'Listen to me, Snape. Call off those monsters you call teachers before
they kill someone in detention.'
His sneer was almost audible. 'It would be unwise to criticise my policies, Minerva.'
A stinging silence followed. 'Very well, Headmaster. You shall not hear from me again.'
Staccato footsteps sounded inside the Headmaster's Office. Juliette Rodney, who had been lingering on the landing, mustering the courage to knock, flinched as the door was flung open to reveal McGonagall.
'Miss Rodney; whatever are you doing here?'
For once, Juliette was without an answer. She stared back at her professor in consternation.
A tall, sallow man materialised in the doorway.
'Perhaps you would deign to leave, Minerva, as you were so eager to do mere moments ago. Miss Rodney no doubt wishes to see me alone.'
McGonagall's nostrils flared. 'Very well. Good night, Miss Rodney.' A darting, worried glance; then she was gone, her footsteps fading into silence.
The seconds passed; after half a minute Juliette lost count. Her fingers were red from wringing, her vision out of focus from staring at the same pavestone, edged with a fold of heavy black robes.
'How did you get up here?'
She swallowed. 'I guessed the emergency password, sir.' A sneering silence; she quickly elaborated, 'Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.'
'And did you find the password an accurate one?'
'I am not sure, sir.'
Another silence; still not daring to look anywhere above the hem of his robes, she could nonetheless envisage the curl of his thin lips, the contempt in those black orbs. She felt a sickening dread settle in her stomach; never before had she had the full force of his derision directed at her alone.
'Have you never been taught that it is rude to eavesdrop?'
She flushed. 'No – I mean yes – I apologise, sir –'
'Enough. Get inside.'
She ducked inside at once, stepping carefully past him. Dozens of painted eyes swivelled to fix on her; but there was only one face she distinctly recognised. For once Dumbledore's eyes lacked any trace of their customary grandfatherly twinkle. Unable to meet his gaze, she stared down at the carpet. A sliver of black flowed past at the edge of her vision, followed by the creak of a chair as Snape sat behind his desk. There was a rustle of parchment; then the scratching of a quill. The sound triggered a dull humiliation deep in her stomach as all the ghosts of her Potions essays, desecrated with red ink and derisive comments, rose in her mind. In class, she had always kept her head down, proving her worth in results rather than words; she had dared to believe that he might dislike her less than any of the other students not in his house. But now any confidence in such favour failed her.
'Have you no explanation for your unwished-for presence?'
'I wanted to see you, sir.'
'Have you anything less obvious to add?'
She struggled not to wince. 'I have a theory, sir, which I wanted to test – to prove.' She faltered.
'Go on,' he sneered. 'I am sure I will be fascinated by your theories, especially at such an hour.'
'It is my belief that you are an imposter; you are loyal not to the Dark Lord, but to Albus Dumbledore.'
There was the slightest of pauses. His quill scratched across parchment, the sound harsh and derisive. 'And how, Miss Rodney, did you come up with such a preposterous theory?'
She straightened her back. For almost six years, this theory had been taking form in her head. She would not be cowed. 'Ever since second year I have been collecting clues. You have been a spy for Professor Dumbledore since before the Death Eater trials of '82. Professor Dumbledore had been dying since the beginning of my sixth year, due to the curse spreading from his hand. I would have guessed he had little more than a year to live and he needed to make sure your position as a spy was still strong after his death. Your killing of him was prearranged between the two of you. What better way for him to ensure a dignified death for himself, while providing powerful proof of your loyalty to He Who Must Not Be Named – proof which would propel you into the circle reserved for the Dark Lord's most trusted followers?'
'She might be an eavesdropper, but you can't deny, the girl's got a flair for rhetoric,' came the voice of a clever-looking wizard with a pointed beard and thin eyebrows.
'Enough, Phineas.' It was Dumbledore who had spoken this time. He was watching Juliette intently. His gaze was no less piercing now that it was painted rather than flesh and blood.
Very slowly Snape laid down his quill and looked at Juliette.
'You have had this theory in mind for how long, you say; five years?'
She nodded hastily.
'And just what has led you to put it together?'
