POTTER AND THE PHOENIX'S SONG
A Snake's Loyalty
Disclaimer: I do not
own HP and am making no profit from this.
Note: I am writing the PG-13/R version of previously titled, Book Seven whereas Nenya Entwhistle will be writing the NC-17 version on her LJ. Also, it's possible I change some of the things she has written to better fit the story, but that is up to my discretion and hers. Feedback for both, Nenya and I, is highly appreciated.
"The deed is done, my lord," said Snape, kneeling down and keeping his head low. "Dumbledore is dead."
Voldemort's eyes had a fierce red glint. "Is that so, my snake?" The most feared wizard in the world sat on a cushioned chair in the middle of a cramped library with numerous ancient and outlawed texts. His companion, the snake Nagini, lounged on a rug in a comfortable heap, her head raised up and alert, tongue flicking.
"By my own wand," declared Snape softly, "it is so."
"You took upon another's task," said Voldemort, his sharp eyes sliding deliberately to the boy next to Snape. It was the Malfoy heir, looking small and weak compared to his father and his protector. "I did not give you leave to interfere."
Snape said nothing, but his shoulders tensed. Voldemort withdrew his wand and a high pitched sound escaped Draco's throat. The few other Death Eaters in the room were unbearably silent, their soft breathing barely audible.
"Do you dare explain yourself?" Voldemort rested his wand against his thigh and his fingers rolled it around, stroking the smooth wood with a careless certainty of his own power and control.
"Draco could not kill Dumbledore," began Snape. Draco seemed to hunch forward, trying to make himself smaller. "I am certain Dumbledore attempted to probe Draco's mind and persuade him against you. But Draco resisted."
"There are few who can resist Dumbledore," said Voldemort. "Are you saying the Malfoy boy is one of them?"
Snape nodded once. "Yes, my Lord."
"Such confidence in your godson."
Snape's jaw tightened, but he didn't bother to deny it.
"I know of the Unbreakable Vow." Voldemort paused. Pettigrew shoved a cloaked person forward and ripped off the hood, showing a pale and weak-faced Narcissa Malfoy. "She was kind enough to confess everything with the right amount of persuasion."
Draco's eyes darted to his mother, but quickly focused back on the wooden, blank floor. Snape did not risk a look at her. Instead, he kept steady and still. Nothing about his demeanor changed, not even when he was confronted with evidence of his intervention.
"Young Draco Malfoy," Voldemort stated, smoothing a wrinkle out of his expensive black robes, "you are your father's son, are you not?"
"Yes, my Lord," Draco said, his head bent and his eyes still gazing down. "I am my father's son and your servant."
"We shall see." Voldemort narrowed his eyes and raised his wand, pointing it at Draco while Narcissa wailed in alarm. "Legilimens!"
Draco's mind was slammed with the mind-reading spell. He had no chance to block his mind. Voldemort's plunge was too fast, too fierce to stop. Draco's eyes rolled back into his head and his body collapsed forward, braced by both hands.
Unbidden, the memory that Voldemort sought came easily. Obviously the confrontation with Dumbledore was foremost on the young man's mind. Voldemort tore it apart, ripping at the pieces he wanted, and seizing them. Yes, the conversation—the final demise of his greatest adversary.
"He's a double agent, you stupid old man, he isn't working for you, you just think he is!" screamed Draco, but his hands were shaking.
"There is little time, one way or another," said Dumbledore, his eyes staring directly into Draco's. "So let us discuss your options…"
"But I got this far, didn't I?" Draco said slowly, trying to rip his eyes away from the gaze but unable to.
"It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters now."
Voldemort laughed harshly when he saw Snape point the wand toward Dumbledore and utter the Killing Curse as the old wizard begged for his life from Draco's memory. When the light died out of Dumbledore's eyes, Voldemort released Draco, whose arms gave away as he sank to the floor, shuddering. Voldemort stared at the young Malfoy with piercing red eyes.
"Hesitation implies weakness," said Voldemort. "I do not mark those that are weak."
Draco pushed himself back to an upright position. "I am not weak."
"Circumstances suggest otherwise." Voldemort's fingers were wrapped tightly around his wand, ready to snap it to use at a minute's request. "It is a pity that I have already marked you."
"My lord," Snape spoke up, not wavering when Voldemort's gaze landed on him, "you underestimate Draco."
"Do I?" said Voldemort. "Do you dare question?"
"No, my lord. However, you forget what Draco has accomplished. He has done what no other of your servants has succeeded in. He breached Hogwarts and kill Dumbledore," said Snape. "Perhaps he was weak in his indecision, but you sensed the Legilimency. What Draco failed in was to occlude his mind against a very good Legilimens."
