Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
#13: Four-Part Disharmony
[In which the fate of Albus Dumbledore is fitfully illuminated, and Harry and Snape agree to continue their private war of attrition by other means.]
"Come to gloat, Potter?"
"No! - I heard what they - " The professor caught his breath and looked away. "No-one deserves that. Not even you - sir. Even if you couldn't even serve Voldemort faithfully." The professor flinched at the name as if it hurt him to hear it, but the scrawny, black-haired youth ignored him and turned squarely to face Professor McGonagall. "Why are you fussing over this - this traitor? He's dangerous - he murdered Dumbledore, you know that!" He turned back to the man in the sickbed again with an expression of pure hate.
The professor looked back at him, a fierce and narrow, concentrating look, and the boy yelped and stepped backwards. "No you don't - get out of my head, you!"
"Ah. I see you've been taking lessons in Occlumency - my congratulations to whoever finally managed to get the principles into your thick skull. They must be a better teacher than I ever was." He laid his head back against the pillows, looking tired and drawn. "Of course I didn't kill him, you bloody idiot. At least, I hope not. Things got a bit - busy, and I fear I may have dropped him harder than I intended."
"Don't tell me that - I saw you! You used Avada Kedavra on him, it threw him right over the parapet - "
"I used Levicorpus on him. Avada Kedavra only works if you really want to kill and I - didn't."
"But I saw you - he was begging you, pleading with you! He trusted you, you bloody bastard - you were all that he wanted when he was - sick, and you killed him. He begged you by name, as if you were a - friend or something, and you fucking murdered him."
"Do you think Albus Dumbledore would plead for himself? He was - not the weakling I am. He begged me - with his thoughts - to kill him and save myself, because he thought that he would die soon anyway, and so I was more valuable to the Order."
"I don't believe you - he wouldn't do that - he - "
"Oh, come on Potter, use your intelligence: if you can find it. You saw his hand: you must have at least some inkling of how sick he was."
"Damn you to Hell" he said, with some force. "I don't believe you."
"You tell me, Potter - how long was it after I hit him before the Body-Bind Curse came off you?"
"I - you knew about that?"
"Of course - Albus told me with his thoughts that you were there. How long?"
"I'm - not sure. Several seconds, I think."
"In that case he was alive after he hit the ground - I hope it means he survived to lift the curse consciously, rather than dying of some injury sustained in the fall."
"Damn you" the Potter boy said again, but most of the hot-air and righteousness was already leaking out of him. "You're right - the curse was still there after you shot him. I didn't think of that."
"Now why doesn't that surprize me?"
"But then - why didn't you - if that's true?"
"Why didn't I what?"
"Kill him. If he ordered you to. If you didn't."
"I was supposed to kill him for four reasons - to make sure his wand came to me, to protect Draco from having to kill him, to save myself from the Vow and because he was dying anyway. But the curse on his hand didn't seem to be progressing as fast as we had feared, the wand was gone already and I could save myself and Draco just as well by faking his death as by killing him - and I was damned if I was going to kill him when it wasn't even necessary. Being loyal is one thing: being biddable is quite another, and just because I - owe the man more than my life, that still doesn't mean I have to suspend all critical judgment and follow his orders blindly when I think he's being a blithering old fool."
"Don't talk about the headmaster like that!"
"How should I talk about him? Bastard!" he spat suddenly, with passion. "I told him Riddle had never managed to make an executioner of me and I was damned if I was going to be one for him - and still he tried to emotionally blackmail me into killing him, and he had the bloody gall to use Draco as a lever!"
"But he looked - I saw the body, and he looked - very dead."
"How dead? I mean, were there obvious fatal injuries - a smashed skull?"
"No, he was just - lying there. But there was blood on his mouth, and his limbs looked - wrong."
"So we've established that he bashed his teeth, and probably had a few broken bones. Did you or anybody take the elementary precaution of testing for a pulse, or did you just mill about like so many panicking chickens?"
"Well, um - "
"Chickens. How long was it after he - fell, before anybody examined him at all closely?"
"I don't know - it was about half an hour before anybody found him."
"Half a bloody hour - so if he was seriously injured in the fall he probably was dead, by then. Where was his wand in all of this? It certainly wasn't with him on the tower."
"Um - with him, I suppose. When Malfoy disarmed him it went over the battlements."
