Author: Daphne Dunham
Disclaimer: Not mine, etc. Please don't sue, etc.
Summary: There are certain things Severus Snape discusses with Albus Dumbledore over tea; there are certain things he does not. Voldemort's return and his plans for Lucius Malfoy and the Death Eaters, for instance, are fair game. Set during GoF. Companion piece to 'Portrait of the Potions Master.'
The One Who Left Forever
By Daphne Dunham
There are certain things Severus Snape discusses with Albus Dumbledore over tea; there are certain things he does not. Neville Longbottom's latest catastrophe in Potions class, for instance, is fair game – as are his suspicions that Harry-bloody-Potter has been rummaging through his personal stores and the fact that Peeves has been causing his usual mischief in the dungeons again. Severus' personal life, however, is strictly off limits. There will be no talk of the fact that his body is covered with scars where his father used to beat him like a common Muggle child; there will be no conversation revolving around the nightmares he still has of James Potter nearly stripping him naked in front of half the Hogwarts population during their fifth year; and there will certainly not be mention of the night he had stumbled up to the front gates of Hogwarts, his wife's battered body in his arms, insistent on vengeance against his fellow Death Eaters who'd killed her.
Tonight is no different… with a few exceptions. Instead of the headmaster's office, they are in Severus' cold, emerald-colored chambers; instead of tea laced with lemon, it is tea laced with a pain-reducing draft; and instead of students, they are discussing the Dark Lord.
"I'm not sure where I was, exactly," Severus tells Albus. He shifts against the pillows which support his back and head, trying to sit up so that he can see the headmaster better. He succeeds in causing a ripple of pain to course down his spine instead. Severus grimaces from the ache of it; the Dark Lord may have welcomed him back to the fold – may have believed his excuses of not being able to escape Albus' watchful eye at the Triwizard Tournament – but it was not without a price.
"It's not the same place as last time, then?" Albus asks. The fireplace throws a dim light on his aging frame, and his shadows hang heavy on the wall as he pours out the tea.
"No… someplace new," Severus replies. "A castle again, of course, but a different one – one I can only assume the beneficence of Lucius Malfoy has provided him with."
Nodding, the headmaster crosses the room, his slippered feet making soft shuffles across the floor as he walks. In each hand he holds a cup of tea, one of which he reserves for himself, the other he offers to Severus. The younger wizard takes the cup in his hands, which tremble slightly so that it rattles against the saucer beneath it. The porcelain is smooth and rigid like bone or the edge of a cauldron, and bringing the cup to his lips, Severus sips slowly, the hot liquid washing over his mouth.
"Is that better?" Albus asks, settling into a wingback chair beside the Potions master's bed. Both pieces of furniture are antique, made of dark wood and carved with an intricate pattern of serpents.
Severus pauses. He closes his eyes and waits for the pain-reducing draft the headmaster has mixed in his tea to begin to fill his veins. "Yes," he says softly after a moment. He hesitates, then adds, "Thank you."
Expressions of gratitude have never been Severus Snape's forte; they seem to cause more embarrassment for him, as though the charity of another is a sign of his own ineptitude. Even in the company of the headmaster, who has willingly done so much for him over the years, a slight flush still fills his cheeks at any mention of thanks due. Noting the color in the younger wizard's pallid face, Albus smiles fleetingly. It's a welcome relief from the horrors of the night and something he doesn't anticipate the future will afford him much of an ability to do now that the Dark Lord has returned.
"I could not very well allow you to suffer the aftermath of extended Cruciatus without medical attention, Severus," the headmaster says, "especially when your pain has been for my sake."
Severus wants to say that even the punishment he has endured tonight for failing to answer the Dark Lord's summon in a timely fashion is not enough to pay back his debt to the headmaster, to atone for the rashness of his youth, or to justify the death of the wife who haunts him. He wants to say that he would gladly double – triple – quadruple – the suffering if it could. However, all he has the energy to do is a glance down at his tea and a grumble. "At least the Dark Lord doesn't suspect me."
Albus leans forward in his seat and peers over the rims of his half-moon spectacles. "Are you sure?"
