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Chapter 14: Mistaken

Understand procedure
Understand war
Understand rules, regulations
I don't understand sorry

-Paradise Lost, Forever Failure



‘What are you just standing there for?’ Snape roared as he landed, swinging round to confront Tonks who had barely moved, Harry still hanging limply from one of her arms, frustration evident in his features as he tried to move on his own. What little strength he had managed to regain since waking was useless though since his body refused to obey even the simplest of commands, either attempting sluggishly to fulfil some vague imitation of what he wanted them to do, or refusing to even acknowledge the request. ‘This will be one of the first places they look now they know we’ve left, we have to move quickly.’

‘We can’t be sure they know,’ Tonks didn’t have time for his melodramatics, his seemingly endless ability to jump to the worst possible conclusions; not with Harry all ready worked up to a state of agitation potentially devastating and only suppressed by the remnants of the potion, her own nerves stretched to near breakage. She allowed his scolding words to slide painlessly off her back, refusing to play into his flaring and unpredictable temper. ‘They might have missed it. Apparition doesn’t require that much magic.’

‘They know,’ Snape said levelly

‘Why must you always be right?’ Harry looked annoyed, swivelling round lethargically to stare with as much insolence as he could manage.

Snape merely cast Harry a brief, knowing look that seemed to transport his very opinion of filth, muck and grime and Harry’s place alongside them as an undertone. ‘Death Eaters arrived at Privet Drive. I heard them as I left.’

‘What!’ Harry looked scared, clawing weakly against Tonks in an attempt to pull himself free. His arms felt somehow detached from him though, only the sight of them moving providing any confirmation they even existed or were a part of him. Tonks held on resolutely and he was no match for her as he looked to her pleadingly. ‘We have to go back.’

‘Are you terminally stupid?’ Snape exclaimed, drawing Harry’s attention back.

‘What about Dudley, and Claire? What if they spot her?’

‘She will be just another muggle child for the moment. I doubt a single Death Eater is in the habit of cuddling random small children, which it what would be required for them to notice anything remiss.’

‘She’s not random though,’ Harry struggled against Tonks with renewed vigour, falling to his knees as soon as she stepped back, palms displayed in defeat, her support lost. He looked up through his wild fringe towards Snape, eyes wide and beseeching. ‘Take me back.’

‘Your cousin abandoned you Potter,’ Snape bent down gracefully, Harry’s eyes following his fluid movement with desperation until they were level. There was a certain taunting element to his voice though which made it horribly lilting, unpleasantly out of place next to his cruel smile; mocking even, as Snape spoke with unshakeable righteousness. ‘I don’t see why you are so anxious to return. He deserves all that is coming to him.’

Harry shook his head, clearly upset by the words even as Snape waited for a reply, for some sign that Harry at least realised they could do nothing. He didn’t have to accept it; no Gryffindor could ever tell the difference between a heroic rescue and simply delivering oneself gift wrapped into the hands of the enemy, but he had to know it. ‘He’s family, not that I’d expect you to understand.’

Snape rose again, brushing down his robes casually. ‘It would be a pointless endeavour.’ No one had ever managed to give even the time of day with less feeling. ‘It is most likely the Death Eaters will have no interest in any of them. And if not then there really is nothing we could do to stop them.’ His logic was met with angry muttering, as various insults flew past Harry’s lips, under his breath as he glared.

‘We should never have gone there.’

‘A sentiment with which I agree wholeheartedly,’ Snape said pointedly. ‘It was a complete waste of time given that you now have no choice but to take me to the resistance, the very place you were trying to keep me from with that little visit.’ He cast Tonks a superior look. ‘I do hope the extra few hours of secrecy was worth the potential loss of life.’ Tonks pulled Harry back to his feet, glaring angrily at the cool words and heartless, slightly smug tone in which they were delivered.

