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Chapter 20: Casting Shadows

Everyone who casts a shadow,
Seems to stand in the sun.
And when your step leaves a track
You seem to be going on.

I know myself, I know my shades.
But I don't see no light.
And if there's a track, it means: no turning back
No matter what you try.

-Wolfsheim, Everyone Who Casts A Shadow



‘Severus, a moment alone, if you please.’ Dumbledore’s voice was soft, yet there was no hint of an option the question itself suggested there should be. He didn’t wait for a reply either, his attention apparently focused elsewhere as he swirled his wand above the desk with a flourish. A tray appeared at the same moment Snape gently closed the door after Lupin and turned back to face him, his expression as blank and emotionless as his words.

‘For what purpose.’ He glared as Dumbledore gestured towards the seat Snape had left only minutes ago, crossing his arms and standing his ground, refusing to play into the relaxed and friendly atmosphere the Headmaster was trying to achieve, apparently oblivious to the insult it embodied.

Albus merely smiled warmly though, shifting his pensieve aside, the movement causing tiny waves of the silvery substance to lap against the sides. He lifted a steaming teapot and poured its contents in the two cups, levitating an obscene amount of sugar into his own before turning the other towards Snape, lifting his eyebrows meaningfully as he drank from his own, leaning back into his chair whilst Snape remained where he stood with no indication of moving. ‘Grace this old man with your company and a cup of tea.’ Snape couldn’t have stopped the snort of incredulity anymore than he could the sneer that curled the corners of his mouth.

‘You wish to drink tea with me?’ he sounded disbelieving.

‘We have not talked in some time; an oversight on my part I admit, and one I intend to remedy.’ Snape couldn’t help the growl in the back of his throat as he met the Headmasters level, open gaze, his own lips pursing into a thin line as he narrowed his eyes and tried to relax the angry stiffness that seemed to have fused his spine.

‘You are not fooling anyone with this banal act of platitude,’ Snape managed to snarl when he felt he could speak, if not completely civilly, then at least without cursing. ‘I do not need our acquaintance reinforced with such a deliberate offering. It will not change anything.’ It wouldn’t, and Snape refused to believe that Albus truly thought it could. No doubt the old man felt he had to at least try though, had to at least maintain the image of faith that had been so irrevocably shattered in the space of a single night. ‘Do you honestly believe that tea is the means by which you can guarantee my wavering loyalty?’ He would play the part of devoted follower no longer, in the hope his reluctance would force the Headmaster to drop the ridiculous farce of trust he had maintained for so long.

Dumbledore gave an offensive little chuckle instead. ‘My dear Severus,’ he said lightly, shaking his head as if to dismiss the words. ‘You have all ready sentenced yourself for a crime you have not yet even committed.’ It felt as if Albus was forcibly steering him onto the path of betrayal, kindling his hatred with remarks dressed in the guise of innocence. And he did it with that infuriating twinkle in his eyes that always seemed to strip away the layers of self-control Snape meticulously applied and tended every moment. It battered through his shields of calm and logic and stirred up the frustration beneath until it bubbled close to overflowing.

‘Have not yet?’ he managed to grind out, as his anger once again rose with the thought that the Headmaster could not even grant him the dignity of the truth, the same honesty that had spawned his first declaration of mistrust those few years ago. ‘Then you admit my doing so is inevitable.’

‘Nor have you lost your gift for twisting my words to suit your own purpose.’ The hint of annoyance in Dumbledore’s words caused Snape a momentary flash of satisfaction as he crossed his arms across his chest, lifting his chin to stare challengingly down his hooked nose.

‘You call it twisting on my part, but perhaps it is merely the truth taking an opportunity to rear its head amidst a sea of lies.’ Albus all but rolled his eyes at Snape’s tone, placing his cup delicately back on the table with a faint chink of china against the wood, meeting the potions master’s accusing gaze over the rims of his glasses.

‘And perhaps it is no more than what it is.’ Albus sighed, the irritation leaving his posture as Fawkes crooned from his perch, the sound causing Snape to tense warily before the Headmaster continued, his tone once again adopting the patient and understanding undercurrents that defined his way of speaking and made it, on occasions, infinitely more frustrating to listen to. ‘A feeble attempt to demonstrate that you need not believe yourself fixed to this future and this future alone. I would not have thought you such a devout believer of destiny.’