Juliette hesitated, putting her thoughts into order. Her 'theory' had been a work-in-progress for nearly six years. The pieces of evidence which she had compiled to support and extend it had been few and far between, only noticed at all because of what her parents called nosiness and she preferred to call a mix of instinct and sensitivity. As a Ravenclaw, she prided herself on being intuitive as well as logical; open to new ideas and willing to speculate, even if solid proof was not at hand. After all, truths were often difficult to pin down; as the portrait to the Ravenclaw Common Room was fond of exemplifying.
'I do not like to be kept waiting…'
She began at once. 'It was in second year; Malfoy called my friend a Mudblood and for a split second you looked furious. A moment later you had hidden it, and you never saw that I had noticed. I found out in the Daily Prophet archives that you were once a Death Eater, and that Professor Dumbledore claimed you had changed your allegiance and become his spy before the end of the First War. The logical extension of that information was that you might still be his spy.’ She paused for breath. ‘On several occasions on my prefect rounds I saw you leaving the castle and returning late at night; once Professor Dumbledore went out to meet you; you were limping. After I had put all these clues together, it seemed likely that you were Dumbledore's spy; and the Headmaster's cursed hand fitted into my theory perfectly.'
There was a moment of silence. Snape's eyes gleamed. 'Did it ever occur to you that I might have been playing Dumbledore for a fool; feeding all the information he trusted me with directly into the ear of the Dark Lord?'
She swallowed. 'Why yes, of course, but –'
'But of course it was inconceivable to you that one of your former professors could act so despicably, so traitorously.' He smiled cruelly. 'And yet almost every other person in this castle, student or staff, did not hesitate to call me a traitor after I murdered Dumbledore.'
'They didn't see what I did, sir.'
His black eyes glittered; she almost stepped back. That look promised nothing but her humiliation. 'And what did you see, Miss Rodney?'
'That the Headmaster's so-called murder was prearranged. That you are the man Dumbledore trusts to betray the Dark Lord and bring about his end.'
He regarded her for an instant before pushing back his chair and standing. She had to look up slightly to meet his gaze. 'Tell me, Miss Rodney; are you an admirer of Muggle thrillers?'
'Or have you recently consumed a Confusing Concoction?'
A chill went through her. 'No, sir.'
His lip curled. 'Or perhaps you are have unwittingly been targeted with a Love Potion.'
She flushed red. 'No sir!'
'Then tell me this; why are you so determined to cast me as some kind of wronged secret agent?'
Cold derision exuded from his voice. It seemed impossible that such low, almost silky tones could be so caustic.
She stared at the floor, longing to be able to Apparate somewhere; anywhere as far from here as possible. In just a few short minutes she had lost all remnants of his respect, the respect she had prized because of her secret faith in him. She forced herself to meet his eyes. 'I have neither consumed a potion nor been hit by a spell that has befuddled my reason, sir.' She tried to put as much conviction as possible into her voice. 'I have been told many times that Albus Dumbledore was a great wizard, the only one You Know Who ever feared. While his record of keeping this school safe over the last few years may be quite a long way from unblemished ('Too right!' muttered the headmaster named Phineas) – I like to think this is because he has had his mind on more far-reaching matters. Namely ensuring the fall of the Dark Lord. As such, he would have made a plan in the event of his death; and you are the man he wants to see through that plan. You must be You Know Who's most trusted follower; why else would he have made you Headmaster of Hogwarts? Of course, being Headmaster means you are ideally placed to formulate plans with Professor Dumbledore's help and advice.' She nodded to the portrait. Dumbledore was smiling at her; but there was something not quite right about his expression.
'Did you not consider that the Dark Lord might have put me here in order to rile the dead man's portrait with the continuous presence of his murderer?'
'Well, yes, that might be why he put you here. But you and Dumbledore have more important things to consider.'
'Ah yes; I believe your exact words were 'namely ensuring the fall of the Dark Lord'. An important task indeed.' His voice faded into a mocking silence.
'You will have to forgive Professor Snape,' said Dumbledore with astonishing cheerfulness. 'I for one am fascinated by your theory. You came up with it by yourself? With no help from anyone?'
She stared at him in bafflement; was he mocking her? 'No. I mean yes, I worked it out on my own.' As she spoke, Snape slowly rose and walked to the window, his back to her, as though bored by the mere thought of her long process of theorisation. She did her best to ignore him.
