Part I: In the Summer
Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize belongs to me. Just borrowed. Will be returned. Snape is welcome to stay, though.
A heartfelt Thank You goes out to my wonderful beta, Mouse, who isn't only thorough, critical and constructive but also incredibly encouraging and supportive.
Tuesday, July 2nd 1996
The tall, thin man strode through the dark, deserted corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, his black robes billowing and the heels of his boots clicking on the castle's stone floor with every hurried step. When he reached the statue of a gargoyle at the end of the corridor, the dim light of candles revealed a hooked nose and a sallow face, greasy black hair and piercing black eyes.
"Acid pops," the man murmured and jumped onto the moving and winding staircase that had been concealed by the gargoyle. When the rotating stairs came to a halt, he knocked on the door at the top of the stairs.
"Come in, Severus," a voice called from within. When he entered the room, the man called Severus Snape nodded curtly to the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, who was standing at a large window and was looking out into the mist.
"What is it, Severus, what happened? You look like a ghost!" The old wizard rushed over to his visitor and ushered him down into an armchair by the fire.
"It's the boy. Draco. He was at the meeting tonight."
Dumbledore's eyes widened. "So soon? Has he been initiated?"
Snape rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I don't know. The Dark Lord took him aside and talked to him. The boy seemed eager. He looked self-important. But there was no ceremony."
"Maybe it isn't too late then. Maybe we still can prevent this."
"How?" The younger wizard sounded weary. His hands gripped the rests of the armchair. His eyes were fixed on the fireplace. Dumbledore filled a glass with firewhisky and handed it to him. Snape downed the whisky in one long swallow.
The old wizard sat down at his desk and said, "We need to know what this is about. You have to find out what Voldemort wants from the boy..."
"Isn't it obvious?" Snape spat. "Lucius is in disgrace. He failed at the attack, the prophecy was destroyed and the Dark Lord wasn't pleased."
Dumbledore sighed. "Yes, it seems obvious that Draco is being called to redeem the family's worth in their master's eyes. But how?" His fingers drummed a restless beat on the polished wood. "Severus, I must ask you once again to be very careful, but we must find out what Voldemort wants with Draco."
Snape's head snapped up. "I need to look after the boy, Headmaster. You know this. Even with Lucius' views - you know what they are - Lucius is my friend. I cannot totally betray him and his family."
"I know, Severus, but you must not compromise yourself. Voldemort must keep his trust in you. Even if..."
"Even at the cost of another Slytherin boy becoming a Death Eater. Yes, I know what you are implying, Headmaster." Snape jumped out of his chair and started to stride back and forth in the office.
"I will not pretend that I help the Malfoys out of altruistic motives alone, Severus." Dumbledore stared at Snape through his half-moon glasses. Snape stopped pacing and stared back, his arms folded and his lips curled in a sneer.
"How disillusioning, Headmaster. Sometimes it is easy to forget that not all your intentions stem from pure kindness. I should try harder to remember that it's usually Gryffindors who are the beneficiaries of your, ah, interpretation of impartiality. That would help keep my thoughts on the matter clear."
The Headmaster frowned. "I see that you have your humour back, Severus, but there is no need to get into that discussion yet again. I care for all the students, in all houses. You know that. And you also know that house rivalries and old grudges have no place in this fight, as justified and entertaining as they may have been in the past. Believe me or not, I am genuinely worried about Draco and I care for the boy. Just as I cared for you at that age."
Snape snorted. "I failed to notice it at that time."
Dumbledore sighed. "I know I've wronged you, Severus. And I tried to explain... but nevertheless, we need to get back to the point. Draco is too young to fully understand what it is he makes a commitment to. And he is horribly spoiled, which is partly your fault. He is also ambitious, mean, cunning and clever. In a sense he reminds me of you. No, hear me out..." Dumbledore raised a hand to stop Snape's angry protest. "He is a bully, and he doesn't have your brilliance. Unlike you, he has led a sheltered and pampered life, but be that as it may, I will not repeat the mistakes with him that I have made with you, Severus. He needs to know that there is an alternative. It is our duty to give him that choice."
