Snape knocked on the headmaster's giant office door softly, yet firmly. When he received no answer after knocking about six or seven times, he reluctantly called out the old man's ridiculous password "Lemon Drops" and the door opened wide for him, magically, of course.
Severus was taken aback at the sight of Albus calmly sitting at his desk, musing quietly over some kind of paperwork, as though he were a regular schoolteacher looking at a piece of homework, trying to determine which grade should be given out. Without looking up, Dumbledore spoke. "Good evening, Severus. I was waiting for you to come see me."
The older wizard then turned his bespectacled eyes towards Severus and smiled warmly. "Care for some tea, Severus?"
Severus now felt hot with anger. "If you were expecting me, then why did you not answer when I knocked…seven times? Surely you must have heard it. You aren't deaf…yet." He meant that last bit to be a cutting remark, but Albus never responded back harshly, a quality in Albus that Severus was both grateful for, yet disdained.
"Indeed, my dear Severus, I did hear your knock." Albus smiled and gestured towards the man's usual chair to which Severus obediently walked over to and sat upon, almost resembling a student. "However, an old man needs to get his chuckles where he can, you see, and Severus Snape saying my silly password just happens to do the trick."
Severus's anger faded slightly at the confession and spoke no more of it. "Why—why were you expecting me, Albus? We had no appointment to meet."
Albus merely smiled kindly yet again and summoned cups of tea for them both. Severus always thought the old man's endless smiling was highly annoying, even as a child attending Hogwarts. What in Merlin's name was he so happy about all the time anyway? A crisis could be going down and there Dumbledore was…just smiling...like some kind of Buddhist monk after a few glasses of drink. He had no doubt in his mind of Dumbledore's brilliance and mastery of the magical arts. No, that he was sure of ever since he had seen with his own eyes...things he could only imagine accomplishing, but could never. Sure, Severus was an amazing wizard unto himself and learned much from both Dumbledore and, well, Voldemort as well, even if it was despicable to admit it. However, as to why the genius of a wizard was consistently grinning over nothing….nobody, especially Snape, understood the reason.
"I was expecting a visit from you because of Harry, of course." Albus said gently after he took a sip of his tea. "So, what did you decide upon?"
Severus sighed. He hated when the man spoke so innocently and nonchalantly over something that had been causing him so much internal strife and distress. Nevertheless, he answered obediently. "I talked to him alone this afternoon while the others were out at Hogsmeade Village. We made a few new rules that should keep knowledge of our relationship a secret from the Dark Lord and from all others at school. I also gave him my old occlumency book to help him study without me actually having to be physically with him. We have plans to meet tonight, but I instructed him not to come to my quarters without using his invisibility cloak. During occlumency lessons with me, I will blindfold him to make sure that Voldemort cannot see through his eyes at his surroundings in case he decides to pop into Harry's mind. As you know, a person's mind can be very weak during those lessons." Severus was quiet for a moment, waiting for a reply. Moment upon moment passed and…nothing. "Well, does this information satisfy you or would you like me to reenact it in theater form? Or perhaps add a song and dance to go with it?" He spat out more harshly than he intended.
Albus chuckled in glee. "Twice in one day Severus. Oh, thank you, my dear boy. I really needed that." He then calmed down from his bit of laughter. "Even though that was a very tempting offer from you Severus and how I would indeed pay my last galleon to see your lovely song and dance, I will have to decline it this time. But, please, I beg of you to offer it again under less severe circumstances." He winked at Severus, which again always caused anger to boil up inside of him.
"Very well then." Severus spat. "Are you satisfied with my new approach with the boy or not?"
Albus sighed. "Mostly. But, not quite. One problem still remains."
Severus felt as though if he clutched his teacup any harder, it might burst, so he shakily set it down on the table. Severus needed to explain further. "If you must know, we discovered that Harry can always sense when the Dark Lord and him are sharing a connection. So, if it occurs, we will both know of it. Harry told me it only really happens while he is asleep. The book I gave him has instructions on how to avoid invasion of the mind during sleep. Also, I instructed him to not think of me or anyone else that could be…hurt…by this connection…before he falls asleep." Severus answered honestly. He saw Albus clutching what he knew to be his and Harry's guardianship papers, which the old man still had not signed.