‘Oh please, Albus,’ Snape sneered. ‘You make it sound as though I have been listening to the tragic wallowings of Sybil, so let me assure you that I have equal disdain for any opinion she may chose to voice.’

Albus cocked an eyebrow. ‘Yet you seem fixated on the belief that the path to the future Harry has seen is the only one available for you to walk.’

‘You seem to have mistaken me,’ Snape corrected harshly. ‘It is not destiny in which I believe, Albus, but the unchangeable qualities of human nature itself. It is not my destiny,’ he spat the word as though it tasted foul, ‘of which I am convinced so much as it is who I am. You yourself have acknowledged its possibility. Either what Harry has said is true and I am a traitor, or he is lying and I am not. There can be no in between.’ Snape winced, cutting off his tirade and earning him a raised eyebrow from the Headmaster as he clenched his arm with something approaching apprehension. It was too soon, for all that Snape had been expecting and waiting for it. The fiery pain scorched beneath his skin and he had never resented it so much. He had known it was coming, and suspected it would be sooner rather than later. How could it not be, given everything that had just passed. ‘He is calling,’ Snape confirmed.

‘Not something entirely unexpected,’ Dumbledore watched Snape for a moment. He had made no move to leave and was even now staring hesitantly at the fireplace. ‘Is there something more you wish to say?’

‘You have a choice,’ Snape blurted, scowling at the sound of his own voice before the unfeeling mask slid back into place. ‘Given all you now know you do not have to let me return,’ he commented flatly.

‘I ask no more of you now than I have in the past.’

‘That is not my point and you know it,’ Snape snarled, his sudden inability to maintain his calm exterior serving only to further prevent him from reaching for it. ‘You must admit you would sleep a lot easier were I not called so regularly into His presence.’

‘That is true, but not for the reasons I suspect you imagine. I would sleep a lot easier knowing you were out of harms way.’

‘You will willingly continue to let me walk back into the service of the man I will betray you for?’

Albus still hadn’t looked away, still maintained his firm gaze as he spoke calmly and with unwavering surety. ‘I do not believe you will betray me.’

‘Keeping me from Him is the only way you can be sure of that though.’

‘It is not.’

‘You really are blind,’ it would have been less menacing if he had shouted, but Snape had never been one for hot bursts of anger. His fury was instead cold and deep and always waiting. He tucked it away now, releasing his arm to hang at his side where it burned like ice. ‘You must be certain of this. I cannot delay indefinitely.’

Albus sighed, a sound that heralded a weariness Snape had never before seen in the old man. ‘I trust you, Severus,’ and as the words washed over him he felt, if not belief, then the possibility that belief was not completely beyond him. ‘Over the years you have done nothing to give me cause to doubt that, and it has not changed.’ Snape bit down mercilessly on the flicker of fury that sparked at that comment. He had done something, even if he had yet to know what for himself. But Albus’ words were continuing without him, taking with them the chance to dwell once again as the Headmaster leant forwards and across the desk, eyes meeting Snape’s own and filled with regretful understanding. ‘Do not forget that I have seen what you suffer at Voldemort’s hands. You have no more desire to keep going back than I have to continue to have to send you.’

Albus did not hold the gaze though, hands splayed on the polished wood of the desk as he leant backwards once more to breathe deeply. Snape did not have time for this, for the Headmaster to drift in his own thoughts whilst his own arm pulsed with ever increasing pain that refused to ebb, calling him, demanding his presence. Albus’ had yet to finish though, even if his next words were unexpected. ‘And at the end of the day only you can make this choice, safe in the knowledge that you will have my complete support no matter what decision you make,’ Dumbledore looked up gravely. ‘I would be foolish to deny that this new knowledge changes things, for you more than any of us. And whilst the information you have provided in the past has been invaluable, this is perhaps a moment to look beyond that.’

Snape felt his throat squeeze shut, his blood pounding in his ears so that he could barely hear what followed. ‘Up until this day you have gone back as a soldier of the light, my soldier if you will; my spy under my orders. I have asked more of you than I have any other member of the Order, and I am ashamed that it has taken such a terrible ordeal for me to realise that in my zeal I have perhaps asked more of you than I had the right.’ The pressure Snape had felt dissipated to an emptiness almost as uncomfortable. ‘There is no doubt in my mind that if you returned to serve Voldemort in your heart it would be because I pushed you there. And in these last few minutes the thought has struck me as to what I would be doing now had Harry not found a way back, had we woken to find him gone, and I cannot lie to myself that I would do anything less than use my most valuable resource to get him back.’ Dumbledore looked sad now, and Snape had to refrain from forcing him onwards, making him continue the admission he needed to hear. ‘I would ask too much of you, I realise this now. But Harry is important to the war, more important than a single life. But his importance should not diminish that of others. I am willing to lay my life down to protect the boy, I do not have the right to lay down the lives of others.’ He sighed again. ‘Which is why I am now giving you the choice I never gave you before. You must realise his importance for yourself and the sacrifice you make must be willing. I will not send you back, but I will ask you. What you do now you must do of your own free will.’

