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Chapter 1: A Question of Loyalty

Holding his head high, the man walked through the crowd of masked figures. If not for the limp and the blood soaking his robes, it would have appeared as if his encounter with the Dark Lord resulted in nothing more than a mere paper cut, his trademark sneer plastered perfectly across his face.

"Severus."

The man stopped immediately and turned to meet his tormentor.

"I would be more careful, my child," spoke the Dark Lord, his voice dripping with mock concern. "Too much pride has its consequences."

Snape cursed inwardly, his blank expression never wavering for a moment and brought himself to his knee for the third time that night, and mumbled, "Sorry, my lord."

Voldemort's lips curled into a twisted smile and raised his wand towards him.

Knowing what was coming, Snape bit down on his tongue, preventing a scream from rising to his mouth as the all too familiar pain of the Cruciatus curse ran through his already battered body.

Swallowing his pride, he bowed his head as the curse was lifted. "Thank you, my lord," muttered Snape, ignoring the taste of blood in his mouth as blood trickled out from the teeth like cut on his tongue.

"I expect more from you next time. I will not be so kind in the future." And without another glance, Voldemort turned his attention away from the younger man, allowing him to let himself out of the cold and musty manor that served as the Dark Lord's headquarters.

Fumbling with a ring of keys, Snape finally found the right one and jammed it into the keyhole. With a faint click, the door announced that it was open and Snape stepped into the uncharacteristically pleasant house, a string of profanities escaping his lips as hot blood sprang from his nose—the pressure created by the Cruciatus curse was taking its toll.

Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, the Potions Master scowled at his reflection. Not that he ever cared about his appearance; it was just that his shattered body was a foul reminder of his meeting with Voldemort, just a few minutes ago.

Gingerly removing his bloody robes and shirt, he started disgustingly at the fresh gashes glaring angrily across his washboard stomach. His hands unconsciously reached for the cupboard doors above the sink and he started pulling out various potions.

As he worked, his eyes unwilling caught the reflection of a skull and snake staring back at him from his forearm. The sunken man drew his eyes away from the mark, clenching his teeth together.

Letting out a strangled cry of frustration, he threw the potion bottle in his hand fiercely across the room, watching it crash into a million pieces, droplets of liquid spraying everywhere as it hit the wall. Sinking to the floor, he pulled his hands through his hair and tugged at it, his piercing eyes blazing with anger and guilt, ignoring the tremors rushing through his body, yet another after effect of the Cruciatus curse.

xxxx

Any evidence of the broken man had disappeared as Snape walked into number 12, Grimmauld Place a few hours later. His eyes no longer showed any emotion and his expression was once again set in a seemingly permanent scowl. The limp in his step was considerably less noticeable and there was no longer any evidence of blood or wounds. Snape, after all, was accustomed to covering himself from top to bottom in black, the only skin visible being that of his face and hands—even in the midst of the scorching summer.

"You're here," said Molly Weasley, apprehensively, coming into the living room, where Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny sat doing homework.

"Clearly," sneered Snape.

Molly ignored his sarcastic tone and turned her attention to the teenagers. "You four should be in bed. Now," she said firmly, pointing her finger towards the stairs, her other hand resting on her hip.

After the shuffle of parchments and books, the four Hogwarts students reluctantly took their departure. Harry threw a loathsome, deadly glare at Snape, his hand forming a fist as he stalked passed him. Snape returned the stare with an equal amount of disgust.

Molly waited until she could no longer see the children than looked at Snape. "Well, everyone is in there, waiting to hear what you have to say," said Molly, hurriedly, waving her hands toward the dining room.

Snape was greeted by a crowd of tensed faces as they looked up at the newcomer with what seemed like misplaced anxiety. He quickly noted the addition of two identical redheaded Weasleys, and though they too watched him with uneasy looks, the mischievous glimmer in their eyes was still there. How these two could be taken seriously was beyond his fathom.

"Ah, Severus, come in, sit down," said Dumbledore, gesturing at the empty seat beside him. His smile seemed awfully forced to Snape, which was so very unlike the Headmaster.

"Well?" growled Moody, impatiently, his magical eye boring through Snape. He ignored the ex-Auror's attempt to unnerve him.

"He wants to get into Hogwarts," started Snape.

"That's not entirely surprising," squeaked Diggle Dedalus.

A few other wizards and witches nodded in agreement.

"I am very well aware of that," shot Snape, through gritted teeth. "He is becoming desperate, it is not blaringly obvious yet but today he questioned me on the wards around Hogwarts and he was less than pleased with my lack of answer.

Dumbledore's eyes flickered for an instant, looking at Snape intently; he searched for any visible evidence of Voldemort's wrath on his professor but found none.

