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Dark Angel in the Guardian Host
Why is Professor Snape such an unpleasant person? And does the ‘arch Slytherin’ have any vulnerabilities?  Whatever happened to kindly Professor Lupin? Can the great Professor Dumbledore make any use of Snape’s Slytherin temperament, or must heroic attempts to bring down the terrifying Lord Voldemort rest only with Gryffindor acts of bravery and chivalry? Can Voldemort actually be defeated, or has he found a means to make himself invincible?

 All these questions are answered here.  Read on … but at your peril – if you have not read the first four Harry Potter novels, reading this first will spoil them for you !

 Irreparably.

 And you will also find this story impossible to follow.

 You have been warned…

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Introduction & Disclaimer

Part 1 - Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Part 2 - Chapter 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9

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 Part Two

 

Chapter Five - The Base of the Quicksand

Halfway through the June exam Snape gazed down at Harry’s Confusing Concoction with ill-suppressed glee.  It was far too watery, almost a disaster.  It’s a very poor piece of work, can I get away with giving him nought percent, Snape wondered.

The Potions Master had mixed feelings about the approaching end of term.  He was looking forward to the end of the exams, but his House had lost the Quidditch Cup and had no chance of winning the House Cup.  Black was still at large and Lupin was as popular as ever.  It was turning out to be a very unsatisfactory year.

***

Resentment hung heavy on him as Snape carried Lupin’s potion to his office on the day before the last Hogsmeade weekend.  He was annoyed that Lupin had forgotten to call in for his potion and thought it typical of the man’s devil-may-care attitude.

Arriving at his office, Snape rapped smartly on the door.  Lupin wasn’t there, so Snape decided to leave the potion and made to set the goblet down at the centre of the desk.  And there it was, before his very eyes, that curious piece of parchment that Harry had been carrying, its secret now revealed.  It was a map.  And such a map!  Snape stared, amazed, as a dot labelled Remus Lupin hurtled into the passage beneath the Whomping Willow and disappeared off the edge of the Map.  He looked for the dot labelled Severus Snape and saw it was, as expected, in the office of the Defence Against the Dark Arts Master.  ‘Wow’ he gasped.  Then he realised he was wasting precious time, something was happening – something so important that Lupin had neglected his potion.  Snape also hurried off, taking the route that Lupin had taken.

He dashed into the school parkland.  A large piece of silvery grey, filmy material was lying on the ground near the Willow tree’s base.  It was slippery and rather like a fluid made solid.  Snape recognised it as an Invisibility Cloak.  That’ll be Potter’s – that explains a lot, he said to himself, snatching it up.  Wildly he looked around, found a bit of branch and prodded the knot that froze the Willow’s flailing limbs.  Dropping the branch and swinging the cloak about him, he dived into the passage.

He stumbled along in the darkness, keeping his head low and not daring to light his wand.  Eventually he came to the Shrieking Shack and climbed slowly up through the building, wand at the ready and working towards the sound of muffled voices.  Gradually he thought he could distinguish Hermione Granger’s irritating know-it-all tones, although he couldn’t make out the words.  Then Lupin’s gentle reply of ‘(mumble) again Hermione’ confirmed Snape’s suspicion.  Suddenly there was an unmistakable snarl – Black’s voice.  On hearing that, a bitter hatred welled in Snape’s heart and his black eyes burned with fury.  He took a deep, steadying breath.

Granger, Lupin and Black, Snape said to himself; if Granger is here there’s a good chance Potter and Weasley are too.  I’ll have to be extremely careful.

He pressed himself flat against the landing wall and pushed at the bedroom door to make it swing open.  Ron Weasley’s voice was followed by Lupin’s, and then Lupin’s head appeared, looking up and down the landing.  He looked puzzled but thankfully didn’t come out to investigate.  Snape heard Lupin take up his narrative again, and then, praying that the floorboards wouldn’t creek, he tiptoed into the bedroom and settled against the wall, listening to Lupin’s tale.

Everything Lupin said confirmed Snape’s suspicions.  Lupin was not to be relied upon, he had been abusing Dumbledore’s trust even during his schooldays.  And then Snape watched and listened in amazement as they began to talk about HIM…  When Lupin accused him of being jealous of James Potter, Snape was hard put not to blast a curse at him through the Invisibility Cloak.  Finally he’d had enough.  He pulled off Harry’s cloak and began the process of taking them prisoner.

But just as the interview with Harry of some months earlier had not worked out to his satisfaction, so his attempted capture of Lupin and Black did not go as planned.  Unexpectedly the students interfered and Snape was disarmed and stunned.  As he passed out he again felt the ground beneath his feet was turning to quicksand…

*

The Potions Master regained consciousness in the parkland, some distance from the lake.  His head was thumping, but he couldn’t find any signs of serious injury.  He focused his senses and looked around.  Ron Weasley, unconscious, was lying quite close by, as was – miraculously – Snape’s own wand!  Hastily he grabbed it.  A coldness was seeping into him and he stared about.

Illuminated in a silvery light and moving with some hesitancy, Dementors were milling about three dark figures lying huddled near the lake.  One Dementor had lowered its hood.  It was reaching out to a small figure.  A student?

Wand in hand, Snape started forward but checked immediately as a bright silvery animal galloped at breakneck speed across the lake.  It charged at the Dementors and they began to fall back.  Several times it circled the huddled human figures, forcing the Dementors to withdraw from the scene and head for their stations at the entrances.

Very relieved and wondering who had produced such a powerful Patronus, Snape conjured a stretcher and levitated Weasley onto it.  He did the same for the figures by the lake which turned out to be Sirius Black, Hermione Granger and Harry Potter, all in a state of collapse.  He bound and gagged Black, and then floated the four stretchers up to the castle.  Having got the students to the hospital wing, and Black secured in Flitwick’s office, Snape went in search of Dumbledore whom he found in a meeting with Cornelius Fudge.

Dumbledore was most alarmed at Snape’s news.  He told the Potions Master to escort Fudge to the hospital wing and said he would join them there very shortly.  Snape stared after the Headmaster as he hurried off in the direction of Flitwick’s office – the Head of Slytherin wasn’t sure why he and the Minister were being sent to the hospital wing, and he was about to say so but Dumbledore was out of sight.

Never mind, Snape thought, it will give me the opportunity to talk to Fudge alone.  Excellent.  I can make sure he understands what really happened, and how much I managed to achieve.  All those Dementors, yet it was I who made the capture – and in spite of a werewolf and three confunded students!  In something of a more optimistic mood he conducted Fudge to the hospital wing.

As Harry and Hermione Granger, now conscious again, became agitated and shouted about Black’s innocence, Snape felt it underlined just how powerful Black’s Confundus Charm had been.  However Dumbledore’s arrival brought back Snape’s sensation that he was again balancing on quicksand.  It transpired the Headmaster had been talking to Black, and now he wanted to talk to Hermione Granger and Harry in private.  Fudge immediately withdrew and Snape was forced to do likewise.  Snape felt the prize might be slipping through his hands.

He glided along the corridor with Fudge, wondering what Dumbledore was up to.  Up one staircase, then up another, along another corridor…  As they walked Snape voiced his concern that the Dementor’s Kiss should be performed as soon as possible, and Fudge assured him it that would take place as soon as Macnair arrived with the Dementors.

It will be alright, Snape kept telling himself, I will have my revenge on Black, and get an Order of Merlin into the bargain.  Not a bad night’s work.  And Lupin?  Lupin didn’t take his potion.  He’s running loose in the grounds.  The Headmaster cannot ignore that!  But Fudge – he’s nowhere near as reliable as I would have wished.  One moment he’s agreeing with me, the next he’s coming out with rubbish like ‘Ah well, Harry Potter you know – we’ve all got a blind spot where he’s concerned’.  Well I haven’t!  But no, I can’t count on the Minister.  And the Headmaster – ‘my memory is as good as ever it was’ – what was that supposed to mean?

However, in his heart of hearts Snape felt he knew – whilst it was true that Black had once done something deliberately reckless or possibly even calculated to kill him, Snape and he had been enemies for many years – Snape’s own record was far from pristine in the matter of “reckless” acts against Black.

When Snape found Black had escaped, he was beside himself with rage.  With an irritable and bewildered Fudge trailing behind him, the Head of Slytherin stormed back to the hospital wing and yelled and ranted at Harry, heedless of how the scene looked, not even caring if Dumbledore might dismiss him for misconduct.  Dumbledore, however, didn’t even threaten dismissal.  He merely pointed out to Snape the illogicality of his assertions, and Snape stopped in his tracks.  Yes he thought, it sounds illogical, but it has been finessed, and I don’t know how.  Potter had pulled some stunt, and Granger has probably helped.  Dumbledore is not going to enlighten me.  Therefore I’m beaten.  No captured prisoner.  No Order of Merlin.

Snape had no option but retreat.  At half-past one in the morning he was in bed but still wide awake and seething with anger.  Knowing he would never get any sleep without chemical help, Snape got up and searched his store cupboard for a Sleeping Potion.  How strange he though, one can fall through a quicksand and hit rock bottom.  He downed a large dose of potion in one gulp and headed back to bed.  ‘Stuff the lot of ’em’ he snarled, throwing the bedclothes over him.  ‘If Black’s somewhere close at hand, I hope Lupin EATS him!’  And with that particularly vicious thought, he instantly fell asleep.

The following morning Snape dragged himself out of bed at half past seven.  The potion had left him still very sleepy and he would have loved to have slept in, but he had an urgent announcement to make to his House.  Throwing his cloak over his nightshirt, he strode along the dungeon corridor and stopped at the invisible common room entrance.  He muttered the password, Chrysophylax, and a section of the wall rolled back.  Most of the students were still in their dormitories, but Snape was pleased to see that the few that were in the common room included two of his senior prefects, the 7th Years Sue Pritchard and Ian Derrick.

‘Derrick, Miss Pritchard, I have an important announcement to make to the House at breakfast this morning.  Ask everyone to come down promptly, and please ensure no one leaves the table until I have spoken to them.’

‘Yes Professor’ they replied, almost in unison.

Snape then returned to his chambers to shower and dress.  He was soon in the Great Hall and had finished his own breakfast before most of the other staff had appeared.  He glided down the Hall and stood at the end of the Slytherin table.  His House immediately fell silent and all the faces turned to him expectantly.

‘A very serious incident occurred last night’ Snape began.  ‘Sirius Black was in the castle and he escaped from it.  It may be that he does not return, in which case one source of danger has been removed from our midst.  There is, however, another source of danger.  A werewolf was loose in the grounds last night, so I hope no one here saw fit to take a night-time stroll, either inside or outside the castle.  If anyone should feel so inclined, I must impress upon you the gravity of so doing if the moon is still near to full tonight.  This is more than a matter of breaking school rules – this is a matter of risking one’s life.  It is possible that the danger has now passed and that Remus Lupin is himself again.  BUT, just in case, let me impress upon you, do not on any account leave the safety of the House after moonrise.’  Snape’s eyes bored into his students as he surveyed the crowded table.  In the distance at the Top Table he saw Dumbledore arrive and take his seat.  ‘I hope you all understand’ he added pointedly.

A hubbub of discrete talking broke out…  ‘Professor Lupin – a werewolf.’  ‘One of our own teachers…’  ‘Remus Lupin…’  ‘Yes, Professor Lupin…’  There were glances towards the Top Table but Lupin had not yet arrived.

Snape smiled a heartless smile.  Yes, he said to himself, it seems they do understand!  He nodded a concluding smile to Derrick and Pritchard, and glided out of the Hall.  As he settled in his office, the news that Lupin was a werewolf had already travelled across the Great Hall like a wave across the sea.

Snape was busy with the tail end of his marking when a House Elf arrived with a message from Dumbledore.  The Headmaster wanted to see Snape in his office at ten-thirty, so dutifully at ten-twenty-eight Snape knocked on Dumbledore’s office door and was admitted.  He was not invited to sit.  Dumbledore watched him carefully.  ‘Well, Severus, you have you wish.  Remus is leaving.’  The Headmaster’s voice was level and it was difficult to say if there was an edge of bitterness, but his customary kindliness was absent.  He was not smiling.

Snape didn’t know how to reply.  He was beginning to regret his revelation about Lupin but there was no way of recalling it.  He could hardly modify the memories of hundreds of students, and by now some of them may have owled home.

‘I, uhm–’  He left the sentence unfinished.  He was still smarting about Black’s escape and Dumbledore siding with Harry and Hermione.  He thought about saying so and decided against it.  ‘Is that all you wanted to see me about, Headmaster?’ he enquired.

Dumbledore gave him a look of such disappointment that Snape almost flinched.  For his part, Snape’s eyes held remorse but he was too proud to apologise.  Finally Dumbledore spoke once again and in the same even tone.  ‘You may leave, Severus’ he said.

Snape left the Headmaster’s office and headed for his own as the implications of those last four words kept churning in his head.  You are free to leave my office…  I want your resignation…  You are free to resign if you are dissatisfied with my management…  So much studied ambiguity.  Superficially Dumbledore had meant the interview was over and Snape could leave his office, but as ever with him there were deeper messages – messages about disappointment, about loyalty, about “doing the decent thing”, deliberate multi-layered interpretations.

But I’m the aggrieved one, Snape fumed.  I’m the one who acted responsibly!  I’m the one who lost out most!

Nevertheless the Potions Master thought it prudent to keep a low profile for the next few days.  He rose late, which was his custom at weekends and once lessons had finished for the year.  He found frequent reasons to slip out to Hogsmeade and lunch at The Three Broomsticks, and he dined late and retired early.  As Snape was never one for making much conversation at the dining table, he reasoned that the Head and Deputy Head would have no particular cause to wonder or comment.  However, once she began the task of collating the exam results, McGonagall called Snape to her office.

