The Birthday Present
Rowling: All hers. Just borrowing them for a bit.
Author's Note: This chapter contains Death Eater style violence and open discussion of slash relationships, as well as discussion of child abuse. And a quick reminder—HBP never happened. Honest. Again, many thanks to Snape's Nightie, my loyal Britpicker.
Chapter 11: Object Lesson
Snape crammed in as much brewing as he could once he returned to Hogwarts. Flitwick held true to his promise. One afternoon was spent, rather pleasantly in his opinion, in destroying Acromantula nests that were too near the path to Hogsmeade, as well as freeing the Weasley car from the incredible webbing that bound its wheels. Even Hagrid admitted the necessity, since Aragog's own territory was actually much deeper in the Forbidden Forest.
Severus still regretted the time lost. Once he began taking the potions, he didn't know how much he was going to be allowed to do. A few days after he'd returned from Switzerland just before the evening meal, he sat and thoroughly read about the procedure. The in-residence treatment was four months, though Lowenstein had wished that he could stay for six. Requiring him to stay away from brewing for year afterwards was, of course, ridiculous.
However, the need for potions to manage the side effects of the detoxicants increased the time required, since total potions load as well as the type of potion made a difference. If he could endure the treatment without taking anything for the side effects, the time involved in the process was reduced by a significant amount. Snape suspected that the outpatient regime would be much longer than the residential variety since he would continue to be exposed to random potion combinations along with what he brewed himself.
He was appalled at the prospect. It was quite possible that he would have to undergo treatment for the entire school year, especially if he succumbed to weakness over the side effects.
That was unsatisfactory. He could not possibly spend that much time on the regimen and still manage his other duties. Even the schedule proposed by the Ministry for healthy potions masters was unworkable with the current set-up. Would he have to use a Time-Turner again?
He really wanted to stomp up to the Headmaster's office and fly into a rage over the unfairness of it all. That, however, was no longer an alternative. Severus took a deep breath, then fetched a large blank piece of paper. He wrote down as many of his duties as he could recall, how much time he estimated they took, and tried to plot them out over a normal school week. That filled it up with barely enough time for eating or sleeping—not that he expected to do much of either over the next year. Then he scribbled 'Other duties?' down at the bottom of the chart, since he was unable to quantify how many times he would be summoned, and how long it might take him to recover from anything that happened at a meeting. Surely the Dark Lord would not be idiotic enough to call on school nights or during classes, given how many of the new apprentices were students. Of course, Riddle might do so just to impress everyone with his power. Snape knew he dared not ask for special favors from either of his masters.
He rolled up the chart and put it in Dumbledore's box in the staff room. I don't know how I'm going to do it all, he thought. He sat down in one of the chairs by a window in that room and looked out at the beautiful grounds. I know he'll want Potter to learn Occlumency. Merlin only knows the brat needs it, while the Wolfsbane Potion usually takes up a whole day. I'll have to meet with the new Death Eaters apart from the other Slytherin students. Not all of them play Quidditch, unfortunately, or we could disguise the meetings as strategy sessions. Wait. Not all of them play Quidditch now. If Draco becomes Captain, he could choose the few who aren't on the team already for reserve positions. Miss Rosier is actually better at being a Chaser than her brother is, but our team doesn't use girls as much as the other Houses do. Draco, being a Malfoy, could get away with changing that. Well, except for Miss Parkinson. But everyone knows that she won't let her betrothed out of her sight. If he appoints her as scorekeeper for practices just so she'll have something to do besides trying to get his attention, nobody will think it odd. You can keep anything secret around this school if it's in connection with Quidditch.
That helped a little bit. He wished he could recapture the calm he'd felt while in Switzerland, but that had vanished the first day after his return from the clinic.
His Mark began hurting just as the dinner bell rang. He shouldn't have been surprised. Snape wrote a quick note for the Headmaster, threw it in the box along with the time chart, and quickly went downstairs to fetch his robe and mask. Carrying them, he walked out past Hagrid's hut and into the Forbidden Forest.
It was difficult to force himself to Apparate to Malfoy Manor instead of letting the Mark take him, but he had promised Draco to accompany him this first time. The boy stood outside the Manor gates, already wearing the proper costume. "Thank you, Professor," young Malfoy said with a slight stammer.
