This story is an early Christmas present to Cecelle. Without her friendship, support, and patient proofreading, this story would have been a gigantic mess. I also thank Vaughn for urging me to go ahead with this story idea.
I was working in my office, one summer day, when the fire flared green. Turning to see who was calling me, I saw the flushed face of Lily Potter looking back at me. There was something peculiar in her expression that forced me to take notice.
"Headmaster, have you time for a chat?" she asked.
Briefly, I considered asking her to come through, but realized that her young child must be napping.
"Would you like me to step through?" I asked, walking toward the hearth.
Nodding, the witch moved back to allow me to Floo to her kitchen. She stood with her hands resting on the edge of the counter. I cleaned the soot with a quick wave of my wand and shook out my robes before stepping off the hearth.
"Thank you," she said appreciatively. "James never remembers to do that."
The small kitchen smelled of yeast and sugary delights. Lily took her apron off, folded it, and placed it next to a canister of flour.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" she asked and, without waiting for an answer, turned to fill the kettle with water. Lily then warmed the Brown Betty with hot tap water. With a wave of her wand, she lighted the cooker. The witch carefully warmed the pot and set it aside.
Soon the water boiled quite noisily in the copper kettle, and the young mother doused the flame. Dumping out the warming teapot, Lily carefully measured the loose leaves into it before placing it on the table.
Something was definitely bothering her, I thought. As I watched her prepare the tea, I saw the precise movement of her hands and was taken back just a few years to her school days.
Upon occasion I'd stopped in to observe a class. Once I'd visited the Advanced Potions class and watched the Gryffindor witch working at her cauldron, measuring out her ingredients and cautiously stirring them into her potion.
Lily had been working with her lab partner, Severus Snape. Their heads had been bent together as they worked on their potion. I shook my head to clear the image from my mind.
"The sweet buns will be out momentarily," she explained as she reached up and removed two cups and saucers from the rack above the basin and placed them on the sturdy kitchen table.
"It isn't like you to prevaricate," I pointed out.
The small lines on her face deepened. Stepping back from the counter, she motioned me into a chair. Lily poured the tea into the cups and sat. Resting her hands on the table, she began to twirl her wedding band with her thumb. There was a small glint as it spun on her finger.
"I, er, was wondering – do you ever see Severus Snape around?" she asked slowly. Her head was bent down, watching the whirling gold band.
Leaning forward in surprise, I took in a deep breath. "I haven't seen him for quite some time. Why do you ask?"
The gold band continued its orbit of her slender finger. Lily chewed at her upper lip before answering.
"I-I just have been wondering about him—recently. I…" She allowed the sentence to fade away.
"I'm certain he is hap..."
"No. No, I don't think he is."
"Why would you think he's unhappy?"
Her green eyes flashed as she glared at me. "He's my—he was my friend. No one seems to care about what's happened to him."
"Have you mentioned your concern to James?" I asked, concerned about her emotional state.
Lily pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and blew her nose. "No. I love the man with all my heart, but I can honestly say my friendship with Severus is something he's never quite grasped."
Picking up my teacup, I look a sip of the still hot liquid. The ring spun faster on her finger, then halted abruptly.
"I know that something happened between them, Headmaster. I've been thinking about this a lot. Severus became very distant almost overnight. James began to ignore him–well not ignore him, really. But he didn't jinx Severus like he used to; I thought he'd finally grown up a bit. But the more I've thought about it, the more I know something occurred between them. James won't tell me, so I'm asking you: what happened?"
I'd never anticipated that Lily would ever be questioning me about the changes in the behaviour of both her husband and his rival. She'd obviously given the matter a great deal of thought.
"It isn't something I can discuss," I replied and placed my cup back on the saucer.
"I'm not asking you to tell me how to break the wards protecting Hogwarts! I just want to know what occurred between James and Severus. What made them change?"
I'll admit her tenacity surprised me. Taking my glasses off to buy some time and collect myself, I slowly polished the lenses. Carefully I restored them to their normal location on my crooked nose. Lily was staring at me intently.
"It is a matter between your husband and Severus."
"I need to know; I'm begging you to tell me."
"Why is this so important to you?" I questioned.
"Because I saw Severus yesterday."
I grew alert. "You saw him? Where?"
"I won't tell you where I saw him until you tell me what happened," she bargained.
Lily had cleared her face of all emotion; it must have been a trick she learned watching Muggle films about gamblers. She sat back against her chair and crossed her arms.
For several minutes, I met her gaze, thinking she would give way; she didn't cave under pressure. The witch had strong willpower; it was something her fellow students had quickly discovered. There was no way she would back up.
I weighed the options: to deny any knowledge that anything had happened or tell her as little as possible of the truth.
"James saved Severus' life."
Lily's face showed extreme surprise. I could sense her mind was working quickly.
