Revelations and Eavesdropping
Severus knew better than to smirk in the face of his colleague's rage. Certainly pointing out the fact that her Scottish brogue had deepened to rival that of an Edinburgh dockworker was also probably not his safest course of action. Of course, he had been lying to an unstable madman for twenty years and had been known to goad even Albus Dumbledore into a fury just for the amusement of watching the man lose his damnable twinkle. What did he know about safe courses of action? For all that he practiced an inordinate amount of caution in his life; by Slytherin standards Severus was practically reckless in his dealings with those who had the power to hurt him.
So really, driving Minerva McGonagall into a sputtering, near apoplectic fit just wasn't something he could simply pass up. Besides, if he read her correctly, and he'd spent most of his life learning to read people correctly, all it would take was just one more thing. That in true Slytherin fashion, he would also be twisting an old and bloody knife in Albus was just icing on his already sweet cake.
"Really, Minerva," he drawled, his tone one of someone who honestly doesn't see what the fuss is about, "it was just a prank between boys."
"A prank?" Minerva repeated in outraged tones. "Malfoy's little prank could have seriously injured Harry. It is completely unacceptable for a student to intentionally endanger the life of another. Bridget above, Severus! If Mr. Weasley hadn't pulled Harry out of the way . . ." she trailed off, breathing hard as she grappled with her temper. "I want Malfoy expelled. I will not stand for you coddling and protecting that little animal any longer. His behavior must be stopped."
Severus smiled though it lacked all warmth. "How oddly appropriate that you refer to young Mr. Malfoy as an animal. I believe your own coddled and protected Gryffindors refer to him as a ferret. But you see, Minerva," Severus snarled, "that just makes the case of this incident all the more matching to its historical precedence."
He affected a look of thoughtfulness as if trying to remember a long ago memory before turning slightly to where Dumbledore sat behind his large desk. "Remind me Albus, if you will, of the details. I seem to recall the animal in question in the original case to be a dog. Correct?" He waved one hand in dismissal before Albus could reply. "But the details hardly matter, after all. Dog. . . ferret. It really is the same difference in the end."
Seeing his fellow Head of House opening her mouth to start her argument again, Severus cut her off. "Mr. Malfoy will NOT be expelled. He will NOT apologize, nor will his movements or privileges be curtailed. He will, in this matter, receive a week of detention to be served with Mr. Filch and that will be the end of it."
At that Minerva found her outraged voice. "A week? You can't be serious if you think a week's detention is worth another student's life!"
"It is not I who thinks so, Minerva. Our esteemed Headmaster decided on that particular equivalency for the crime in question. Oh yes, before I forget the best part . . . Mr. Potter will swear he will not speak of this ever again. Not to Mr. Malfoy, nor to any other soul, especially not to his little friends."
He knew he shouldn't be taking so much pleasure in her outrage, but he was rather looking forward to telling her the next part. "And Minerva, if he chooses, in his arrogance, to break that oath and speak of this prank, he will be summarily expelled."
Severus turned to Albus who had sat uncharacteristically silent through their confrontation. "If you will excuse me, Headmaster, I'll go inform Mr. Malfoy of the details of his detention." With a slight bow to both colleagues and a small smirk to Minerva, Severus exited the Headmaster's office in a swirl of black.
Her target of choice gone, Minerva turned her anger towards Dumbledore. "Albus, you can't seriously be expecting this . . . this travesty of justice to stand. No amount of favoritism is worth another student's life."
Minerva was so agitated she failed to see the sorrow that crossed Dumbledore's face at her words. She did however catch the weariness when he sighed.
"Please sit down, Minerva."
She, however, was too angry to sit and continued to stand, her back stiff with indignation.
"So fierce you are when one of your cubs is threatened," Albus said, smiling affectionately. The smile slowly twisted into something Minerva couldn't identify. "Minerva, please, sit. There is . . ." He trailed off for a moment and then began again, "I have much to explain to you."
The weariness in Albus' soft voice finally caught Minerva's attention. Slowly the rigid line of her back relaxed. Taking a seat across from the Headmaster, she leaned back into the soft cushions of the chair. Her eyes, however, stayed flint sharp and never left Albus' face. "So talk to me."