The choice had never been that simple though, even as Albus spoke of free will tinged with manipulation. The chance to make the choice provided it was the right one. ‘If I am not your spy then I am useless.’

Dumbledore refrained from arguing, for what little dignity it left Snape, although his silence would have been too much to ask for. ‘It pains me that I have led you to believe so.’ Snape merely nodded in reply, standing gracefully and reaching for the pot of floo powder, the words that followed slicing through him unexpected. ‘As it pains me that you fear failure so much you would actively seek it out merely to maintain your illusion of control.’ Snape didn’t look back at the Headmaster as he threw the powder into the flames, disappearing in a rush of smoke that was all the answer to that particular comment he felt needed to be given.


***


‘You don’t believe me, do you?’ Harry asked quietly, sounding defeated as he finally broke the tense silence that had engulfed them as they made their way through the empty corridors of the school, Lupin’s strides slow and measured as he allowed Harry to set the pace. He stopped frequently, although whether this was to catch his breath or just to stare out the windows in wary distrust Remus couldn’t really say. He resisted the urge to levitate or even carry the small boy the rest of the distance. Harry had apparently taken all the help he was willing to receive.

‘It would be pretty difficult not too,’ Remus adopted a diplomatic tone that spoke neither of complete disbelief or overwhelming certainty. There could be no doubting the general truth behind the tale, but Remus was nothing if not a hardened pragmatist, and had yet to decide which specifics had been unavoidably altered by the overpowering bias of those involved. ‘The evidence is rather staggering.’

‘I mean about Snape.’ The question was cold and straight to the point Harry knew Remus had been carefully skirting, accompanied with a fearsome stare Remus felt was challenging him to take the same stance as the Headmaster, to effectively declare he too believed Harry a liar. Not that either Remus or Dumbledore did necessarily think that. Far from it, they had both accepted the future Harry retold as a possibility. But unlike Harry, and evidently Snape from his reaction to retelling, they were not convinced it was the only possibility. Remus kept the similarities he saw in his best friend’s son and his worst enemy to himself.

‘It is not as simple as mere belief,’ Remus spoke with soft reproach, shaking his head as Harry looked sulky. It occurred to him there was no point in trying to dress the truth up in fancy words to soften the meaning behind them into something Harry might find acceptable. Blunt honesty would be treated with the same hostility as if it were veiled and sugar coated to seem more tolerable. Harry would have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from his cemented conclusions.

‘Why not?’

‘Severus is not a bad man,’ Remus had his hands on Harry’s shoulders, pulling him round to face him, forcing him to meet his gaze so Remus could be assured he was at least listening even if he refused to hear. ‘But even good men can sometimes be led into terrible things.’

‘If you knew what he did to you, you wouldn’t say that,’ Harry said with painful conviction.

‘He hasn’t done anything to me.’

‘But he will do,’ Remus bit back on the urge to shake the boy until he dropped the stubborn attitude. Remus was no expert on the subject, he had found divination ultimately pointless and filled with glaring inconsistencies and hypocrisies, but he wished now he had paid more attention so he could better put into words exactly why the concept of a predestined future was absurd. There were prophecies, yes, but even they maintained the offer of choice, limiting the future but not to a single outcome. Harry seemed determined that what he had seen would play itself out again though, oblivious to the fact that his mere presence had all ready changed it beyond measure. ‘And if he would do it then, then he will do it again now.’

Patience, Remus reminded himself, was a virtue. He could rant and plead and cajole and explain repeatedly to Harry to the end of days, but to get through to him he had to find a way to show him the truth in what he said. ‘Harry, listen. Who we are and what we do are not always in agreement,’ Harry gave a small snort of doubt. ‘Remember that night all those years ago now. I forgot to take my potion, a seemingly innocent act. But nevertheless it was an act that almost led to your death.’ Harry tilted his head sceptically, looking unconvinced.

