Disclaimer: The HP world belongs to JK Rowling.

A Prison Tale

Chapter 8

A Second Chance

His thoughts, however, made him restless. They were completely circular and took him nowhere. Vil, Lily, the doe, again and again. He went to the small cabin window and peered through it. It was already dark outside, the rain had stopped, the sea was glittering black, and a billion distant lights told him that the ship was approaching the harbour.

Suddenly, he could not bear staying in the small, enclosed space that the cabin provided. He sneaked to the deck, very quietly, trying to avoid being seen by anyone. He did not want to be questioned, and he guessed, as a stranger, he was not supposed to walk about the ship.

The idea of imminent arrival reminded him of some pressing questions. As soon as he set foot in the harbour, he would have to decide where to go next. Leaning against the balustrade, he watched the silver-coloured moonlight bridge shining over the dark water. He realized that he was practically homeless. The Dark Lord knew his address, therefore he could not think of going even near his house any more. But somewhere he would have to be and something he would have to do… He almost wished the ship would slow down a little to give him more time to make a plan.

His meditation was disturbed by an unexpected noise. It did not come from the ship, it came from above, and, as he turned and glanced up, he saw a peculiar object descending toward him from the skies. The sound it was making was the sound of an engine, and before he could have decided on a way to escape, it had landed on the deck, right in front of him, so that he found himself stuck between the balustrade and a motorbike.

The driver of the vehicle was holding a wand, pointing it directly into Snape's face. With his left hand, he took off his helmet, fully revealing a face that girls tended to find extremely handsome, but Snape loathed from the bottom of his heart.

"I suggest you come quietly, Mister … and quickly," Sirius Black hissed with a vicious glint in his eyes.

It was cold and windy high up in the air, and the motorbike was still climbing. If it was a precaution against Muggles spotting the flying vehicle, Snape thought it was too little and too late. The sailors must have already noticed something. In his mind's eye, he was visualizing the headlines of next day's Muggle newspapers. Sailors Saw Flying Motorbike, Mysterious Flying Object near Liverpool…The night was quite chilly, and Snape, who was obviously not dressed warm enough for the late-night flight high above the sea, did his best to conceal how cold he was feeling. Black was way too close, and Snape would have hated to give Black a reason to think that he was trembling with fear.

But that was not his main problem at all. He urgently had to design his strategies for the immediate future. Unfortunately, it was difficult to plan anything without knowing where he was being taken by Black, who had forced him to get on the motorbike at wandpoint. In fact, the possibilities were alarmingly many.

To start with, Black had been Potter's sidekick and all-round partner in crime from day one at school. That made it possible that Black was, too, a member of the Order of the Phoenix, just like his one-time gang leader. An Order member would certainly capture a Death Eater with pleasure. Snape had helped Potter and Lily escape from the Dark Lord's prison, but the Longbottoms were also Order members, and Dumbledore knew who had overheard the Prophecy in the first place… What if the Dark Lord had found them and he would be blamed for their deaths?

Secondly, Order members did not usually hunt for individual Death Eaters, as it was the job of aurors, therefore he could not rule out the possibility that Black had become an auror. Like everyone else, Snape also knew that Barty Crouch had taken a hard line on Death Eaters at the Ministry. If he was captured by an auror, he would doubtless be tortured for information and end up in Azkaban before he could say two words in defence of himself.

Thirdly, there was the fact that one could never be quite sure about a Black. What if he had been secretly recruited by the Dark Lord? After all, his brother Regulus had joined, too, and Bellatrix was his cousin. The Black family generally supported the Dark Lord. Snape had no knowledge of Sirius Black being a Death Eater, but then he would never have claimed to know all the secrets of the Dark Lord. Actually, Sirius Black, with his connections on both sides, could make an ideal spy for the Dark Lord. Besides, Black did not seem to have found him by accident; and if Black had been looking for him, how else would he have known where to go if not from the Dark Lord? Only the Dark Lord and those he had confided in knew the exact location of the island on the sea. He might well have sent out a search party to watch the sea, as he had sent out another search party to comb the island…

The bike started to descend at last, and soon landed on what seemed to be a completely deserted field, illuminated by nothing else but the stars. Black jumped off the vehicle and signalled for Snape to do the same. Deeming it unlikely that he could start the bike without a wand and against its owner's will, Snape shot a filthy glance at Black and got off, too. Black produced a small bag, from which he took out something that smelt delicious, and he stuck it under Snape's nose.