"Well, are you going to sign them or not?" Severus urged, now standing up. "Because, to be honest, I am going to take care of Harry regardless of whether they get signed or not. I don't give a damn about some stupid rubbish like a piece of parchment. It means nothing to me." He was lying. He did want the paper signed so that he and Harry could make it official. One thing he was not lying about was taking care of Harry regardless if they get signed or not. "He needs me, Albus…he has no one else."
Albus nodded. "I have no objection to that, Severus. Was I not the one who instructed you to always look after the boy? Even if it meant risking your life? Was that not I who asked that favor of you fifteen years ago, to which you almost denied? You only agreed because I mentioned dear sweet Lily. Back then, you did not give a care in the world about Harry. Is that not true, Severus? You only agreed because of your love of Lily?" He decided this was a good time to take a pause.
Then he continued on. "And now here we are, having the very conversation you swore you would never have. You never know how things will turn out, Severus. You never know. You thought you would hate him instantly upon meeting him and then proceeded to do so simply because he resembled his father and wore glasses and played Quidditch. Then one day you discover he had been getting mistreated, so you find out, all on your own, that his true nature is much more like his mother's. Now, after months of tending to him, you miss him when he is not with you…you spend time with him when you can. You want to be his guardian, but not for Lily. For Harry. Am I right, Severus?"
A huge lump was now stuck in the back of Severus's throat. He remembered that day Albus mentioned vividly. It was the day Lily was murdered and Albus had asked him to look out for Harry and watch out for him once he arrived at Hogwarts. Severus tried to deny the job, but Dumbledore insisted that if he truly loved Lily, then he would do so. He just never thought he would need to save the boy from his own family as well…and certainly he could not foresee wanting to be his guardian.
"Yes, Albus. I do not deny any of what you are saying. But, this is different—this is—" Snape pleaded with his superior through tear-stained eyes. He choked now. "So different—"
"It is different because you now love him as a son." Albus stated bluntly. "I know your love for him is genuine, Severus. Probably more genuine than your love for Lily." He paused as he watched Severus try to collect himself. "However, it is vital that Voldemort trust you implicitly. Otherwise everything we have worked for, everything we have done for Harry and our world will have been useless." He paused. "However…" He hesitated again before sighing. "I, too, want nothing more than for you and Harry to be happy. So we do indeed have a quandary on our hands."
Severus clasped his hands over his face before removing them a few moments later in agony. "Just sign the bloody parchment for Merlin's sake! You know I'm going to keep looking after him anyway!" Severus was shaking…his whole body shaking, resembling Harry when he first brought him back from his relatives. "What damn difference does it make?"
Albus took a deep, sorrowful look at Severus. "You seem slightly unhinged, my boy, as though you are not thinking clearly."
Severus threw his hands up and then down again, exasperated. "No, Albus… I'm not thinking clearly…because I am only human. I may have powers, I may be a wizard, but I am still just a human. I am not some kind of blasted superhero you think I am—"
Albus continued in a softer manner. "Quite to the contrary, Severus…you and Harry are both indeed superheroes, as you put it, even if you do not know it yet. Your mind is just confused. You have not felt true love this strong since Lily—"
Severus was now pulling on his hair unknowingly. At least this time he was not guzzling down copious amounts of firewhiskey. "STOP SAYING HER NAME! JUST STOP!"
Albus continued again in a firmer tone. "Did you not give any thought to something such as…oh, I don't know…what if Voldemort has plans to overtake the ministry…and by chance, he or one of his death eaters discovers this—" He held up the guardianship papers to show Severus what he was alluding to…"somewhere, stuffed inside an old filing cabinet at the ministry. Then what?" Albus kept holding up the papers that had every signature needed on it except the Headmaster's.