"One moment please! Remember; remember, Evans," she muttered to herself. "Sirius disappeared for two weeks during sixth year. That was about the time Severus grew very bitter and withdrawn; he wouldn't speak to me outside of class. It was also when James began to more or less ignore him."
"Why is it so important that you know about something that happened such a long while ago?" I asked.
Frustrated, the witch's body slouched and she frowned.
"Because I'm trying to figure out why Severus has been following me for the past two weeks."
"Two weeks? You told me you'd seen him yesterday. Yesterday would indicate this was a first time observation," I pointed out.
The timer rang, and Lily rose to remove the currant buns she'd been baking from the oven. With the wave of her wand, she levitated two of the steaming pastries onto plates. With an efficiency born of years of magical practice, the two plates floated onto the table. With a pop, serviettes and cutlery appeared next to them. Leaning against the counter, she sighed deeply.
"I've had a vague feeling of being watched when I take the baby out. Then, yesterday, I took Harry out to the grocers and I saw Severus reflected in the shop window. When I turned around, there he was, just a few feet away, staring at us."
"Have you told James?" I asked, seriously concerned by this information.
She snorted dismissively. "No. He's never thought very highly of Severus."
"I must warn you: I am certain Severus Snape is a follower of Lord Voldemort."
Lily rubbed her hands over her face. "I can't deny that the evidence points to that fact. Yet, I think he regrets that decision, Headmaster."
My eyebrows rose, and I settled in for what might prove to be a very a long discussion.
"Why do you think that?" I asked curiously.
Laughing slightly, Lily sat down again. "You could call it intuition—a mother's intuition. There was something about him that just seemed lost and regretful.— It was odd really; there he was, just following us."
My mind began to churn. What was Snape up to? This just didn't make any sense. It seemed unlikely he would reveal himself if he'd been ordered to shadow Lily's steps.
"He's miserable. I think he wants to leave—You-Know-Who's group," the young mother said firmly.
"Did he tell you that?" I inquired as I spooned sugar into the cooling tea.
The ring began its orbit of her finger again. The motion reminded me of the turning of Tibetan Prayer Wheels.
"No," she admitted quietly. "He didn't say anything. I'll admit it, his behaviour was disconcerting enough that I picked Harry up and began to walk into other shops, and he followed me. Finally I grew irritated, and snapped at him, 'Just what do you think you're doing, Severus? Are you trying to frighten me?' He just looked at me and said 'I just wanted to tell you that I didn't know it was about you.'—I have no idea what he was talking about, Professor. What do you suppose he meant by that?" Lily asked. "I was just going to ask him what he meant when he vanished."
"Alas, I'm not certain what Severus was attempting to convey," I replied honestly. "I must warn you to be more cautious when you're out. The world is an increasingly dangerous place to be."
"So James keeps reminding me," she responded and took a bite of the bun before her.
Several hours later, after depositing the memory into my Pensieve and studying it, I walked my office in an endless circle. Another hour later, I finally sat in my favourite chair and propped my feet upon the worn footstool. Closing my eyes, I envisioned all the possible implications of Severus' words.
Every crossroad I came to involved the Prophecy Sibyll Trelawney had revealed the evening I hired her. That had been the last time I'd had any word of Snape. He'd been thrown out of the premises after being found eavesdropping at the door.
The Slytherin had quite obviously heard all or a good portion of the Prophecy, and relayed the information to Voldemort. I thought a bit harder about what the Prophecy could possibly mean to Voldemort. I didn't like where my thoughts were taking me.
The moon was high in the inky night and clouds played across the pale yellow globe as I walked to Hogsmeade for a few hours of relaxation. High above, the stars shimmered and winked at me. The dew had made the hem of my robe quite damp as I approached the village.
A brush of magic wafted over me. I wasn't particularly alarmed as the northern climes are ripe with innate magic. Yet this magic had an edge of familiarity to it, though nothing defining.
Then there was a shifting in the shadows along the edge of the trees. An indistinct form moved forward cautiously, keeping camouflaged by the filtered moonlight. I could see the glinting of eyes as the shape moved closer to me.
"You said you would listen to me. I have some information that will interest you." I heard the words spoken from the shadows.
"I haven't relinquished the offer, Severus," I replied. "I would welcome the opportunity to talk with you."
Lifting my wand, I called out, "Lumos!" A cold white light filled the area around me.
"I'd prefer you to lower your wand," he said with a hint of steel.
My wand remained where it was.
"Your wand–please?" He was trying to be polite, though at the same time his tone was firm.
As my arm fell, the light dimmed.
"Lily told me she'd seen you," I said.
Severus stepped further out into the open space.
"I'm afraid your earlier opinion of me was justified," he began slowly–painfully. "There is something I–someone you need to warn. He is looking for Lily."
