Snape swept out of the room without comment. Halfway down the stairs, he realized that Neville waited patiently at the door. A nervous jolt ran down his spine. What the hell was he supposed to say to the boy?
The harried Potions Master didn't look back to see whether Neville Longbottom followed his curt command. Instead, he strode briskly to the set of hidden stairs that led directly to the dungeons. Frankly, he would be relieved if the teen simply ignored him. They could both blame it on the boy's shock and be done with the entire sordid affair.
Why the hell hadn't he told Longbottom to report to his Head of House? Minerva was much better suited for such emotional nonsense. As soon as that thought formed, he guiltily pushed it aside. He couldn't avoid speaking to the boy forever. It was high time to let go of his lingering resentment. It wasn't Longbottom's fault that the Dark Lord had chosen to mark Rose as his equal rather than him.
Upon reaching the Potions classroom, he realized that Miss Granger had not waited for his return like he had hoped. With an air of resignation, he led the nervous Gryffindor into his small office and gestured for him to take a seat.
"I'd offer you tea, but I daresay you don't need any more on your robes."
When the teen colored, he bit back a curse. He hadn't meant it as an insult. Rubbing his temples, he pretended to gaze at a neat pile of parchment in the corner of his otherwise immaculate desk as he pondered what comfort he could offer.
"Mr. Longbottom, I admit to being at a loss. I am not certain what I can say to you. I can't offer you the false hope that your parents will recover from the damage inflicted by the Cruciatus Curse. I can, however, apologize that you were made to watch another being suffer in the same way in front of your friends and classmates. I assure you that I will be speaking to the Headmaster about Professor Moody's inappropriate behavior."
The word was whispered rather than spoken, but there was no mistaking it. Snape, however, didn't understand the request.
"Don't? And why shouldn't I? What Professor Moody did was reprehensible. He should have thought before demonstrating such curses to a group of fourth years."
For the first time, Neville Longbottom looked him in the eye. Severus could scarcely comprehend the conviction smoldering behind his gaze.
"Don't, please, Professor Snape. I know I overreacted, but Professor Moody's right. We need to know . . . need to be able to fight against what's coming, and You-Know-Who's supporters aren't going to be throwing Stinging Hexes."
Finally, he understood why the bumbling, self-conscious boy had been Sorted into Gryffindor. However, the teen's reasoning did not convince him of the wisdom of Moody's methods.
"While your attitude is commendable, Mr. Longbottom, let me reiterate the inappropriateness of your Defense professor's practical demonstration of the three Unforgivables. There is no defense against the Killing Curse, Rose Potter notwithstanding. Nor is there a specific counter-spell to the Cruciatus Curse. The pain generally renders its victims incapable of mounting any sort of resistance. Such a demonstration, therefore, was nothing more than a lesson in cruelty."
"But Gran said they could have—"
"Whatever your grandmother said about countering the Cruciatus was merely wishful thinking. I know; I have been subjected to it more than once. I could barely raise my wand, much less remember how to cast a spell. Your parents were ambushed by four Death Eaters, Mr. Longbottom. What happened was in no way their fault."
"You . . . you've been Cruciated, Professor?"
He wanted to sneer that it was none of the Gryffindor's business. Since he'd brought the subject up, however, he could hardly react in such a manner.
"Yes. However, I did not mention it to garner sympathy. I merely wished to assure you that your parents did everything they could."
The boy answered a trifle too quickly for Severus to believe that he'd changed his mind. For a moment, he considered dropping the subject. Longbottom appeared to have recovered from his shock. He could dismiss the boy and be done with it. However, he felt owed him more than that. Besides, he'd meant to offer the lackluster student a second chance at Potions the year prior. Really, the conversation was long overdue.
"That fact aside, I am hesitant to ignore Professor Moody's reckless behavior."
He glared at Neville for intruding even as he marveled at his impertinence. As far as he knew, it was the first time the Aurors' child had spoken back to a teacher. Even though one withering glance was enough to send his mouth snapping shut, the boy might prove to be Gryffindor material after all.
"Mr. Longbottom, you will not interrupt! You are not the only student in Defense, nor are you the only one to have been affected by that needless display."
