I was amazed at how many people had spoken these words. Hell, they’d even left my lips on occasions: ‘Dumbledore trusts him.’ They stood for a lot, validated your existence and lifted your status. Got you out of a fair amount of trouble too, away from that metaphorical creek we have all navigated without that much needed paddle. And most people forget the names of some of those others who could fall into that category; Quirrell, Fudge, Mad-Eye…well, not exactly Mad-Eye, but the point is still valid. But sometimes they remember, sometimes they look back with disbelief at how often Albus can get it wrong. And sometimes they find themselves losing trust in him too, and the same words become twisted into a condemnation and accusation.
They are the words a man must learn to hide behind.
Chapter 1: A Reason To Doubt.
‘You have proven yourself loyal in the past, but the past is not now. Do not give me reason to doubt you, Severus.’
Do not give me reason, a phrase that contained so many hidden meanings. And threats. There were always a fair few of them to be found in any sentence that fell from his lips. To ignore the potential threat was to all but hand yourself over, which was never pleasant. Any other man might have shuddered at the thought, but this was Snape and only the faintest of flashes passed behind his eyes to indicate his discomfort.
Casting such thoughts from his mind, Snape picked up his pace, the stones ringing sharply beneath his boots as the words refused to be banished, tickling at the back of his mind. Some people had no right knowing so much, had no right assuming so much, especially when the assumption involved him, and even more so when it hit so close to the truth. The truth was useful, you would never hear him say otherwise. There was nothing better for hiding behind, no better guise for the words he wrapped so easily in it. But it was not to be used as a weapon, to be brandished so bluntly, so honestly and with no disguise and no hidden depths. The real truth was something to be guarded, not thrown disregarding into the world for anyone to see.
The mask fit snugly over his face. It wasn’t uncomfortable anymore; he had grown somewhat attached to it over time, wearing it as a second skin. And with a whiteness so close to that of his own it blended perfectly, becoming more than just a mask and almost a part of him, smoothing his face and his features into something that was only a semblance of who he was. It wasn’t just a mask you could hide behind, it was a mask you could live behind, and thinking of it as such made wearing it all the easier.
The room was dark, which was no surprise, all in the name of an impossible anonymity. No follower was to know the name of the one who stood beside him. And in theory it all worked seamlessly, until reality appeared and twisted its arm behind its back before giving it a sharp kick. Some people couldn’t be hidden by a mask, couldn’t be concealed by the darkness and the robes. They knew each other, some more than others and not always everyone, but they knew enough. Enough so that when you met outside this room, unprotected and defenceless, you held the others hand slightly longer than the handshake necessarily required and the gaze went deeper than was strictly necessary. And with that person you would forever associate the screams you had heard, a whole variety in pitch and intensity for the connoisseur to appreciate and the weak to shy from. You were known amongst each other by your victim’s last breath.
But still you behaved as though it were otherwise, you maintained the façade of ignorance out of tradition, and stored everything you knew for future reference, for future bargaining. It was an endless struggle for superiority, to gain the upper hand through bribery and blackmail and simply knowing more than the other.
Do not give me reason to doubt you.
Well there was always at least one person with something to hold over him, who knew so much more about him when he struggled to find enough pieces about the other to form even a portion of his lifetime. It was hardly surprising given the choices he had made though: they demanded mistrust at least in private, no matter how unshakeable it appeared in public, for it would do no good for your followers to know you ever wavered, ever doubted.
It was a voice you believed should be cold and merciless, but instead it rang richly from the walls, making it that much easier to obey as he sank subserviently down, all other thoughts leaving. He had been dwelling on them for too long, long enough to cause suspicion if the Dark Lord were to realise how they plagued him and tormented him.
Reason to doubt.
When there could be no reason. His position relied upon the utmost trust, the utmost belief of where his loyalties lay. He would not betray them.
