Disclaimer: See initial chapter
A/N: co-written and co-beta'd by paganaidd. Check out her stories (direct link can be found on my profile page).
If you do happen to find mistakes, please send me a PM so that I can rectify them.
I'd like to thank everyone who has been reading, favoriting, and following this story. I would also like to thank everyone who has sent reviews and/or PMs encouraging me to continue the story, and letting me know that, in general, you like and have not forgotten the story. I know it has been a LONG while, and do apologize for that.
Though Harry and the Winchesters are not featured in this chapter, it is an important one. I hope that you enjoy it. Thank you once again, darkorangecat.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
The castle was empty when Remus finally, wearily made his way up the front steps to make his report to Dumbledore. He felt an odd sense of relief when, upon seeking entrance to the headmaster's office, he was told by the gargoyle that Dumbledore was at the Ministry in another interminable meeting with Fudge.
Remus wrote a quick note, stating that they'd successfully dropped off Dumbledore's package and Remus was going to be home, should the Headmaster need anything else delivered. The irritation Remus felt over the whole thing was expressed by his sarcasm.
None of this sat well with the werewolf. The Harry he'd left at the Winchesters was not the Harry Remus knew and loved. The boy had been exhausted, of course. The debacle at the end of the Tri-Wizard Tournament had been horrendous. And naturally, he could be expected to be upset at being removed from his guardian's home, the only family he'd ever known, but Remus had never seen Harry so frightened or …defeated?
The things that Harry was upset about were rather odd, too, now that Remus thought about it. Rather than being sad that his natural family was taken away, Harry had needed reassurances that his friends still loved him. As though, if he wasn't the son of James and Lily, they would abandon him no matter what bonds of friendship had been forged.
Remus found himself considering once again, something that Sirius had told him after his escape from the Ministry. About how, on the night Harry had met Sirius, Sirius had offered to take the boy to live with him. Remus had always assumed that Harry had agreed in the giddiness of meeting his father's friends, but for the first time, Remus began to wonder about the boy's home situation.
Come to think of it, there had been something that Minerva had mentioned when Remus was teaching about Harry having run away from home after an argument. The Muggles had not wanted Harry to come back that summer. Remus had thought that they had simply needed some time to cool their tempers.
This train of thought had him also remembering the comments Molly had made at the last Order meeting. She had always seemed rather disapproving of Dumbledore's choice of guardians for Harry, but she was a Pureblood, after all. Arthur's fondness for Muggles, notwithstanding, she'd never had much contact with the nonmagical world. Remus thought she was a bit of an overly-protective mother whose heartstrings were too easily tugged.
At the time, she had said that she didn't feel it was a good idea to leave Harry at the Dursley's all summer. "I think they don't take care of Harry as they should," she'd said.
"Molly, I've explained this," Dumbledore had said patiently, but with finality. "They do not spoil the boy, no. But, they are his family. I'm sure when he explains the events of this past year, they'll be supportive."
Molly had sniffed disdainfully and exchanged a dark look with her husband.
Remus sighed, realizing that he needed to track down Molly and ask her exactly what she had meant.
He felt in his pocket for the package of potions. Another mystery.
Well, this mystery had, in fact, a ready solution. When Remus had taken the package out and examined it closely, his werewolf sense of smell had detected the telltale trace of Snape's scent, as well as Dumbledore's.
Remus knocked on the door of Snape's personal quarters, fully intending not to leave until he'd gained some answers.
Snape answered after the second knock. "Oh. It's you," he said coldly, as he opened the door, wand in hand. "What do you want?"
Snape looked dreadful, reminding Remus very strongly of his own reflection, after a full moon. His eyes were red rimmed and his already-thin face pinched.
"I need a word with you, Severus," Remus said politely, trying not to look shocked as his sensitive nose caught the scent of firewhisky and tobacco.
Remus had never been inside Severus' quarters before. Curiously, Remus directed his gaze over the man's shoulder.
The room was furnished in tasteful greys with only a hint of the Slytherin green one might expect. On one end was the floor to ceiling bookshelves that all the teacher's apartments sported. In front of that was a tall table, like a bar in a pub, which featured a collection of liquor bottles, glasses and a glass dish that a thin stream of smoke issued from.
Snape stared at him coldly, "I have no interest in conversation with you."
Renus was unruffled, Snape never wanted to talk to him. Well, to anyone really, outside of business. The year Remus had worked at Hogwarts, he had noticed that Snape seldom even took part in the other teachers' conversations and never spoke about anything more personal than Quidditch.