"I do not accept failure easily."
Snape lifted his face up and gazed at Voldemort. "I understand, my lord."
"Good." Voldemort pointed his wand at Snape. "Legilimens!"
Snape's body tensed when the spell hit him like a whip. His mind resisted the intrusion for a moment before snapping open and allowing Voldemort's mind to latch onto his. Snape shuddered, but his face was still up, and his eyes connected with Voldemort's in a stare. Grasping the memory and pulling it free, Voldemort shoved both of them in to drown in the past.
Snape ran into the room, wand out and alert. "We've got a problem, Snape," said Amycus, "the boy doesn't seem able—"
"Severus…" said Dumbledore's pleading voice.
Snape's eyes darted to the old, wandless wizard and their eyes met in a searing wave of one emotion—begging desperation. It was overwhelming, pulsing around both Snape and Voldemort surrounded as they were by the memory. Snape's face twisted when a fierce anger and abhorrence overrode any other feeling within him.
Snape raised his wand with a steady hand and pointed it toward Dumbledore. "Avada Kedavra!"
A green light, bright and strong, coursed out of the wand and hit Dumbledore directly in the chest and the once Headmaster flew backward, toppling down and falling. The great light wizard, the wizard who had defeated the dark Grindelwald was finally gone, dead.
Voldemort's eyes were gleaming when he retreated from Snape's mind. "He begged you," he almost hissed. "He pleaded with you. He trusted you and you betrayed him, my most loyal servant."
Snape lowered his head. "But it is not as simple as that, is it?" said Voldemort sharply. "He didn't ask for his life, he asked you to kill him, did he not?"
"He did, my lord," said Snape.
"He wanted something from you in his death. He thought it would entrench you in my Inner Circle, but you are already in. Well done, my snake. He thought you were his man, his spy!" said Voldemort sneered triumphantly. "But you are not, are you?"
"I am yours, my lord."
"You are," agreed Voldemort, lowering his wand and resting it back against his thigh. "You deserve a boon for your services tonight. What will you ask? A new potions laboratory, perhaps? A few rare texts?"
Sliding his eyes over to a white-faced Draco, Snape said, "I would like to take Draco as my apprentice."
Draco sucked in some air rapidly and it made a funny pitched noise going down his throat. He had enough of his senses not to speak, though his eyes did dart over to Snape. Voldemort gazed at Draco for a long moment before returning his focus to Snape.
"Why take upon a failure?" inquired Voldemort.
"He is one of the best brewers in my class," said Snape. "He can prepare the materials."
"A servant then. Appropriate for his lack of service."
"Indeed, my lord."
"In addition to being your godson."
Snape nodded once, knowing better than to deny it.
Voldemort tapped his wand carelessly against the arm of his chair. "It would be too much of a reward."
"You have my word," declared Snape fiercely, raising his face, "it will not be."
"Do I?" said Voldemort, staring into Snape's dark eyes. "I do. Take him then."
Snape bowed once again. "Thank you, my lord."
Silence was the mantra coming and going from wherever they were. Snape didn't know. Draco certainly didn't. Voldemort kept the location of the meeting place a secret. They only knew they could Apparate there through their Dark Marks. Snape glanced back at Draco and held out his hand.
"Take it," he snapped.
Draco looked down and his pale eyes darted up. "I know the way to your house. I've been there before."
"Be that as it may," said Snape sharply, "you have not been there in six years. Take my arm now."
Draco placed his hand into Snape's, strangling a gasp when Snape's fingers closed tightly and painfully around his own. Snape closed his eyes, focused on his house at Spinner's End, and Apparated. There was a loud crack and they blinked out of sight.
As normal, his stomach rolled. While Apparition was his preferred method for traveling, that didn't mean Snape enjoyed it. Anything that meant moving his body without a physical medium was disorienting, though he was careful never to show it. Snape lowered his eyes at Draco's now flushed cheeks and started walking to his stone gray house.
"Follow me," he snarled.
That snapped Draco to attention. His godson obeyed and soon they were standing in the stark foyer where a narrow staircase led to the second floor. Snape jerked his hand in the upward direction. "Go," he said. "You know which room."
Draco opened his mouth, wanting to say something, but he closed it. His body tensed, his eyes shifting around nervously before his lips parted and he said, "Yes, sir." He trudged up the stairs with as much weariness as he dared show. Snape narrowed his eyes and watched until Draco disappeared.
Stalking to his shoddy potions laboratory, Snape opened the door and slammed it shut with enough force to cause the frame to shudder. Snape sat down heavily on a wooden stool and stared at the shelves and shelves of books to the far wall. His eyes remained locked on the inanimate objects until his vision blurred and he began to see other things.
