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The Tortured Soul by purpleygirl [Reviews - 0]

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Harry lay back in the four-poster and gazed at the oak as it thrashed its gnarled fingers at the night. Its twisting fury seemed a world away from the serenity of the room, where only the fire under the chimney quivered.

His first Christmas with Sirius was turning out to be just as enjoyable as he had imagined. He had been looking forward to it for ages, and having Lupin spend it with them made it all the better. Harry had barely had time to settle in before Sirius had brought out the photo album on the first snowy evening in the kitchen. Harry had gazed hungrily at it, each waving picture beckoning the Christmas he would one day spend with all of them – Sirius, Lupin – and his dad too. Sirius was full of tales, and Harry was eager to hear them all. Lupin was less enthusiastic – Sirius had to tease out his side of every story – but it wasn't hard to guess why, since Harry felt just as guilty about knowing something Sirius didn't. Especially when Sirius grew quiet when remembering James.

Harry hated that. Lupin was adamant Sirius must not know until his dad was ready. Sirius wasn't exactly the kind of person who could keep that type of knowledge to himself, Harry knew that. Sirius was far from reluctant to talk about what they had got up to at school – gory details and all. Lupin simply frowned at the parts that made Harry squirm. He tried not to remember what he had seen in Snape's memory of the day of their OWL exam, how his dad and Sirius had picked on Snape. He preferred not to think of his dad like that.

So it wasn't difficult to see why it was felt Sirius should not know – yet. Still, it was hard. But his dad's safety was his priority right now. If he was to see him again, Harry had to make sure that his knowing he was alive did not put his dad in danger.

And that meant putting some effort into Occlumency. He wasn't about to lose his father again – and definitely not because he couldn't be bothered with this 'shielding the mind' thing. What Snape had said had become a kind of mantra, because if Voldemort could see into his thoughts, then he was going to have to make certain he would never see that one thing. Just that one thing could bring his world down.

For the last few days he had gone to bed closing his mind. He was getting the hang of it, he was sure. Once you focused on the thing that really mattered, you just put it to one side, a bit like boxing it up to save for another day. It was a piece of cake, really.

Apart from the headaches, which sometimes made it more difficult to concentrate.

Trying not to think or feel also made looking at photos and listening to Sirius's stories harder – but there was that day to look forward to. That day would come, he knew, and then there would be no need for feverish dreams – it would be real.

Until then, he boxed and labelled and bottled. Thoughts, feelings, emotions – his entire mind was a minefield. Everything had to be tucked away securely.

Christmas was great – but torture – though at night he tried not to let himself feel much of anything either way. During the day, he had little choice but to go along with Sirius's nostalgia. Harry wasn't exactly complaining. It was just for Christmas. Even megalomaniacs like Voldemort took a break at Christmas, didn't they?

He closed his eyes and listened to the tree's creaking limbs. The dreams he had chased over the past several weeks began their usual clamour for his attention. He tipped every one of them, without mercy, out of his mind and let the strained sighs of the old oak fill the void.

-x-


Snape cursed Dumbledore under his breath for forcing him to recite various items of confectionery while having the audacity to not even be in his office anyway. He was almost certainly with a Ministry official again trying to convince those fools of the Dark Lord's return.

But there was a chance he could be at Order headquarters.

He tossed a handful of Floo powder into the fireplace. How he loathed Christmas. It was at times of Muggle celebrations that the Death Eaters grew more restless for sport.

He stepped through the grate into Black's kitchen. The first thing he noted, with despair and more than a little frustration, was the lack of a Headmaster – in fact, the lack of anyone. The second thing was the pungent smell of burning. It was easy to pinpoint the source – apparently inside the large oven against the far wall. It seemed Black's first Christmas back in his old family house was going to be a sorry affair after all. He smiled at the tendrils of smoke drifting through the iron door.

