shall wait for the rest of the information on the whereabouts of all known Death Eaters. We shall plan our actions. And we shall give Severus more time to recuperate."

--

Sense returned to him, suddenly but not shockingly. Asleep. Now not. Simple. Immediate.

He knew he'd slept all night even before opening his eyes for the unusually bright light invaded even through his still closed lids. Thus, he reasoned, it had to be well past early morning as the sun did not rise near his window and only direct sunlight would be so alarmingly fierce. He swallowed and stretched beneath the comfortably warm sheets and blankets and finally sighed and opened his eyes. Only to be startled to find that he was not alone. A man framed in white, but wearing outlandishly patterned robes was staring anxiously at him.

"Albus." The roughness of his own voice startled him into clearing his throat. The Headmaster brought forth a glass of water.

"Good afternoon, Severus. I did not mean to wake you, dear boy."

"You did not." He gestured weakly at the afternoon light. "That did." The younger wizard frowned. "You are not at the school," he noted as if unsure of his facts.

"It's Sunday. I'm allowed to be out on my own you know." The reply was filled with warm humor. "Do you remember the school, Severus?"

"Hogwarts... Like the plant."

"Indeed. What else do you recall of it?"

A scowl answered before any words. "More than I'd care to, I think." A deeper frown of concern wracked the gaunt face. "Someone called Longbottom, I should be concerned... Explosions?"

"A student who you terrorize far too deeply. He does not fare well in your class."

Severus only sighed at that. "If you say so. I know that I teach potions. I do not actually recall teaching any class. But I am not at Hogwarts for my dubious skill as a teacher. I am there so that I can report to you more easily. And so that you can see that I do not betray the Order or you."

"No, child, That last is not a reason at all. You must know that I trust your heart." And as he said this, the elder wizard reached out his hand and lay it against the younger's chest. "I keep you close as much for your safety as for that of the students in our care, Severus. You are an asset to the school as well as the Order."

"I would not willingly betray you, nor the Order," the younger man rasped sorrowfully.

"I know that."

"Are you here to question me?" Severus pushed himself to a sitting position.

"Only if you feel up to it."

"Yes. But summon... summon him; the angry man."

"Goodness, you are having a great deal of trouble remembering his name. But do you remember the man?"

"Not really. I see his face sometimes, but not often, in my ... sleep." A euphemism and both men realized it.

"Very well. And I think a bit of breakfast would do you some good." Albus moved his hand to pat Severus' shoulder reassuringly before getting up to leave. He seemed to float soundlessly across the room as if he'd perfected walking to such an art that his feet barely had to skim the threadbare carpeting.

Left alone, then, Severus Snape pushed himself to a sitting position and then slowly to his feet. He was going to meet the others as much a whole man as possible. He meant to shower and dress at least. By the time he managed to drag himself back to his room, he was out of breath and seeing spots exploding in front of his eyes. He managed to get to the bed where he collapsed in utter exhaustion and he changed his mind about getting dressed and instead pulled himself back under the covers to wait and rest for his inquisitors.

It was, however, Molly and breakfast -- lunch really -- that arrived first. She took in his damp hair and the wet footprints and rewarded his efforts with a long, well rehearsed and oft practiced sigh.

"I needed a shower," he explained sounding far less imperious than defense. Not what he'd intended at all.

"I see." The matronly Weasley replied noncommittally but he'd have had to have been as thick as a tree not recognize that she was not pleased. "Well, at least you didn't fall and hurt yourself," she gave him that much, anyway. "I've brought you a nice lunch of stew and bread and tea, with a lovely compote on the side." She waved the floating tray to set itself on the bedside table. "Albus and Mr Moody will be allowed up when you have finished." She smiled sweetly all of a sudden. "Take your time, dear." She settled herself in the everpresent plush chair (now a wild floral pattern) and began to knit.