‘It was the safest place, the only safe place there was,’ she defended, dragging Harry down the filthy alleyway and onto the street, not giving Snape an opportunity to argue any further as she headed for the shop. Unease crept up on her as she stepped onto the busy road however, as curious shoppers paused to watch her struggle, staring with unabashed shock and terrified recognition where people normally kept their gaze fixed firmly on the ground beneath them. Something had made them less wary and less scared, so pure prying nosiness was revelling in a brief moment of freedom. Their gazes left Tonks feeling small and surrounded as she looked steadfastly at the destination, stumbling occasionally as Harry caught a foot on a loose stone or raised slab. The passers by hurried on their way as Snape stalked into the open though, leaving him to watch them retreat with suspicious inquisitiveness, his pace quickening as he followed after Tonks.

‘If the Dark Lord has declared me traitor they won’t take me on themselves,’ he said quietly as if to calm the tenseness that was mounting from the hushed whispers and pointing from those who passed. The danger was not immediate, but it was close. ‘However they will run for others.’ A tiny bell jingled as Tonks opened the door to the store, nodding in understanding; the front desk empty although soft footsteps and the occasional rustle of paper indicated they were not completely alone. Casting a last check up and down the emptying street Snape followed, expression grave. ‘I cannot hold off even a small number of his followers on my own for long.’

‘Lock the door then,’ Tonks said desperately as it slammed shut behind them, shuddering in its wooden frame. ‘It doesn’t have to be fancy, just slow them down.’ Snape did so, sealing the door as powerfully as he knew how before following Tonks through the shelves, past the glances of customers unknowingly trapped with them until they reached a small door set in the back wall. Carefully placed it seemed almost hidden in the corner, out of sight and barely noticeable from a distance as it faded into the background, it’s edges mingling with the wall surrounding it. Stepping through and closing it behind them Tonks left Harry leaning on a unstable table that wobbled under his weight and ran for the fireplace, throwing in a handful of floo powder as Snape aimed a number of jinxes at what proved to be the only way in or out. Easily defended yes, but it made the room essentially a prison, or possibly even a tomb.

‘How long?’ Snape asked, finding no solace in the silence that lingered from the other side of the door.

‘Give me a second,’ Tonks reply was irritated as the fire sparked green but remained unbearably empty, connecting to nothing and with absolutely no response. Rocking anxiously on the balls of her feet she muttered meaningless encouragement under her breath, jumping with shock when a face finally appeared in the flames. ‘Thomas!’ she exclaimed loudly, her surprise making it high and piercing, ‘I need to come through quickly.’

The face barely moved, unruffled by Tonks frantic demands as it gazed impassively towards her before requesting, in a level voice. ‘Password?’

‘Fawkes,’ Tonks blurted out hastily, dropping to her knees in front of the fire, looking apprehensive for a moment before continuing to speak, her tone hesitant. ‘I’m not alone Thomas, I’m bringing Severus Snape with me.’

The figure lost its indifference, forehead furrowing angrily, mouth open in stunned disbelief. ‘Like hell you are!’ The furious words echoed in the room as Tonks flinched back slightly, casting Snape a tiny, apologetic smile accompanied with a shrug of her shoulders as if asking exactly what else he had expected.

‘I don’t have time to explain,’ she excused hurriedly, tripping over her words in her haste, the soot from the fire making her eyes sting and water as she swiped them with the back of her hand. ‘I also have a young boy with me and Death Eaters on our heel.’

‘But this is Snape woman,’ the head shook disbelievingly as Tonks clasped her hands together in despair; cupping her face desolately as she sought for something, anything that would convince him, her heart hammering painfully and far too quickly in her chest, every thump sounding like a final countdown to their fate. ‘How could you even think of bringing him here?’

‘I would be dead if it wasn’t for him,’ her voice was shrill as dread clawed its way back at the imminent rejection she could see coming. ‘As would the boy.’

‘You’ve been confunded then.’ Blunt and simple, the answer left Tonks with an almost overwhelming desire to scream, a desire she could feel building steadily in the back of her mind, pressing against her sanity, feeding on her despair.

‘We don’t have time for this,’ Snape emphasised harshly.