Snape heard her calling ‘Come in’ so he entered, and was less than pleased to find Dumbledore standing beside her desk.  They were both pouring over diaries, but Snape noticed the third year Potions results spread over McGonagall’s desk.  The zero against Harry Potter’s name almost leapt off the parchment at him.

‘Come in, Severus, we are almost done’ McGonagall said.  ‘Do have a seat.’

Dumbledore laid his diary down and flattened it with his hands.  The top edge of the book bordered Harry’s name like an underlining, and he glanced up at Snape, giving him a piercing stare.  Then he bent again to his diary.  ‘And on the fourteenth I’m seeing Crouch and Bagman’ he murmured.  ‘And again on the eighteenth of August.  And – that’s it for now.’

‘Very well; thank you, Headmaster’ McGonagall replied, as she made hasty notes in her own diary.

Dumbledore gave Snape a curt nod and headed for his own office.  McGonagall looked up.

‘Right.  Severus.  Now.  Exam results.  Err, you’ve got a nought against Harry here…’  She sounded perplexed.

A brick red colour was edging Snape’s sallow face.  ‘Oh, have I?’ he said, feigning surprise.  ‘That can’t be right.  No, of course it isn’t.  It should be a sixty.  Can I change it?’

She gave him a look of disapproval, McGonagall hated mistakes as much as Snape did himself.  I’ll change it’ she said impatiently, inking in a six to the left of the nought.  ‘Thank you, Severus.’

‘Is that it?’

‘Yes.  Unless you have anything else.’

‘No.  Fine.’  Snape fought hard to keep his voice casual.  ‘I’ll see you at dinner, then’ he said, and he wandered out of her office.

***

The letter came by Muggle post and was delivered to 18 Laurel Avenue.  When she opened the white envelope Bella understood – Lupin had not been home long and did not yet have an owl.  Why didn’t he ring, she wondered?

Garrett Flat, The Old Old Book Shop, Salop Road, Oswestry

4th July, 1994

Dear Bella,

Things didn’t quite work out at Hogwarts so I’m back home while I consider my options.

I hope you are well and I look forward to seeing you sometime this summer.  If you have time, please drop in.  (Don’t forget Mr Parsons downstairs is a Muggle.)

Much love,

Remus

Things didn’t work out at Hogwarts!  What could have gone wrong Bella wondered?  And he hopes to see me – what does that mean?  Just for a day?  Or longer?

She walked through to number 20, looked up Lupin's telephone number and pressed the keypad on her phone.  Lupin answered quite quickly:

‘Remus?’

‘Bella.  How lovely to hear you.  I take it you got my letter.’  His voice sounded guarded.

‘Yes.  Just got it.  Intriguing.  Are you going to explain?’

‘No.  Not now.’

‘OK.  Are you alright?  Do you need any potion?’

‘No, I’m OK for a few weeks.  Are you coming to see me?’

‘I’d love to, but I’m babysitting now, aren’t I.  I’ll probably be free towards the end of August.  Harry’s hoping to go to the World Cup with the Weasleys.  Are you going?’

‘No.  Quidditch is not really my thing, is it Bella.  When is the match?’

‘Erm, hold on (Bella flicked through her diary that lay by the telephone) Monday… the… 22nd.  Well, in that case perhaps I can visit you then.  But if you’d like to come here… please do.  I’d love to see you.  And you know you can stay if you want to.’

‘I know…  Thank you, Bella.’  Lupin sounded relieved.  ‘I’ll be transforming in late August, but anyway I’d like us to meet much sooner than that.  Uhm, I need a day or so to finish a piece of work.  Mr Parsons has got me a couple of commissions.’

‘Is he the bookshop owner?’ Bella asked.

‘Yes.  He’s a useful man to know’ Lupin added.  ‘He’s got several contacts who often need documents translated.  Boring stuff, but it pays.’

They chatted a while longer, and Lupin arranged to arrive for dinner on Saturday evening, and stay for the following week.  Bella said he could give Mr Parsons her telephone number so that the bookshop owner could get in touch if any further work turned up.

When he had rung off Bella was still puzzling about Lupin’s resignation.  She decided to plan a quiet dinner at home for Saturday night as she suspected there would be a lot to talk about, and a restaurant crowded with Muggles would not be conducive to detailed explanations about difficult relationships at Hogwarts.

***

As they sat in the candlelight in Bella’s small dining room, Lupin began to relate all that had happened during the year.  ‘I’ll have to tell it from the beginning’ he said.  ‘You’ll only understand if you hear it from the outset.’  He then proceeded to tell Bella about Neville Longbottom’s Boggart.  Bella didn’t stop him – having learned her brother’s viewpoint via her mother, she was interested to hear Lupin’s version of the tale.  Privately she knew, too, about Harry’s Firebolt, that Gryffindor had defeated Slytherin at the Quidditch Final and that Harry could conjure a strong Patronus.

‘You taught him that, I suppose’ she said, looking with admiration at Lupin as he related events at the Ravenclaw / Gryffindor match.

‘Yes, well – this is awkward’ he replied.  ‘This is a bit confidential.  But, as it’s you – please don’t let Harry know you know.’

‘I don’t talk to Harry directly’ Bella reminded him.  ‘Not often.  And as he thinks I’m just a Muggle acquaintance of Vernon and Petunia, he can’t tell me about school – only in very general terms like ‘There’s only one teacher I hate, and that’s Mr Snape’ – that sort of thing.  So don’t worry.  Albus has given me the responsibility of keeping an eye on Harry while he’s at Privet Drive.  It’s up to you, but anything you would say to Albus you should feel able to say to me.’

Lupin hesitated and then finally decided to tell her what Harry heard when the Dementors drew near.  ‘He can produce a magnificent Patronus now’ Lupin added proudly.

Bella bit her lips.  She, like Lupin, was close to tears, and she got up mumbling ‘I’ll get the coffee.’  As she pottered in the kitchen Lupin also mentioned the Marauders’ Map and the Invisibility Cloak.  ‘Albus knows about the Cloak’ Bella said.  ‘I’d like to tell him about the Map if that’s OK.  I think it’s best he knows everything.  Harry doesn’t always confide in him, and he has to anticipate things sometimes.  Help yourself to brandy, Remus.  You know where to find a glass.’

Lupin poured himself a cognac and took it back to the table as Bella brought in the coffee.

‘Right.  Now we come to the nub of the matter’ Lupin said, and he related the events at the Shrieking Shack, and what he had learned later of the altercations in the hospital wing and the conversations with the Minister for Magic.  Finally he explained about Snape letting slip the news of his werewolf condition.

Bella looked embarrassed and deeply shocked.  ‘I don’t know what to say’ she said limply.

‘Severus made a valid point’ Lupin replied.  ‘In the heat of the moment I’d forgotten my potion.  I was loose in the grounds and highly dangerous.’

‘So that’s why you resigned.’

‘That why I resigned.  My decision.’

‘I’m sorry, Remus.’  Bella finished her coffee in silence.  She poured them both a second cup and a cognac for Lupin.  ‘He–made–a–valid–­point’ she repeated slowly, turning the words over in her mind.  She sighed.  ‘Yes, OK, it was a valid point.  But, my brother’s underlying motive was surely revenge.  You’re absolutely convinced of Sirius Black’s innocence aren’t you?’

‘Yes.  So is Albus.  Remember Peter was there, with us at the Shack.  He wriggled and wriggled but eventually admitted what he’d done.’

‘So Sirius is in hiding again, Peter Pettigrew’s free, you’re out of a job, and all the students are safe’ Bella summarised.  ‘And Severus didn’t get his Order of Merlin.  Bloody good job!  I wonder who Albus will take on next year?  Right, we’ve done this to death haven’t we?  How about we curl up on the sofa and watch a film?’

‘Wonderful idea.’

‘You can choose’ she said to Lupin.  ‘Take that bottle in, too, if you like.  I’ll stack the dishwasher and be in in a minute.’

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Chapter Six - The Darkening Mark

Snape woke with a start and wondered what had awakened him.  He fumbled for his wand, lit it and checked the time.  Then he lay awake, listening.  There was no sound, but something must have disturbed him.  Finally he crept out of bed, put on cloak, socks and shoes, and began to prowl the castle.

Nothing!  Nothing anywhere!  Not unless you counted Peeves calling him rude names as he checked the Charms corridor, and his mother talking to the Fat Friar by the empty staff room hearth.

Snape returned to his dungeon bedchamber, lit a candle and picked out a book to read.  As he hung up his cloak he became aware of the faintest of tingling sensations on the inside of his left forearm.  He unbuttoned the cuff of his nightshirt and raised the sleeve.  Nothing.  He held his arm closer to the candle flame.  Nothing to be seen, the mark was as faint as ever.  So why had it tingled?  Pins and needles?  He never suffered from such a thing.  What a coincidence that he should suddenly get pins and needles beneath that mark.

As he sat up in bed, trying to read Erskine Childers’s The Riddle of the Sands Snape frowned.  He didn’t believe in coincidences.

The following morning he rose early, dressed hastily, and looked for the Headmaster.  There was no sign of Dumbledore anywhere – not in the Great Hall, nor his office.  Snape wondered about knocking on the door of his private chamber.  The House Elves, he decided, they’ll know.  He made his way to the kitchen and was surprised to find it empty.  The school ran on a skeleton staff during August, but he had never known the kitchen to be totally empty.  But then, I’m not normally up so early in August, he reasoned.  A door was open at the end of the room and he could hear voices outside, one of which sounded like McGonagall’s.

Snape looked out.  Minerva McGonagall was talking to someone who had arrived in a carriage.  She was holding a cardboard box and bidding the person goodbye.  As the carriage trundled away she turned and started at seeing Snape in the doorway.  She tucked the box under her arm and walked back indoors.

‘Severus.  You startled me’ she exclaimed.  ‘Anything wrong?’

‘Mmm, not particularly’ Snape replied, trying to sound casual.  ‘Have you seen Albus?’

‘He’s still in London.  Stopping on till Saturday.’

‘Blast.’  Snape remembered that Dumbledore had a couple of meetings scheduled with the Head of International Magical Co-operation and the Head of Magical Sports and Games, as arrangements had to be finalised for the Triwizard Tournament.  He was obviously extending his stay to the end of the week.  McGonagall was watching Snape carefully.  Her arm was across the label of the box.  ‘Can I take that for you?’ Snape enquired.

‘No thank you, I’m fine.’  McGonagall sounded frostier than ever.

‘Have you had breakfast?’

‘Not yet.’

‘Shall we go up to the Hall?’

‘You go on, I’ll see you there shortly’ McGonagall replied in her customary terse tones, and before Snape could say anymore she headed swiftly upstairs.

A few minutes later he was pouring himself some orange juice as McGonagall entered the Hall.  Snape watched her walk purposefully to the Top Table and he had to admit that despite her age she was both powerful and elegant.  As she took her seat, he leant across and poured her a goblet of juice.

‘Thank you, Severus’ she said.  ‘Yes, well, if you were hoping to catch Albus I’m afraid you’re unlucky.  He’s had quiet a busy summer, thanks to next year’s tournament.’

‘I suppose it will be worth it’ Snape replied.  ‘We won’t have Quidditch, though.’

‘So we won’t have to put up with the Slytherin team acting like human Bludgers at every opportunity’ she remarked acidly.

‘They do not!  My House just plays to win.’

‘We all play to win, but it’s not meant to be a blood bath–’

‘Quidditch is a tough game, Minerva!’

‘It’s a tough game, yes, but it has rules!  It’s not meant to be a free-for-all, no holds barred massacre.’

They sniped at each other for some time.  Finally McGonagall asked Snape about his trip to London and commented that he had returned earlier than usual.

‘Actually, I am normally back at school by now’ Snape pointed out.

Whilst this was technically true, inwardly Snape had to admit his routine had been different this summer.  He had not visited Bella.  Nor had he received a birthday card from her.  He missed seeing his sister, and he sometimes considered calling on her out of the blue, but he didn’t want to run into Lupin.

Not wanting to talk about this, Snape turned the conversation away from himself, asking McGonagall about her holidays.  But apart from telling him she was off to do some shopping, McGonagall had little to say.  She never said very much about herself and it suddenly struck Snape that he literally only knew McGonagall’s name, her age (72-ish? – he had no idea when her birthday was and had never seen her receive any cards) and that she had joined Hogwarts in the September of 1975.  He had sat next to this witch at the dining table for eighteen years and he hardly knew a thing about her.  He didn’t even know if she had a middle name.  Almost the sum total of his conversations with her throughout each term was to make sarcastic comments about Gryffindor’s chances of losing the Quidditch Cup or the House Cup to Slytherin.

Snape fell silent, pondering this, and as he did so McGonagall finisher her breakfast and got up to leave.  ‘I’ll see you at dinner, Severus’ she said.  ‘I’m off to London now.’  And with that she was gone, marching out of the Hall.

*

Dumbledore returned the following day and Snape spent over an hour in his office discussing recent events.  He told the Headmaster how he had awoken for no apparent reason and had eventually noticed a faint tingling in the Dark Mark on his arm.  Dumbledore thought this significant.  He related conversations he had had at the Ministry and reminded Snape that Bertha Jorkins of Magical Sports and Games had been missing for just over a month.  It turned out Dumbledore had been extremely busy during the summer – he had had meetings at the Auror Office as well as jointly with The Department of International Magical Co-Operation, the Department of Magical Sports and Games, and the Heads of Beauxbaton Academy and Durmstrang Institute.

He was also secretly in touch with Sirius Black, but naturally he made no mention of that to Snape.