"So now you conveniently combine duty and benevolence with cunning, manipulation and scheming." Snape's eyes gleamed.
Dumbledore chuckled. "Of course. Only saints act out of pure unselfishness and I haven't met a single one in my long life."
The expression on Snape's face had subtly changed from his familiar smirk to a more respectful half-smile. "I was of the opinion that I might have met someone who came close," he said softly.
The Headmaster smiled, eyes twinkling. "Thank you, Severus," he said gently. He took a sip of his firewhisky, and his expression became solemn again. "But back to the point. What is it that Voldemort wants from Draco?"
"I suspect he will have to go after Potter. Or after you." Snape resumed his pacing.
"So the Death Eaters are free to murder Harry now? Voldemort doesn't want to confront him himself any more?" asked Dumbledore.
"I am not certain," Snape replied thoughtfully. "He might, still. It seems to give him pleasure to deal with the worthier adversaries himself - only, as you know, I did my best to make the boy appear mediocre in the Dark Lord's eyes."
"That could still be to our advantage, Severus. However, Harry must be protected at all costs. Let them come after me, but Harry must be spared for a while longer. We must find out what Voldemort is planning."
"I will confront Draco and interrogate him as soon as the occasion arises, Headmaster."
Dumbledore nodded his assent. "Please do that, Severus. And now, go and get some rest. Good night!"
"Headmaster." With a polite bow of his head, Severus Snape swept out of the room.
Friday, July 5th 1996
"Sorry I'm late, I came here at once after I got your Patronus, Headmaster, why... Headmaster! What happened?" Severus Snape rushed to the old man who had collapsed on the floor of his private chambers.
"A curse... Severus..."
"Hold still!" Snape stared at the blackened hand and arm of Albus Dumbledore, which seeped blood and fluid from the burnt flesh and emitted wisps of smoke from some spots on the skin. "An Incendium Nervalis, I presume?"
"Not sure... not cast... object..." the Headmaster croaked, his face twisted in pain.
"Merlin help you, any lesser wizard would be dead," muttered Snape, and started to move his wand over the injury while he spoke an incantation that sounded like a song.
Many long moments later, the blood had stopped flowing and the smoke had vanished. The pain seemed to have lessened as well, since Albus Dumbledore took a deep, shaky breath and smiled at the younger man, the familiar twinkle back in his eyes.
"I think that was a bit close, even for me, Severus. But thank you; I feel much better now!"
"You must get into bed. I will call Madam Pomfrey. You call Fawkes; his tears will help you, too. And I will give you a potion." Snape started to rise but Dumbledore put a hand on his sleeve to stop him.
"Poppy has already left for the summer, Severus. I don't really need her. You are still here; that is enough."
Snape shook his head. "You know that I will have to leave soon. Let me take you to your home, and instruct the house-elves. You will need more rest, and time for healing."
Dumbledore smiled. "I'm not going home this summer. There is too much at stake."
"Headmaster! You must rest!" Snape helped the old man up from the floor and led him to his bed where the old wizard sat down, clearly exhausted. After helping the Headmaster to lie down, Snape left the rooms. He returned a few minutes later with a vial in his hand. "Drink this!"
The Headmaster drank the potion and sank back on his pillow with a sigh. "I will be all right, Severus. You have healed me. I will recover in no time."
"I have done no such thing," Snape spat hoarsely. "If this was indeed the Incendium Nervalis, then there is no cure, as you well know. I can only slow down the degenerative process and ease the symptoms for a while."
The Headmaster looked grave. "I do know, and it is likely that it was the Incendium. But you bought me time, didn't you? At least a year? Maybe more?"
"Maybe five years; ten if you are lucky. It depends on the care you get and how well you look after yourself." Snape jumped up from the chair beside Dumbledore's bed and strode to one of the windows. "With phoenix tears helping you to heal, there may be more years still. In any case, you need as much strength back as possible. The stronger you are, the slower the progress. But any new major injury, and the degeneration will proceed rapidly again."
