Chapter Thirty Four

Severus blinked.

Dumbledore sat across from him, looking incredibly pleased with himself. And why shouldn't he, Severus supposed. After all he had been so sure the Headmaster would have been unable to achieve this victory and he had made these thoughts undoubtedly clear to the older man on several occasions since the intention to use Neville Longbottom in their plans had been revealed.

What could the man have possibly said to Augusta Longbottom to convince her to allow this?

"You appear rather stunned, Severus. Shall I fetch a glass of water?" Dumbledore asked with a twinkle in his eye.

Severus shot him a look before he straightened and made to compose himself; "Merely curious, Headmaster; how did you manage to convince the boy's grandmother?"

Dumbledore waved a dismissive hand, "Only by indicating the seriousness of our situation."

"You told her about the Dark Lord?"

Dumbledore fixed him with a deep look, "Certainly not."

Only the night before Severus had been enjoying Lily's company at the firelight festival, intermitted only by amicable conversation with Regulus; the Dark Lord's impending return a mere blip in the darkest corners of his mind. It was pleasant and easy to forget about the darkness they would soon be walking into when he was with her; he wasn't sure if that was a good thing. If he should be allowing himself such a distraction.

He hadn't been in the school for five minutes, in those minutes walking with a lightness to his step and his mind elsewhere, nowhere useful certainly, before Dumbledore had summoned him to his office to present him with the next steps in their approach.

A cold bucket of reality being thrown over him at the beckon.

Severus cleared his throat, noting Dumbledore watching him curiously, and automatically tightened his occlumency shields; "The next step, then?"

"Augusta will bring the boy to Hogwarts this evening; I trust that is a suitable time?" Dumbledore looked at him expectantly, his words not really a question.

It wasn't suitable.

The Spring Fling Festival at Hogsmeade was still ongoing and he had, not so much arranged as implied, to Lily that he would meet with her that night.

A distraction, his mind almost sneered at him.

He shook his head against his thoughts; this was far more pressing. And he certainly wasn't going to use that as an excuse to Dumbledore, of all people. Not that it would hold up as an excuse to anyone, he might add.

"Of course," he stood, "I shall return this evening, then."

"Perhaps earlier," Dumbledore suggested, lightly, "She is to bring the boy at six; it would give us more time to prepare."

Prepare for what? Severus felt like retorting. After all, he would be spending the time from now until this meeting going over the details of the Orion; perhaps practicing on a…volunteer?

Certainly, the spell had been tried and tested many times during its trial period but this would be the first time Severus had used it with intent; and he didn't want the first time he had done so to be on a small child.

But where would he possibly find a volunteer for such an endeavour?

Severus fought a wry smile; there really was only one option.

"Very well; I shall return at five thirty," Severus consented, receiving a pursing of the lips from Dumbledore in response. It seemed not quite what the older man had wanted to hear but it would have to do.

After all, Severus was going to have his hands full until that time.

XXX

"This really crosses the boundaries of friendship, Sev," Regulus remarked, as Severus took a seat opposite him.

"Nonsense," Severus waved a hand, "We'll start with something simple. A memory of drinking your first glass of firewhiskey." He was shuffling through the papers on his lap.

"I remember that, it wouldn't work. Don't patronise me," Regulus looked away, avoiding eye contact; "Isn't there another way of doing this? I…" he cleared his throat, "I trust you, of course. I just…don't feel entirely comfortable with this."

Severus sighed in exasperation.

Regulus knew he was being difficult but really how could he not have objections to this? This wasn't a simple experiment in legillimency; Severus was asking him to grant him access to the deepest corners of his mind. To search for memories, troubling, difficult memories that he had allowed himself to forget; block even. He was quite certain Severus would never allow him such an opportunity.

"I will try to make it as unobtrusive as possible," his friend offered.

Regulus sighed, rubbing a hand over his forehead, "You're looking for something I don't even remember myself; you may find something I'd rather not be found."

He would find something he'd rather not be found. He had blocked many things from the war; many things he had done, engaged in. He didn't want to remember them. And while he was certain Severus had been present in many of them and, as such, had already seen him at his worse, he didn't want either of them to be reminded of it.

"It is only you and I here, Regulus."

Regulus met his eyes, warily.

"I assure you, anything I…observe will not be used against you."

He sighed, crossing his arms over his chest; "Don't we need to have a specific point, a timeframe in mind, that we need to focus on? That's how the spells works, isn't it? I'd rather we not float around aimlessly –" he paused, looking suddenly nervous; "Is it possible that we could become lost in…" he let the thought trail off.