‘Another family falls, another potential enemy is struck down.’ Snape could feel the figure next to him relax with a loud sigh as the Dark Lord surveyed the room, scarlet eyes bright in the darkness. ‘And yet I have achieved nothing.’ The same sickly sweet tones, but with an edge that spoke of blood and death and unimaginable pain. ‘Every day you kill, every day the Mudbloods and the Muggle-lovers fall to my power, yet I have achieved nothing. The Dark Mark hangs in the sky, but it is not enough. It will not hand me the world.’ Voldemort smiled, his thin lips curling slightly at the corners as he slowly paced through the ranks, his ranks. ‘You waste your time on the small and insignificant when they will not remain so for much longer, when they are not the ones who will provide the ultimate threat.’ It was true; in the thousands they had slaughtered not one carried a name worth remembering, had held a status worth dying for. They were picking off the weak whilst the strong grew stronger. ‘You will bring down the Order, you will destroy the Ministry.’ The voice filled with passion, with loathing as his eyes flashed gleefully. ‘You will strike at the very heart of their resistance and watch as it crumbles.’
‘But My Lord!’ The voice was hesitant, and with good reason, feeble in the silence that engulfed the room. ‘Surely there is only one we need bring down?’ Snape smiled mercilessly to himself that such a pathetic voice could make such an astute statement, that the fury pulsing from his Master was not aimed at him.
‘You would bring me Harry Potter?’ Such lightness, such deceit in a voice so hypnotising. ‘You would place his lifeless body before me in the knowledge that someone so insignificant, so eternally,’ he spat the words hatefully, ‘lucky could never be my equal, my adversary.’
‘It would be my greatest honour.’ Still pathetic, but with a coat of grease that allowed it to slide ingratiatingly.
‘And then the world would slowly crumble; without its protector it would have no other choice, and we shall remain to pick up the pieces, to rebuild the way it was always intended.’
‘Yes, My Lord.’
‘No.’ A couple jumped, those who could not yet read the subtle signs and were not expecting it. ‘I will not inherit a broken world, I will not have handed to me something I should be able to take for myself. History will not record me that way.’ The arrogance of someone who had failed to grasp one simple point: It didn’t matter how he took the world, once it was his so became the history that surrounded it. The truth can be found in the man in power, and history would be his to write however he saw fit. Snape would have smiled had those eyes not turned to rest on him, sifting through his mind. Anyone with basic knowledge of Legilimens could have stopped that attack, but it would not have been the wisest course of action. The trick was to hide only that which needed to remain so, and that was the challenge, to separate your memories, your entire life into two distinct places. ‘He trusts you?’
‘Implicitly, My Lord.’
‘Then you shall be the means by which that old fool will fall.’
‘I will not fail you.’
‘Of that you had better hope.’
The fire spat and flared in the hearth, sparks landing on the heavy carpet nearby and dying instantly with a small hiss and wisp of smoke as Snape stepped through, mask clutched to point of destruction in an iron grip. It was his only concession to the anger he felt, his face impassive as the fire continued to flare behind him, casting a soft glow across the walls.
‘Severus, I know you have returned.’
Of course the Headmaster knew; when was there anything he did not know? Severus turned slowly to greet the ghostly face hovering in his fireplace. ‘I trust all went well.’
‘All went…. as expected. I will join you in your office shortly.’ He turned away from the fireplace sharply, not waiting for a response or acknowledgement. He was not in the mood for riddles or incessant hinting, vague comments or any of the other annoying habits of speech the Headmaster possessed in abundance. Nor could he stomach tea, or a single one of the thousands of lemon flavoured sweets and snacks Dumbledore thrived upon. Were he any other man, Snape would swear that his sweet tooth would be his ultimate undoing, as he chuckled emptily; Dumbledore, the greatest Wizard known to the Wizarding World felled by a Lemon Sherbet. An obviously most evil and malevolent Lemon Sherbet, but a Lemon Sherbet nonetheless. Reluctantly he moved away from the heat of the fire. He never realised how cold the other place was until he returned and remembered what it was to feel warmth, but wearing these robes in the castle felt wrong, as though the building itself were emanating its disapproval. Despite the almost complete lack of difference, he always felt more comfortable once he was wearing his teaching robes, more able to deal with whatever might be thrown at him. A different weapon for a different place.