Out in the hallway, he heard the soft hum of voices seeping from the drawing room. He swept past the snoozing portrait of Black's mother and thrust open the door. Inside, Black looked up from a raised glass; Lupin, standing by a tinsel-bordered fireplace, followed suit. Snape was on the verge of asking on Dumbledore's whereabouts when a creak sounded from a large armchair, its high back to the door. Hoping it was occupied by Dumbledore, he stepped forward. But to his annoyance it turned out merely to be the Potter boy, who was now staring back with an expression that divulged mutual feelings.

He turned to Black. 'Where's Dumbledore?'

Black glared. 'Would be nice if you knocked, Snape. We were having such a wonderful time till you barged in.'

'My apologies for interrupting your – ah – leisure time.' Snape regarded him coolly. 'Of which I am certain you have precious little otherwise. But not everybody can neglect their duties merely because it is Christmas. Or any other time of the year, for that matter.'

Black bristled visibly; satisfied, Snape turned to Lupin. 'Where is he? Is he here?'

'No,' said Lupin with a trace of concern. 'Is it important?'

Before he could answer, Black cut in, plainly eager to avoid chitchat. 'Isn't he at Hogwarts?'

'Yes, of course he is,' jeered Snape, 'that is why I am here looking for him.'

It didn't escape his notice Black seemed to be expending a lot of effort in refraining from a retort. He clearly wanted him to leave so they could resume their festivities. Snape suppressed delight – his trip had not been utterly wasted after all.

'I don't know where he might be,' said Lupin from his place by the fire. 'But he did say he would come by—'

'But we're not sure when,' Black said hurriedly. 'We'll send him straight on to the school. So you might as well wait for him there, eh?'

Snape let his triumph show. Yes – Black was so eager for his presence not to spoil his Christmas, he was making a poor job of hiding it – undoubtedly because his precious godson was spending it with him. He felt his smirk broaden at the thought of Black's already ruined Christmas busy smouldering in the kitchen.

'But he'll be here soon, Sirius,' Lupin put in. 'Severus might as well wait.' He turned to him. 'If it's important?'

Lupin was handing it to him on a plate. To turn down his invitation to further upset Black's happy little scene would simply be rude. After all, it was Christmas. 'The consequences may be dire, I fear, if he is not informed at the earliest opportunity of what I've learned.' In reality, a few hours' wait would still allow for the necessary measures to ensure the Muggle sport would be less of an event than expected – but he could happily spend all day rubbing Black's face in the fact he at least was doing something useful for the Order.

'Well, why don't you wait in the kitchen, then?' Black spilled firewhisky with his impatient gesture. 'That's the only fireplace in the house hooked up. You can catch him as soon as he arrives – if it's that important,' he added, seeming to smell the lie; because of his dog senses, perhaps. But then Black himself reeked – of desperation.

'Oh, I would – but I may be overcome by the fumes before his arrival.'

Black looked at him as though he were delirious. 'Fumes? What fumes?'

'From your – ah – Christmas dinner, I suppose. Or what remains of it.' At Black's confusion, he added with a smirk, 'I believe your dear house-elf has left you a present.'

When comprehension dawned, Black erupted into fury. He slammed his glass down on a table, splashing its contents onto the varnished surface. 'Kreacher! KREACHER!' He stormed past and out of the room.

Perhaps Christmas did have its merits after all.

Happy visions of Black's furious ranting in the kitchen were interrupted by the sound of attempted laughter. 'I told him it was a mistake letting his mother's elf prepare it.'

Snape watched as a genial smile stole over Lupin's face, directed at him. He turned from it with a scowl. How he despised the werewolf's insistence on treating him as an old friend he'd been reunited with, even to the point of overlooking his intentional barbs and insults. His resentment deepened whenever he caught sight of that insufferable amiability.

