Chapter 54

Checkmate

xxx

Amidst the commotion of a meeting adjourned, Severus caught peripheral sight of his elder colleague in hushed conversation with the Headmaster. Minerva McGonagall was not joining the queue down to the dining room—oh no, far from it, she was staring intently at him now, beckoning him with her glare. Casually, Severus slid his gaze over to her; he lifted his eyebrows in imitation of surprise at seeing her there. He rose from his seat and moved quietly over to them. The only person in the room who seemed to have noticed him moving was his son, whose stare was equally as catching as the old woman's. As Severus noticed the boy attempting to linger behind, he flashed a warning glance at him and waved his hand toward the door; a freshly minted Order member, now was not the appropriate time to draw attention to his intrusive sense of curiosity.

With a subtle swish of his wand, Dumbledore closed the door behind the last exiting Order member. The silence of an empty room did not last long.

"I must say," McGonagall said at once, her manner terse as ever, "that putting this complex matter to a vote borders on inappropriate; I am disappointed that either of you believed it was a wise decision to lead such a discussion in the presence of our new Order members. Albus, these are Mr. Malfoy's peers for Merlin's sake! And Severus, honestly, manipulating a young boy to turn against his own Father—I wonder at your lack of moral qualms about such a plan of action, having so recently become a Father yourself!"

"It is hardly the same situation, Minerva," Severus ground out, immediately affronted by her accusatory tone. "Draco would be fortunate to be removed from his Father's influence; it is only in his best interest that I would make such a suggestion."

"And the psychological ramifications, Severus? Have you leant any consideration to those? No one can argue that Lucius Malfoy is ill-suited to parenthood, but he is still the boy's Father. Lucius Malfoy constructed the mold that Draco was fit to; you will not erase almost two decades of that man's influence. I doubt, very much, that Draco can overcome all of these barriers; why would he? What could possibly be his motivation for turning his back on his family?"

"He is afraid, Minerva, it is plain to see. And there are many benefits to fighting for our cause—"

"You are manipulating him," McGonagall stated coldly, folding her arms over her chest. "You are using the same tactics as his Father, but without a leg to stand on. You are not his Father, Severus, and you will lose that battle every time. You will see—in the end, Lucius will win his loyalty, and you will be sorry that you ever gave Draco the opportunity to betray you."

One glance at Dumbledore, who sat serenely silent in front of them, and Severus could see that it was his sole duty to defend his plan. The Headmaster would be no help here; no, far from it, the man looked almost satisfied with McGonagall's tongue-lashing tactics.

Not an easily defeated opponent, Severus paused to consider his answer. He folded his hands calmly in front of him and leaned against the table in a half-seated position. Only his dark irises were visible between his narrowed eyelids. McGonagall was visibly bristled by his flippancy; Severus could almost imagine her in animagus form, hackles raised and teeth bared as she hissed in warning. The corners of his lips curled into a self-satisfied smirk.

"Headmaster," Severus began silkily, although he continued to stare directly at Professor McGonagall. "If Draco Malfoy's satisfaction with this arrangement is the issue of contention, now, then why do you not speak with him yourself? Professor McGonagall, perhaps that would assuage you? Since you have so altruistically taken up the well-being of one of my Slytherins as your own cause."

"Severus, I believe you already know where Mr. Malfoy stands on that issue," Dumbledore responded tiredly. "He wants nothing to do with me."

"Ah, yes," Severus hummed, tapping his chin thoughtfully, "I do vaguely recall that the last time you spoke to him, he requested me, in fact. That is what happened, am I right?"

Dumbledore paused, and then, flatly, responded, "Yes, Severus."

"And this was after a particularly difficult weekend with his Father and the Dark Lord."

"Yes."

"A weekend after which, if I recall correctly, he refused to return to classes and altogether seemed to have given up," Severus stated pointedly, staring hard at McGonagall as he spoke. "An issue which was resolved shortly after our discussion. In fact, I would say that Draco's behavior has drastically improved since that day he sought me out… would you disagree?"

Dumbledore did not respond immediately, and Severus thought he understood why. It was because Dumbledore, for all that he did well as a Headmaster, did not want to admit that helping Draco might have been the one department in which he had failed miserably. He did not want to admit that it was Severus who might be making a difference, now, and that he had been wrong to write the boy off as an option. But even as Severus knew that this was the case—that Dumbledore had thought Draco a lost cause, that while he had perhaps not given up on him completely, he had neither leant him enough credit to give him a chance—and Severus also knew that he could now appeal to that sense of guilt. Dumbledore was a man who would give a chance to any living soul seeking redemption…Severus simply had to make the case that Draco was seeking it in his own way.

"So then we can be comfortable, at least, in the assumption that it is Draco who has requested my help, yes? I certainly have not coerced him in any way."