Snape took a moment to don his robes and mask. "Now close your eyes, touch the Mark with the fingers of your other hand, and the bond to the Dark Lord will do the rest. There's no other spell involved." He'd given the same basic instructions to all the other apprentices, including Edgecombe and Weasley, just before he'd left for the work-up.
It was dark where they landed. Obviously, they were much further east and south as the sun had already set. He set off towards the light of a fire as Draco followed him.
The Potions Master mentally counted off the number of dark shapes in the dell ahead of him. The two taller ones by the Dark Lord were likely Lestrange and Wormtail, while the others looked towards him as soon as he came into the area illuminated by the fire. The tallest of those hesitated, then walked towards Pettigrew instead. Smart, Weasley, Snape thought. Never let them know where your true loyalties lie. One of the shorter apprentices broke away and walked towards Lestrange, whose flowing hair gave her identity away. Five points to Ravenclaw, Miss Edgecombe. Learning quickly is what your House does best.
Severus strode toward the Dark Lord and knelt, as did his other students, while Edgecombe and Weasley waited for their own sponsors to show them what to do. Bella and Pettigrew continued standing, but motioned for their apprentices to fall to their knees as well.
"Rise," said Voldemort's high, thin voice. "One must serve before one can command."
Bella laughed harshly. "I never thought to see you so obedient, Severus."
Snape held his tongue till he was given permission to speak, and glared at his students to make sure they kept silent, too.
"From obedience comes mastery, and from mastery comes power," the Dark Lord said. "You would do well to learn that yourself, my beloved Bella. Crucio."
The woman fell with a sharp cry. Snape held perfectly still, hoping his example would show the children what they must do to survive. The lesson was a short one, though. Lestrange stood without assistance, shaking off Miss Edgecombe's offered arm.
Severus understood Bella completely. One must never show weakness, for that was death.
"You may speak now, Snape. Your students seem already well trained." The malevolent red eyes turned to gaze on all the new apprentices, not just those from Slytherin. "They are wiser than I expected. Perhaps we can make something of all of them."
Wormtail stood a little straighter than the small man usually did. The Dark Lord continued. "Tonight we begin our training. Please rise. How many of you have ever cast an Unforgivable? Raise your right hand if you have done so."
All the new ones did, even Percy Weasley. "I wasn't expecting so many," Voldemort said. "And all of you from Hogwarts, too."
"If I may explain, my lord?" Snape interjected. "When young Crouch was pretending to be Mad-Eye Moody, he taught Defense Against the Dark Arts by demonstrating some of those curses. Even such as young Mr. Longbottom had to learn a few spells against insects and small animals."
One of his Slytherins muttered "Ferret." Snape immediately whirled and hexed that idiot Avery into silence. Painful silence. This was no game, where the loser was sent to the infirmary and the winner got detention with Filch.
Voldemort looked satisfied and asked for no explanation. The Dark Lord rarely interfered between a full member of the circle and an apprentice, as Severus knew from his experiences with Lucius.
He knew why they were meeting away from England. The Ministry still monitored the wands of students for magical use outside of school, but their reach could only extend so far. That gave him an idea that might prove expensive, but would prove advantageous. "My lord, if I may speak again? Most of these apprentices are underage, and their wands still watched for activity during the summer. Is that not why we are meeting here? May I acquire other wands for them to practice with?"
The Dark Lord's red eyes flashed. "Of course. Anything you spend on this will be recompensed twice over. You have proven yet again how valuable your services are to us."
Snape knew that he lost ground with Lestrange and Pettigrew the more he gained it with Tom Riddle. What else was new? Yet their influence was important, as much as it galled him to crawl to a madwoman and a Gryffindor. "I must find ways to serve you, my lord. I have a long way to go before I have aided you as much as these others here tonight have done. My sacrifices are small compared to theirs."
Voldemort smiled, clearly realizing what Snape was up to. However, Bella and Wormtail looked less angry, and that was the point. His students could suffer at their hands, and it was worth groveling to keep the woman's viciousness and the rat's incompetence from hurting those who were under his own protection.
Pettigrew left the clearing, then returned leading a man by the hand. The fellow was obviously under the Imperius spell or on drugs, given his glassy-eyed look. Snape could feel his apprentices become frightened, including the two non-Slytherins, as they suddenly realized this wasn't a game of dress-up any more.