‘You have to trust me Thomas,’ Tonks begged, leaning forwards onto her hands, nails digging into the carpet fibres beneath her. ‘Please.’ There was no answer beyond vague and indistinct angry mutterings as the head pulled back from the flames, which flared back to a bright and burning orange. The sudden wash of heat was almost calming, as Tonks bathed in it for a moment before rising from her knees, grasping Harry and pulling him upright before he all but fell into her arms.

‘What the hell was in that potion?’ he cried out with frustration, his legs once again caving uselessly beneath him as he clung with weak arms round Tonks neck, his irritation rising exponentially in line with his complete inability to vent it. Even his words were slow and lazy as he pushed away from Tonks, determination proving itself inadequate to overcome the numbness that had spread through his limbs.

‘It was your basic sleeping potion Potter,’ Snape sneered. His wand was still aimed at the entrance, the words to the final defence hovering ready on the tip of his tongue. ‘What you are experiencing is a perfectly normal side effect from your consistent attempts to fight against it. You may have convinced your mind to wake up, but your body is still rather heavily doused and will not be so easily persuaded.’

Harry looked vaguely alarmed. ‘How long until it wears off?’

‘That depends,’ Snape finally looked away from the charmed and warded door to regard Harry with annoyance. ‘It would have been quicker if you had just slept it off.’

‘He can rest when Thomas lets us in,’ Tonks affirmed, glancing at the fireplace that still burnt strongly, the smallest trace of doubt marring her expression as she refused to meet Snape’s condemning gaze.

‘That is assuming your so called friends don’t sentence us to death right here.’

Tonks merely shook her head in disagreement. ‘You can’t blame them,’ she said with understanding she did not particularly feel. ‘They only know you as the right hand man of the Dark Lord.’ Snape snorted with annoyance as Tonks head snapped up to frown at him, her voice sharp. ‘I never claimed I would be able to persuade them. It is one of the reasons I was reluctant to bring you here.’

‘Well, we certainly don’t have time for you to convince them now.’ Snape pointed out viciously as the fire flared again, the face returning and staring out into the room with obvious hesitance.

‘Don’t make me regret this,’ the only words, delivered gruffly before it disappeared again. The fire sparked briefly only moments later as Tonks supported Harry and gestured for Snape.

‘I’ll go first and you follow. Just say the password, and for heaven’s sake don’t do anything stupid.’ She disappeared in a rush of flames as Snape stepped into the empty grate, green fire curling round his feet as he dropped the powder and said the password.

The rushing wind of the floo spun round him violently, accompanied with the subtle and obscured indication that he was being redirected, thrown around unnecessarily, passed from point to point in an untraceable maze of unnamed fireplaces. It was sickening but left him with no choice but to wrap his arms tightly round himself and bare it out until he landed gracefully, with no idea of how far he’d actually travelled, in a large, open hearth. The hallway beyond was bright and airy, clean but well used with high windows that caught the sun effortlessly, herding it into dark corners and warming the dusty air. It was obvious from the first glance though; the comfortable room to one side, the pictures and paintings that hung from the walls. This was not worthy of being titled a resistance; this was someone’s home.

Snape snarled under his breath at the various wands that were pointed at his chest.

‘You better be right about him Tonks,’ said an elderly man who Snape recognised from the fire, the lines of his face hardened with resolve and furrowed with doubt and hatred. But then again they all seemed old, those surrounding him. Old and determined although there was an occasional show of youth to be found at the end of a wand that quivered slightly more than the others, leading to an expression of aghast awe. People either too old or too young to have been taught by him, whose only knowledge of him came from news and rumour. They encircled him defiantly, their stature threatening enough, but they were still scared of him. He could see it in their eyes and feel in hovering on the edges of their minds.

‘I wouldn’t have brought him here if I wasn’t sure,’ Tonks sounded certain even if Snape knew it was a lie. He had all ready resigned himself to never seeing this place, spending his last moments trapped amidst muggles; a sentence dictated by her limitless stubbornness.

Thomas tilted his head in consideration. ‘You’ll forgive me if I am not so easily convinced.’

