Chapter 8: Friends and Allies
The Death Eaters were hidden, waiting silently for their quarry to appear. For weeks, the Dark Lord had been obsessed with finding the man – an obsession that had only intensified with the recent, suspicious deaths of some of his followers and which now almost overshadowed his relentless pursuit of Harry Potter. All of his loyal Death Eaters had been working tirelessly to discover any clue to the man's whereabouts. Tonight, at last, they'd had their break. On a tip from an informant, one of their members had managed to track him to this run-down pub. The Death Eater had sent word to the Dark Lord immediately and now, nearly an hour later, six of the Dark Lord's most trusted followers were fidgeting in anticipation in their hiding places.
Lucius Malfoy, however, did not share the eager confidence of his fellows as he watched the door of the pub from the shadows of an alley. He knew from experience that too much eagerness and confidence begat mistakes and he had no desire to take the blame for any tonight. He scowled behind his Death Eater's mask. They needed to be alert and cautious – particularly with this prey who had already eluded them numerous times. He knew that even six to one odds in their favor wouldn't guarantee them success – not against Severus Snape.
In the months since he'd been revealed as a traitor to the Dark Lord, Snape had become the bane of their existence. Whatever damage he might have done as a spy was nothing compared to the havoc he was wreaking upon his former colleagues now. Again and again he had lured his pursuers into the arms of waiting Aurors, or left them to face the Dark Lord's wrath by slipping through their fingers. The man was undeniably clever. He knew their tactics and many of their objectives and had an uncanny ability to anticipate them. He had also pulled off two spectacularly bold moves.
The first had been during a major skirmish with the Aurors. Snape had infiltrated the Dark Lord's ranks dressed as one of them and attacked them from behind, throwing the battle into chaos and allowing the Aurors to gain the upper hand. Half a dozen Death Eaters had been arrested that night.
In the second instance Snape had used Polyjuice to impersonate one of them and had stunned his two unsuspecting companions and delivered them to the Aurors. At least that's what the note they'd received from him the next day had claimed. The Dark Lord had not been happy on that occasion – not at all.
They had instituted precautions to help guard against such debacles in the future. When going into a fight, they were to have partners – not to protect each other, but to watch for possible treachery. Lucius considered it a cumbersome and useless measure, however. Snape wasn't likely to repeat such reckless moves and he didn't have to. He had achieved his goal of making them doubt one another.
Privately, Lucius suspected that Snape was using Polyjuice for a much more clandestine and troubling purpose – namely to spy on them. There was no other way to explain how some of their recent operations had been betrayed. Lucius hadn't voiced this suspicion to anyone, though he was sure that all but the dullest of the Death Eaters had come to the same conclusion. The tension in their ranks was unmistakable, as was the grim suspicion with which they now openly eyed one another whenever they met. Snape had single handedly managed to strike fear into the hearts of the Death Eaters, a feat that the Aurors and the Order of the Phoenix together had never achieved.
And that was before the deaths had begun.
The Ministry and the Daily Prophet might be turning a blind eye to the situation, but the Death Eaters were well aware that someone was hunting them and it didn't take any imagination to decide who it must be. This made their current mission all the more urgent. It wasn't only their cause, but their lives that were at stake.
And yet, Lucius felt little but dull weariness as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other in the hopes of staving off the creeping ache in his legs from the prolonged vigil. He had already participated in two previous attempts to catch Snape and loathed these missions – not only because the others had ended in failure, but because they made him think about things he'd rather not.
He still had nightmares about that night. Longtime Death Eater though he was, he had never witnessed anything as brutal as the torture the Dark Lord had put Snape to. He had closed his eyes behind his mask, but he hadn't been able to block out the sounds of a body being broken or the screams of agony from a man whom Lucius had long counted as one of his few friends. Snape had screamed until he was hoarse and then he had wept – hopeless, wracking sobs. But through it all, he had never begged, neither for mercy nor for death.
