The True Face of Another
I apologize, sincerely, for the hold-up with all my other stories. I tend to suffer from rather consistent Writer's Block. I mean to begin working my way through them, however. So please be patient just a bit longer! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this new little spark of inspiration. Please send me a review to let me know what you think!
AU from the end of OOTP.
I don't own HP.
Chapter 1: Unwelcome News
"Absolutely not! That you could even suggest such a thing, I can only assume those infernal sweet drops you are so fond of have finally impacted your higher brain functioning!"
The headmaster's implacable amiability after such a pronouncement only made Severus' scowl deepen.
Dumbledore laced his fingers together and peered at Severus calmly over his half-moon spectacles, but his voice was uncharacteristically tired when he spoke. "I am afraid we have little choice, Severus. The Dursley family's unforeseen and unfortunate fate has left us in a difficult position, as you well know."
"And why, pray tell, can Potter not stay with the wolf? It was my understanding that the brat was now the proud owner of the Mutt's lodgings. They should be secure there, assuming of course, that Lupin can keep his bloodthirsty wits about him and take his potion."
"I am afraid Harry would not accept staying at Grimmauld Place so soon after Sirius' death. I would not risk pushing the boy so far as that."
Severus sneered at the mention of the Marauder. "Oh yes, poor Potter. Of course we must coddle the brat, never mind at whose expense-"
Ignoring Severus, but cutting through his statement, Albus continued in the same, calm manner, "And Remus is currently on a mission for the Order. I am afraid I cannot spare this opportunity for espionage at this time, nor in the foreseeable future."
Severus attempted to school his expression, but could not quite hide the bitter resentment fighting to show itself in his sneer. "Of course. Now that your spy's position has been compromised, he has been demoted to the rank of honorary babysitter while others must step in to do his job. Had I known how easily you would deem unworthy those who do your bidding-" he spat, but stopped at Dumbledore's placating hand.
"You do neither of us justice, Severus. And you are as aware as anyone the trust I have for you to ask this of you now."
"I will not have that boy endangering Draco. Certainly the Weasleys would fall all over themselves for the honor of hosting Potter. A little red hair-dye and who would be any the wiser?"
Dumbledore paid no mind to Severus' quip. "While well-warded, the Burrow's location is known by too many people to be sufficiently safe. Though I have no doubt Molly and Arthur would be ecstatic to keep young Harry, we must consider the risks. You and young Mr. Malfoy are already targets, Severus. Keeping Harry with you will not endanger you more than you would be in any case. And while I realize our two boys have never gotten along, certainly a summer in close quarters could do much to change that. If nothing else, they may take comfort in being together in their mutual grief. And I have full confidence in the wards around Prince Manor to keep you all safe. Not to mention the extra safeguard that no one will expect the boy to be with you."
Severus had to grudgingly concede the truth of his mentor's statement. The fact that few knew of Prince Manor's continued existence served to make his ancestral home even more secure. His voice somewhat resigned, but not ready to give in quite yet, Severus said, "There must be another option. The masses would flock to take care of their precious boy-who-lived. Surely you can locate someone else!"
"I would trust none so much as I do you, Severus. I am sorry, my boy, but I am afraid I must insist. Harry will stay with you this summer."
When Severus looked unmoved, his nose wrinkling in distaste at the whole situation, Dumbledore said softly, "You vowed to protect Lily's son, did you not, Severus?"
The Potions Master's gut clenched, anger and regret warring in his chest. "You dare to use that against me?" He hissed. "That is the reason I have continuously put myself at risk as your spy!"
"As you are clearly having difficultly separating your duty from your grudges, I feel my hands tied to do little else. Do not think I am unaware of the sacrifices you have made, my boy. You have protected Harry admirably from afar. But as that avenue is no longer available to you, you must take a different role to do what he needs of you. You will take him, Severus." The old wizard's voice was suddenly harder-commanding and full of strength-and Severus was forcibly reminded of why Albus Dumbledore was respected throughout the wizarding community, despite his usual cheerful, bumbling disposition.
Severus' voice was ice cold as he bit out "As you wish, Headmaster."