"If he landed conscious and he had his wand, he could have done anything in half an hour - the old ham could have been lying there perfectly fit and only pretending to be injured - you could have been looking at a simulacrum made of spit and toenails and you'd never know the difference. So we can't tell either way. He could have been dead of the fall or he could equally well have been pulling some devious stunt - did anybody find his wand?"
"Um - yes, but not until the next day. It was buried with him."
"Who took charge of the body? Who organized the funeral?"
"Professor Slughorn" McGonagall admitted, tight-lipped.
"Horace Slughorn - that well-known expert on faking your own disappearance - and none of you thought that that was suspicious? You all thought it was more likely and more in character that I murdered Dumbledore than that he was being too clever by half again? Thank you all so very bloody much."
It was McGonagall who asked the obvious question. "But Severus - I'd like to believe you, truly I would, for your sake as well as his. And I thought that there was something not right about the way his portrait behaves. But if you didn't kill Dumbledore - where is he? We all saw him entombed - or somebody entombed."
"I don't know. Wasn't there a Death Eater killed? We were certainly missing one... could it have been his body?"
"Hmm. When he was buried the body was wrapped: it wasn't possible to see who it was. But we saw him on the ground after he fell from the tower, and he certainly appeared dead. Of course, if he was going to fake his own death one would expect him to do a good job: but again, if he's alive, where is he?"
"Where is Horace Slughorn? I imagine finding the one might find the other. If Dumbledore survived he might be too ill to return as yet, and even if he was well he might think he had to stay in hiding to - to protect me."
"To protect you?"
"I don't know if he told you this, but I found outů I told Dumbledore that - Riddle - was likely to order Draco to assassinate him. He expected the curse on his hand to kill him within the year - although in the event it didn't progress as fast as we had thought - and he said that if it came to it I should be the one to kill him, to protect Draco's soul and give him a clean death, and I was to stay close to Draco and monitor his plans, ingratiate myself with him. I still hoped to - to find a way to save him, but when the Ugly Sisters asked me to swear an Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco I took it. I thought Dumbledore would be pleased I was following his orders so fucking faithfully. Then they backed me into a corner where I had to swear to carry out Draco's mission if he fumbled it, or multiply their suspicions a thousandfold. I knew by then what I was swearing to, but I couldn't bloody-well get out of it."
"Oh good grief."
"Quite. I thought it was simple - thought I would simply go to them and die - I even welcomed it, in a way. But Dumbledore wouldn't hear of it." His hands had started to tremble, and he plucked distractedly at the edge of the blanket. "I never told them that Dumbledore might still be alive. If He had known - if Bella Lestrange, who was the Bonder, had known - that I had broken my Vow, I would have died at once, but I never told Him." He began to shake, and his pupils dilated wildly, making his eyes look blacker and more feverish than ever. "In the end - I let Him crack me open like a nut and take everything I was - except that."
"So you saved your own skin" Potter said with contempt. "Do you expect a medal?"
"Idiot. Don't you think that by that point I was longing for death, screaming for it - " Tears leaked from his eyes and he pressed the back of his wrist to his mouth and bit down hard, fighting for control.
"He's telling the truth" Lynsey said into the appalled silence. "When I found him he - begged me to finish him."
He glared at her over the edge of his hand. "I wish you had."
"Oh, don't be daft, man. As if I would. Besides - I doubt I could have gotten out of there without your help."
"That's true - you never could have survived without me." He actually managed to look slightly smug, despite his twanging tension.
"Git!" she said fondly.
"But Severus - does that mean that if Dumbledore is alive, if he does come back, the mere fact of his return will kill you?"
"If Bellatrix learns of it - yes."
"But - but that's terrible. What can we do?"
"For myself, I truly don't care any more, just so long as I die with some shred of dignity - but if it matters so much to you to keep me alive, Minerva, make sure Bellatrix dies before Dumbledore returns."
"Bellatrix" said Lynsey thoughtfully. "That would be the black-haired bint with the jaw and the thin lips? The one who - the one who cast Crucio?" She had never told him about witnessing the woman's panting eagerness as she listened to him screaming under torture - and there was no point in creeping him out as thoroughly as the memory creeped her.
"Speaking personally, I'd be very happy to kill her."
"In that case you would have to join a queue. As for Dumbledore himself - he might really be dead, after all. As I say I fear I may have dropped him harder than I intended, and he already had progressive curse-damage, even if it wasn't progressing quite as fast as we had feared, and - he seemed to be seriously ill in some way. I don't know why."
"I do" Potter replied, looking stricken. "He - we - went to look for - something, and to get it he had to drink a potion which made him very sick - so sick he couldn't drink it without help, he had to order me to force him to drink it."