Lucius shook his head at the memory of the man's stubbornness, though he couldn't deny a grudging admiration for Snape's tenacity. And it had paid off in the end. The Dark Lord had waited to kill Snape, wanting to break him first, and Dumbledore had managed to rescue his spy. Lucius still didn't know how they'd been found, but he knew that he wasn't the only Death Eater who had been secretly relieved by the appearance of the Aurors and the Order of the Phoenix. Few of them honestly enjoyed such extreme and prolonged sadistic displays and this worked to their enemies' advantage.
Dumbledore and his followers got away virtually unscathed precisely because most of the Death Eaters were doing their best to ignore what was happening in the clearing and hadn't immediately noticed their enemies' arrival. They had been unforgivably slow to react – something the Dark Lord had made all of them painfully aware of afterward.
Lucius knew he ought to hate Snape. Over and over he told himself that Snape – Severus – had lied to them all, had lied to him, had used him. But Lucius's anger always faded at the memory of what the man had suffered.
That left him standing here cold, irritable and thoroughly indifferent to the night's outcome.
The pub door opened and a figure dressed all in black emerged. He had his hood up, but as he glanced warily up and down the street, the lamplight caught his features – sallow skin, a large hooked nose, black eyes and long black hair. It was Snape and Lucius felt his heart leap.
As planned, one of the Death Eaters stepped out of the alley and raised his wand. Snape spun to face his would-be attacker and never saw the second man who stepped out of the shadows behind him.
"Avada Kedavra!" the second Death Eaters called.
A jet of green light hit Snape squarely in the back and he crumpled to the ground. The Death Eaters hurried forward and Lucius shoved several aside as he came to gaze down at the dead man.
"Outsmarted at last, Severus," he whispered, surprised to feel bitter disappointment welling up inside of him instead of triumph.
Perhaps it was the light, but as Malfoy stared down at the dead man, his face seemed to change. Malfoy squinted in the near darkness, but the effect was no illusion. Snape's features were melting and reforming. In a moment, another face, equally familiar, was staring sightlessly up at them.
"It's Iverson," someone commented dumbstruck.
"Iverson?" another equally baffled voice said. "He's supposed to be in Amsterdam. What's he doing here?"
"Fools!" Malfoy spat, rounding on the other Death Eaters. "We've been tricked."
Even as he was speaking, another voice called out, "Halt by order of the Ministry!"
A dozen figures had Apparated into the street – Aurors by the looks of them – and all of them had their wands drawn and pointed at the Death Eaters.
Malfoy sent a volley of silver arrows hurtling at the Aurors as the other Death Eaters let loose with their own curses.
One of the Death Eaters fell from a Stunning charm, but Malfoy paid no attention to this. He dodged a poorly aimed curse by one of the Aurors and darted towards the safety of the alley. Another curse sizzled past him, forcing him to turn and hurl his own curse back at his attacker. He wasn't aware of the man who stepped out of the shadows until a hand closed on his shoulder.
"Pureblood," the man said and with a familiar jerk behind the navel, the street and the pitched battle vanished.
The moment his feet hit solid ground again, Malfoy whirled on his abductor, but it was too late.
"Expelliarmus!" the man cried and Malfoy's wand went flying as he was thrown back against a wall. The man caught the wand, pocketed it then threw back the hood of his cloak.
"Snape!" Malfoy breathed, not the least bit surprised as he pulled off his own hood and Death Eater's mask and straightened his robes.
"Lucius," Snape nodded politely, keeping his wand leveled at Malfoy. "How nice of you to drop by."
Malfoy scanned his surroundings warily. He and Snape were alone in a small, windowless room. It was dingy and lit by a single lamp sputtering on the wall. The only furnishings were a scrubbed wood table and two hard wooden chairs.
"Where are we?" he demanded with his customary imperiousness.
"A secure place where we won't be disturbed," Snape replied in an infuriatingly smug tone, then flicked his wand towards one of the chairs. "Sit down."
Malfoy had no choice, of course, so he sat down and waited for Snape to make the next move.
"So, Lucius, did you enjoy my little joke tonight?" Snape asked lightly, though his wand remained pointed directly at Malfoy's chest.
"A joke? Is that what you call it?"