‘It wasn’t your fault.’

Remus took a deep breath, taking a moment to curse the fact that the son appeared to have inherited the same trait that had been so frustrating in the father: a refusal to see in anything but black and white. ‘It was my fault Harry, and no amount of denial can make it otherwise.’ Harry seemed to want to argue the point further, so Remus didn’t give him a chance. ‘I have come to accept, however, that it does not make me a bad person. A careless one, yes. A foolish one on occasions most certainly. But not bad.’

‘Snape didn’t just forget to take a potion though,’ Harry wriggled himself out of Remus grip and stepped backwards, crossing his arms defiantly. ‘He forgot what bloody side he was supposed to be on.’ It sounded like so many arguments Remus had heard regarding Severus over the years, and whilst during his time as a student Remus had been inclined to accept such arguments, it really was time for them to die.

‘Severus Snape is the most rigidly moral man I know,’ he hadn’t meant to sound quite so exasperated, and the light of betrayal in Harry’s eyes had always been enough to stop him when it shone that same way in James’. It wouldn't do so now. ‘He knows what he is capable of doing, and it is that knowledge that stops him from doing so more completely than anything else ever could.’

‘He torments his students for fun and some warped sense of personal satisfaction.’ Harry said with disgust, apparently completely ignorant of the fact that Snape was not the first teacher to have done so, nor would he ever be the last. Remus couldn’t help but chuckle at the obliviousness of youth.

‘I never claimed his morals couldn’t do with a little sharpening on occasion,’ the comment seemed to calm Harry a bit, as the tenseness he hadn’t noticed the boy carried sagged from his shoulders. ‘But they are unbending where it is important. He may cut you down with biting words, but you must know there is not a single student he wouldn’t lay down his life for to protect.’ Remus took a step closer again, his hand once again coming to rest on Harry’s shoulder, although this time it remained more as a comforting weight than as a means of restraint. ‘He stood between you and a werewolf Harry, and that is not something you should have ever dismissed so lightly.’

‘He sent you out to feed on Tonks,’ Harry quipped angrily in response.

‘Pardon?’

‘In the future. Voldemort wanted to find a way to control werewolves as murderous hunters. Snape picked you as a test subject, and when it came to actually testing it he sent you after Tonks, to see if he could make you kill someone you cared for.’ Harry would have stormed ahead at this moment did his legs not feel almost too heavy to lift, instead contenting himself with sullen silence he would not break, giving Remus no choice but to think on the declaration as they continued through the school.

***


Severus Snape was not blind to the ugly parody he made walking down the corridors of the Dark Lord’s place, the stones sounding once again in their sympathetic ring below his boots, their noise a hated familiarity that twisted and distracted his thoughts with half-buried grudges and manipulated truths. They seemed almost mocking now, echoing his footsteps back to him tinged with malicious humour at his discomfort behind the white mask, laughing in his ears and dredging up the same words he had dwelt on not a few days prior, singing them in a high pitched taunt in his ears. Do not give me reason to doubt.

It was only a few days prior that he had been searching for that reason; and if he had failed to see that which he had apparently provided all those years ago, he certainly seemed to have provided a valid one now, and done so without having to lift a finger. If Potter’s story was to be believed there was not just a single reason to doubt him, there was every reason. Albus could talk all he wanted of the folly of destiny, it didn’t matter. Snape had it in him to betray the trust of those closest to him. There was nothing more he needed to know.

There was still so much he didn’t understand though; so much left unanswered that gnawed relentlessly at him, coaxing his thoughts into a constant swirling mess he couldn’t tame. It made no sense; there was no logic behind it, no reasoning he could conceive to explain his main, intense concern, that he could do something so inconceivable. He was not naïve enough to deny the cold truth; he was enough of a realist to recognise that at least a sliver of him was capable, if not willing to commit such murderous monstrosities as those recounted to him. No, his defence could never rely entirely upon his character, and he would never be fool enough to even attempt to claim it could.

If there was one thing on which he could be certain though it was his own worth, to both Master’s he served. And whilst one would claim his indispensability, the other did not hesitate in complete and unwavering honesty. Severus Snape knew of his tenuous position within the ranks of the Death Eaters, knew that of those present his merit barely glimmered. And the knowledge of this was evidenced by the surprise with which Potter’s story had struck him. He had known of no plan to remove the boy in such an extreme way, had heard not even the whispers of the formation of an idea that would be enacted in the future to have such an acute influence on the past, the present even. But it had to exist now, even if as nothing more than a vague hope, else why now, why this day? Convenience, the ideal set of circumstance would mean nothing if there was no one to understand the why behind it. The Dark Lord was planning for this even now, Snape knew, and if the early nature of his summons were any indication he expected the results he envisioned.