"Albus, honestly," McGonagall finally intervened, seemingly having heard enough. "You can't believe that this is an idea of Draco Malfoy's own conception… that Severus has not played any part in this."

"Minerva," Dumbledore sighed, "Perhaps we cannot rule out the idea that Severus has lead Draco to this difficult choice… but neither can I say that it is wrong of him to do so. I seem to remember a time when Severus was also reluctant to accept my help, after so many years in which I had failed him. I sometimes wonder whether I should have intervened earlier, and I believe Severus is well qualified to make this decision."

Both Severus and McGonagall looked to Dumbledore in slight surprise, although it was certain that the source of confusion was different for both parties.

"It is important that we act in the boy's best interest. Minerva, I agree that we should find alternative solutions to the use of either Kinnaird or Malfoy as a viable alternative to the inside information Severus once provided. In the same vein, Severus, I believe we should not rule out information from either of those sources and that we must be careful that we are not taking advantage of a confused young boy. Do either of you object to these statements?"

"No, Headmaster," McGonagall said reluctantly. Severus merely cocked his head as a sign of agreement.

"Similarly," Dumbledore stressed, gazing intently at Severus as he did so, "We must not neglect Harry's training in the process. Though I wish it were not the case, the most important duty we have is to prepare Harry for the day when he will face Voldemort once again. You have heard the prophecy—you know it is true. Only one can survive; we must exhaust all of our available resources to ensure that Harry is the victor."

"I could not agree more," McGonagall said quietly, staring resolutely in the opposite direction of Severus' gaze.

"Thank you, Minerva," Dumbledore responded with a small smile, nodding in her direction. "Your concerns have not gone unheard, and I thank you for your valuable wisdom. Now, I wonder if you would allow me a moment to speak with Severus before I leave for Hogwarts."

"Certainly," McGonagall agreed, indignation seemingly assuaged for the moment. "You will not be joining us for dinner?"

"I unfortunately have pressing matters to attend to. Thank you, Minerva."

Severus waited until the older witch had left the room before inquiring poignantly, "Pressing matters, Headmaster?"

Dumbledore cleared his throat, moving around the table to stand in front of Severus. "There is something I must attend to at the Ministry, but I require your discretion."

Dumbledore's manner was serious; Severus responded in kind, nodding solemnly. "Of course, Headmaster."

"A rather vague missive crossed my desk this morning, Severus," Dumbledore stated enigmatically, expression shrewdly contemplative. "If my understanding is correct, Lucius Malfoy may soon become a rather public problem for us."

Severus stared at him with perceptibly wider eyes; when Dumbledore paused, he questioned further, "Headmaster?"

"We have known for some time that Malfoy has not been staring at the walls of a cell in Azkaban. His release from the prison has never been discussed in the public sphere." Dumbledore took a deep breath, and continued to speak in an immensely calm manner. "I have an informant who currently performs clerical work in the Magical Justice department. It seems that editors of the Daily Prophet have been meeting regularly with the senior member of the Wizengamot who presided over this case. I intend to find out why… I rather dislike surprises of this nature, Severus."

"An official statement was never given on Lucius Malfoy after the initial arrest," Severus stated in a way of clarifying his understanding. "I had thought this was simply an effort made to save the ministry's reputation."

"Or perhaps, Malfoy's. The ruling that placed him on House arrest took place in a closed meeting from which both Minerva and I were necessarily absent. I feel it essential that I proactively become involved before another supposed ruling takes place—before that puppet-master emerges from behind the scenes."

"I agree, Albus. With the public support of the Ministry of Magic, Lucius Malfoy's reach knows no limits." Severus paused as he considered the possible meanings of what Dumbledore had just told him. "I hope you will keep me apprised of the situation."

"I will do my best, Severus, but what I wanted to tell you now is to concentrate on your son. I know you are fighting for ways to protect your son, but do not spend so much time focusing on the war that you forget to cherish whatever time you have left with him."

Severus' eyes narrowed defiantly, and he snapped, "Time left, Albus?"

"I simply think your time might be best spent with your son, Severus. I think that in the end, all that you've done will prevail… but if it does not, you will not get this time back. The best way to help the boy is to be with him. Help him to increase his strength. Prepare his mind. Council him through the difficulties he faces daily. You are the one person who can do this… you are his Father. And that is what he needs, right now. Not another strategist steering him down a predestined path, but someone to guide him in other ways. Do not forget that."

When Severus did not respond immediately, Dumbledore smiled sadly and patted him on the shoulder. "I hope you will just consider more than Harry's victory and remember that he is a boy. That is all."

Severus wanted to respond with anger; he searched for the words—something biting, something that would scathe. But he did not find those words; he did not react with ire. Instead he swallowed a lump that he was only suddenly aware of and nodded curtly, his expression impassively stern.