It had occurred to Remus on more than one occasion, that Snape's existence was terribly lonely. Quite as lonely as Remus' own. He'd seen him in the company of the Malfoy family of course, but he doubted the relationship was more than one of convenience.
The only thing that ever seemed to hold any passion for Snape was potions. As a brewer he was an unqualified genius. There were maybe ten wizards in Britain that could correctly brew the Wolfsbane potion. It was due to this that Remus had a supply; he could never have otherwise afforded it. He knew werewolves who would save up for single dose for a year or more. Dumbledore had Snape brewing for Remus every full moon. Remus actually doubted Dumbledore could have gotten Snape to agree if it wasn't for the fact that Snape enjoyed the sheer act of creating the thing.
Add to this, Snape was a really excellent potions teacher. It was not a passion, but certainly a point of pride. His students hardly ever made less than "Acceptable" on their exams and they'd not had any serious injuries in potions class since the man had taken over from old Slughorn. His temper did not endear him to his students, but as he himself had pointed out, his job was to teach, "Preferably, without physical casualties," he would sneer.
In some ways Snape's coldness and hostility were far less bothersome to Remus than other people he could name. Snape was one person who had actually been wronged by Remus and his friends. Most people who hated Remus did so purely because of his malady.
"I'm afraid I must insist Severus," Remus said firmly, matching Snape's hostility with a bit of the wolf's growl. "I need some answers. And I will not leave this castle until you see me. So, unless you want me lurking in wait for you, we will talk now."
"Hmph. All right, Lupin," Snape said, after a moment of thought. "Come in, then." Snape turned on his heel and strode back into the room behind him. Remus' shock deepened as he realized the cold Potions Master had staggered, the tiniest bit, when he turned.
"Severus?" said Lupin, "Are you…? Have you been drinking?"
"Yes," the man replied curtly, picking up the cigarette that had been burning in an ashtray on the bar, the source of that thin stream of smoke. "Quite a bit, actually. Join me?" Snape pulled another glass out of the cupboard and splashed some whiskey from the bottle into it. "I'm usually a solitary drunk, but perhaps this is a special occasion," he snarled, taking a long drag from his cigarette
"When did you take up smoking?" asked Remus taking the proffered glass of firewhiskey, more because he didn't want it thrown at him than out of any desire to drink with the man.
"When I was a teenager, of course," bit out Snape. "When does anyone pick up these filthy habits? It's not as though I need worry about contracting cancer, now is it?" Snape put out his cigarette in the ashtray and shook another one out of the packet with a practiced air.
After lighting it, he glanced at Remus. "Oh, I'm forgetting my manners," he said ironically. He held the packet out towards Remus, in offering, "Fag?"
Remus just stared at Snape, not knowing if he should take the man seriously. Snape shook the packet, evidently expecting an answer. "No, thank you, Severus," said Remus, thoroughly nonplussed.
"Suit yourself," muttered the man, putting the pack down and picking up his drink.
Remus took a deep breath, endeavoring to take control of the conversation, "Listen, I wanted to ask you about Harry. I…."
He never finished. At the mention of Harry, Snape moved more quickly than Remus would have thought a man in his condition could move. He dropped his drink (although not his lit cigarette), and snatched up his wand. He lunged forward, grabbing the neck of Remus' robe and held his wand up under Remus' chin. "What did you and your filthy friends do to me in our fifth year, right after our OWL's? And why did Lily never speak to me again?" he hissed.
Remus swallowed, Snape looked quite deranged. "James hung you upside down, by the lake. You called Lily a mudblood. She…she was very hurt. You were friends before that but…"
Snape sagged. "We were more than that," he said in a soft, desolate voice, his wand still under Remus chin. "And you…you and your friends were supposed to protect her…"
A deadly light kindled in Snape's eyes. Cold, and more threatening than the near madness of a second ago.
Snape took his hand off Remus' robe to take another drag and blew smoke into Remus' face. "You know, I could always tell Dumbledore that I thought you were a Death Eater disguised…I could tell him you were a little slow answering. It's not as though anyone from the Ministry would look too deeply into the death of a werewolf." His low, silky voice was roughened by smoke and thick with menace.
Remus stared into Snape's cold eyes, suddenly fearful of the man as he'd never been before. With Snape's wand at his throat, Remus' superior speed and reflexes would not be much help. He could throw the man off, but possibly not before Snape could get off a nonverbal spell. "Severus…" he began, slowly, looking to distract the man so he could reach his own wand.
Snape removed his wand, suddenly turning away. "Doesn't matter," he said, stowing his wand in his robes. Picking up his glass, he refilled it, tossed the whiskey down his throat in one go, and then threw the glass at the fireplace.