"I took this man from the streets of Berlin," Wormtail said cheerfully. "You're a nasty old bum, aren't you? Nobody is going to miss you. In fact, I happen to know that quite a few children would be very happy indeed to help us destroy you tonight. I watched you with them, you filthy old pervert, over the last month or so. I knew we'd need a target to practice on. Pity you don't speak English and have no idea what's going on. It doesn't really matter, I suppose."
Snape bit back a wave of fury. How very clever, Pettigrew. None of my apprentices will sympathize with this man, not even Percy Weasley. Perhaps especially young Mr. Weasley, who still loves his family and would kill anyone meddling with his younger brothers or his sister despite his masquerade here tonight. Once more he felt what his apprentices did. The Dark Lord had been clever with him, as well. Voldemort knew all about the old man who had lived across from Nora's on Knockturn Alley. Folben was long dead, but this tramp bore an amazing resemblance to the owner of the gin shop back then.
He shouldn't give into temptation. Yet it might be necessary to protect the others. "Which hexes shall we practice first, my lord?" Snape asked, his voice shaky.
"The Cruciatus Curse," said Voldemort with a smile. "All apprentices are to cast the spell first, then Lestrange, then Pettigrew. If he is still alive after that, you may have the treat of finishing him off."
Oh yes. Riddle knew. Snape briefly bent the knee, then stood again. As Bella's apprentice went first, he attempted to reach into the victim's mind, and caught fleeting glances of groping hands and gleaming eyes, and the horrified faces of the children the man had violated. It didn't matter. He must retain control somehow.
Miss Edgecombe's attempt at a Crucio was pathetic, though her voice shook with indignation. Weasley's spell was quite a bit stronger. Percy had never forgiven himself for getting so wrapped up in his studies that he hadn't watched over his little sister her first year. Severus struggled to stay calm, but couldn't help thinking Good, you aimed the spell in the right direction for now. One day you may direct your wand at another target.
Ah. The Dark Lord had heard that one, as the reptilian monster turned and inclined his head. He must be more careful. No matter how officious Percy Weasley appeared to be now, Snape knew his Gryffindor apprentice had not forgotten a certain diary.
Now it was the turn of the Slytherins. Draco's spell was competent, and the man almost fell. Did young Malfoy already have access to an unmonitored wand? If he did, at least he hadn't used an Unforgivable in public. Snape barely suppressed a smile thinking of the pictures that Narcissa had purchased from the Prophet, originally taken by that lunatic Creevy, that showed two large slugs and one smaller one in Slytherin robes coming into the train station at King's Cross. It could have been much worse.
Crabbe and Goyle couldn't muster much enthusiasm, but gave the curse a good try. Miss Parkinson had more feeling, but about the same amount of power. The other Slytherins followed. The cumulative affects of their spells put the man on the ground writhing in pain.
The Dark Lord allowed the victim a few minutes to recover. "Once you gain control of the spell, you'll be able to give it lightly or heavily. Bella, my dear, try not to kill him and ruin the Professor's fun, but give him a good dose so they can see what it looks like."
Lestrange smiled and made the man scream in agony. He voided at both mouth and below, raising a stink in the dell. She did stop before it was too late, though Snape wondered if she would. "And that's how it done," she crowed. "Too bad you weren't at the Ministry raid, Snape. That ridiculous Potter boy tried it on me after I killed my idiot cousin, and it barely tickled. I hope you can do better than that when it's your turn."
Pettigrew performed the curse next, but held his wand in his silver hand. He played the gruesome light over the bum, drawing more screams. Then he somehow continued the spell, but at an easier level, judging by the victim's reaction. "I've never had so much power or control before," he said when he finished.
Snape fought memories of clammy white hands and pale blue eyes that the man's appearance brought back. He wished Peter had been lying about the man collapsed on the ground in front of them. What little he'd learned from his attempt at Legilimency confirmed Wormtail's story. Or, he thought, his mind has been carefully arranged for my benefit so I will believe it. Another surge of rage, both at the victim, and at the Dark Lord for thinking him so easily manipulated, almost paralyzed him.
"It is your turn now, Severus. How do you wish to finish him off?" Voldemort asked.