"And in the end I will lose my mind, won't I, Severus?" The Headmaster sounded worried.
Snape whirled around to face him. "Yes, I am afraid you will. And before that you will slowly lose the feeling in your extremities. What did you do, Headmaster?"
Dumbledore closed his eyes. "I am sorry, I cannot tell you. So, I will basically end up in a helpless, vegetative state?"
Snape moved back to the bed again. "Yes, Headmaster, I..."
"Don't, Severus," Dumbledore interrupted, "Don't say you're sorry. If you cannot heal me, no one can. I had a long and good life; I am not afraid. But there are still things I have to do." He grabbed Snape's arm once again. "Severus, I want you to promise me something."
"What is it?"
"Promise you will help me when the time comes."
Snape considered that for a moment and raised an eyebrow. "I am a bit surprised that one of the finest Potions brewers of our time should feel the need to ask that of me instead of making it himself. But then - prerogative of the Headmaster, I suppose?" He frowned. "You know that there is a potion. I can make it for you. When you feel you must, you could take it."
Dumbledore grabbed Snape's sleeve with both hands now, sounding almost pleading. "But if, for some reason, I cannot help myself, and get to the stage where I am not myself any longer... You would know, you would see it in my mind. Would you help me die? Severus, please, you know I don't ask this lightly."
Snape stared down at the old man, a vein in his temples throbbing agitatedly. "How... How could I... no..." Snape's face was very pale. "Why me? Why not Madam Pomfrey? What else do I have to do before..." His voice trailed off.
"Why you? Because I trust you." The Headmaster looked into Snape's bottomless black eyes. "This has nothing to do with what you have to do or think you still have to do to redeem yourself. This is a personal favour I am asking of you."
Snape stared back at the Headmaster, long and hard. Then he took a deep breath, scowled and said through gritted teeth, "I gave you a promise many years ago. I gave you my word to obey you, whatever it is you ask of me. I gave you that promise because I knew that you never ask more of people than what you would be willing to do yourself - and now you ask me this?"
"Because I know that you can do it, Severus. You are one of the few who understand - that an expression of compassion sometimes looks exactly like the opposite."
Snape scowled. "Maybe you take too much for granted, Headmaster. Why not ask your brother or someone like Lupin. He shares your sentimental outlook on life."
"Aberforth couldn't do it, you know that, and Remus would break if I asked this of him. So would many others. You won't. Please, Severus."
"I still stand by my promise, but how can you be so certain that I won't break?"
"You know about the power, Severus. Even if you don't want to admit it. Don't deny it, not tonight. It is the same power that made you come to your senses. The same power that brought you to my door 16 years ago. The same power that helped you stay alive." Dumbledore chuckled softly. "The power that kept you from strangling Harry and his friends in all these years."
Snape rolled his eyes. "That is because I heeded your wishes, Headmaster, not because of the power," he said. "But I won't deny its strength, even if I fail to fully grasp its significance."
"You have shown on more than one occasion that you understand it more deeply than many, even if that may be on an unconscious level." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "But we can discuss this some other time, I am very tired. I think I will sleep now."
"Good night, Headmaster."
Monday, July 8th 1996
"Headmaster, have you heard?" Severus Snape stepped out of the fireplace in the Headmaster's office, not caring about the soot on his robes. Albus Dumbledore looked up in alarm.
"What is it, Severus?"
"The Brockdale Bridge in London . He destroyed it! Muggles were killed. There was nothing I could do." Once again Snape started to pace in the office, up and down.
"Merlin, he moves fast. You said he wants to take over the Ministry now?" Dumbledore had risen from his chair at the desk and joined Snape in his pacing.
"It appears so. I knew that he was blackmailing Fudge, but he did not reveal to me how soon he was planning to act. So much for his trust in me." Snape took the armchair by the fire and sank down into it, his face buried in his hands.