"While I understand your desires to have young Mr. Malfoy removed, I can not allow it. Hogwarts and I walk a precarious line with the Ministry, as well you know. Even after today's prank, Severus believes that Mr. Malfoy is still undecided where his true loyalties lie."
"I do not see, Albus, how the remote possibility of Draco Malfoy's redemption earns him the right of protection of you or this school from his crimes. There is obviously more to this than you are saying. As your Deputy, I have supported you and your decisions, Albus, for many years. However, I will not support students endangering the lives of others. No matter how much Severus seems to think this topic is over –"
Albus cut her off, his own voice hard. "It is over, Minerva." She was shocked at the steely tone of his voice and the hard blue of eyes. She'd known for years that there was more to the Headmaster than his eccentric, grandfatherly persona, yet, as always, it surprised her when she caught a glimpse of the wizard who was considered to be the most powerful in the Wizarding World.
He'd shocked her into complete silence. She blinked at him, stunned. Then just as quickly, the hard light in his eyes was gone and powerful wizard was replaced once again with slightly dotty old man. The swiftness of the change left her feeling a bit breathless.
"Forgive me. You are right. There is more to the situation. Severus has his reasons for expecting my . . . assistance, if you will, in this matter. I will try to explain, but to fully understand you have to realize that this story begins long before today's incident."
"I expect it began when Harry and Malfoy first met."
Albus shook his head. "Much further back than that, my dear. Back to before Tom's original rise to power, during the days when he was just making a name for himself within the pureblood circles."
At Minerva's skeptical expression, Albus raised a hand. "I will explain. Hear me out."
At her nod, Albus continued. "Tom was growing in power, and I knew that within a few years he would become the biggest threat our world had faced since Grindelwald. Even in those early years, I could see where his ambitions were leading and what he was becoming. Unfortunately, no one else wanted to believe me. Those beliefs, those thoughts, had a great influence over much of what happened later. You have to keep that in mind as I explain what occurred in order to understand my thinking at the time."
Minerva watched Albus pause before rubbing a finger against the side of his long, crooked nose. She was disturbed to see faint tremors marring the steadiness of his hand. Whatever Albus was confessing to still had the power to distress him even after all these years. She was still angry and still wanted her answers, but felt the need to offer comfort to this man who had been part of her life in varying capacities for most of her life.
"I'm sure, Albus, that whatever your thoughts at the time, they were the right ones. You have always done your best to look after the Wizarding World's best interests."
His answer, when it came, only served to deepen her growing sense of disquiet.
"Oh my dear, I wish I could believe that. I helped set in motion the very events I was working so hard to stop." He paused again, his eyes going vague as if he were watching some long ago memory. "So many things I would have done differently," he murmured quietly. "So many mistakes."
A small shake of his head and Albus' eyes once again focused on the present, though the trace of sadness she heard in his voice remained. "Forgive an old man for rambling. It has been a long time since last I remembered these things."
With small sigh he began again. "I knew what was coming, you see, and even in those days I was beginning to prepare. I've long known that no matter how hard you try to protect children from the evils of the world, it is impossible. I knew that eventually, the children within my care would become the fighters in the coming war. That began my first mistake, for I cared for some children more than others."
The disquiet Minerva had felt before returned in force. She knew where this was leading, or at least she thought she did. "You speak of James, Sirius, Peter and Remus."
Albus nodded. "Yes. They were bright and strong and brave. So very brave. I knew they would be vital to what was coming. I needed them and others like them. So began the nascent beginnings of the Order of the Phoenix."
"But those four were special to you."
A fond smile of remembrance crossed the Headmaster's face. "Yes, they were special. You remember them, Minerva, their friendships were so strong, their dreams so bright."
Minerva could hear the affection in Albus' voice even now after all these years, even when all but Remus was dead and Peter lost to the forces of darkness. Then she remembered that this was supposed to be an explanation concerning the dealings between Gryffindor and Slytherin.
"And they were Gryffindors," she added.
"Yes, as Severus is fond of saying, my own Gryffindor bias." The words were no sooner said than Albus abruptly pushed away from his desk and stood. "Would you like some tea?"