"I must be going, now, Severus. You know that this is an appointment that I must keep."

"Yes. Headmaster," Severus answered brusquely. And with little delay, he was left alone in the room to ponder the mistake that he had not even realized he had been making. At once, he departed for the kitchen; he would fetch Harry and take him back to the castle. It suddenly seemed as though he had not spoken to the boy in ages; perhaps, as the Headmaster suggested, he had been neglecting his son for too long.

When Severus arrived in the kitchen, however, his son was nowhere to be seen. In fact, many of the Order members had dissipated by now; it seemed that only the older Weasleys and Professor Lupin remained. Perhaps he had spent more time speaking with Dumbledore than he had meant to.

"Where have the children gone?" Severus inquired as Molly rose to fix him a plate. He next opened his mouth to object as Molly gestured that he sit down, but he snapped it closed as she preemptively interrupted:

"Severus, I won't have you arguing. I prepared this dinner and it would be rude for you to refuse."

"I don't believe the Professor is overly concerned with bad manners at the moment, Molly," Lupin said with a touch of amusement, observing Severus' blackened expression.

"Besides," Molly continued with a scolding look at Lupin, "I am hoping you will answer some questions for me."

Molly's expression was determined, and the smell of the food was inviting, but Severus inquired further, "Where has Harry gone?"

"Miss Granger was concerned over a Herbology test taking place in the morning," Lupin informed him.

"Professor McGonagall gladly escorted them back to Hogwarts," Molly Weasley added, setting a plate down on the table and again motioning for Severus to sit. "They should be in bed by now."

Severus doubted that was the case; the three were almost certainly huddled around the common room fire, quietly discussing the events of the evening. In any case, Severus certainly wasn't going to be paying a visit to Gryffindor Tower tonight. Begrudgingly, he sat, and began to eat quickly. He was hungrier than he'd have liked to admit.

"Now, as Harry is your son, I trust that you are monitoring the children's involvement in the Order…"

xxx

It was early in the morning when Severus heard a rapping at his door; he didn't want to rise from the comfort of his bed, but the knocks came with a sense of urgency, and that was something he couldn't easily ignore with knowledge that it was likely his son that stood outside. He slid from beneath the warm covers of his bed and shivered as the cold morning greeted him. He wrapped his dark robe around his body and moved quietly to the door, unlocking and opening it swiftly. He did not find Harry standing outside, however. Draco Malfoy was waiting for him, looking both panic-stricken and guilty.

Shocked to find Malfoy standing there, Severus reacted somewhat harshly. "I trust this is quite urgent," he said almost warningly. Malfoy cringed visibly, but nevertheless responded:

"Can I come in?"

"Very well," Severus answered, glancing around the hallway over the boy's head; it would not do for him to be followed. "Get in here." Severus closed the door quietly and turned at once to Malfoy. "What on earth could you need at so early an hour, and that required you to visit my personal quarters, for that matter?"

"It's my Father…" Malfoy said, extending an early edition morning paper. "He sent me this last night, but you were not in."

Lucius' face was on the front page; Severus quickly snatched it from the boy in front of him. A cursory glance across the headline, and Severus saw that his and Dumbledore's worst fears had already been confirmed. It seemed that Dumbledore's visit to the ministry the night before was not nearly as preemptive as he had thought. "So, Lucius has been acquitted."

"What should I do?" Malfoy asked at once; it was clear that this was question he had come hoping to have answered, but Severus was uncertain of what to say.

"You shan't do anything," Severus sighed, lowering the paper. "What do you expect to do? He spent barely any time in Azkaban in the first place, before he was removed to await trial in his own home… this will not affect you, Draco, as much as it will affect others."

"My Father has been obsessed with what occurs at this school for some time… and so has the Dark Lord. Now, he'll be watching my every move… I don't know if I can keep the vow that I made."

A low breath escaped Severus; there it was. He had known this conflict was one he would soon have to deal with, but he had hoped to have more time to convince Malfoy to switch sides before the time to make a decision had come.

"Draco, sit down," Severus sighed, pulling a chair out from his desk and gesturing toward it. Silently, Malfoy obeyed. "I am going to make this very simple for you." There was something ominous about the way he said this that made Malfoy straighten in his chair and look him in the eye.

"You have vowed nothing," said Severus, moving across the room, "except that you will not give away any information that would betray us." Severus flung open the doors to the cupboard in the corner of the room, withdrawing his pensieve from within. He raised his wand and guided it across the room. "Draco, if you so choose, I will take from you every memory that could possibly fell you."

The sound of the heavy stone basin dropping onto the hard wood of Severus' desk reverberated off the walls of the empty office. Malfoy stared at it, eyes wide in deliberation. Severus spoke from behind him, his voice drawing nearer as he walked toward the desk.