‘Alistor Moody is joining us for a year’ Dumbledore stated.  ‘He’ll act as our Defence Against the Dark Arts Master.  But that is by-the-by.  The point is – I want an Auror here.’

‘I see’ Snape replied.  Moody’s imminent arrival wasn’t welcome news, but he could understand the Headmaster’s anxiety.

Dumbledore could also sense Snape’s unease.  ‘You have no real cause to worry, Severus’ he pointed out.

Snape’s face twitched and a vein began to beat at his temple.  ‘No, Headmaster’ he agreed.

Of less concern was the news that Igor Karkaroff would be attending from Durmstrang.  Snape had known Karkaroff since his late teens.  Karkaroff was an untrustworthy character, but superficially friendly and not the threat that Moody might pose.

Carefully, every day, Snape checked the mark on his inner left forearm.  It’s no different, he kept telling himself.  And indeed, day by day he could not detect any change, but over the course of a fortnight was there perhaps a slight darkening?  And following the night of the World Cup?  Yes, he was sure it was slightly more prominent.  He sighed.  It was time to talk to Dumbledore again.

*

As a result of the events at the Quidditch World Cup, Dumbledore called an urgent full staff meeting.  He updated the staff about various unusual events that had taken place that summer, explained his thinking behind Moody’s appointment and passed on some of the details of his meetings at the Ministry.  He made no mention of news from Sirius Black, and neither he nor Snape said anything about the mark on Snape’s arm.

The night of Moody’s arrival – the first night of the autumn term, was a dreadful night.  A terrific storm was raging as the staff and students sat at the dining table.  Snape watched McGonagall march down the Hall with the file of nervous first years in her wake.  She resembled a thin green peacock leading a train of drowned ducklings.  The children were wet through and one tiny boy, who appeared to be soaked to the skin, was swathed in Hagrid’s moleskin coat.  He looked like a small furry mountain.

Moody was a little late.  A split-second after he flung the door open a spectacular bolt of lightning flashed across the enchanted ceiling, vividly illuminating the Great Hall.  Snape’s mouth turned down with distaste.  Very dramatic entrance, he sneered.

Moody looked different to the wizard Snape had known in 1976.  His huge mane of hair was grizzled, his body looked even more mangled, and he had lost an eye.  Snape looked with dismay at the electric blue magical eye that replaced the missing one.  What powers might that have?  His face still looked as if it had been hacked out of granite.  Seeing Moody once again, unwelcome memories of Snape’s time in custody awaiting trial began to surface, and he fought to push them back.  He decided to keep his head down, and, as far as possible, avoid interaction with Moody.

Karkaroff’s arrival was far less significant, indeed it gave Snape someone to talk to as ‘an old friend’.  It was a slightly farcical situation, but nevertheless Snape felt the Tournament might turn out to be quite bearable.  If only he could have a Slytherin Champion…

When, at Hallowe’en, Harry Potter’s name emerged from the Goblet of Fire everyone seemed utterly surprised.  Snape suspected he alone was the least surprised – Harry had a knack of cropping up everywhere and being involved in everything.  It was infuriating and uncanny, but it should no longer be thought surprising.  How Harry managed it Snape could not guess, but he was confident he would fathom it eventually.  He wondered whether Harry had over-reached himself now.  The Triwizard Tournament’s tasks were based upon a certain level of experience – Harry had not been exposed to magic of a suitably advanced nature.  Will this finally mark Potter’s demise, he wondered.  I suppose I had better tell Bella.

His note to his sister was short and utterly to the point, Snape saw no purpose in trying to build bridges – he guessed he was out of favour with her because of Lupin.  Well, he had his position, she had taken hers, they were irreconcilable.  Snape had buried his guilt about ousting Lupin by focusing on the fact that the wizard had, for a night, posed a serious threat to the Hogwarts students.

He wrote the note late on the night of Hallowe’en and despatched it immediately:

Hogwarts, 11:45pm,  31 October, 1994

Dear Bella,

Potter’s name has just emerged from the Goblet of Fire, so he is a fourth Triwizard Champion.  (Cedric Diggory is the official Hogwarts Champion.)  Albus put an age line around the Goblet, but it seems to have failed.

Potter must compete – it is a binding magical contract.

Severus

Her reply to him was equally cool.  Snape realised his letter must have taken a while to reach her – clearly she was taking advantage of Harry’s absence and having a break away from home – staying, he presumed, with Lupin:

Garrett Flat, The Old Old Book Shop, Salop Road, Oswestry

11:15pm,  7th November, 1994

Dear Severus,

Thank you for letting me know about Harry.

(I will be home by Sunday 13th November.)

Bella

Staying with Lupin!  Well that was only to be expected, Snape thought.  No doubt she would gaze fondly at the young wizard’s prematurely lined but handsome face, and the gleaming silver strands in his mid-brown hair.  Perhaps she was even now darning his robes.  Poor Lupin – Bella always had a soft spot for pitiable strays.  But was Lupin a pitiable stray?  He certainly seemed to have a knack of getting people to provide what he needed.

*

On 24th November Snape watched in astonishment as Harry weaved and swerved to avoid the Horntail.  The heartstring of a Hungarian Horntail provided the core of Snape’s ebony wand – it was the largest and most ferocious black dragon in existence, and he would not have relished having to face a whole, living dragon.  Harry achieved the objective, and even though Karkaroff marked him down he did not look dismayed – the boy was through to the second task!

Snape’s thoughts returned to the mark on his arm and the conversation he had had with the Headmaster the previous evening.  The mark was getting clearer, he could not deny it.  Dumbledore was puzzled and worried.  And as for Snape? – he was afraid.  Dumbledore had spoken of a potion he wanted Snape to prepare – a curious potion, about which the Headmaster had, many decades previously, published a largely theoretical paper.  Snape explained that he could not see the point of making it, but the Headmaster was adamant.  It needed a particular ingredient which was not yet to hand, and Snape had a matter to think over.

By the time of the Yule Ball, Karkaroff was equally afraid of the darkening mark, and Snape was pretending not to be.  Snape at least was clear in his mind about his intentions for the future, whatever happened he would not leave Hogwarts.  The ‘school’ and ‘Dumbledore’ – and in essence they were one and the same – represented his only security.  Hogwarts would not let him down, it would be a last bastion.  And Snape, for his part, would remain loyal to Hogwarts and undertake the tasks required of him.  He needn’t worry unduly about Bella.  She had never been involved with Voldemort, so there was no reason for the Dark Lord to search her out, any more than any other witch or wizard.  She was an accomplished, resourceful witch and had her own life.  She had never needed his help.

***

Again Snape sat up with a start in the pitch darkness of his dungeon bedchamber.  This time however he knew what had disturbed his sleep.  He had heard a series of thuds.  Now an eerie wailing floated in from somewhere close at hand.  What was going on?  He leapt out of bed and grabbed his wand.  Heedless of the cold stone floors, he hurried, pattering barefoot into the corridor.  No one in sight… but… was his office door open?  Snape hastened along the corridor.  Yes!  Someone had lit the torches and a cupboard door was ajar.  Wildly, Snape looked about.  The room appeared to be empty.  In the distance the wailing noise stopped.

Snape resealed his office and hurried along the corridor.  He came to the narrow staircase behind the tapestry.  Someone was talking, cursing Peeves and threatening…

Peeves…?

It was Filch.  He was holding a golden egg and ranting about the poltergeist stealing it.  Snape climbed up to him.  Filch insisted the egg had been the source of the noise.  He seemed to think Peeves was the intruder.  But the staircase was empty.  And how could Peeves break into the Potions office?  None of this made any sense.

And then Alistor Moody arrived, and much to Snape’s horror Filch blurted out that his office had been broken into.  Snape felt the electric blue eye scanning him like Muggle radar.

Like the terrier that he was, Moody gnawed at the point about Snape’s burglary as if it was a rabbit.  ‘Reckon they were after potion ingredients, eh?’ he asked finally.  ‘Not hiding anything else in your office, are you?’

By now Snape could feel his heart thumping against his ribs.  He suspected he was blushing, but he was determined to keep control.  ‘You know I’m hiding nothing, Moody’ he replied in a soft but menacing tone, ‘As you’ve searched my office pretty thoroughly yourself.’

‘Auror’s privilege, Snape’ Moody gloated.  ‘Dumbledore told me to keep an eye–’

Snape could feel his anger surging to the boil.  ‘Dumbledore happens to trust me’ he said through his clenched teeth.  ‘I refuse to believe that he gave you orders to search my office!’

‘Course Dumbledore trusts you!’ Moody growled back.  ‘He’s a trusting man isn’t he?  Believes in second chances.  But me – I say there are spots that don’t come off, Snape.  Spots that never come off, d’you know what I mean?’

It seemed to Snape that a hot, sharp pain lanced so suddenly into his arm that before he could stop himself he had clenched his left forearm with his right hand.  It was an unfortunate involuntary reaction.

Lying in bed an hour later, Snape wasn’t sure if he had imagined the pain.  Had his mind played a trick on him?  But the awful events of that confrontation played over and over in his mind like a looping video.  What a pity, he thought, that I didn’t spot that parchment before Moody turned up.  That was Potter’s parchment.  He was there, in his Cloak.  He must have broken into my office.  But why?  For Boomslang skin and Gillyweed it seems.  And how?  How could Potter break my seal?  And Moody came to his rescue, like Lupin did last year.

***

Harry Potter had got through the second task.  Having (as Snape supposed) had the audacity to steal the Gillyweed, the fourteen year old boy was now tying for first place with Cedric Diggory.  And now he was plastered all over Witch Weekly as well as the Daily Prophet!  Snape’s incredulity was only exceeded by his fury.  Privately he was exceedingly jealous – already Harry had achieved far more fame than his father, James, could have dreamed of.  Harry didn’t seem to be enjoying it, yet how could he not be?  Snape would have given his eye teeth for such celebrity.

But Snape now had a distraction.  Karkaroff’s concern about the Dark Mark on his arm was growing ever more frantic, and he engineered opportunities to seek out Snape in order to compare marks and discuss the implications.  Eventually, as Easter approached, Snape gave Dumbledore a further update…

‘It’s coming back’ he explained, ‘Karkaroff’s too.  Stronger and clearer than ever.’

Dumbledore looked gravely at him.  ‘As we have speculated’ he said, ‘there will come a point when you receive a summons.  And as you know, when that happens I will probably ask you to respond to that call.  It depends of course upon the exact circumstances – we must make our decision in the light of the moment.  But essentially I want you to re-infiltrate the Death Eater ranks, be our man on the inside again.  However this is rather a big thing to ask; when the moment comes the decision can only be yours.’

They were silent for a time.  ‘Yes, Headmaster’ Snape said finally.  He smiled ruefully.  ‘I am not made for Gryffindor heroics’ he added in a whisper, as if to explain his hesitation.

Dumbledore nodded sadly.  He knew that was true, and he knew he would have been asking a tremendous amount of anyone.  But he also knew that, Slytherin though he may be, Snape had a particular motivation to see Voldemort brought down, and that might be sufficient to carry him through.

Although, at the Yule Ball, Snape had said to Karkaroff that he did not see what there was to fuss about, he felt he had spoken more out of bravado than conviction.  Yet for once Snape was doing himself and injustice.  He had already decided his course of action – Karkaroff’s fear stemmed partly from indecision.  Snape had long ago resolved where his loyalty lay and was keeping faith with that.  He approached his unpleasant “final tasks” with trepidation but determination.

***

Harry Potter also faced a Final Task.  And as he saw it through it turned out to be totally different in nature to what anyone (with one exception) at Hogwarts had foreseen.  The author of that task was now being interrogated by Dumbledore and many of the motives and consequences were becoming clear…

As Barty Crouch junior (the Alistor Moody impostor) related his tale and got to the point where his own father had appeared on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, Snape felt most uncomfortable.  Crouch merely stated that Potter had hurried off to find Dumbledore and had first run across Snape.  Nevertheless Snape remembered all too well how he had delayed Harry.  Would it have made any difference?  He tried to tell himself it would not, but at times he felt Dumbledore’s eyes on him.  Dumbledore knew his hands were not exactly clean in this matter.  Dumbledore always knew.

He was relieved when the Headmaster sent him on errands to get the real Alistor Moody moved to the hospital wing and to find Fudge.  When he returned to the hospital wing however, it was not in a state of triumph.  Fudge had allowed, or possibly instructed, a Dementor to administer the Kiss to Crouch, which meant he could not now give evidence.  Minerva McGonagall was beside herself with fury – Snape could not remember seeing her so angry.

Gradually it became apparent that Fudge was not prepared to believe that Voldemort was growing in strength and working to make a come back.  Harry could not convince him, despite what he had been through.  Nor could McGonagall, nor Dumbledore.  Finally Snape felt impelled to reveal the very prominent Dark Mark on his arm, but Fudge would still not accept matters.  Or said he would not.

In a state of considerable rage the Minister left and Dumbledore considered his options.  Then he made Sirius Black reveal himself and issued instructions, the first of which was for a truce to be called between Snape and Black.  Bringing himself to shake Black’s hand was a far from easy matter for the Potions Master.  Only the Headmaster’s express command, bolstered by an accumulation of guilt about Harry, Lupin, Bella, and to some very small extent Black himself, compelled Snape to go through with it.  And it was a relief when Black was sent away to round up the few but key wizards and witches that Dumbledore felt he could rely upon.  The Headmaster then turned to the matter of Snape’s special task.  Snape squared his shoulders – afraid though he was, he knew he was ready.  Having received his orders he retired to his room to consider how he was going to carry them out.

On the pretext of going to speak to the Diggorys, Dumbledore followed Snape to his chambers.  ‘Severus’ he called as he knocked on Snape’s door, ‘a word before you go.’

