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Chapter 5: An Explanation.


It was Snape.

But then again, it wasn’t. Harry would never mistake the nose, for one thing; it was the single most distinctive part of the notorious profile. The robes were also instantly recognizable, billowing around the man as though charmed, and the hair was still as lank and greasy as Harry had always remembered it being. He didn’t remember it being so streaked with grey though, nor the eyes being so lined.

Snape, at least, had the courtesy to look just as stunned as he did.

‘Potter?’

It was barely a whisper, and Harry found a hand clenching painfully round the top of his arm, hauling him to his feet as he staggered. When he looked up again, the familiar glare was firmly back in place, as if daring him to suggest it had ever been anything else. ‘I should have figured,’ Snape sneered as Harry craned his neck to look fearfully over his shoulder at the approaching Dementors. ‘You always did insist on shouting your spells at the top of your lungs. You do realise volume has absolutely no effect on power, don’t you?’

Harry nodded absently, trying to worm out of the professor’s grip and wincing when the fingers tightened and pinched at his skin. ‘Dementors,’ he managed to gasp out, fumbling with his wand as Snape cast him a furious look.

‘Really, Potter? I never would have noticed. Thank you so very much for pointing them out.’ The creatures were practically on top of them now, as Harry stopped struggling for freedom and instead tried to make himself as small and unnoticeable as possible, clinging weakly and not without a twinge of embarrassment to the professor’s robes. Snape cast Harry a look of vague disgust as the Dementors glided to a halt mere feet from where they stood. ‘Leave him,’ Snape commanded imperiously, raising his eyebrows and his own wand when the creatures made no move to leave. ‘He is mine.’ The words were hissed, and Snape placed a protective hand on the boy’s shoulder to emphasise the point, dismissing the creatures. They finally took notice of his instructions and glided back down the street.

The hand was removed swiftly, as though it had been burnt.

‘Get up, Potter,’ Snape commanded, as he pried Harry’s fingers loose.

Harry, for his part, just looked panicky and alarmed. He no more noticed Snape’s firm disentanglement than he did either the small puddle that had turned his cloak sodden, or the brief brush of another presence against his mind. ‘How come they listened to you?’

Snape whisked his liberated robes sharply out of reach. ‘This is neither the time nor place.’

‘Looks good enough to me.’ Harry backed off slightly as the face of the Potions Master descended and stopped inches from his own, black eyes glinting dangerously. He swallowed against the lump that had lodged in the back of his throat, the sound the instinctive motion provided rattling loud and hollow in his ears. If his flinching away hadn’t caused the slight smirk that now graced Snape’s features, hearing that noise of discomfort certainly had.

‘You will remember to whom you are speaking.’ Harry glowered, but made no move to argue as Snape straightened himself up, nodding his head towards the wall that marked the end of the alley and its only link to the Muggle world. ‘Follow me.’

Harry did so, shocked out of his daze by the coldness of the damp hem of his cloak when it slid down the back of his leg. His movements were hobbled slightly from his first step, as his foot continued to smart and send shooting flashes of pain up his leg, the ache emphasised by every dip and crevice in the paving stones. Fortunately, Snape had adopted an unhurried pace somewhat different to his usual sweeping stalk. He didn’t grace Harry with so much as a second glance, however, as they moved through the rapidly emptying street. And being adamantly and resolutely not stared at, Harry was quickly learning, was even worse to the usual sideways glances and outright gawking he suffered. Not that Harry felt everyone was avoiding him. No, there was no doubt it was the possibility of drawing Snape’s attention that people were doggedly steering clear of. Proximity just had the misfortune of dragging him along for the ride. He watched silently when they finally reached the end of the alley, and Snape raised his wand, tapping the tip against an incomprehensible order of bricks, before the wall parted slowly.

The Leaky Cauldron, at least, felt almost exactly the same as it always had, even if its appearance had subtly altered. Tables and chairs filled the warm room, and an elderly man bustled behind the bar, casting a nod of acknowledgement in Snape’s direction as he led Harry to a small nook concealed against the back wall. The only real difference Harry had been able to spot, in his brief glimpse around the place, was in the far corner, where the entrance to Muggle London had once resided. The entrance was still there. There could be no missing it, what with painfully poor job that had been done to bar it closed. Whoever had been responsible had apparently done the bare minimum to ensure no one could get in or out, and then had been reluctant to even step near it again. ‘Sit,’ Snape instructed, jolting Harry from his musings and gesturing to a hard wooden chair that Harry sunk into gratefully. ‘Do not move from this spot, I will be back shortly.’ Harry had absolutely no inclination to move anyway, despite the short demand. He slumped forwards, apathetically watching first the retreating pair of boots, and then those around him through his fringe.