A flicker of regret, mixed with satisfaction, passed through Dumbledore's eyes. "Thank you, dear boy. Do remember that this is only a temporary solution-until we can conquer Voldemort. Then you and young Harry may return to your comfortable mutual distaste if you so wish it."
"No worries there," Severus muttered sullenly.
"Ah, but I must ask that you consider keeping an open mind about the boy, Severus, despite your past disagreements. I know how keen your powers of observation are, yet even the best of us may make the occasional oversight, you know."
"The boy is an arrogant, disrespectful cretin, with no respect for others' privacy. I don't believe I will be having any sudden revelations about him anytime soon, Albus."
Those all-seeing blue eyes watched him sadly for a moment, and Severus determinedly ignored the flits of regret and disappointment he saw in them.
"I still ask that you try."
Before Severus could respond, he pushed on, "Anyhow, Severus, how is young Draco holding up?"
Severus visibly relaxed at the new topic, his features softening. "As to be expected. He is mourning his parents' deaths, of course, and keeping mostly to himself. I have done my best to ensure he knows my door is always open to him. Though he has yet to speak much of recent occurrences, he has taken to studying in my quarters. I see that as a hopeful sign, considering the circumstances."
"Indeed, you are right. Poor child. And what seems to be his reaction to your being revealed as a spy?"
Severus hesitated. "Surprisingly, I believe he felt relieved. While his feelings are no doubt confused on the issue, I have long gotten the feeling that had he the choice, he would not choose to follow the Dark Lord. Yes, the child adored his father, but he does not possess the same inherent cruelty Lucius had. I have never felt he would truly make much of a Death Eater."
Dumbledore nodded, his eyes twinkling somewhat. "Yes. For all his aplomb, he is still an innocent. Well, I am sure you will be good for him, Severus. Keep me updated, will you?"
Severus nodded curtly and left the office in a whirl of black.
Harry woke up sweating, his breath harsh. Another nightmare. He sighed at seeing it was only 5am, knowing he wouldn't be able to fall back asleep. The half-packed trunks spread around the room reminded him that he would normally be taking the train back to Kings Cross in a few hours. Not this time, though. Harry grimaced.
Careful not to wake his roommates, he moved mechanically to the bathroom and turned on the showerhead. For a time, he just stood there and let the warm water wash over his face, taking comfort in the momentary peace. He wasn't sure when he'd next have the opportunity to indulge in such a moment of solitary calm, and savored the familiar surroundings as the warm droplets attempted in vain to relax him.
While Sirius' death had left him devastated, hearing the news of the Dursleys' sudden death in a car accident three days ago had made him strangely numb. When he had been told of his relatives' fate in the Headmaster's office, he hadn't reacted much at first. It just seemed so absurd-unlikely-that it hadn't sunk in for another day or so. Now it had, to a point, and he wasn't sure what he was feeling.
Sure, they'd never treated him well. He'd wished for years and years for some way that he wouldn't have to live with them anymore-for him to be rescued. Taken away. When Hagrid had given him his Hogwarts letter, he'd thought he'd gotten his wish, but he had nevertheless been made to return every summer thereafter. But suddenly, just as he had given up hope of leaving them before he came of age, this had happened. He would never again return to Privet Drive, because of course, with no blood relatives, there would be no blood wards.
No blood relatives.
The knowledge that his relatives' deaths had given him his long-sought after escape needled Harry mercilessly with guilt. And the thought that he truly, finally, was without any relatives in the world hit him with a harsh, cold finality. Even though they had never treated him as such, the simple knowledge that his aunt and cousin were related to his mother had given him some sense of stability-had grounded him. But now he felt like a floating weed. A true orphan, with absolutely no one.
This new realization had twisted the heart-rending pain and guilt he felt over Sirius' death. Sirius had been his last chance for a happy family. But now he had no family at all, and that thought, strangely, had calmed his raging pain over Sirius' loss.
Or perhaps he was just in shock.