He turned away before she could even answer. Minerva could only blink at him in confusion. This nervousness was something she had never before witnessed in her old friend. She was more certain than ever that there was more to this story, and if allowing Albus to relieve some of his tension would ease the telling, she was patient enough to give him a moment to collect himself. "Yes, Albus, a cup of tea would be lovely. Thank you."
She watched him putter with the tea set that sat in the corner of his office. He did not ask her but fixed her tea in the way she liked it – two lumps of sugar and a slice of lemon. His reprieve only lasted so long though as she pinned him with a steady gaze as he returned to his desk after handing her the cup. "Enough stalling, Albus," she said, though her usual no-nonsense tones were mixed with gentleness. "I've known you too long. You have something to say that you know I'm not going to like. I already do not like this situation. I can't see how it will get much worse."
Toying with the spoon he'd used to stir his tea, Albus settled back into his chair. "You know me too well, Minerva. I should probably begin by saying that I owe you an apology. There were things happening at that time that I should have told you about, or at least consulted you on. My only excuse is that I thought I knew best - pure arrogance on my part, really; a mistake that I seem to have not learned from, as Harry's current anger and erosion of faith in me can attest to.
"I let the thought that I knew best and my biases lead my decisions. I let Remus Lupin into the school as a student. I made that decision on my own. I didn't tell you as his Head of House, nor did I tell the other teachers. Remus and I worked out what I believed was a workable solution that allowed him the opportunity to have his education and come out of the solitary life he'd lived to that point. It allowed him to make friends with others his age, while still protecting the safety of the student population."
Minerva took a sip of her tea before replying. "Forgive me Albus, but this is nothing I don't already know. I know you set Remus up in the Shrieking Shack. Although, if you are looking for the truth of my feelings, when it came out later about Remus' condition, I was very angry with you for not telling me and the other teachers in the first place. We were not fooled for long. All of us knew what Remus was within three months of his enrollement."
"I remember, my dear. You are a woman of fine temper. It is not something easily forgotten, especially since you turned all my socks into cockroaches." His expression of wry amusement turned to something more sober. "I suspect I will once again be losing my socks once you've heard the rest of what I have to tell you. At the time, I can only say that I was concerned about the secrecy. You were new to the position of Head of Gryffindor and were just settling in the post. You had other things to deal with, though that is hardly a proper excuse. What I did, should not have been done without your knowledge."
Albus fell silent for a moment. "You were aware that during that time James and the others targeted Severus with their pranks?"
Minerva nodded at this seemingly sudden shift although she didn't quite follow the sudden change of direction in the conversation. "I remember. No matter what I told them or what punishments were handed out, the animosity between them never abated. I also remember Severus throwing as many hexes as did Sirius or James. Though truth be told, I always thought the odds of four to one unfair, but Severus seemed to hold his own. I know he never once complained or asked for assistance in stopping them, though I did my best to divert them."
Wrinkling her brow for a moment, Minerva thought back to those times. Finally, she said, "It always seemed to me that their hatred intensified in the middle of their years here."
"Perceptive as always, my dear. The relationship went far beyond schoolboy dislike during their sixth year." The Headmaster paused, searching for the words to say what needed to be said. "That was the year Sirius attempted to kill Severus using Remus as his agent of destruction."
Minerva shot straight up in her chair. "What?"
"In Sirius' defense, I didn't believe then, nor do I believe now that Sirius had the intention of killing Severus, an opinion that Severus has never shared. Truly, I don't think Sirius thought through the consequences of what he was doing or the lasting harm that would come from his actions. His were the actions of a spoiled, arrogant boy. My own actions can not be so easily explained away, though arrogance does seem to be involved."
Minerva was beginning to get an idea of how this story related to what had happened earlier today between Draco and Harry, as well as Severus' reactions. "What happened?"
"In a nutshell, Sirius used Severus' own weaknesses against him. He broke a promise by revealing the secret passage to the Shrieking Shack. He then gave Severus just enough information that Severus could not refuse to attempt to go through the passageway to discover the secrets he knew the others were concealing."
Minerva was horrified. "Albus, are you telling me that Sirius sent Severus to Remus while he was transformed into a werewolf?"