A smile tugged at Severus' lips; "Are you worried that the depth of your mind might drown us?"

Regulus shot him an irritated look.

Severus fought back a smirk; "It does not have to be difficult."

"The point of the spell is to search for difficult memories, you know that."

Severus sighed, glancing at the mantle clock; "Regulus, there isn't time for this. We have to get started."

"Fine."

"Fine," Severus mimicked with a roll of his eyes. He cleared his throat; "I need you to tell me of a…circumstance you may have blocked."

"Could you be more specific?"

Severus was looking irritated now; "Are you being this obtuse on purpose?"

"I don't want to reflect on the war," Regulus ground out, fully ready to up and leave. Severus was doing nothing to entice him to be open with him at the moment.

"Then choose something else," Severus almost, but not quite, snapped, barely able to reign in his impatience, "Something that happened before the war. The incident doesn't have to be recent; think of something that may have been difficult for you to deal with at Hogwarts, or as a child. No matter how trivial it may seem now."

The idea gave him pause. His mind was so often caught up in the war, his remorse over what he had done and his fear about what was still to come now that the Dark Mark had returned, that he often found it difficult to remember that there even was a time before the Dark Lord. Everything of what he was now was defined by it, by him, and he could barely remember who he was before. How he had even been as a child.

But then, that was the point of the spell, wasn't it?

"Regulus?" Severus probed gently.

Regulus sighed and nodded; "Okay. Okay…I…give me a minute, I'll think of something."

There wasn't all that much to think about. Something difficult that had happened to him as a boy; something he may have blocked, had forgotten. Certainly there had been the occasional difficult moment when he had been young; perhaps his parents had been a little too hard on him at one time, perhaps expected too much of him as a Black. But, really, his parents loved him. His mother certainly treasured him. He had been relatively popular among his classmates at school and he had never been a subject of bullying or even ridicule; he was the perfect Slytherin, the perfect Black.

But there was one incident. One big black mark in his childhood that he never dared to think about and, as such, the memories around it had faded away. Had he blocked them or were they just lost?

He sighed; it didn't matter. All that mattered was that there were memories there, on that day, that he couldn't recall. Severus just had to find one.

Regulus nodded, "Alright."

Severus raised an eyebrow; "You are ready? What are we looking at?"

Regulus swallowed, drawing in a breath; "December 27th 1975."

"I need a bit more information than that," he said, not unkindly, simply ready to proceed now that they had an objective to focus on. He moved to put away the papers he was holding, reaching for his wand after he did so.

"The day Sirius left."

Severus hesitated in his movements, pausing to glance in Regulus' direction with a frown. The two of them were silent a moment as Severus seemed to ponder on the statement, the implication of trust it entailed, before he nodded, settling back on the seat opposite.

"Very well."

Severus lifted his wand; "You know how the procedure works?"

Regulus nodded, "Yes."

"You have to stay with me throughout. Focus –"

"I know."

Severus nodded, reaching for the phial that was sitting ominously next to them on the table, before holding it out to him. Regulus took it from him, reluctantly, took a deep breath and lifted it to his lips, drinking the potion in one gulp.

And almost chocked on the vile substance.

"Ugh!"

Severus was fighting a smile as he took the phial from him and put it back on the table, "Right. Ready?"

Regulus swiped the back of his hand across his lips before he nodded, roughly, nervous and already feeling the potion getting to work; inhibitions lowering, defences falling. His mind becoming easily accessible to any who should wish to invade.

Severus lifted his wand.

"You have the potion to counter –"

"Yes."

Regulus bit his lip however, mere seconds later, he felt his nervousness falling away, as he began to feel himself relax completely. Relaxed but still completely lucid; feeling himself become more in touch with his thoughts, feelings, rather than the external influences.

"Are you listening?"

Severus sounded almost far away. He nodded.

"Stay with me…going to…incantation…few moments…"

He was only catching snippets of what Severus was saying as thoughts, feelings, memories swirled around him.

Voices surrounding him. Everything coming and going. Flashes. Most insignificant.

"You're a right dunderhead."

Severus was laughing. Younger; he was drinking.

"Life's not fair, Regulus. It's time you accepted that."

The voice, the words were recent. The images weren't. From times long ago lost. Severus swiped a hand across his face, wand in his hand. A Death Eater mask formed, concealing his features.

"Have you looked at your left forearm recently?"

Suddenly the Dark Mark was everywhere. Surrounding him. Death. Death. The Dark Lord. Voldemort.

It was gone.