‘Severus, you are late.’ He had arrived in the central chamber and barely realised it, as Snape shook his head imperceptibly in a futile attempt to clear his thoughts as he sunk to his knees, head bowed.

‘Most humble apologies, my Lord, I was detained by Dumbledore. He was reluctant to allow me to leave.’ That was true enough, and the Dark Lord could read into it however he wanted.

‘Do not concern yourself. Given the circumstances I was expecting no less.’ Snape maintained his indifferent expression, allowing his thoughts to swirl with a genuine hint of confusion to hide his growing anxiety. Perhaps coming back now had been a mistake, but Snape had wanted answers. Not for Dumbledore, not for the precious Boy Who Lived or the fate of the Wizarding World, but to satisfy the endless questions he had for himself alone; to see if he could spot even an inkling of the future he had been told was coming.

Given the circumstances.

He had almost missed it, so engrossed in his own thoughts, cursing his distraction. A seemingly innocent statement, or as innocent as anything leaving that twisted mouth could hope to be, that hinted at something far deeper. The Dark Lord had expected his arrival to be difficult, had expected something to delay him. The expectation would not have existed were he a mere messenger of the facts. If Potter had simply disappeared Albus would have told him what to say, patted him on the head and sent him off like a good little boy. There would be no need for delay unless there were suspicion, and the Dark Lord had all but confirmed the possibility of such a thing. The feeling that he was walking along a narrow precipice grew as Snape kept his balance only with the unfounded hope that he was, this once, mistaken.

‘Potter, My Lord…’ Snape started, horrified at how thick his voice sounded. But his senses were screaming at him that something was wrong, that he had missed something crucial he couldn’t possibly hope to know but would live to regret not realising sooner. He had pieced together only half of a far greater picture, as he frantically turned his thoughts over and over in search of the elusive truth. ‘He arrived at the school this morning distressed and with a most unusual story to tell.’ Everything he had heard in the last hours swam in his head as he spoke, the pieces trying desperately to slot themselves together in time. But he needed more of it, more time to follow the logical path. ‘And a Timeturner.’ Potter had been sent to the future, a future in which the Dark Lord had achieved his ultimate goal, a future in which he, Severus Snape, stood willingly at his right hand, a place he had never imagined himself to be. And it wasn’t just a matter of loyalty that fuelled his doubt over the likelihood of his ever standing in such a place, although that was the thought that caused him the most distress. Noble intentions of facing death before submitting himself to such servitude were all well and good, but ultimately far too melodramatic and Gryffindor for his tastes. He did know his place, and it was at the Dark Lords feet, where he had always been.

Unless he proved himself unequivocally. Unless he proved his complete and unwavering devotion.

He tossed that thought aside. He had no part in the kidnapping of Harry Potter and dwelling on the impossible would only distract. It crawled insidiously back as Snape looked up to meet to knowing eyes of the Dark Lord, however, and the subtle inclination of his head in confirmation as the puzzle leapt beneath his eyes, fully formed, yet displaying a picture he had no desire to see.

Unless he helped hand over Harry Potter.

The conversation in Dubmledore’s office flashed past in his head as he sought with vague horror for a comment that could indicate otherwise, that could shed even the slightest doubt on the prospect of what he suddenly comprehended he could have done. But Potter hadn’t known himself who sent to him the future, had he? Someone had violated Grimmauld Place, he had said, someone had passed the wards and protections to place the item round his neck, but that someone had never been named.

And the Timeturner he had handed to Dumbledore had been normal, couldn’t have been the one to send him to future, which meant the boy had all ready used two of them in his trip. And if two had been used then who was to say there couldn’t be third?

Snape did not of any plan involving Potter, and he had a sudden, horrifying doubt that that particular excuse would carry any weight whatsoever any more. Time, it seemed, was both the ultimate alibi and the final nail in his coffin at the same time. He doubted that anyone else in the room knew of such a plan either; anyone other than the Dark Lord himself, so the person responsible couldn’t be named, not until they’d committed the crime itself.