"Care for a chicken sandwich?" he asked casually, as if he had brought him on a picnic.

Insulted, he turned down the offer by roughly pushing Black's hand away.

"Butterbeer?" continued Black with elegant indifference.

Snape did not touch the drink either. Black, however, ate with great appetite. Snape could tell he was enjoying himself tremendously. Snape's temples were pounding with anger at this sight and at his own helpless situation. He had considered trying another wandless Disapparition and even an attack, but Black was too close to him with his wand and he did not take his eyes off Snape for moment. Snape was quite certain that Black would gladly hex or curse him for the slightest reason, so for the time being he waited and watched.

When Black had eaten and drunk his fill, he wiped his mouth and cast a curious look at Snape.

"Well, it is time to discuss where we are going," he said, sporting one of his hideous smirks.

"I suppose," said Snape, staring at Black with cold fury, "it is wherever those who sent you after me happen to be found."

"In that case," said Black lazily, "our destination is the home of Mr and Mrs Potter."

Seeing Snape's expression, he broke into a loud, deep laugh, and opened his bag again. He took out a sandwich and threw it towards Snape.

"Don't worry, they are not poisoned. Lily made them. Just hurry up because I'd rather travel while the night lasts."

He was holding the sandwich in his hand, feeling extremely stupid. Was it possible? Could Lily be in the background again? Of course, Black had been capable of worse jokes than that, so he had better be careful.

Black was still laughing. Snape's eyes caught his gaze and held it for a few seconds. The laughter ceased.

"Stop doing that, all right?" Black growled suddenly, slightly raising his wand.

Snape did not even blink, but his lips curled up a little, as he saw that Black was unnerved. The brief Legilimency, however, confirmed what Black had said, and Snape saw no point in provoking him any further. Still, he was not going to trust Black too easily.

"How did you find me?" he asked with suspicion.

Black shrugged.

"James wanted to borrow my bike to get you, but I preferred to come myself. She is not used to anyone else." He touched the motorbike, with an almost caressing gesture.

Snape frowned. It was abnormal to talk about a mere machine as though it was a woman.

"How did they know where I was?" he asked, sounding calm but feeling unexpectedly excited. Perhaps now he would find out … something.

"Magic," said Black. "I don't know any details. They told me where you were, and asked me to fetch you. They talked about an island though – and I found you in the sea."

"You found me on a ship," he corrected, but Black shook his head.

"You can't expect me to land on water with this bike," he said, grinning. "But I did what I could for you. Afterwards I was following the ship, waiting for the night and hoping to catch a glimpse of you."

These words rendered Snape speechless. Being rescued by Black of all people seemed to be more like a curse than a blessing, and he could not help loathing the triumphant grin that reminded him all too much of some of the worst moments of his teenage years. On the other hand, the chicken sandwich that Lily had prepared still had a delicious smell, and the flight had made him hungry again. Slowly, he began to eat, as though he did not quite trust the food, but the chicken was good. Then he grudgingly accepted a bottle of butterbeer, too.

Black climbed back onto the motorbike.

"So where do you want to go again?" he asked. "To the Potters?"

Snape was pondering the question. The idea of seeing Lily was undoubtedly attractive, but he did not feel he was quite up to meeting Mrs Potter. Seeking refuge at the Potters' home, being escorted there by Sirius Black, while still wearing James Potter's robes was among the last things he would ever have chosen to do. Not even Black could mean it seriously.

"Take me to Hogwarts," he said with decision. "Take me to Dumbledore."

The rising sun found them outside the gates of Hogwarts. Uneasily, Snape watched the castle towering above them, its walls red in the early morning light. He knew that he had made a life-turning choice by coming here, but what exactly he could expect to happen to him behind those gates he could not tell.

"Well," said Black.

Snape turned and saw that Black was ready to leave with his motorbike. Was it time to say goodbye? Maybe something else, too? But before he could decide on anything, Black spoke.

"Do you know … anything about my brother? I mean - is he … all right?" he asked in a changed voice, staring into the air somewhere beside Snape, who all of a sudden understood that Black had waited for this moment since their meeting on the ship.

"No," he said. "I haven't seen him lately. He wasn't caught, was he?"