Dumbledore's smile widened. 'You are a true credit to your house, Miss Rodney. Able to withhold from making obvious assumptions and instead remain objective; thus allowing you to see clearly what others might miss. But I must ask you; if you have suspected Professor Snape to be innocent for so long, why have you only stepped forward now?
Despite his praise, she had a frightening premonition that things were about to take a turn for the worse. He still had not confirmed that she was right; and he seemed amused by rather than really interested in her logic. But she couldn't take back her words now.
'I wasn't sure if my suppositions were correct; there was always a chance that I was wrong, and I was scared.' She clenched her hands into fists, glancing at Snape. 'Right now my mother is being held suspect of stealing the wand that chose her when she was eleven. I didn't want to endanger her if I was wrong.'
'Have you told anyone of your … suspicions?'
Snape still had his back to her, but it was he who had spoken.
'I didn't want to place you in danger, sir; if You Know Who found out you were a traitor, you'd be killed, and then whatever you and Professor Dumbledore are planning would fail. I didn't want to do anything to jeopardise your plans. How could I act when I didn't know what your intentions were? And if I'd told someone else and I was wrong, I would have put them in danger, too.'
Dumbledore spoke suddenly. 'Miss Rodney, if you are so anxious for the fight against Voldemort to succeed, why are you not a member of the D.A.?'
Juliette's face darkened. 'Being in the D.A. is not the only way of undermining the Death Eaters! I have been acting, but secretly. If you've been listening to Potterwatch, those last two suggestions on how best to protect Muggle neighbours were sent in by me! Besides, what have the D.A. achieved other than riling up the Carrows and the Slytherins who fancy themselves apprenticed Death Eaters? A few slogans and bits of graffiti might spark hope for a few minutes, but what happens when the Carrows then decide to punish every student who ever stepped into the scene of crime on the day the message was discovered? I prefer to stay out of the action, but keep my eyes and ears open.'
Phineas Nigellus was almost crowing with delight. 'Did you hear that Dumbledore? Perhaps your precious D.A. isn't such a beacon of light in the darkness after all!'
Dumbledore's eyes were now cold. 'And what about loyalty to the school?'
'Respectfully, sir, I'd like to argue that you mean loyalty to you, sir, not the school. It's not called the Army of Hogwarts, is it? But I am loyal to the school. The moment the Death Eaters show up in force, which can only be a matter of time, I'll be ready to defend Hogwarts, just as much as any member of the D.A..'
By now Dumbledore's mouth was but a line, reminiscent of Professor McGonagall. Smugness radiated from Phineas Nigellus's portrait.
There was a moment of silence. Then Dumbledore spoke again. 'Well, Miss Rodney, I congratulate you on your ability to think … critically. I don't think I have ever come across such a fascinating theory as the one you have developed about my plot to solve my unfortunate ailment while uplifting Professor Snape's standing with Voldemort.' His eyes twinkled benignly. 'I only wish I possessed half the ingenuity – nay, the cunning – that you seem to credit me with. You see, Miss Rodney, I am afraid your theory is quite the opposite of the truth.'
Juliette blinked, silenced. But she couldn't be wrong – she simply couldn't! Her mind whirred to life. She had been a fool from the start, she realised. She had held a secret hope that as soon as she declared her belief in him, Snape would express his gratitude and relief that someone trusted him. But such expectations had been unrealistic, if not ridiculous. She ought to have been prepared: if she was right, neither Snape nor Dumbledore could afford to drop their guards. Why would they confide in a student?
'I know I'm right,' she said, trying to sound firm but instead sounding desperate.
'Come now, my dear girl,' said Dumbledore, beaming at her. 'Your conviction is admirable, but ill-placed. It is a shame reality does not match up to your theory: everything would have been so much more agreeable.' His smile held a sadness that only angered her.
She stared back at him, trying to force him to admit she was right. His eyes only shone benevolently. Suddenly she felt the pricking of hot tears. She struggled to force them back, along with the lump in her throat. What was happening to her? When she had come in here, she had been frightened, but deep down she had been sure of her convictions. But now she didn't know what to think. She was a girl who had always elicited praise from her teachers, never condemnation or disparity. To hear her former headmaster patronise her seemed to twist a knife into all her accumulated achievements and accomplishments, so that they were in tatters when she tried to grasp hold of them to give herself courage. Her eyes darted from portrait to portrait; all the faces stared back at her in nonchalance. She struggled to think clearly: they were trying to trick her, both of them.
