(Disclaimer, disclaimer, if you found it with somebody else's name on it, it's not mine – in case you really needed me to tell you that...)
"Let me tell you," Dumbledore said very calmly, "exactly what you have done, Severus, and what those actions mean."
Snape winced. That was not a promising beginning.
I have a feeling I will indeed remember this day for a long time.
Merely not in the way I had hoped.
From Living with Danger, chapter 30, "Confrontations"
Dumbledore continued, still calmly, still politely. "You have invaded a peaceable, law-abiding home, whose inhabitants were doing no harm to anyone and who merely wished to be left alone. You have disrupted their lives in the highest degree – I believe it is not unreasonable to say that you have destroyed the lives they have hitherto led. Not to mention terrorizing an innocent child."
Snape shifted uncomfortably. "I did not hurt her," he protested feebly. Quite the opposite, actually.
"No, you simply used her as a pawn and terrified her. I wonder if you have considered, Severus, that she will be one of your students in a very few years?"
"One of my students?" Snape repeated dumbly. "She will attend Hogwarts?"
"Miss Granger is magical, not yet eleven, and lives in England. If there is another requirement for attendance, I have yet to hear of it."
Wonderful. I have had students who hate me – most of the Gryffindors, many of the Hufflepuffs – but never one with quite such a personal reason for doing so...
"And unless I am greatly mistaken, she will not be your only problem in that year." To Snape's annoyance, Dumbledore seemed to find telling him this somehow amusing. "Two boys of a similar age live in that household as well. As you are well aware, since you mentioned them by name while you were there." He stopped and regarded Snape with a look the Potions Master knew well. It meant "And now, you tell me what that means."
"They will be Miss Granger's yearmates," Snape said, thinking it through. "Probably her Housemates, in the noble House of Gryffindor, no doubt." He allowed just a bit of venom to seep through. "So that I will have them all in class at the same time."
"You have the right idea, Severus, but you are missing a vital point. How do the adults of that household think of the children?"
How should I know? was Snape's first reaction. He controlled it and thought. "Lupin called the girl his daughter," he recollected. "Though she can be nothing of the kind. I would assume, then, that they regard them all as their own children."
"Making the children what to one another?"
"Siblings. Brothers and sisters..." Oh.
Dumbledore must have read the answer on his face. "Exactly. You have now prejudiced the three of them against yourself. To Harry Potter, to Draco Black, you will always be the man who frightened their sister when she was seven."
"I would imagine they thought little enough of me in any case, considering what the girl called me," Snape retorted. "Taking into account the so-called 'adults' of the household, I am not surprised." Something registered in his mind. "Draco Black?"
"If I understood correctly, it was his mother's express wish that he take a different name. Considering the current residence of his birth father, it seems only fair to the boy. Besides being an effective break with a most unhappy past."
I cannot help but agree. Lucius Malfoy deserves imprisonment probably more than any of the other Death Eaters I was... privileged... enough to know. But still, that name would suggest...
"Headmaster, can you be sure the boy's present is any happier than his past? To go from Lucius Malfoy's hands into those of Sirius Black – is this an improvement?"
"What makes you think Sirius Black is involved in any of this, Severus?"
"Simple deduction, Headmaster, based on common knowledge."
"Do share this common knowledge with me."
I will. And perhaps you will descend from your damned cloud and deign to give me a few scraps of the information you so obviously know and are enjoying watching me struggle for. "It is commonly accepted that Sirius Black has Harry Potter in his... custody, if it can so be called."
Are you going to make me go over everything? "Their appearance together in Diagon Alley some years ago, followed by Black's snatching the child up and Disapparating, would seem to indicate as much. Also, it is self-evident that Black escaped from Azkaban to steal Potter from his relatives' home..."
Snape stopped. Dumbledore was shaking his head, and damn it all, he was smiling! "Ah, Severus, even you were taken in. The Daily Prophet is rarely so helpful as it was on that occasion. Because the headlines came in that order – Sirius Black escapes, Harry Potter missing – most of our fellowship assume the events occurred in that order. But buried in the story about Harry was the fact that he had been missing for two days at the time of the writing. Sirius Black was still in his cell in Azkaban when Harry Potter was kidnapped."
Snape felt his headache returning. "So, Black did not take Potter. Who did?" But as soon as he spoke, he realized it. "Of course. Lupin. The faithful wolf, taking his friend's cub as his own. And did he also help Black escape Azkaban?"
He wasn't really expecting an answer, and was taken aback when Dumbledore said solemnly, "He did. For the best of reasons."
Oh, Merlin, not another "friendship conquers all" lecture. Snape kept his mouth shut and simply spread his hands in a "so-tell-me" gesture.
"As much as you will dislike hearing this, Severus, I feel you must know. Sirius Black is innocent."
Snape was on his feet. "Innocent? Headmaster, that's not possible!"
"It is. Sit down, Severus, and I will explain."
No. No. Not when I had finally won. Not when I was finally better than he – I, the redeemed sinner, who had seen the light and returned, and he, the fallen angel, Black by name and black by nature... no.
This cannot happen to me now!
But he sat, and he listened, and by the end of the story he had to admit it was possible. It was even probable. He hated Sirius Black with a passion, but his realistic side forced him to see that Pettigrew made the likelier traitor.
"So Black is innocent," he said at the end. "That explains why Lupin would help him. It does not explain how."
"Why, Severus, I believe you're interested."
Pride warred with curiosity. Curiosity won. No one would ever know about this, after all, except Dumbledore, who had already seen him without any pride whatsoever, at the lowest moment of his life, when all his convictions had been shattered... "Yes."
"Very well." Dumbledore leaned back in his chair. "It begins in a park in Surrey, on a cool spring day..."