‘Boy,’ Vernon bellowed through the locked door. ‘You’d better be up already. I will not have you making us late.’
He was up, and dressed in a dark blue sweater that almost hung to his knees. He was still short, there was no escaping it, and the only thing that gave him cause to hate it was when his cousin looked down on him with those little piggy eyes.
‘I’m up, I’ll be out in a minute,’ he replied tiredly through the door, for once locked only from his side. The array of padlocks still hung down the outside of the door, and his uncle was not above waving the keys threateningly in front of his face whenever he was displeased, which was often. And Harry never pushed it too far, keenly aware that such freedom was not something to be squandered.
‘And stop moping,’ Vernon finished for good measure as his heavy footsteps could be heard on the staircase. Harry sighed as he thrust his wand into the waistband of his jeans with complete disregard for the safety of his buttocks. He filled Hedwig’s bowl generously as he stroked her soft feathers, smiling when she nipped his fingers and stretched her wings. ‘Did you write to your friends?’ Vernon asked from the bottom of the stairs as Harry closed the door behind him. That one man could put such venom into such a simple statement was impressive, even rivalling on Snape who always managed to pronounce even just his name as though the words themselves were poisoning him. Harry turned to meet his angry gaze.
‘Yes, Hedwig only just returned. She’s in her cage.’ Vernon bristled with annoyance, as though deprived of a golden opportunity to berate him.
‘Good,’ he managed to reply. ‘I won’t have that creature destroying the house whilst we’re out.’ Harry opened his mouth to point out the only creature in the house likely to do that was Dudley in one of his tantrums, but thought the better of it. Besides, he had a favour to ask. He followed his uncle dutifully to the car where his aunt and Dudley were waiting impatiently, Dudley throwing him a look of pure contempt as he slid into the seat next to him.
‘I still don’t see why he has to come,’ he whined, shifting his incredible bulk slightly and trying to loosen the seat belt that stretched around his large stomach. Harry pulled a disgusted face as Dudley glared at him.
‘Because I said he does,’ Vernon grunted as Petunia fished in her handbag, producing a large paper bag that filled the car with a sickly sweet smell as she proffered it to her son.
‘Don’t get upset Diddikins,’ she crooned. ‘He won’t ruin your day, I promise.’
‘Then lock him back in his room,’ Dudley demanded as the car backed out the driveway and Vernon hit the brakes a touch too hard, jerking the car to the stop.
‘How about another present, will that make up for it?’ he bribed tersely, grinding the car into first gear as the road moved slowly past them.
‘No,’ Dudley started to shout, looking desperately out the back window at the hastily retreating house. ‘I don’t want him or his freakishness anywhere near me.’ Harry smiled to himself as Dudley worked himself up. ‘What if he does it again?’ Harry rolled his eyes at his cousin, wishing he had been the cause of his new found irrational fear. But there was never a Dementor around when you needed one.
‘He won’t do anything, will you boy?’ Vernon said threateningly, his knuckles white against the steering wheel.
‘No,’ Harry replied with all the false sincerity he could muster, grinning at Dudley so no one else could see. Dudley emitted a petrified little squeak before hollering at the top of his lungs.
‘I want to go home!’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ Vernon said shortly. ‘We were lucky to get tickets at such short notice, and you’ve been dying to go.’
‘I want to go home, now!’ Dudley screamed, throwing off his seat belt and fumbling with the door handle as Petunia shrieked with fear for the life of her precious son. A minute later the car had turned round and was heading at a leisurely pace back towards Privet Drive. Vernon pulled into the driveway in stony silence as Petunia helped a sobbing Dudley from his seat, a motherly arm placed gently over his enormous shaking shoulder.
‘I hope you’re happy, boy,’ Vernon growled as Harry slammed the door behind him. ‘You ruined the day, and after all the trouble we went too so you could come along.’ Harry didn’t bother to catch him out on the obvious lie; Vernon was turning a very pretty shade of red.
‘S’not my fault,’ he said sullenly.
‘Yes it is, you and your freakishness.’ His uncle was continuing on autopilot now, taken over by weeks of pent up rage. ‘We should never have allowed you back in the house.’