‘Show them Snape,’ Tonks said flatly.

He rolled up his sleeve, the buttons coming loose one at a time and with aching slowness, wincing as the rough fabric snagged against itself and constricted tightly round the swollen flesh, pulling it insistently and refusing to relinquish. The bandage that wrapped itself securely round his arm was stiff and damp, staining his fingers as they closed around it and sought for purchase, fumbling for the end as he unwound it with care, displaying the mutilated flesh that lay beneath.

‘Is this enough for you?’ He couldn’t help but sneer, standing there as several sets of eyes fell onto the skin on which the Mark had once rested and was trying, with no concept of what it meant to fail, to do so again. Black threads had woven themselves through his arm, growing and multiply as they buried themselves deeper and reformed themselves stronger and more vivid than before. The image of what they wanted to be seem to glow around them, a ghost of the mark it promised to once again become.

‘For the moment,’ the voice was slightly queasy as Thomas nodded his head towards those around him, who had to fight to pull their gaze away in fascinated horror. The wands were removed, their bearers disappearing into various rooms and corridors but not one of them going too far or leaving the immediate area. The old man didn’t lower his own wand however, his leathery, wrinkled fingers clutching it all the tighter. ‘We heard the news; the Dark Lord is after your head, or so he says.’ Snape just stared impassively. ‘I’m not inclined to trust either him or you on face value however. He’s your responsibility Tonks.’ As just as quickly Snape found himself removed from the mans train of thought, forgotten almost, treated in the same fashion as one would a piece of furniture. There, but merely part of the background. Unimportant.

‘We’ll only be here as long as that mark stays gone,’ Tonks confirmed. ‘A couple of hours at the most. Harry here needs to rest though, is there a bed he can use?’

Thomas smiled at Harry, who endeavoured to return it weakly. ‘He can borrow mine.’

‘Snape will also need to take a look at you-know-what,’ Thomas raised an eyebrow at the request, but shrugged in a way to indicate the choice was hers even if he himself felt it to be an ill-advised one. ‘I’m hoping it will be able to offer us a few ideas.’

‘I doubt it’ll be much help,’ Thomas remarked. ‘They aren’t normally.’

‘And normally I’d agree with you, but this one belongs to Albus, and I always suspected he left some little trick to it.’ Tonks glanced towards Snape, who gave every impression of being deeply engrossed in a spot on the wall just behind and above her head. ‘It seems somewhat more reasoned than the others, like he put something of himself into it.’

‘I’d ask what ideas you expect then, but I fear I don’t want to know.

‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,’ Tonks chuckled hollowly as they moved down the hallway, Snape marching stiffly behind them, his eyes flickering to take in every detail he past. Each door was carefully mapped and stored, the frivolous decoration and furnishings regarded distastefully yet remembered as his boots rapped noisily on the wooden boards, a constant sneer curling his lips. ‘Sufficed to say You-Know-Who has been busier than we ever anticipated.’

‘I take it the boy has something to do with it.’ Harry snorted faintly at the comment.

Tonks smiled slyly, nudging Harry gently in the side before speaking with sincere and absolute innocence. ‘He’s the one who can defeat the Dark Lord.’

‘There’s no need for stories now love,’ Thomas laughed half-heartedly, sinking into himself as he did so. Gone was the determination that had held him upright, the strength of confrontation, and without it he seemed all the more frail and fragile, all the older. ‘It’s not fair, getting an old mans hopes up like that.’

Tonks just shook her head, winking privately at Harry who smiled grimly, any and all humour that may have been found lost. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate what Tonks was trying to do, but all it did was drum in the uselessness and the complete and inarguable impossibility of what he faced. It was ironic, given that the old man had probably believed deeply in the power of the Boy-Who-Lived just days ago. Years ago, really, although Harry’s mind still reeled at the mere thought of that. But now he was just another boy, with nothing special and nothing amazing to separate him from every other boy the man had ever seen. Standing here and facing such sudden anonymity it was refreshing to know that someone other than Harry could see, and see clearly, that he was no defeater of evil. He was probably further from it than he had ever been before. ‘He’s a half-blood,’ Tonks explained at Harry’s dismal expression. ‘He wandered into my store and I couldn’t just leave him to die.’