He continued more slowly, to let it sink into Severus's mind. "Then what, Severus? Then—" Albus delicately set the papers down on his desk. "Voldemort will demand an answer from you. He will ask you why you lied to him all these years. Then, finally, he will kill you, Severus, and I have no idea what will happen to Harry. Please think clearly and logically, I beg of you. I am not asking you to give up your love for Harry. I would never do that. I am merely asking for you to think clearly."
Severus swallowed hard and thought for a moment, trying to focus on what could possibly happen in the future. "Okay…okay…you are right about that." He swallowed hard. "You know I don't want that—"
Albus leaned over and took Severus's hand in his just as he was always taking Harry's. "If you truly think that these papers are more important than your safety or…our cause…then I will sign them."
Albus's words were heavy. Severus suddenly had the odd sensation that the room was now moving and he was shaking again. He finally answered. "I'll come back later. This was a mistake. The whole thing—" He waved his hand to show his regret. He stopped at the door and leaned against it for support. "This whole thing was just a big mistake—"
"It was not." Albus stood up abruptly and said in finality. "It is not a mistake that you are taking good care of a troubled child and that you love each other and that you want to become a family. He needs a family. You both do. He needs someone that will love him and you need someone too. I do not deny that fact. I just wish things were simpler, but they're not. They are not simple, Severus. Nothing about this is simple."
Severus turned around, his teary eyes shining in the dim light of Dumbledore's room. "Then I am lost. You say something one minute, and then you say another the next! I never know what you truly want from me—" He trailed off sadly and looked away, not able to meet those wise eyes. "What do you want me to do?"
"I am asking you that question, Severus. What do you want to do?" Albus asked seriously.
Severus did not answer. He couldn't. He simply shut the door to the man's office and went back down to the dungeons to think…hopefully clearly.
Harry sat up in bed reading his new (old?) occlumency book that he thought smelled kind of funny. He smiled, thinking of Hermione whenever they studied together in the library. She would deliberately find old, tattered books simply to smell them. Harry used to tease her about it all the time, but as he was breathing in the air of this old book Snape had passed down to him, he realized he kind of liked that smell too. He lifted the book to his nose and took in a whiff. It reminded him of Severus and the old library he hung out in while staying with him at Prince Manor. It made him happy to think about that memory.
Occulmency-wise, so far, things were starting to make a lot more sense. As an added bonus, it also hurt a lot less when you were just reading and comprehending the techniques rather than actually doing them. He had a funny feeling in his gut though that he could not shake off and it kept him from fully concentrating on the book. Why has Snape been so distraught since leaving the hospital wing? He could not stop thinking about the constant worry and sadness in Snape's eyes, the "new rules", just everything. Even though Snape was being kinder to Harry than ever, something was amiss and he wanted to get to the bottom of it. He knew deep inside that Severus had conflicting positions that he was forced to be in, but he never thought it would come to this.
Suddenly, he felt his scar tingle slightly. He immediately used the one technique Snape had taught him that he was told would usually work. Harry closed his eyes and began to only think of believable, benign events about Hogwarts and his friends and eventually the tingling had ceased. However, no matter how small the invasion was, he would need to tell Snape about it, even if it was just for a few brief moments. I wasn't even asleep…so strange… Harry mused to himself in the silence of his dormitory. Ron and Hermione were busy studying in the common room. They had already filled him in on everything they did and bought at Hogsmeade that day. In a way, he ached for his friends, to hang out with them more often, but he could sense in Snape's voice that this occlumency stuff was urgent.
After about an hour of studying, Harry suddenly felt his scar ache again, but this time it felt entirely different. After a few moments, it burned so terribly that he let out a guttural scream and fell off of his bed onto the ground. He knew what was transpiring instantly. This had happened before, but only in his nightmares. Am I dreaming? No, I couldn't be…
Voldemort was inside of his mind now much more forcefully this time, trying to look into every inch of his memory. He tried with all of his power to suppress the thoughts and memories he had about himself and Snape as much as he could, but eventually, because of the pain he was in, that was the very person who he yearned to see…Snape. So, that ended up being who he thought of. Suddenly, Harry was overcome with the sensation that Voldemort knew. He knew.