Lupin had persisted in inflicting his unwanted presence on him over the past weeks. He had seen through all the werewolf's pathetic pretexts. Lupin had never before sought his views on any Order affairs, least of all the most trivial. Snape had no opinions on which cakes Molly Weasley might bring to the next meeting, nor did he care a whit how the newest members were getting on. And never had Lupin given the slightest sign of prior interest in the intricacies of the Wolfsbane Potion. As soon as he'd begun suggesting games of wizard chess, Snape had decided enough was enough.

But to his horror he had discovered that warding his doors and refraining from answering on his free evenings had failed to repel him. Lupin had simply begun using the Floo instead. When he had emerged from the fireplace during Occlumency with Potter, Snape had barely been able to conceal his rage at the stupid werewolf's carelessness.

But then the appearance of Potter's mysterious resolve in their last Occlumency lesson of the term had made him think again. He had decided it would be more prudent to turn Lupin's involvement to his advantage, even if that was only making sure Lupin kept Potter's mouth shut around Black. If he pushed Lupin too far away, there was the danger that the werewolf himself would go blabbing to Black, whimpering about the fresh loss of his friend.

So he would continue to make the Wolfsbane Potion, just as he had two years ago when he had thought it wise to keep Lupin close, and he would tolerate his need for inclusion, however grating it was that he took that inclusion for granted. But it would not come without limits. Lupin's disappointment when he'd set them out had been nauseating; it was as though he had been handed restricted visiting rights to a child – or to a prisoner.

He wondered what Black might make of it all – Lupin electing to spend time with his old enemy. But of course that was not how Lupin viewed him now; he knew it whenever he caught his eye. In fact, the consistency of it still managed to catch him unawares and draw him back to its meaning just when he'd succeeded in forgetting for a while. Damn that headmaster. It was simply Dumbledore's foolish insistence on letting the truth be known to those affected and blow the consequences. The Dark Lord, he realised, had been counting on just that.

He still could not comprehend what the Dark Lord was planning by letting this truth out – he felt it was more than a mere test of his loyalties. Did the Dark Lord really think he would permit knowledge of this to affect him and give away his true role for Dumbledore? There seemed to be something else to all of this, and it was unnerving that he still could not put his finger on what it might be.

He was pulled back to the present by the whiff of firewhisky. A glass was being brandished under his nose. Lupin was standing too close, and he was wearing that familiar, stomach-churning, look. 'Oh, come on, Severus. It's Christmas!'

Funny that Lupin believed this statement would make him more inclined to accept the proffered drink. But there remained the need to play to the werewolf's belief of being kept in the loop. He smiled grimly as he took it. If nothing else it might take some of the edge off.

At the sound of a book slamming, he was recalled to the presence of the Potter boy – another reminder of his annoyance toward Lupin, this time because he now had to deal with the boy's continual prying since the werewolf had wagged his tongue. Still in the armchair by the fire, Potter was shifting uncomfortably under his gaze, the closed book on his lap. Clearly, Black was not the only one willing him to leave. In fact, it was Lupin's blatant lack of sharing that sentiment that bothered Snape the most.

He peered at the book the boy was gripping; he couldn't make out a title. 'Studying on Christmas Day, Potter? I had no idea you were so backward in your schoolwork that you feel the need to play catch up at a time such as this.'

'It's not a textbook. It's not a book at all.' Potter glared. 'If you must know, it's a photo album.' With a fixed gaze of defiance, the boy yanked the album back open.

He caught a glimpse of broomsticks held aloft, sweeping the inverted sky victoriously while a Quidditch cup glistened among a row of restless feet. Snape dared not pursue the subject. It was bad enough being forced to see a virtual replica of James Potter on an almost daily basis, but to have images of the actual one paraded in front of him filled him with cold dread.

Before he could stop himself, though, his infuriation had got the better of him. 'Make the most of it, since that will be the closest you will get to seeing your father again.'

The boy's head snapped up, revealing an expression of sheer horror. 'Why? What do you mean?'

Lupin piped up. 'Severus.' At least he had finally removed that smug grin.