Thomas looked Harry up and down critically. ‘Must be pretty lucky to have survived this long.’

‘Lucky isn’t the word I’d use,’ Harry mumbled bitterly.

‘Still, you know we can’t take in every waif and stray who crosses our path.’ Thomas wouldn’t have hesitated to help for even a second were it not for the obliviation. Harry wasn’t sure if being a burden was better or worse than being an honoured and revered supposed saviour.

‘He’s important,’ Tonks clarified.

‘Must be, if you’ve gotten Severus Snape of all the Death Eaters helping you.’ Thomas leant closer, his voice dropping low enough to give Snape at the least the appearance that he wasn’t supposed to hear it, but remaining loud enough for him to catch every word all the same. ‘I’m letting you stay; just know that this is against my better judgement. But I’ve known you a long time and you’ve yet to let me down. Besides, you’re practically falling over with exhaustion and he looks close to collapse himself. But I want him out of here, and by floo. I’ve all ready taken the liberty of destroying the password you used, so it won’t work again. He is not to know where we are or have even a clue of where to find us.’

‘When we leave there is every chance we won’t be coming back.’

‘I know he’s an old friend of yours,’ Tonks snorted at Thomas’ words. ‘Well, perhaps friend is pushing it a little then. But please, Nymphadora, do not sacrifice your future, however dismal it may seem, for a moments familiarity from you past.’

She couldn’t help herself, knew it was unwise to give even the smallest hint of what was happening, of what they hoped to do even if though they had no idea of how to do it. Possibly having no idea, no plan, not even a vague direction made it even more unwise. But Thomas had helped them, and she couldn’t dispel the feeling that he deserved something, however small it was, in return. And hope was the best and only thing she had to offer. ‘If we’re very lucky we may not have to suffer this future for much longer at all.’

‘Now I am intrigued,’ Thomas looked brighter, but didn’t press for further details, seeming to draw enough strength simply from the possibility of something. ‘Very well, take the boy upstairs for a nap and I’ll see what I can do about seeing you fed before you have to run off again,’ said as if they were popping out on some random chore, light and easy in a way that calmed Tonks and deceived her into almost believing it were true, giving her a moment of peace. ‘I assume you have time to eat?’

‘Thank you,’ Tonks said appreciatively in confirmation. She could have hugged Thomas, as he bustled away down the hall, leaving them in apparent solitude. Snape watched him go coolly, not a muscle twitching to give away his thoughts until he was out of sight.

‘This is the resistance?’ Snape turned on her with incredulous disbelief, the calm dissipating under the force of his incredulity. ‘A couple of old men on deaths doorstep and boys trying to be men but finding themselves a little short on actually believing in or doing anything?’ He hadn’t expected any more. He hadn’t really expected anything except something. But this, this was no more than people playing and pretending with no real heart behind it, no real dedication.

‘I did try to tell you,’ Tonks said with grim self-satisfaction. ‘These are just ordinary people with no experience in fighting a war. There is no protection, only minimal warding, and certainly no secret forces just waiting for the day of ultimate Victory,’ she looked upset, as if she had dreamed it would one day manage to be so much more, just to find her dreams irrevocably shattered. ‘It is a place to meet in secret, a place to remember that this is not how things always were or always have to be,’ her voice grew stronger with rebellion. ‘It is another World which Voldemort can never touch and never contaminate because in here we will never believe in him and never follow him, no matter what we may be forced into when we leave.’ It was gone just as quickly though as she sighed. ‘It is all these things, but it is no army, it is no hiding place.’

Snape remained unimpressed. ‘A couple of hours may be somewhat on the generous side as far as the Mark is concerned,’ he commented. ‘And even if we do have that much, it is far from enough to concoct a plan that will keep us alive for more than five minutes after we leave. We should stay here as long as possible. This may not be much, but it is better than nothing.’ His tone indicated it was a close call though.