The door opened at once and Snape motioned him to a seat on the church pew.  Snape, himself, sat on the bed and the two wizards regarded each other gravely.  It was an odd moment.

‘How is your arm?’ Dumbledore asked.

‘Not burning now’ Snape explained.  ‘He is not “calling”.  The time has passed.  I cannot Apparate directly to him now.  I will have to find another route.’

The Headmaster nodded.  ‘Well, three things have become abundantly clear’ he observed.  ‘Harry is in grave danger, and Fudge cannot be relied upon.’  (Snape sat in silence, waiting for him to outline the third thing but Dumbledore decided to keep this to himself.)  ‘The Minister’s actions with the Dementor were very strange’ he continued, ‘and I cannot fathom whether he simply cannot recognise the situation for what it is, or whether he has some reason for trying to work against us.  I believe we can keep Harry safe until the end of term, but in some ways I will be happier when he is back with his family.  I will make Arabella aware of the situation and ask her to declare herself to Harry, then he has someone of skill to turn to on the spot if the Dursleys are attacked.’  He fell silent for a moment but Snape still didn’t speak, so finally he continued.  ‘Sirius should be returning sometime tomorrow with Bella, Mungo and Remus.  As you are already late for this appointment would you like to stay to see Bella?’

Snape thought this over.  ‘No’ he said finally.  ‘No, I plan to make a very early start tomorrow and breakfast on the way.  But thank you, Headmaster.’

‘As you wish’ Dumbledore said.  ‘The next step then.  There are four things we need – for you to re-establish your Dark credentials, to find out what Voldemort’s plans are, to find out where he is, and the fourth thing is the substance we need for the potion.’

‘Yes, Headmaster’ Snape replied plaintively, ‘but, please do remember – your original thesis hinted at a kinship connection for this particular variation.  Without that, its full potential–’

‘I know, Severus.’

‘And you still want it.’

‘Yes.’  Dumbledore was adamant.

‘Very well, Headmaster.’

‘And now I will leave you to get some rest, or make a start as you please.  Good luck, Severus’

‘Thank you, Headmaster.’

They shook hands, Dumbledore saw himself out, and went in search of the Diggorys.

Snape got ready for bed.  He realised he may be too keyed up to sleep and he dare not take a Sleeping Potion, but he would at least allow himself a few hours rest.  He decided to arrive in Diagon Alley by eight o’clock, breakfast at The Leaky Cauldron and be at the Ministry by nine.  Yes, he thought, that should do it.  I’ll try Macnair first of all.

Again he thought about Bella.  He could not predict how his meeting with Voldemort would go – the wizard had been known to kill his followers on sight for punishment, as a demonstration of power, or merely for entertainment.  So Snape might be going to his death.  Should he have stayed to see Bella?

No, he decided.  He needed to get this done, he could not bear the idea of more delay.  If it went wrong what difference would it make?  So they would not have parted on good terms – so what?  He would be dead – it would hardly matter to him.  His sister would be the one left coping with her feelings.  Well, one had to live with all sorts of feelings.

*

Dumbledore meanwhile, after his meeting with the Diggorys, spent forty minutes in conversation with McGonagall and then majestically paced the castle corridors.  It was very late now and the vast building’s dim silence helped him to think.

He had much to ponder.  Since Voldemort’s rebirthing process, his plans for the Dark Lord’s downfall had two chances of success.  But one of those options involved Harry Potter, and Harry was Voldemort’s target.

It was an odd, reciprocal arrangement of weapons and risks.

For almost an hour Dumbledore met no one, neither Filch nor Mrs Norris, not Peeves, nor any students sneaking to the kitchens.  It was only when he entered the library that he found someone to talk to.  Grouped in a space between the tables and looking almost as if they had been waiting for him were four “people” – The Bloody Baron, The Fat Friar, Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, and – smiling serenely at the worried Headmaster – Sibella de Winter, The Grey Lady.

Review

 

Chapter Seven - Due Diligence

Black returned at breakfast time with Arabella Figg, Mundungus Fletcher and Remus Lupin.  Dumbledore ordered breakfast to be served in his office, and together with the three remaining House Heads they discussed plans as they ate.  Dumbledore explained to his visitors the events surrounding the end of the Triwizard tournament and, after enquiring about her brother, Bella then had a point to make about the security of the castle.  The Headmaster did his best to set her mind at rest and went on to outline the opportunity that might present itself with regard to the possible capture of Voldemort.

‘It requires’ he said, ‘bringing Voldemort into contact with a certain person on a pre-determined date.  The first opportunity will be around the end of July, so it seems possible to stage something of a birthday celebration for Harry, and use Harry’s presence to lure Voldemort.’

‘This is very dangerous, Albus’ Bella exclaimed.  ‘This could be handing Voldemort, Harry-on-a-plate.’

‘Agreed’ Dumbledore replied.  ‘But on that point I have more to say.’  When he explained his idea Bella was impressed.  ‘I need now just to speak to Arabella, Sirius, Mungo and Remus – to each of you four individually’ he added, noticing they had all virtually finished breakfast.  ‘Minerva, will you please conduct Arabella, Remus, and Sirius to your office.  I will call for them one by one.  Amy and Filius, thank you for your time.  I will see you at lunch, and we will have a full staff meeting this evening.  Uhm, if anyone wants to take the remains of this toast and coffee, please do so.’

They withdrew to McGonagall’s office, leaving Fletcher and Dumbledore together, Bella glancing back at them with deep suspicion.  When the Headmaster had finished his interview with Fletcher, Black was called next.  He came down a short while later, saying Lupin was required next.  Beyond that he would say no more, and the three of them sat in the Deputy Head’s room in a tense silence, as, in between operating the gargoyle, McGonagall pottered quietly with her draft of next year’s timetable.  Fletcher buttered himself another slice of toast and broached the coffee pot, but only Black accepted.

Finally Lupin returned and instructed Bella to go up.  Looking angry and watchful, she went up last.  As Bella entered his office, Dumbledore smiled at her expression – it was so much like her brother’s trademark scowl.  When she heard the Headmaster’s plan she was not only angry but quite upset.  She could see the logic of his argument but the risk was frightening.  Near to tears, she rejoined Fletcher, Black and Lupin, knowing she had no choice but to go along with the whole scheme.

*

At 9:15am Snape was shown to Macnair’s office in the Department for The Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.  Macnair wasn’t there but his secretary asked if Snape would like some tea.  He declined, hoping he wouldn’t have long to wait.  He hung his cloak on the coat stand and took a glance around the stifling room, but any papers or objects of real significance were locked away, so he had to be content with dragging the visitor’s chair as far as he could from the low-burning fire and reading yesterday’s Evening Prophet.

‘Severus!’  Macnair sounded both surprised and on his guard.  He stood in the doorway, his mouth in a false smile and his dark eyes searching the Potions Master’s face as he tried to gauge what this visit was about.  ‘What brings you here?’ he enquired.

‘Something highly confidential’ Snape merely muttered in return.  He raised an eyebrow.  ‘I missed the meeting’ he said pointedly.  ‘I didn’t intend to.  It was unavoidable.  I need to make contact.’

Macnair’s nasty smile broadened.  ‘So you want my help’ he said.

Snape nodded.

‘We can’t talk here’ Macnair went on.  ‘Are you – are you actually ready now?’  Again Snape nodded.  ‘Are you sure?’ Macnair asked acidly, looking as if he thought the Hogwarts Professor was out of his mind.

There was fear in Snape’s eyes, but he merely whispered ‘Yes.’

‘Very well then.’  Macnair seemed to make up his mind.  ‘I’ll take you there.  You’ll forgive me if I don’t hang around.’

He spoke briefly to his secretary and then sealed his office door.  He put on his cloak and stepped up to the hearth, indicating a pot of Floo powder.  ‘It’s the North Woodburn Old Rectory’ he explained.  ‘I’ll be right behind you.’

Wondering just how much he could rely on any of this, Snape, too, put on his cloak and took a handful of Floo powder.  He threw it into the flames and stepped in after it, calling ‘North Woodburn Old Rectory’ in as steady a voice as he could muster.

Half a minute later he found himself stepping out of the hearth of a derelict Muggle house.  Hurriedly he moved aside, and, true to his word, Macnair arrived behind him.  ‘We had both better mask up now’ he said, ‘And I’ll need to blindfold you.’

Snape complied.  As he put on his Death Eater Mask he heard a muted command at his side.  ‘Stupefy’ Macnair had said…

*

A sound of screaming filled Snape’s mind, pulling him back to consciousness.  He discovered he was slumped uncomfortably against a stone wall and tightly bound with many thin cords.  His blindfold had been removed and gradually his eyes adjusted to the dim light of two torches that lit the windowless and rather empty chamber.  A considerable distance away a tall, black clad wizard stood looming over a hunched figure, and a shorter figure stood to one side.  Macnair was nowhere to be seen.  Snape had never before seen the face of the tall wizard, but he didn’t need to wonder who it was.  As his eyes raked the floor he wondered instead about the identity of the robed figure doubled over a few yards from the tall wizard’s feet.  It was this figure that was screaming, and the voice sounded as if it belonged to a young man.  The tall wizard stood motionless, holding his wand steady, maintaining the Cruciatus curse.

Suddenly the tall wizard noticed Snape’s movements.  ‘Severus, my tardy, tardy sycophant’ he sneered, ‘so, you have seen fit to join us.’  High and cold, there was no other voice like it in the world.  Instantly Snape’s instinct was confirmed – this was the new identity of Lord Voldemort.

As the Dark Lord spoke, a remarkable thing happened.  Voldemort’s attention had momentarily switched to Snape and the hunched young man had pulled a wand and levelled it at his tormentor.  ‘Avada Kedavra!’ he yelled.  There was a flash of brilliant green light and Snape flung himself sideways onto the stone floor, dimly aware that Voldemort’s attendant had taken similar avoiding action.  The light bounced around the room and was gradually absorbed by the walls.

Voldemort was laughing – the killing curse had hit him fully in the chest but had had no effect.  ‘No, no, Olaf’ he mocked, ‘this is how it’s done.’  Yet again he raised his own wand to the kneeling figure and whispered ‘Avada Kedavra.’

The burst of green light threw the young man backwards and he landed in a heap near to Snape.  In the flicker of the torchlight Snape saw the dead wizard’s face.  It was Olaf Karkaroff.

‘Well, Severus, my unpunctual friend’ Voldemort continued, ‘how gratified I am to see you.  Bring him closer, Wormtail.’

The attendant walked behind Snape, slipped the fingers of his “mechanical” right hand under the bonds that pinioned Snape’s upper arms, and displaying a strength Snape would not have expected the short wizard to possess, dragged Snape bodily across the floor, snaking him round the dead body and bringing him to a halt near to Voldemort’s feet.

The Head of Slytherin gasped as the cords bit into his arms and chest.  ‘My Lord’ he whispered, ‘forgive my lateness.  I was not able to answer your summons.’

‘Remove his bonds’ Voldemort commanded.

Once this was done Snape crawled forward and kissed the hem of Voldemort’s robe.  He did not look up or make any other move, but his eyes continued the search of the floor.  He was aware that he still had his wand, and bitterly he realised why – Lord Voldemort had somehow made his new body impregnable.

Meanwhile the Dark Lord looked carefully at the Head of Slytherin’s prone body, remembering all too clearly how, four years ago, Snape had hounded Quirrill.  Does his duplicity matter that much, Voldemort wondered?  I have made myself unassailable – the recent deaths of many powerful wizards attest to that.  I just need a route into the castle, and Severus could supply that.  What threat can he be to me, now?  But let’s not seem too eager.  First a little lesson – in due diligence.

‘So you come crawling back’ Voldemort observed.  ‘And I suppose you expect forgiveness.  But I do not forgive, not without some payment.  As you know, don’t you Severus.  Crucio.’

The last word was a whisper spoken with such relish Snape’s skin would have crawled if his mind had not been preoccupied.  Pain; unbearable blinding pain, filled his whole body, emptying his mind of all other thought.  He screamed and screamed, and wondered vaguely in some almost abandoned higher level of his brain if anyone would hear him.

Nobody heard him.

Even the wizards in the room paid him little attention, the walls had been charmed to soak up much of the sound, rendering the volume of victims’ screams easily bearable.  Voldemort maintained the curse for quite a while.

Eventually he became bored with this activity and he left Snape to recover.  Snape fought to restore his concentration.  His body was racked with shuddering and he felt weak, but the sight of a snake gliding past buoyed him up with renewed hope.  He chanced an upward glance and noticed that Voldemort now sat in an upholstered antique chair, talking to his small, strong attendant, Peter Pettigrew.  The Dark Lord sat in the chair as if it was a throne, and addressed Pettigrew as if he was a slave (which of course he was).  Finally he turned again to the prostrate Snape.

‘So, tell me, Severus’ he began conversationally, as if Snape had a choice and needed to be flirted with, ‘what of the Potter boy?  Is he still at Hogwarts?’

Carefully Snape glanced up again.  Through the eye holes in his mask he took in the flat snake-like face, the lipless sneering mouth, and the insanely gleaming red eyes.  ‘He is, my Lord’ he whispered in reply.

‘Watched over by that fool, Dumbledore.’

‘Indeed.’

‘And when does the school year end?’

Snape told him, and Voldemort spent some moments immersed in thought.  He drew a deep breath and took to pacing about.  Finally he seemed to make up his mind.  ‘Very well, you may go’ he said.  ‘When I next summon you, be sure you attend no matter how personally inconvenient you find it.  Otherwise–’  He let the sentence hang in mid air.  ‘Wormtail will show you out, won’t you Wormtail.’

