Power the Dark Lord knows not

Chapter 1: Harry Potter

This can be read as a stand-alone fic, but if you read the prequels "Thank god Snape never eats here", "Malice in his voice", "Threesome at Spinner's End", "Dumbledore was pretty firm with him", "I taught him! I thought I knew him!" and "Well done, Draco, well done" you will get a better feel for the particular version of the Potterverse in which this story is set.

He's standing outside Number 12 Grimmauld Place, with his wand in his hand, Mad-Eye Moody is standing next to him, also holding his wand, and visibly bristling with suspicion. He's looking out across the street at the small square and its unkempt grass, and he can't believe that Dumbledore's funeral was only three days ago, he can't believe that Dumbledore has been dead for less than a week.

He thinks, where the hell is Snape, he's late, he was supposed to be here five minutes ago, is this a joke, is this a trap? He clenches his hand around the handle of his wand – holly, phoenix feather, eleven inches – and he thinks, I suppose we've got to give him a chance, I suppose we've got to hear what he has to say … if he knows anything about the Horcruxes, if he can tell me anything about the Horcruxes, I have to hear it.

He'd spent the entire train journey back from Hogwarts with the Daily Prophet in his hands, the Prophet was really wallowing in the news of Dumbledore's funeral, practically the whole of the paper was devoted to reporting it … big photograph of Scrimgeour on the front page, no effort spared to hunt down the killers of Albus Dumbledore, fifty thousand galleons reward for Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy, use of the Unforgiveables has been authorised … it would be the death penalty for Snape and life imprisonment in Azkaban for Draco, if the Aurors could catch them.

Ron and Hermione had been sitting across from him, they didn't say a word but from time to time he glanced up and saw their faces, white and concerned, but he couldn't stop himself from reading the articles again and again, the extracts from Snape's Ministry file, most of the names of the wizards Snape had killed or helped to kill meant nothing to him, but some did … Gideon and Fabian Prewett, and Regulus Black. He'd wondered … did Molly know that Snape was one of the five Death Eaters who'd murdered her brothers? Did she know – and if she didn't know, how was she feeling now? How were Ginny and Ron feeling? And Sirius, could he have known, was that the reason for the dislike and distrust that he'd shown so strongly towards Snape? He'd remembered Sirius' words to Snape in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place, "I don't care if Dumbledore thinks you've reformed, I know better," and he'd thought, I shouldn't have interfered, I should have let Sirius curse him, I should have let Sirius kill him then …

He'd read the damning words, "I enjoy killing", and the lying ones that followed, "I don't do it any more. I know it is wrong," and he'd thought, Dumbledore knew about this, he knew what Snape was capable of, and not just wizards, Muggles as well, he confessed to killing "countless Muggles", how could Dumbledore have been fooled? How could he have believed for a moment that Snape felt remorse, Snape hated my father, he insulted my mother, how could Dumbledore have let him teach at Hogwarts, how could he have let that despicable creature near children? And Dumbledore must have known about Snape's family, too, must have known that Eileen Prince's father died in Azkaban, according to the Prophet he was suspected of much worse things than the offence for which he was convicted – breaking into Gringotts. And Snape had been proud of his mother's family, he called himself the Half-Blood Prince! He'd thought, maybe Aunt Marge was right, if there's something wrong with the bitch … there'll be something wrong with the pup …

Remus and Tonks had been waiting on the platform, standing a little distance away from the Dursleys, he'd nodded briefly to Remus and Tonks, and then he'd told the Dursleys that he wouldn't be staying long at Privet Drive, just until his birthday, he'd told them that Dumbledore had been murdered, and he'd almost thrown the copy of the Daily Prophet at his aunt Petunia, so what if she hated everything to do with the wizarding world, if she wanted more information she could read about it for herself. He'd expected her to yowl and jump backwards at the sight of the moving photographs and the lurid headlines screaming the names Dumbledore, Snape, Malfoy, Potter, Scrimgeour … but he hadn't expected quite such a reaction. She'd screamed, pointed a trembling finger at the photograph of Snape – taken at last year's graduation, he was standing next to Montague, scowling and looking deeply resentful of Montague's hand clutching at his arm – and said, "That's him, that's Severus Snape," and he'd been really astonished. He never talked about Hogwarts at Privet Drive, the Dursleys didn't want to know, and he didn't want to tell them, he'd never mentioned Snape, never mentioned any of his subjects or any of the professors who taught them, so how could Petunia know Snape?