'I know this must be hard for you to hear, after all the energy you've invested into coming up with this theory, and I'm truly sorry for you. But I hate to see you investing such faith where it is wasted.'
His words seeped into her ears, eroding her convictions. She swallowed hard. She didn't know whether to try to block out his voice or to listen carefully in an attempt to find a loophole in his words. Unable to look at Dumbledore's kindly face, or at Snape's disdainful back, she looked instead at the single empty portrait, which hung just to the right of Fawkes's empty perch. The phoenix had always fascinated her when she had come here to receive her prefect duties. Without Fawkes's colourful plumage, the room seemed dull and muted, and the lack of sounds from his corner – the ruffling of feathers, the low chirps – was almost glaringly manifest. She stared at the empty portrait until she felt the painted armchairs and lamps were branded into her mind.
She started at Snape's voice. He had turned to face her at last, though when she dared to look at him she wished he hadn't.
'Did you tell anyone of your plan to come here?'
'Then your belief in me is indeed steadfast. Do you not realise, Miss Rodney, that you are alone in this room with a murderer?' His eyes gleamed at her discomfiture. 'Perhaps you see now that coming here alone was a stupid move. Because I cannot let you leave without seeing your memories, Miss Rodney, if only to reassure myself that you have not founded a legion of misled devotees to rival Dumbledore's own.'
She flushed, then hesitated. That he wanted to test her memories came as no surprise to her but until now she had not truly considered how personal and private memories were. Could she bear to let anyone look through them – look at the essence that made her who she was? But she had to trust him – she had to. She forced herself to walk over to him.
He lifted an eyebrow as she stopped in front of him. 'What loyalty. How very touching … You must not attempt to hide any memories; by doing so you will make the process unnecessarily painful. Do you agree to this?'
'I see that there is no other way,' she said simply, and returned his gaze, remembering from her reading that eye contact would help. Legilimency was unlike anything she had ever experienced before; she had researched it, of course, and succeeded in teaching herself basic Occlumency out of a desire for a challenge, but books had not prepared her for the strange feeling of another mind delving into her own.
Memories surfaced one after the other in her mind; her fascination in first year with the Death Eater trials (an obsession she suspected was triggered by having Harry Potter in her year); the excitement she had felt after the 'Mudblood' incident as she put aside her Defence homework (a quiz on Lockhart's method used to defeat the Wagga Wagga werewolf) and set her expansive intelligence to the task of uncovering what Snape's anger at the insult could mean; her observation of Snape's new habit of rubbing his left forearm in fourth year, and his increased irritability when he did so; Dumbledore speaking quietly to Snape after the Yule Ball – 'You know, sometimes I think we Sort too soon' – and her annoyance that once again Gryffindor (because of course it was Gryffindor Dumbledore was thinking of) was implicitly being upheld as the best house; researching deadly curses in the library's Restricted Section in order to find out more about Dumbledore's hand; seeing Snape hurrying out of the castle late at night while she was on prefect patrols...
At last, Snape withdrew and Juliette placed her hands on her pounding temples, retreating to the other side of the room, closing her eyes.
'It seems she did not lie when she said she has told no one of her foolish theories.'
Juliette kept her eyes closed, concentrating on not giving in to his jibes.
'I suppose any other man would feel … touched … by your unshakable belief in me. However,' his voice dropped to a silky caress, making his next words all the more poisonous, 'all I can feel is amazement that anyone could be such a naïve little fool.'
It was as if he'd slapped her. A single tear splashed down her cheek.
He took a step closer, latching onto her weakness. 'I recall you being exceptionally bright. Certainly, I would not have expected such foolishness from you of all people. I suppose you must have been so desperate for hope in these dark times that you clung to the very vaguest of possible signs in order to construct a hero for yourself. Perhaps hearing it from me will free you of your illusions.' His eyes gleamed darkly. 'I am the very opposite of a hero.' His voice was filled with such disgust and loathing that she started to tremble. She wouldn't believe him – she couldn't afford to. Only now was she beginning to acknowledge to herself just how much her trust in him mattered to her. Somewhere in the depths of her mind, he had been the one thing standing between hope and the annihilation of everything she held dear.