"I found it amusing. The looks on all of your faces were priceless. Best of all, it was so easy to arrange. That dolt, Iverson, was certainly no challenge. A little Polyjuice, a simple Imperius Curse and you did the rest."
Malfoy gritted his teeth, but managed to keep his voice calm. "Why the games?"
"Why not? It's quite liberating to no longer have to pretend loyalty to your master. The freedom that affords has more than made up for not being privy to his inner counsel and I find that I quite enjoy watching all of you scurry around, trying to out-guess me."
Malfoy gripped the arms of his chair tightly to keep from lunging at Snape across the table. He knew that would be a mistake, though the man's insufferable smirk was nearly unbearable.
"And what is it you want from me?" he snapped.
"An alliance," Snape said easily.
For a moment Malfoy frowned in confusion, certain he'd misunderstood Snape, but then his face set in a hard glare. "Another joke, Severus?"
Snape's smirk vanished and his black eyes glittered with intensity. "No joke, Lucius. I am completely in earnest."
Malfoy regarded Snape with suspicion which gradually gave way to astonishment. "You expect me to betray the Dark Lord? You're mad!"
"Not at all. I simply need a contact in the Dark Lord's inner circle," Snape said matter-of-factly. "You're the only one who isn't a deluded fanatic, a dimwit or a bloodthirsty killer."
Snape's mouth twitched in amusement. "Besides, you always were my best source of information. You just never realized it."
"Which makes an excellent point," Malfoy said testily. "I am not the Occlumens you are. I cannot deceive him. He would kill me and that would hardly serve your cause. You'll have to find someone else to risk his life for your Mudbloods. I'll go to Azkaban."
"How stirring," Snape said, a smile still playing on his lips. "But alas, Azkaban is not one of your options."
Snape's smile broadened, but his eyes were fixed on Malfoy with the cold intensity of a predator regarding its prey. "I have no intention of turning you over to the Aurors, Lucius," Snape said in a quiet, silken voice that sent a chill down Malfoy's spine. "Vengeance is far more satisfying. Do not think that I have forgotten the agony I suffered at the Dark Lord's hands. I may not be able to have my revenge upon him, but taking it out on those who stood by and watched is almost as enjoyable. I'm sure you've noticed that your numbers have been dropping in recent weeks."
Malfoy shifted in his seat. "Surely you're not stooping to the level of your enemies, Severus? I thought Dumbledore was above such things."
"He is, but you'll notice that he's not here," Snape continued, his pleasant, conversational tone horribly juxtaposed against his icy stare. "I, on the other hand, have no compunctions. You see, there is a reason why Dumbledore finds my services so valuable. I take care of the messy problems that he would rather not soil his conscience with. Not that I mind; in fact I rather enjoy it and when I can take personal satisfaction in my work, so much the better. To be perfectly honest, I almost hoped that you would refuse my offer."
"Do you think I enjoyed watching what the Dark Lord did to you?" Malfoy spat angrily. "What would you have had me do? You know perfectly well that I couldn't intervene. It would have been suicide. If our places had been reversed, you would have stood by and watched, too!"
Snape shrugged. "Yes, I would have, you're right, but that's rather beside the point."
"I was relieved that you survived, Severus," Malfoy insisted desperately. "And I'm delighted that you've managed to outwit pursuit all this time."
"And yet there you were, ready to kill me this evening," Snape pointed out, smiling as he raised his wand.
Malfoy was quite certain that nothing he might say would make the slightest difference to whatever Snape was about to do to him, yet nonetheless he felt an inexplicable need to defend himself. Perhaps it was because it was true. For all that Snape had betrayed them, Malfoy was glad that the man had survived. He felt a thrill of excitement every time Snape eluded them and couldn't help admiring the man who had bested the Dark Lord.
"I was there tonight because I was ordered to be. But I swear that no curse of mine would have ever touched you!"
Snape's predatory smile softened into his familiar knowing smirk and his eyes flashed triumphantly. "And you're not afraid that your master will see that in your mind?"
Malfoy paled as he realized what Snape had maneuvered him into admitting, not just to Snape but to himself. He looked away without a word, no longer particularly caring what Snape did to him.