"Don't blame yourself, Severus. We cannot prevent every atrocity he commits, try as we might." Dumbledore stopped by the chair and laid a hand on Snape's shoulders. "But we must act now. We cannot let ourselves be driven into a defensive position again..."
Snape looked up. "What do you suggest?"
"We need you to get closer to him still. We need you to be even more trusted, to know more about his plans, to manipulate..." Dumbledore resumed his pacing. "How about you suggest another raid - something spectacular, somewhere away from London ? We will have more control that way. You could suggest it and we can make sure that the Muggles in the area are taken care of. A successful raid should increase your status greatly."
Snape considered that for a moment. Then he nodded slowly. "Yes, I think I can do that. Will we proceed as usual when we protect the Muggles?"
"Naturally. But let me think..." Dumbledore stopped at Fawkes' perch, and softly stroked the wings of his phoenix.
Snape raised an eyebrow inquiringly. "You think there is something else I can do?"
"Yes, I believe there is, Severus." Dumbledore turned around to face the Potions master. "How would you feel about finally being given the Defence Against the Dark Arts position?"
Snape stared at him in bewilderment. "You think things will come to a conclusion this year, then? But Potter isn't ready yet..."
"No, it may take longer. But it will prove how weak I have become and how much I trust you. Voldemort will be pleased about this, I'm certain. He will have first-hand knowledge of the students'- of Harry's - abilities in that area." The Headmaster continued to stroke Fawkes' feathers.
"And the jinx?"
Dumbledore turned to face him again. "Maybe he will finally take the jinx off the position. And if we are mistaken, and things don't proceed as fast as we think, you can always go back to teaching Potions. However, if it should be necessary to leave, why not end your employment here with something that shows how loyal you are to him? Something that shows how successfully you've made me overcome my distrust of your abilities and weaknesses." The Headmaster walked to his desk and sat down. "You will have to end the double spy game soon, Severus. We need you firmly established at Voldemort's side when the time comes, and Harry has to face him."
Snape's eyes were cold when he looked at the Headmaster. "I see. I will be prepared to leave. But what about my Slytherins?"
"They will be looked after. I have thought about that for some time. I will ask Slughorn. I would like to have him safe at Hogwarts for several reasons. If Horace agrees to come back and teach Potions, then he can look after your Slytherins if the need arises. Is that agreeable with you?"
"Yes. Yes, it is, Headmaster. I will do as you say then."
"Very good. Good night, Severus."
Tuesday, July 9th 1996
"Severus! Amelia Bones!" The Headmaster rushed into Snape's office, his midnight blue hat askew, his face slightly flushed.
"Yes, I just heard. I was organizing the raid in Somerset . He gave me no indication that he was going after Madam Bones." The former Potions master was putting a hooded cloak and a mask into a cabinet behind his desk.
Dumbledore sank down on the stiff-backed chair opposite Snape's desk and breathed deeply to regain his calm. "He killed her himself. What a loss, what a loss; if only we had known... We cannot afford to lose so many good people again..." He took off his half-moon glasses and covered his eyes with his left hand.
Snape moved to a side table, filled two goblets with mead and handed one to Dumbledore. "He wants to scare the Muggles and mock the Ministry. I don't think he really is after the Ministry position..."
"Neither do I. Confusing. Killing. Terrorizing. That is his plan. When anarchy ensues, then he will be ready to take over." The Headmaster considered Snape over the rim of his goblet for a moment before he emptied it, rose from his chair and moved to the door. "We will have to move faster, Severus!"
"Did you talk to Madam Vance yet?"
"Yes I did, and she is agreeable. You can proceed as planned."
"Good night, Severus."
"Good night, Headmaster."
Thursday, July 11th 1996
Albus Dumbledore stood at the edge of the grounds of Hogwarts, and stared into the Dark Forest . When he heard a slight crack, he moved to meet Severus Snape, who had just Apparated. "Are you all right, Severus?"