Uncle Vernon had wrapped his arms around Petunia and glared, he must have heard the story before, and Petunia had said, "Snape ... Severus Snape, he was a friend of your mother's from that horrible school you go to, he came around to the house to see her a couple of times after she left school, and he hurt me, he used a curse, it sounded like crucify, and he said he would do it again … if I ever called Lily a freak again, he would do it again." And Petunia had cried, and Vernon and Dudley had looked at him as if he was guilty by association, a criminal, a monster.

He'd told the Dursleys that he needed to speak to Remus for a moment, and he'd asked, straight-out, was there ever anything between Snape and my mother? And Remus had run his hands through his hair and looked bewildered and said, no, Snape and Lily did extra NEWT credit work in Potions together, and to be fair to him he was always decent to Lily. So he'd asked Remus again, are you sure my mother never went out with Snape? He'd remembered the stringy, round-shouldered teenager, and he'd thought, she couldn't, she couldn't have gone out with Snape, urgh, disgusting. Remus had said, James was the only boy Lily ever dated, and Snape didn't really go out with girls, not as such, he had a bit of a reputation in seventh year. And he'd asked, what kind of reputation? And Remus had said, in a way that made it clear that the topic was closed, the same kind of reputation that Sirius had.

Sirius! He'd remembered the handsome boy from Snape's memory, and the girl who had eyed him hopefully, he could imagine the kind of reputation Sirius might have had and he'd thought … when did Snape change from the weedy, defensive teenager he'd seen in the Pensieve into the graceful, dangerous adult he'd always known?

He'd sat in the back of the car on the way to Privet Drive, mulling it over, and thinking, Snape crucioed Petunia, no wonder she hates wizards and everything to do with them, I would too in her place, why did Snape do that, but does it matter, I've had years of hell living with the Dursleys because of him. He'd been in a state of white-hot rage by the time they got to Number Four, and then things had got a lot worse. Uncle Vernon had opened the door, and amongst the mail lying on the mat was a letter for him, a letter addressed to Harry Potter, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, the only letter he'd ever received by Muggle post, the letter Molly had sent in fourth year - inviting him to the Quidditch World Cup - didn't count, it had been addressed to the Dursleys.

He'd picked the letter up and turned it over in his hands, his name and address were typewritten and there was no return address … strange … from the feel of it, there was something fairly bulky folded up inside it. He'd opened it, and found a blank piece of parchment … even stranger … he'd unfolded the parchment, and a piece of paper had dropped out, with more typewriting on it, he'd picked it up and he'd gone cold when he read the message.

Potter,

I need to speak to you as soon as possible. Horcruxes. Use the parchment to communicate with me. Do not discuss this with Weasley and Granger. Tell Moody – only Moody.

Snape

He'd thought – the cunning, cunning bastard! Snape must have guessed that if the letter had been addressed in his handwriting, it would have been torn to shreds unopened.

He hadn't been stupid enough to try to use the parchment … he could almost hear Snape's voice, "This parchment is plainly full of Dark Magic." So he'd sent Hedwig to fetch Mad-Eye Moody at once, and he'd paced up and down in his bedroom until Mad-Eye arrived. They'd discussed it endlessly, obviously it was some kind of trap, but the reference to Horcruxes was a bait that he couldn't resist. He hadn't explained to Mad-Eye exactly what the Horcruxes were, just told him that they were vital to destroying Voldemort, and sworn him to secrecy about them, he could trust Mad-Eye, he was nothing if not secretive.

Mad-Eye had told him what the parchment was, a means of communication, a message written on the parchment would appear on a counterpart, and vice versa, the Order sometimes used them. He'd thought, I bet Voldemort used something similar when he made his diary … the diary that he'd turned into the second Horcrux.

Mad-Eye had picked up a quill, written something, but nothing had happened, and Mad-Eye had observed, "Snape did a good job on this, it will be enchanted to respond only to your handwriting, Harry," and so he'd been the one to use the quill, and he'd wondered, what will happen? Is this parchment cursed with something really wicked, will my blood turn to boiling oil if I write on it? And he'd thought, why didn't Snape just send me a portkey in the mail, I just picked up this bloody parchment, I didn't think twice, I could have been whisked off to Voldemort's lair, so what the hell is Snape playing at?

He'd written, You murdered Dumbledore, I saw you, and it had been a little while before there was a reply, in Snape's characteristic spiky handwriting.

I killed Dumbledore. I did not murder him.