Snape didn't curse him, though. Instead, he pocketed his wand and sat down in the vacant chair. He folded his arms and let the silence linger between them. Finally, he asked quietly, "Do you enjoy it, Lucius?"
"Enjoy what?" Malfoy asked, regarding his old friend wearily.
"Serving him. We've never spoken of it; we never would have dared, but now I'm asking you, do you enjoy crawling on your knees before that thing?"
Malfoy sat in stony silence.
"Come now, Lucius, we've known one another long enough. I know you have no love for him."
"He seeks to purify our world –"
"He seeks to enslave our world! There are better ways to pursue the pureblood ideal, ways that are far less likely to end in death or subjugation."
"I will have my reward."
"Will you? Let's see, you've been to prison, you've lost everything you worked diligently to achieve in the last twenty years and you can't even set foot in your own manor because you're a wanted criminal. Not much of a reward, so far."
"When he achieves victory –"
"If he achieves victory, he will no longer need you. Oh he may throw a few bones your way, if you fawn over him enough to remain one of his favorites. But you know how changeable he is. Fail to bow low enough and you will find yourself with nothing, because it will all be his to give and to take away. You will have only what falls from his table as you sit at his feet. You know that, Lucius!"
"It's preferable to the alternative! I can't say that your example is one I'd like to emulate."
"So is this what the illustrious, pureblood Malfoys have come to then – groveling like house-elves? It's not only your life at stake, Lucius. He is immortal. You condemn not only yourself, but your son and his sons and their sons after them to endless servitude."
"Stop it!" Malfoy snarled, leaping to his feet. "Don't you think I know all of this? I have no choice!"
The two men glared at one another in silence for a long moment. Finally Snape spoke with quiet intensity.
"If I could give you a choice, a way to destroy him for good, would you take it?"
"There is no way!" Malfoy said. "You said yourself that he is immortal. What secret weapon will you use against him? Harry Potter?"
Snape snorted in disgust. "Potter? Don't be ridiculous. The child is useless. The only reason he's still alive is because of his astonishing luck and the number of people who have been willing to risk their lives to protect him – all because of a prophecy made by a charlatan. I make my own fate, Lucius. I don't rely on prophecies to do it for me, nor will I rely on a boy to save the world.
"However, Potter does have his value. He has almost single-handedly distracted the Dark Lord from any useful endeavors. Think about it, Lucius. How much time has he wasted on elaborate plots against that boy? Years. That is what makes Harry Potter invaluable. While the Dark Lord obsesses over him to the exclusion of all else, he gives us the chance to move against him. While he is fighting a non-existent threat, he doesn't see the real one."
"A lovely speech, Severus, but it still ignores the small point of his immortality. You cannot kill someone who cannot die."
"Dumbledore is working on that and whatever else you may think of him, he is the greatest wizard of the modern age. He will find a way to circumvent the Dark Lord's protection."
"You're not a fool, Lucius. I wouldn't be making you this offer if I thought you were. I'm not asking you to deceive him, or betray him. Not yet. All I'm asking is for is a little discrete information occasionally and your allegiance when the time comes."
"And what do I get?"
"Freedom is a relative term. You pointed out yourself that I'm a wanted man."
"A full pardon, your fortune and property unencumbered and your good name restored."
"And if I refuse?"
Snape's mouth twitched in the slightest smile. "Then you may give the Dark Lord my regards."
Malfoy shook his head in amazement. "You're mad, Severus."
"No, I merely know how to take a calculated risk. And so do you. If we never find a way to defeat him then you will have lost nothing by accepting my offer, but if we do… I ask you again, Lucius; tell me truthfully. If I can give you a chance to rid yourself and your family of his yoke, will you take it?"
Malfoy met Snape's fiercely determined gaze with his own solemn one. "Yes. I will."
Harry crept up the stairs to the second floor and made his way along the pitch-black hallway towards Snape's bedroom. When he reached it, he pulled his wand and the slip of parchment Moody had given him from the pocket of his dressing gown.
The tip of Harry's wand glowed softly and Harry examined the door before him. It looked like every other door in the hallway, perfectly innocent and ordinary. There was nothing to indicate that the door was warded as far as Harry could tell and he wondered briefly how Moody had managed to detect the spells. Next, Harry turned his attention to the parchment and read through the instructions for disarming Snape's wards once more.