"Does this concern what you overheard?" I asked, studying him intently.
"Someone is giving him information. Before you ask; I don't know who it is."
This was something I had suspected for some time; too many things had gone wrong for the Order.
"You have to warn Lily. He has narrowed down his search to those born during one specific week;heis looking at two possible children. I think Lily's child is the one. She should hide, and hide now," he insisted urgently.
Lily was right; Severus had broken from Voldemort's grip. Knowing Snape, once he decided on something, it was all or nothing.
"What about the other child?"
"I don't know who that one is yet; the Dark Lord is being very secretive in his search."
"Is he aware that you know?"
"No. But I am not without some skill at discovering and keeping secrets."
I studied the young wizard standing not ten feet from me. Though he'd grown, he was still physically slender in build. His hair, never free of grease, hung limply around his face. He wore an austere frockcoat which gave him the appearance of a vicar.
"What will Voldemort do if he learns of your betrayal?"
Wincing, he crossed his arms over his chest. I could see the moonlight glinting off his carefully polished wand.
"What do you think?" he muttered caustically.
"Don't call me that! You never gave a damn about me before, so don't pretend to care about me now. I've given you the information to save some of your precious Gryffindors, use it."
"Severus, if you go back, he will see your thoughts if you're not careful," I warned.
"I'm not going back."
"Where will you go?"
"Somewhere. Anywhere. What does it matter to you? I warned you about Lily. What more do you want from me?" Severus snarled.
"I don't want to think of you running for the rest of your life," I said.
"I've had a lot of experience at running already, Headmaster. From the moment I first stepped onto the Hogwarts Express, I've been running. I'm tired of it."
"Are you just quitting, Severus?" I asked sadly.
He coughed harshly. "I have no desire to die, but logically speaking, I'm probably dead anyway."
"You've a lot to live for."
"What? Rotting in Azkaban?"
Quickly my mind worked through scenarios that might induce him to stay.
"Lily wouldn't want you to run, and she'd fight to keep you out of Azkaban."
His face darkened in anger and bitterness. "Why would she do that? I've thrown every attempt she ever made at kindness back in her face."
"I think the fact that you tried to warn her would be a rather strong motivation," I said seriously. "Lily isn't simple-minded. Yes, she loves James, but she was never blind to his propensity to bully—especially you. In her heart, she knew that you felt you had no option but to shut her out."
"I said a horrible thing to her," he said softly.
"Yet you tried to warn her," I argued. "You may not be aware that Lily came to me because she was worried about her friend. I'm worried about you, too."
Severus stiffened and turned away for several minutes. I heard him take in a deep, shaking breath just before he turned to look at me again.
"You know I am telling you the truth, Headmaster. Tell her to run and keep running."
A breeze had risen around us, and Severus' expression grew as wild as his windswept hair. The leaves high in the towering tree rustled restlessly. There seemed to be as equal a discontent in Nature as there was in the young wizard.
"I never wanted this to happen to her."
"No, I don't think you did," I agreed.
The young wizard took a hitching breath. His voice cracked as he said, "I- I don't know what to do, Headmaster."
"You don't have to run; you have another choice," I stated empathically. "I can help you."
"The way you always did when I was a student?" he interrupted bitterly. "Thank you, no."
"I'm asking you to give me the opportunity to help you," I said cautiously.
"Why should I? You treated me like something disgusting on the bottom of your shoe!" he cried out painfully. "I was something unwanted in your perfect Gryffindor world."
My heart told me that there was merit in what he was saying. There had to be some way to make him understand that I could and did want to help him.
"If you thought that, you wouldn't be here," I said.
"Perhaps He sent me to try to fool you." His voice was thick with the emotions he had always tried to restrain.
"Did he send you?"
Wrapping his robes around himself, he laughed gratingly. "No, not this time. He doesn't think anyone is capable of independent thought."
Severus' interpretation of Voldemort didn't surprise me a jot; he'd always been an observer of people, the very habit had made him a target of the Marauders' ire. What I hadn't understood at the time was the complex nature of his personality. Severus Snape was, without a doubt, more of a mystery to me than any other student of his year.
Standing in the autumn night, I came up with a plan of how to help Severus out of the trouble he was in. First, I needed some honest answers about the reasons he'd joined and what he'd done in Voldemort's service before my plan could work.
"Why did you join Voldemort's circle?" I asked. "What would compel an intelligent man like you to follow him?"
I'd always wondered why someone with half a brain would fall under the spell of a despot.
The black eyes regarded me with great intensity.
"Why? I can't speak for anyone else; I can only give you my reasons, Headmaster. None of them will ease your conscience," he said with a sneer. "I suppose the defining moment was discovering my life didn't matter very much to anyone. You made that perfectly clear when you didn't expel Black."