He should use a quick Avada Kedavra. He should. "We began with the Cruciatus and it will end that way!" Snape shouted. He whirled and pointed with his wand. "Crucio!" A blazing light erupted from the wooden stem and surrounded the body of the tramp, who jerked and spasmed till blood flowed from his mouth. The flesh and clothing actually ripped apart under the impact of his wrath. Everyone backed away from the two, except for the Dark Lord. He smiled.
Snape stopped the spell when he saw that. Surely this man—no, he had a name—surely Jacob Metzinger was dead by now. He felt sick inside at what he'd done in his fury, but part of him felt relaxed and peaceful. Part of him liked torturing this man to death. He reassured himself that the sheer impact of the spell had probably ended Metzinger's pain more quickly than a slower curse, but knew that didn't mean anything.
He forced his face to go blank under Voldemort's praise. Severus knew he would have to tell the Headmaster what he'd done. But you don't have to tell him how much you liked it, said a small voice inside him. He'll understand that you had to cooperate because of your position as a spy. If he ever learns how well you enjoyed it, he'll send you back to prison as soon as he can find an excuse to do so.
Snape bowed his head and thanked the Dark Lord for the exercise, terrified that the serpentine man had been speaking to him mentally. Voldemort dismissed everyone but him. For a brief moment Severus was tempted to unleash more anger, even knowing he would die soon afterwards. Yet—no matter what he'd been told to do, he was the one who'd done it.
"Very impressive, my Shadow," the Dark Lord said. "You are intelligent enough, of course, to appreciate my choice of subject for tonight. There is a time for mastery of one's passions, and a time for them to be used in my service. I am happy to see you have not completely deadened yourself inside."
It would be better if I had, Snape thought. "I did not expect the strength of my feelings to carry me away like that, my lord. I hope I can restrain myself at need."
"How terribly difficult it must be for you at Hogwarts," Voldemort said. "You have exceeded my expectations in every way. I must admit, you took a chance when you meddled with apprentices that you knew weren't yours. No wonder your arm was paralyzed for a time."
"My lord?" He was frightened now, but kept his eyes on the ground.
"Oh, don't worry. Both Lestrange and Pettigrew were directly linked to me from the beginning, so they don't really understand how the Mark controls apprenticeships. They haven't noticed anything wrong. In fact, they've been quite happy lately. You see, I've been concentrating on the Potter boy. He is now quite certain you arranged the dog's death. Unfortunately, keeping his hatred strong has involved letting the brat direct it all at you. Both Bella and Peter are quite certain that if the boy ever gains real power, he'll use it first to destroy you and not them. I shall not let that happen, of course. I fear, however, that they believe I will, and thus they'll spend less time trying to establish that you are a traitor. The less attention they pay to you the better. One day they shall both know better, but not yet."
"Of course, my lord. What better incentive could I have to make sure that Harry Potter never gains that power? After all, if the boy hates me so much, then any intelligent Slytherin would make sure he never learns enough to become a threat—and therefore never becomes a danger to you, either." The logic of self-interest was all that some believed in.
"How clever of you to see that so quickly! And you were right to contact all of the new ones that night. They need more guidance that I fear either one of the others can give. Now I shall make sure that my link to you is still strong." Voldemort touched his chest, where the Original Mark had created itself during the sorcerer's resurrection.
Severus felt warmth on his left arm, but no pain. Then he flushed red as the sensation traveled up his arm, down his shoulder and side, and into his groin.
"Ah. You do feel that." The Dark Lord smiled with his thin reptilian lips, and his red eyes flashed.
"I had no idea I found such favor with you, my lord," Snape said tonelessly. Lucius had used the Mark in much the same way last year.
"No performances tonight, Severus. Not after forcing you to see the memories you have." Riddle looked more sober. "This wretched body holds me to the earth, but little more. Don't bother to protest how sorry you are for it."
Perhaps he wonders if he drives me too far, he will feel the effects of what tore the the dead man apart himself, Snape thought behind his mental walls. It was so like Voldemort to torment him in the guise of affection. He chose his words carefully. "My lord, someday you will be restored to your former handsomeness. I have never, will never, be anything but ugly. I don't understand why I've been chosen—" His voice broke. He never had, not really. At most a woman cared for his voice, his gold, and his manners, in whatever order. What other men saw, he had no idea.