He'd thought, how could I not have recognised his handwriting in that copy of Advanced Potions? How could I not have recognised Snape's handwriting in that book?

And he'd replied, What do you want?

To speak to you, to tell you the truth. You will need Dumbledore's Pensieve. Ask Moody to get it.

And there had been a bit more communication, backwards and forwards, and it had been agreed that they would meet Snape at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, the next day. Mad-Eye was very dubious, but he'd agreed, on the proviso that they call the Aurors as soon as they'd heard what Snape had to say. He'd been a bit surprised that Mad-Eye had agreed to help him at all.

And so now he's standing outside the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, waiting for the man who murdered the founder and leader of the Order, and there's no sign of him. There's only a Muggle standing in the square, a tall, slim Muggle wearing black jeans, white shirt, and a black leather jacket, a Muggle with shoulder length black hair tied back in a pony tail. The Muggle is smoking a cigarette, he turns towards them, throws the cigarette butt on the ground and grinds it underfoot with the heel of a black boot, and he recognises the hawk profile in the same instant that Mad-Eye whispers, Snape, and raises his wand.

Snape has seen that they recognise him, he's walking towards them, but about twenty feet away he stops, slowly and carefully he reaches into a pocket of his jacket and removes his wand, he's holding it by the tip and not by the handle. Snape throws his wand on the ground and steps away from it, Mad-Eye walks forward to pick up Snape's wand, and he stares at Snape, and he imagines casting Sectumsempra, for enemies, and Snape's white shirt blossoming red with blood. He imagines the white shirt in rags, the gashes in Snape's chest, the gashes in the hated face, and he remembers when he used the curse against Malfoy … he remembers that Draco would have died in that bathroom if Snape hadn't been there, and he thinks, no, I'll hear what he has to say, and then we'll call the Aurors, it will be execution, not murder.

Snape and Mad-Eye have reached the front door now, Mad-Eye is taking no chances, his wand is only inches from Snape's throat. Snape stops, inclines his head, and acknowledges him with the single word, Potter, and he thinks, Muggle clothing suits Snape, he's nearly as menacing without robes or a wand as he is with them, but I'm not going back to Hogwarts next year, I'll be of age in a few weeks, and I stopped being afraid of him the night that Dumbledore died. He replies, Snape, the name sounds like a swear-word in his mouth, and he doesn't flinch from meeting Snape's eyes, he hopes that Snape will look into his mind and read the contempt and loathing that he feels for him.

Snape steps through the door, Mad-Eye following him, and he thinks, don't try anything, Snape, I may not have the nerve or the ability for the Unforgiveable Curses, but Mad-Eye does, and he won't hesitate to do it, he wants to do it, and if you try anything at all, he will do it … if you want to stay alive, Snape, you won't give him a reason.

Dumbledore's Pensieve is sitting on the kitchen table, in front of a chair with chains encircling its arms, the same sort of chair he's seen in the Wizengamot, the same sort of chair that he's seen in Dumbledore's memories of the questioning of Karkarov, and the trial of the Death Eaters accused of torturing the Longbottoms – Bellatrix Lestrange, Rodolphus Lestrange, Rastaban Lestrange and Barty Crouch. Snape doesn't need to be told what to do, he sits in the chair, the chains wrap themselves around Snape's arms, and he thinks, we've got him now, we can call the Aurors, and they'll bury him at Azkaban, next to his rotten grandfather … has he gone mad? What could Snape possibly have to tell me that could save him? I saw him kill Dumbledore with my own eyes, I saw Dumbledore plead with him for help, and I saw him do it, with my own eyes. But I must hear what he knows of the Horcruxes …

Snape is leaning forward a little, those cold, empty black eyes are fixed intently on him, Snape is ignoring Mad-Eye, and Mad-Eye moves restlessly, he's impatient to get it over with, and he growls, "I'd really do you over, Snape, you filthy traitor, if Harry didn't want to talk to you."

Snape replies, "Take a number, Moody, there's a queue of people lined up to do me over, don't you read the Daily Prophet?" but he knows that this is just reflexive nastiness, Snape is hardly aware of Mad-Eye, his entire attention is bent on him, Harry, and he thinks, I've never seen Snape without those curtains of greasy black hair hanging over his face, he looks different … he looks older, a bit careworn, life on the run doesn't seem to be suiting him … but it's over now, he'll be with Lucius Malfoy and the rest of his Death Eater mates, in Azkaban, awaiting trial, in a matter of hours.