‘Y-yes, my Lord’ Pettigrew replied.

‘And then you may milk Nagini for me’ Voldemort continued, as though Snape had ceased to exist, ‘I feel in need of some nourishment.’

‘Y-yes, at once, my Lord’ Pettigrew stammered.

Snape knew the interview was over.  He also knew the procedure for leaving and how he was going to achieve one of his objectives.  Still fully prostrated, he crawled forward to the place where Voldemort now stood and again kissed the hem of his robe.  Then, with apparent difficulty owing to the residual effects of the curse, he rose shakily to his feet.  He kept his head bowed and held his cloak tightly about him in an attitude of modesty, as if his very presence would soil the air that mighty Lord Voldemort needed to breathe.  Slowly he turned and followed Pettigrew.

He was conducted up a stone staircase and into the transept of a roofless church.  Pettigrew levitated a slab of stone into place, sealing the crypt’s entrance with a mumbled password, and Snape’s mind toyed with a hopeless fancy of fixing the stone permanently in place, entombing Voldemort forever.  As he contemplated this, his eyes wandered idly over the empty nave and glassless mullioned windows.  Finally he gave up the crazy dream and followed Pettigrew outside.

Pettigrew suddenly spoke.  It was totally unexpected and he spoke quietly and without preamble, so Snape had to snap to attention.  ‘If you need a crash meeting, stand by the sealing stone and say the password “Serendipity”.  It will not open the stone for you – the Dark Lord will decide whether to admit you.’  Snape nodded his head and Pettigrew watched him carefully, as if trying to decide whether to trust him.  ‘He will enter the school behind the mirror on the fourth floor’ he continued, and Snape replied with a sudden look of incomprehension.  ‘That is, unless you can persuade him it is guarded’ Pettigrew added.

Snape was not at all sure how to take this – was Pettigrew speaking as Voldemort’s loyal servant, or, inexplicably, in some other capacity?

Pettigrew seemed to read Snape’s mind – ‘Think of yourself and James’ he whispered.  Then he Disapparated and Snape found himself totally alone.

A cool wind was blowing, easing his pain.  He took off his mask and slipped in into a pocket of his cloak.  It would seem a natural gesture, he thought, if anyone was watching, but he felt no one was.  No one cared.  There was sweat and tears on his face, and he wiped them away with the cuff of his cloak.  Carefully, he noted his surroundings.

In the distance, nestling amongst trees, a few Muggle houses could be seen, but the area around the church was deserted.  The economic centre of the village had moved some centuries ago and the housing had been relocated.  The church had been left to decay.  Snape took in the lonely scene.  Despite his pain he almost smiled.  He knew where he was.  He gathered his strength, focused on the Forbidden Forrest and Disapparated.

Having arrived in the Forest he trudged to the castle, setting himself the objective of getting to Dumbledore’s office.  A House Elf was waiting for him in the Entrance Hall, to explain that the Headmaster was not in his office, but providing he felt fit enough Snape was to wait there.  Was there any food or drink he wanted?  Snape asked for an Ogden’s and the House Elf served it in a cut glass tumbler, placing it on a small table next to an armchair by the fire.  He asked if he could take the Professor’s dusty cloak and clean it but Snape said no, and that he required nothing more.  Dutifully the Elf built up the fire and left.

Dumbledore appeared shortly afterwards and Snape guessed the Elf had sought him out.  He sat opposite Snape and looked gravely at him.  The Potions Master forced a weak smile.

‘Yes, he’s certainly back’ Snape said.  ‘Potter’s description was most accurate.  He looks quite reptilian now.  He’s holed up in the crypt of a church.  Ironically, I know it – All Saints in the Aln valley, near Woodburn.  Remember the pew in my room?’  He gave the Headmaster a full account of his encounter with Voldemort, including his plan for entering the castle, his murder of the son of the former Head of Durmstrang Institute, and his ability to withstand the young man’s curse.  Finally he searched the inside pocket of his cloak where his Death Eater mask was stowed.  Pulling out a length of snake skin, he passed it to Dumbledore.  ‘I got it’ he said proudly.

‘Well done, Severus’ the Headmaster replied.  He looked both concerned and delighted.  ‘Arabella arrived earlier today’ he told Snape, ‘and so did Remus, Mundungus and Sirius of course.  We had a confidential meeting with the House Heads.  Odd you should speak of that passage to the fourth floor – Arabella raised the issue of security.  She said she once left here by Floo powder.  I have assured her, that only works one way – that it is possible to project a face but not possible to enter here by Floo powder.  She is not convinced; your sister is as wary and suspicious as you are.’

A spasm of pain seems to cross Snape’s face, but he again managed a smile.  ‘How is she?’ he asked.

‘Very well’ Dumbledore replied.  ‘She asked after you.  I said you were in excellent health when I saw you last night, and that you were undertaking a special task for me.  I could not lie to her, Severus.  She didn’t ask details, but she must have worked out much of the truth.’  Again Snape smiled and merely nodded.  He looked exhausted.  ‘You had better rest now’ Dumbledore said.  ‘The hospital wing is free if–’

‘No, thank you Headmaster, I’ll just rest in my room if I may’ Snape replied, ‘but may I stay here a while first?’

‘Of course’ Dumbledore replied, ‘and I think we can excuse you from this evening’s staff meeting.’  He poured them both a generous measure of firewhisky and took his to his desk.  Snape sipped his drink, savouring the fierce warmth.  On finishing it he put the glass down, pulled his cloak tightly about him, lent his head on the wing of the armchair and fell asleep.

***

Two days later Snape received a crate from Charlie Weasley – Dumbledore, he noticed, was wasting no time.  Too bulky and heavy for an owl team, the crate was delivered by carriage.  It contained a letter and three large potion containers.  Snape examined the labelled bottles and for the umpteenth time consulted the vast tome he had borrowed from the library.  Then he lit a fire beneath a cauldron, poured in sample C and added many other ingredients.  Once the potion was underway he wrote a brief, unsigned note of thanks and despatched it that evening.  He then sought out Dumbledore.

He found him at midnight in the library, with a very red-eyed McGonagall and surrounded by copies of the Daily and Evening Prophet.  Rather old copies, Snape noticed.  In a far corner the four House ghosts were huddled in quiet conversation.  Snape nodded a greeting to his mother and then paid them no more heed, it was the Headmaster he needed to speak to.

McGonagall made to withdraw.  ‘Yes, get some rest, Minerva’ Dumbledore said kindly.  ‘It’s been a long day.’  Nevertheless he looked as alert as ever.  He was delighted to hear the potion was underway.  ‘It will be needed on 31st July’ he explained as he looked up from his paper of 1954.  ‘I am certain of that now.’

‘Then I must add the snake skin on Monday 17th’ Snape replied.

With a cursory wave of his wand Dumbledore returned the newspapers to their places on the shelves and set off for his office, Snape in tow.  They sat by the fire and the Headmaster broached the bottle of Ogden’s.

‘Now, arrangements!’ he said briskly.  ‘The lure is to be a special birthday presentation to Harry, in recognition of his surviving Voldemort’s duel, getting Cedric’s body back, et cetera.  I’ve got the Deputy Minister lined up to attend.  And I’ll get a Prophet photographer as well.  We’ll stage it in the Great Hall, eats and drinks, and everyone socialising as if it is a party.’

‘This will be very dangerous, Headmaster’ Snape said gravely.  ‘If the potion fails–’

‘It won’t’ Dumbledore replied and Snape had never heard such deadly certainty in his voice.  ‘It won’t’ he repeated.  He smiled and added realistically, ‘But, if it does, we have two immediate options on that day – to turn our wands on Voldemort and hit him simultaneously with stunning spells, or, to overpower him physically.  So, try to ensure he comes alone.’  He hesitated.  ‘There is another, longer term, option’ he continued ‘but I do not intend to explain that now.  I will let you know about it eventually.  Because of that, it is vital that once you have brought Voldemort to the Hall, you stand aside from any fighting.  You do not put yourself at risk, Severus, and you do not compromise your position as a loyal Death Eater.  Do you understand?’

Snape thought for a while, considering possible routes into the castle and wondering how on earth he could persuade Voldemort to come alone.  ‘I do not understand’ he said at last, ‘but I hear what you say, Headmaster.  I am to survive at all costs, and with my credibility intact.  Well, I cannot argue with that, and it will seem in perfect character for me.  Plausible…  Rational…  If I enter by the single door behind the Top Table it will mean the Dark Lord is alone.  If I enter by the main doors it will mean there is a party of us.  Does that make sense?’

Dumbledore slowly nodded his head.

‘We don’t know the nature of the shield he had put about him’ Snape continued.  ‘Will you have a lot of wizards on hand?  I’d rate our chances higher with a multiple stunning of a dragon, than attempting to bring down the Dark Lord.  Karkaroff’s curse didn’t touch him – full blast in his chest!’

‘I’ll make sure we are, err, mob-handed is, I believe, the expression’ the Headmaster assured him, ‘so be sure to keep out of the way.’

‘He may still get Potter’ Snape pointed out, and he could tell merely from Dumbledore’s expression that he, too, feared this was true.

‘There has to be a lure’ the Headmaster stated.  ‘Yet your sister made a similar point to me, that I was handing Voldemort Harry-on-a-plate.  Do not brood on that possibility, Severus, just trust me and get Voldemort, preferably alone, to the Great Hall by 3:00pm on the afternoon of Monday 31st July.  Don’t worry about anything else.  How are you going to bring him into the castle?’

‘Through the passage he already hopes to use’ Snape replied.  ‘I’ll explain it is blocked, and that I will work to unblock it, but that I’ll have to work slowly and in secret, as it is guarded during term time.  As all of those points now happen to be true I should be able to sound convincing.  Once inside the castle, I can take either route to the Great Hall – they are equally rational.’  He sighed.  ‘It is so important to seem rational’ he added bitterly.  ‘The Dark Lord can be as arbitrary and irrational as he pleases, but one hint of illogicality can finish a follower.’

Review

 

Chapter Eight - The Fratricide Enhancement

As Bella caught sight of Harry heading through the Kings Cross barrier, pushing his trolley and joking with Hermione Granger and the Weasley children, she was struck by the fact that he looked quite grown up.  Given the experiences he had been through she decided this was not surprising.  The greater surprise was Harry’s – he stared in disbelief as she stood beside Mrs Weasley and waved and beckoned to him.  He said his goodbyes to Hermione and the Weasleys, and hesitantly trundled off with the grey haired old lady in her powder blue cardigan and ugly sensible shoes.

‘Where’s Uncle Vernon, Mrs Figg’ he asked cautiously. ‘And, err, do you know Mrs Weasley?’

‘The Dursleys have let me pick you up today, Harry’ was all the answer Bella gave him.  ‘Don’t look so surprised.  I’m not as crazy as you think.  Come on!  Let’s go, before I get a parking ticket.’

They hurried out of the station and Harry saw she had a hire car parked nearby.  She helped him to unload the trolley and stow his belongings in the boot and on the back seat.  He had always thought she was just a batty old lady, and never realised she could drive.  He was also a little nonplussed by the dismissive way she had used the term “The Dursleys”, and her voice sounded subtly different.

She drove as if she was used to London traffic.  ‘Look in the glove box’ she said.  ‘There’s a letter for you.’

Inside an envelope bearing the Hogwarts seal, Harry found a short note written on a piece of parchment in narrow loopy handwriting he had seen once before – the day he had first received his Invisibility Cloak.  It said:

Do trust Mrs Figg.  She has been keeping an eye on you for years.  She is definitely on the side of the angels.

Harry gave her a cautious look.  ‘This says you’ve been keeping an eye on me’ he said warily.  ‘What does it mean?’

‘Remember your very first letter?’ she replied.  ‘Addressed, Mr H Potter, The Cupboard Under the Stairs–?  How do you think Minerva knew to write that?  Then you went to the Smallest Bedroom, then that dreadful hotel, and finally the Hut on the Rock.  That was a challenge – following you there!  Vernon drove like a maniac, but he could hardly shake off a witch – well, not this witch!  I tailed at ground level; Rubeus flew.’

Minerva!  Rubeus!  She knew their names!  Harry noticed, too, that old Mrs Figg was using wizarding driving techniques and despite the heavy traffic they would soon be home.  As Bella explained the rôle Dumbledore had asked her to fulfil, Harry listened in amazement.  He was still very wary of her.

‘If you’re the witch you say you are, why couldn’t I have just lived with you?’ he asked.  ‘Why’ve I had to suffer the awful Dursleys?’

‘Because they’re your family’ Bella explained.  She glanced to her left and saw Harry’s sceptical look.  ‘Yes, I don’t understand it either, Harry.  But Albus is most insistent – something about the “oldest magic”.  It’s a bit beyond me.  Albus said the Dursleys bad treatment was relatively light compared to what you might have to face was you became a wizard.  He wanted you to be strong, and prepared, and be able to cope.  I’m trying to remember how he put it – “he will need all his resourcefulness in place”…  (She shook her head, unable to recall the exact words.)  I can sort-of understand what he was getting at – the wizarding world is tough.  Even Quidditch, which I believe you love, is a tough game.

‘Anyway, Albus and I had a lot of arguments over how the Dursleys treated you, but I wasn’t allowed to interfere or reveal myself unless they actually physically abused you.  I got very worried when Vernon locked you in your bedroom.  I saw Albus that day, and he made sure the Weasleys knew.  If Fred and George hadn’t rescued you I was going to intervene and modify the Dursleys’ memories afterwards.  I’ve done that today – they don’t know Old Mrs Figg can drive.  I lied to you at the station – they hadn’t asked me to pick you up.  Sorry Harry, but we were in public and I couldn’t risk you running off in alarm.  I know you’ve been through a lot this year.’