There were four spells in all. Harry raised his wand and cast the first one, but nothing happened. The door looked exactly as if had before. Harry sighed irritably, hoping that this was going to work. He had just finished casting the second counter-charm when he heard the unmistakable sound of a door opening at the other end of the hall.
"Nox!" Harry whispered as Remus emerged from his study. There was nowhere to hide, so Harry flattened himself against the wall and hoped that the darkness would conceal him, though he knew that would do him no good if Remus came anywhere near where he was standing. Harry held his breath as Remus came down the hall, then let out a sigh of relief as the man headed downstairs without even glancing towards where Harry stood.
Harry turned back to Snape's room feeling a renewed sense of urgency. There was no telling when Remus might return. Harry lit his wand and hurriedly cast the remaining counter charms, whispered "Alohamora", then reached out and grasped the doorknob. If Moody had missed any of the spells Snape had warding his room, this was going to be a very short mission and Harry was going to have a lot of explaining to do. He held his breath, turned the knob and pushed the door open. Nothing happened. Harry breathed another sigh of relief, stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. He raised his wand high to look around.
The room looked perfectly ordinary, not much different than Harry's own bedroom in fact, though Snape's room was considerably neater. Nevertheless, Harry felt distinctly uncomfortable being in Snape's most private domain. He moved around the room not touching anything until he spied what he'd been hoping to find. A comb lay on the bedside table and clinging to it were several long black strands of hair.
Grimacing, Harry gingerly pulled two stands of hair free. He dug in the pocket of his dressing gown for his handkerchief and wrapped the hairs in it. He shoved the handkerchief back in his pocket and was about to turn back to the door when he noticed a second door standing ajar. This led into the adjoining room and Harry realized at once that this was Snape's office where Harry so often heard him pacing back and forth at night.
Harry knew that he should leave, but he couldn't resist the temptation. He crossed to the office door, pushed it open and stepped into Snape's office. This was far more interesting than Snape's bedroom. There was a desk against one wall that was covered with papers, books and bits of parchment with hastily scribbled notes. There were various instruments and potions ingredients packed onto a bookshelf along with yet more books.
But what captured Harry's attention was the large cauldron which occupied the far corner. Harry moved cautiously towards it and peered in. He recognized the mature Polyjuice potion at once and was just beginning to work out what Snape might be using it for when he heard, in the dead silence of the house, the distant thud of a door closing.
Harry's heart leapt at the sound and in the next moment he felt a flash of anger at his own stupidity. What was he doing snooping around Snape's office? The man might be back at any time and he still had to reset the wards. Harry turned and raced back through Snape's bedroom. He pressed his ear to the hallway door and listened intently. Satisfied that there was no one outside the room, he pulled open the door and peered out. The hallway was dark and quiet, so Harry slipped out of the room and locked the door. Carefully, he began murmuring the spells to reset the wards all the while listening for the tread of footsteps on the stairs or the sound of another door being opened. He finished the last spell, breathed a sigh of relief and hurried as quietly as he could back to the stairs.
Harry reached the first floor landing just as the front door opened. Instantly, he ducked back into the shadows of the staircase. Then he heard hushed voices coming from the entrance hall. One was Remus's as he could have guessed, but the other voice wasn't Snape's though it was every bit as familiar. Harry abandoned his hiding place and moved forward to peer over the banister. There were five people below him: Remus, Tonks, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Moody and the man whose voice he had recognized. Dumbledore was conversing quietly with Remus, but before Harry could gather what was being said, the group moved away and entered the library.
Harry frowned. It was almost one o'clock in the morning. Why were Dumbledore and the Order members meeting this late? Harry struggled with his conscience only a moment before his curiosity won out. Bypassing his room, he stole down the stairs to the entrance hall. He tiptoed up to the half-open door and slid into the deep shadows next to the ancient suit of armor.
"So, what happened?" Remus asked quietly.
"We arrested six of them," Shacklebolt's deep baritone answered. "Another they killed, naturally."