Snape returned minutes later, extending his hand with a snarl. Somewhat unfocusedly, Harry reached out to take what turned out to be a small chunk of chocolate. He stared at it for several seconds, unable to process exactly what he was supposed to do with chocolate from Snape. ‘I doubt you respond any better to Dementors now than you did before,’ he clarified. If the weight of his stare alone hadn’t been enough to make Harry fidget uncomfortably, the wary edge to his voice would have done it. Snape still managed to make it sound as though Harry’s unease was the single greatest weakness you could find in a person, and Harry wasn’t in the mood to argue. He seized the brown lump gratefully and crammed it into his mouth, sighing contently at the warmth that spread. ‘Let me see your foot.’

‘Huh?’

‘You hurt yourself,’ Snape sighed irritably, and Harry once again heard the pressing wrongness in the tone that he couldn’t quite place. ‘I will heal it for you. Unless, of course, you are planning to martyr yourself further and refuse?’ The disdain and contempt were still there, and as abundant ever. They clearly identified the man before him as Severus Snape, inconsistencies in appearance aside. If he didn’t know any better, Harry might almost have almost thought Snape was pleased to see him. He shook his head at that idea, lifting the burnt foot and trying to ignore the look of disgust that filled Snape’s face. ‘A bath is in order too, I feel, as well as a change of clothes.’ Harry regarded him suspiciously.

‘I’ll be fine. I can change back at Grimmauld Place.’ Snape cocked an eyebrow, standing and pulling out the opposite seat in a single, fluid motion. He didn’t sit, instead just resting his hand on the cracked and splintered wood, watching Harry curiously.

‘Perhaps you can enlighten me as to why, exactly, you left?’

‘I was looking for Remus.’ Harry swallowed his mouthful reluctantly. The chocolate didn’t slide down easily any longer; instead it coated his throat thickly. He also got the impression he wasn’t answering quite the right question. ‘He wasn’t there when I woke up. I tried to get to Dumbledore, but the Floo wouldn’t let me. That’s how I burnt my foot.’ Snape crossed his arms, his expression unusually blank.

‘You were in Grimmauld Place?’

‘Yes, sir,’ Harry replied apprehensively.

‘And it was undamaged?’ Harry didn’t miss the undertones to that question.

‘For the most part.’

‘You woke up there?’

Harry swallowed again, hoping to ease the clogged feeling the sweet had left behind. ‘Where else would I wake up?’ He half hoped Snape would hear more than just ignorance in his reply, and actually offer him an answer in return. Contrary to Snape’s overwhelmingly obvious opinion, Harry was capable of adding two and two together. He was starting to frantically hope that this time he had come up with five.

‘There was nothing unusual?’

‘Well...’ Harry fished beneath his pyjamas, pulling on the golden chain, shivering at the feel of the slick links against his skin. ‘There was this.’ He pulled it over his neck, holding it out stiffly as Snape reached out slowly to claim it. He couldn’t help but fiddle nervously with the edge of his cloak as Snape held the offending item carefully between two fingers, his expression darkening as he gave the cracked glass a gentle flick. ‘What is it, sir?’ Snape regarded the item for another moment before turning back to Harry.

‘A Time-Turner, it would appear.’

Harry had had his suspicions. The damn thing had looked vaguely familiar; he just hadn’t been able to place it straight away. Hearing it verified didn’t make him feel much better. ‘But it looks different to the one Hermione had.’

‘Ah, yes, the illustrious Miss Granger,’ Snape sneered. ‘It is no surprise that you knew about that disaster just waiting to happen.’ Snape was staring at the Time-Turner again, his brow furrowed in confusion. ‘The reason it looks different, Potter, is because it is indeed so. Very different from your standard issue.’

‘How?’

Snape cast the object a look of awe tinged with apprehension. ‘Well, for one thing, it seems capable of breaking the laws of both magic and physics.’

Harry knew he had missed something fundamental. Hermione would probably have known. He wondered if he would even recognise her if she walked past. ‘You can tell that just by looking at it?’

‘Your presence here was also something of an immediate giveaway.’ It was Harry’s turn to look confused as Snape rolled his eyes in exasperation, clenching the thing carefully in his hand with no apparent intention of returning it. ‘It is gratifying to know it wasn’t only my lessons in which you refused to pay attention,’ he started derisively, earning himself a tired glare. ‘Look, Potter, I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but there are various rules all Time-Turners must obey.’