Within those brief few moments, somehow he managed to find out everything that Harry did not want him to know. Harry screamed again, but this time not out of pain, but out of emotional agony.
Ron and Hermione burst into Harry's room when they heard him scream. They tried to grab him, to talk to him, but all Harry did was keep screaming and ran out of the room, down the stairs, down to the dungeons. He had to warn Snape before it was too late.
Snape was pacing around his room rapidly, much like Dumbledore always had done…thinking, pondering, and wondering. What am I going to do? He kept asking himself over and over and over again, never arriving at a conclusive answer that would solve all matters. Suddenly, the dark mark on his left forearm began to unexpectedly burn. Severus was stunned by this and slowly peeled up his sleeve and watched his eternal tattoo turn from light gray to dark gray and finally to a burning black like the midnight sky.
This was not the day he was usually summoned and he knew a meeting was not scheduled for that night. It always burned on the same day and same time on the dot. That was their agreement. That was the reason Severus hesitated before placing the tip of his wand over the scar to disapparate to the Dark Lord's location; even though he knew very well that being late usually resulted in some sort of severe punishment, apparently worse than the Cruciatus. Despite knowing that information, this time, he just stared down at the burning mark. Gray earlier, now black, burning like a scorching sun. Just as he was about to place his tip of his wand over the scar to disapparate, Harry burst into Snape's quarters in a manic state.
"STOP!" Harry screamed. "HE KNOWS! VOLDEMORT KNOWS! STOP! YOU HAVE TO STOP RIGHT NOW!"
Snape looked perplexed and then looked down at his wand, which by now was nearly touching the mark, then back up at Harry's manic face. Within a split second, Severus was unexpectedly hit with a spell that knocked his long, black wand right out of his hand.
"EXPELLIARMUS!" Harry shouted his signature spell at his teacher and instantly Snape's wand was lifted out of his hands and flew across the room and out of sight. Apparently, Harry had decided that Snape was not going anywhere.
Snape's mind could not process the events that had just occurred or why they had and just ran over to Harry and shook him. Not terribly hard, but enough to cause Harry to whimper slightly. "What? What does he know, Harry? What does he know? Answer me!"
Harry was trembling. "Everything…he knows everything. You CANNOT go there. He'll kill you! He'll kill you! I won't let him kill you!"
Severus was stunned. How could it have come to this?
"Calm down." Severus commanded sternly, forcefully, more so to himself than to Harry. Truthfully, it was for both of them. "You know that if I do not go to his side and you are wrong about this…that will be very bad, right? Because I am supposed to be the spy. I am spying on him for Dumbledore, for the Order, for YOU—"
"DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND? HE KNOWS YOU'RE A SPY!" Harry screamed relentlessly, tears running down his face like a faucet. "HE KNOWS EVERYTHING NOW AND IT'S ALL MY FAULT!"
Severus took Harry by the shoulders and forcefully placed his body onto the couch in front of him, despite the mark on his arm growing ever more painful by the second.
Snape demanded calmly. "Tell me everything. Now."
Harry's voice was unsteady. "Well, at first, I just felt a little tingling, you know. I practiced the technique you taught me…the one where you think of benign stuff…and the feeling went away. The tingling was gone and I knew Voldemort was no longer there. Then, out of nowhere, he just overcame me and suddenly I was lying there on the ground and he just saw everything…it was too strong…nothing I could do—there was nothing I could do—it was like he just took over my mind and I was powerless against him. I did read the book, Professor; I promise…I was reading it when it happened! I knew how serious it was, honest." Tears were falling so fast, but no one noticed. "I swear to you…I knew how serious…and I was trying my best. He was just too strong—"
Severus felt as though he could not move or breathe or do much of anything. It was all over now. Now he had an entirely new "quandary" on his hands. He reached over and felt the couch behind him and sat down beside Harry, his mark burning more fiercely as the moments passed. "He's calling me very strongly now, Harry, and I want to tell you that…it hurts very much." Snape choked out in a whisper. "It hurts so much when it burns like this, when we don't go to him…" He said as he clutched his wrist in sheer agony. He began squeezing his eyes shut tightly, but it did nothing to help ease the pain.