The younger wizard nods slowly, his dark, lank hair rustling against his ears with the motion. "Reasonably sure," he replies. "If he has any reservations about the authenticity of my loyalty, he kept them well-hidden while I was there. He spoke as though he expected me to return to keeping his potions stores for him."
One of the headmaster's brows rises. "Surely he must have heard that you were exposed as a spy during the trials. Pettigrew would have been anxious to tell him, even if Malfoy didn't. Did he not mention this?"
The air in the room hangs heavy on this question, and Severus can practically feel Albus' anxiety radiating almost as fiercely as the nearby fire. "Perhaps Malfoy has convinced him that I was never a traitor – that I lied to you in order to avoid Azkaban," he says. "This is what Malfoy himself believes, after all."
Albus eases back in his chair, though his eyes still flicker with worry. "Or perhaps he is convinced by the mere fact that you dared to show your face to him at all," he muses. "Unlike Karkaroff, you did not run."
Severus scowls at the mention of Karkaroff's name. "Coward," he hisses under his breath.
If Albus has heard this, he does not react. Instead, his forehead is creased pensively, a firm line like a dagger dividing it in two down the middle. "Regardless, we cannot take chances," he murmurs. He looks up at Severus then sharply, intently. "Did he say anything else? Any hint about what he plans to do now or what his next move might be?"
"Nothing specific," Severus tells him. He opens his mouth to say more, but a tremor of lingering pain sweeps over him then, and the teacup rattles in his hands. Albus starts forward, as though to take it from him, so that he won't spill or so that he can take another sip, but Severus shirks his assistance. The increasing effectiveness of the pain-reducing draft has made him feel less defenseless, and his pride is making a rapid return. He rescues the cup before he loses a drop to his duvet and takes another sip.
"However," Severus continues as he replaces the cup in its saucer, "the Dark Lord did seem rather anxious that I make a hasty exit after he was done administering my punishment. Undoubtedly, he's plotting with Malfoy this very moment."
Albus brings a wrinkled hand to his beard. His fingers are long and narrow and knobbed, and they massage his chin through the wiry, white hairs. "I don't expect it will be long before it begins – the murders, the disappearances. It will be much like before," he says. "Voldemort" – Severus shudders involuntarily at the mention of his Dark master's name, the teacup clattering again in his grasp – "will be anxious to make his next moves; he's waited too long not to be."
This is a statement with which Severus cannot disagree. Nodding briefly, he raises his eyes to meet the headmaster's. For a fleeting moment, those dark callous caverns, so long infamous for sending shivers through the bones of many a Hogwarts student, melt into pools of fear and vulnerability. It's enough to make the headmaster's heart swell and ache.
"And in the meantime," Severus says grimly, "I will make the Dark Lord's potions. And I will spy."
If there is only one thing the Malfoys have always been good for, it's their money. Lucius is no exception, the Dark Lord thinks to himself as he reclines by the fireplace. The fair-haired wizard has been only too anxious to slither back into his good graces after his embarrassing appearance at his rebirthing ceremony earlier this evening, and as a result, he has eagerly suggested his late grandfather's long-uninhabited chateau for his master's new dwelling. It's remote; it's lavish; it's utterly Unplottable, and after only a few hours here, the Dark Lord already has great plans for the mansion: undoubtedly, it will come to serve as the ideal base of operations for Death Eater activities.
Of course, those activities could be infinitely more secure if there was not, as the Dark Lord suspects, a traitor in their midst. For years he's had his suspicions. It began after the man's wife was killed, if the Dark Lord remembers correctly. There had been the ambiguous things he said, the avoidance of eye contact, the way he lingered a moment or two longer than necessary – even after he'd been dismissed. The Dark Lord hadn't believed it possible at first, and he'd had every intention of dispatching of him when that wretched Potter baby had virtually destroyed his powers.