‘And what are they?’

‘Sir,’ Snape corrected with a sigh of defeat and annoyance, seeming to realise that there was no way he was going to get away from the subject without at least a half understood explanation. ‘Your friend used a Time-Turner throughout her third year, did she not?’

‘Yes.’ Harry looked wary at the shift of conversation. ‘Hermione used it so she could attend more than one lesson.’

‘Exactly. She would attend one lesson, and then use the Time-Turner and find herself once again at the beginning of said lesson.’

‘I guess so.’ Harry shrugged insolently and, if the way Snape’s hand twitched was any indication, almost earned himself a smack to the back of the head. But Snape did seem to be trying to explain what was going on, even if he wasn’t exactly making an attempt to hide his scathing contempt, so Harry figured the least he could do was have the decency to listen. ‘I never really asked her for the details.’

‘And yet you knew of its existence.’

‘Well, when Sirius…’ Harry clamped his hand over his mouth as Snape sneered.

‘Of course, I should have known Black came into it somehow,’ he said disdainfully. ‘Illegality aside though, I’m sure even your failing intellect has managed to spot the common denominator in all these experiences.’ Harry looked momentarily dumbfounded, an angry blush rising as Snape sighed in irritation. ‘Useless as ever, I see. Well, since we do not have the time for your brain to catch up with the rest of the world I shall enlighten you. The Time-Turner can only be used to travel backwards in time.’

‘What? Why?’

‘Think about it for a second.’ Snape was starting to sound a little angry. ‘The past already exists and is somewhere you have already been. You know it is there, and thusly travelling to it is no great task. But the future…’ He was staring once again at the necklace still hanging from his fingers, the charm at the end glinting in the candlelight. ‘The future is uncertain. There is nothing definite about it, and no certainty that it even exists. In fact, as far as the present is concerned, there is no future. Not yet. Do you understand?’

‘I think so.’

Snape looked doubtful. ‘Well, whether or not that is true is irrelevant. You are here, so obviously the theory has been somewhat disproved.’

‘Sir, what has happened?

Snape glared at him, as though trying to prove he wasn’t actually real. What he expected of him Harry was a little unsure of, though. Possibly it was for him to melt through the floor. ‘What has happened,’ he said slowly and carefully, ‘is that you disappeared almost twenty three years ago.’ Harry opened his mouth to automatically disagree, but was pinned back into silence as the glare increased in fury. ‘However I would hazard a guess that this is not where you were intended to be.’

‘Because it was cracked.’

‘There is that,’ Snape agreed reluctantly to the observation, and Harry abruptly realised exactly what he had been missing in the man’s voice. He had heard it many times before in Dumbledore and so many others. It was the tone people used when they had to tell him something they knew he wouldn’t like, or want, to hear. ‘Along with the fact that I was not expecting you.’ There was a tense silence as Harry paused, seeming to weigh the comment before becoming ready to reply.

‘Expecting me? Why on earth would you be expecting me?’

-o00o-


Snape resisted the urge to close his eyes in the hope that the partial deprivation would lessen his growing headache. Or possibly just muffle the unease that was growing in light of the fact that something had, obviously, gone very wrong. He kept his gaze steadfastly on the boy before him, however, showing nothing of the trepidation that was raging as he kept his voice level. ‘Because I am one of only three people who remains aware that you ever existed.’

‘Pardon?’

It was, at least, a slightly more eloquent and controlled response than the one Snape had been expecting. He had envisioned temper tantrums and outraged explosions. It was these very expectations that had turned his intended frank admission into a mere allegation, in the hope the extra few seconds Harry took to understand what Snape was implying muted his reaction. ‘Do not worry yourself, Potter. Your sudden anonymity is only the consequence of years of hard work.’ Hard work, Snape silently considered, that would no doubt prove to hold somewhat flimsily in the face of what was sitting before him. He quickly calculated the odds of his surviving to the afternoon, and allowed the snide edge to his tone to remain for what little pleasure it gave him in the face of the answer. ‘You will be pleased to know that the Boy-Who-Lived was not so easily forgotten.’

‘Hard work?’ Harry swallowed heavily, and Snape could see the flash of fury lying just beneath the surface of his apparently calm demeanour. True fear seemed to be the only thing keeping it at bay, a solid and almost unbending resolve to deny the truth. ‘What did you do, kill everyone who had the misfortune to hear my name?’ Harry let out a choked chuckle. ‘Obviously not, since the streets seemed rather full for that to be true.’