The Dark Lord's eyes gleamed brighter. "Severus, you have your own kind of beauty. I'm surprised even the old fool hasn't seen it. Your father drove most away by his cruelty, but your mother's family—well, you know the reputation your great-grandfather Grigory Efimovich had even among the Muggles. A pity the family was wiped out by Stalin in one of his mad purges, and your mother with no place to go when her husband proved so brutal. Of course I understand what is wrong. The victim tonight was my gift to you. No pureblood ought to suffer in that way." Voldemort gazed down at the fire, his shoulders hunched, for a moment, then continued. "Once you have proven yourself, you will join the Inner Circle and I will break the link between you and Lucius. You are more than an apprentice now, especially with servants of your own. Malfoy must remember that I am his patron, not the other way around. He seems to have forgotten that over the years. You had Dumbledore holding Azkaban over your head and the keys to your vault in his hand to account for your reluctance. Lucius seeks only his own power. Oh, he'll get out of prison eventually, but not till he shows the proper willingness to submit to me the way you have."
Snape shifted from one foot to the other. "He was at the Ministry, my lord. I was not."
"You are more valuable at the school. A pity, though, that I couldn't let you kill Black. I know you would have enjoyed it far more than Bella did. But your loyalty does you credit, especially compared to the usual backstabbing. I ask only one thing." Voldemort looked directly at him now. "When I am finally restored to my proper body, I want one night to find out what Lucius sees in you." He reached out to touch Snape, then stopped. "But it would be wrong to ask anything tonight. You have too many memories to deal with. I hope that having erased one of them will help." He kicked the sodden mass of flesh, blood and rags to emphasize his point.
"As you wish, my lord." One night. He could manage one night. He'd managed much worse, after all, for most of last year, never mind the summers spent with Lucius at Malfoy Manor. After what he'd done tonight he knew he'd never truly belong among those who fought for the Light. They were right to despise him.
"Look at me," the Dark Lord said. "You have nothing to be ashamed of. Few have the courage to do what is necessary no matter what. For now, do what the Swiss tell you. They are concerned for your health, and so am I. It would be wrong for you to believe you've failed me because I have neglected to see to your welfare. It's clear that Lucius has used his position for his own self-indulgence rather than to protect."
"He offered his own life as guaranty for my loyalty, my lord," Snape said.
"Only because he knew it was a given," Voldemort said. He looked down at his hands, clearly displeased with what he saw. Nagini hissed out of the depths and wound herself around her master.
"I shall work towards your restoration, my lord," Severus offered.
"Not till you are well. I can endure this shell long enough for that. You are strong and clever now. Think how much better you can serve me in a body no longer sodden with poisons. Besides, once you have begun this regimen, you will have little strength for other duties. I was too hasty attacking the Ministry. I should have remembered that we have all the time in the world. The old fool won't live forever. He is the only thing holding that wretched Order together, and when he finally passes they'll fall apart."
Snape was afraid that Voldemort was right. He bowed his head again and was dismissed. He landed back in the middle of the Forbidden Forest, and reassured Hagrid that he was all right. After all, he was in no physical pain this time. As he walked back to Hogwarts, fear gripped his heart. He would tell Dumbledore the truth, including the danger if the Dark Lord suddenly became more patient. He would even discuss the exercises, up to a point. But only to a point.Albus Dumbledore
The Headmaster waited in his office, windows open to the warm evening air. He looked down at the chart and the note on his desk again. For once Severus is asking me for help, and I don't know what to do. The estimates for Snape's duties seemed valid, even the time given to Slytherin as Head of House. The Sorting Hat almost always put the most difficult students there. It wanted to put Harry there because of what the Dursleys had done to him. If he hadn't met the Weasley boy or Miss Granger on the train, or hadn't met young Malfoy at Madam Malkin's, he might have thought it a good idea. Despite his reassurances to the boy after the incident in the Chamber of Secrets that Potter was truly a Gryffindor because Godric's sword had come out when Harry reached into the Sorting Hat, Albus wondered these days what the Hat would say. He knew that Snape would have managed the Dursleys far better than he had. The Potions Master had developed a system to make sure none of his students were left out or neglected, unlike the malign neglect and blatant favoritism Bellwood had practiced when Severus had been a student. Dumbledore knew the unsung tragedies of each House. Snape's files were on paper, while Sprout's were in her head. Flitwick was more concerned with academics than with the emotional well-being of his students, while Minerva kept him updated on Gryffindor on a weekly basis.