He had clutched the sleeve near his Dark Mark. It was burning, telling him to go, but did he dare? Dumbledore had told him to go, with promises of redemption, but salvation for the damned was a pittance of poverty. Snape snarled and Apparated, ignoring the sickening urge in his stomach and the magnifying pain on his arm.
"Severus Snape," hissed Voldemort. "You who proved traitor—"
"I am not!" he declared fiercely, sinking to his knees on the harsh rocks. "I am your most loyal servant, my lord."
"A fallacy," said Voldemort in a dangerously low voice, "do you take me for a fool?"
"No, my lord," said Snape. "Dumbledore is the fool. He believes that I betrayed you for him. I have been your loyal spy all along. I have stayed at Hogwarts like you bid me to and I have more than a decade's worth of knowledge, of information, of secrets for you."
Voldemort's red eyes pierced into Snape's being. "Talk."
And so the words spilled from Snape's lips.
The burn of Cruciatus had lingered for days afterwards. Snape repressed the urge to shudder. Instead, his eyes traveled to several mislabeled potion vials. Some said they were love potions; others, sleeping draughts. He raised his wand and whispered, "Accio Esurio Potion."
Snape grasped the crimson glass and pulled a shallow dish to him. He uncapped the vial and poured the silvery liquid in. The surface rippled and splashed until everything was in. He didn't dare gaze until everything had settled. Then he touched and broke the peace.
A younger, less lined Snape staggered into the Headmaster's Office, his face stark white. Dumbledore looked up from his desk, his own face a bit pale. "Yes, Severus?"
Snape opened his mouth and the words came like air in a choked throat, "Lily's dead."
"Yes," said Dumbledore wearily. "Word arrived an hour ago."
"She's dead!" hissed Snape. "She! My only friend."
"I am your friend as well."
Snape sneered and thrust his face at the tired old wizard. "Do you think that? You, who know what I am!"
"I think the question of the day," Dumbledore stated, "is why are you here?"
"Lily's dead… Potter and—it's because of me!" shouted Snape, his eyes red and strained. "But the child's alive. The prophecy… why did he have to choose them?"
"I think you know the reason."
"You should," murmured Dumbledore. "Voldemort chose the child he most feared, the child most like himself."
Snape turned away and stared at the portraits lining the wall. Some of them were avidly listening and others weren't in their frames. But far more eyes than he'd like were staring at him.
"Lily's dead," he said dully. "I asked the Dark Lord to spare her."
"The ties of friendship," reflected Dumbledore, "prosper in spite of fragmentation."
Snape's jaw tightened. "He tried to kill her child."
"An innocent," whispered Dumbledore.
"And she stepped in front of a Killing Curse willingly."
Dumbledore sighed sadly. "The depth of a mother's love is not a thing to be underestimated."
"He's gone," said Snape hoarsely. "The Dark Lord's gone."
"Indeed." Dumbledore stood up. "Wait here, Severus. I will be back."
"There is something I must attend to," he stated. "But it won't take long."
Not one of his fondest memories, Snape thought, and not the memory he had been after. But he was after something that involved Dumbledore, so it only made sense that one with the late Headmaster would pop into his mind, especially this one. Snape pressed his lips into a flat line and dipped his hand back into the liquid.
"So Dumbledore has told you his story of me," said Voldemort, his face haggard and drawn. But his deeply set eyes burned a deep red and his lipless mouth was full of words. "And you were properly shocked, of course."
"Yes, my lord."
"Dumbledore always did like to believe the best in people, too bad he couldn't extend the offer to me. But then his kindness is a shallow, vapid thing. He wields it like a weapon to manipulate and he knew he couldn't with me."
Snape said nothing and kept his eyes down.
"He thinks he knows me," hissed Voldemort. "But he is a foolish old man and soon age will corrode his power. Then there will come his dying day." Voldemort turned to him and his bony hand lifted Snape's chin. His dark eyes flickered up and met Voldemort's. "My loyal snake," said Voldemort, "so alike we are, inferior Muggle fathers and pureblood mothers who were imprudent.
"Lured to the Dark Arts, compelled to them beyond all reason." Snape shuddered when Voldemort's fingers brushed against his right cheek. "There is only one difference. I am Master and you are Servant. You are mine."
Swallowing with difficulty, Snape nodded. "I am yours, my lord."
Voldemort laughed, so beautiful and so ugly.
Snape flinched when his eyes blurred the memory out of focus. Wrong one again. He gripped the bowl, wanting to throw it at the wall, spill the liquid memories. He didn't usually have problems finding the scene he wished to analyze again, to relive. But tonight was not a good night.