‘Until your mark returns is as long as possible.’

‘We cannot run forever.’

‘I do not intend to,’ Tonks said with determination, inhaling deeply and standing tall. ‘I’m going to put Harry to bed, hopefully he’ll be able to get at least a little sleep and some of this ruddy potion out his system before all hell breaks loose.’ She inclined her head towards a doorway across the corridor. ‘You can wait in there.’

‘Without your impressive guard watching me?’ Snape sneered. ‘Why, I’m honoured. So do I finally get to find out what this mysterious item is then, the one with the power to solve all our problems? Because we could certainly do with one right about now.’

‘It is in the room waiting for you,’ Tonks said softly as Snape regarded her suspiciously at his easy access, looking for the catch or the alternative, the reason why now should become later. Picking up on his apprehension Tonks made to leave, to show him he was not about to be dragged away now he was inches from finding out, that she was not dangling temptation in front of his nose with no intention of satisfying his boundless, if well controlled, curiosity. ‘Time is short,’ she said over her shoulder, ‘as you have been saying so repeatedly. It may offer you some enlightenment on how we should proceed from here.’ Snape nodded stiffly as Tonks helped Harry up the staircase, before moving to stand resolutely in front of the doorway, expression set grimly as he reached out and turned the handle.

The door slid open soundlessly, skimming with a faint whisper across the threadbare carpet as the shifted air spread gently, cobwebs fluttering almost imperceptibly with the faintest of shudders before settling again. The torches that had been lit cast a faint glow across the grimy walls but dared to do no more as their heat added to that which all ready hazed the windowless room. Edging round a faded leather armchair Snape squinted, adjusting slowly to the gloom after the brightness outside, making his way purposefully to the far corner where a large frame hung amidst the cracked and peeling paper that covered the wall, the occupant of the canvas within watching him with solemn sadness.

‘Albus.’

The portrait smiled gently as Snape stood predatorily in front of it, regarding it with unsurprised annoyance through narrowed eyes.

‘It is good to see you again, my dear boy.’

Snape snorted incredulously, his bitter laugh choked as he considered the former Headmaster with displeasure, brushing his hair from his face as he lifted his chin in confrontation. ‘I should have known you’d have somewhere else to go.’

‘Of course,’ the expansive chair that dominated the background rocked slightly as Dumbledore lowered himself gently into it, surveying the painted scene around him with fondness. ‘Fortunately that was my old Ministry portrait that you burnt, and I was never particularly attached to it. It always felt somewhat pretentious.’

Snape sneered. ‘I would hate to think I had caused you unnecessary anguish.’

The portrait nodded despondently, eyes closed and sighing loudly before Albus looked up to regard the Potions Master with sympathy. ‘You have every right to be angry with me Severus,’ Snape’s exclamation was callous and indignant as he turned on his heel, cloak whipping round behind him as he stormed for the door, Dumbledore’s words chasing ruefully after him. ‘I have asked far too much from you.’

‘No,’ Snape spun back round angrily, expression thunderous as his voice cut cold and unforgiving across the room. ‘What you asked for goes far beyond that.’

Dumbledore merely shook his head, his gaze dropped as Snape waited for the excuse, the justification. The words the Headmaster always had, never failing to defend his actions as for the greater good. ‘I did not think it would be this long.’

‘And had you known, would you still have asked me?’ Snape questioned, all ready knowing the answer even before Dumbledore nodded regretfully. He would never apologise though, would never see that he had reason too which didn’t matter since Snape could never believe in any sincerity behind it any more. Apparently you could do anything in the right name, with no guilt for those who suffered along the way.

‘It was the only way.’ No, it had been the only way he had seen at the time and once he had seen it in doing so Albus had made himself blind to all other options. Snape hadn’t expected any less however, it had merely been the final nail driven deep into his coffin as he had been all but banished to a life to which he had yielded everything to escape.

‘You sacrificed my life to save that of a dead boy.’