Mad-Eye is growling again, "Get on with it, Snape, we haven't got all day," and he can't stop himself from saying, "It doesn't matter what you say, Snape, I know you're Voldemort's creature," and when he sees Snape flinch a little at the mention of Voldemort's name, he shouts, "Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldemort … you're one of his Death Eaters, why don't you like to hear his name?"

Snape looks agitated, but he quickly gets a grip on himself, and without any preliminaries, he begins to speak.

"I don't know how much you know of this, Potter, so I'll tell the whole story from the beginning. The Dark Lord was very displeased with Lucius Malfoy for allowing his diary to be destroyed, and you know what the diary was, don't you, Potter?"

He nods, yes, he knows that the diary was the second Horcrux, and he knows that Voldemort's anger was terrible to behold when he discovered that it had been destroyed … and suddenly he realises that it could only have been Snape who supplied that information.

"The Dark Lord was also very displeased with Lucius over the fiasco in the Department of Mysteries last year, but he could not punish him personally for it because Lucius had been captured and imprisoned in Azkaban … so he chose to punish him indirectly, by giving Draco a task to perform, a task that he could not perform, a task that he was expected to die trying to perform. The Dark Lord ordered him to kill Dumbledore."

He nods again, he remembers Dumbledore saying that Lucius Malfoy would be glad to be safe in Azkaban, safe from Voldemort's wrath, and he remembers Draco boasting to his friends on the Hogwarts Express, boasting of the job the Dark Lord had given him to do.

"Narcissa Malfoy came to me, in the summer break, to ask me to intercede with the Dark Lord on behalf of Draco. That I refused to do, for I knew that the Dark Lord would not be persuaded, and it would be foolish even to try. However, I offered to protect Draco, to look after him … I thought I might gain information from him if he trusted me. Narcissa asked me to make the Unbreakable Vow with her, asked me to swear to her that I would protect Draco. Do you know what an Unbreakable Vow is, and what the consequences of breaking it are? Anyone who breaks an Unbreakable Vow dies, they die immediately and they die horribly."

He nods, he'd overheard Snape tell Draco about the Vow, and maybe Draco had checked with his mother that Snape had told him the truth, he'd told Dumbledore that Snape had promised his mother … so Snape made the Vow to protect Draco, big deal.

Snape is hesitating a little before going on, as if he is finding it difficult to find the words.

"Narcissa put me in an awkward position … she brought her sister Bellatrix with her, and Bellatrix has never trusted me, has never believed that I had really returned to the Dark Lord. If I had refused to make the Vow, she would have had reason for her suspicions, she would have gone straight to the Dark Lord. I agreed to take the Vow, but Narcissa tricked me, she added a promise to the Vow that I had not agreed to make. She asked me to complete Draco's task, if he failed."

He takes a moment to digest the implications of this. If Draco failed in his mission, Snape was bound by an Unbreakable Vow to complete it, he was bound to kill Dumbledore, or die himself …

Snape is speaking again, "I told the Headmaster of the mistake that I had made, and he ordered me to fulfil the Vow. He reasoned that his life was, ah, more expendable than mine … that if I fulfilled the Vow, the Dark Lord might trust me sufficiently to share certain precious secrets with me, precious secrets that I could pass to you. The Headmaster ordered me to kill him, Potter."

He's stunned, this is insane, this can't be true, even if Snape had been tricked into an Unbreakable Vow to complete Draco's task, he wouldn't have needed Dumbledore's orders to kill him, Snape would never sacrifice himself for Dumbledore's sake. He remembers what Phineas Nigellus said about Slytherins, "We Slytherins are brave but not stupid. Given the choice, we will always choose to save ourselves." But Dumbledore wasn't a Slytherin, he didn't think like that … Dumbledore had pleaded with Snape, but what had he pleaded for?

And now Snape is saying something more, he's saying, "Dumbledore trusted me, Potter, he trusted me enough to tell me the whole of the prophecy before he … died," and Snape leans forward and whispers, "Power the Dark Lord knows not …"

Now he's really shaken, Dumbledore had gone to immense trouble to prevent Voldemort from learning the prophecy, and Dumbledore had told him in the broom shed at the Burrow that they were the only two people in the world who knew the whole of it, so why did he tell Snape? Did he tell Snape because he knew he was going to die? Is Snape telling the truth, because if Snape is telling the truth, if Snape is Dumbledore's man, through and through, his world has suddenly been turned upside down … He remembers the promise that Dumbledore extracted from him, the promise to obey his every command, to obey without question, and what it had led to, he remembers forcing Dumbledore to drink the potion in the cave, and how he'd hated doing it, been repulsed by what he was doing, and he wonders, did Snape give Dumbledore the same promise?

