And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one sees rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.
--Antoine de Saint-Exupery
No matter how many times in his life that the Dark Lord summons him, it always comes as a shock to Severus. The pain sizzles on his skin; a white, hot heat that spreads throughout his forearm, past tissue and muscle, down into his very bones. Even after the initial shock of receiving such a summons, the pain slowly ebbs away into a low, throbbing pulse. For days afterwards, his forearm tingles and prickles with the memory of a fresh scar.
It is no different now as he sits grading papers, quill swiftly slashing his condescending criticism across a piece of parchment. When the call hits him, he freezes and takes in a soft hiss of air. He is too old now to be grabbing at his forearm or turning pale and howling in pain. There is no tugging of sleeves for Severus, no gentle brushes of his hand against his marred skin. He needs no reminder of his past choices and battle scars.
He lives with them every day.
Although Hogwarts is more of a home than he has ever felt anywhere else in his life, it is filled with ghosts of his past. When he visits the Slytherin Common Room, he sees Evan Rosier tugging whatever girl he has managed to charm for the night into a dark corner. As he walks down the dungeon corridors he passes a young Hufflepuff boy with straw-coloured hair who brings young Barty Crouch to mind. He hears shades of Bellatrix in Pansy’s mirthless shrieks of laughter, and is unnerved at the resemblance that Crabbe and Goyle share with their fathers. Draco Malfoy is the shadow of Lucius, with a confident swagger in his walk and a calculating, manipulative mind.
Then, of course, there is Potter.
Harry Potter, who looks so much like James that Severus finds it hard to distinguish his old, bitter anger from the new. Harry, who has Lily’s eyes--oh, his Lily that he can’t bear to remember but isn’t any more willing to part with. Harry, who has inherited not only the Potter looks and a small family fortune, but also a lifetime of debts for which he needs to be repaid. Although Snape can think of at least three-dozen reasons as to why Harry doesn’t deserve his protective attention, he does it because the irritating boy is James’s son. More importantly, he does it because Harry is Lily’s son.
This is his duty. This is his debt.
There is no time for regrets in Severus’s life. He remembers everything as though it was yesterday. Bellatrix’s seductive voice whispers in his ear, coaxing him to join her in her quest to get back what is rightfully theirs—pureblood nobility. Lucius is next to him, looking impressed and quickly seizing the opportunity to recruit “an obvious talent” for the Dark Lord’s army. Rosier, Wilkes, and Mulciber scoot down their benches to make room for him at lunch, eagerly awaiting his sound advice and opinions, always logical and never overly emotional. He is no longer an outcast, no longer 'Snivellus' Snape. He is at the height of his youth, eager for the chance to become accepted and ready for the recognition that is sure to come. He knows that he has much to offer the Dark Lord and that his master will provide.
The Dark Lord does indeed provide; however, every task comes with a cost. Death is not easy to swallow, even for Snape, who had thought that his anger and bitterness would be enough to shield him from the horrors that death and pain reveal.
He knows now that he was wrong. Adrenaline and ferocity are not enough to drive the demons away. When the endorphins fade and his vision clears, the images are still the same. A schoolmate lies on the floor unmoving, and a young child screams in the background. Two men who fought like heroes are now young martyrs. A circle of Death Eaters closing around the Dark Lord now has glaring gaps in it—spaces that will be filled again in good time.
“Retaliate,” they are told. “Show them that we are a force to be reckoned with. The Dark Lord will prevail.” Yet, with every new death that occurs, Severus’s perseverance lessens. He starts to question himself, starts to question why he finds comfort in the company of terrorists. The question begins to eat at him.
It is hardest for him when he sees the aftermath. He watches families console each other from the shadows, visits gravesites in the moonlight, and silently observes many, many funerals. Each sniffle, each teardrop, every moan and utterance of woe chips away at him, creating a void so large that he finds it hard to function. It is even more painful because he knows that he has given his life to a cause that he doesn’t have faith in anymore.
He isn’t sure that he has any faith left at all. There isn’t much in this world that he feels he can rely on, except for himself. Even then, he gets carried away with his emotions and sometimes acts irrationally. He learns from his past, and lives in spite of it. He has no use for wallowing in sad and bitter memories, and pushes on. If the Potter boy had more sense, he would have heeded that advice when Severus gave it to him during their Occlumency lesson.