"You can, at any time, be done with this arrangement. I want to emphasize that you chose this. It is a risk—it will always be a risk, to do what is right. I hope that you will remember why you made the decision in the first place, but unlike your father, I will not force you down a path you have no desire to follow."

"I just want you to tell me what to do about this," Malfoy said, shaking his head and holding up the Daily Prophet. He dropped the paper to his lap and ran a hand fretfully through his hair.

"I can't tell you what to do," Severus responded. "But I can tell you I was once faced with a similar decision, and it wasn't until it was too late that I realized which one I should have made. I am not here at Hogwarts because I was coerced. I would not do that to you."

"I need more time to decide…" said Malfoy. "I am afraid my Father is going to force me to leave the school."

"I don't believe he will, Draco. If he is interested in what occurs here, you are his way to that information. But Draco, you must start proving that you are valuable to the Dark Lord's cause. You should not be alarmed at your Father's release, you should be concerned over what the Dark Lord will do with it. Like it or not, Dumbledore will be able to help you in this area far more than myself. I am merely a diversion for the Dark Lord—Dumbledore will give you what you need to succeed, if you are willing."

"I will think about it," Malfoy reiterated somewhat begrudgingly, staring resentfully at the pensieve atop the desk.

"I take it, then, that you would not like to take me up on my offer," Severus inquired smoothly, shifting his eyes to the empty basin. Malfoy shook his head slowly, as though he was unsure of his answer. "My advice to you, then, is to celebrate with your Father. If he feels that you resent his release—which he may already, Draco; you are inept at hiding your emotions—he will test you. This is something you must avoid."

Malfoy's head was in his hands now; he looked quite ill. "The Headmaster is going to think that I knew about this. My Father is already getting more difficult to lie to… I can't win, Professor."

"Let me take care of the Headmaster," Severus answered him, undaunted. He was stepping toward the door now; he placed his hand on the handle, and Draco rose from his chair. "You must compose yourself, Draco. That is all that you can do, for now. There are many factors to consider, I realize, but you must also understand that many of them are outside your realm of control."

Malfoy stopped in front of the door, but Severus did not open it just yet. "You look exhausted, Draco. You'll need your wits about you today, I am certain; try to get a few hours of sleep before breakfast."

"I imagine that will be more easily said than done, Professor."

Severus sighed. "Wait here."

Severus swept into his small inventory closet and removed a small vial of sleeping draught. He returned to where Malfoy stood and tucked it into his hand. "Two drops, and you should find some rest and wake in time for classes to begin."

"My first class is Potions tomorrow, Professor…"

"Yes," Severus replied sternly, staring darkly at him. The boy had some audacity. "And I will expect you to arrive ready and alert for the work we are performing today."

xxx

"I've not finished breakfast…" Ron Weasley whined, causing Severus to tense against the creeping desire to strangle his son's redheaded friend. His piercing expression silenced Weasley momentarily, and Severus jerked his head towards the doors of the Great Hall and began walking. He directed his gaze at a few students who were paying attention a little too closely for Severus' comfort; they quickly averted their gaze.

The walk to Dumbledore's office was long and necessarily silent; it seemed that few students in the castle were disturbed by Lucius Malfoy's acquittal, and that was the way that Severus preferred. One could never be sure of whose ears might be the wrong ones. Which was precisely why, Severus thought as he discreetly glanced over his shoulder at Harry, he was escorting his son and his friends to the Headmaster's office.

It irritated Severus, to put it simply, that he had needed to interrupt the scene his son was about to display in the Great Hall. Every so often, Severus started to believe that his Gryffindor nature was something he might overcome with maturity; every so often, Harry went out of his way to prove that this was not the case. In any case, if his son and his friends were going to discuss what had happened, he would prefer that they do so in the safety of the Headmaster's office, and with all the correct information. He knew what happened when the trio didn't have answers; they went looking for them, often in the wrong places.

When the corridors had finally cleared and they were nearing the office, Severus began to speak. "I cannot tell you who Malfoy has bribed to secure his place back at the Ministry, but I can tell you that my thoughts turned to the same immediate conclusion. Whatever trial," Snape spoke the word as though he were mocking it, "the Prophet alludes to was either heavily manipulated or never happened at all."

"I'd wager it's the second one," his Son muttered.

"As would I."

Severus paused briefly and gave the password to Dumbledore's office. The staircase appeared and they ascended. "Had we any knowledge that such a thing was happening, I can assure you the Headmaster would have ensured a far different outcome. However, what's done is done." As Severus' hand clasped the handle of the door, he turned to the children. "And now we can only deal with the consequences. Which does not mean harassing Lucius' son, but rather going to the source of this problem directly."

As they entered the office, Severus nodded to his colleagues and Shacklebolt before addressing Dumbledore. "I assume you have contacted the Minister about this debacle?"