Albus sighed, and looked at the schedule again. Estimates for lab preparation, estimates for grading, estimates for brewing both with and without the Wolfsbane Potion—all of those seemed reasonable, too. Night patrol was going to be a real problem this year, even if Snape wasn't going to be made ill by the Swiss potions. Filch couldn't do that all by himself and manage any of his other duties. From what he'd heard in London, the Ministry was going to insist that the health and safety regulations begin this year. That alone was going to take time out of the schedule, never mind that Severus was likely to need far more rest on the regime.
At least we'll have an excuse when anything else goes wrong. He won't have to pretend he's well when he's not the way he did last year. I'll show this schedule to Filch and see if we can work out something with the portraits and the ghosts. Lupin's health isn't good most of the time either, so having him won't help as much as it could, unfortunately. Professor Sinistra is up at night most of the time, but a great deal of that is spent teaching. I don't like sending female teachers on night patrol, especially one with a reputation for absent-mindedness like Vector. For one thing, Minerva will insist on joining her, and her health must be protected, too. He remembered how devastated he'd been when hearing of her being transported to St. Mungo's after taking four stunners in the chest. He still feared the ordeal might leave permanent effects on the dear woman.
It would take a great deal of effort to get a Substitutiary Locomotion spell to work well enough to set the suits of armor marching up and down the halls, and keep it going for a full evening shift. Would it be worth the trouble? Only the first-years were actually frightened of the things, but the armor could be charmed to notify someone else that they were being interfered with. At this point, he would be willing to accept help from Peeves.
Snape entered the office. Dumbledore watched him carefully, but the Potions Master walked smoothly and didn't seem to be in any pain. He knew he should send the wizard to Poppy as soon as the meeting was over, though.
Severus sat down and gave his report. "The practice wands I acquire will probably receive a spell so the Dark Lord can monitor themto assure himself that they're performing their drills at home. However, I will know what they are doing through the Mark, no matter which wand they use, since that is keyed to each person. I need more practice in this art, since some of the students don't stand out as much as others do in my mind. In fact, I should reinforce the bond with them tonight. I don't want them too frightened of me."
"Will it hurt you the way it did the last time?"
"Not if I am careful. None of them received any punishment through their Marks. I had to remind Avery not to speak until the proper time, but that was for his own safety, frankly."
Dumbledore hoped that Snape was running less risk than last time. "And the spell these children practiced tonight," he said, horrified that Hogwarts students were being taught the Cruciatus. I wish I had known that 'Moody' was teaching the same thing. "Did they seem reluctant to attack a helpless victim?"
"Not really. However, they were given a story about the man's past history that made it easy for them to hate him. You might inquire with the authorities in Berlin about someone named Jacob Metzinger. If the story had any truth to it, they may have heard of him. My turn to demonstrate the spell came last. He died under it." Snape's voice shook. "It was quick."
Albus kept a mild expression on his face, though his stomach turned. The Cruciatus Curse normally didn't kill swiftly; that was the whole point. Surely Severus wasn't lying to him. His senses told him no, but there was more to the story than the Potions Master was telling.
But this was the moment he was waiting for. If he could only get Snape to lower his barriers, it was possible he could extract the nightmare hex without having to confess that he was the one who'd sent it.
"I am very sorry, Severus, that this had to happen. It's clear that it's bothering you. I promised I would help this summer, and I mean it. I know this has been hard for you, and not just physically. It has been over a year since you were able to relax your barriers. You know that an Occlumens must let them down on occasion, or they may become permanent. That has other effects which aren't good. You're not in physical pain tonight, which will make this easier for you. You know it's safe here, don't you?"
Snape's eyes widened just a bit. "I can fetch the pensieve, Headmaster. That might give you a clearer picture of what happened."
"But that won't change what is happening inside you. I know you've been having nightmares, Severus. I want to help you get rid of some of them, at least. Don't worry if your thoughts show anger or resentment towards me. I want you to know how much I appreciate the control you've exercised over yourself in the past few weeks. I can endure the truth for one night, Severus, and I promise not to punish you for how you feel inside." He knew that Snape was afraid of him, and rightly so. "I know it's been hard for you," he repeated. "This office has better wards, now, and I doubt you could wreck the place any more than Harry already has."