The teen blanched, his eyes widening in sudden understanding. "Rose. You-Know-Who cast the Killing Curse on her parents, didn't he, sir?"
The young wizard sitting before him with his arms crossed protectively over his chest had no idea that Rose Potter had herself been Cruciated. At least the Weasleys had kept quiet about the nature of Pettigrew's attack. Albus had taken pains to cover up the fact that Rose had been hit with that particular curse. Everyone involved had been asked to keep the information secret. Amazingly, even Rita Skeeter hadn't managed to uncover it.
"Just so. You can therefore understand my dilemma. As Miss Potter's guardian, I must consider her wellbeing above all else."
"Rose wouldn't want you to get our Defense teacher sacked in the first week of class, Professor Snape. I'm sure she'd want to learn as much Defense Against the Dark Arts as possible."
"Indeed, Mr. Longbottom. I'm sure she wouldn't. Perhaps I should overlook Professor Moody's lack of professionalism for now. However, I do so with one condition: that you report to me immediately if he ever utilizes an Unforgiveable in class again. Is that understood?"
In his excitement, Neville shot to his feet. "Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!"
Snape had to stifle a smile at the boy's sudden enthusiasm. "Sit down, Mr. Longbottom. I have not dismissed you."
Deflating, he slumped in the straight wooden chair. "Yes, Professor?"
"Professor Sprout is rightly impressed by your aptitude for Herbology. Surely you must realize the close relationship between Herbolgy and Potions? Why, then, is your Potions work so abysmal?"
He caught a glimpse of the child's reddened cheeks before he ducked his head. Severus wondered just how far his newfound bravery would go.
"I get nervous in a crowd, sir."
"Extraordinary. I had no idea Herbology was a class of one. Professor Sprout must have an extremely busy schedule."
"I . . . I'm not sure why I have so many problems in Potions, Professor Snape."
Severus couldn't decide if the Gryffindor had finally lost his nerve or was too polite to directly insult a teacher or both. It mattered little at the moment. He'd found the opening he'd been searching for.
"Perhaps your first impression is indeed correct, Mr. Longbottom. Perhaps you would benefit from a different environment. It is a worthwhile theory at any rate. I propose we test it."
With a flash of impatience, he explained. "I'm offering you private lessons, Mr. Longbottom. Several of my N.E.W.T. level students will be brewing in the Potions lab for the Hospital Wing on Wednesday evenings. If you are interested, I would be willing to tutor you in remedial Potions at that time."
While he hadn't expected an enthusiastic yes, he had to bite the inside of his cheek when Neville took an inordinate amount of time to reply. Finally, the teen nodded in agreement, only belatedly remembering to give a verbal answer.
"Yeah, I mean, yes. Sir. I mean . . . I'll do it, Professor Snape, sir. Thank you, sir."
Merlin, but the boy could become as tongue-tied as Rose. Hoping he hadn't just committed his time to a lost cause, he quickly dismissed the Gryffindor before he could ask any awkward questions. Neville fled his cramped office without a glance backwards.
"Professor! You shouldn't have walked all this way! You'll have a relapse."
Stupid, bloody Charm. He swore he saw the mutt smirking as Rose berated him for walking to the far side of the lake. At least Draco had the good sense to keep quiet, although judging by the worry on his face, he shared Rose's concerns.
"I find the sunshine therapeutic."
"You heard about the Unforgivables, you mean."
"Well, you needn't have bothered. I'm fine."
Her assertion would have carried more weight if she hadn't been clutching a rock in her hand so tightly that it left an impression in her palm. When she became aware of her discomfort, she hurled it into the lake. Draco reached out to put his hand on her arm, but she took a deliberate step away from him, leaving him grasping empty air.
Severus nodded gravely. "Yes, I can see that."
His gentle sarcasm only incensed her. Pacing in front of the two of them, she agitatedly pulled on her charm bracelet.
"I'm fine! And, I'm tired of everyone worrying that I'm not! You shouldn't even be out here! So, he cast some curses, so what? Voldemort's going to try to kill me again this year, so I don't see why I'm getting upset about some stupid spiders. I mean, it's not like they're people."
The younger Slytherin grimaced at the Dark Lord's name. Severus shot him a look of annoyance before softening his features to reassure Rose.