"Yes, I'm fine. But they are getting jealous now, Headmaster. They always were distrustful, but now they are clearly jealous. He has graced me with a few private meetings as of late." Both men started to walk past Hagrid's hut, back to the castle.
"You keep telling them all how weak and old I am?" the Headmaster asked.
"Very good. How is Emmeline?"
"She is well; everything went according to plan. She is making herself useful. The place is getting really comfortable now. She is very good at Potions and medical magic, too." Snape followed the Headmaster up the steep steps to the castle's front doors.
Dumbledore opened the doors with a flick of his wand. "Good! We will need the Underground group, if we want to succeed. And even more so if we don't succeed."
"It would seem so, Professor." Snape followed the Headmaster into the castle. "I hear Fudge has resigned at last, to give way to Scrimgeour?"
Dumbledore smiled grimly. "Yes, he has. And Rufus hasn't wasted any time in contacting me and demanding Harry's collaboration. We had quite the fight. You will find it in the Prophet tomorrow."
Snape sneered. "I should think a close collaboration with the Ministry would just be the right thing for Potter's big head."
"Severus, when will you finally learn to see the boy for what he really is?" Dumbledore pursed his lips. "He is not conceited, and he has no more wish to provide the Ministry with positive publicity than I have. Did you forget what he was put through by the Ministry last year? Did you forget Umbridge?"
Snape shrugged. "How could I? But Scrimgeour is different. His tough 'get to work and no-nonsense' approach would appeal to the boy, surely?"
"Perhaps. But Harry isn't that easily fooled, and the events that led to Sirius' death will have given him even more cause to be cautious."
They had arrived at the staircase that led down to the dungeons, and stopped. Snape glanced at the Headmaster sceptically. "If you say so, Headmaster. Either way, I suspect Emmeline Vance's, ah, murder right under the nose of the Muggle Prime Minister will have shocked the Ministry more than anything. They need results now. I understand the Prime Minister has been put under special protection?"
Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, Kingsley Shacklebolt is a capable man, as you know. And there is more, which I cannot disclose to you now, as I am certain you will understand."
"Yes, yes. I cannot reveal under torture what I don't know. And this is something I don't need to know." Snape looked irritated. "However, it is a relief to see that some of our actions finally did yield results, if only to force the Ministry into action." He turned towards the stairs.
"Absolutely, Severus. Our strategy requires a lot of patience. But we will succeed, you will see." The Headmaster's smile was bright and reassuring.
"I am certain that you are right, Headmaster. Good night."
Saturday, July 13th 1996
"I need to talk to you, Professor. It is rather urgent." Severus Snape's head had appeared in the fire of Albus Dumbledore's office in the early hours of Saturday morning.
"Do come over, Severus. What happened?"
Snape stepped out of the fireplace, looking tired and worn. "I had visitors last night. Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange."
The Headmaster raised an eyebrow and looked inquiringly at Snape. "What did they want?"
"In a few words? I made an Unbreakable Vow to Narcissa Malfoy where I essentially promised to kill you." Snape sank down onto the comfortable chair by the fireplace.
"How remarkable! Do you care to enlighten me about the details?" Dumbledore asked quietly.
"Certainly. Narcissa came to ask me for help. She was desperate, that much was plain to see. I had an idea that this had to be about Draco and it turned out I was right. She was forbidden to tell anyone, and Bellatrix was quite upset that she trusted me with the information. It was - rather amusing."
Dumbledore conjured a pot of tea and two cups out of thin air, and offered one of the cups to Snape. "I know that you were enjoying this, Severus, but in any case, could you get to the point, please?"
Snape sipped at his tea. "Well, after Bellatrix had confronted me with the usual issues for why my dear Death Eater peers distrust me, I gave her the usual answers. Bellatrix had followed Narcissa. She wanted to prevent Narcissa from telling me what the Dark Lord wants from Draco. Naturally, Narcissa wasn't allowed to reveal this to anyone, but, much to Bellatrix's outrage, I managed to make her believe that I was in on the secret. As you know, that isn't entirely untrue." Snape looked up at the Headmaster, an ironic smile curling his thin lips.