Snape is smirking with satisfaction at the effect his words have had, but Mad-Eye is on his feet, he's striding around the table towards Snape, shouting, "You slimy lying bastard!" and he sees Mad-Eye's fist swinging, hears the sickening wet crunch as it connects with Snape's nose, breaks Snape's nose, and hears himself shouting, "Stop that, Mad-Eye!"

Blood is running down Snape's face, blood is splashing onto the white shirt, the white shirt is blossoming with scarlet flowers of blood, just as he'd imagined, and he's horrified, disgusted … and Snape is twisting, helpless, in his chains, and looking at Mad-Eye with the same look of pure loathing he remembers from the Pensieve, the same look Snape had given James Potter as he lay on the ground, bound by the Impedimenta jinx, and he thinks, damn, damn, damn. He remembers the spell that Tonks had used to mend his broken nose, and he flicks his wand, Episkey, but he can't remember the spell Hermione used to clean his face, so he gets out his handkerchief and he tries to wipe the blood off Snape's face. Snape doesn't make it easy for him, when he realises that he's going to touch him, Snape jerks his head away and spits, "If you must, Potter, use the spell – Tergeo." He thinks, you nasty git, I'm only trying to help you, and he remembers how Snape had reacted when his mother tried to help him, and he thinks, I will get to the bottom of that, I have to know if there was anything between Lily Evans and Severus Snape …

So he casts the cleansing spell, and sits back down, and Mad-Eye is speaking again, "You're lying, Snape, you've got some scheme on, some scheme to get us to help you to get rid of Voldemort, and then you'll double-cross us, and make yourself into the next Dark Lord."

Snape is laughing, a horrible, mirthless laugh, and he thinks, I've never heard Snape laugh before … Snape says, "Don't you know what the Dark Mark is, don't you know what it does? It's not just a tattoo, if I were to try to curse the Dark Lord, if I were to raise my hand against him, it would kill me. The Dark Lord runs no risk of disloyalty among his servants … he is not as trusting as Dumbledore was."

His anger towards Snape flares again, how dare he speak of trust and Dumbledore in the same breath? He says, angrily, "I don't believe you, Snape, I won't believe you without proof."

Snape sneers, "Obviously, Potter! That's why I asked you to bring the Pensieve. What memory do you want to see – me taking the Vow with Narcissa? The conversation I had with Dumbledore when I told him of the Vow?"

He thinks, no, I don't want to see those memories, I want to see the memory of Dumbledore losing his temper with you, the memory that you haven't offered, and he says, "I want to see the argument that Hagrid overheard, the argument that you had with Dumbledore in the Forbidden Forest."

Snape hesitates, shrugs, and says, "I'll need my wand."

Mad-Eye grunts, but he waves his wand, releases Snape's right hand from the chains, and passes him his wand, but again he's taking no chances, again his wand is only inches from Snape's throat, and he warns Snape, don't even think about it …

Snape raises his wand to his temple and places its tip into the greasy roots of his hair, deposits the silvery gossamer strand in the Pensieve, and returns his wand to Mad-Eye. Mad-Eye refastens the chains, and together they bend forward and plunge their faces into the silvery substance. They're falling, falling, through whirling darkness … and into darkness. They are standing on the fringes of the Forbidden Forest, it's dark, but a full moon is shining, he can see quite clearly once his eyes adjust, and only a few feet away from them stand Dumbledore and Snape, facing each other.

Dumbledore is speaking, he's asking, pleasantly, "How are you going with Draco?"

Snape is sneering, "Aunt Bellatrix has taught him both to distrust me, and the rudiments of Occlumency. I must say, Headmaster, that Draco seems to have quite an aptitude for Occlumency – unlike Potter. I can't break into Draco's mind without using techniques of which you would not approve, and which in any event the Unbreakable Vow precludes me from applying."

But now the sneer has disappeared from Snape's face, he looks agonised, and Dumbledore's blue eyes are locked with Snape's black ones, Dumbledore looks upset, and he realizes that Dumbledore must be using Legilimency, must be reading Snape's thoughts.

Now Snape is weeping – Snape is crying? – and shouting, shouting, "YOU TAKE TOO MUCH FOR GRANTED, DUMBLEDORE, AND I WON'T DO IT! I'VE HAD ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON'T CARE ANY MORE!"