"I am still awaiting a response," Dumbledore confirmed. "It seems he is quite caught up in the misappropriation of justice, as it were."

"I had thought that we had finally come to an agreement with Fudge," said Lupin. "After Voldemort showed up knocking at the door of the Ministry last year. Now, what happened?"

A daft question, Severus pondered to himself. What ever happened, in these instances? The right people were bribed, feigned ignorance, turned a blind eye. It was not worth pondering how it had happened; it was only important now that they come to the reality that the ministry would no longer be any help to them. Far from it, it would soon become a hindrance.

"I think that is currently far beyond any of our understanding, Lupin," McGonagall remarked irritably. "I am currently more concerned with his position on the school board. Can we be certain that the board of Governors will stand strong? Or must we fear that the "former positions within the community" also pertain to his involvement at Hogwarts? I can't say what I will do if I find that man striding pompously down our halls."

"He wouldn't dare," Harry ground out; everyone seemed suddenly surprised to see him standing there.

"He would, actually," Kingsley Shacklebolt said from his place at the Headmaster's shoulder. "The primary reason for my presence, actually."

"Kingsley here has agreed to escort Mr. Malfoy upon his arrival at the school today," Dumbledore stated grimly. "It seems that he wishes to meet with me, but I do not trust his intentions."

"He would not come here if not with the intention to boast, Headmaster," said Lupin. "I doubt the wisdom in allowing him to enter the school at all."

"If he is to enter, I would prefer it to be on my terms," Dumbledore responded evenly. "I won't have him strolling through these doors on a day when he knows I am not in attendance. I plan to lay down some very clear rules for his limited involvement in this school."

"Yes, Headmaster, we all know how well he follows rules." Severus folded his arms across his chest and stared dourly at the floor.

"Well, as much as I hate to agree with Severus," McGonagall huffed from beside him.

"With a clear name, Lucius Malfoy is once again free to take control of Draco Malfoy's life," Dumbledore stated firmly; Severus glanced up at this. "Do I need to explain why it may be ill-advised to start a war with his Father?"

Severus bit his tongue; he did not want Lucius Malfoy walking through the doors of this school, but Dumbledore was right. They did not have the support of the ministry; Malfoy did. If they wanted to fight him, they would have to do so silently, subtly.

"Mr. Shacklebolt," said Dumbledore, "if you would kindly depart for the entrance hall, I believe Mr. Malfoy will be arriving soon. We shall see what he has to say for himself."

"Of course, Headmaster," said Kingsley. He exited quickly from the office, and Dumbledore's gaze fell on the three students standing silently in the room. He contemplated them for a moment before turning his eyes to Severus.

"They can't be here when Lucius arrives."

"Of course not, Albus," Severus responded. "But I am certain that they would like to know how you are going to proceed. Let us not forget the reason Lucius was indicted in the first place."

"That scum is part of the reason that Sirius is dead," Harry said in a low voice. He and Lupin's gazes locked for a moment; they all awaited Dumbledore's response.

"I urge you not to take any of these matters into your own hands," Dumbledore responded patiently. Severus nodded in agreement and turned to look at his son. Harry's lips were pressed together tightly; whether withholding a torrent of grief or infuriation, Severus was uncertain. "Lucius has not been in Azkaban for some time; it is not as though that has changed."

"I want to know how this happened," said Harry. "We have to find out who helped him."

"I think it is a rather more complicated matter than that, Harry. I am afraid this is the work of more than one individual."

"So you won't do anything, then?" asked Harry. "That's what you're saying."

Dumbledore sat forward and placed his folded hands atop the desk. "I visited the ministry yesterday, Harry, in an attempt to stop this very thing from happening. Needless to say, my attempts were unfruitful. But that is not to say that none were made."

"So what will happen now? Malfoy will pave the way for Voldemort? Turn the ministry into his puppet?"

"Harry," Severus murmured warningly, and the boy clamped his mouth shut. He had hoped that by bringing Harry here, any thoughts of acting alone might be quelled. It seemed that the opposite effect was occurring; Harry was becoming increasingly more indignant.

"Our first objective," Dumbledore said, elevating his voice just enough to be noticeable, "is to restrict Malfoy's influence over this school. I assure you, we have no intentions of standing idly by. What I would ask of you three is to abide by the promise you made upon joining this order and refrain from interfering. You must trust me."

Dumbledore's tone was growing firmer with each word, and Severus hoped this would be enough to stay Harry's hand. He hoped that a direct order from the Headmaster would prove a little more effective than one issued by himself.

"Promise me that you will be careful not to put us in a precarious situation," Dumbledore implored solemnly, making eye contact with each student. "Right now, a conflict with Lucius may lead to a conflict with the ministry itself. Do you understand me?"