‘You do?’

She nodded.  ‘I do work for Albus’ she reminded him.  ‘Now, you’ve got a choice.  I can drop you at home, or you can pop into my place first.  I actually live at 20 Laurel Avenue.  It’s Old Mrs Figg that lives at 18.  I’m not actually Old Mrs Figg, as you’ll see soon if I let my Polyjuice Potion wear off.  If you want to come back to my place you’ll find someone you know – Professor Lupin, Remus Lupin.  Remember him?’

‘Remember him!’  Harry exclaimed, overjoyed.  ‘He was the best Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher we ever had!’

Bella grinned.  ‘A little different to Professor Snape, then’ she added.  ‘I must tell you before you say anything else – and don’t collapse with shock – and don’t worry –  Severus Snape is my brother.’  She heard Harry gasp.  ‘We’re not exactly on speaking terms at the moment’ she went on.  ‘I’m, err, very close to Remus, and the way Severus lost him his job was unforgivable.  So don’t worry about anything you may have said in the past.  I just need you to know – Severus is my brother.  And I do love him of course, in a funny sort of way.  He’s all the family I’ve got.’  As she swung into the perimeter road Bella was tempted to ask Harry how Snape had looked when he last saw him, but she decided against it.  ‘Well, what’ll it be?’ she asked instead.  Privet Drive first, or Laurel Avenue?’

Harry thought.  If he went to Privet Drive he may not be allowed out for ages.  He decided to trust Bella and visit Laurel Avenue.

A half an hour in Bella’s house explained a lot and he was thrilled to meet Professor Lupin once again.  Harry was also impressed with the glass loft hatch and the arrangements for Bella’s owl.  Hedwig settled happily into Bella’s loft and joined Gingalin in a snooze.  Harry quickly understood that he had to treat everything Bella had told him with the utmost confidentiality.  He was certainly not going to let the Dursleys know the truth, so she had little cause for concern.  Bella was another lifeline back to his proper world, and he wasn’t going to jeopardise it.

He was intrigued to see her turn into her real self – it was weird to look at a witch who was tall, and pale, and looked something like an attractive version of Snape.  She had a thin, delicately curved nose and black, rather hawk-like eyes.  Copper-red highlights glinted in her long black hair.  Bella said she would have to turn back when they went home.  The real Mrs Figg had never been to 4 Privet Drive and she wanted her true self to have no connection with the Dursleys.  ‘It’s safer for you, too’ she said to Harry.  ‘If I got captured, no one could make an easy connection between me and your family – no Muggle looking at me would blurt out that I’m the person who regularly calls on the Dursleys.’

At last Harry had to face going home and Bella went to the kitchen of number 18 to take her Polyjuice Potion.  ‘Now I understand why this house smells of cabbage’ he exclaimed.

‘Oh, you know something of Polyjuice Potion’ Bella said, and Harry admitted he did.  He explained about Hermione making it in their second year, so that they could pretend to be Slytherins.

Bella was impressed.  ‘No wonder Severus dislikes you’ she snorted.  ‘You must really keep him on his toes!’

***

On receipt of Dumbledore’s expected summons Sirius Black emerged from his hideaway in Lupin’s flat to accompany Harry to Hogwarts.  The school had been closed for a month, so anyone would suppose the student would find it odd to enter an empty school in the middle of the summer.  Harry indeed looked hesitant as he clambered out of the carriage and mounted the steps.  Professor Sprout stood at the Main Entrance.  ‘They’re all in the Hall, waiting for you’ she said.  ‘Just go straight through.’

Harry and Sirius walked through.  The Great Hall, empty of its House Tables, was bedecked in Gryffindor colours as if Harry’s House had won the Cup.  A shout went up as he was spotted, and from the centre of the Hall, Dumbledore beckoned to him.  To one side was a table laden with food and drink.  Above it, a banner which read

Happy Birthday Harry

 

in gold on red, had a Quidditch seeker the image of Harry who zoomed around, weaving in and out between the letters.  It was a clever charm of Flitwick’s.

In the centre of the room witches and wizards were standing, chatting together, happy and relaxed.  They were mostly people known to Harry – Dumbledore, Flitwick, Mr Weasley and his elder sons Charlie, Bill and Percy.  Sprout, Black and Harry now joined the throng.  There was a photographer from the Daily Prophet and one other unknown face – a tall, thin, totally bald wizard with an impassive rather disdainful expression and pale eyes of an Arctic blue-grey.

There were also some notable exceptions from Harry’s birthday gathering – no Hagrid, McGonagall, Lupin nor Snape.  Snape’s absence was not surprising – he and Harry hated each other.  The absence of the student’s Head of House was perhaps more remarkable, as were Rubeus Hagrid and Remus Lupin for whom it was known Harry had soft spots.

Harry weaved his way through the babbling crowd, nodding greetings to everyone and admiring the banner.

‘Harry, how wonderful to see you’ Dumbledore beamed.  ‘We will start on the food soon, but first we have a little event when everyone is here and ready.  Unfortunately Mr Fudge cannot attend today, but let me introduce to you the Deputy Minister for Magic, Marius Findlayter.’

The bald, pale-eyed wizard smiled and offered his hand.  Harry shook it and mumbled a hello with the typical slight shyness of a fifteen year-old.

As he sipped a goblet of wine Dumbledore glanced idly around the room.  His gaze penetrated the doors to the Entrance Hall and the small door behind the Top Table, both of which had been charmed with a Transparecium spell, making them act rather like Muggle two-way mirrors.  No one outside the doors could see into the Hall, but those inside could see out.  The minutes ticked by to 3:00pm and with a quaking heart the Headmaster realised the moment had come, so he tapped his wand against his goblet and the chatter subsided.  He banished the vessel to the side table and spread his arms.  ‘And now we come to today’s main business’ he boomed.  ‘May I have your attention please?  Will you spread out so that you can see Harry, as we have a special birthday presentation to make to him.’

Dutifully the staff rearranged themselves and Dumbledore and the Deputy Minister grouped themselves in the centre with Harry.  Marius Findlayter began speaking…

At the other side of the small door that stood near to Snape’s seat at the Top Table, the Potions Master nodded to Voldemort.  He could hear Findlayter's voice – that was the signal.  ‘I can hear the Minister now’ he whispered.  ‘All eyes will be on him.’  He eased the door open, crept into the Hall and stepped aside.

Voldemort followed, thrilled with the scene that greeted him.  Yes, he thought, I was right, and to his credit Severus agreed with me – Potter-on-a-plate.  I need no one else’s assistance with this – the glory will be, forever, entirely mine…

‘Harry Potter!’ Voldemort called.  He was about to add ‘I also have a birthday present for you’ but his cold voice had stopped the Deputy Minister in mid-sentence and he was delighted merely to observe the effect.  Everyone was stunned for a moment, then they drew their wands and by that time Voldemort had walked a few paces into the Hall.  Oh, I’m going to enjoy this, he thought.

But the Dark Lord progressed no further.  Four ghosts had slipped through the walls.  Four ghosts who now crowded around him, sliding their arms around each others waists and binding themselves ever closer as the photographer’s flash bulb flared in his face.  The ghosts’ ethereal bodies were interlocking and combining.  The coldness was growing ever more intense.  Vaguely Voldemort tried to reason that they were not solid and he could move his arms through them to reach his wand.

If he could think.

He couldn’t kill the ghosts, but it wouldn’t matter, he could blast a curse through them.

If he could see.

But because of the flash of light and the ghosts’ mounting concentration he couldn’t see very well.  And he couldn’t think at all – he was so intensely cold, his mind had ground to a halt.  In particular, The Grey Lady in front of him was sucking all the heat out of him, upsetting his metabolism.

A temporary situation.

But long enough.

Voldemort did not observe the witch emerge from under the Invisibility Cloak.  He did not see her hand it to Harry who swirled it over his head and disappeared.  As he fought to clear his mind, The Grey Lady, into whose bosom Voldemort was crushed, drew back, leaving the circle and providing a clear field of fire.  His view no longer obscured and his brain now starting to function, The Dark Lord stared greedily at a witch he had never seen before.  He looked for Harry but Harry had gone.  No matter.  This impudent young witch, who had the audacity to point her wand at him, was about to get the shock of her life.

Her voice, however, was crisp and abrupt as she uttered just one word.  ‘Stupefy’ she commanded.

The impregnable Lord Voldemort crumpled to the floor.

Everyone let go of the breath they had subconsciously held.  It had worked!  Hastily, the unknown witch bound the Dark Lord with cords and relieved him of his wand, as Dementors swept in to take him into custody.  Snape stood unable to do anything but press his back against the wall in an effort to suppress his trembling.  It wasn’t appropriate to use his Patronus charm and he wanted to keep as far from the Dementors as possible.  Very quickly however they disappeared with Dumbledore and the Deputy Minister.  Snape breathed a further sigh of relief, wondering how Harry was coping.  Wondering too, where the boy was.

Suddenly Harry came into view, folding up the Invisibility Cloak and slipping it into a pocket of his robes.  He looked strangely unmoved.  Dumbledore reappeared and gathered everyone together.

‘Well done, everybody’ he boomed with a slight tremor in his voice.  ‘Well done.  Come on, Severus.’

He beckoned Snape to join the group, and then he put a comforting arm around the shoulders of the unknown witch whose beautiful face had turned chalk-white.  Snape realised now of whom she reminded him – McGonagall!  She looked as if she was going to faint.  Nevertheless she held Voldemort’s wand in front of her and there was a sharp snap as she broke it in two.  Her knuckles turned white as she clenched the pieces in her hands.  ‘Are you alright?’ Dumbledore murmured softly.

‘Yes, Headmaster’ Snape heard her reply.  In a Scottish accent.  McGonagall’s voice.

That’s it, Snape thought.  McGonagall’s daughter!  And how lovely she is.  That’s the family connection the dragon’s blood potion requires.  Minerva McGonagall must have produced Voldemort’s child.  No, that’s unthinkable!  He pictured the straight-laced McGonagall, the paragon of matronly modesty and frumpish virtue.  Perhaps he raped her, Snape wondered.  That was more plausible.  Snape was suddenly surprised at how horrific this notion seemed to him.  He never cared much for cold, haughty McGonagall, but he did respect her abilities and he would not have wished her any harm.  Particularly not harm of that nature, and to a woman of her prudish innocence.  That must explain why she isn’t here today, he reasoned, although he was surprised she would allow her daughter to face Voldemort alone.  Maybe the girl insisted on it, he mused.  Ever the heroic act.  Bloody Gryffindors!

Oblivious of the conversation around him, Snape studied the unknown witch.  She was very like her mother – the same long, aristocratic face, the same sapphire blue eyes, the same strength and frailty.  Starchiness masking emotion.  Not always successfully.

Snape was lost in his thoughts as someone clapped him on the back and thrust a drink into his hand.  ‘Severus’ Charlie Weasley exclaimed.  ‘You did it.  You’ll have to write it up for The Potion Maker – this has never been done before, has it; not in this way.  Which one did you use?’

The faintest trace of a smile appeared on Snape’s face.  ‘The Horntail’ he replied.  ‘I thought about the Chinese Fireball, but Horntails have such physical strength and I knew that’s what we needed.  Something with a massive punch…’

Weaving amongst the crowd, the photographer (who in reality was a Ministry Auror) was happily snapping away.  The ‘birthday party’ was turning into a birthday party.  Snape felt he ought to say something to Harry but he looked across the room and changed his mind.  The “wonder boy” was some way off, chatting calmly to Black and Weasley senior.  Amazingly calmly!  He didn’t look as if he needed anyone else’s attention.  No-doubt he would get yet another extravagant write up in the newspapers.

Charlie moved off in search of some of the party food and Snape suddenly realised he was tired.  He made his excuses to Dumbledore, slipped away and headed for his dungeon bedchamber.  Once there he got ready for bed, took a Sleeping Potion and was soon fast asleep.

Meanwhile, back in the Great Hall, Harry sought out Dumbledore.  ‘It’s going to wear off soon, Headmaster’ he said.  ‘I never like doing this in front of people.  Silly isn’t it, but if you don’t mind I’m just going to slip into another room.’

‘Oh, I quite understand’ Dumbledore replied and he lead Harry away to the anteroom where the Triwizard Champions had assembled the night the Goblet of Fire had issued their names.

You can stay, Headmaster’ Harry said, so Dumbledore closed the door.

He sat and watched, fascinated as, ten minutes later, “Harry Potter” turned into Remus Lupin.  ‘How are you feeling, Remus?’ he asked.  ‘Ready for the fray?’

Lupin nodded and gently smiled as he pocked an old pair of Fletcher’s spectacles that had been charmed to look like Harry's.  ‘Let me return this to you’ he said, handing Dumbledore the Invisibility Cloak.  He smoothed his robes and took a breath.  ‘OK.  I’m ready’ he said.

‘Excellent’ the Headmaster replied.  ‘Time to meet the press again.  Severus is going to be so sorry he missed this…’

*

McGonagall was not at breakfast the following morning so Snape sat next to Dumbledore.  ‘Not ill is she?’ he asked.  He felt quite worried, wondering how she must be feeling about Voldemort.

‘Oh, no’ the Headmaster replied. ‘You’ll see her later.  Come to my office after breakfast.  There are a few things I need to explain.’

*

‘Well, Severus’ he said, once the Potions Master was seated in his office, ‘You carried that off admirably.  I think the rest of us played our parts quite well too, particularly Minerva and Harry.’  Snape began to reply but Dumbledore stopped him.  ‘I said I have a few things to explain’ he continued.  ‘I have.  I must confess I have been less than honest with you.  I hope you will forgive me for this, but as you were at times at grave risk from Voldemort and possibly from the other Death Eaters, I could not divulge all my plans.  So to set the record straight, first Minerva.  Minerva, show yourself, if you please.’