‘I didn’t do anything to Dudley,’ Harry said indignantly. ‘And you didn’t have to take me back, it’s not like this is the only place I can go.’
‘Yes it is,’ Vernon announced triumphantly. ‘Else you wouldn’t be here. Or perhaps you’re not as well loved as you thought. So, what did you do to make even the freaks abandon you, kill someone?’
Harry saw red.
‘Severus, how good of you to join me,’ Dumbledore gestured to an empty seat, a pot of gently steaming tea appearing on his desktop much to Snape’s disappointment. He found himself entranced as he watched the Headmaster pour two full cups, adding enough sugar for five to his own before gesturing to Snape for the other. He took it reluctantly, sipping the weak brown liquid as Dumbledore settled himself behind his desk. ‘What news do you have?’
‘Nothing you did not expect,’ Snape said smoothly. ‘The Dark Lord is quite determined, and it is not just Potter he has set his sights upon.’ Dumbledore smiled faintly, like a small child who got the attention of his parents by breaking something very valuable.
‘You can use his name Severus,’ he commented absently. ‘The world will not fall apart simply because you use the word Voldemort.’
‘Of course,’ Snape said flatly. ‘Voldemort is determined, but has not yet given any indication of his plans or intentions. Beyond for certain individuals to find themselves slightly less alive than they currently appear to be.’ Dumbledore raised his eyebrows at the increasing sarcasm as Snape found himself hiding behind his cup of tea.
‘Then perhaps, in light of this, there is something you could do for me,’ Dumbledore watched as Snape struggled to swallow his mouthful and regain his composure. ‘I would like for you to collect Harry from his relatives and take him to Grimmauld Place.’
Snape nearly spat out his tea.
‘He cannot travel alone.’
‘But surely there is a more sensible choice,’ Snape tried to reason. ‘Someone less likely to attract attention.’
‘You are by far the most…qualified. And there is no one else I can spare.’
‘The Dark Lord -’ Snape paused and corrected himself. ‘Voldemort watches the house, he will know if it is I who collects the boy.’
‘Yet no doubt he would realise how foolish it would be to expect you to take Harry from under my very nose.’ It was true, but the Dark Lord was not necessarily known for his reasonable nature. But then again, neither was Dumbledore. Snape would be the one going, it was final. ‘Cheer up, my dear boy.’ Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled as Snape glowered in gracious defeat. ‘All will turn out for the best, you’ll see.’ Snape forced a grimace of agreement as he sipped at the last of his tea.
‘When is he to be collected?’
‘This afternoon, and do try to be nice to the Muggles.’
‘Naturally.’ Snape replaced the now empty cup onto the tray, which disappeared seconds later. ‘I take it there will be someone at Grimmauld Place waiting for him?’
‘I believe Remus will be present tonight,’ Snape couldn’t stop his eyes from flickering to the sky outside. ‘You must admit, with your potion there will be no safer protector. The Weasleys will arrive in the morning.’
‘I have work of my own to attend to this evening.’
‘There will be no need for you to remain,’ Dumbledore assured the Potions Master. ‘I simply require Harry to be delivered safely.’
‘How would you suggest I reach the boy, the house is extremely well warded,’ especially against people like me, Snape thought to himself. No matter how he looked at it, the Dark Mark he bore separated him and added all sorts of little extra difficulties.
‘It will not be a problem,’ Dumbledore reassured him. ‘Although you might do well to Apparate somewhere out of sight and away from the house.’
‘Surely his relatives are aware of the existence of magic?’ Snape said incredulously. ‘I would not have thought any Muggle could be that oblivious, and it is Potter we are talking about here.’
‘They are indeed aware,’ the Headmaster said gravely, steepling his fingers. ‘However they are not the most understanding of people.’ Snape nodded; he had met plenty of frightened Muggles before. ‘Be careful,’ Dumbledore added as Snape reached for the door. He nodded grimly, robes swishing behind him as he descended the stone staircase.