But she had been a fool. Her convictions were failing her, the last shred tearing –
'– Headmaster!' A painted figure was running into the empty portrait, staring excitedly at Snape, jubilant. 'Headmaster! He's done it! Shacklebolt escaped again! He –'
The portrait fell silent, realising that Snape was not alone. But it was too late. Somehow, through the haze of tears and humiliation, Juliette's mind managed to take hold of this significant piece of information.
'Shacklebolt; that's Kingsley Shacklebolt, the head of the Order of the Phoenix, isn't it?'
The silence that followed her words told her all she needed to know. Rather than elated, she felt merely numb. After all the suspense and humiliation she had just gone through, all she could manage was a dull relief. No one stirred for a long moment. Then Snape went to the window, his slow movements ageing him by twenty years. When he spoke, his voice was hollow.
'You must congratulate yourself, Miss Rodney. No doubt you are crowing over your victory.'
She said nothing; how typical of him to think the worst of her. Snape now turned away from the window and went to sit behind his desk. For the first time, Juliette dared to look at him closely. She was shocked by how pale and haggard he looked. She fancied she could see the burden weighing on his bony shoulders. He had never exactly bloomed with health, but now he looked almost like a walking corpse. She tried to imagine what it must be like to have everyone hating you, believing you to be a traitor, even old colleagues like Flitwick and McGonagall. Suddenly she felt a rush of sympathy so strong she could hardly believe she was capable of it. She had come here intending to offer her aid and confidence, but she hadn't acknowledged just how much he might need it.
'Let me help you,' she pleaded. 'You don't have to do this all on your own. I'm good at magic; my grades have proved that enough times, and I don't think just anyone could have figured out your deception like I have. I want to help; it's not fair that Muggleborns can't be here anymore. Surely there must be something I can do, even if it's just research –'
'Enough.' He looked down at his folded hands, unreachable. 'I never imagined a student would be the one to work out the truth. Yet perhaps it would have been better if you never had.'
The only sound was that of the candle flames sputtering gently on their wicks. Then Dumbledore spoke. 'Nevertheless, you cannot change course. You know what you must do.'
Snape bowed his head for a long moment. 'No doubt you are contemplating the meaning of Dumbledore's ominous reference to 'what must be done' –'
'It's all right,' she broke in. 'I'll do it.'
He watched her impassively. 'Do what?'
'Make an Unbreakable Vow. You have to keep your identity as a spy secret, and since you obviously don't trust me to keep quiet, an Unbreakable Vow is the only way to ensure my silence.'
Something unspoken passed between Dumbledore and Snape.
Suddenly she knew. She went cold all over. At last she understood why he had been so brutally vindictive; he had been trying to protect her from this last cruel act.
'No. Not that, anything but that.'
Snape's eyes were unwavering.
'You can't take my memories!'
'I have no choice.' He rose to his feet, unshakeable. 'In the interest of protecting vital secrets, it is necessary that I take all your memories of this past half an hour, and any in which you ever doubted my allegiance to the Dark Lord, as well as any of the memories which led to you forming those doubts.'
Juliette was silenced. It was betrayal. He was going to erase those very memories that she had come to hold dear because they, unlike the D.A.'s scribbled slogans and blundering demonstrations, gave her hope.
Snape's lips thinned. 'Will you agree, Miss Rodney, or must I take your memories by force?'
'Please sir, surely this is not necessary – I'll make a Vow, an Unbreakable Vow, just don't take my memories.'
He remained unmoved. She turned to Phineas Nigellus; but the Slytherin avoided her eyes, and the headmaster who had rushed in with news of Shacklebolt hid his face from her. Lastly she turned to Dumbledore. He looked at her with unbearable sadness, tears glinting. She could manage nothing in return but a dull resentment. He had good-naturedly patronised her, then lied to her by telling her she was mistaken, and now he had the audacity to show pity while supporting the removal of her memories; perhaps the most personal, the most off-limit belongings she possessed. Looking at him now, the colour of his eyes was like the freezing water that emerged through the cracks of the ice-covered Great Lake in the early spring. From her numb, battered vantage point, Dumbledore's wordplay and Phineas Nigellus's wit seemed to have a callousness beyond Snape's ruthlessness. They might have been less obviously cruel, but they had still failed to come to her defence when it most mattered. Help had not been there for her at Hogwarts when she had most needed it.