A spear of hope flashed through him. Helping wasn’t the same as doing. He did not have to be the one who had placed the item round his neck, because if he was that person then he had no hope of redemption. He could have worked to hinder the final goal, but found himself unavoidably hampered by circumstance. If he wasn’t the one to place the Timeturner round the neck of a young boy his betrayal was not set in stone. Except it was, because the final clue was there, as plain as day. The final, damning piece of evidence.

‘My Wolfsbane, it was drugged, obviously as part of the plan to take Harry.’

And Severus had protested that there was no one with the knowledge, no one with the ability to do such a thing without his noticing. But that wasn’t true anymore, was it. No; because there was one person who had the skill to mask such tampering and the familiarity to enter his labs unseen and undetected. Himself. He was the only one who could have drugged the werewolf unknown, which made him the one who had placed the item round Potters neck to take him to a future that had blackened without him. And he could only have done it willingly.

He was a traitor. Not now, but one day he would be. It was inevitable, wasn’t it? The actions of the present spoke for the future. He had done it, and he would do it again.

‘You have always been one of the more intelligent, Severus,’ Snape looked up again with panic to meet the eyes of the Dark Lord, the anger within that had replaced understanding confirming his every fear.

‘I will fail you,’ the words came out quietly, aimed at who he was not sure. It seemed he would fail most people.

‘You will. But you have proven your loyalty to me in the meantime, a loyalty I have long doubted. For that I will not kill you,’ the smallest of smiles, obscene and grotesque on the lipless face, ‘you will merely wish I had.’

And the day around him darkened to the sound of his own screams.

***



‘Ah, Mr Potter. I should have known that if any student were going to drag me from my holiday it would be you.’ Madam Pomfrey stepped from the fireplace, a single bag in hand as she banished the lingering dust on her robes with a flick of her wand before turning her attention to the rest of the room. A House Elf appeared with a pop and immediately set to preparing the nearest bed, as crisp sheets wrapped themselves round the mattress and the surrounding lights flickered to life.

‘I didn’t mean to interrupt you,’ Harry started guiltily, watching nervously as the bag was placed down and opened, its contents consisting primarily of vials that came flying out with speed that suggested they would shatter on impact, but instead came to rest in neat, ordered rows on the bedside table.

Pomfrey turned to Harry, her expression set as her hands rested on her hips. ‘Did I say it was a problem?’ she demanded, nodding her permission for the House Elf to leave.

‘No.’

‘Then do not assume it is such,’ she pointed to a nearby bed, clearing her throat as Harry shuffled slowly towards it to hurry him up. ‘Hop up then and lets see what you’ve managed to do this time.’ Harry lifted himself stiffly onto the bed, the sheets soft and cool to the touch as he leant backwards onto the pillow, reaching out instinctively to grab Remus’ hand as he started to move away.

‘I’m not going anywhere,’ Remus reassured as Harry looked embarrassed but made no move to relax his grip, flinching as Madam Pomfrey snapped her wand round to point at him. The spells flew with reassuring efficiency though, the tip of her wand glowing in a multitude of colours, each of which was examined intently.

‘No serious injuries,’ she finally said with a smile. ‘Which I suppose is a first for you.’ Harry managed a small chuckle at the comment even though it sounded harsh and forced. ‘Exhaustion, and there are still elements of a paralysing potion floating around in your bloodstream. Do I want to know how that, of all things, got there?’

‘I guess my toes do still feel kind of numb,’ Harry commented now he thought about it, avoiding the question and flexing his fingers, which felt heavy and unresponsive. The medi-witch didn’t push him either, fingering through the vials of potions.

‘You’ll need to take an antidote.’

‘But I all ready took one,’ Harry argued, pushing himself up onto his elbows to watch her more closely.

‘It wasn’t nearly strong enough to completely negate all the effects.’ Having dismissed all those she brought with her, Madam Pomfrey summoned a vial from the nearby cabinet, popping the cork and sniffing the contents before holding it out. ‘Take this.’

‘Where did it come from?’ Harry questioned, feeling Remus’ hand tightening round his own.

‘Don’t start this again,’ his tone was chastising.

‘I want to know,’ Harry said with mulish determination.

‘All the school stores are replenished by Professor Snape,’ Madam Pomfrey shook the bottle gently to remind him of its presence. ‘Do not worry, although it was brewed last year it is still viable.’