'What does he mean?' Potter looked to Lupin, who promptly reinstated the smile, though not as confidently. 'Nothing, Harry, of course everything's –' he glanced up '– everything's fine – isn't it, Severus?'

Snape hadn't actually given his remark much thought before he had said it. But now that he saw Potter had taken it to mean something had happened to his father, he found it quite a welcome surprise. However, the werewolf still needed pacifying. 'I merely meant it would be foolish to jeopardise an already precarious position in order to pander to the whims of a teenager.'

The boy seemed somewhat appeased. 'But after the war.'

Snape observed the untouched firewhisky as he swirled it around his glass. 'I suppose – if he survives.'

'Severus!' Lupin caught his eye. 'May I have a word, please?' He gestured with his head to the door.

'He is all right, isn't he?' implored Potter of Lupin.

'Absolutely fine, Harry,' replied Lupin with conviction. He glanced at Snape.

A lecture from the werewolf – a perfect way to round off Christmas. 'I'm not staying anyway.' He was about to get rid of the glass on a nearby table, but caught sight of Potter studying him anxiously. He hastily disposed of the contents first. 'Don't work too hard during your holiday, Potter. But I'm certain you won't.'

As soon as he was out in the hallway, Lupin began. 'Just what do you think you're doing?' He glanced back into the room; Potter remained hidden in the large chair, no doubt captivated once again by the photographs before him. The boy never did have a long attention span. 'I've done my bit,' said Lupin. 'I did what you wanted – and I expect you to at least not toy with Harry's feelings for your own pleasure.'

'Believe me, pleasure is the last thing I am getting from this situation.' Despite this, he felt his lips quirk upwards – the firewhisky was making itself known, lulling him with a pleasant glow that filled his empty stomach. He hadn't eaten since yesterday, before the Death Eaters' plans for Christmas had emerged.

'That doesn't give you the right to upset Harry.'

'It isn't my fault if the boy misunderstands.'

'Don't give me that. You knew exactly how he'd interpret it.'

'And tell me how I can answer his idiotic questions with any accuracy? You have succeeded in making sure it is impossible.'

'You said he'd never see his father again.'

'Well, isn't it true? The boy is labouring under delusions, thanks to you.'

'If you're so concerned about him being deluded, why don't you tell him the whole truth?' He checked his voice and Potter again, then pressed his forehead with his palm. 'This isn't a day for arguing.' While Lupin dealt with his headache, a knock from the kitchen followed by a screech, distinctly elven in origin, reminded Snape of Black's. Lupin looked up. 'Can't you at least try to spare a thought for his feelings?'

Perhaps it was the firewhisky, but Snape found himself in a mood somewhere between mock horror and amusement. 'Surely you don't suggest I lie to him? That the boy should be further deceived?'

Lupin appeared to sag. 'I don't know what else to do, as you insist on not telling him the truth.'

'Very well, then. Let's hope you don't make further slip-ups – I refuse to correct more of them at my expense.'

This seemed to reinvigorate the werewolf. 'And how would it be at your expense if he knew the truth?'

The firewhisky in Snape's belly was showing its true colours and souring. 'You know what our naive little celebrity would think.' Not to mention the Dark Lord's little test, whatever the truth of that was.

Lupin stared as he filled the silence with a few angry breaths. 'He should be happy today.' He was nearing the end of his lecture. 'Christmas is a time for family.'

'No, he is not! I will not entertain it!'

When he thought about it later that day, he wondered at his outburst, and put it down to the sourness of the firewhisky and the werewolf's breath.

Lupin's head had already turned. Snape followed it and saw Potter standing by the chair, a hand on its arm, giving every impression he had heard his pronouncement. This time he had caught the boy in the act. 'Poking your nose in where it isn't wanted again, Potter? Prying into things you don't understand. One day it will be your undoing.' He held the boy's insolent gaze. 'Be careful you don't learn too much, and find no way of giving the knowledge back.'

'That's enough.'