"No one thinks you're weak, Rose. It's perfectly normal to be upset by what you saw. Your mother was killed in front of you with Avada Kedavra. Pettigrew Cruciated you. The reminder was quite unnecessary."
Letting out a short huff of air, she checked her bracelet for damage before dropping her arms to her side. "I just . . . most everyone else acted like it was some game, Professor. They thought it was brilliant."
Draco snorted. "I guess he only told the Slytherins to get used to the Cruciatus, then. Moody said He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named would be using it on most of us soon enough. Believe me when I say no one in the class thought it brilliant."
The mutt growled while Rose's eyes flared with rage. Snape could hardly believe Draco's story, although he didn't doubt the boy's truthfulness. That decided him; he intended on having a long talk with the ex-Auror.
"What did he say about the other two curses?"
Draco stared at some point in the middle of the lake, suddenly reluctant to answer. Rose closed the distance she had put between them to take his hand. Although he laced his fingers through hers, he refused to meet anyone's eyes when he finally answered.
"He said not to practice the Killing Curse on the Gryffindors. I thought he was making some sort of sick joke until I noticed that he was staring straight at Pansy. It was like he was warning her not to go after Rose."
"And the Imperius?"
The lanky blond's shoulders stiffened. "He said the Imperius Curse can make you betray your best friend to the Dark Lord." Only then did he turn around, but not before he had dropped Rose's hand. "He was staring at me when he said it, Professor."
Rose immediately threw her arms around him. "You wouldn't. You'd fight it off. I know you, Draco; you wouldn't betray me."
"How do you know I wasn't speaking about Goyle, Potter?"
He smirked at his cleverness until she pulled him down for a kiss, which after a second he readily returned. Snape fought the unexpected urge to break them apart. Sirius had no such reservation, barking wildly until the two separated. Unrepentant, a flushed Rose Potter grinned devilishly at her friend, who appeared to be somewhat stunned.
"Because you wouldn't let Goyle do that." She paused for a beat and then added cheekily, "At least, I hope you wouldn't."
As he began to sputter, she took off running with a playful shriek, her robes trailing behind her. Malfoy quickly gave chase, leaving Severus alone with Black in his Animagus form. The wolfhound peered up at him expectantly.
"Don't look at me, mutt. This is definitely more your area of expertise."
Black yipped with laughter all the way back to the castle.
"Really, Severus, you haven't taken enough food to feed a bird. Here, try some fish."
Filius Flitwick shot him a quick look of sympathy as Madame Pomfrey put a large piece of fried cod on his plate. He sneered at the kindhearted school matron out of habit, although it must not have been one of his better efforts. Poppy unrepentantly smiled at the face he made.
Taking a bite of the crispy fish, he ate without tasting. He was too busy considering how to best confront the Defense instructor sitting across from him. When Minerva plopped a heaping spoonful of boiled cabbage next to his small serving of potatoes, he decided to speak to the ex-Auror in front of an audience. If nothing else, it would serve as a distraction for the two witches seated beside him. He grew weary of their constant mothering.
Without preamble, he sharply addressed his fellow teacher. "Alastor, I'd appreciate it if you would refrain from terrifying my Slytherins. They seem to be under the impression that the Dark Lord will soon rise up and torture them all. Such a theory seems a tad extreme, even for you."
"Alastor Moody! Shame on you for scaring innocent children like that!"
Moody's magical eye swiveled to glare at Poppy Pomfrey, although his attention never wavered from Severus.
"I doubt anyone could call Slytherins innocent. Most of their parents were followers of the Dark Lord, even if they did claim coercion as soon as he disappeared. They need to know what's in store for them when he returns."
McGonagall sniffed in disapproval. "When he returns, Alastor? Surely you mean to say if he returns?"
The scars on his face stretched grotesquely as he grinned. "Don't like to think about that, do you? Ask Snape here about his Dark Mark and then tell me it's not a certainty."
The Potions Master choked on a bite of cabbage. Why in Merlin's name had Albus mentioned his Dark Mark to Moody? The insufferable wizard seemed keen to remind everyone of his days as a Death Eater.
"I really don't think—"
"Constant vigilance, I tell you! Constant vigilance!"