A tabby cat appeared from under the Headmaster’s desk, and Snape immediately recognised the Deputy Head’s markings.  As the wizards watched, the cat transformed into the young “unknown witch” who then took a seat and smiled shyly at Snape.  ‘Will you explain matters?’ Dumbledore asked.

‘Very well, Headmaster’ she replied.  ‘Severus, what I am going to say to you now I want to remain confidential.  I will have to say this to the Council of Magical Law in a few days time, but even, so I do not want what you are about to hear to be a matter of common knowledge.  Not of extremely common knowledge.’

She took a breath and continued.  ‘The name I am using is Minerva McGonagall.  (Snape sat up, looking annoyed.)  At birth I was named Elspeth McPhearson.  My mother’s name was McPhearson.  My father – was Tom Riddle.  (Snape’s look of annoyance turned to shrewdness.)  My mother was one of Voldemort’s rape victims.  He thought she was a Muggle.  She was not, although ironically she was actually a very distant relative of Lily and Petunia Evans’ mother.  My mother bore me in secret in 1955.  When I was eleven she sent me to school at Beauxbaton.  My mother was always concerned about the fact that I was Voldemort’s natural child.  We didn’t know how he might react to that – would he expect me to glorify him and perhaps be a follower?  Would he feel threatened by me?  Would he kill me?  It is not easy to fathom the mind of a madman.  So Mother spoke to Albus and devised a plan.  When I completed my education I was to get a teaching job here, as Minerva McGonagall, a witch who was a pupil here in the 1930s.  I looked sufficiently like her to pass muster.  I just had to age thirty-odd years.  If Voldemort ever noticed me, it hopefully would not enter his head that someone four years or so older than himself could actually be his child.  So, for almost twenty years, I have had to take Aging Potion, bought in, so that no one, no one, here, could possibly know!’

‘I see’ Snape said limply.

‘And I will have to continue with it’ McGonagall said. ‘At least until the Death Eaters are accounted for.  Voldemort’s daughter – more particularly Voldemort’s captor – may not be very popular in some quarters.’

‘Yes, that’s true’ Snape agreed, his mind racing back to the murderous actions of Bartemius Crouch junior.  ‘Yes, I can see the risk that puts you under.  But you’ve chanced telling me.’

‘You are a colleague’ McGonagall continued.  ‘I haven’t been happy with deceiving my colleagues.  Now Amy and Filius know.  As do Sirius, Remus, Mundungus and your sister.  All people I can trust.’

‘What about the press coverage?’ Snape asked sharply.

‘Albus and Marius Findlayter arranged this with the editor’ McGonagall explained.  ‘The photographer was an Auror.  The M L E Department will be careful about what pictures they release, and The Prophet will be careful about what it publishes.  They will not start their own hunt for the mystery witch, and what they print will not help others.  Hopefully it will not be too easy to trace me.  It’s not ideal, but we had to strike a balance between reporting something and safeguarding me.  The overriding aim was to capture Voldemort.’

‘So you continue here as Minerva McGonagall.’

‘Absolutely.  Well, I trust that explains my situation.  Unless, there’s anything else, perhaps I–’

Dumbledore looked at Snape and then back to McGonagall.  ‘I’m sure we can let you carry on with whatever you are doing’ he said softly.  ‘If Severus has any other questions perhaps I can deal with them.’

With a tired but grateful smile, McGonagall got up, made her Animagus transformation and headed for the privacy of her office and her Aging Potion.

Snape closed the door behind the tabby cat and once again took his seat.  ‘She’s taking this remarkably well’ he observed, wondering how he would cope if his father had turned out to be Voldemort.

The Headmaster agreed, and Snape asked about the true Minerva McGonagall.

‘She died in 1945’ Dumbledore said.  ‘One of Grindelwald’s victims.  She worked under an assumed name for the Auror Office.  We were – quite close’ he added sadly.  They sat in silence for a moment, Snape realising he was not the only one to suffer loss.  He had never heard of the real Minerva McGonagall or known of Dumbledore to be emotionally close to anyone.  Except in the sense that the great wizard had an empathy with everyone.

‘Now for my second admission’ the Headmaster continued.  ‘You did warn me how dangerous my plan was – how dangerous for Harry.  And, if you remember, your sister said the same – Harry-on-a-plate.’

‘I do remember’ Snape cut in.  ‘I used that image to woo Voldemort when I agreed with his assessment that he could pull this off unaided; shielded as he was from all attack.  He knows, I’m sure, about the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, so he must have believed he had no relatives – no wizard relatives.’

‘The fratricide enhancement’ Dumbledore agreed.  ‘A curious effect.  In a sense that potion is worse than a straightforward poison.  Well, although I couldn’t say so at the time, I took your warning, and Arabella’s, very much to heart.  The Harry Potter you saw at the birthday party was not Harry Potter.  It was Remus Lupin.  (Snape jumped, but said nothing.)  I had three people lined up for this rôle – Remus was my first choice, Mungo my second, and Sirius last of all.  I spoke to each of them in turn and they all volunteered.  Mungo was my long stop.  I would have chosen anyone but Sirius, but as he had to accompany Harry he had to be aware of the subterfuge.  Sirius was my absolute last choice, because, as Harry’s godfather, I did not want to risk his life.  However, as you can imagine, he wanted to play the part.’

Snape thought of voicing his “Bloody Gryffindors” notion, but decided against it.  ‘And why was Lupin your first choice?’ he asked acidly.  ‘Isn’t he precious to precious Potter?’

‘I intend to bring him back here’ Dumbledore explained.  ‘I want him as the Defence Against the Dark Arts Master.  He did well in that rôle, and enjoyed it.  He was popular.  As things stood, I could not bring him back – there would be an outcry against a werewolf teacher.  But now, as one of the heroes in Voldemort’s capture, I may be able to pull it off.  What do you think?’

Snape’s mind was racing in overdrive.  ‘Did Bella put you up to this?’ he snarled.

‘Arabella was virtually in tears about this part of my plan’ Dumbledore replied.  ‘She would rather have undertaken the Potter rôle herself than risked Remus’s life.’

‘How pathetically noble’ Snape sneered.  He fell silent for a few moments, and Dumbledore left him to his thoughts, marvelling that of all the “guardian angels” he had grouped around Harry throughout his lifetime, Snape was undoubtedly the darkest.

Finally Snape spoke.  ‘Headmaster, I won’t make any waves about this’ he said.  ‘If, in the course of his career, Lupin eats someone, I’ll have the satisfaction of saying to you “I told you so”.  Unless it’s me he eats’ he added, smiling grimly.

‘Or me’ Dumbledore replied.  His eyes twinkled as he realised Snape was back on board again.  ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t be open about all of this, Severus.  I suppose it’s hard to understa–’

‘Oh, no’ Snape replied, cutting him short.  ‘Not hard to understand.  Not for me.  I may not like being kept in the dark, but I would probably have been far more secretive than you.  That’s the point.  That’s my nature.  And you, forced into it, feel bad about it.  That’s your nature.  I may not like some of the things you’ve done but I most certainly do understand them, Headmaster.  By the way, what is Bella doing now?’

‘She and Mungo are looking after Harry – the real Harry’ Dumbledore explained.  ‘The Dursleys think Harry is with the Weasleys, but he is actually in hiding at Laurel Avenue.  He doesn’t know he is in hiding and he is there of his own free will, but Arabella had orders to restrain him if the need arose.  He will be allowed to go to The Burrow when we judge the danger to be past.  As yet, he knows nothing about the fake Birthday Party.  Nor does he know that his Head of House is a very distant relative.  That’s what made this possible – the fratricide effect.’

‘Yes, but you didn’t need Potter’ Snape pointed out.

‘No, but it gave us a second chance’ Dumbledore continued.  ‘When Voldemort took some of Harry’s blood at his rebirthing, he forged a link – a false link between himself and Harry, as if they were related.  You didn’t know where the kinship connection lay, although you knew there had to be one.  Well, originally the kinship connection rested only in sufficient strength with Minerva, but Voldemort opened a second path.  Harry could now break through Voldemort’s shield.  So Voldemort’s own actions gave us not one but two uniquely gifted assailants.  Because Voldemort was utterly determined to kill Harry, to destroy the male descendents of Godric Gryffindor, I didn’t want to risk Harry’s life.  Although I knew if Minerva failed, it may have to come to that.  Harry was another of my long stops.’

He fell silent as Snape sat turning all this over in his mind – Voldemort related to McGonagall, Potter distantly related to McGonagall, Potter descended from Gryffindor and McGonagall descended from Slytherin.  Voldemort unwittingly producing a blood tie between himself and Potter.  Snape’s face twisted into a sneer which at length turned to a more wistful expression.  ‘How strange’ he said at last, ‘that the Head of Gryffindor House is the heir of Salazar Slytherin.  Perhaps Minerva should be Head of Slytherin.’

Dumbledore smiled.  ‘In her place, Severus, would you have taken the first turn with Voldemort or would you have left it to Harry?’

The cunning Head of Slytherin House though for a long while before answering.  Finally he said ‘In all honesty, Headmaster, I can never really know, as I could not be put in that position.  If you want me to try to be honest, and assuming this is totally confidential, I believe only my debt to James would have forced me to go first – that, and not being able to bear the shame if I had let a child die.’

The Headmaster nodded.  ‘Then that answers the question’ he replied.  ‘Only Minerva’s death would have lead to Harry having to face Voldemort.  There was no way she would take second place.’

***

It was a sunny afternoon and Dumbledore walked with McGonagall down to the lake.  He drew a bench in the air which rotated for a moment and then settled near to the water’s edge.  McGonagall sat beside the Headmaster and explained her tentative plans for un-aging.  ‘It will be strange not being “frosty” McGonagall’ she said.  ‘I won’t have to keep everyone at bay.  Once I can start, I’d prefer to make the transition slowly.’

Dumbledore agreed, realising how pleasant it would be for her to be more approachable or at least less on her guard.

As they sat discussing the future Hagrid plodded up to them.  ‘Afternoon Headmaster, Minerva’ he said.  ‘Jus got back.  Err, when you’ve got a momen’ can I ’ave a word, Headmaster?’

Dumbledore made his excuses and took Hagrid up to his office.  McGonagall sat alone for a while, lost in her thoughts.  She didn’t see Snape approach, but suddenly she found him standing at her side.  ‘You have the most unnerving ability to sneak up on people, Severus’ she observed.

Snape smiled, secretly pleased with his ability to take people by surprise.  ‘Sorry if I startled you’ he sneered.  ‘May I join you?’

He was astonished to receive a quite courteous “yes”.  McGonagall had artificially aged again and looked sad.

‘It’s a funny old world isn’t it, Severus’ she said and Snape agreed that it was.

Her tone had an intimacy he had never heard before.  He felt she wanted his companionship and perhaps needed to talk, but he felt awkward asking her about her father.  However it was McGonagall who broached the subject.

‘In a few days he will stand trial’ she said, ‘and a few days after that the Kiss will be administered.  And I won’t have a father.  Not that I knew him.  Only as a dangerous, lunatic criminal.’

‘And what of your mother?’ Snape enquired.

‘Mother died six years ago.  She never knew of Voldemort’s rebirth.  On balance, I think I’m glad about that.’  She gave Snape a sharp glance.  ‘Your father is in Azkaban, isn’t he.’

‘Yes’ Snape replied levelly.

‘So we have something in common.’

‘Indeed.  My father received the Kiss in 1956, the year I was born.’

‘I’m sorry, Severus.’

There was a swirl and cloop of water, and for a while they watched the giant squid playing in the warm shallows.

‘I thought I might have to kill him’ McGonagall added.  ‘I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that – I want him to stand trial.  I would have gone through with it of course, if there had been no option.  We all did well, didn’t we.  The potion was perfect.  It tastes terrible, by the way.’

Snape grew despondent as he thought of the evil nature of the potion had made.  ‘That awful brew’ he murmured, ‘that enables sibling to slay sibling, offspring to slay parent, parent to slay child – that renders a person’s shield charm uniquely useless against members of his or her own family.  I had no idea whether it was going to work.  There is no documented evidence of its success.’

‘No, but Albus has carried out the research.  And you made a good choice of dragon.’

‘I suppose the snakeskin from a snake Voldemort was milking was the key.’

A key.  Yes, probably a vital ingredient, but the success is partly due to the day I put my enhanced abilities into effect.’

‘Why?  What?  On Potter’s birthday?’

‘That was pure co-incidence’ McGonagall said dismissively.  ‘No, I don’t think the birthday of the intended victim’s intended victim was a factor.  It’s simply part of the kinship factor.  This was Albus’s hypothesis – 31st July was the day I was conceived.’

Snape was aghast.  Then he remembered the newspapers.  ‘Was your mother’s rape reported in the press?’ he asked.

‘Indeed it was’ McGonagall replied.  ‘It didn’t make for easy reading, but we tracked it down, did the physiological arithmetic and decided on the most likely date.  We can’t be absolutely sure, but we’re 95% sure.  The day we decided I must strike fitted perfectly with Harry’s birthday so it suited the birthday party ruse.  It saved us having to adjust it by a day and concoct some pretext for doing so.  And striking on that day worked, Voldemort couldn’t reflect my spell.  How odd, I couldn’t say that name at one time.  Now I have no problem doing so.’

‘You’re a tough cookie, aren’t you’ Snape murmured admiringly.  Subtly he turned towards her, moving closer.  ‘Well, I suppose you’ve had to be.  When are you going to be the real you?’