"I would know about that," said Black dryly. "What do you mean by not having seen him?"

"He has apparently disappeared," he said slowly, "but I don't know what happened. Maybe the Dark Lord gave him a secret job…"

He did not really believe what he had said. Regulus Black's Death Eater relatives were conspicuously silent and secretive but also nervous, when his name had been mentioned recently.

"You don't reckon," Black continued in a hoarse voice, "you don't reckon the idiot got himself killed?"

"I don't know," he answered. "He seemed weird the last time we met - but – I did not know him that well."

It was certainly true. Regulus Black had always kept to a select group of pure-bloods (mostly Black relations), and he had a proud, aristocratic air that made lesser mortals want to stay away unless they had a very good excuse to approach him.

"Weird like … like someone who had changed his mind?" asked Black, several shades paler.

Snape hesitated. He had not thought of that then, but in those days he would not have imagined that any Death Eater would dare change his mind – and now he himself had done exactly that.

"Perhaps," he answered. "But you can't hide from the Dark Lord for long."

Black threw a sharp look at him.

"Good luck then," he said, and, with a roaring engine, the motorbike shot towards the skies.

* * * * *

The school was noisy, as schools usually are when students hurry from one class to the other, but the library was still a relatively quiet place, where the shouts, the tapping of dozens of feet and the sounds of the occasional fights were calmed into a distant murmur. Snape had taken refuge in an armchair behind a large shelf full of journals and periodicals and pretended to be reading. Unfortunately, the only person he was trying to fool with this pretence was painfully aware of the truth. It was Snape himself, desperately clinging to a copy of an international potions journal in a futile attempt to get rid of his anxiety.

He had been in Hogwarts for two days now. After his arrival, he had soon had an opportunity to speak with Dumbledore. In retrospect, he was not impressed with himself. It had been an awkward situation, and he had almost regretted having chosen to come to Hogwarts. He had not been able to give an intelligent explanation of why he was there, while Dumbledore had obviously expected him to say certain things. It was easy to guess it now what Dumbledore must have wanted to hear – but as far as Snape could remember he had not mentioned that he was sorry and remorseful, and he had not even asked for refuge or anything else. He had merely been confused and embarrassed, and he would not have been surprised if the old man had sent him away or handed him over to the aurors immediately.

In spite of that, the conversation had turned out to be a long one, with Snape eventually giving Dumbledore a full confession regarding his history as a Death Eater, and answering numerous questions about the Dark Lord. In the end, a grave-looking Dumbledore said he could stay at Hogwarts for a while if he wanted, and appointed a time when they would meet next. This meeting was to start in less than half an hour. Snape realized that Dumbledore had needed these two days to make a decision about his fate. It was actually a good sign that he was still at Hogwarts – the Headmaster was in no hurry to notify the aurors at least. Still, he could not think of Dumbledore without disquiet.

At first, he had liked his stay in the school. After all, he did find refuge there, and he was allowed to enjoy the privileges of a guest. Yet, when he had rested a little, the uncertainty of his position began to eat away at him. His future was still unclear; and between the revenge of the Dark Lord and the condemnation of most of the wizarding world, there seemed to be very little room for anything that even resembled a normal life.

He put the journal back to its place on the shelf, and left the library. He did not want to be late. He braced himself as he opened the door of Dumbledore's office, imagining for a moment that he would find the Headmaster in the company of aurors; but the sight of the person who was sitting opposite Dumbledore took him by complete surprise.

Lily rose from her seat as soon as he entered.

"Thank you," she said to Dumbledore. "I don't want to hold you up any longer. I can talk to Severus afterwards."

She left with barely a glance at Snape, but that glance was enough to make his heart leap and to send a quiver through his whole body. Dumbledore had to tell him twice to sit down before he did as he had been told, and even then he seriously doubted that he would be any good at the conversation that was to come.

The professor watched him observantly for a while before he spoke.

"I suppose after what happened, you have no more reason to consider yourself Lord Voldemort's follower," he began.

He gaped at Dumbledore, swallowed, and answered.

"I am not his follower any more."

"I would like to believe," said Dumbledore, "that you understand now why it was a mistake to join him in the first place.

He only nodded. He could not think of anything eloquent to say and simply repeating Dumbledore's words again seemed to be humiliatingly stupid. Dumbledore must have already thought that he was a complete moron.