Albus looked pained. ‘I never believed he was dead.’

‘Which makes it right does it?’ Questioned with a tense, disbelieving laugh as Snape paced angrily, unable to keep still, unable to stop because stopping would mean thinking, remembering all he had undergone whilst moving meant that all he needed to concentrate on was making sure one foot fell in front of the other. Left, right, left, right, turn and start back again but never look at Albus, because he’ll just look disappointed; disappointed that Snape didn’t understand why the months of relentless torture and constant testing of his loyalty to a Lord he had believed forsaken were necessary. Disappointed that Snape wasn’t stronger, wasn’t better; wasn’t less seeped in darkness and more understanding that asking him to endure so much for a future Albus never expected him to enjoy was actually an honour. ‘Because the great and magnificent Albus Dumbledore is never wrong.’ He had been wrong about Quirrell, and Snape had had to pick up the pieces. He had been blind to the werewolf, and Snape had nearly died twice. And finally he had been so sure about the Boy-Who-Lived that Snape had once again walked towards the very brink of death for the unfounded belief of a man riddled with poor judgement. ‘So what is your plan now? I assume you have one; in fact I’d be amazed if you didn’t. Meddled in life and ensured you left yourself a way to meddle in death.’

‘If that is how you feel then burn me now,’ Dumbledore stood again stiffly, his hand appearing to rest against an invisible wall in front of him, as if any second it would fall through into reality, as real and solid as any other person. ‘If anyone has the right you do.’

‘You threw me to the wolves, old man,’ Snape hissed menacingly, finally meeting the portraits tired gaze. ‘You tossed me aside to protect your Golden Boy. What right did you have to value his life above mine?’

‘I did not have the right, but I did have the need.’ The need to act for the rest of the World whilst at no time actually considering those in it, the need to make decisions for thousands without heeding their will. As Albus placed himself outside the law; a vigilante who never doubted that he knew better than everyone else, who held the War as all but lost without himself. ‘You heard the prophecy, I had hoped you would understand.’

‘I tried to understand,’ Snape exclaimed with agitation. ‘I spent years trying to understand you.’

‘I was never the enigma you seemed to view me as.’ Dumbledore said softly, but Snape didn’t hear, turning back on him angrily, his eyes burning with accusation and loathing.

‘Did I not do enough, is that it?’ Asked almost desperately as though Snape expected the answer to bring with it satisfaction and therefore peace, of a sort. ‘I swore my life to you and your cause, but it was never enough.’

‘It was more than enough,’ Albus said emphatically, looking meaningfully at Snape as though the truth behind this statement could be verified with his eyes. ‘You never had to prove yourself to me Severus, although I understood why you felt you had too.’

The last words, delivered softly left Snape feeling insulted, cheated even as he scowled. ‘I had to prove myself every damn day,’ he corrected flatly. ‘You were the only thing keeping me out of Azkaban, and you made sure I knew it, made sure I remembered there was always the threat of you sending me back,’ his emotions got the better of him again as he continued, his voice rising loudly as though daring Albus to tell him he was wrong. ‘You never believed in me, never trusted me.’

‘I trusted you explicitly.’

‘Do not give me reason to doubt you,’ Snape roared, clenching his hands into tight fists, the pain it sent shooting up his arm acting as further fuel to his rage, causing it to burn more ferociously and with all consuming intent. ‘Those were your very words when the Dark Lord rose again, when you had to send me back. Do not give you reason,’ he was panting slightly now, his breaths short and shallow, his face cast in shadow. ‘For months those words plagued me as I looked and searched but never found. So tell me Albus, what reason did I ever give you?’

Albus regarded him sympathetically, expression full of pity for Snape, pity that made him nauseous, that made his stomach churn. ‘I had to be sure.’

‘I did everything I could to protect the brat,’ an incensed statement of fact as Snape’s gestures grew more wild, more frantic. ‘I must have saved his worthless hide several times over, at considerable danger to myself. And I did it for you; to prove myself worthy of the second chance you had given me.’ Snape was pacing again, his voice choked with anguish but powered by blame. ‘But there was no point, was there, since you never truly believed the darkness left me. You never believed I could be anything but a Death Eater, so what was the point in my pretending to be otherwise.’