The man shouted his advice like it was a patented slogan, interrupting Severus without a thought. The frustrated Potions Master slammed his fist down on the table. For a moment, he held his dinner companions' rapt attention.
"Showing fourth years the Unforgivable Curses does nothing to prepare them," he snarled. "I can only surmise that you were deliberately trying to intimidate them."
Filius, Poppy and Minerva all began talking at once, each of them extremely agitated to learn that students had been shown the Unforgivables. Pomona nervously straightened her tattered hat until the heated mutterings died down.
"Severus is right. What you did was cruel, Alastor. At least a dozen of my students have come to me to upset about the death of the spiders you used in class. I wish I had considered how some of the students might have felt watching such a demonstration. Can you imagine how poor Mr. Longbottom must have reacted?"
"Surely, you didn't!"
"I assure you, Minerva, he did."
"But what of Miss Potter?"
The blood drained from Poppy Pomfrey's face as Minerva gasped in horror. Wishing Filius hadn't asked the question, Severus took his time in forming an appropriate reply. Moody, however, responded first.
"I thought the Cruciatus would affect her more than it did, considering Pettigrew's use of it, but she didn't so much as close her eyes. And, the Killing Curse only seemed to make her angry. She's tougher than she looks; I'll give her credit for that."
The kindhearted school matron wrung her hands. "Alastor Moody, how could you? She's a young woman, not a test subject!"
"She's a target. The sooner she acknowledges that, the safer we'll all be. I'm here to teach her Defense, not befriend her. Ask Dumbledore if you think I'm overstepping my bounds. He suggested starting with the fourth years, not me."
With that, the grizzled ex-Auror pushed back his chair and stomped out of the Great Hall. Severus followed a few minutes later, ignoring the looks of dismay on his colleagues' faces as he left another plate of food mostly untouched. The comment about his Dark Mark kept gnawing at him, as did the wizard's allusion to the fact that Rose had been Cruciated. Albus hadn't informed him that he had taken Moody so deeply into his confidence. He wanted a private word with Hogwarts' newest professor before confronting the Headmaster.
However, when he reached the Defense classroom, it was dark and empty. Rapping loudly on the door to Moody's office, Snape suddenly remembered the Marauder's Map. With a quickly, "Accio," he soon held the seemingly blank piece of parchment in his hand. At least with the map he could track Moody down rather than stand outside his quarters all evening.
"I solemnly swear I am up to no good." He whispered, hating the phrase. It reminded him too much of the Marauders at their arrogant worst.
Casting Lumos, he searched for Alastor Moody's name on the map. Damn the man, but he was in his office after all. This time, he pounded on the door.
"Open up, Moody. I know you're in there!"
Infuriatingly, he received no response. After announcing himself yet again, he blasted the door open, fully expecting to confront the scarred wizard. Yet, the office, too, was dark and seemingly empty.
Flicking on the light, he glanced at his hazy reflection in the mirror on the wall. It obviously needed a good cleaning. His eyes next drifted to a large Sneakoscope, which emitted a high-pitched wail as it spun crazily on the desk. Lining the shelves were Dark-detectors, spell books and more than a few broken wands. None of the paraphernalia held his interest. Instead, his eyes fixed on a large, magical trunk sitting next to the bookshelf.
Oddly, the map showed the name 'Alastor Moody' exactly where the trunk sat on the floor. Snape rapidly grew tired of the wizard's bizarre behavior.
"Damn it, Moody, show yourself!"
Nothing. And, then, he felt a prickle down his back. Instinctively, he glanced down at the Marauder's map as he heard Moody growl his name from the door.
"Snape! What the hell are you doing in my office?!"
Shoulders stiffening, the master spy carefully folded the map and pocketed it before turning around. He smirked at the wizard wearing the celebrated Auror's face.
A jet of red light sped from the imposter's wand, but Snape had already jumped aside to cast a disarming spell. The duel ended before it was properly begun, Barty Crouch immobilized by a Full Body Bind while Snape towered over him. Glaring at the man on the floor, Severus coldly kicked his wand away.