Harry nodded grudgingly, and Hermione spoke up from behind him. "We will not interfere, sir. You have our word."

"Thank you," Dumbledore responded sincerely. "And Harry, I promise you in return that he will bring no harm to you within this castle."

It was almost just as Dumbledore finished speaking that a knock sounded against the door; at once, Severus stood.

"We've stayed too long," Severus hissed, scolding himself internally for allowing this overlap to occur. "I'll expect your best manners," he said as he turned toward the children, and he grasped Harry by the shoulders. A moment later, the door opened and in stepped Kingsley Shacklebolt, escorting Lucius Malfoy.

By all accounts, Lucius looked better than he had in several years. His robes were brand new and immaculate; a shining gold color that illuminated his gloating expression. His ice blue eyes were drawn immediately to Harry and his lips curled into a contemptuous smile.

"Potter," Lucius greeted him coldly, and then his gaze transferred to Severus. He frowned just slightly, and taunted softly, "Or… is it Snape, now?"

"It's Snape, to you," Harry retorted quickly, surprising Severus. "But I guess it doesn't matter anyways—Potter or Snape, I'm still the boy who lived."

"Yes," Lucius responded smoothly, "For now."

Harry moved forward suddenly, but he halted so quickly that he might have flinched. Whether it was because of Severus' iron like grip on his shoulders or his own consciousness of Dumbledore watching his every move, Severus was simply relieved that he was biting his tongue. Truth be told, Severus was having difficulty controlling even himself. "Time to go, Harry," Severus commanded tersely, steering him towards the door. His eyes met Lucius' and his lips curled upwards; their gazes were locked as though in a silent duel, each waiting for the other to draw.

"I can't believe this," Harry snapped as Severus ushered the trio into the Potions classroom. "That he should even be able to set foot inside Hogwarts after everything he has done…"

"Given your past experiences with the Ministry of Magic, Harry," said Hermione, "I am not certain why you're surprised. Justice is not their finest suit."

"Nothing of worth has ever been accomplished with a mind full of rage," Severus advised quietly as the three children scooted past him. Harry snorted disdainfully. "Enough," Severus warned. "Sit down."

The three sat, albeit with a bit of grumbling.

"I understand your frustration, Harry, but no one in this castle is to blame for Lucius' acquittal. Dumbledore did not know that this was even a possibility until it had already happened. You cannot continue on this quest for answers when no one here as any to give you. Now, class will be starting soon, and I want to give you some instructions that I expect you to pay heed to.

"Firstly, you are not to goad Draco Malfoy, in any way. I shudder to think what might have unfolded in the Great Hall this morning had I not been present. Secondly, you are not to discuss this matter around your other classmates."

"Dad, it's not exactly a secret," Harry interrupted.

"It doesn't matter," Severus snapped in rejoinder. "People will be waiting for our reaction. Lucius was already out of Azkaban—whatever it is that he has planned, he needed to have his name cleared in order to do it. As his first order of business was to request a conference with the Headmaster, I assume it is Hogwarts he is concerned with."

"So what should we be doing, Professor?"

"When I have an answer to that question, Miss Granger, you will be the first to know."

xxx

Double Potions was drawing to a close, but Harry was not coming any closer to a perfect potion. He had been far too distracted to pay attention to each meticulous step of the process, and he partially resented his Father for giving such a difficult assignment on today of all days.

"What do you think, Hermione?" Harry asked, dumping a spoonful of the lumpy solution back into the cauldron and staring down at the bubbling slime disdainfully. "A for Acceptable?"

Hermione lifted a dubious eyebrow.

"Poor?"

She hummed thoughtfully, apparently not feeling generous today.

"Surely not Troll!"

"You forgot Dreadful, I think," Severus' deep voice announced, and Harry looked up just in time to see him mark a large D in red ink on his grade records.

"Seriously?" Harry objected, but Severus merely cocked an eyebrow and moved on to the next cauldron. Growling slightly under his breath, Harry looked over at Hermione, whose cheeks were slightly reddened. "What'd he give you?"

"Exceeds Expectations," Hermione admitted sheepishly. Harry glowered. "What?" she gasped. "It's not an Outstanding…"

"Oh, well as long as it's not an Outstanding," Harry repeated the word mockingly, rolling his eyes. He returned to glaring at his Father, who was moving around the room. "Honestly…"

"We'll do better on the Transfiguration test," Hermione said, an attempt at encouragement. "At least we're prepared for that…"

But Harry wasn't listening. His gaze had already shifted from his Father—this was something he was used to, after all, poor marks in Potions—to Draco Malfoy, who seemed to be having an equally difficult time completing his potion.

For someone whose father had just secured public redemption, he certainly did not look as pleased as Harry might have expected. Harry glanced back at Severus once again. What did the man know—what did he know that made him continually defend the other boy? And could Harry simply accept at face value that Malfoy wasn't all that he appeared, but that there was something that had redeemed the boy in his Father's eyes?