‘I don’t want it,’ Harry said sullenly. ‘I’ll wait for the effects to disappear in their own time.’ Poppy looked at him agape for a second, her arm dropping before she closed her mouth and narrowed her eyes.

‘Your body cannot neutralise the potion on its own,’ her voice was strict and spoke of terrible punishments for disobeying.

‘It’ll wear off eventually.’

‘No, it won’t,’ Remus said definitively before Madam Pomfrey could launch into her usual tirade against students who insisted they knew better than her. ‘The numbness will spread and whilst it doesn’t have the strength to debilitate completely, you will still find it markedly incapacitating.’ Pomfrey nodded in agreement as Harry snatched the vial with a snarl, gaze glancing between the two of them a number of times before he tipped his head back and swallowed, trying not to gag at the familiar unpleasantness. This time it seemed not only to sink to his stomach, but to leave a thick, uncomfortable coating down the sides of his throat he couldn’t swallow away. He took the glass of water handed to him, only taking a couple of sips before grimacing and deciding against any more. It didn’t wash away the feeling, just compounded the horrible oily sensation.

‘I won’t take any of the others,’ he said, wiping at his mouth with the back of his and nodding to the row Pomfrey had organised next to his bedside.

‘You need sleep and nourishment.’

‘Then I’ll do it the normal way.’ Madam Pomfrey gave an impatient huff, but swept away with the vials anyway as Remus helped Harry beneath the cool sheets of the bed. He was tired, but sleep was the last thing he wanted to do. He had to know Remus was safe, that he wasn’t going to wake up and discover that this was actually the dream, or that Voldemort had tried again. ‘You won’t go anywhere, will you?’ he yawned, forcing his eyes to stay open and ignoring the foggy feeling eating its way through his brain.

‘I will stay until you wake up.’

‘Thanks.’ Remus moved to remove Harry’s glasses, pushing his fringe from his face and frowning as he saw Harry’s scar, rubbing away the thin trail of blood that had welled there and showing Harry, who pressed the back of his hand against it just to have it also come back smeared with red. ‘That’s odd.’

‘It hasn’t bled before?’

‘Not on its own,’ Harry frowned, feeling nothing but the mild throb in his forehead he had been feeling since his encounter with Voldemort. It hadn’t subsided at all, but at least it hadn’t gotten any worse either. He barely opened his mouth to say so too before a wave of pain hit him, accompanied with a storm of rage and hatred as Harry opened his mouth and screamed and screamed, choking as a potion was forced past his teeth and dribbled from the side of his mouth, burning in his lungs as he scrambled for air, hands thrashing against the covers.

And beneath the fury there was a weaving thread of satisfaction.

It dissipated slowly, scuttling reluctantly away as the pressure on his wrists that Harry hadn’t even noticed was released and he could pull his arms protectively round his middle. ‘He knows, and he’s mad,’ Harry managed to whisper quietly as the dreamless sleep engulfed him and his head lolled back.

***


The fireplace spat and flared green as Snape fell through, collapsing to his knees with a grimace, teeth clenched so that only the sharp exhalation of his breath and the shaking of his limbs gave away his pain. He remained there for a few moments, breath rasping through his nose as he closed his eyes and tried to calm the convulsing of his stomach, which clenched painfully, and the shuddering waves that rippled under his skin. He started to push himself upright, faltering as his legs shook uncontrollably and threatened to spill him straight back down.

The Dark Lord trusted him, and Snape did not know whether the knowledge made him proud or nauseous. It would certainly make his role as spy that much easier, whilst at the same time that bit more perilous. There was so much he could do with this newfound trust, the potential for information he could bring back to the Order practically limitless.

Except any offer of knowledge would have to be presented alongside the truth of how he gained it. His sudden leap in success would not be conveniently brushed aside. Dumbledore would not be so quick to declare his faith in his Potions Master if he discovered the truth. In fact he had all but said it himself, that he had no doubt that if Snape were to return to the Dark Lord it would be because the Headmaster pushed him there. And if anything were to give him reason to push, this proof of his betrayal would do it where mere allegations of it would not. No, were Albus to learn of his part in the future Potter had visited it would not be from his lips.

Determination gave him strength, as he locked his knees beneath him, swaying but upright. He had been given a new task, which he would report as was required of him. And he would do what good he could whilst he was still in a position to do it, in the hope it would atone for what he would become. And if he was going to fail, the failure would be his alone.

It would be his secret for as long as he could keep it, casting shadows before it into an uncertain future.

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