‘Do you like the real me?’

‘Awh, I don’t know how to answer this’ Snape replied with a wary smile.  ‘If I tell the fearsome Professor McGonagall I find her attractive, surely she’ll slap my face.’  He took her hand in his and noticed there was no rejection.

‘She might not’ McGonagall replied carefully. ‘You’ll have to watch your step, but she’s got a certain fondness for the irascible Potions Master.  But you’ll never see that fondness in school time’ she added mischievously.  ‘Then, you’ll merely see fearsome McGonagall bridling at your snide remarks about Gryffindor.  Do you often get your face slapped?’

‘It has been known.’

‘Not here, though, surely.’

‘No, no.  Remember I usually spend part of my summer in London.  Enjoying the delights of Knockturn Alley’s business witches, as my sister calls them.’

‘So you’re missing out this year.’

‘Well, this year is a little different’ Snape admitted.  He covered her hand with his other hand as he added ‘It seems it’s going to be quite special.’

Suddenly they heard footsteps behind them striding through the grass and they sprang apart like two guilty teenagers.  Hagrid was approaching, calling out a good afternoon and inviting them for tea in his hut.

‘We’ll have to go’ McGonagall hissed, so they followed him to his hut and sat talking while he made tea.

‘Rock cake?’ Hagrid asked.

‘No thank you, Rubeus. I rather overdid it at lunch time’ McGonagall lied, and Snape followed her lead.  ‘How was your trip?’ she enquired.

‘I think we quietened things down a bit’ Hagrid explained.  ‘I jus bin talkin’ ter Professer Dumbledore.  I hear You Know Who’s in custody.’

They chatted for a while and accepted another cup of tea.

‘Olympe an’ I are goin’ back in a couple o’ weeks’ Hagrid said.  ‘We got things ter keep an eye on.  Trouble is, the Giants’ unrest as rubbed off on the Muggles.  Always does.  There’ll be war eventually – in the old Balkan provinces.  Usual flashpoint.  But it won’ be as bad as it would a bin.’

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Chapter Nine - Business as Usual?

Two days later Voldemort appeared before the Council of Magical Law.  But to everyone’s dismay it turned out to be only a preliminary hearing.  Voldemort’s crimes were so wide ranging, he was called to answer to The International Court of Magical Law in Strasbourg.

To everyone’s amazement Voldemort admitted everything and seemed quite proud of his actions.  Even so it meant all the witness had to appear at both hearings and there was a certain amount of evidence that had to be given twice over.  McGonagall found it particularly stressful and was deeply grateful to have Snape’s support.  She was amazed the sarcastic wizard could be so compassionate, however she recalled a couple of other occasions when his mask of cynicism had slipped.

By the end of the third week in August Voldemort was permanently imprisoned and the Dementors’ Kiss had been performed.  An enquiry into Fudge’s actions was pending as the rounding up of the remaining Death Eaters got underway.  Snape’s evidence was invaluable in their arraignment.  When Lucius Malfoy stood trial it became clear that Cornelius Fudge was somehow under his influence.  The true nature of the relationship was still to be ascertained but the Minister was removed from office, Marius Findlayter took over, and the formal enquiry into Fudge’s actions began.

As she watched progress on the rounding up of the Death Eaters, McGonagall again considered what to do about un-aging.  She decided to start at Christmas and reduce slowly to her proper age over the course of the next two years.  In this way she hoped to avoid too much comment.

*

A few days before the beginning of term Snape was working on the draft of his article for The Potion Maker when a knock sounded on his office door.  ‘Enter’ he bellowed, and the door opened to reveal Lupin.  ‘Oh, err, come in Remus’ he added in an awkward, embarrassed tone.

‘I’m just moving my stuff back in’ Lupin explained.  ‘Bella’s here, talking to your mother in their common room.’  He noticed Snape had walked over and extended his hand – he was surprised at this much courtesy from the Head of Slytherin.

They shook hands.  ‘Take a seat’ Snape said.  ‘Tea?  Or I’ve got some Ogden’s–?’  Lupin chose tea and Snape pointed his wand to a teapot already containing water.  ‘Are you well?’ he asked as he searched for the tea caddy.

‘Yes, very well thank you.  I understand you’ll be keeping me supplied with Wolfsbane – thank you, Severus.’

‘Yes, I’ve already got it going’ Snape replied, indicating a cauldron set up in the corner of his office.

They chatted for a while, gradually becoming more relaxed.  There was much reminiscing and finally Snape mentioned the Marauders’ Map.  ‘You know, one of the strangest things’ he said, ‘was a night this room was broken into.  I woke up to find that door open and Argus partway up the South Stair.  Then Moody turned up – the impostor, Bartemius Crouch.  Potter’s map was on the stairs and I hadn’t spotted it.  Moody managed to get to it first.  The look on his face!  I thought he was just impressed by the map, because it was dawning on me by then what the parchment was, and that Potter must be close by, caught in the trick step.  But the true situation hit me months afterwards – Moody saw his own name on the map!  If only I’d picked it up first.  There we would have been in a group – Severus Snape, Argus Filch, and Bartemius Crouch!  No Alistor Moody to be seen!  I wonder how different things would have been?’  Gently he shook his head.  ‘More tea?’ he asked.

Lupin accepted and asked about the magazine article.  ‘Albus gets the credit for the original research’ Snape explained.  He did that years ago.  We’ve never had a situation where we could put it to the test.  I’ll, erm, I’ll let Minerva fill you in on all the fine tuning – she used the potion.’

Ten minutes later there was a further knock at the door.  ‘That’ll probably be Bella’ Lupin explained, as Snape scowled at yet another interruption.  Lupin opened the door and Bella poked her head into her brother’s office as if expecting to see bullets ricocheting off the walls.

‘Well, I didn’t hear any blasting of wands’ she said, so I thought I’d chance it.’

‘We’ve been duelling with tea beakers at fifty paces’ Lupin said.  ‘I’m not sure whose won.  Anyway, I’ll be off now.  Got to unpack.  See you at dinner, Severus.  Thank you for the tea.’

Bella looked from one wizard to the other, as Lupin set down his empty beaker.  ‘You’ve all won’ she observed.

As Lupin closed the door Snape made a move towards the teapot.  ‘Well, I expect you’ll want tea too’ he began, but Bella had walked up to him.

‘I want a hug first’ she replied.

They embraced, both fighting to keep their emotions under control.

‘A new start’ Bella said.  ‘That’s what you need.  That’s what we all need.  Hey, how’s your arm?’

Snape pulled up the left sleeve of his robe and showed her his forearm.  The mark was of the softest silver grey.  ‘It’s paler that ever before’ he replied.  ‘It faded to that level the day the Kiss took place.’  He turned and busied himself with pouring drinks, adding ‘I’ve had that brand since before I was eighteen.  I suppose Potter’s still got his scar.’

‘Oh yes’ Bella assured him, settling into Snape’s visitor’s chair.  ‘That, also, will never disappear.  He’s growing up fast now.  My babysitting job will soon be over.  The Dursleys have got a good deal better and Harry is – moving on.  Not literally, but you know what I mean.’

Snape nodded.  ‘So what will you do?’

‘Well, I’m hoping to work for the Auror Office’ Bella explained.  ‘Mungo said I should try for a Ministry job.  Albus wrote me a line of introduction and I had an interview with the Chief Auror a few days ago.  Just a preliminary chat, but – well, you know.  Trailing my coat is a good Muggle expression for it.  They might want me to run Laurel Avenue as a Ministry safe house.  I quite like working at home, or from home.’  She took a sip of tea and then put her beaker down as she searched a pocket of her robe.  Pulling out an envelope she handed it to Snape.  ‘I can give you this now’ she said.  ‘Mungo has been in charge of it.  If he’d been the fake Harry, Remus would have looked after it.  You can open it, now the Kiss has been performed – apparently Albus wants you to know.  You’ll have to use our password.  Some of it I think you’ll already know, but some you definitely won’t.  That was the point of it, Albus said – his secret thoughts.  Well, some of them – I expect he’s got volumes of secrets.  I sealed this for him so that no one else could read it.  Then he told me “Steer clear of Voldemort at all costs, as only you and Severus can read this”.  He may have prepared others of course.’

The envelope contained an unsigned, password protected note from Dumbledore.  It merely said:

If you’re reading this then Minerva is dead and so am I, so I must pass on my hypothesis.  There are three essential points.

Although he had no close kinship with Harry, Voldemort made himself vulnerable to Harry because when he used Harry’s blood at his rebirthing he forged an artificial family link.  This is why the fratricide capability of the dragon’s blood potion should work.  I didn’t allow Harry to face Voldemort in July because Voldemort is so very determined to kill him, to destroy the heir of Gryffindor.

But if Minerva has been defeated, Harry is the next person – and only person I know of – who has a chance of breaking through Voldemort’s shield charm.

The next attempt on Voldemort should be made by Harry, and on Hallowe’en – the date of Harry’s conception.  The date of conception can be important – that, I believe, is part of the reason why Voldemort’s original curse rebounded.  So please prepare the blood potion for that date.

So to summarise – the potion, and a close relative, preferably striking on the date of their conception – these I believe are the key points.

Good luck.

Snape folded the note closed, realising he had come to learn almost everything that was in it.  ‘So that is why I had to survive’ he muttered to himself, ‘to be the carrier of this knowledge and to make the potion.  It seems we all had our part to play.  Thank goodness Minerva pulled it off.’

‘I hear you and Minerva, or should I say Elspeth, have become very close’ Bella said.

Snape jumped – he had not realise he had given voice to any of his thoughts.  ‘Err, yes’ he admitted.  ‘She’s not the witch I thought she was (he gave a sheepish grin as he added) in any sense of the word!  The unfriendly prude is something of a false persona to discourage close friendship and forestall intrusive questions.  She was always very afraid of her true identity being discovered.’

‘Yes, well, there’s a lot of us understand that insecurity’ Bella said with feeling.  ‘So is she Elspeth or Minerva?’

‘Oh, Minerva, definitely, for perhaps a few years yet’ Snape replied, and he began to explain about the precautions needed until all the Death Eaters were accounted for.  ‘Most of them will not be a threat’ he explained.  ‘Most will be glad it’s all over.  We just have to watch out for the odd fanatic like Bartemius Crouch.’

Bella nodded gravely, in complete understanding.  ‘Minerva’s no fool’ she said ‘that name was well chosen.  And with super-sleuth Severus keeping an eye on her, she should be OK.  I’m glad about you and Minerva.  And I’m glad about Remus’s job.  I won’t see him now until perhaps a few days at Christmas and Easter, and next summer of course.  Ah well, perhaps I can sneak in for the odd visit.’

‘How did you know about us?’ Snape asked.  Bella looked puzzled.  ‘Minerva and I’ he added.

‘Mother!’ Bella replied.  ‘When I saw her just now she was bubbling over with “Severus has settled down with a nice young witch” – she won’t tell anyone else though…’

*

Snape wasn’t so sure of this and he wondered too, how his mother knew.  When Bella left he went in search of Flitwick and asked to be let into the Ravenclaw common room on a most urgent and personal matter.  The Grey Lady was there, talking to a renaissance wizard in a portrait.

‘Would you please leave me, Filius?’ he asked.  ‘I have a delicate matter to discuss with this ghost.’  Flitwick duly left him to it and Snape called up to his mother.  ‘Have you been spying on us, Mother?’ he demanded.  She floated down to him, her impish smile confirming his worst suspicions.  ‘How DARE you spy on us in Minerva’s bedroom’ he began.  ‘What?  What’s so funny?’

‘I don’t’ Sibella replied.  ‘I would never do that!  But you or someone will have to put a soundproofing charm on that room.  Anyone passing by can hear you two playing around.  You’ll have to be more discrete, my boy, when term starts.  Anyway, I’m glad you’re so happy together.  Minerva is a wonderful witch.’

On this point Snape had to agree, and he decided to take his mother’s advice about the soundproofing.  He calmed down and proceeded to explain the need for keeping McGonagall’s true identity a strict secret.

***

As the staff assembled in the Great Hall, waiting for the students to arrive at the start of the new academic year, McGonagall gave Snape a surreptitious wink.  ‘And what is the game plan?’ she asked him.

‘I will scorn your chances of wining the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup at every opportunity’ he drawled, ‘which his only right, because Gryffindor have had an astonishing run of luck, but it won’t last.  Talent will out – it will be Slytherin’s year this year.’  On hearing this McGonagall bridled.  ‘And you bristle – that’s right’ he sneered.

McGonagall’s eyes narrowed.  ‘I will refer to you as an insufferable b****** at every opportunity’ she replied, ‘which, actually, usually means privately to Albus and after every staff meeting.’

Snape smiled his nasty smile and said ‘I take excessive amounts of House Points from Gryffindor at every opportunity.’

On hearing his accidental change of tense, McGonagall’s eyebrow arched.  ‘That sounds like an admission’ she pointed out.

Snape blanched, realising his grammatical mistake.  ‘Err, it’s time you collected the first years’ he murmured.

McGonagall’s eyes twinkled at him.  ‘Don’t worry’ she whispered, ‘I won’t broadcast your sudden lapse into honesty.  It was obviously just a slip.  Where were we – ah yes.  I will complain that you are totally unfair, whereas my House Point deductions are moderate and justified.’

Snape was thinking furiously.  ‘Whoever wins whichever Cup, we shake hands and sneer at each other at the Leaving Feast’ he replied.

McGonagall looked at her watch.  Any moment now the boats would be arriving, so she set off to meet the first years.  ‘So, it’s business as usual, then’ she called over her shoulder.

Glancing round, she was pleased to see Snape smiling his cruel smile.

The End

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