I felt a stab of annoyance at his ability to hold grudges. "You must understand that Sirius was in a very delicate position..."
"Why was my position so much less important than his? Was it because I wasn't a Gryffindor? Was it because I didn't come from an old, established family you were trying to infiltrate? Why? Why was I less important to you than he was?" he asked bitterly.
I was taken aback by what he said. It was true, Severus had been less important to me. My mind had been so consumed with the possibility of having a member of one of the Darkest families joining in the fight against Voldemort that I had turned a blind eye to Sirius' misbehaviours.
"You barely punished Black. How do you think that made me feel? They nearly killed me and they were rewarded," he hissed. "They poisoned everything for me."
"Your fellow Slytherins..." I began.
"They tolerated me because I could help them with their school work. Knowing how to manipulate others is one of Slytherin's attributes, remember?"
I could see that the wizard was unused to baring his emotions.
My throat felt tight as I feebly said, "I can't explain why I treated you differently than I did Sirius and James. It was inexcusable that I ignored what was going on around me. Anything I could say would be a mere excuse for my appalling negligence."
As I spoke, his head dropped and he froze in place. He was surprised to hear me tell him he'd been right and I'd been wrong.
"I can only imagine how you felt having Sirius return after you'd experienced the most wretched of experiences. Alas, I added salt to the wounds by naming James head boy, didn't I? Telling you I'm sorry must seem like too little, too late."
Severus lifted one hand to his eyes before quickly dropping it. He shuddered and looked back up.
"What did He offer you?" I asked gently.
"He offered me something I'd never felt before–the feeling of being included. He made me feel welcome and valued," Severus said softly.
"Do you still feel valued?"
"No. He's using me just as much as everyone else has."
"Have you used the Unforgivables?" I asked, changing tack, suddenly.
He snorted and rubbed his left forearm. "I'm a Death Eater; what do you think?"
"Have you used the Avada Kedavra curse?" I asked.
Severus, shocked by the bluntness of my question, looked at me briefly before dropping his eyes to the ground. His Adam's apple jumped spasmodically and his fists clenched.
"Have you killed anyone?" I repeated.
"Not all the potions I brew are harmless, Headmaster."
My stomach unclenched from the tight knot it had been in since I'd begun this line of questions. He was telling me the unvarnished truth; he hadn't used the Avada Kedavra curse, but he couldn't deny that he was an innocent. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders.
"There is a way out, Severus. The day you were thrown out of the Hog's Head, you were there to secure a position on Voldemort's orders, weren't you? But you heard something before that interview took place. You told him what you heard.
"I can tell you regret having told him what you heard. You could repay that debt, Severus. You have it in you to convince Voldemort that it would still be to his advantage to have you in place at Hogwarts."
An expression of abject horror crossed the Slytherin's face. He sputtered and shook his head in disbelief. "Y-you're insane!"
I looked over the top of my glasses. "Alas, I'm not. I want to try to remedy some of the wrongs that I've done and help you. Once Voldemort falls, the Ministry will be hunting down all Death Eaters. If caught, can you honestly say that your companions wouldn't try to save their own necks by revealing your name? The fact that I've asked you to teach will offer you a certain level of protection. I do have some influence with the Ministry, and the fact that I am offering you my trust would be a very good indication of the faith I have in you."
"I've found trust to be elusive," he interrupted.
"While I can't promise you safety from the Ministry, I'd like to assure you that I will do everything that I can to keep your name from coming to notice. If need be, I will testify on your behalf."
Severus stood and began to pace. "You must want something in exchange?"
"I need information from inside," I answered bluntly.
One eyebrow rose on his forehead. "How do you propose to keep the Dark Lord's mole from learning about me?" he asked pointedly.
This was a very valid concern; if Severus was caught out as a spy for the Order, he would undoubtedly face a very unpleasant end. There was only one way to keep him safe; no one could know about him.
"The only people who will know of our agreement are me and you."
"What if something happens to you?" he asked hesitantly. "There are a lot of people who dislike me."
"You needn't fear that you would be left defenceless or friendless should something happen to me; I will make provision to ensure your safety."
The uncertainty in his face was to be expected; he'd, quite literally, be putting his life in my hands. I felt the need to encourage him further.
"You already have the skill to conceal your thoughts from him, Severus. You have more than just a basic understanding of Occlumency. Voldemort would have found you out a long while ago if you hadn't the ability to shield your inner thoughts from him."
Standing straighter, he had as close to a smug smile on his face as I'd ever seen.
"I don't think a Gryffindor would have taken the huge risk you did when you came to see me. I truly admire your strength of character, your honesty, and your willingness to put your life in my hands. So now you are at a crossroad in your life, Severus. You're looking down two very different paths. Which will you take?"