"Clear your work stations," Professor Snape commanded of the class, and Hermione kicked Harry under the table. When he looked back up at his Father, he saw the older man watching him closely.

"What?" Harry mouthed, and Severus shook his head disapprovingly.

"Come on," Hermione whispered. "Don't goad him; Ron's waiting for us. He wants to look at my notes before the test."

"You have all been slacking, lately, so I will inspect your stations individually before you are dismissed," Severus said to the class, walking around to the first table that had been cleaned. "I want to see your tables sparkle."

"Should be difficult, seeing as they're wood," Harry commented to Hermione.

"Harry!" she hissed, rolling her eyes and performing a scrubbing spell on their tabletop.

As Severus visited every other table in the room, Harry began to suspect that he was detaining them on purpose. Ten minutes later, when the rest of the room was empty and his Professor stood silently in front of them, his suspicions were more than confirmed.

"Professor Snape, Harry apologizes for his behavior," Hermione said hurriedly. "Please, sir, we have a test to get to—"

"This won't take long, Miss Granger, but you are free to go. Everything looks to be in order."

Transfiguration notes in hand, Hermione all but jumped out of her seat and fled the room. Severus watched her amusedly, and then turned back to his son. "I hope you are not this disrespectful to all of your Professors."

"Of course not," Harry answered him.

"Why are you being like this?" Severus questioned seriously.

"Like what?"

"Harry!" Severus barked. Harry jumped a little, but did not respond. Severus sighed, shook his head, and ran a hand through his hair, which was in need of a good wash. "I would like you to have dinner in my quarters this evening."

"Is that where you're holding detentions these days?"

"Don't tempt me," Severus replied evenly, folding one arm over the other. "I am certain I could find enough work there to keep you busy. But for now, I would simply like to share a meal with you in private. It seems to me that we have been rather out of touch, lately."

For words that seemed sentimental in nature, Harry pondered, his Father sure did have a way of making them sound just the opposite. It was as though the man were offering him a business proposition. Still, Harry could appreciate the spirit in which they were intended.

"Yeah, alright," he replied, feeling somewhat guilty for goading. "When?"

"Come whenever your friends make their way down to the Great Hall," Severus instructed. "I am hopeful that by then, I will have heard something new from the Headmaster… something that perhaps I might share with you, as long as you do well enough on your Transfiguration test to prove to me that this whole situation has not become too much of a distraction for you."

Harry's eyebrows lifted, and he all but jumped out of his seat.

"Better hurry," Severus told him with an almost imperceptible wink. And without another word, Harry bolted from the classroom, leaving Severus to chuckle to himself while he prepared the room for the coming influx of first-years.

xxx

"I just hate the idea that he was even in this castle. That he could just walk through those doors at any time. I've got to get that map back."

Harry sat between Ron and Hermione in the Gryffindor common room, leaning back with his legs outstretched before him. He stared lazily into the fire, his arms crossed over his upper body. Next to him, Ron and Hermione were quiet and tense.

Harry wished that Ron and Hermione would respond to him, but he knew what was happening. They were hesitant to engage him; he had been increasingly antagonistic, combative and given to fits of temper throughout the day. He was wound up like a muggle toy… he felt like a toy.

It was as though Lucius Malfoy were playing a game with them. His visit to the castle today had been nothing short of a victory lap, a public parade of his ability to outsmart even as intelligent a wizard as Dumbledore himself. Harry couldn't wrap his mind around how this had occurred, and what it meant about their true chances at winning this impending war.

Everyone had been so preoccupied with Harry. Harry Potter, or was he Harry Snape? The boy who lived… or would he be the boy that died? All eyes were watching him, and they had been turned when Lucius Malfoy slithered his way back into his position as the Ministry's puppet master.

Somewhere from the back of his mind, a small but helpful voice pondered whether he was being dramatic. As Hermione sometimes reminded him, he (not unlike his Father) had a tendency to brood.

"Well, at least he was escorted through here like the criminal that he is," Ron offered as a late afterthought, as though he had been pondering his answer for some time. "Even if he can walk through Diagon Alley without being arrested, now, Dumbledore'll never forget what he really is. Dumbledore's always gone over the Ministry's head, anyway. Always had to, idiots they are."

"Let's not forget Umbridge," Hermione mumbled, shaking her head. "Who knows, Harry. Maybe your Dad will have good news for you."

But that was not the particular feeling that Harry got when he arrived to his Father's quarters that evening. Though rigidity of form and slightness of speech were not altogether uncharacteristic, they were neither indicative of pleasant tidings to come. These were the first observations Harry made when he arrived for dinner.

Severus answered the door at Harry's second knock, as though he had been waiting impatiently for him to arrive.