"Yes, you told me that he hinted at a plan, and we have been aware of Draco's predicament for some time now. Continue, please." The Headmaster patiently examined his blackened hand.
"Well, in short, Narcissa is convinced that the Dark Lord wants revenge for Lucius' failure at the Ministry and therefore gave Draco a suicide mission. I am not one hundred percent certain, but from what I saw in Narcissa's mind - when she cried all over me - they are after you, and not Potter."
Dumbledore looked up, eyes beaming. "Oh, very good. Go on."
"Bellatrix, on the other hand, continued to taunt me. She tried to convince her sister that I was not to be trusted and always stayed out of dangerous assignments. So I promised Narcissa that I would try to help and protect Draco. That was when she asked me for the Vow. You should have seen Bellatrix's face when I accepted it. Nevertheless, Narcissa tricked me."
Snape's smirk had vanished, his expression turning serious. "She let me swear to help Draco fulfil the Dark Lord's wishes and, to the best of my ability, protect him from harm. I swore that willingly, of course. But her third condition was to carry out the deed if it seemed that Draco would fail. I had no choice but to concede. A denial of the third condition would have been a disaster at that point. So I completed the Vow."
"I see. Yes, I see how you had no other choice at that point. There was some quick thinking involved there, Severus. I'm impressed." The Headmaster gingerly rubbed at a sore spot on his withered, blackened hand.
"Thank you, Headmaster, but..."
Dumbledore raised his hand. "Wait - please let me think this through."
Snape rose from his chair and strode towards the window. "I will not fulfil the third condition, Headmaster. I never intended to," he whispered.
"I will not let you sacrifice yourself for me, Severus. You are needed; we cannot do without you. We both know that my life will end soon anyway. But we need to find out when that deed can be done to our fullest advantage." Dumbledore had risen as well and joined the younger wizard at the window.
"I was thinking that the wording of the third condition could give us some leeway, Headmaster. Narcissa said 'if it seems that Draco will fail' - I was hoping that this could gain us some time. We simply cannot allow Draco to 'seem to fail'. If we could stage a spectacular duel, where I 'kill' you before Draco gets the chance to prove himself, then he will not have failed or seemed to have failed. The Death Eaters will despise me more than ever for wanting the glory all for myself, but the Dark Lord will be pleased. And you can head the Underground while I go into hiding," Snape murmured in a low voice. "I will be hunted by the Aurors and the Order after that." He turned to look at the Headmaster, who stared into the mist. A pink hue in the east announced the approaching sunrise.
Dumbledore leaned his head against the window pane, his eyes closed, and his brows creased in deep concentration. "This is still very risky, Severus, but it is as good a plan as any other, under the circumstances. I can see no other way to get you out of this and stay alive myself."
Snape nodded. "The Vow doesn't have a time limit on it, so I can still protect Draco to the best of my ability and fulfil part of the Vow. If he doesn't know that you still live, he cannot fail. And because I promised to help you when your time comes, I even have the genuine intent to kill you eventually. I am certain that this will suffice to prevent the Vow from killing me, for the time being."
Dumbledore shook his head slightly and sighed. "I wish I could be as certain as you, but let's hope for the best."
Snape shrugged. "If we weren't willing to take risks, both of us, then we wouldn't have this conversation. We'd both be dead by now, more likely."
"Very true. Well then, let us abide by your plan for now. To be honest, I am quite looking forward to joining the Underground. I will start teaching again. Dead people need an education, too." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled.
"This is not funny, Headmaster!"
"Come now, Severus. You enjoyed mocking Bellatrix, I know you did. Let me have a chuckle about my own demise. Now - let's hope that Draco will take a long time to come up with a plan. There are some things I must finish while I am still 'alive'. You will have to find out what his plan is, Severus."