Snape gripped the arms of the chair till his knuckles turned white. He doesn't trust me, Albus thought numbly. But why should he? "I promise this will have nothing to do with what we talked about at the end of the school year, Severus. What you do or have done for the boy is far more important than what you feel. Legilimens." The tip of his wand glowed.
At first it was like hitting a stone wall. Then Dumbledore was in the dell by the fire, watching Peter lead the old Muggle into it. Oh, Tom, you chose well for your purposes, the Headmaster thought sadly. The resemblance between the tramp and that vicious bastard in Knockturn Alley who had marred Snape's childhood was terrifying. He watched the students and the other two Death Eaters torture the man. Albus was even more horrified when Snape searched through the Muggle's memories. He felt the power of the Crucio that left the Potion Master's wand and nearly gagged at the results. Then he felt sick at the mix of revulsion and satisfaction that Snape felt.
The Headmaster grimly sat in for the rest of the meeting, though he nearly recoiled when Tom tried to seduce Severus through the Mark, and was grieved at the younger wizard's dull acceptance of eventually having to give in. It was even worse when Snape thought of Lucius Malfoy. No wonder Poppy hadn't wanted to tell him. No doubt she was disgusted, too, but had to treat the patient in front of her.
He couldn't stay in Snape's mind any longer. Albus found himself back behind his desk, his stomach roiling.
Severus lolled in his chair, his eyes blank. "I didn't want you to know," he whispered, as he stared into nothingness. "The Dark Lord thinks he has me, but he doesn't, I swear. I am loyal to the Order, Headmaster! Why do you think I keep this door closed? Nobody wants to see what I am really like, even you."
Dumbledore closed his eyes for a moment. He could lose Severus forever if he did not take care. "I have to admit that I am disappointed that you still have so much violence inside," he said in the most gentle voice he could manage at the moment. "I am sad beyond belief that you were forced to return to Lucius Malfoy last year. I know that nobody asked or cared how you got the information the Order needed. Madam Pomfrey did not tell me, by the way. She said that she had promised you not to discuss certain matters, and she kept it, even against me."
He remembered the way he'd felt so many years ago when he'd learned just what Severus had endured since early childhood. Albus had been happy to allow himself to forget. The War had been so deadly back then, and Snape's spying so necessary. Once the young wizard had been released from Azkaban, the Headmaster had been more concerned about getting Severus healed and helping him adjust to being a teacher instead of a student. He had avoided physical contact with Snape, and he felt both of them preferred it that way. Given the younger wizard's experiences, it might be all too easy for him to assume that the Headmaster of Hogwarts wanted the same thing as everyone else in authority over him had. In fact, Albus had been heartened by the regular visits to Diagon Alley and the young man's choice of partners. The Wizarding World had its members who preferred their own gender, but Dumbledore was still glad that Snape's partners were female. The Slytherin was already isolated enough.
This new knowledge disturbed all of his fond illusions that the younger wizard had really healed from the pain inflicted earlier in life. It had been so easy for Tom to revive those terrible memories and to use them to make Severus a weapon once again. Of course, an inner voice murmured to him, you'd prefer sole use.
He looked at the Potions Master, who looked decades older than he ought. The Headmaster knew he dared not show how he really felt. He knew he should go back into Snape's mind and remove that nightmare hex, but he couldn't do it. Not tonight. He still had a nasty taste in the back of his throat from what he'd already seen. "I won't ask anything more of you tonight, Severus," he said softly. "I'm sorry I intruded."
Once Snape was gone, he retched and nearly lost the tea he'd been drinking while waiting in the office. Dippet had failed in his duties by allowing Bellwood to be so lax in his administration of Slytherin. Malfoy's abuse of the younger Snape, both at Hogwarts itself and later on, was evidence of that. Unfortunately Severus had been prepared by the unnatural vice he'd already experienced to trade his body for protection. And when Lucius Malfoy was gone, nobody protected Severus at all, not till he took the Mark.
It should not have come as a surprise to learn that Snape had reverted to his old tactics. It argued well for his loyalty to the Order that he had been willing to do so for its sake. It sickens me! Albus thought, holding his head in his hands. Surely he could have come up with some other way to get the information we needed without—without that. He got up and walked around, still dizzy with nausea. Hadn't Snape learned anything in the years when Riddle was dead? Hadn't he learned that he could ask for help?