"Have you got any plans?" asked Dumbledore abruptly.

"What … what do you mean?" he stammered, still in utter confusion. Why, why did he have to have an almost completely empty mind just right now?

"I understand that you have certain problems you must address."

For the moment, his most immediate problem appeared to be Lily's allusion to "speaking to Severus afterwards", but he saw what Dumbledore meant. How could he have any plans when he did not know what to expect to happen within an hour? He took a deep breath.

"I thought you were considering informing the aurors about me," he said quietly.

Dumbledore was thinking.

"I could do that," he answered, measuring his words carefully. "You undoubtedly broke the law, even though certain things are clearly in your favour. But I don't think it would be the best decision now."

Dumbledore paused.

"If you don't have any other plans," he continued after a moment's silence, "you can stay here, at Hogwarts. Professor Slughorn has recently mentioned that the various tasks coming with his position are too much of a … burden … for him. He is not only a teacher and the Head of Slytherin House, but he is also responsible for the school's potion supply, including the potions used in the hospital wing. Professor Slughorn says you are an excellent potion maker."

Snape suddenly wished with all his heart that Professor Slughorn might never have a reason to regard him as anything else but an excellent potion maker.

"Therefore he would be willing to accept you as his assistant, who would take over the job of making potions for the school and looking after the supply of ingredients necessary for the Potions classes and other school purposes. Would you be interested in this job?"

It could not be true… He had envisaged several possible outcomes for this conversation, but he had never dreamed of this. With the Dark Mark on his arm, fleeing from the Dark Lord, he was being offered a job at Hogwarts and by no one else but Dumbledore himself…

The Headmaster seemed to have guessed his thoughts.

"After all, you have already applied for a Hogwarts job once," he added with a piercing look at Snape.

If Dumbledore had wanted to say something to silence Snape completely, that was the very sentence. He bit his lips and avoided Dumbledore's gaze.

"You may need some time to consider -"

"No," he interrupted, "of course, I accept the job and … I'm sorry," he said with burning cheeks.

"That is settled then," Dumbledore replied. "But there is also something else I have for you."

He opened a drawer of his desk, and took out a wand… Snape's wand.

"Lily and James were kind enough to leave this in my care," said Dumbledore with a serious face. "By examining it, I was able to determine the exact location of Voldemort's prison island, eventually enabling Sirius to find you. Of course, the importance of this information far exceeds the significance of this single occasion."

Snape's eyes were fixed on his wand, and he felt his wand-hand prickle with the urge to touch it again. At the same time he realized that a minute examination of the wand could uncover more, much more than the whereabouts of the Dark Lord's prison. A wand contained the largest part of a wizard's life and could reveal it all if someone only took the trouble to inspect the wand thoroughly. He rose to take the wand from Dumbledore's hands, experiencing the same warm feeling that he had once experienced when he had first got into contact with the wand on a summer day in Ollivander's shop.

He wanted to try the wand immediately, to see if it was still working for him as it had worked before. It was strange that the first spell that came into his mind was a spell that he had never pronounced before. At least he was now absolutely sure that it was a spell, and he knew what it was used for.

"Expecto Patronum!" he said ardently.

To his dismay, nothing happened. He glared at the wand, wondering if he had alienated it by giving it to Potter in the prison.

"It is difficult magic," said a calm voice.

He started, and regarded Dumbledore, whose watchful presence he had almost forgotten, with a sort of shock. Difficult magic! The last thing he needed was to prove himself a total failure of a wizard in front of the man his whole existence depended on now and whose magical power was both intimidating and legendary.

"The spell is not enough. You need to think of a strong happy memory as well."

He could not help reacting with a little groan at having given himself away in this stupid way. Now there was nothing else to do but to rectify the mistake and to show that he was not quite as useless as he might have appeared to be. A happy memory… He did not have many of the truly happy ones, of the ones that had not yet turned from happy into bitter over the years … and he needed a really strong one now because he could not afford another blunder. He closed his eyes, and he saw Lily's image in the potion bottle, saw the silver-white doe sent to him by Lily, and simultaneously he heard Vil's words: "I know about one thing only that could make it possible for anyone to enter your tunnel."

"Expecto Patronum!" he shouted.