The professor threw back his head and laughed, a triumphant crow of derision. "You're a fine one to accuse me! You were more willing than I was to sacrifice him - because he told you to!"
"Don't worry. I suspect that the devious old goat - and I say this as one who has worked with him closely for nearly twenty years, you understand - has gone off to lie low somewhere with the equally devious Slug, who is a world expert on pretending to be dead."
"But - can that be possible? When he - died, the phoenix sang - we all heard him."
"Well, that gives me some hope: in my experience Fawkes only cries when his tears are needed to heal someone. He's cried for me often enough."
"But - if that's true, if he's alive, if you even thought he was alive - why didn't he tell me? Why didn't you? Why did you let me think - "
"Would you have believed me, after what you had just seen, do you suppose? And you could not shut your mind: to tell you would have been to tell the - Him. It would have doomed both Dumbledore and myself." He began to cough, a tight, pained, miserable little cough, and McGonagall swiftly knelt down beside him and fussed over him with potions and spells, murmuring to him in an undertone and holding the cup for him to drink, until his breathing steadied.
Lynsey saw that the Potter boy was watching the pair of them closely with an odd expression on his thin face - the professor evidently noticed it too, because he snapped "Well - what?" in a waspish tone, still slightly breathless.
"It's just that I've never seen you as - someone that anybody would care about."
The professor sucked in his breath in a sharp hiss. Lynsey glanced at him and looked away quickly, feeling that it would be just too intrusive to see his face at that moment, as naked as it was: but the boy was still staring at him in fascination. She was pleased to see McGonagall rise to her feet, rigid with rage, and glare at the boy with real anger - but it was difficult to know what to say that wouldn't embarrass the professor more. She herself drifted closer to the bedside, folded her arms across her chest and looked at Potter under her brows. "You want to get your ideas in gear, boy - if you want to play with the grownups."
Potter looked discomfited, that was a start - dropped his green gaze and gave the professor time to compose himself. After a moment he cleared his throat. "But then - sir - if you're telling the truth, you're in the same position as - as Sirius was. There's a hunt out for you, everyone thinks that you're a double traitor - "
The professor flinched and then bit savagely at the back of his own hand again. "Don't compare me to that - "
"Bastard! - whether or not you killed Dumbledore, it was your needling that killed Sirius, just because he - was a bit of a bully at school, all right, but no more so than your precious Draco Malfoy."
"I have known Malfoy since he was two days old" he replied bleakly. "I helped change his nappies, for God's sake - and you are not under any circumstances whatsoever to make capital out of that little revelation, do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir." For a wonder, he sounded as if he actually meant it.
"He is also my godson, and that sort of connection can make one - partisan." He still sounded slightly breathless, although McGonagall's potions had obviously cleared up the worst of it. Lynsey wondered that he didn't mention the tremendous debt which they both owed to Draco - but she supposed that the fewer people knew about that, the safer the boy would be. And how safe was that? "And yes, he is not a particularly pleasant child: but with his upbringing he could hardly be expected to be, and at least he is not a killer. Your godfather tried to murder me, when we were boys - did you understand that? He set me up to be killed by Lupin in his were form - me to be murdered and his friend to be a murderer - for fun, just because he found me - irritating. Your father - "
"You leave my father out of this! I know he was - "
"Your father was a more vicious and inventive bully than Draco has ever been, but like Draco - and to his credit I suppose - he was not a killer, and he put a stop to it. For which I should perhaps be grateful or - perhaps not."
"And you repaid him well for saving your life - didn't you?"
"Don't! Oh, God" he said distractedly. "Do you think I wouldn't take it back in an instant, if I could? I never - never wanted his death. He saved my life and I repaid him by betraying him to his death - and he saved me again, because it was realizing what I had done, that I had to try to save all of you and not just Lily, which brought me to my senses and to Dumbledore's camp. I hated your father, and I had every reason to: but I owe him a double debt I can never repay."
"And I suppose you hate him for that too."
"Oh yes! And now I owe O'Connor a life-debt as well - there's no end to it. Dying would be so much less trouble."
"Oh, tish" Lynsey replied, embarrassed. "Whatever I did for you, the gift was freely made and freely given - you don't have to buy it off me. And besides, I told you, I'd never have gotten out of there without you, so we're indebted to each other even-handedly - as much or as little as you want to call it."