He's shocked and dismayed, he remembers shouting the same words in Dumbledore's office after Sirius died, he can see Snape's wand in his hand and he can feel Snape's magic building around him, and he knows, intuitively, that when it discharges there will be a tremendous blast … and now Dumbledore is shouting, "PROFESSOR SNAPE, YOU WILL DO WHAT YOU HAVE AGREED TO DO, YOU WILL CONTINUE WITH YOUR INVESTIGATIONS INTO SLYTHERIN HOUSE, AND YOU WILL REMEMBER THAT I AM THE HEADMASTER OF THIS SCHOOL!"

The effect of Dumbeldore's words is astounding, Snape has dropped his wand, he's kissing Dumbledore's robes and whimpering, "Master, I am sorry, do not punish me."

He knows where he has seen this before, the Death Eaters crawling to their master in the graveyard at Little Hangleton, Avery writhing and shrieking on the ground, Rookwood kneeling in the dark, curtained room, Bellatrix Lestrange begging Voldemort not to punish her in the Atrium at the Ministry of Magic, and he feels sick, why is Snape cringing to Dumbledore as if he were Voldemort? Dumbledore wasn't a sadistic psychopath, he didn't crucio people for every little mistake …

Dumbledore is comforting Snape, soothing him, telling him over and over again that he won't be angry with him, promising him that he won't be angry, he'll never be angry with Snape, whatever he does … he helps Snape to his feet, and says, "Severus, I release you from your promise of obedience. When the time comes, you must do what you think best. You must choose."

And now he understands, and in a way it's a huge relief, Dumbledore wasn't a foolish old man, he was right to trust Snape … Dumbledore didn't order Snape to kill him, he asked, he pleaded with Snape to do it, and now he is almost crying, how could you do that, Dumbledore, how could you abandon me? Why did you sacrifice your life for Snape? And then he remembers how weakened Dumbledore had been by the potion, he remembers that Dumbledore was disarmed, he was facing four Death Eaters and Draco Malfoy. If Snape was bound by a Vow that would kill him if he broke it, Snape would have died on the ramparts of the Astronomy Tower and Dumbledore would have died anyway, maybe at the teeth of that foul werewolf … and he, he would have attacked them, and he would certainly have been killed, too. Snape had got the Death Eaters off the Tower, he had called them away, he'd got them out of Hogwarts, and Snape had not tried to kill him, he had not tried to take him to Voldemort … He realises that Dumbledore had sacrificed his life, not for Snape, but for him, for Harry, and he realises that he owes Snape an apology. He remembers the look of pain on Snape's face when he called him a coward, how his face had been demented, inhuman, and he thinks, did Snape love Dumbledore? Is it possible that Snape could love anyone?

He looks at Mad-Eye and he sees that he, too, has been shaken by what they've seen in the Pensieve, Mad-Eye is looking slightly nauseous, as if he's just watched someone being sick, and then Mad-Eye waves his wand, releases Snape from his chains.

He looks across the table towards Snape and he says, "I'm sorry." He's not quite sure what he means, he's not quite sure what he's sorry for, this is all too new and shocking, but he means it, though, and he looks at Snape unflinchingly, willing Snape to read his sincerity in his mind.

Snape looks away, and he realises that Snape doesn't want to know what he's thinking, what he's feeling, Snape is refusing to accept his apology.

Snape is sneering again, "I'm sorry, too, Potter, that I don't have any new information for you. The Dark Lord will not share his most precious secrets with me while Bellatrix Lestrange lives, and it may be a little while before an opportunity presents itself to dispose of her."

He thinks, Bellatrix will be next, she's next on Snape's list, and then Snape will be Voldemort's most loyal, most faithful servant, and then he realises, Dumbledore was not my last protector, Snape is, he's my last line of defence in dire need. He remembers the Muggle movie he watched on Dudley's VCR one night when the Dursleys were out, a science fiction movie that had creeped him out even though he hadn't known about the prophecy then, a movie about a boy whose inescapable destiny was to grow up to be the leader who would save the human race from robot monsters, and when the boy became a man he had programmed one of the robots to protect him and sent it back in time to when he was a child. He thinks, oh this is just great, now I'm John Connor, with my very own pet Terminator, my very own pet Death Eater …

Snape has switched his attention to Mad-Eye, he's telling them that he needs help with Draco, Draco is not cut out to be a Death Eater, and Voldemort will kill Draco if he fails again, Snape has a plan to keep Draco safe, but he needs Mad-Eye's assistance. Mad-Eye is asking him to explain …

Snape is curling his lip, "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"

He knows the answer, how could he forget, a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death, but how is that going to help Draco?