"Yes. If James had not gotten the information out of Sirius in time and pulled Severus from danger at the last minute, Remus would have, at worst, killed Severus and, at best, turned him into a werewolf as well."
"I told Severus earlier that it was completely unacceptable for one student to intentionally threaten the life of another." Minerva was now looking at Albus like she'd never seen him before. "It was acceptable, wasn't it, Albus?"
"Unfortunately, it was both acceptable and necessary, or so I believed at the time. When the . . . incident happened, I panicked. I had allowed Remus, a werewolf, into the school. I knew the boys became Animagi and ran with Remus when he was transformed, although they were unaware I knew. I'd known and allowed them to oversee the transformations. At the time, my reasoning was that I was providing the beginnings of the responsibilities that I knew the coming war would be thrusting on them.
"Then there was Sirius. He was the first male of the House of Black in eight generations that hadn't been sorted into Slytherin. I saw the good his friendship with the others did for him. They were helping him to become the person I knew he could be. More of my own Gryffindor bias again. Slytherin wasn't good enough. I was saving him, you see, and then he set Severus up. I was afraid that if expelled he'd be lost to the hate and bitterness and that all the good that had been done would be undone. I was afraid I'd lose him to Tom's growing popularity.
"I also had my own position to consider. I'd made a mistake with Remus and now Sirius had almost killed another student. There would have been a Ministry inquiry. I could have easily have been removed as Headmaster. With everything I saw coming in regards to Tom, I couldn't take the chance. I couldn't lose Hogwarts and I couldn't lose the access to the children I would someday need."
"So you sacrificed Severus instead."
Albus heard the hard accusation in her voice. It was no more than expected. "Yes, and to my shame, I thought it no great loss at the time - a disservice to him that I've never forgotten and which he has never let me forget. I transferred my own fear, my anger and disappointment with Sirius to Severus; convinced myself that Severus was somehow at fault. That he shouldn't have been sticking his nose into something that didn't concern him, that he shouldn't have been eavesdropping, that he'd goaded Sirius into retaliation, that –"
"That he'd asked for it."
Albus lowered his face down into his hands. "Yes, I blamed him for the attack."
"What about the other things Severus said tonight . . . about Malfoy's lack of punishment and Harry having to be silent?"
Lifting his graying head, Albus fidgeted a bit with some loose rolls of paper on his desk before answering. "All true. Peter was not involved in this instance. I never believed James was in on the prank and Remus was as much of a victim as Severus. I gave Sirius a week's detention with Filch and made Severus swear he would not talk about what had occurred."
Meeting Minerva's eyes, Albus flinched at the anger simmering in their depths.
"Are you telling me, Albus Dumbledore, that you told a traumatized boy who'd just had a most terrifying brush with death that he . . . that, good gods, Albus. Regardless of your intentions or your goals, you basically told Severus that his life wasn't worth the effort and then refused to allow him to talk about it. No wonder he leaked the information when Remus was a professor. It wasn't about Remus being a werewolf. It was never just that."
Albus let out a long sigh. "I have made mistakes that I cannot change. All I can say is at the time I needed to protect –"
Minerva cut him off, her lips thinned in disapproval. "Protect? You protected yourself and Sirius. Who protected Severus?"
Several floors away Hermione Granger was standing in absolute shock, staring at a slowly whirling brass contraption nestled snuggly within a hollow niche in the library wall.
She hadn't meant to find the device. It wasn't even like she had been deliberately snooping. It had, after all, been an accident - the top book on her stack had started to slide and in her attempt to catch it she'd stumbled into the wall knocking into a heavy ornamental shield. Surprisingly the Hufflepuff-crested shield hadn't fallen from the wall, but had slid to the side revealing a compartment behind it.
Professor Snape wouldn't see it as an accident. Would Dumbledore?
The contraption itself had been enough to pique her innate curiosity; within seconds the rest of her books had joined the first on the flagstone floor. The polished brass surface had reflected her distorted image back to her and without the block of the heavy shield, she could hear a faint whirling sound from the cup-shaped blades that spun around its top.