"Good evening," Severus greeted him when he swung open the heavy oak door. Around the corner, Harry caught a glimpse of a set table; dinner had been served—most likely by the house elves of Hogwarts, by the presentation.

"Please," said Severus as he led Harry to the table, "Sit."

Severus moved quickly around the small table and took his seat. When Harry had done the same, the older man filled his plate at once. Harry followed suit, watching him out of the corner of his eyes as he feigned interest in the food that had been prepared.

"Looks good," Harry offered as a way of warming the conversation, but Severus merely grunted his agreement and continued to eat. "Thank you for having me," Harry then offered. Severus swallowed and looked up at him, seemingly taken aback.

"Thank you for coming," he responded with a nod, his eyes searching Harry's expression.

Harry nodded and remained quiet; his Father was again acting formal. It made him seem distant. Harry wondered if this was the way he had been taught to act by his own Father; at once, the thought felt intrusive.

Harry helped himself to a cut of roast beef. When Severus returned to silence, Harry tried to eat without talking for awhile. He ate quickly at first, hoping to finish dinner quickly; he wanted to hear about Malfoy, and he was certain that his Father was aware of his curiosity.

After some time had passed, Harry ventured tentatively, "So, I don't want to be rude during dinner, but… did you talk to Dumbledore today?"

Severus' head was still tilted downward, but he raised his eyes to meet Harry's gaze. Swallowing and clearing his throat, he sat back in his chair, cleaned his mouth with the linen napkin that had been spread across his lap, and dropped it onto his plate. His plate at once vanished from the table, and Harry's thoughts concerning the house elves were confirmed.

"I did." Severus answered Harry's question with a nod; he looked hesitant to continue. "The Headmaster seems optimistic that we will be able to limit Malfoy's involvement in the school."

"Limit?" Harry questioned, fiddling with a piece of bread.

"Lucius has not been reelected to the board of governors, which is a positive sign that they, at least, have not been corrupted as of yet. However," Severus paused and held up a single finger, as though to stay Harry's reaction, "Lucius has preemptively obtained written permission from the board that he may visit the school at any time."

"What?" Harry practically spat his food back onto the plate before him. "Why?"

"Lucius has a longstanding history of conflict with Headmaster Dumbledore," Severus began to explain. He spoke slowly, choosing every word carefully. "As I am certain you remember, during his time spent as a governor, Lucius made multiple zealous attempts to have Dumbledore stripped of his duties as Headmaster. Now, keep this fact in mind, and ponder to yourself how it looks to the board of governors that since Lucius' incarceration and, consequently, his removal from this school, Draco's formerly high grades have plummeted and his stays in the hospital wing have increased astronomically. Lucius argues that Draco has been neglected as a way of retribution for Lucius' past 'endeavors to uphold the Headmaster of this school to a higher standard', as he phrases it.

"Now," Severus continued, folding his hands in front of him and abandoning his dinner altogether, "Hogwarts has a policy that states that any parent should be allowed to request an appointment with the Headmaster or any Professor of this school. Lucius contends that to ban him from the castle is in direct violation of this policy, and that to do so would be a direct act of discrimination against the falsely accused."

"Wouldn't it just be easier if Draco left Hogwarts?"

"Harry, Lucius won't pull Draco out of Hogwarts… he's too convenient."

"Well, why doesn't Dumbledore ask him to leave, then?"

"Somehow," Severus answered dryly, eyebrow quirked, "I think that might cause more harm than good."

"So you're saying that he could walk through the doors of Hogwarts at any time, and no one has any right to stop him?"

"Not quite," responded Severus. "The policy states that a parent may visit by appointment, and Malfoy will be expected to follow that protocol. As a measure of heightened security, he will be escorted to his scheduled destination; he is not to be wandering the school, and he certainly will not be able to get close to you."

"How can you be so sure?"

Severus cocked his head to the side and glanced upwards. "I may have filed a letter of complaint as well… as a parent, rather than a staff member of the school. As your parent," he specified. "Suffice it to say, if Lucius Malfoy so much as enters the same room as you, I will have him banned from this premises. But if you seek him out, Harry, there is nothing that I can do. You must be on your best behavior, where he is concerned. If Lucius Malfoy is intended as the Dark Lord's path to you, we must make certain that it is not an easy one."

xxx End Chapter xxx

AN: I've been listening to you guys! Loved writing this chapter, hope you loved reading it :) Please click below and let me know what you think!

July 22, 2015: Just wanted to let any current readers know that I have a new chapter on the way. Not abandoned! I promise! I've been rereading the entire fic and did some pretty heavy editing on the first 20 chapters so far. You might like to reread if you haven't in a while, and let me know what you think of the updates if you love me enough to do so! As always, thanks for reading. Hope to have the new update out soon :)