Dumbledore's memory betrayed him as he stood by the window desperately gulping in fresh air. Visions of every time young Harry had been indulged and what Snape had sacrificed for it filled his mind.
It had been funny when Snape's robes had caught on fire, but if Quirrell hadn't been knocked over, Harry might have died when the prank broke the Slytherin's concentration. Snape had been forced to act at Lockhart's assistant, when it was obvious the gilded lily had been quite incompetent. Snape had been made ridiculous in front of Fudge by Black's escape after almost dying the night before rescuing the three students who had caused his injuries. Snape had had to crawl to 'Moody' all the next year, no doubt in terror of a flask of Veritaserum and a quiet chat.
Albus forced himself to consider last year more clearly. Who would have helped Severus if he had asked? He'd been too busy outfoxing Umbridge. According to Molly Weasley, Black had gotten nearly everyone to follow his lead in deriding Snape, not that Moody had needed any help. In his office, Harry had begun to take responsibility for his actions in the Ministry raid, but had moved quickly to blaming it all on Snape. Voldemort was using that now. If Severus did not help change things in the Dursley household, it might be too late for the boy by the end of summer. There had always been a danger of Mr. Potter allowing the darkness to take him, but now it was greater than ever.
He sat down again. Once again I would rather worry about Harry than face the horror that Snape has inside him. All I'm doing now is running from his memories because I don't like them. I've threatened him with Azkaban to help Harry, when I can't do it myself. I made him endure seeing Riddle look out of Harry's eyes when I wouldn't do it. I have to do something to show him that I'm not as bad as his other master, not just wring my hands.
Unfortunately, that part of his mind was silent. Maybe Lowenstein was right. Maybe it was too late to help Snape the way he needed. The Manticore had committed suicide three months after Grindelwald's death. Maybe that would be the younger wizard's fate as well.
Then he remembered that Dippet hadn't been Headmaster when Bellwood was head of Slytherin. I was the one who looked the other way when Lucius Malfoy ruled Slytherin in lieu of a responsible adult. I was the one who laughed at every prank the Marauders performed for the entertainment of the school. I was the one who protected Lupin at Snape's expense, and rewarded James Potter the next year by making him Head Boy.
I remember, now. I didn't want to expel Black because we had done so with Riddle, and lost him completely. But all Sirius learned was that he could use Lupin as a weapon against those he disliked. He did it again during Harry's third year, only this time I allowed it for Harry's sake as well. Severus knew it, and probably has realized that I helped as well. If he had to use the Time Turner all last year, he probably knows how it was done.
Harry…Minerva warned me against leaving him with the Dursleys. I refused to see how badly they treated him, even when the Sorting Hat wanted to put him in Slytherin. I didn't listen then. Oh, I was disturbed at the boy's condition, but there have been other students who came back from their summers thinner than they began, only to thrive here.
Both Tom and Severus were like that, too. But I didn't want to believe it was that bad for Harry. I wrote the aunt several times, reminding her that we were watching. But I never followed up on anything till last summer. Of course, that's more than I ever did for the other two. I was always too busy, either as a teacher or as Headmaster.
Harry. Tom. Severus. The three of them were caught in horror and Albus was appalled at how much he'd contributed to their pain. He didn't even have the excuse of Harry being in the wrong house in his case.
He must do something for the youngest of the three before it was too late. Yet he must not use that as an excuse to ignore the other two.
Then he had an appalling thought. What would he do if Lucius Malfoy bought his way out of Azkaban? The Order desperately needed the information Snape had brought them last year, and this one as well. They would need it still. How could he look the other way and let Severus bargain for it the only way he knew?
Albus covered his face with his hands and wept. I have bungled this so badly. If I'm forgetting when I was Headmaster, of all things, what else is wrong? I wish I could blame everything on fading memory. But I can't. What am I going to do?
Further Author's Note: The Substitutiary Locomotion spell was borrowed from Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
As for Grigory Efimovich, those of who you haven't guessed his other name are offered the following hint:
"There once was a monk from Siberia,
Whose morals were rather inferior;
He done to a nun
What he shouldn't have done--
And now she's a Mother Superior!"
Oh, and those who haven't figured out Hunk-Ra yet are referred to the cartoon Doonesbury. There are several large format collections in many U.S. libraries. Ms. Boopstein is commonly known as "Boopsie", and is currently the wife of B.D.