Malachi was there; Malachi as a baby. He was being passed to him…

Evelyn.

No!

He felt a wave, his memories scattering, rippling as if in water, as he fought against them.

"Regulus. Relax."

Severus voice was suddenly clear and his presence in his mind was peculiar, not quite unsettling as he had expected, rather it was comforting and he felt his memories settling as he allowed himself to calm.

"Ready? Are you with me?"

"Yes."

"Do you need me to find it? I can but if you are able I shall simply follow."

"No, it's okay."

Regulus knew where to push, the incantation had stabilised the memories, working with the potion as it was supposed to. And suddenly the vastness of his mind and memories were open to him, to them both, as if they were in the ocean. There were memories close to the surface, where they were; a mixture of recent ones and lighter ones.

He was floating and he could sense Severus' presence close behind as he focused on a darker corner and pushed.

"Slytherin, eh?" Sirius' expression was a mix of disappointment and acceptance; of dashed hope but completely unsurprised.

"Yeah," Regulus pushed his chin up a little higher, pushed his sadness at disappointing his brother down as he did so. What right did Sirius have to make him feel ashamed for being sorted into a house he was supposed to be sorted into? The house Sirius, himself, should have been sorted into? Sirius was the disappointment, not him!

Regulus passed over the memory; that wasn't what they were looking for. He didn't expect to see things like this; had expected it to be similar to the pensieve, to view the memories from the sidelines. He was not expecting to see everything through the eyes of himself in the memories; nor did he expect to feel the same emotions he had experienced at the memories took place before him.

He felt Severus with him, seeing through his eyes; his friend wasn't saying a word. Simply following.

Memory after memory all focused on Sirius; his seven year old brother's smile as they huddled in his bedroom, waving the wand Regulus had snuck from their parents' room; Sirius' pulling him up from the ground after he had fallen; Sirius slinging him over his shoulder in a lift, only to topple and bring them both to the ground under his weight; Sirius punching him in the arm, looking irritated; Sirius giving him his ice-cream after his had fallen; rolling his eyes at something Regulus had said; Sirius laughing; Sirius smiling.

This was his brother. His brother being his brother.

He had long ago lost these memories. But they weren't want they were looking for. He pushed on, not pausing to think or reflect until he finally found the one he was looking for.

He found it; little glimpses, hazy from time and pieces missing, the details of the day long-forgotten, banished from his mind. He prodded it, the space in his mind, felt Severus there.

"Hold onto it."

He did, held it and pushed, willing the memory back to him.

"Integro," he heard Severus speak quietly.

And then, suddenly, he felt the memory, the details knitting themselves back together; his mind whirling as disremembered aspects began slowly returning.

"What are you doing?"

Sirius never did anything quietly. There was always a big show. A dramatic scene and a dramatic declaration, as had been done mere minutes before. It wasn't enough that he was walking out; that he was doing what Andie had done some years before; that he was breaking their mother's heart and was tearing their family apart.

Sirius didn't stop to look at him as he continued to throw clothing into the bag he had set on his bed; "What I just said; I'm leaving. I'm done with this place."

"You can't just leave."

"Watch me."

"Sirius."

"Get out of my room, Reg."

"It's not your room anymore, apparently."

"Whatever. Fuck off."

Regulus stomped over from his place at the door when Sirius turned back to the wardrobe and grabbed the bag, turning it upside down and shaking it so the contents fell from it to the floor.

"What are you doing?"

Sirius had him by the arm, his face only centimetres from his.

"You can't just leave! Tell them you're sorry! You didn't mean it!"

"I did mean it," Sirius let him go and Regulus stumbled back slightly but forced himself to remain steady. He could never win in a fight with his older brother. Sirius was volatile and unpredictable.

Sirius grabbed the bag off the floor and began stuffing the items back in.

Regulus was overcome with fear and dread, realising that his brother was truly going to walk out on his family. Walk out on him.

He grabbed at Sirius arm, "Please, you can't!"

The plea in his voice had gotten his brother's attention. Sirius paused and glanced at him, looking at him thoughtfully, "Reg…I have to."

"You're just been an arse is what you're doing," Regulus snapped, "You don't even care what this means; what it'd do to Mum and Dad if you leave."

Sirius released a humourless laugh and shook his head, moving to carry on his packing, "You wouldn't understand."

"I'm not a kid!"

"No, but you're Black," Sirius said it, the way he spoke the name, as if it were the worst possible thing he could be; "A Black through and through."

"So are you!"

"No, I'm not. I'm not like any of you."

"Don't kid yourself."