Tonks nodded. "Everything went exactly as planned. It's a good job he's on our side. Talk about cold-blooded. He was cool as you please."
"Tonks!" Remus said reprovingly.
"You know it's true. I'm just saying it."
Remus frowned. "What about Malfoy?"
"He's probably back with You-Know-Who by now," Moody growled. "I don't like it. Letting a Death Eater go rankles."
"It's for a good cause, Moody," Shacklebolt replied.
"So he says. I don't trust him."
"You don't trust anyone." Tonks said.
"I don't trust any man who would use an Unforgivable on another except as a last resort."
"Plenty of our own did in the last war," Shacklebolt pointed out.
"Aye, and I never trusted any that did," Moody declared.
"Perhaps not, Alastor," Dumbledore said. "However, I trust Severus and I would appreciate it if we could keep the disparaging remarks to a minimum. For now I think we should trust Severus's instincts on this. He should be here, I believe, momentarily."
Even as Dumbledore was still speaking, Harry heard the soft click of the front door being unlocked and shrank back into the shadows once more. The door swung open and Snape stepped into the hall. His long black hair framed his pale face as a shaft of moonlight illuminated his figure in the doorway and Harry suppressed his customary shudder at the sight of the Death Eater's robes Snape wore.
Snape moved silently and purposefully across the hall to the library, passing within a few feet of Harry's hiding place.
"Ah Severus, there you are," Dumbledore said in welcome as Snape entered the room. "Did all go according to plan?"
"Yes, I believe that we can count on Malfoy to do his part when the time comes."
"You think we can we trust him?" Moody scoffed.
"I trust Lucius Malfoy to act in his own best interests," Snape replied.
"What if he doesn't agree with you as to what those are?" Moody asked, a note of unmistakable contempt in his voice which Snape ignored.
"I believe I've made things quite clear to him," Snape said. "And since Draco will be under my care at Hogwarts, I'm certain that Lucius will do nothing to betray us."
"You threatened the boy?" Tonks asked.
Snape hesitated then spoke slowly, clearly choosing his words with care. "There are only so many ways to ensure cooperation from an enemy."
"And you know all of them, don't you?" Moody shot back.
There was a moment's awkward silence in which Snape and Moody simply glared at one another. Then Snape spoke in a low, hard voice. "Yes, I do."
Snape turned to Dumbledore. "If there is nothing else –"
"Actually, Severus, there is something I wish to discuss with you. I won't keep the rest of you, though."
Harry slipped back into the shadows as the Order members filed out of the library. Moody opened the front door and looked cautiously outside. Apparently satisfied that no one was lying in wait for them, he nodded to Remus and left. Shacklebolt followed him out. Tonks kissed Remus and left too. Remus shut the door behind them and locked it, then with a final glance back towards the library, headed upstairs.
Harry sidled back towards the library door. Dumbledore was out of sight, but Harry could clearly hear the sound of a wine bottle being opened and the tinkle of liquid being poured into glasses.
"I really don't care for any wine, Albus," Snape said in an irritated voice.
"Of course you don't," Dumbledore agreed amiably. "But I've been saving this bottle for a special occasion and I would be disappointed if you refused the honor of sharing it with me."
"I hardly think this qualifies as a special occasion," Snape said stiffly, pulling his traveling cloak around him defensively.
Dumbledore came back into view, carrying two glasses of a deep red wine. His eyes were twinkling. "Indulge me." He proffered one of the glasses to Snape, who eyed it as though it had just offended him.
"Albus, it's late. I need to go change," Snape demurred.
"The clothes do not make the man, Severus," Dumbledore said emphatically as his warm eyes held Snape's. "There is no need."
Harry hadn't realized just how tense Snape was until the man relaxed. Snape sighed and took the glass from Dumbledore who beamed happily.
"It's an excellent vintage," Dumbledore said, sipping his own wine and nodding encouragingly at Snape.
Snape gave the old man a wry smile and took something considerably larger than a sip of his own wine. "Excellent, of course." He sat down on the sofa and threw his head back against the cushions. Dumbledore took the chair facing him and the two men sat in silence, neither speaking nor even looking at one another.