The imposter's magical eye continued to swivel anxiously in its socket as Severus cast his Patronus. Once the doe raced out the door to deliver its message, the Potions Master leaned heavily against the cluttered desk as he struggled with his emotions. Taking out the Marauder's Map, he checked it a final time, but the name remained the same—Barty Fucking Crouch.
The Headmaster raced into the room a few minutes later. He took one look at the man on the floor before turning towards Snape to peer intently over his half-moon spectacles.
"Most likely. We'll know in an hour, at any rate."
"And you're sure it's him?"
Taking a deep breath, he handed Dumbledore the Marauder's Map. "There is the possibility that it's the father, but I rather doubt it."
The old man's eyes widened as he studied the magical map. "Where did you . . . ?" He trailed off as his eyes zeroed in on a particular name. "It says he's here in the room."
"Necessary, if it's Polyjuice. Mimicking the appearance of a corpse wouldn't serve his purpose."
Seemingly lost in thought, Dumbledore absentmindedly murmured, "No, I suppose not."
"When Albus lapsed into silence, Severus inspected the trunk. None of the seven locks would open with a simple spell, so he searched the desk drawers until he found a ring of seven keys. Fitting the proper key into the first lock, he opened the trunk to find it filled with spell books. A quick perusal, however, showed nothing of interest, and he locked it closed once more. The second key revealed several broken Sneakoscopes, a pile of snapped quills, and a shimmering invisibility cloak. Ignoring them, he tried the third key.
The contents of the third compartment were more illuminating. From bicorn horns to stewed lacewing flies, the trunk contained all the items necessary to brew Polyjuice Potion aside from Boomslang skin. No wonder the fake Moody had been upset at the state of his Potions stores.
The fourth compartment contained nothing but clothes, which didn't interest Snape in the least. The fifth was empty, as was the sixth. The seventh, however, opened into a deep pit. There, at the bottom, lay the real Alastor Moody."
"Albus, you might want to see this."
Standing next to his Potions Master, the Headmaster performed several diagnostic spells, though he made no move to free the unconscious wizard from his prison. "Stunned and Imperiused, but that seems to be the worst of it. I'd like to have a chat with our imposter before calling for Poppy."
"As you wish." Then, he held out his hand. "The map, if you don't mind."
The older wizard handed over the Marauder's Map with obvious reluctance. Snape pocketed it without comment. Then, they waited in the silence for almost half an hour before the captured wizard began to change. Moody's magical eye popped out of the pretender's head as it shrunk and transformed into the unmistakable shape of Barty Crouch, Jr.'s face.
"Shite." Severus hated being right.
Albus chuckled dryly at his Potions Master's uncharacteristic display of pique. "Now, Severus, think of this as an opportunity. We now know the identity of Tom's faithful servant at Hogwarts. Certainly, we can use this to our advantage."
"It would be far safer to kill him and be done with it."
The Headmaster's eyes twinkled merrily. "Such a pessimist, my boy. You know this is our one chance to defeat him before he returns to full power. Fetch the strongest Truth Potion you have at the ready. As soon as we get some answers, we'll better know how to proceed."
As soon as he had exited the Defense classroom, Snape took off running. He respected Albus, he truly did, but he feared the old man might concoct some dangerous scheme to draw out Voldemort using Rose as bait. He'd done much the same the year prior when he'd thought he could use her to capture Black. He had no intention of allowing that to happen. Reaching the Fat Lady's portrait less than five minutes later, he gasped out the password given to the Heads of Houses. Heart racing, he stepped through the door to the Gryffindor Common Room to bark out an order.
"I need to see Rose Potter, now."
The dozen or so students who populated the Common Room stared at him in shock before a few of the more levelheaded witches raced up the stairs that led to the girls' dormitory. While he waited, Fred and George Weasley tried to convince him to sit, but he was too agitated to listen. If he didn't return with the Veritaserum soon, Dumbledore would grow suspicious.
"At least tell us what's wrong, Professor. Maybe we . . ."
". . . could help. You know . . ."
". . . we've been useful before."
Having dined with the Weasleys often during the summer, he hardly noticed the twins' habit of finishing the other's thoughts. He did, however, take their offer into consideration, although he quickly dismissed it. Molly would fillet him if he involved her children in something so perilous.
"Nothing is wrong. I merely need to have a word with Rose."