Tonight, the Dark Lord's uncertainties have been heightened. He'd stood in the graveyard, relishing his newly formed body – the feel of the night air through his slits of nostrils, the piercing glow of his crimson eyes, the perfection of his ivory hands and arms and legs. He'd paced the grounds, surveying the ranks of his followers assembled before him. Malfoy and Macnair, Avery and Nott, Crabbe and Goyle. They had not, perhaps, exhibited the loyalty the Dark Lord had hoped for – that of the likes of the Lestranges or Barty Crouch, Jr. He was pleased with them nonetheless, though, and their devotion made it especially difficult for him to ignore the fact that certain parties were conspicuously absent.
And here we have six missing Death Eaters, the Dark Lord had announced. One, who I believe has left me forever… he will be killed, of course…
This individual who had left forever was none other than this long-suspected turncoat – was Severus Snape.
The Dark Lord was amused tonight by the fact that Snape eventually did respond to his call. Even now, as he stares into the fire before him, he chuckles darkly at how the younger wizard had been ardent, contrite, and pleading – how he'd claimed he'd been unable to escape Dumbledore's watch when he'd first been summoned hours earlier – how he'd claimed he'd been deceived by Dumbledore all those years ago, tricked into revealing what he knew about the Death Eaters. The Dark Lord doesn't doubt that such was possible, as that meddlesome headmaster has always possessed powers he doesn't quite understand or care for. In the end, he had acquiesced. He'd forgiven the others; it only made good sense to pardon young Snape as well… after watching him writhe and weep on the floor in Cruciatus-induced agony, of course.
Just because the Dark Lord has pardoned him, though, does not mean that he will be quick to let down his guard. Indeed, something has to be done about Severus Snape. The man is a potential liability, a possible threat, and as soon as he raises the Dark Lord's suspicions again, he will not hesitate to make good on the promise he made at his rebirthing ceremony.
A sharp knock on the door interrupts the Dark Lord's thoughts, diverts his attention from the fireplace and his meditation on Severus Snape. "Enter," he orders coldly.
Lucius Malfoy appears from behind the heavy, intricately carved, cherry wood of the door. He lowers his head in genuflection when the formidable blaze of the Dark Lord's scarlet eyes fall upon him and draws forward slowly, cautiously, careful not to provoke the wrath of the wizard before him.
"Is there anything else I can provide you with before I go, my lord?" Lucius asks him, bowing deeply and pressing his lips to his master's bony pallid knuckles.
The Dark Lord shakes Lucius from his hand with annoyance; it would have been far better for the fair-haired aristocrat to have been loyal from the start, rather than try to atone for his disobedience with elaborate apologies and humble actions later on. Nonetheless, he cannot deny that there is a certain thrill in knowing that he has such power over families like the Malfoys and the Blacks, those Pureblood, prejudiced wizards who would have scorned him for his Mudblood heritage under other circumstances. He can make then grovel; he can make them suffer; he can bend them to his will, claim their assets as his own…
Or he can pit them against one another at his convenience.
A cruel smile curls the corners of the Dark Lord's pallid lips at this last thought, and he suddenly thinks twice about dismissing Lucius as the idea forms in his mind. One, who I believe has left me forever… he will be killed, of course, the Dark Lord had vowed mere hours ago. Indeed, over the years, there have been many moments when his faith in Severus Snape has wavered, and despite the sallow-skinned Potions master's repentance tonight, he cannot take chances. Perhaps Lucius, with his connections to Hogwarts, his friendship with Severus, and his eagerness to regain his master's confidence, is ideal for the task at hand: to closely and subtly monitor and, if necessary, rid their ranks of Severus, of this one who left forever.
The Dark wizard's red eyes glint with malevolent satisfaction as he shifts his gaze from the flames of the fire before him to the man at his feet.
"Yes, Lucius," he replies his voice a long, low hiss. "There is, in fact, something more that you can do."
A/N: This piece has been written for the 2005 Spring Faire Festival at Sycophant Hex. It is a companion piece to my novel, "A Portrait of the Potions Master as a Young Man" and is, obviously, based on the interpretation that it is Snape whom Voldemort is referencing at the end of GoF when he mentions that one of his Death Eaters has "left forever." Also, "And here we have six missing Death Eaters…" is a direct quote from GoF.