Snape goes on, "I shall bring Draco up to London for a little Muggle-baiting fun, but we shall be so unfortunate as to run into a couple of off-duty Aurors, some old comrades from the Order of the Phoenix, perhaps. Naturally, there will be a battle. I'll stun Draco, then enervate him sufficiently to slip him a dose of the Draught of Living Death. He will be presumed dead - the Killing Curse leaves no visible marks - and taken to St Mungo's. Moody, you have a very special relationship with one of the Healers there, you can make sure that he isn't examined too closely. Narcissa will be allowed to see the body only for a moment, to formally identify it as that of her son, and then he'll be buried at Azkaban. He can stay there until the war is over … better put a note about it in your will, Moody, or Draco might be stuck in a coffin for ever."

Mad-Eye shrugs, it seems like the plan is OK with him, they can sort the details out later, when Mad-Eye has had a chance to talk with Kingsley and Tonks, very carefully, very discreetly.

He stares at Snape, aghast, Snape can't be thinking of burying Draco alive, indefinitely, that's horrible, worse than prison. And Dumbledore had said that Lucius was safe in Azkaban …

"Why can't Draco just join his dad in prison, why does he have to be buried alive?" he asks.

Snape is looking at him as if he's an idiot. "What makes you think that Lucius will be staying in prison?"

Mad-Eye is nodding agreement, and he understands, it will be all out war now that Dumbledore is dead, first Voldemort will break his Death Eaters out of Azkaban, then maybe launch an attack on the Ministry itself, or Gringotts, Voldemort must need money …

And now he thinks of something else, Snape said Muggle-baiting, and he asks, "You're not going to kill any Muggles are you, that won't be necessary?"

Snape says, indifferently, "There are sixty million Muggles in Britain, there's no reason to be squeamish about two or three less."

He looks to Mad-Eye for support, but Mad-Eye is shaking his head. He makes one last effort, "Surely Voldemort …"

"Do not say the Dark Lord's name!" spits Snape. "Don't you understand, Potter, this has to look good, I will have to answer to the Dark Lord for it!"

Snape is really angry now, he's hissing at him, "Are you afraid of the Dark Lord, Potter? Yes? But not enough. Unless you smarten up, he's going to get you one day, Potter, and I may not be there to save your skin."

Snape pulls something out of a jacket pocket, and tosses it on the table, it's some type of hand-gun, it's a firearm, a metal wand used by Muggles to kill each other …

"You know what this is? The Dark Lord thinks that a wizard without a wand is helpless – Moody made the same mistake today - the Dark Lord has no respect for Muggle technology. From now on, you will carry this Muggle weapon with you at all times."

He watches Snape's long thin fingers gliding expertly over the gun, caressing it, Muggle Dark Arts, trust Snape to know about the Muggle Dark Arts, showing him how to reload it, where the safety catch is, and Snape is telling him, it's not accurate over anything other than a short range, aim for the chest or the abdomen, we'll go into the garden and cast a Silencing Charm, and I'll teach you how to use it …

He says, "Not yet, I need to ask you some more questions."

Snape frowns, and he explains, "Dumbledore told me that he trusted you because of something to do with my parents, and I want to know what it was."

Snape looks uncomfortable, but he says, "I'll answer the question, but are you sure you want Moody to hear this?"

He looks at Mad-Eye, Mad-Eye hesitates, he knows why, Mad-Eye accepts Snape's story but he still doesn't want to leave him alone with Snape, it's a long ingrained habit of suspicion, but Snape says, "Relax, Moody, you can keep my wand," and Mad-Eye slowly gets to his feet, and leaves the kitchen.

Snape leans back in his chair, and says, "Do you mind if I smoke?" but it's not really a question, Snape is already pulling a packet of cigarettes and a lighter out of a pocket, and he thinks, insanely, I suppose Dumbledore wouldn't let him smoke at Hogwarts, bad example to the students …

Snape's face is inscrutable, he finishes his cigarette and stubs it out on the table, and then he says, bluntly and unemotionally, "I was in love with Lily Evans, I loved her, so when the Dark Lord decided to kill her and James, and to kill you, I went to Dumbledore," but Snape is not as calm as he's trying to appear, he's hanging his head and avoiding his eye.