"Lack of answer, bullocks! How are we too know that you haven't given everything away, that as soon as Hogwarts opens their won't be a swarm of your buddies descending upon the school," spat Moody, violently, his fist landing on the table with a bang.

"Alastor," cautioned Dumbledore.

Snape's thin lips curled into a twisted smile. "I would think that you of all people, the absolute definition of paranoia would know everything about how the Order operates."

The disfigured ex-Auror narrowed his mismatched eyes.

"What Severus is trying to say is that he knows nothing of the workings of the protective wards around Hogwarts. We decided that would be best for all parties concerned," interjected Dumbledore, snapping the two men out of their silent war.

"So, you don't trust him," concluded Moody, looking at the tired old man.

"That is not what I said."

"And yet again you are unable to prove any disloyalties on my part." Snape enjoyed watching the crazy ex-Auror's mind work, trying to bring the spy down with something, anything.

"How are we to know where his loyalties lie? As far as I'm concerned, he serves no one but himself. He's a bloody turncoat and nobody sees it!" roared Moody.

"You'll wake the children," said Molly, glaring at Moody.

"I say bring on the Veritaserum! Let's see where he really stands," hollered Moody, his volume not decreasing a notch.

"Fine with me," said Snape, smirking. "That is, if you are willing to mess up these infirmary like clean floors."

"What are you talking about?" asked Tonks.

"Due to an elaborate self-induced taste aversion to the particular potion, I cannot keep it down for more than a second," explained Snape, smugly.

Everyone looked at him, flabbergasted.

"Did you know about this?" asked Kingsley Shacklebolt towards Dumbledore.

Dumbledore nodded.

Snape took that moment to get up from his seat.

"Where are you going," came Moody's low growl.

"I have nothing more to say," said Snape, sweeping passed the silent members, his robes bellowing behind him.

"Damned, crazy Auror," muttered the pale man, under his breath as he left the Black Manor.

xxxx

Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny sat on Ginny's bed listening intently through slightly modified extendable ears, which Fred and George had recently invented, allowing them to listen in on the Order meeting, even with their mother's interventions.

"I agree with Moody. He shouldn't be trusted," stated Harry, rage brewing inside him. Ever since the death of his godfather, not a single word left his mouth without being coated with anger.

"Dumbledore trusts him." Hermione's words were simple and said in absolute faith.

Harry glared at her, the temper in the pit of his stomach rising to his throat.

"DUMBLEDORE IS NOT PERFECT, HERMIONE! HE'S A STUPID OLD FOOL! HE EATS LEMON DROPS AND KEEPS THE TRUTH FROM THE PEOPLE WHO SHOULD HAVE IT!" yelled Harry.

"He does seem to hire all the wrong sort," added Ron, gently.

Hermione held back tears and shook her head absently. "If we can't put our faith in Dumbledore, who can we, Harry? We're doomed if we have no one to trust."

"DOOMED! THAT'S IT, HERMIONE. WE'RE ALL DOOMED!" The prophecy that Harry had learnt about last year had still not fully sunk in and the feeling of doom felt too real for him at the moment. He hadn't even told his friends yet.

"Keep your voice down," cut in Ginny, sharply. "They'll hear you."

"I don't think so," said Ron. "Listen. They're yelling loudly down there."

"You have yourself the perfect spy, Albus—a master of occlumency and allergic to Veritaserum. Too perfect if you ask me. How the hell are we supposed to know if he is truly on our side and not a double-crossing snake!" bellowed Moody.

"Quiet down," hushed Molly, again.

"When did he learn occlumency and when did he induce this allergy upon himself? After he rejoined our side during the first war?" asked Arthur Weasley, softly.

Dumbledore sighed. "He mastered occlumency long before he started spying for the Order, same with the allergy."

At those words, there was an uproar of conversations, making their words inaudible for the eavesdropping students.

"Stop it," demanded Fred, speaking up for the first time that night.

"Arguing isn't going to solve anything," finished George.

"That takes guts," whispered Ron after hearing his brothers speak. Harry had to agree, they were the youngest and newest members of the Order after all.

"They're right. We should discuss this rationally," said Remus Lupin, giving creditability to the twins' words.

"If what you say is true then how did you know to trust him in the first place?" inquired Kingsley, eyeing Dumbledore intensely.

"There is more to trust than what we have magically constructed."

"But why would he have learnt these things before becoming a spy?" reasoned Tonks.

"To fool us, that's what! The lying bastard wanted us fooled from the beginning!" yelled Moody.

Dumbledore shook his head. "I trust him."

"I think at this point we need more than your trust. You're too kind hearted sometimes, overlooking defaults in people," said Elphias Doge, his wheezy voice hardly disguising his nervousness.

The four teenagers could hear the hesitant mummer of agreement float through the extendable ears. Ginny, Harry and Ron exchanged dark looks—how would they ever know where Snape's loyalties truly lay.

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