But then Albus Dumbledore had thrown another wrench at him. Family-less he might be, but Voldemort was still around. And so, of course, rather than letting him take advantage of the empty independence his relatives' deaths had given him and enjoy a summer without impossible expectations hanging over him, he had been informed that he would spend subsequent summers with the two people who (other than Voldemort and his lackeys, themselves) hated him as much-if not more-than the Dursleys.
Murphy's law is really something. And so damn applicable when it comes to Harry bloody Potter's life.
He didn't have the heart to tell Ron and Hermione-not that he was supposed to, anyway, as both Snape and Dumbledore had made him promise he would keep his summer whereabouts to himself…not that that had stopped him before.
But telling them would just make it more real. And so he was actually relieved to be able to use the excuse that Dumbledore had sworn him to secrecy-that it was for his own safety no one knew where he'd be, or with whom.
Harry stared at himself in the mirror, noting that he looked like absolute hell, his eyes deadened and red-rimmed, his skin paler than usual, his body even more abnormally thin. He didn't expect that to change anytime soon. Not where he was going.
Returning to his room, Harry decided to pack his trunk for the summer. He would have been done in mere minutes, but then he noticed the photo album Hagrid had given him his first year. He touched it reverently, but then couldn't bare to look at it any longer. To let it haunt him with the ghosts of his now-dead family. Dead. Every last one of them was dead now.
Harry wrapped the album, along with the Marauders' map and shards of Sirius' broken mirror, in his invisibility cloak, and stored them at the very bottom of his trunk.
They were all he had left of his family, now. He couldn't help but wonder if he wouldn't lose them this summer, too.
"Harry, are you sure you'll be alright?"
"Sure. Yeah. 'Course, Mione." Harry offered her a weak smile.
"Well, whoever you're going with can't be worse than your aunt and uncle, right mate?"
"Sure," Harry replied again, forcing a grin on his face that only half-way convinced his red-headed friend.
"You can write to us, though, right?"
Harry hesitated, completely unsure of whether Snape would let him write to his friends.
"Er, I dunno. Hopefully, but-"
Hermione nodded, understanding he shouldn't say much more in public without risk of compromising the fact that he was going into hiding.
"Well, we'll write to you, mate. If you don't get our letters right away, I'm sure you will at some point, anyhow."
"Thanks guys. I'm sure I'll be fine. Have a good summer." Harry mustered up another smile and accepted Hermione's tight hug and returned Ron's grin before the two hopped on the last carriage to Hogsmeade station.
Then they were gone and Harry felt the loneliness start to creep in again. He stood there, lost in thought, until a familiar voice, dripping with disdain, snapped at him.
Taking a deep breath, Harry turned around and just managed to keep his glare to a minimum as he addressed the potions master.
"Sir?" His polite tone was clearly forced, something the Potions Master clearly did not miss if his heightened glare were anything to go by.
"Though I am sure you think it beneath you to pay others even a modicum of consideration, let me inform you that I have neither the time nor the patience to wait as you pine away for your little fan club. Be assured, Potter, that this will be a very different summer than you are used to."
"I'm not so sure about that," Harry muttered, his jaw clenching.
Snape's expression was truly dangerous. "Oh, fear not, Potter. You will learn respect. No matter what it takes." He let that sentence hang menacingly before snapping out, "Be ready with your belongings in front of my office in precisely one hour."
With that, the man spun on his heel and strode away, his robes flapping theatrically behind him.
Suddenly, the hollow place in Harry's chest filled with familiar anger and hatred for Snape. It made him feel more alive, somehow. Perhaps if he could go back to blaming him for Sirius' death…but the subsequent death of the Dursleys had, perhaps illogically, taken the weight of the blame from Snape and heaved it back on Harry's own chest. After all, how could it not be Harry's fault that everyone he considered family was now six feet under?
And Snape had power over him, now. He had as Harry's professor, yes, but it was different from the complete control Uncle Vernon had held over him during the summertime. Living with Snape and Malfoy, there would be no help coming. And Harry had enough cunning and intelligence to realize that holding onto his anger was not going to help him survive. He would have to deal with Snape as he dealt with Uncle Vernon. Perhaps if he was lucky he could just fade into the shadows until next term...
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