Harry crept closer and watched for several long minutes, fidgeting in the silence. He was beginning to wonder if either of the men was ever going to say anything, when Snape finally spoke.
"Can we trust Lucius Malfoy?" he sneered tiredly. "What an idiotic question. Moody should know better. Of course, what he really meant to ask was why on earth you trust me." Snape raised his head enough to take another swallow of his wine then let it fall back on the cushions again.
"Now Severus, it isn't so much your loyalty they question, but rather your methods, which, you must admit, are quite unorthodox."
"That's putting it delicately." Snape looked over at Dumbledore. "I know what they think of me, Albus. I can see it in their eyes as easily as you can."
Dumbledore swirled his wine around his glass, watching the lamp light dance on its ruby surface. "You do encourage them. I know perfectly well that you didn't threaten to harm Draco Malfoy this evening. Why did you allow them to believe you did?"
"I didn't want to disappoint them." Snape drained his glass and stared into it.
"Severus, I am not in the habit of telling men how to live their lives," Dumbledore said as he picked up the bottle and refilled Snape's glass. "However, I do have a responsibility to ensure, as far as I can, the safety of those whom I ask to risk their lives on my orders. It was one thing to shun your allies when there was a need to maintain your cover as one of Voldemort's own. To do so now, when you are a hunted man, is not sensible. For your own sake, don't you think it might be wise to inspire something besides wariness in those most likely to be in a position to save your life?"
"And how, precisely, do you suggest I do that?" Snape asked, testily.
"Stop leading them to think the worst of you."
Snape swallowed half the contents of his refilled wineglass and leaned back against the cushions once more, staring up at the ceiling in stubborn silence.
"Is that really so difficult?"
"Yes," Snape hissed, coldly, his eyes still riveted on the ceiling. "I couldn't care less what any of them think of me."
"That is what concerns me."
Snape sat up so suddenly that Harry jumped, though Dumbledore didn't so much as flinch.
"Albus, what do you want from me?" Snape demanded, his voice rising in bitter frustration. "Must I defend myself endlessly? Haven't I earned my place here? Haven't I paid the price of admission to this little club of yours? I will not justify myself to them! Please don't tell me I have to do so to you."
"Of course you don't," Dumbledore said gently. "But it would be a lie if I said that I don't fear the turmoil I see in your mind."
Snape looked away and took another drink of his wine. When he spoke again, his voice was once more controlled and dispassionate. "I'm fine, Albus."
Dumbledore gave the smallest of sighs and took another sip of his own wine. "Tell me," he said, changing the subject abruptly. "How is Harry?"
Harry flinched at the sound of his own name and was surprised to see Snape do the same. The man drained his second glass of wine and reached for the bottle to pour another. Dumbledore waited patiently but Harry could tell that he was watching Snape closely.
"Potter's doing well enough in his lessons," Snape said at last. "Apparently, he can be competent when he actually applies himself."
"That is encouraging," Dumbledore said. "However, I was actually more concerned with Harry's mental state. Remus says he has seemed distracted and anxious of late."
"Given the events of last week, I hardly think that's remarkable." Snape said.
"Surely not," Dumbledore agreed. "You believe that is all that is troubling him then?"
Snape took a drink of his wine then gazed into his glass, running a finger around the rim. "I have no evidence that would suggest otherwise."
There was the barest flash of doubt in Dumbledore's eyes before he spoke. "I'll have a word with Harry, then. I need to come and see him tomorrow anyway – or rather, later today," Dumbledore amended, glancing at the clock. "Goodness, it is late. I won't keep you up any longer, Severus. Get some rest."
As Snape bade Dumbledore goodnight, Harry hurried silently up the stairs and slipped back into his bedroom. He sat down on his bed, pondering the conversations he'd overheard.
He wondered what deal Snape might have made with Lucius Malfoy and he had to agree with Moody. Malfoy was the last person Harry would trust, but he pushed aside that concern to consider what was, for him, a more pressing problem: Dumbledore was worried about Snape and Harry wondered what turmoil he could see in the man's mind. Could it have anything to do with the murdered Death Eaters? Snape was a brilliant Occlumens, but if anyone could penetrate his mental defenses it was surely Dumbledore. Maybe the old wizard could sense Snape's guilt but wasn't sure enough to confront him directly.