"You know, my old man used to beat the shite outta me if 'e caught me with 'is fags," Snape said almost conversationally. Remus sat down slowly, as Snape's cultured baritone turned to gravelly working class, "And she hated the bloody things. She never let me kiss 'er if I'd been smoking. For her, I'da quit."
Snape turned around. Remus was astonished to see the black eyes bright with unshed tears. "What did you want?" he asked flatly.
"I wanted to talk to you about Dumbledore's arrangements for Harry. I'm not happy with them," Remus said reigning in both his temper and his disquiet at Snape's uncharacteristic behavior.
Snape swore with that factory floor accent again. He walked over to the bar, but rather than pouring another whiskey, he picked up a light blue liquor in an ornate bottle. "Waste a' bloody whiskey," he muttered. When Snape uncorked the bottle, Remus caught the distinct scent of sea ice and snowy air. Snape poured a good measure into a glass that contained a small stone, drinking it as quickly as he had the last glass of fire whiskey.
A long moment passed. The potion master sighed. When he looked back at Remus, his eyes were clear again. Also, he didn't smell so overwhelmingly of alcohol to Remus' werewolf senses.
"All right, Lupin." Snape's voice had regained its' polish. "Tell me, what is so terribly important that you must interrupt my leisure activities? As if I have the slightest interest in the personal life of Mr. Potter…Or perhaps we should more properly call him Mr. Winchester." Snape's voice held its familiar sneer.
Remus took the package of potions out of his pocket. "Perhaps you would explain these?" He held it up under Snape's nose.
Snape stared at the package as though it would bite him. "Where did you get that?" he whispered venomously. With the lessoning of the odor of alcohol, Remus now caught the smell of fear.
"I take it you know what it is?" asked Remus mildly, his hand was in his pocket now, on his own wand. Just in case.
"Of course, I know what it is," snarled Snape, he reached out to grab it, but Remus snatched it back out of reach.
Remus drew his wand now, holding Snape off. "What is it, Severus? And why did Dumbledore want Harry to receive it once weekly for a condition that we both know to be fiction."
"How many doses did you leave there?" demanded Snape.
Snape sagged again, this time apparently with relief. "How many vials are in the package?"
"Nine." Replied Remus, with a glance at the package.
Snape nodded, closing his eyes, "Just one, then. Probably that bastard gave it to him himself."
Remus felt his face go white. Snape's drinking binge was, perhaps, making sense. "Is this something Voldemort had planned? Did you create a potion on his orders?" Remus knew better than anyone how dangerous Snape's role as spy was. Remus' own spying was restricted to spying among the werewolves, not in Voldemort's inner circle. If Snape had been ordered to create a poison, Snape may not have had any choice but to do it.
Remus' mind went into overdrive, could a Death Eater have indeed impersonated Dumbledore, in order to slip the poison to Harry? Perhaps Voldemort himself had...
"Not the Dark Lord," rasped Snape, interrupting Remus' thoughts. "That other bastard."
"What?" Remus demanded. Snape had stopped making sense again.
"Bloody Dumbledore." Snape lit another cigarette with a shaky hand. "Bloody Dumbledore," he repeated.
"What does the potion do?" Remus asked, hoping that this time Snape would answer his question.
He pushed aside the feelings of anger and betrayal that Snape's revelation had engendered. Dumbledore, not Voldemort, had ordered Snape to make whatever this potion was, and then tried to deceive him and the boy's family into giving it to Harry. He was more than a little worried as to what the potion was, given Snape's self-debasement, as well as the profound relief that registered when Remus indicated that he hadn't left the potions with John Winchester.
"It's a magical suppressant," Snape answered.
He took a long drag of his cigarette. To Remus it looked almost like Snape was trying to drown himself. Finally, with a dramatic air, he exhaled; the plume of smoke rapidly escaping his lungs clouded the air between them.
Remus waved a hand in front of his face, wrinkling his sensitive nose at the acrid smell. He knew that it would linger in his hair, his clothing, and that he'd have to bathe to rid himself of it.
"A magical suppressant?" Remus echoed, uncertain he'd heard correctly.
Snape nodded, casting a crooked grin at him, flicking the ash from the tip of his cigarette with a twitch of his finger. "Yes, you heard me correctly Lupin," Snape said. "The old man had me brew up a batch for our little wizarding hero. Seems he didn't trust the boy to keep his abilities under wraps in the presence of his new family." Disgust was evident in Snape's voice.
"And you just gave it to him?" Remus asked. Incredulity was evident in his voice.