Lupin's voice came from behind, and Snape stopped. He hadn't noticed he'd been creeping towards the boy.

'My dad is all right?' Potter was looking beyond him.

'He's fine, Sev— Harry.'

There was a time when Snape might have found the mistake amusing. But not even the firewhisky could stop the cold that fell over him now. Potter found nothing funny in it, either. He turned his father's features on him and arranged them into a glare of injustice. In the icy silence, Snape saw that the glass he'd left earlier was now next to him again. He had failed to empty it, and he took it from the table. So this was what Christmas ultimately came down to: wringing the last dregs in search of – what? – inspiration?

'Is he still here?' Black pushed past, Lupin at his heels. 'I don't remember saying you could help yourself, Snape.' He was already by the drinks pouring himself a fresh one.

'I gave it him.' Lupin's voice was low as though they were still in conference in the hallway. But Snape noticed it was less certain now, as if he was more afraid of Black than of him.

'Did you?' Having failed to stir Snape with his angry glare, he directed it at Lupin. 'Spending a lot of time at the school, lately, aren't you?'

Snape bit back a remark about Lupin's lost teaching job. Potter was making movements. His mind, as readable as always even without eye contact, was shifting from disquiet to a hushed impatience as he watched his godfather.

Lupin mumbled something about Dumbledore.

'Can't you talk with Dumbledore here?'

'Tired of being kept at bay, Black?' He was pleased to see Black got both meanings. It had him off the scent, at least. 'Finished sweeping up your meal?'

True to form, he emitted a low growl in reply. 'Bloody house-elf. I'll get my hands around his scrawny neck…'

'It doesn't matter.'

Snape watched Potter carefully. He was getting ready to make himself the centre of attention again.

The boy shrugged and made a feeble smile. 'I mean, I don't mind about dinner. Really. I'm happy just to be here with you and Remus. It's the best Christmas I've ever had, and there's nothing that can spoil it.'

Black seemed consumed with a sickening pride. Snape saw his glance at the chair next to Potter, where the photo album lay. Potter saw it too. And Snape knew then that the boy would tell Black. Not today. But he knew it, as sure as he knew Lupin would become a wolf at the next full moon.

'Dumbledore called through the Floo.'

'What? When?'

Black took a long drink as though he hadn't heard. He looked back as if surprised to find Snape still there. 'While I was in the kitchen. I said you wanted to see him – at the school.'

'Tut, tut. And you have the nerve to accuse me of lying to him.'

This roused him. 'Of course you do! Dumbledore's mad to trust you!'

'I'll be sure to pass on your flattering remark.'

'Just go away, Snape. Dumbledore might be bothering some Ministry official on Christmas Day… That doesn't mean you can go around bothering people too.'

'Oh, but where's the pleasure otherwise?' He placed the empty glass on the table. 'Well, as enjoyable as this has been, I can't stand around chatting all day – some of us have important matters to attend to.'

'That's right, you slither back to the snakes in your dungeons, Snape,' Black said as he was about to turn. 'Reformed, eh? Hah!' He downed the rest of his drink; he seemed already well on the way to inebriation. Snape didn't imagine there would be a happy Christmas dinner today in the Black house.

'Reformed, you say? Re-formed?' He should leave now, before he said too much. The firewhisky he himself had drunk was still tugging at the edges. But he found it difficult to pull away from the spectacle of Black deliberately ruining his first real Christmas in years. 'There is plenty I could say about that, Black.'

'Then why don't you, Severus?'

Snape shot Lupin a lethal glare. Funny how the werewolf had stirred only at his words. He sent a sneer around the room: at Black, his face red and not just from anger; at Lupin, now twitching pathetically with remorse and plainly searching for something else to say. And at Potter, the usual vacant look betraying the arrogant desire to tell all he knew to his dear godfather and damn the consequences. 'Happy Christmas.' He swept out of the room to the sound of silence.




The Tortured Soul by purpleygirl [Reviews - 0]

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