“There’s good inside of everyone, Severus. It’s just buried a bit deeper in some people,” Lily’s voice echoes inside of his head. It’s a conversation they had long ago.
He sadly remembers his waspish reply. “If there is something that is buried inside of me, Lily, I’d sincerely appreciate it if you didn’t go digging it up.”
“You’re being difficult.”
“Hardly. Must you Gryffindors always go poking around where you’re not wanted?”
He remembers her exasperated sigh and the small sense of relief that he felt as he warded her off. His own thoughts were private, and he had no intention of sharing them with anyone, Lily included.
Although he doesn’t consider himself fragile, he isn’t fond of being broken, either.
He was especially adamant about being left alone since she might have gotten the idea that he was indeed good. People would think he’d gone soft. He couldn’t have that. He still has no part in it, much more accustomed to acting the part of cantankerous grump. It suits him well, he thinks.
He will never admit to being good. Inherently good people don’t mix themselves up in crowds and situations as Severus does. Any good that he has ever done in his lifetime has had a logical, substantial, and necessary reason behind it. Severus doesn’t act out to be considered a good person. He leaves that for the Gryffindors--for the Potters, the Weasleys, and the Lupins of the world.
Severus flits between good and evil, dances on lies, and manoeuvres through quick thinking and silky words. He is considered an asset to Dumbledore, to the Order. The Dark Lord relies on Severus to keep tabs on the Headmaster, and his Dark Army doesn’t even question where Snape’s loyalties lie. Severus continues to tread the path between light and dark, skulking in the shadows, appearing when necessary and saying no more than needed.
He is a rogue in this war. He doesn’t agree with Voldemort any longer, but he doesn’t fit in with the Order of the Phoenix. It’s ironic that the only side that truly respects him is the one he cannot bring himself to support.
He doesn’t really find it necessary to fit in with the Order anyhow. The looks that he receives from the blasted Weasley family, not to mention wizards like Shacklebolt and Moody, reveal so much that he has no need to read their thoughts with Leglimancy. He doesn’t mind the contemptuous looks, however. In fact, he’s rather satisfied when Harry throws an insolent glare in his direction, and is quick to return his own rebuking sneer.
The tingling sensation in his arm brings him out of his thoughts, and he summons his cloak, marching out of his office and into the dungeons. It is past curfew now, but for once, his black eyes aren’t fixated on any movements in the corners, any children up out of their beds. He must tell Dumbledore that he’s been called and he must leave swiftly.
He sweeps out of the dungeon corridor and into the Entrance Hall, robes billowing behind him with every hasty step. Taking the stairs in long strides, he crosses the second landing and makes a sharp turn around a corner.
“Oh! Professor!” A voice gasps, and he stops abruptly. Dennis Creevey looks at him wide eyed and opens his mouth to offer an excuse, but Snape silences him with a hand.
“Mr. Creevey,” he snaps, “It is past your bedtime. Return to your dorm immediately. Ten points from Gryffindor.” He gives the boy a reprimanding curl of his lip before stalking off toward the gargoyle statue. Behind him, Dennis opens and closes his mouth wordlessly, like a goldfish, stunned that he wasn’t persecuted any more than that.
“Canary Crème,” Snape hisses, spitting his distaste at the Headmaster’s new fondness for the Weasley twins’ treats.
The statue slides over and the door behind it opens, revealing the top step of a spiral staircase. He steps in and it slowly revolves, rising higher and higher into the tower. He drums his fingers impatiently on his folded arms, mentally cursing Dumbledore for having the entrance to his personal office resemble a Muggle amusement park. As he reaches the top, he can hear the soft rumble of voices and Dumbledore’s muffled voice.
Snape raps on the door three times.
“Come in,” Dumbledore calls out.
Severus steps in, not venturing any farther than a few feet from the doorway. “Headmaster,” he greets, “I’ve been summoned.” He wastes no time with small talk.
Dumbledore’s brows raise slightly and he nods. “Indeed. I’ll alert Kingsley and Remus.”
Severus nods. “I’ll contact you when I return.”
“Good. Do be careful, Severus. If you don’t return by tomorrow I’ll arrange for someone to cover your classes.” He pauses, and then gives Snape a significant look. “If something should happen, you know how to signal me.”
Dumbledore offers him a small, apprehensive smile. “You’d best make haste. I daresay he won’t appreciate your tardiness. Good luck, Severus.” His eyes are cloudy with weary.