Before Fred and George could express their obvious skepticism, Rose bounded down the steps.
"Professor! What's wrong?"
As she ran towards him, he took a few steps forward to embrace her in a tight hug. Bending down, he whispered harshly in her ear.
"Do not ask questions, and do not allow anyone to follow you. Retrieve your Invisibility Cloak and wait in my quarters. I will be there shortly."
Releasing her, he turned on his heel to leave as abruptly as he had entered. As soon as the portrait had closed behind him, he sprinted to the stairs. His entrance into the Slytherin Common Room caused much less commotion, although it took precious seconds for Blaise Zabini to return with Draco and his dog. Not bothering to explain, he pulled the pajama clad teen towards the door, confident that the Animagus would follow.
As soon as he crossed the threshold of his quarters, however, both Rose and Draco bombarded him with questions.
"Professor, what's wrong? Why did you ask me to bring my Invisibility Cloak? Are you alright? You're flushed and sweating. Do you have a fever?"
"Why did you drag me out of the dorm in my pajamas? Has something happened to Mum?"
He scowled at the two as he sternly demanded quiet. He hated to be the cause of the fear in their eyes, but there was no time for lengthy explanations. His tone, therefore, sounded curter than he intended.
"Narcissa is fine. Rose, give me your Invisibility Cloak. Draco, I have need of your dog. Both of you are to stay in my quarters. Do not open the door for anyone, no exceptions. If I, or anyone else, attempt to gain entry through this door, you are both to Floo to Grimmauld Place where you will contact Narcissa. Do I make myself clear?"
Biting her lip, Rose nodded. By some miracle, she didn't voice a single question, although she immediately clutched her charm bracelet. Draco's pale face had gone even paler, but he, too, obeyed without question. The mutt cocked his head to the side to gaze quizzically at the edgy wizard, but Severus had already left. The wolfhound gave one last, worried glance at the two teens before trotting to catch up.
In a disused dungeon hallway, Sirius transformed himself back into human form at Snape's request, concealing himself with James' old Invisibility Cloak. He had to jog to keep pace with the Potions Master, who ran towards the Defense classroom like (with no irony intended) a bat out of hell. As he finally slowed to climb the stairs to Moody's office, Black softly demanded answers.
"Just what the hell has happened to put you in such a state, Snape? Why the hell are we here?"
Pausing at the base of the steps, he checked the map to make sure they were truly alone. Only then did he trust himself to speak.
"Everything may not be as it seems, and it is imperitive you bear witness. You are not to reveal yourself unless the prisoner attempts to escape. No matter what the Headmaster or I might say or do, you are not to interfere. Do I make myself clear?"
"Prisoner? What prisoner?" Black threw off the hood of the Invisibility Cloak, which made him appear to be nothing more than a frowning floating head.
Gripping the vial of Veritaserum tightly in his hand, Severus finally allowed his own apprehension to show. He inhaled deeply to try to slow down his racing heart as he met his friend's troubled gaze.
"A Death Eater, Black. There's a Death Eater posing as Alastor Moody at Hogwarts."
A hand shot out from under the cloak to rest comfortingly on Snape's shoulder. "That bastard's not going to get his hands on her. We'll make sure of that."
"Yes," he agreed, bolstered by the wizard's confidence. "We will."
As he handed Albus the bottle of Veritaserum a few seconds later, he could only hope the Headmaster felt the same.
Author's Notes - Yes, we're definitely in AU territory now. It always bothered me in The Goblet of Fire that Crouch, Jr. had spent more than a decade in Azkaban, but successfully impersonated Alastor Moody for almost a year right under Dumbledore's nose. In this story, his antagonism towards Snape is a little too much for the Potions Master to take, resulting in his discovery much sooner. How Dumbledore intends to use that knowledge to his advantage, however, remains to be seen. It's apparent that even Severus doesn't trust him completely, which is why he wants Black to witness their conversation. The next chapter should be interesting, to say the least!
I am sorry that the update took closer to two weeks than one. Last weekend I celebrated my birthday, so needless to say, I spent time with my family rather than at the computer writing. And, this week was taken up with writing of a much more mundane kind-Christmas cards! So, thanks to everyone for their patience and I hope you enjoy the chapter!