'I require your answer, Miss Rodney.'
She looked at Snape again, taking in the dark shadows beneath his eyes, the way his skin stretched over his cheekbones. It struck her that he was a stranger to her, despite how she knew his loyalties better than anyone else in the castle. And to him she was just one more person he was protecting; a stranger to whom he owed nothing.
'Please sir; surely you deserve just one advocate?'
He only looked at her impassively. For the first time, she understood that Snape's coldness was a sign of respect. He was giving her the chance to do her duty with nobility, as he did his. Her eyes were drawn once again to Fawkes's empty perch. Did she regret not fleeing while she still could; did she wish she had been less steadfast? She closed her eyes, picturing the phoenix in her head. No, she did not. Opening her eyes she focused on Snape. If this was how it was be, she would face her fate with dignity. Let Dumbledore see that it was not only Gryffindors who could be brave.
'Very well, then.'
Surprise and admiration showed on his face, and it seemed to her that for the first time he truly saw her as an equal. Then his face turned to stone as he raised his wand.
The next thing Juliette was aware of was sitting opposite the Headmaster, feeling wildly disorientated.
'Sir?' she managed, staring at Snape, bewildered as to why she was there.
'We are done, Miss Rodney. Go back to your Common Room and the next time you have anything to report from your prefect rounds, leave it till the morning.' His derision was scalding.
Wincing, she leapt to her feet, stumbling. 'Yes sir, I apologise, sir.' She hurried out of the office, almost forgetting to close the door in her haste to escape his scorn.
Snape watched the door shut behind her, then tiredly rose and walked over to the Pensieve. Touching the tip of his wand to his temple, he drew out a silvery thread of thought and let it float into the pool of memories. A memory surfaced in his mind; the small, excited face of a first year Juliette Rodney as she successfully brewed her first potion – a memory he had not known he possessed. Now at seventeen she was no longer a child, but he could not shake the feeling that his actions towards her tonight had destroyed the last vestiges of her childhood.
The room was utterly silent but for the muted flickering of the candles. Their light threw wavering shadows over the dark figure bowed over the Pensieve. The light in the stone basin was of an entirely different quality, watery yet clouded, swirling with the evidence of yet one more harm he had done in order to do good.
Even if she could not remember what had happened, she would never recover from the injury he had done her. He thought of her child's eyes watching him as she grew, her mind slowly compiling her 'theory'. Even now, he felt somewhat powerless before the belief he had glimpsed in her mind. He did not know if he could live up to such loyalty. Loyalty which was now nothing more than a memory.
'Severus?' Dumbledore's voice was impossibly gentle; Snape only stiffened in response.
'I am convinced that she is – or was – the only person outside this office who ever truly doubted my allegiance to the Dark Lord after last year.' His voice was devoid of emotion, but his thoughts were deeply bitter. 'I have played my own part too well to invite any suspicions that I am anything other than I what seem. My talent of stirring hatred and contempt has done well to hide my true motives. It was only the smallest of slippages which first betrayed me to her five years ago, and I am confident no one else would have been able to distrust the events of last June because of a few miniscule irregularities in my persona.'
Lines of sadness were etched into Dumbledore's face, but for once he had no words to offer.
'I am sorry, Severus,' said Phineas Nigellus, heavily, with utter sincerity. 'Merlin knows you of all people deserve an advocate.'
Snape only bowed his head, feeling the all-too-familiar pounding in his temples, the ache that seemed to have settled into his bones, but most of all in that part of him – his heart, or his soul, whatever you wanted to call it – that used to feel anything other than weariness and resignation. His thoughts turned to the bittersweet irony of it all. To have an advocate at last, and then to be forced to personally remove every last trace of her belief in him. One more crime against those he was supposed to be protecting, because such a criminal act was the only way to protect them. One more person he must turn against himself, all for the sake of – He forced himself to stop, clenching his hands into fists, his nails biting into his palms.
For the third time he went to the window, but rather than gaze out, he squeezed his eyes tightly shut, as though to obliterate this last terrible deed.
'Let us only pray that she was the last one.'
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