Hermione hadn't stood a chance when she realized that the thing had buttons. Could you make a defense against being expelled based on the inescapable lure of button pushing? Surely the Headmaster wouldn't hold it against her that pushing the small purple button turned what was, obviously in hindsight, a listening device into a receiving device, a receiving device that was working very well indeed. A device, a small, terrified voice in the back of head added, that was currently filling her in on a conversation between her professors.
Hermione attempted to squash the rising bubble of panic inside of her chest as her head told her to leave the device but her feet kept her firmly rooted to the spot. She was so going to get expelled. This was bad. Very, very bad. Expelled. No doubt about it.
But she didn't stop listening. She didn't stop at Professor Snape's snide remarks. She didn't stop when Professor McGonagall questioned the Headmaster. She didn't stop during the Headmaster's explanation of events from long ago. Only when she'd heard the entire story did she reach out a trembling hand to press the small purple button again. Instantly the voices of her Professor and Headmaster cut off.
Very carefully she removed all traces that she had touched the device, making sure no fingerprint smudges marked the shiny brass or that any stray curly hairs had found their way into the niche. Just as carefully, she slid the heavy shield back into place. Gathering up her books, she made her way back to the table she'd claimed as hers.
Around Hermione the library was just as empty and quiet as when she'd entered. It remained unchanged; however, she couldn't say the same thing about herself. This time her curiosity had gotten her, for the first time in her life, knowledge she wasn't sure what to do with. She'd heard the story of the 'prank' from Sirius and Remus that night in the Shrieking Shack back at the end of her third year. Somehow the brief explanation given then, didn't match up with the story she'd just heard. Sirius had been unrepentant. She remembered him making the comment that 'Snape had deserved it.' Even Professor Lupin, kind and gentle Remus, had made light of the experience and downplayed what had really happened that night so long ago.
What about what Professor Snape had done that night in the Shrieking Shack? He'd hated Sirius. He was wary of Remus. She remembered now that Snape had thought they were in danger. He wanted to capture Sirius, but he'd also intended to protect them from what he thought was grave danger. He'd gone after them by himself into a situation where he was outnumbered. Slytherins didn't do that. Slytherins went for allies and brought reinforcements.
How much courage, she wondered, did it take for Professor Snape to climb alone into that tunnel under the Whomping Willow and come after them, thinking that a murderer and a werewolf were waiting for him – the same werewolf that had almost killed him in that very same tunnel so many years before.
Thoughts of Snape led to thoughts of Dumbledore. She'd known by the end of her fifth year that the adults around her were human and fallible. It had been a hard lesson to learn, and her worldview was still shifting to accommodate that knowledge. Now, she had two new variables that were tilting her world. Albus Dumbledore wasn't omnipotent. She'd known that, but she hadn't really known it. She'd suspected that both the House Elves and the pictures reported directly to the Headmaster; however, she'd never suspected that the students were spied on directly. The whirling brass contraption gave lie to that idea. It was no wonder Dumbledore always seemed to know what she and the others were up to. He had the ability to listen in directly. She had no doubt that the school was filled with these listening devices.
As the minutes passed and her swirling thoughts slowed, it wasn't the realization of the spying and observation that shook her. Intellectually she understood the necessity of that. There was no way a dozen or so teachers could keep order in a school of several hundred magically gifted students without some kind of assistance, magical or otherwise.
No, what stunned her was the slowly burning anger that filled her at the thought of the injustice done to one teenaged Severus Snape. She was indignant, positively incensed. She was angry on Professor Snape's behalf for an incident that took place before she was even born. Even recognizing the absurdity of the situation didn't change the fact that for the first time in her long history of respecting her teachers, she really wanted to march up to the Headmaster's office and punch him in his long, crooked nose. She was angrier now than when she'd discovered the House Elves. She had finally come to accept that the Elves took pride and joy in their service. She still thought that the Wizarding World took advantage of their need to serve, but she could only give the Elves an option, she couldn't force them all into clothes no matter how much she wanted too.
The injustice she saw here made her just as angry. She wanted to do something. She wanted to protest. She wanted to picket the Headmaster's office. She wanted to make buttons and charge everyone a Galleon. She suspected, however, that Professor Snape would be just as unappreciative of her actions as the house elves had been.
She wasn't sure she was going to be able to be able to let this go.