Then again, perhaps Dumbledore already knew. He had mentioned Snape's 'unorthodox' methods which the other members of the Order questioned. Could Moody be working at cross purposes to Dumbledore or even going against Dumbledore's orders in investigating Snape? Was that why he had insisted on complete secrecy?
Harry pulled his neatly folded handkerchief from the pocket of his dressing gown and stared at it, less certain than ever as to what he should do. He had promised to help Moody, but what if Moody hadn't been completely honest with him?
Harry sighed and tucked the handkerchief into the drawer of his bedside table. He took off his dressing gown, crawled into bed and stared up at the ceiling. Any other time he would have been looking forward to seeing Dumbledore, but for once he had absolutely no interest in discussing Voldemort or the war.
Snape was looking forward to bed. It had been another long, exhausting day the likes of which had become far too common of late. The wine had taken its toll as well and Snape wanted nothing more than to sleep and forget all of the worries preying on his mind. He reached his bedroom and silently disarmed his wards. He entered the room, pulled off his cloak and stopped dead. The door to his office stood wide open and Snape knew that he hadn't left it that way. Dropping his cloak on the bed, he moved warily around the room, scrutinizing everything. He opened his bureau and wardrobe, but nothing appeared to be out of place. Next, Snape went into his office. He checked the wards on his office door, but they were securely in place just as the wards on his bedroom door had been. He searched the room, but here too, nothing had been disturbed.
Snape frowned in consternation. The break-in had been skillfully done and there were few who could have managed it. Any other night he would have suspected Moody as a matter of course. In fact he'd been expecting something like this from the crafty old Auror for weeks which was one reason why he never told the other Order members when he planned to leave headquarters.
Snape knew Moody didn't trust him, of course, and he knew perfectly well why. He had long since deduced Moody's suspicions from the man's thinly veiled accusations. Moody had no subtlety and acted as though he thought Snape kept a bloody knife under his pillow. This would have been laughable if the Auror hadn't shared his suspicions with the rest of the Order, but given the uncomfortable looks the others frequently gave Snape, it was evident he had. Even that was little more than an annoyance, however. It wasn't as though any of them could distrust him more than they already did. Snape was certain he could die in the fight against the Dark Lord and they'd still question his motives.
At the moment though, all of that was irrelevant. Regardless of how much his fellow Order members might suspect him, the fact remained that Moody had been with him tonight, as had virtually everyone else with the skill to get past his wards. There was only one person who had remained behind who had the knowledge to evade his defenses.
It had to have been Lupin and Snape's eyes narrowed in anger at the thought of that particularly despised individual snooping among his personal effects. Obviously Lupin had finally given in to Moody's pressure and agreed to go along with his 'investigation'.
No surprise there, Snape thought with a sour sneer. Lupin wasn't one to stand on principle when faced with the disapproval of his peers. But the werewolf wasn't as clever as he thought and Snape would have a little chat with him in the morning to point that out. Once he had extracted a confession perhaps he'd at last be able to convince Dumbledore of the folly of urging him to attempt to build any trust between himself and his allies.
Satisfied that some good would come of the invasion of his privacy, Snape went back into his bedroom, pulled off his robes and tossed them on the chair. He took off his shirt and paused to look at his left forearm. The Dark Mark burned black against the pale skin and Snape smiled. Painful though it was, it was also a mark of success. The Dark Lord would not be happy tonight.
Snape's smile faded. He hoped that Lucius would be able to avoid the worst of the Dark Lord's wrath. If the stories the Death Eaters had been whispering lately were true, the punishments that the Dark Lord was meting out these days were fearsome indeed. Snape rubbed his arm absentmindedly in a futile attempt to relieve the pain, then stripped off the rest of his clothes, pulled on his nightshirt and got into bed. He took a deep breath, cleared his mind of worries about Lucius as well as concerns over his scheming allies, and in a moment he was sound asleep.