Snape rubbed his temples. "That will be my first priority. However, Professor, we don't only have to prevent him from failing, we must prevent him from succeeding. We both agreed that we don't want to see him become a Death Eater. And you would be too sorely missed if he did succeed. You are needed - as a commander and as a friend."
Dumbledore smiled gently. "This is a part of the problem, Severus. I tried to convince you of that in the past. I am needed far too much; capable people rely too much on me. The Order has to learn to function without me. Harry has to complete his task - no, don't ask - he has to do what he must without me. However, he needs me for a while yet. But don't worry; Draco won't succeed."
Snape slowly shook his head. "I wouldn't be so certain. Draco is quite resourceful and not stupid. And fairly soon he will understand that his family is in real danger and that this whole affair isn't some grand adventure to set him above his peers."
Dumbledore turned away from the window and faced Snape. "True enough. But what can he do, really? We will have everything checked and searched that comes into the castle. All the students, all their belongings, all visitors and all the goods that are delivered will be screened with Secrecy Sensors. Moreover, Draco will have to work alone. There is no danger of a Death Eater attack in Hogwarts."
"Hopefully not, Headmaster. I am merely warning you not to underestimate Draco."
"I won't underestimate him. We will be prepared. However, you will forgive me for not losing any sleep over Draco's plan. This is a concern that I will gladly leave in your hands." Dumbledore sat down behind his desk again and gave Snape another thoughtful stare. "Basically, this isn't all bad news, Severus. We now know what Voldemort wants from Draco, and you may have eased some of Bellatrix's suspicions."
"I doubt it. She is jealous of me. She guards her position as the Dark Lord's most trusted minion. She will do everything she can to present me in a bad light."
The Headmaster nodded thoughtful. "Hmm, yes - it was to be expected that envy and shifting loyalties would undermine Voldemort's force, but I didn't expect it so soon..."
"Don't get your hopes up too high, Headmaster," Snape snapped. "The Dark Lord knows how to deal with that. He is a master of manipulation. Threats and promises. Punishment and rewards - that's how he keeps them in line. And then there are those who are like Bellatrix, those who drink his words as if they were nectar, who willingly kiss his feet, who would clean his arse with..."
Snape's face had twisted into a mask of disgust. "Isn't it true? They are few, but they are the ones to be most feared. You cannot argue with the likes of them, or predict their actions. They haven't a rational thought left."
"I know. And it is good to know that the Malfoys aren't among them. I have suspected for some time that Lucius Malfoy is more of an opportunist than a devoted follower. To have him and his family indebted to our cause might turn out to be an advantage. We have to think beyond Voldemort..."
"Don't expect them to have any love for you or the Order, though. Narcissa would rejoice in your death if it weren't for the danger Draco is in. If we succeed in saving Draco, we will have to hide him and his mother, which will not be an easy task for the Underground. Lucius should be safe for now," Snape said quietly.
"Yes. But first we must find out what Draco plans. As I said, I will leave that to you, Severus. I have other things on my mind now, things that cannot wait, especially in the light of the new developments."
"What kind of things?" Snape inquired. "More important things than your own premeditated murder?"
"Much more important, but I cannot tell you the details," the Headmaster said calmly. "However, what I can tell you is that I was able to ensure that Horace Slughorn will take up the Potions position this year."
"Indeed. But you look tired, Severus. Try to catch some sleep now ."
"You don't really think I could sleep now, do you?"
"No. Probably not. And maybe neither of us should be alone right now. Perhaps I can persuade you to a large and early breakfast, Severus?"
"Hm. Yes, that sounds tempting."
"Very good. Let's go to the kitchens then."
Friday, August 2nd 1996
"Professor Dumbledore, I did not expect to see you here!" Severus Snape closed the door to the Potions classroom behind him and turned to face the Headmaster, who had been moving books and cauldrons from Snape's private stores to the classroom.
"I was starting to look through a few things, in preparation for Horace's arrival."