"I'm not getting into this; you won't listen," Sirius wasn't even looking at him as he spoke.

Regulus was at a loss at what to say, overwhelmed by feelings of desperation and fear; he wanted his brother to stay. He hadn't been particularly close to Sirius since his older brother had gone to Hogwarts, since he had fallen in with Potter and found a more suitable, more compatible companion and yet the idea of him actually walking out of his life completely was unthinkable.

He couldn't.

He couldn't honestly walk out and leave him; leave him to deal with their parents alone! The pressure, the expectation, they could barely hold it together when it was the two of them. And now his brother would walk out and leave him to deal with it all single-handedly just so he could make a point.

He couldn't. He couldn't!

Purebloods. Mudbloods.

Blood purity.

Legacy.

'Toujours Pur'.

It was too much.

He reached out, his desperation becoming overwhelming, and grabbed his arm; "Please; don't go."

Sirius stopped in his movements, turned to look at him with a frown. The two of them stood like that for a moment as his brother weighed up what he had said. Understanding seemed to flash within Sirius' eyes and Regulus found himself wondering what it was that he understood; because Regulus could barely comprehend what was happening himself. He was so stunned by what was happening, the unthinkable occurrences that were taking place, that all he could do was hold tighter to his brother and pray that he would hear him.

Another moment passed and then Sirius stepped forward, pulling him into an embrace. Regulus tensed, not used to such displays of affection from anyone, least of all from Sirius, feeling anything but comfortable and yet he felt himself gripping tighter.

And then Sirius pulled back, moving to stand so far away that Regulus released the hold on his arm.

"I really am sorry, Reg."

And then his brother was gone.

Regulus blinked.

Severus was sat across from him, regarding him carefully.

"Well," Regulus said after a moment.

"Well."

The two were silent. And then Severus handed him another phial; the counter potion. He uncapped it and drank it, more slowly this time, then lowered it with a small release of breath.

"Thank you, Regulus."

XXX

The process wasn't quite what Severus had expected. He had heard in the accounts he had read through during the trials that fatigue was one of the common side effects of the procedure however the exhaustion he had felt, both physically and emotionally, following the incident with Regulus had been so great that he had been forced to take a nap, lest he be unable to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

He did not have time to ponder what had happened, on the memory nor on the emotions Regulus had shared with him earlier that day. He had seen everything his friend had seen, felt everything he had felt, experienced it as if he had been there.

He knew Regulus wouldn't appreciate any analysis; the entire exercise was for Severus' benefit, a chance to perfect the procedure, not an opportunity for Regulus to face up to any past burden and, certainly, not for Severus' interference regarding it.

He would leave it alone. Regulus what not appreciate his intervention and, of all the issues that plagued his friend, Severus was certain that his relationship with his brother was a minor one, paling in comparison to everything else.

There were more pressing matters at hand.

Like little Neville Longbottom currently sitting in his grandmother's lap in his office.

Severus took a deep breath, walking towards them with the potion necessary to begin. He was slightly nervous; earlier he had been able to feel Regulus grief, his sadness and his distress so strongly, as if it were his own. What such emotions would Neville Longbottom's memory evoke?

"What is that?"

Augusta Longbottom eyed the phial Severus had been about to hand to the boy. He hesitated, handing it to her instead; "He must drink this; it is necessary for the procedure." He went to collect the counter potion, turning away from them.

The old woman eyed him for a moment, before she opened it and gave it to her grandson. The boy obediently drank it and Severus heard him protesting the flavour as he made his way back, taking the seat in front of them.

He cleared his throat as little eyes looked up at him warily. Severus shifted, uncomfortably; he wasn't very good with children. Had never been. He tolerated the children at Hogwarts; most of the time he ignored them completely however they were older and, when he did speak with them, it was not necessary to do so gently, or soothingly; the way the little Longbottom seemed to need to be spoken to now.

Instead, Severus offered a tentative smile and lifted his wand.

With a deep breath and nod at Mrs Longbottom, he eye contact with the boy, who was beginning to take on the same glazed expression Regulus had earlier; "Quaero."

He was thrown into the little boy's mind with the same jolt he had felt earlier and found himself swimming in another sea of memories; the setting of this one lighter, freer, almost completely devoid of any darkness.

Severus was startled for a moment at the purity of the place he found himself in; the calmness and brightness that surrounded him compared with the one he had found himself earlier.

The innocence was breath-taking.

"Hello?" a small voice spoke.

The boy sensed him; the first word he had ever said directed at him.