Snape's nostrils flared and he turned in his seat to face Remus head on. If he could have, Remus would have retracted his words, but there was no time for that now. Snape's glare should be registered as an unforgiveable at the ministry, Remus thought uncomfortably as the wizard stared at him, saying nothing. Smoke, rising from the forgotten cigarette, curled around Snape's head, giving him the appearance of a fire breathing dragon.
"I tried to dissuade the Headmaster," Snape said after a long moment during which Remus' life flashed before his eyes. "But he would hear none of it. Said he'd thought it all through," Snape continued, pausing only to take another drag of the cigarette, savoring the drug, keeping it in his lungs far longer than Remus thought was strictly healthy. "Bastard said that he'd weighed all the possibilities, and that this was the only way."
"I'm sorry Severus," Remus said. "Do you think the Headmaster has been compromised?"
It was the only explanation which made sense to him. Or at least the only explanation he was willing to consider. He admired Dumbledore, looked up to him. The man had offered him a job when no one else would. Granted, it had been due to circumstances which suited the Headmaster's particular needs at the time.
And now, his dangerous position as a spy among other werewolves was also one uniquely suited to him, and one which benefitted the Headmaster greatly. He refused to believe what the evidence was pointing him toward believing – that Dumbledore was manipulating him and others, utilizing them as puppets for some grand scheme that only he could see the end results of.
Snape gave a bark of laughter, shaking his head. He jabbed the cigarette in Remus' direction to make his point as he spoke, "No, Lupin, the Headmaster has not been compromised. He is truly doing what he believes to be best for Harry. For us all. As always."
Remus drew in a shaky breath as he was forced to face reality. Dumbledore had crossed a very dangerous line. He might not be as knowledgeable about potions as Snape was, but even he knew that the potion the Headmaster had asked Snape to make was illegal, and that, if taken over a long enough period of time, say, over the course of a summer, it could suppress one's magic for the rest of his natural life.
"Snape," Remus said guardedly, "if what you're saying is true then…"
"I'm not lying," Snape defended.
"Then we've got to take steps to protect Harry, not only from he-who-must-not-be-named, but also from Dumbledore," Remus said, eyeing the tumbler of amber liquid he'd placed on the coffee table after Snape had threatened him.
Snape raised a single eyebrow, and pointed his cigarette at him before taking another drag, and letting the smoke out in a lazy arching circle that floated above their heads. "Be careful what you say," Snape said, "it has been said that the castle," he paused dramatically, lips quirking up sardonically, "has ears. Perhaps it would be best to adjourn, and have this particular conversation elsewhere."
Snape waved his wand hand in the air, muttering something beneath his breath that Remus couldn't quite hear. Remus felt the distinct change in the air which indicated that magic had been performed. If he wasn't mistaken, and he doubted that he was, Snape had erected a brief privacy charm which would enable them to speak somewhat freely. It still wasn't completely safe, but it would do for now, until they found a place where Dumbledore had little to no influence.
Hogwarts halls and private chambers bent to the current headmaster's will, and could hold no secrets from the one currently in charge of the castle. It had been spelled into the very bricks and foundation of the castle by the four founders themselves as a protection and precaution for students, staff and the headmasters. The magic had protected, not only the castle, but also countless headmasters from an early demise plotted by a disgruntled staff member or student.
But sometimes, as in this case, the precaution taken by the founders did a disservice to those it ultimately strived to protect – the innocent.
"I thought you didn't care for Harry," Remus said. He fingered the tumbler, relishing the coolness of the condensation.
"I don't," Snape snorted, smashing the end of his cigarette into the heel of his boot, before discarding the diminished fag, "but, I'll be damned if I let her sacrifice for the brat be in vain."
Remus eyed him for a long moment before plucking up the tumbler of firewhisky and downing it in one go. The fiery liquid licked a scalding path down the back of his throat as it made its way into his stomach where it churned and broiled, giving him the overall effect of a kick start of adrenaline.
"Then we're agreed," he said, holding Snape's steely gaze.
Snape inclined his head, and Remus let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding in. "Who else should we inform?" he asked.
"McGonagall, the Weasleys," Snape said after a thoughtful silence. "They seem to be just as disillusioned by Dumbledore as we are."
Remus nodded. "What about Sirius?" he asked.
"The mutt?" Snape sneered, and Remus steeled himself for more invectives, knowing that, even as he was weary of Snape and Sirius' dislike of each other after all these years, it was a hatred that Sirius had well-earned. So, when Snape merely sneered, and seemed to think upon his suggestion seriously, Remus was surprised. After a heartbeat, the potion master nodded. "I wonder, though, if he still holds love for the former Potter." Snape cast him an assessing look.