Snape nodded in confirmation, his eyes hard as he regarded the boy; smaller than he remembered, as though the years had subconsciously stretched the boy’s otherwise diminutive proportions in his memory. ‘The majority of the population was simply Obliviated,’ he affirmed.

‘Majority?’ Snape could hardly have blamed Harry for allowing the fear to bleed through into his voice.

‘Yes.’ There was no emotion in his own as he continued. ‘However, those who knew you personally were killed.’ A heavy silence engulfed them both, Snape’s brief brush of Harry’s mind revealing nothing more than a half-hysterical realisation that Granger wasn’t about to walk past, so Harry needn’t worry about not recognising her. The sheer inanity of the thought annoyed Snape immensely. The unnerved laughter that followed only added to the surge of irritation, but it was quickly overruled as the green eyes once again focused on him with accusation and sudden understanding. But then again, you could always trust a Potter to ignore the wider and infinitely more important problems in face of those that were personal, but effectively futile in the great scheme of things.

You knew me personally.’

Tears would probably have been better than that flat statement, although Snape doubted it would have been by much. ‘It is my responsibility to ensure this state of affairs continues.’ Perhaps blunt honesty would have been the best course. His dithering around the point seemed to have done no more than to add a fuse to an already volatile situation. Snape could hear a faint rumbling in the background, as the heat from the nearby fireplace increased, flames licking at the edge of the wall surrounding it. Across the room a set of candles burst spontaneously into flames that burnt too hot, the wax melting and dripping onto the floor in steady rivulets that fell clear onto the wood beneath before cooling to a dirty brown. The window by his shoulder was rattling steadily in its frame, metal grating against metal. ‘Potter,’ Snape hissed, his eyes glinting as the boy glared at him with outright hostility. ‘I would recommend you exercise some control. You are not three years old any longer, so act your age.’ A slight wind was picking up around him, nudging his hair as the remains of the destroyed candles exploded in a flash of blinding light. The walls almost seemed to be flexing outwards, trying to escape the thickening air of the room.

‘You work for him, don’t you?’ Harry spat the question, eyes bright, the unnatural light of the candles reflecting to make then appear almost inhuman. ‘His loyal servant, right?’ Snape merely raised an eyebrow and nodded, amending that his previous calculations regarding his survival may have been somewhat on the generous side. ‘How lucky that out of everyone I ever knew, you were the only one fortunate enough to survive.’

Years evidently hadn’t managed to blunt the extreme displeasure Snape felt at being judged so self-righteously by a Potter, as though their view and their opinions were the only ones of any importance or, more infuriatingly, any worth. ‘Do not condemn me for what you do not understand, boy,’ he snarled, baring his teeth in the dim light cast by the few remaining candles. ‘Did I not serve, you would be dead already.’

‘Right, because you are doing this to save my skin and not your own.’ The boy had the affront to scoff.

‘You ignorant little brat,’ Snape’s voice rose furiously, the shadows playing menacingly around him. The very thought of justifying himself turned his stomach, but until he figured how best to deal with the sudden shift in circumstances there was no choice. It was either that or have the insolent whelp topple everything in a fit of pique. ‘I did it at the bequest of Albus.’

‘I don’t know why Dumbledore ever trusted you then.’ Harry was on his feet now, glaring challengingly at his former professor. The room had at least stopped shaking, although Snape doubted it had less to do with control than it did sheer exhaustion. The boy was visibly trembling with the effort of remaining upright, hands jerking so that oversized sleeves of his cloak rippled spasmodically.

‘I see no reason why I should explain the actions of either myself, or the late Headmaster, to you.’ Snape tried to calm himself; shouting excessively at the boy would not help, no matter how much Potter deserved, or needed it. Sinking back into his seat Snape waited in vain for Harry to do the same, before it occurred to him that Harry had taken the words as the literal refusal they appeared to be. ‘However it is fairly obvious I will not get a moment’s peace until I do so,’ he reluctantly amended, quirking an eyebrow at the sullen boy, who remained silent and fuming. ‘I will take your shining disrespect as an indication you will listen.’

‘Is Dumbledore dead too?’ The voice was quiet now and oddly timid, and Snape could do nothing but incline is head in affirmation. Thinking back on it, even with the shield of all the years that had since passed, was still difficult.

‘He was struck down less than a year after you disappeared.’

‘How?’