It was a long story, but it answered most of his questions. Questions such as, how were the girl who was responsible for a lot of his pain and Lupin's wife related (sisters, twenty years apart), was Aletha Freeman's four-year-old daughter Black's as well (yes), was she therefore illegitimate (no, they'd been married for five years), and how in Merlin's name had the former Draco Malfoy ended up in their household at the age of four?
I was as surprised as everyone else by Narcissa's sudden conversion to the light. It makes a bit more sense in the context of protecting her son. Lucius will have a harder time harming him from Azkaban, and the household to which she sent the boy was safely hidden from all its foes...
Until I found them.
Severus Snape experienced an odd feeling in his chest and abdomen. It took him a moment to recognize.
It was guilt.
What in the world do I have to be guilty about? I did what I thought was right. It turned out badly. That is not my fault.
He wished he could convince himself of that.
"This belongs to you," Dumbledore said, handing Snape his own wand, which he had last seen in the hand of the Granger girl. "I received it in conjunction with a letter informing me that the house which you entered today is no longer anyone's place of residence. Having been invaded in such a way, they feel unsafe, and are therefore embarking on a journey."
In such a way, and by such a person. That is what he is too polite to say.
"They did not inform me of their destination." Dumbledore sighed. He looked old suddenly, as old as he was, old and tired. "And I cannot set inquiries in motion to find out without drawing attention to them, in the least safe way possible."
His eyes fixed on Snape. They were filled with the quiet disappointment that was somehow worse than anger. "Severus, until this rash action of yours, I had at least a modicum of control over this situation. That has now vanished. There were things I could do to help these people, to protect them, had it become necessary. No longer. They are on their own now."
"By their own choice," Snape felt obliged to point out. "They could easily have told you where they are going."
"They feared the communication might be intercepted," Dumbledore said heavily. "I cannot blame them for wanting to be cautious. They have little enough reason to trust anyone."
"Surely, if they are such paragons as you make them out to be, they will have no trouble surviving in the world without your help," Snape said, not sure if he was being snide or not.
Dumbledore gave a small smile. "Paragons they are not. What they are, is brave, intelligent, cunning, and loyal to one another. I only hope it will be enough." He rose. "If you will excuse me, Severus, I have some business to tend to. Should I have the house-elves send something down for you, since you missed dinner?"
"Thank you, Headmaster, but no. I am not hungry."
"As you like." Dumbledore went to the door.
"Why have you told me this story? Black and Lupin and the rest of them – "
"They call themselves the Pack," Dumbledore interjected politely.
"Very well, the Pack. They have no reason at all to trust me. I cannot believe they would wish me to know their story."
"Odd that you should say that, Severus. The letter I received from them had something to say on that very point." Dumbledore pulled a small piece of folded parchment from his pocket. " 'If Professor Snape should ask about us, please tell him what you feel he needs to know,' " he read from it. " 'We may have had our differences in the past, but when he knows the truth, I hope his sense of justice will overcome his wish to seek revenge. Please also tender him our apologies for hurting him. It was done out of necessity, not spite.' "
Snape snorted mentally. And pigs are doing Quidditch maneuvers around the moon. "Thank you, Headmaster."
"Severus, I must confess, I have also told you this for a reason of my own. I will not lie to you – your actions today have hurt me. I trusted you, and you have in some measure betrayed my trust. I told you this story to the end of helping you regain that trust. You have information now that only two other people have, not counting myself. In the terms of those most closely involved, you have become a 'Pack-friend', in a very real way responsible for their safety."
Snape stared at the other man. He literally could not speak for shock.
"Have a good night," Dumbledore said, and let himself out.
Responsible for their safety. The words played on a repeating loop inside his head. Responsible for their safety.
I do not WANT to be responsible for the safety of Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, or Harry Potter!
Which is probably why the interfering old coot told me all of this. He specializes in making people do things they do not want to do, but which are good for them.
Snape's guilt was returning full-force. Why couldn't you just have left well enough alone, it whinged at him. If you'd never gone looking for them, you would never have had to know all this, and you wouldn't be stuck being responsible for them...
I KNOW! he shouted mentally. Will you just SHUT UP!
His headache chose this moment to reassert itself.
Dumbledore looked at the postscript on the letter and smiled.
While I was writing this, Danger fell asleep on my shoulder and said, "In time, the raven will take his place with honor beside the phoenix, the dragon, and the cat." I assume it's a prophecy, and because of the context I'd say it's meant for you. So there it is. If you ever figure it out, do let us know. And we will be in touch soon.
"I think I understand it well enough," Dumbledore said softly to himself, reaching a hand up to stroke Fawkes' head feathers, and thinking of Hagrid's lifelong pet-owning ambition and Minerva's favorite way to relax, which involved a string tied to a doorknob. "Yes, I think I understand it quite well."
Snape dreamed that night of the Pack.
Lupin and his wife (with that absurd nickname of hers), and Black and his (for her, he felt a grudging admiration, for having been able to keep up the façade of being unmarried and having no idea where Black was for five years), and their eclectic collection of children – the Potter boy, the Granger girl, Draco Black, and Freeman and Black's daughter Meghan.
He saw bits and snatches of their lives – mornings, afternoons, evenings. He watched them talk, eat, play, fight, and laugh. They were always laughing, it seemed. For a household in hiding, they were remarkably happy.
And they have had to flee their home, to leave everything they knew, because of me. He squirmed, feeling again the unaccustomed, and highly unpleasant, sensation of guilt.
I wonder if this is how Peter Pettigrew feels...
(A/N: See those splotches on your computer screen? Those are drops of sweat. This thing went through at LEAST four major rewrites before it was done! I simply could not get it to look like what I wanted... until now. So here it is, and I hope it's what you were hoping for... and the link to "Living with Danger", the main story from this world, is on my profile page!)