A silvery light burst out of the tip of his wand, and immediately a silver-white doe, the twin of the one that had rescued him from the Dementors, was bouncing happily round the circular office. She ran a few circles around Dumbledore; then stopped and squinted playfully at Snape. Her eyes were Vil's eyes, glittering with joy now. The doe sent an embracing light-beam toward him, and vanished.

Snape's mind was in an even worse turmoil than before. He had already realized that it would have been much wiser to perform his first ever Patronus Charm privately, but not even he could have expected his Patronus to behave in such a flippant manner or to appear in the shape of Lily's Patronus, betraying whatever secrets he could have had left from Dumbledore. It was only later that his mind grasped the full significance of having a Patronus identical in shape with Lily's. Now, he was only gaping at Dumbledore, whose expression reflected surprise and – perhaps for the first time since Snape's arrival – genuine kindness.

"Was it the first time that you had cast a Patronus?" Dumbledore asked as though it was a question of importance.

"Obviously," he muttered.

"The Patronus never lies," said the Headmaster earnestly. He was also standing now, scrutinizing Snape silently for a minute.

"You know, Severus," he said finally, "Lord Voldemort wants to murder the Longbottom family, hoping to secure his own future. But he does not know … he does not understand how the Prophecy works."

Snape stared at Dumbledore with the clear foreboding that he was going to hear some very bad news.

"Ironically, the Longbottoms are not the only people the Prophecy could refer to."

Snape's face turned all white and he could feel a giant's hand squeezing his stomach into a tiny knot. A scene of horror and tragedy flashed through his mind. He heard Lily screaming with terror, screaming for her child and for her husband. He saw Lily dead. He knew that it could all happen if the Dark Lord concluded that Lily's child was a special danger to him, and he realized that it could even happen without that.

"I believe the Dark Lord is unaware of other possibilities," he said when he found his voice again, "but she – they – I mean … more people need to be protected then… just in case. He … must be stopped."

He cast an imploring look at Dumbledore, whose gaze might have penetrated into his soul.

"Stopping him is what some of us are trying to do," said the Headmaster gravely. "I wonder if you would be willing to help. Would you like to join the Order of the Phoenix?"

He was astounded by yet another unexpected offer. Could Dumbledore really accept him as a member of his own army?

"I want you to understand that this question is completely independent of your job as Horace's assistant," Dumbledore added.

Ah. So no pressure… Snape thought of the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters, he thought of Lily in the dark prison cell, and he thought of the Longbottoms and all those black doors in the prison building. He remembered the Cruciatus Curse, and he remembered the Prince and his older self at "Hogwarts". He saw again his Patronus and Lily's… and then Lily again. He knew that there was no way for him to stand aside. He was already deeply involved.

"If you are willing to take me," he answered slowly, meeting Dumbledore's sky-blue eyes, "I will do anything to fighthim."

"Thank you, Severus," said Dumbledore, apparently satisfied.

* * * * *

Not much later, Dumbledore was standing by the window of his office, watching the well-known scenery. It was class time, and he could see only two people walking across the grounds. Far away as they were, they could have been students ... a red-haired girl and a black-haired boy deep in conversation. His silent musing was interrupted by a sharp voice.

"I would never have assumed that, Dumbledore!"

Dumbledore turned and smiled at the talking portrait of a sly-faced wizard.

"Isn't it fascinating," he said, stepping closer to the painting, "to watch the moment when a wizard takes his wand into his hands again after a few days of separation? It is quite as telling as the very first occasion. But pardon me, Phineas … you were saying?"

"I said I would never have assumed that you were recruiting people for your Order when they were out of their right minds," said the wizard in the painting.

"I have no idea what you mean," Dumbledore said with twinkling eyes.

"Don't try to fool me," snapped the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black. "That poor wretch is head over heels in love with the woman who was waiting for him just behind that door. How could he have given any other answer to your question, even if he was going to regret it later?"

"I cannot answer for anybody's happiness," replied Dumbledore, "but this young man needs to belong most of all. He also needs a little taming and training, and it is my responsibility now."

He walked to his desk, throwing a last side-glance at the portrait-wizard, who was snorting disapprovingly.

"Of course, as you may have guessed, Phineas, the Order needs him, too."


Author's Note:

If you have read this fanfic and liked it, I would be glad if you let me know.

Snape's story continues in A Forest Tale.