‘I had to be sure it was not just the debt that kept you by my side.’ Snape looked aghast that the Headmaster would dare bring his debt, long since paid, forwards as justification. All arguments died before they reached his lips, shattered by the sheer insignificance of the comment. He had proved his dedication in the years since it had been fulfilled, yet it still tethered him, still reared its ugly head to attack his intentions and blacken them.

‘You were no better than the Dark Lord,’ a deep and ominous growl as Snape prowled closer. ‘At least I have never doubted where I stand with him.’

‘You rarely stand with him as I recall,’ Dumbledore said sadly. ‘Crawl yes, and frequently, but never stand.’

‘Better to grovel before someone and know it than to crawl beside someone who would claim you were their equal.’

Dumbledore shook his head wretchedly, blue eyes dull, almost grey behind his thin glasses. ‘I never meant to wrong you so unforgivably.’

It was unforgivable though, and if Albus expected forgiveness, if he expected absolution then he would be damned if he would find it here. ‘You never meant a lot of things, I’ll wager.’

‘I am dead, Severus, a mere shadow of what I once was. The anger you feel towards me is of little relevance now.’ But it was relevant. It burned inside him, threatening to burst through its flimsy container at any moment. Anger that could never be dispelled, that could never be satisfied since its cause was beyond reach. It was anger that would follow him to his grave and beyond, anger that would breach the realms of life to exact its revenge, to seek justice for all he had suffered.

A soft noise issued behind Snape, the faintest of clicks that boomed unwanted in his ears, violating the small sanctuary he had created to house his fury as he swung round violently to confront it, blind and unfettered rage still pulsing through him as the door swung inwards.

‘Potter,’ Snape snarled, as Harry flinched at the venom behind the words, his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth with the fear it instilled as his body, framed in the light from the hallway beyond as he took an involuntary step backwards, legs barely supporting him. ‘Can never do what your told, can you; even when the instruction is something as simple as to sleep.’

‘Like anyone could sleep with the racket you’re making,’ Harry retorted sharply, his own temper rising in response to the tension that swirled palpably in the room as he looked round. It was swept away as his gaze fell on the portrait though, eyes widening with disbelief that mingled with the faintest slither of hope. ‘Professor Dumbledore?’ his voice thin with shock.

‘He’s here?’ Dumbledore said sharply, looking back to Snape who glared with barely contained fury.

‘Oh yes,’ his face shifted into a feral smile, a malicious light glinting behind his eyes. ‘I waited for him, just as you requested. I had no choice, you made sure of that. It was either wait or condemn myself to a long and painful death. But then again, you could say I have been dying that way for twenty three years now.’ Dumbledore’s gaze flickered helplessly between the two of them, blunted with pity and the weight of his own failure as he looked pleadingly to Snape.

‘You know this isn’t right,’ he implored.

‘Apparently I don’t,’ Snape sneered wrathfully. ‘All I know that I am no longer willing to die for a lie poorly told; and if time has taught me anything it is that there is no point in my pretending to be something you have taught me I so obviously cannot be.’ He spat the words bitterly, all his hurt and hatred reaching a peak as the memories of a lifetime of nurtured betrayal spread before him. ‘Enlighten me finally then Albus,’ his voice cold and flat in the stillness that had engulfed the room, intense with anticipation. ‘Since you were so determined to see reason, is this reason enough?’ He drew his wand with a flourish, head bowed as he regarded it as though doubting something so small and simple could ever be enough, his eyes flickering upwards to watch the old Headmaster. Dumbledore didn’t move though, standing tall and sad as the final lingering trace of his soul was crushed with regret.

‘Harry,’ he said affectionately, his voice soft yet punctuated with despairing urgency, his eyes never leaving Snape as the man dragged his wand through the air in a slow arc until the tip pointed inevitably at the portrait. ‘Run.’

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