Snape looked annoyed. "You most definitely do not need to clean up here, Headmaster. I came back to do just that and to look through the store cupboard. I wanted to make sure that it is well stocked with the necessary ingredients." He raised his wand and cast the 'Muffliato' spell on the door and the portraits in the room.
"I didn't have any doubts about that, Severus, but still - with Peter living at your house - I didn't think that you could get away easily without raising suspicions. You reminded me yourself the other day that I do know my way around here." Dumbledore chuckled.
"You certainly do." Snape snorted. "You know, Wormtail may be a bit daft, but even he understands that I do have to make some preparations for my successor."
"All the better, then," Dumbledore said. "There are some things we need to discuss."
"There are indeed. I have news, but it isn't good." Snape had started to look through the Potions ingredients and make a list for those that were running low.
"Are you referring to Karkaroff's death? I knew that already," Dumbledore said while checking cauldrons and vials.
"No, it's not that." Snape looked at Dumbledore with a blank expression. "It's Draco, again. He was initiated last week. He was part of the Death Eater group that raided Diagon Alley, celebrating."
"I see," said Dumbledore sadly. "Too bad that you couldn't prevent it."
"I never had a chance to talk to the boy; he has been avoiding me since the end of classes. With Lucius gone, I have less reason to visit the Malfoy residence. I did go several times to offer Narcissa my support, but each time I was there, Bellatrix was there too. She was hovering over the boy like an anxious mother hen."
"Well, we cannot change this now; let's hope that Draco will come to his senses soon. You will have more control over him when school starts again."
"I hope so, but he isn't a little boy any longer. He has grown up considerably, and he is getting rebellious. However, I know what I have to do." Snape looked up from his supply list. "But not all the news is bad news. Florean Fortescue and Mr. Ollivander were both safely rescued before the raid started. We even managed to get the raw materials and some of the wands out of the store. Most wands were taken by the Death Eaters though. The Dark Lord wasn't too pleased that Mr. Ollivander didn't 'survive' his kidnapping but he was somewhat placated by having so many new wands at his disposal."
"This really is good news!" Dumbledore beamed. "Our 'dead people' will be supplied with new Ollivander wands, and they will be unregistered, too. Not to forget Florean's delicious ice cream. Oh, Severus, I don't know what we would do without you!" he exclaimed.
"Someone else should learn how to control the transfigured Inferi; then you would know what to do without me." Snape smirked. "However, you'd need another Dark Wizard you could trust, as this is rather advanced Dark Magic. None of the more experienced wizards would want to risk learning it for fear of being corrupted and seduced by the big Evil."
Dumbledore looked at him earnestly. "It is not likely that we can recruit another wizard who is experienced with the Dark Arts, Severus. We are extremely lucky to have you, for more than one reason. You are needed for more than controlling Inferi, you are needed as a friend, too." The Headmaster smiled when Snape grimaced. "However, if something should happen to you - heaven forbid - we would have to work without the Inferi. And don't laugh about 'the big Evil'. You of all people do know about the seductive draw of Dark Magic. Please, don't call yourself a Dark Wizard."
"I am what I am and I cannot change that now. I would have preferred to know more about the lure of the Dark before I got drawn into it, but we don't need to get into this discussion again, Headmaster." Snape had finished his list and started to clean up.
"Is there anyone who can help you with your modified Polyjuice Potion?" Dumbledore asked while moving stacks of cauldrons back to Snape's private store with a skilled 'Locomotor cauldrons'.
"Emmeline Vance has been brewing it successfully; she is reliable with the basic formula. I am still experimenting with it from time to time. If I can find a way to make it applicable to a body's surface instead of having to be ingested, it could be used without anyone having to control the body. Together with your permanent transfiguration spell, it would still be possible to switch the dead people with the ones you want to rescue."
"Very good. Severus, this is going better than I thought."
"Indeed, the Underground group is doing well. We will need more room soon, if this goes on," Snape said.
"Room should not be too much of a problem. But now you should get back to Spinner's End, Severus. I will see you in September."
"Very well; until September then. Good bye, Headmaster."