Severus opened his eyes for a second and looked painfully at Harry. "Pain relieving potion, Harry. Please. My stores. Now."
Harry nodded and ran as fast as he could into the professor's private stores of potions. He found one labeled simply "Pain" and recognized its color and viscosity from the months ago when he was stealing it before summer began. He ran back to the professor's side, whose condition now looked even worse than before. The man was hunched over now, in an almost fetal position, still clutching his arm in agony.
Harry went over to him and leaned Severus's neck back and forcefully poured the entire bottle of pain-relieving potion down his throat. After a few moments, the pain lessened, but it was still there. He could still feel its fury.
Snape's voice was raspy. "More."
Harry was bewildered. He had just given him an entire bottle. "Sir, are you sure it's—"
"I SAID MORE!" Severus screamed, not out of anger, but purely out of pain.
Harry's heart felt like it had been stabbed, but he ran to get more of it anyway. This time, Snape took the bottle from the boy himself with his good arm and poured only half of its contents down his own throat. After about twenty minutes, he finally sighed in relief. The pain was barely there now. It lessened to the point of being tolerable.
He finally looked up into Harry's tear-stained face and reached up with his good hand to feel the boy's cheek. By this time, he was panting. "You saved me, child. I was about to go meet him when you came here. I can't thank you enough, my child. Sweet…kind…Harry…" He trailed off sleepily.
Snape's eyes were droopy now and he looked awfully tired. Harry just appeared to be dumbfounded. Shouldn't Snape be angry that he let Voldemort find out about his spying?
"Um—sooo—you're not angry with me? Or is this just a side effect of all that pain relieving potion you just downed?" Harry stuttered, asking the man quietly. The man did not answer for a moment. "I mean, you took quite a bit of it and it could be—"
Snape looked very drowsy now. "No, dear child. No…"
Harry shook his head in confusion of the answer he just received. "No what? No, you didn't take too much potion or…no, you're not angry?"
Snape kept touching Harry's face and hair. "No, I'm not angry. You saved me, Harry. You saved me."
Harry scoffed. "I'm the one who got you into trouble in the in first place! I'm the one who let him in…I'm the one who didn't occlude properly. I'm the one who—"
"Saved my life." Severus interrupted again in a tone of finality. "You're the one who saved my life…and I don't just mean tonight. Not just tonight, Harry. Every day, I think—"
Harry shook his head, as though not hearing one word the older man had just said to him. "It will just keep burning, you know. You don't think he's going to just stop suddenly, do you? Do you think he is just going to take pity on you and just stop calling you? No, he won't stop. Not to me and not to you."
Snape shook his head, but spoke calmly, somewhat like Albus. "Oh, it won't stop. But have no fear, child. I will not go to him." Then suddenly it hit him. He was useless now to the Order and to Albus. If he had enough strength left in him, he might have even laughed about it. The so-called "quandary" as Albus had put it was finally put to rest and he did not even have to make a decision! If he could not be a spy any longer…well, then…he finally mused, he supposed he had an even more important job to do right here. If Harry had a mission later on to defeat Voldemort, then Severus would be the one to protect him and guide him through it. Just as he had always promised he would, fifteen years ago.
Severus opened his eyes and looked up at Harry again and smiled drowsily, as though drunk. "I will not go to him anymore. I promise." Snape closed his eyes and paused. When he opened them again, Harry was still staring, looking scared. "Come…help me lay down. Then you may go or stay. Whatever you'd like. But, just don't worry…" The man yawned and was pretty much asleep already.
What else was in that pain relieving potion? Harry asked himself as he eased the snoozing man onto his side. Unsurely and skeptically, Harry laid the tired and pained man down on the couch and summoned the plaid blanket that Snape usually summoned for Harry. Harry laid down beside the sleeping man and rested his hand on the now-faded dark mark. It was black before. Now it looked to be a faded gray color. It appeared to be over for that night, at least. At least for that night.