"And you did repay at least one of those debts to James, you know" McGonagall said, frowning. "Albus once said to me privately that he thought that it was that which shocked James into growing up a little instead of being - "
"An unpleasant little shit" he said, with a curl of his thin lips.
"Yes. It was the shock of realizing how close they had all come to killing you which made him see that he was - what you said, and motivated him to develop into a quite reasonable human being. So you see, you saved each other, as far as that goes."
"I find it hard to see him in that light, especially since he never let the fact that he had saved my life put him off from continuing to persecute me ad lib: but since he died trying to save his family I suppose he had some good in him. But Sirius - I don't believe my death would have caused him a moment's regret, except for the pain it would have brought to Remus Lupin. And even there, I often think he wanted to set Lupin up to be my killer as a punishment, because he was angry that Lupin would no longer join in in persecuting me."
"But they were - children...?" That was the boy, who was looking increasingly uncomfortable. Lynsey had the impression that he wasn't used to talking to adults as other persons rather than as figures of respect or fear - although he was on the verge of adulthood himself, to judge from the ridiculous, fluffy strip of proto-moustache he was sporting.
"And you can analyse and excuse their behaviour, can you Potter - from the great altitude of seventeen? We were fifth years. Granted that Sirius was ridiculously immature - but even if you want to see him as still a child he was a child who was a killer, in intention if not in fact."
"And you weren't? The boy who invented Sectumsempra?"
"Oh, I wondered when that one was coming. It wasn't enough that you invaded the memory of my miserable bloody boyhood - you had to invade my thoughts as well, my private notes.... Did you have fun, Potter, laughing at the stupid geek and his stupid, vainglorious nickname? As if anybody in their right mind would ever call me a prince."
"No I - I liked him actually" the boy said in a small voice. "A lot. Except for Sectumsempra - why did you want something so dangerous? I mean - it was before they - tried to kill you, wasn't it? I saw you use it in the bowl."
"And going by what you saw, you don't think I had reason to want to - carry a knife? And no, damnit, it was after they tried to kill me - after all that, after nearly causing my bloody death, they still saw me as nothing but a, a target, something to knock down whenever possible. Even so, unlike you I made sure I knew the antidote first - although in your father's case I'll admit it was tempting not to use it."
"You cut - my father? I mean, not just what I - what I saw in the Pensieve?"
"Oh yes. I spoiled his smug, pretty face for him - for a couple of seconds. In retrospect it was a stupid, irresponsible thing to do - I might have killed him if I'd hit him in the throat. But I didn't intend to kill. I just wanted to even the score a bit." He both looked and sounded ineffably tired.
"Cet animal est tres mechant:" Lynsey said suddenly. "Quand on l'attaque il se defend."
"Yes. When I was eleven years old, a scrawny, unwashed, unloved and unprepossessing child from a dirt-poor background; with a thick flat Derbyshire accent and speaking a dialect so intense I could neither understand nor be understood; with a second-hand wand and fourth-hand clothes and a perpetually runny nose; James Potter found out how to make me cry, and he gave me a new name - because he could make me cry. He called me - "
"Snivellus" Potter said, in a hard unyielding voice.
The professor winced. "Yes. Your father had a way with words: but I should have expected that. I had grown up, after all, knowing that my name was 'Ugly Brat.' It wasn't just a happy coincidence that my father named me Severus - it was his idea of a joke. It means 'the plain one.' I believe he said that if I was going to have a - a poncy wizard name, it should be something that fitted me."
This time it was the boy's turn to wince and look slightly ill. "Ow! That's - nasty."
He bared his teeth like a dog. "I don't need or want your pity, Potter."
"What do you want, then? Is it - some sort of a competition?"
"Always." His eyes were glazed with the effort of memory. "Severus means other things: the harsh one, the one cut off. But I decided to turn it round and make it 'he shall cut.' I was slightly mad by that point, I think. I know I wanted to cut his face - to cut all their faces. But I didn't invent the damned spell, only perfected it, and if you'd asked me even then if I seriously intended to kill them - no. I've killed a few times since, to save my own life or someone else's, but never in cold blood, and never easily: it was always something I had to nerve myself up to in advance and throw up over afterwards. Whereas to Sirius, killing me would have been sport - an afternoon's amusement. He was a murderer in embryo - just as your father was a torturer in embryo. Peter Pettigrew was just a spiteful nobody who thought he could make himself look bigger by making other people look small, and Remus - "
"What about Remus? You know that if he had killed you it wouldn't have been his fault and you said yourself he would have regretted it."