"I am with you, child," Severus assured him, feeling almost honoured to be so; to be allowed into a place so pure, when he was certain the presence of his mind would match the jaded darkness of his friend. He forced such thoughts away, focusing on the task at hand; "Think of your parents for me, young one."

The process took longer than it had with Regulus; the boy was unable to control and search for his memories the way the former had but that was to be expected. A variety of memories surfaced and Severus found himself taking along for a long ride of brief flashes into the final year of Alice and Frank Longbottom's lives.

He almost missed it.

That little dark spot that flashed up with one memory.

"Stop."

The memories remained suspended around them as the boy struggled to hold on.

"Your mother putting you to bed. Think more about that."

There it was. Alice Longbottom smiling down at the boy, tickling under his chin. The boy looking back at her, laughing and his eyes full of love for his mother. Her face changing, turning and then going with a quick kiss to her son's forehead.

The memory began to break; cracks. Nothing coming next.

"Hold onto it."

But the boy wouldn't; Severus could feel him become anxious. He needed to act quickly.

"Integro."

Like before, the memory began to repair itself; restoring itself as the details began stitching itself back together.

"Someone's at the door."

The voice was faint, coming from the other room, panicked. A soft gurgling sound escaped the baby's lips. Severus was in the child's mind; the child that would not turn towards the door and look at what he wanted to see. Instead, the baby was content to stare up at a mobile hanging above the crib; little hands came into his line of vision, reaching up.

Severus could clearly feel the innocent delight in the boy as he reached for the toy.

It seemed the boy's feelings would be no use. He tried to ignore them and focus, instead, on what the child was hearing.

"Alice, run."

The sudden crash in the other room frightened him, shook him; and it took a second for Severus to remember it was the baby's feelings he was experiencing not his own and he forced himself to focus on the events unfolding in the other room as the baby began to cry.

"Avada kedavra!"

"No!" Frank Longbottom's agonised cry made the terror increase and the baby's cries intensified so that it was almost impossible to hear anything.

Severus could almost sigh at the futility of it all; he could barely hear a thing over the screaming infant. He supposed he would have a better opportunity to scrutinise the memory in a pensieve when it was extracted.

There was more crashing sounds from the other room, very brief words exchanged, and then, suddenly, the house shook and an energy quickly built up, tense and tight, before realising in a startling boom! And the unmistakable sound of brickwork crumbling and crashing to the ground issued from beyond the walls of the room.

The baby was shocked into silence by the sound.

There were a few moments of silence and then the sound of the door creaking made the child's head turn.

And there, on the floor, Frank Longbottom pushed into the room, stomach and face pressed heavily against the carpet; he pushed in slowly, weakly, his arms straining against the floor before he stopped pushing half way into the room.

The face of Frank Longbottom was covered in blood, his breathing coming in harsh pants, and through the boy's eyes he could see the blood spilling from gashes across his torso, his face and his neck; gashes made from a spell Severus knew all too well.

The man's eyes met those of his son's as he slowly slipped away.

XXX

Few things could surprise Albus Dumbledore anymore.

He had seen too much in his long life; had experienced more than he ever wished to. As such, he considered himself rather skilled at anticipating the next moves of others, opponents and allies alike, as well as being able to analyse and judge facts in order to ascertain events which may have taken place.

He was never quite sure what had taken place on Halloween Night 1981; wasn't entirely certain what events had taken place within the Longbottom's residence.

Most of what he knew about the incident the entire Wizarding World was aware of.

Four people were alive in the house. Only one person survived.

Fifteen month old Neville Longbottom survived.

His parents did not.

Voldemort did not.

Everyone knew this.

However, only two people knew the information regarding the prophecy. Four, if Severus' half-knowledge and his sharing of it with Voldemort it were to be considered.

Neville Longbottom survived. Voldemort did not.

The two, the Chosen One and the Dark Lord had finally faced one another. Dumbledore was not fool enough to assume that that was the end of it; that an infant had indeed fulfilled the prophecy.

However, he was fool enough to assume. Dumbledore had assumed that the wheels of motion had begun to turn that night.

After viewing the memory Severus had managed to secure for him, it was now undoubtedly clear that this was not the case.

Dumbledore had never been sure before, couldn't really be sure until he had the chance to meet with the boy properly. After all, it could mean a number of things. It could have been physically; it could have been psychologically.

'…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal…'

Dumbledore was quite certain that, this time, his assumption was quite safe to make.

Neville Longbottom had not even faced Voldemort that night.

It was not even an assumption. It was a fact completely supported by logic.

Neville Longbottom had never been marked.