“Thank you, Headmaster.” Snape bows his head and ducks out of the office, rushing down the stairs and quickly making his way out of the castle. He can almost feel his skin pale, feel the uneasy tug at the pit of his stomach. His throat is tight with worry as he pulls his cloak around him, preparing for his journey.
The cool night air embraces him as he exits the castle. The grounds are quiet, barely lit by the soft silvery light of a sickle moon. It is the perfect setting to clear his thoughts.
With each step he buries a memory that will betray him. He paces across the grounds and eliminates past Order meetings, his knowledge of Grimmauld place, the significant looks that Minerva passes to him in the hallways, and the meetings he’s had with Dumbledore.
He’s nearly to the gates when he clears his mind of his decision to become a double agent and the worries that plague him about Voldemort discovering his secret. Finally, he pushes back his thoughts of Lily. The Dark Lord needs not know of the soft spot in Snape’s heart for her—Gryffindor, mudblood, Potter and all. He walks through the gates and plunges on into the shadows, veering off the path to Hogsmeade and into the underbrush, stepping softly so as to not be heard.
He allows quite a few of his thoughts on Harry to remain, only because his distaste for the boy is so apparent that he harbours no worries that the Dark Lord will suspect anything if he should have a glimpse of them.
After all, he’s not fighting in this war for Harry.
He’s not fighting for Harry, nor is he fighting for Dumbledore. He hardly sympathizes with muggles, and he finds no remorse in Sirius’s death, or any of the other heroes’, for that matter. He’s not even fighting in this war for himself, and although he doesn’t wish to die, he will accept it when and if it comes. He will defend himself the best that he can, and he will protect Harry, only because the irritating brat is the key to finding the balance of good and evil.
Nothing in the world is black and white, and should Harry prevail and Severus live to see it, he looks forward to losing himself to the subtler shades of grey.
He stops abruptly, the sharp hook of his nose silhouetted in a shadow across the underbrush. Focusing on the Dark Lord, he disappears with a crack.
Seconds later, Severus apparates in Little Whinging, approaching the circle of Death Eaters that are surrounding the Dark Lord. Lord Voldemort stands tall and proud, his serpentine face lifted high, gleaming in the moonlight, eyes slowly surveying each and every member of his Dark Army.
Snape’s hood is pulled over his greasy, dark hair, and his eyes glitter through the slits in his mask. One by one, the Death Eaters drop to their knees, humbly crawling forward to kiss the robes of their master. Snape follows suit. As he approaches, he can feel the power radiating off of the Dark Lord; it nearly alters the energy around him. It leaves Snape little room to wonder why he joined the Dark Army in the first place. The man’s charisma and strength are so powerful that it makes Snape’s own body pulse with its magical current.
He thins his lips into a narrow frown and lowers his head, brushing his lips against the soft material of his master’s robes.
“Severus,” a cold, high-pitched voice hisses.
“My Lord,” he whispers softly, bowing his head and backing away. As he joins the rest of the Death Eaters, he is aware of their every movement. He notes every twitch, every shift of weight, and every muttered whisper in the circle. He can feel Pettigrew’s wet, beady eyes on him, and glimpses a slight nod from Lucius. Bellatrix’s eyes shine in the night, meeting his and giving him a challenging look.
His heart beats a little faster, though he isn’t sure if it is because he is nervous or because of the energy bouncing around him. Sometimes he feels as though the Dark Lord knows his secrets. As though his Master is playing with him, biding his time. A snake poised to strike.
“My loyal Death Eaters,” Voldemort speaks suddenly, “Tonight I have much to talk to you about. I am arranging a new series of strikes, a new wave of terror to wash over the world and remind these silly fools that they have no choice in their future.” His red eyes scan the circle and he continues, “Harry Potter has been able to evade me thus far, only by the help of those ignorant enough to believe in him.”
Snape is now under the Dark Lord’s scrutinizing eye. Red, slitted pupils rest on Severus, gaze unwavering, and he takes a deep breath, the vein in his forehead beginning to flicker and throb. Snape quickly pushes more thoughts away, mustering all his strength and reserve to remain calm.
“However,” Voldemort continues quietly, “I plan on rectifying that matter immediately.” He lifts a pale, bony hand and curls his fingers, beckoning Snape forward. “Severus,” he says quietly, his voice as oily as Snape’s hair. A twisted smile slowly crawls across Voldemort’s white lips, “It is your time.”
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