First crack in the cover

By Cúthalion

He inhales the damp, foul-smelling air with relief. In the dim asylum of this dungeon it is he who is the Master of Things. Here he is safe.

His eyes follow the neat rows of bottles and phials on the solid shelves, fondly enumerating the fluids, the essences and powders behind thick glass and sealed clay. He sits down behind his desk, folding long, pale fingers on the black, polished wood. Here it was that he saw The Boy Who Lived for the first time as one of his students… eagerly scribbling down details of that silly initiating speech he has developed over the years. He noticed him sitting there with a mixture of cold tension and fatalistic calmness… the dark, unruly hair, the pale, narrow face.

Overwhelmed. That's how Harry Potter seemed to him then… stumbling into a new, completely unknown world, his feet trying the first, uncertain steps on the path into wizardry. Another teacher would perhaps have been able to remember his own, lagging origins, would have felt a kind of spontaneous camaraderie… but he couldn't. All he saw in that sudden, bitter split of a second was the resemblance to the boy's father. He looked like James.Blast that annoying little wretch… he was James' spitting image, for heaven's sake.

He rubs the burning spot above his wrist, and the memory of Fudge swims back into his mind. Brainless fool. He is balancing at the edge of a yawning abyss, but he denies to acknowledge the threatening depths right under his nose… not even the Dark Mark has persuaded him to change his opinion. And again there is Harry… a shockingly fragile figure under the white covers of the infirmary bed, eyes strangely naked without the glasses. A child, dangerously close to cracking up, the truth about the Dark Lord's return burning in every exhausted line of his face. This was the second occasion when he took a closer look at the boy… and now he knows that he shouldn't have, knows it with a staggering certitude.

The last few years have been like climbing a mountain, the rocky slope getting steeper and steeper with every laborious footfall. He is challenging fate, playing a game that sooner or later will claim his life. Unlike Fudge, the Dark Lord is no fool. One day he will have to pay the price for his ludicrous duplicity, and he will pay it with flesh and blood.

Not that he's afraid of it. The only fear left in his heart is that he might disappoint her. Not Dumbledore who wrung this pledge from him. Not the boy… certainly not the boy. But the thought that she might disapprove of a possible failure makes his very soul cringe in helpless agony.

If he still has a soul, that is.

He needs to keep his cool head, his unerring ability to dance on the thin rope between loyalty and betrayal. This is not the moment to explore what he might discover if he dares to open his mind and heart to her son.

For the sake of the boy's safety, he is not allowed to feel anything else for him than what he's already been feeling those past four years… the usual impatient antipathy, the uneasy, desperate commitment to protect this reincarnated symbol of his miserable youth and his deepest humiliations.

He must hate Harry to keep him alive.

For a precious, forbidden moment he allows himself to bask in the secret memory of Lily's face. Fair skin, hair like sunrise and sunset at once, and a clear, steady gaze, deep and green, a piercing knife, a bottomless well of time. Only this short moment… an almost impalpable touch of warmth, of grace, of beauty before he deliberately shields himself again.

He also shields himself against the truth… the truth revealed to him in that very moment when he saw the boy in that bed in the infirmary. He must forget the sudden realization that Dumbledore is right… that Harry is not only his father's son, that he has inherited much more than James Potter's bad habits and bold arrogance.

He is Lily's child, too.

Merlin, he truly detests that spoiled, little brat with the unerring ability to get himself into trouble and to attract every fatal danger within reach. He will most certainly die a painful death while trying to keep him out of Voldemort's hands. But still ---

Hell and damnation, but he has her eyes.