He steeled his resolve and plunged his hand in one more time.
The door flew open and Snape stalked through it, his robes billowing behind him. He went straight to the Headmaster and thrust his face at him. "Do you think you know me, old man?"
Dumbledore raised his head. "I know you better than you think."
Snape's lip curled into a sneer. "Then you don't know me at all."
"You forget, my boy, that the wards are quite sensitive," stated Dumbledore calmly. "They pick up the most minute details."
"You knew then." Snape pressed his hand over his arm.
Dumbledore peered over his glasses. "Severus, there is little at Hogwarts that I do not know about."
"Why I have not called the Aurors?"
"Yes," said Snape sharply. "If you knew."
"You are not inherently bad," replied Dumbledore. "There is much good you could do, if you wanted."
Snape drew back like he'd been hit by a Disarming Spell. "You are a fool."
"But you are here," said Dumbledore. "Are you not?"
Snape crossed his arms over his chest. "The Dark Lord knows of the Prophecy. I was the one who overheard and told." He paused and his left eye twitched. "He's decided on the Potter family."
"Choosing the halfblood over the pureblood," remarked Dumbledore. "In a way, quite predictable."
"What are you implying?" hissed Snape.
"You are sharp," said Dumbledore. "I think you know what I mean."
"You are saying he's a halfblood!"
"Which he is." Dumbledore pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Voldemort knows how extraordinary halfbloods can be. Are you not an example of that, my boy? A genius at potions, crafting dark curses before you were of age, and a very powerful wizard. But like you, he wished to hide it. He's not proud of his Muggle father, much like you."
Snape breathed in and out harshly. "I thought… he was a pureblood," he gritted out. "He asked me to spy on you."
"I know," replied Dumbledore. "But that's not why you're here."
Snape said nothing, simply staring at Dumbledore's eyes.
"You want a way out."
Snape nodded once.
"I was hoping you'd come to me."
The right memory. Snape felt the tension from the past and present prick at his being. He picked up his wand and pointed it to a cabinet. "Accio Dreamless Sleep."
A small blue bottle flew out of it and into his hand. Snape unstoppered it and sniffed at the contents. Spinner's End wasn't as well-equipped as his quarters at Hogwarts yet. In a week or so, it would be. He took another whiff of the slightly acrid scent. Smelled just about right, he tipped the entire potion into his mouth and dropped down onto an overstuffed chair.
It was a pity that life's messes could not be solved entirely by Potions.
Morning came as mornings do. Snape groaned when he raised his head from the awkward position against the back of the chair and glared at the sun streaming into his laboratory from the only window he had installed. He rubbed his tired eyes and snapped his head to the door when he heard it creak. Standing at the entrance was Draco.
"Professor?" he said.
Snape crooked his finger. "You may come in."
Draco stepped into his laboratory and tentatively looked around. While this might not be the first time Draco had been in Snape's house, he had never stepped foot into his private laboratory. After all, a Potions Master's place of experimentation was hardly the place for a child, no matter how intelligent. Snape gestured for Draco to take a seat in the only other chair he kept in the room.
"You are up early," said Snape, peering at Draco with a discerning look. "That is quite unusual for you."
Draco said nothing to deny it, though his jaw tightened with irritation. "I came to ask you a question."
Snape crossed his arms over his chest. "Which is?"
"Why?" cried Draco, sounding much more like himself than he had thus far. "Tell me!"
"Do you think I owe you an explanation to anything when it was your failure that put me into this position?" asked Snape pointedly, his dark eyes bearing down on Draco. "Or must I remind you the dire situation you are in?"
"I know I failed!" exclaimed Draco. "I know, I know, I know. I'm weak. I couldn't kill him. I just… couldn't. I don't know why! I thought I could, I thought I would."
"Control yourself!" snapped Snape, standing up from his chair and striding over to Draco. "This is no time to let your childish emotions overwhelm you."
Draco looked up at the Potions Master and said in a choked voice, "He was going to kill me, wasn't he?"
"The Dark Lord does not take too kindly to failures."
Draco flinched and lowered his eyes. "The Dark Lord… he doesn't want me anymore, does he? What will happen to me now?"
"Are you deaf?" asked Snape sharply. "Did you not hear what I said last night?"
"I…" began Draco hesitantly. "I am to be your apprentice?"
"Yes," said Snape tersely.
Lifting his gray eyes, Draco stared into Snape's unwaveringly. "I won't fail you. Whatever you ask, I will do. I owe you my life."
Snape reached out with his hands and cupped Draco's pale face, his thumbs ghosting over the boy's cheekbones. "You owe me much more than that."