"It would have destroyed him - but that isn't the point. He was the eternal fence-sitter - a prefect who disapproved of his friends' behaviour but did nothing to prevent it. And that matters, especially now. 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.'"
"Just as you did nothing, when Malfoy was bullying me?" Potter replied, with a hard gleam in his eye.
"I had - political reasons for needing to keep 'in' with the Malfoy crowd." He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, frowning. "Also I thought that if I bound Malfoy to me I might be able to influence him away from the Death Eaters - later. If there was going to be a later. When I no longer had to pretend to be a Death Eater myself. I would - might - have stepped in if you'd really seemed to need my help, but you were never a particularly vulnerable child."
"How can you say that - you've seen most of my memories, you - Sir." By this point Lynsey knew that she was the spare wheel here, alien and awkward in their world and not understanding above half of the conversation: but she could hear the drawn knives sliding across each other behind their words.
"And I appreciate that your upbringing was nearly as bleak as mine - although a great deal less violent. But you always had a naturally thick skin and that extra layer of protection that said 'You're not my real father - my father would never have done this to me.' Whereas I knew that there was very little that my father wouldn't do to me, particularly when drunk. Which, in point of fact, he generally was."
"Was that why you are so - prejudiced against Muggle-born wizards?"
"'Was,' Potter, not 'am.' How very perceptive of you. When I was... too young to know better I hated every Muggle by association with my father; hated the part of myself that was Muggle-born most of all, because it was half of him."
"Even so - you sat on the sidelines and watched Malfoy attack me, when it was your job to prevent it. You could have at least done your job without destroying your cover."
"But it was such an unequal struggle, Potter.... You have only to consider the quality of your respective lieutenants. Poor Draco isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer himself, and Crabbe and Goyle barely have three brain-cells between them. Whereas you had Little Miss Genius and the ever-faithful Weasley to support you. It wasn't as if you were friendless, humiliated - you regarded warring with Malfoy as just another sort of team sport, and one you were rather better at than he was. Why should I intervene, when you all seemed to be enjoying yourselves so much?"
"Yes, well - I was better at it than he was."
"Don't misunderstand me - I didn't take being bullied lying down either, unless they actually sat on me. If they had come at me one on one, there wasn't one of them who could match me - and even at four to one I still managed to administer some highly unpleasant and instructive surprizes. Sectumsempra wasn't the half of it. But for me our private war was a source of unremitting stress, not a - an amusing pastime. Four to one - always. Four to one. I never stood a bloody chance."
"It occurs to me," Lynsey said, "that four to one may have been the only way they felt that they had a chance. I've seen you in action, remember."
He glanced at her with the flicker of a smile. "Well, there is thatů." He looked marginally less fraught: even slightly smug, for a moment. "But even for me, four to one was too long odds."
"Three to one, surely?" said McGonagall. "Wasn't Peter Pettigrew just make-weight.?"
"An Animagus who blew up an entire street and all the Muggles in it, and faked his own death successfully for over a decade whilst hiding in plain sight in the very heart of the wizarding world, and who pretty-much single-handedly raised the - Riddle from the dead? He may not have been much of a duellist - but once the others had knocked me down he was - inventively cruel."
"I suppose I should have realized that he might be dangerous: when I am in cat shape, rats are deadly opponents. Not an easy kill, by any means. But he was such a - such an also-ran, in class. Maybe that made him bitter, I don't know."
"Frankly I always wondered why he became a rat - they're really quite nice creatures - but I suppose he became a rat because he thought a rat would be like he was. And he was bitter because he was in love with James, and James was straight - and even if he hadn't been, Sirius would have had first dibs. Anyway - for me it was the same as it was in the caves with O'Connor here: I had to be vigilant constantly, and so was constantly afraid, every moment of every day: whereas they could afford to take turns to rest. James even went behind Lily Evans' back to go on persecuting me even after he had started dating her. I sometimes thought he saved me just for that reason - so he wouldn't lose his favourite toy."
Harry coughed delicately. "Um - I did discuss it with Sirius, and, um, he said my father had to go on hexing you because you were hexing him."
"Oh, he would put the blame on me though, wouldn't he? I wasn't going to take being persecuted bloody-well lying down, was I?"
It was McGonagall's turn to cough. "Granted that the Marauders were very much at fault, and that you were very much the wronged party - nevertheless I suspect that from James's viewpoint there was an element of 'Once the tiger is stalking you, it's too late to worry about who provoked it.' Remember, I've seen you in action. You're a bonny fighter, as the man said - and you always did have a tendency to respond to conflict by escalating it."