"Your hatred for Harry seems intact, in spite of this most recent revelation that he is not the son of James Potter," Remus said carefully, "what makes you think that those who loved him before this will love him any less?"
"Touché," Snape conceded with a tilt of his head that caused his dark locks to obscure his face.
"Anyone else?" Remus asked.
"Perhaps," Snape said, seeming to gather his thoughts, "it would not be unwise to include the boy's friends. They've always been thick as thieves, and would no doubt be able to offer us some insight into the way the boy thinks."
Remus nodded. "Maybe they'll be able to shed some light into his previous home life as well," he said.
Snape stiffened at his words, his lips curling in their usual sneer when it came to talk of such things. "I trust you are referring to precious Potter's; I mean Harry's," Snape corrected himself, "pampered life with the Dursleys?"
"Severus," Remus' voice held a touch of warning in it, "let's not start down this road now. I'm not sure what to think of what I witnessed when I escorted Harry to America, and maybe it was because he'd been dosed with the suppressant, but, given Molly's and Minerva's expressed misgivings, I rather think it would be remiss of us not to at least look into it."
"What do you mean?" asked Snape. He hadn't lost the sneer, but there was less of an edge to his voice.
"I'm not even sure about any of this," Remus hesitated, "but, I think that Harry's life at the Dursleys may not have been as pampered as you, or I, believed it to be."
Remus could tell that Snape was at least considering what he'd said by the way the man's jaw twitched, but he knew that it would take hard, cold facts to prove to Snape that his notions about Harry's life were unfounded. It wouldn't be easy.
He too thought that Molly had been exaggerating. He'd seen nothing the year he'd taught the Gryffindor to indicate that he was being mistreated, but he knew, from personal experience, as apparently did Snape if the man's drunken ramblings bespoke the truth, that those who suffered from abuse at the hands of their relatives were experts at hiding what happened in the confines of their homes from those on the outside.
It was a basic instinct of self-preservation – don't tell, and you won't get into trouble; tell, and things will get worse. Not telling maintained the status quo, made it easier to deal with what was happening, and made the possibility of rejection nonexistent. No one could ridicule you, or dismiss you as a liar if you didn't say anything, or shrugged off an injury as clumsiness or a minor accident. Hiding what was really happening at home made you feel safe. Remus could understand that, and so could Snape.
"That remains to be proven," Snape replied, losing some of his sneer. "We need to get word to the others and meet, preferably before he returns to the castle."
"When is he scheduled to return?" asked Remus.
"In a few days' time," said Snape. "He was, as always, vague. Likes to keep us on our toes."
"Then we'd best meet tomorrow, at the latest," said Remus. He would propose meeting tonight, but was beyond exhaustion after his long journey, and he could see that, in spite of whatever potion Snape had taken to clear his drunken fog, the man was as tired and emotionally spent as he.
"And where do you propose we meet?" asked Snape, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
After a few seconds of thought, Remus smiled as the perfect place came to him. It wasn't that far from the castle, and yet was not subject to the same wards as the castle. It had protections, yes, but they were of a rather different nature. Instead of informing the Headmaster who had erected the building of everything that occurred inside of it, it preserved the privacy of the one who'd been monthly incarcerated in it.
"The Shrieking Shack," he said, grimacing at the memories that the mere mention of the dilapidated building brought to mind.
The sharp intake of breath and slight scent of fear that permeated the air were not lost on Remus. He knew that Snape had his own bad memories of the place, but, the potion master simply nodded.
"I'll notify McGonagall and the Granger girl," Snape said. "I trust that you'll take care of the mutt, and I think we both know that the Weasleys will be more inclined to listen to you than to me."
"Yes," Remus said, struggling to keep a smile off his face.
He could imagine how Sirius would respond to Snape's invitation to join him at the Shrieking Shack, and it wasn't a pretty thought. The Weasleys might be more inclined to listen, but not by much. Though they respected Dumbledore's decision to keep Snape in the Order, it was clear that they didn't trust the man, and now that they were about to go behind the back of their leader, he wondered what else would come to the fore. What else had Dumbledore done to further his own personal agenda, which had put Harry, and others, in danger? Just who of Dumbledore's confidantes could they trust, and who couldn't they trust?
"So, tomorrow afternoon?" Snape's voice brought Remus out of his musings.
"Tomorrow," Remus said, putting aside his misgivings for later.
Tomorrow, they would get to the bottom of this. Tomorrow, Remus would know whether or not Snape and the others could be trusted. Until then, he needed sleep.
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