‘Death Eaters found their way into the school.’ Harry’s eyes widened in alarm, and he hit the poorly stuffed cushion of the ancient seat behind him with a thud. ‘No one else was killed that night. Albus gave his life to protect the students.’ Snape wondered why he felt compelled to soften the story, and it felt odd that he should be able to summarise such an ominous evening so effectively in so few words. It certainly hadn’t seemed so simple at the time. Harry appeared to sink even deeper into the chair, his mouth pursed in a thin line.

‘The Order?’

‘Fell shortly after.’

‘And you’ve been working for Voldemort ever since?’ Snape gritted his teeth, refraining for further admonishing the boy for the use of the name. In this time and this place, it had more power than could be comprehended.

‘I was already deeply entrenched in his ranks at the time. I had not seen a member of the Order for many months.’ Harry opened his mouth to question, but closed it again, turning his head away from the man to stare unflinchingly at the panelled wall. What he had wanted to say would have been painfully obvious to anyone, with or without the added benefit of Legilimency. Snape bit back on his pride even further, in a way he had become painfully accustomed to over the years, in order to answer what the boy had not had the nerve to ask. He could have left it, he supposed, but had little doubt he would not come to regret doing so. ‘It was not a matter of choice. Albus was unwilling to believe you were truly dead. It was his last request to me, as he was certain no one else stood as great a chance of survival.’

‘He knew this would happen?’

‘He suspected. With you gone, it presented the Dark Lord with an unrivalled opportunity, one he leapt upon.’

‘So you’ve been waiting for me?’ A look of unguarded and unfounded hope passed across Harry’s face, and it spoke volumes to the poorly hidden distress that it should be aimed solely at him. Snape found himself shying from the sudden realisation that Harry was now keeping his considerable unease at bay with the unfounded belief that Snape held the immediate solution to the problem.

‘In a fashion. However, I was not so enamoured with the ideas Dumbledore clung to.’

‘You thought I was dead, too.’

‘At the time, there appeared no other plausible explanation.’

‘Yet you did it anyway? Joined the Dark Lord?’

‘I owed Albus a great deal, none of which is your concern, especially not in light of this event.’ Harry tried to stifle a yawn behind his hand and shivered in the confines of the cloak. ‘We still do not know how it is you came to be here.’ Snape prompted.

‘Apparently the impossible Time-Turner,’ Harry offered unhelpfully with a shrug as Snape narrowed his eyes at him.

‘Idiot boy, have you given absolutely no thought as to how the thing came to be around your neck in the first place?’ Harry at least had the decency to look startled. Musings on the past, however, kept his mind from dwelling on the present

‘Grimmauld Place was supposed to be safe!’ he exclaimed angrily.

‘Indeed, yet a follower managed to infiltrate.’

‘Dumbledore was Secret-Keeper though. No one would have dared tried to get it out of him.’

‘How incredibly insightful of you,’ Snape sneered habitually. He had left the confines of his chair and was pacing the small room in an attempt to vent his frustration and uncertainty on how to proceed. With so many possibilities, there was no way to know what future potential he would close off with an ill-thought action now.

‘A member of the Order wouldn’t have done this.’ Harry’s tone was defensive, his green eyes sparking as though daring Snape to challenge his statement. He had no desire to do so. The longer Potter wallowed in what had happened, the longer it would be before he started demanding to know what was going to happen.

‘Perhaps not willingly…’

‘The Imperius Curse?’ Harry suggested. Snape sighed in response, pulling the chair out once again and leaning back into it.

‘I do not know, Potter. It is yet another mystery, and a worrying one. That I would not be informed of such a plan is disturbing at best. That only luck brought you here now offers little comfort.’

‘Luck?’ Harry voiced indignantly. ‘How is this lucky? I didn’t stand a hope in hell of defeating Voldemort twenty odd years ago with Dumbledore and an army of Aurors to back me up. Now he’s had all that time to grow stronger and I have nothing.’

‘Yet in that annoyingly infallible way of yours, you have apparently managed to disrupt his plans anyway,’ Snape commented pointedly. ‘No doubt he is not expecting to have to face you for many years to come.’

‘Great, so I’ll have time to practise dying. Perhaps he’ll let me pick my favourite.’ Harry had curled up again, another yawn engulfing him as his head dropped to the side. The draught Snape had subtly interwoven into the chocolate had been mild, the amount almost non-existent. He hadn’t wanted Harry to notice the effect as anything beyond natural fatigue. For this reason its effect had been slow, and it had been further held off by the turbulent emotions of the boy. Snape had almost feared it would be negated completely, but it held even as he hooked his hands under the boy’s thin knees and hoisted him into his arms. He needed time to think and to consider, and quiet in which to do it.

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