"Of course. I'd far rather be a bloody tiger than a bloody sacrificial lamb, any day. Even so - he was nearly always the instigator, and I realize now that he used the damn' Map and the damn' Cloak to get me when he knew there were no teachers present. He wouldn't have been able to hide it from Lily if he hadn't picked the venue eighty percent of the time."
"Fond though I am of him, I attach a lot of the blame to Remus Lupin. I made him prefect precisely in the hopes that he would defuse the situation and get you and James and Sirius to call a truce - and instead he seems to have done nothing useful whatsoever."
"Oh, he disapproved - but that was all. He sat there with that little 'This has nothing to do with me' frown, and he disapproved. Between the four of them, they drove me to join forces with Lucius and his group just to have some sort of back-up. If it hadn't been for your father, Potter, I would probably never have become a Death Eater, with - all that followed on from that."
"Are you claiming that my father's death was his own fault - that if he hadn't driven you into Voldemort's arms" (again her professor sucked in his breath and flinched at the name) "you wouldn't have been in a position to betray him?"
"You could look at it that way, yes. But I find it never helps to try to double-guess history. If - He - had not spent His power attacking you, there would have been nothing to stop His rise to power sixteen years ago. If I had not become a Death Eater there would have been no-one as well-placed as I was to spy on Him. If you want to preserve your falsely glamorous ideal of your father, think that everything he did ultimately served the cause of bringing - Him - down: even those things which he did out of petty spite and cruelty."
"I can understand why you hated my father and - look, I'm really sorry I looked in the Pensieve. I really am. I thought he behaved - very badly. I know you hate me because I look like him, but I don't act like him - not that way."
"Your father's face and your mother's eyes - a constant reminder that the bully who made my schooldays a protracted hell also got the girl, and that it was largely my own damnable fault that they both died. Did you think your face would please me?"
"I can't help my face."
"If you could, I assume you would have done so! I know you can't help it you fool - but it was a convenient excuse."
"An excuse for what?"
"An excuse to hate you" he replied wearily.
"But - why?"
"So that the D - so that He wouldn't catch me thinking of you as the Order's greatest hope, you little fool. And a pretty feeble hope you were. I knew I could never hope to deceive the - Him - forever, and every time you were lazy or inattentive, every time Longbottom was clumsy or vague, I could feel this - this torture, this debasement, creeping closer. And I have a very - vivid - imagination. Do you think I didn't feel sick with fear every time I clapped eyes on your self-satisfied face?"
"I'm - " offended, he looked as if it would be, and then he drew a long, deep breath. " - sorry. I didn't think - "
"You never bloody do think, that's the problem with you, Potter. You think that adults in general are just machines without feeling - and you never saw me as deserving of even the bare minimum of consideration."
"That's not true...."
"Oh, ask yourself: if any of your little friends tried to kill one of their classmates, you would be horrified. But because I was the intended victim, you thought that it was acceptable - amusing, even. You called me pathetic for minding the fact that the man who had almost murdered me was sitting there gloating about it. Just like your damned father, in fact, who punished me just for existing, and then punished me again for having the temerity to swear at him for it. I, in your eyes as in theirs, had no right even to life itself, and no right to resent whatever anybody chose to do to me." The boy flushed and looked suddenly uncomfortable and shifty. "Well, Potter?"
"He - um - when you were knocked out. When we had to move you. Sirius was, um, not very careful...."
"You mean he took the opportunity to brutalize me when I was unconscious and concussed - even though I imagine that a second blow could easily have killed me. Now why doesn't that surprize me? And of course, nobody cared enough to stop him. Lupin sat on his eternal fence again, and you I imagine thought that the risk of causing me death or permanent brain-damage was funny."
"Lupin, um - Professor Lupin and Ron were ahead of you. They didn't see what happened. I'm - really sorry. And about the Pensieve. Really I am."
"I had thought that I had finally escaped from that, that nobody else outside the staff-room even remembered it - and then I had to know that thanks to you the tale of my abject public humiliation would be all over the bloody school again, and I would have to spend years more living it down. Tell me, Potter - just how much did your little friends laugh when you told them what your father and Black did to me?"
"I didn't tell them - I didn't tell anybody. What do you take me for?"
The professor gave him a hooded, thoughtful look. "For someone else entirely, perhaps."
"Did you run and tell the entire bloody staff-room about the damn' bulldog treeing me?"
"Well - no. Of course not."