‘I want that garden perfect,’ Vernon roared from the open doorway to where Harry was knelt on the grass. ‘Don’t think you’re coming inside until it is.’ Harry sighed deeply. It had been his own fault for losing his temper, and he hadn’t seriously expected the threat of Alastor Moody would allow him to get away with anything. His uncle had limits, and Harry had done his best not to push them too far, to get through the summer as quickly and painlessly as was possible.
The sun was too hot on the back of his neck, which was already painfully red, the back of his scratchy t-shirt not helping his discomfort. And without gloves his hands were sore, marked from the occasional stinging nettle he had to pull out that was now lying in a small pile next to him. Muttering to himself had helped at first, but there were only so many curses he knew and eventually the anger towards his uncle had petered out. He could have had the job finished in a few minutes with magic, but the potential wrath of Vernon was only beaten by the every increasing threat of the Ministry. He was not liked within its walls, even the return of Voldemort being brought to light was not enough to undo the damage of the previous year. Bad feelings hung around and the rumours were not about to be dispelled.
Pulling a particularly stubborn weed viciously from the ground, Harry sat back on his legs, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his discarded sweater. He had wanted to watch the news tonight, and possibly even make a phone call, but there was no chance of that now. He’d be lucky if his dinner had just gone cold. Glancing nervously at the window from which he knew his uncle would be sure to check on him regularly he leant back towards the flowerbed. He’d have to get the hose out too, with no rain in weeks the soil was dry and the plants starting to wilt, yet something else for which he would be blamed. But the sun was too high at the moment, which left just him and the weeds, most of which God had been good enough to bless with a sting.
He barely noticed the shadow that spread slowly across his, engrossed in his own thoughts as his hands worked of their own accord, but there was no missing the voice.
Snape had been in many Muggle towns and villages, but rarely one that seemed so uniform. It took a special kind of person to live in this sort of environment and repetitiveness, where every house was identical to the one next door and each driveway supported a car that if not the same to every other, was at least doing a pretty good job of imitation. He knew that Arabella Figg lived in one of them, and wondered how she could bear it. Perhaps the Squib in her found a way to cope, but he had at least expected something small that would set her house apart from all the others. No such luck though, he was greeted simply by rows and rows or perfect lawns and spotless automobiles that seemed to challenge him for being new.
The only concession that there was a difference was a small number of each door, as he glared at the small number two in front of him. Logic dictated that four would not be far away, but Muggles seemed to have put a whole lot more thought and variety into numbering their streets than he would have thought possible. Only someone completely ignorant could be inventive enough to make the smallest thing so complicated. However, after a couple of paces up the road he soon realised the numbers were unnecessary. There was no mistaking the head of hair across the road, and no one else would be stupid enough to leave their wand sticking so obviously from the back of their trousers. Adjusting his robes he stepped across the street, until his shadow stretched across most of the garden. He wondered briefly about the terrible sunburn he could all ready see on the boy, but dismissed the thought just as quickly by dint of not particularly caring. And since Potter seemed oblivious to his presence he cleared his throat.
‘Need I tell you how many things you are doing wrong at this very moment, Potter?’
The boy jumped, which was always a good start, before wiping his dusty hands on the faded and oversized jeans he was wearing. He opened his mouth to say something undoubtedly insolent when a short, fat man burst through the front door, his face a deep shade of red.
‘No, get off. I will not have another one of you freaks on my property.’
It was not what he had expected, and certainly not the kind of comment he expected from a scared Muggle. Once again, Snape got the impression that Dumbledore hadn’t told him the whole story, but was momentarily distracted by the fact that the man seemed to be looking down on him. It was not a situation he was willing to allow to continue. Pulling himself up to his full and impressive height Snape turned the full force of his personality on Vernon. He had to give the man credit: he was stupid enough not to back down.
‘If you would kindly repeat what you just called me.’ His voice was icy.
‘You heard me!’ Vernon roared. ‘I will not have you freaks thinking you can just turn up whenever you like. It’s bad enough you leaving the boy here.’ Snape turned to where Harry had turned a shade of red almost equivalent to that of his uncle, although it was based more on embarrassment than anger, raising one eyebrow questioningly as the smallest smirk played on his lips.
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