And somehow he's not really surprised, there have been plenty of hints along the way, even if he didn't know that Snape had been hanging around the Evans house, Snape has never mentioned his mother, never said anything nasty about her … and was that memory in the Pensieve because James had threatened to take his pants off, or because he had called Lily a filthy Mudblood? He thinks, they were both brilliant Potions students, Remus said they'd done extra NEWT credit work together, if Hermione had looked up those old Potions awards as she said she was going to do, I bet she would have found one awarded to Eileen Prince, and another one awarded jointly to Severus Snape and Lily Evans, and Remus thought Snape was jealous of my father because of Quidditch … no wonder Dumbledore wouldn't tell anyone why he trusted Snape, this is way too personal to share. He remembers the time that he and Ron stumbled on Ginny kissing Dean Thomas, how the monster in his chest had wanted to jinx Dean into a jelly, he's afraid to think of what he would have wanted to do to Dean if there'd been more than kissing between Ginny and Dean, and he thinks, this is awful, no wonder Snape has always been a bit … weird … about me, everyone goes on about how I look exactly like James, with Lily's eyes.

But he has to keep asking questions, he has to know why Voldemort didn't want to kill his mother. Lily was a Muggle-born, Voldemort thinks that Muggle-borns are scum, so why did he hesitate to kill her? He has to know the answer to the question that has been bothering him since Voldemort told him, from the back of Quirrell's head, "your mother needn't have died", since the Dementors dredged up those infantile memories of Voldemort saying, "Stand aside, you silly girl … stand aside, now," why would Voldemort show mercy? So he asks, even though he has a feeling that he doesn't really want to know the answer.

Snape has a strange look on his face, it takes him a while to realise that the look is shame, that Snape is really discomforted. Snape is refusing to look at him, he's reaching up and pulling the tie out of his pony tail, shaking his head and letting his black hair flop into curtains over his face, hiding his eyes, hiding his face, hiding his thoughts, and finally Snape says, "There are worse things than death, Potter. The Dark Lord didn't want to kill your mother because he intended to do something worse to her … he intended to give her to me, as a reward for bringing him the first part of the prophecy," and there's a tremor in the normally silky voice.

He thinks, oh why did I have to ASK? Why did I have to make him say THAT? This is more than awful … Snape must have really loved Lily, and he killed her, he must blame himself for that, perhaps he blames me, too, because if I hadn't been born … and what about Neville, Snape has always been such a bastard to him, and now maybe I know why. The plain, round, friendly face of Alice Longbottom that he'd seen in the photograph of the original members of the Order that Mad-Eye had shown him comes into his mind, and he asks, though he doesn't know quite why he's asking, he's just making it worse, "So if the Dark Lord had chosen Neville, would you have stayed faithful to him?"

Snape tosses back his hair, glares at him, and snaps, "Yes! No! I don't know, Potter, I don't know, why are you tormenting me like this? Isn't it enough that I've been paying for my mistakes for nearly seventeen years? That I'll keep paying for the rest of my life?"

Now it's his turn to feel ashamed, he says, in a low voice, "I understand," and he means, he understands that he's been asking cruel, prying questions, and that he's hurt and humiliated Snape almost beyond endurance.

But this has made Snape incandescent with rage, and he snarls, "You don't understand anything, Potter, why do you think I became a Death Eater? Oh, there were a lot of reasons, but one reason was to hurt Lily, to hurt her because she had to believe the best of everyone, even of me, and the Dark Lord gave me the opportunity to act on my cruellest and most violent impulses."

He looks into the black eyes opposite, glittering with fury, but he doesn't feel fear, only pity and horror.

Snape is snarling again, "Don't think I'm spying on the Dark Lord for you because I'm a nice person, Potter, if I was a nice person I would have been sorted into Hufflepuff. Grow up, boy, you know what I've done, what I'll do again, what I'll enjoy doing … I'm spying on the Dark Lord because I hate him, and you're the only one who can destroy him, you're the Chosen One."

He thinks, Snape spied for Dumbledore and now he's spying for me, and I don't know how I'm going to manage him, I don't know how Dumbledore managed him. He's so messed up, every time I try to reach out to him he's going to hit back, and I don't think he can help it.

And he thinks, damn you Voldemort, Severus Snape was never going to be a nice person, those scribbled curses in Advanced Potions show that, but if it hadn't been for you, he wouldn't have become a Death Eater, he wouldn't have become a murderer, he wouldn't have become this awful, vicious, wounded creature, and I will destroy you for it, for this crime alone, Voldemort, I swear I will destroy you.