"Well, then." They glowered at each other - both of them slightly out of breath, as though they had been running a race. "I said I was sorry, and I meant it. I was sorry as soon as I saw it."
"Sorry for my sake, or sorry for having seen your delightful father in his true colours?"
"And I'm supposed to find that touching, am I?"
McGonagall, who had been frowning heavily, rounded on him. "Oh will you try to act your age, at least this once! Pretty-please - just for my sake?" she added coaxingly, in the face of his furious scowl.
"Oh - very well. Professor. Apology accepted" he said to Potter with an ungracious glower, and bit the words off with a snap. "It's just one more bloody humiliation, and I'm too tired to worry about it any more. You're in the majority anyway: everybody always treated me like a machine without feeling except your father and Sirius Black and they - knew I had feelings. But, yes, if you want me to say it, I'm sorry I took my justified feelings about them out on you."
"It seems to me - sir - that you took your temper out on your students pretty generally."
"Oh, what would you have me do?" he said peevishly. "A night spent in knife-edge games with the Death Eaters; a day spent trying to inculcate the rudiments of knowledge into your thick skulls; and no rest between unless I scrambled my body-clock with a Time-Turner - and I could scarcely resort to drink or sedation in my position. And when you were in the class, Potter, the sight of your smug face just made me the more stressed and ill-tempered."
"Are you saying you were less - vindictive - towards your classes when I wasn't in them?"
"Oh, do you think the Headmaster would have let me go on teaching, if I behaved to all my students as badly as your presence made me behave? Credit me with some self-knowledge - and him with some sense."
"So you admit that you did behave badly?"
"Don't push your luck, Potter."
"And are you sorry for always favouring your own house over all the others, and taking points off Gryffindor even when you knew we were in the right - sir?"
"Oh God - so I cheated a little in the great game of my-house-has-more-points-than-your-house. Sue me."
Minerva McGonagall coughed gently. "What you have to understand, Harry," she said gravely, though she looked as if she was trying hard not to laugh, "is that 'my-house-has-more-points-than-your-house' is a game which teachers take as seriously as you children take Quidditch. Severus has always been far too competitive about it - it's a standing joke in the staff-room that he'll do anything to get a point."
The professor looked sulky and resentful for a moment, and then his face suddenly brightened into a wicked and wholly unexpected grin. "Besides which, I had a hundred galleons riding on Slytherin."
"You - you put a bet on it? Really?"
"Yes, really. Does that shock you, Potter - and you such a man of the world?"
"No, but - I might ask you for a cut of your winnings - sir."
"As from one man of the world to another. Sir."
"I might buy you a razor - a cutthroat, possibly. You look as if you could use one."
The boy still just stood there, looking at him, and this time Lynsey saw an unexpected depth of knowledge and sorrow in his grass-coloured eyes. "What now Potter?" the professor asked, sounding both weary and wary.
"I was just wondering...." the boy said. "I was wondering what happened to the boy who invented the Two-Foot Toenails hex."
"He had his moments - but your father and his Merry Men happened. My bloody father happened. Lucius Malfoy happened. Among many other things. And I would give - anything, to be that boy again, and to unmake the choices that he made. But that isn't possible: I can't undo what I did. I can't give your parents back to you."
"But - you said it yourself. Sir. You, me - my father - we all have to be who we've become, in order to bring down Voldemort."
He barely flinched, this time. "Detached objectivity, Potter?"
"If you like."
"You sound like Dumbledore."
"Worse - you sound like me."
Harry smiled at that, fleetingly, and then looked down and scuffed his feet like a much younger boy. "I wouldn't have looked, you know - I wouldn't have looked in the damned Pensieve if I had known it was going to be so - personal. I didn't mean to invade your privacy, I swear."
"Well what the hell did you think it would be? Quidditch tactics? Exam questions? Was that it?"
"No I - I thought you were, um, hiding Order secrets from me."
"Good God. That may be less unethical, but it's a whole order of magnitude more mindlessly bloody stupid. Did it not occur to you that if I had been hiding anything like that from you, it would have been for good reason? Reasons that adults vastly more experienced than yourself had decided were sufficient? The more people know a thing, the easier it is for the - the other side to know it. You heard what they did to me, damn you - exactly how many minutes do you think that you could hold out under torture, if it came to it?"
"I'm sorry, it was just that he - the Headmaster - he gave me the impression he'd just decided pretty arbitrarily that I'd be happier if he kept me in the dark."
"Like a mushroom - yes. I do know the feeling. But I was willing to tell you anything which it was safe and appropriate for you to know, if you would only treat me with a minimum of respect. If you'd only been paying attention, instead of thinking about how much you despised me, you would have realized that."
"If you weren't always so aggressive and sneering I'd be more respectful. Sir."
"If you didn't radiate hatred and scorn from every pore I'd be more polite."
"I don't hate you - not - "
"Not now you've started to see me as almost human" he said, rather bitterly. "You think just because I am over twenty that I have no real feelings, that I won't be cut by seeing scorn wherever I look, but just because I am - used to it doesn't make it less painful. You can get used to anything. I'm used to the bloody Cruciatus, but it still - hurts."
"I never meant to - No. You're right, I did." He rubbed at his eyes behind his glasses, looking tired. "Damn. You're quite right, I just - saw you as The Enemy. I never thought of you as having real feelings."
"It's called 'The Theory of Mind', Potter - being able to make an intelligent guess as to what someone else is feeling, or even that they are feeling. Although, of course, that presupposes that one has a mind to do the guessing, which in your case must be a problem."
The boy took his glasses off precariously by one leg, rubbed his eyes again and grinned. "Now that sounds more like the Professor Snape we all love to hate."
"So glad to be able to live down to your expectations, Potter. Let me be, now - I need to rest."
At the threshold, the boy called Harry paused. With his back to the professor, and his spine stiffened as if he thought the man's eyes could spit bullets, he said "Sir. If, as you say, Malfoy's behaviour can be to some extent excused by his upbringing - Sirius also came from a Dark family, in a dark house."
The professor stared at his rigid back for a moment, and then nodded curtly. "A valid point - to Gryffindor."
"Well," said McGonagall, after the brush-haired young man had left, "I suppose that at least represents some sort of - opening of diplomatic relations."
The professor gave her a sly, provoking look. "And we both know," he said with a gleam, "that diplomacy is just a continuation of warfare by other means."
"Cet animal est tres mechant;
Quand on l'attaque il se defend. "
"This is a very nasty animal: when you attack it it defends itself."
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing:" quotation often attributed to the 18th C philosopher Edmund Burke, but appears to be a 20th C paraphrase of one of his statements rather than a direct quote.
The person who was originally (self) described as "a bonny fighter" was Alan Breck in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped.
I am assuming that Horace Slughorn was involved in organizing Dumbledore's funeral because he is described as being specifically agitated at the suggestion that that funeral should be a major, public one. The Half-Blood Prince contains four sets of clues pointing to four mutually exclusive conclusions: 1) that Snape is a villain who has served Voldemort all along; 2) that Snape had served Dumbledore sincerely, but when it came to the crunch he murdered him to save Draco from punishment and/or to save himself from the consequences of the Unbreakable Vow; 3) that Snape killed Dumbledore on Dumbledore's orders; 4) that Snape helped to fake Dumbledore's death, with or without Dumbledore's orders. Only one of these sets of clues can be real: the other three are red herrings.
1) can be virtually ruled out straight away, because although one can think of possible villainous reasons for Snape's unwillingness to hurt Harry etc., there seems to be no conceivable explanation for his allowing Buckbeak to tear at him, without even trying to defend himself, other than that he didn't want to upset Hagrid by killing his pet - which is not the behaviour of a murderous Death Eater. At the time, I was inclined to believe that 4) was the correct one, partly because it's the most covert (because in detective and spy thrillers the obscure solution is usually the correct one), and partly because the clues that suggest it, although subtle, are very hard to explain any other way. If Dumbledore was killed by the Avada Kedavra, why didn't the Body-Bind on Harry lift immediately? Why was Slughorn agitated at the idea of a public funeral - unless it was because he was going to have to provide a dead body which he had not in fact got?
Yes, the whole thing about not using shaving charms was set up just so I could have an excuse for Snape offering to buy Harry a cutthroat razor.
This chapter has been edited to bring it in line with the new backstory revealed in Deathly Hallows. Apart from Snape saying "Dumbledore" rather than "Albus", we now know that he had almost certainly never killed anybody in cold blood, if indeed he had ever killed at all; that he probably didn't invent Sectumsempra himself; that Dumbledore expected to die before the end of the year, knew well in advance about Draco's mission and had already floated the possibility of Snape killing him before the Spinner's End scene; and that James definitely went on bullying Severus in the most blatant manner even after saving his life.
If you are seeing this text, your browser does not support inline frames: to select a chapter you will have to return to the title-page