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The Tortured Soul by purpleygirl [Reviews - 0]

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'And I just think she's too young to go on these things.' Remus negotiated his way around a large flower, which seemed rather too interested in sniffing his robes, as he followed Snape through the greenhouse. 'What do you think?'

Snape turned and almost knocked into him. 'I think the afternoon is getting on, Lupin,' he said with a glare before striding past. 'She said the Alihotsy cuttings would be in this greenhouse.' He went peering down another row with an impatient frown.

'Professor Sprout?' Remus waved his wand. 'Accio Alihotsy.'

A basket rose up from beside a group of saplings dotted with tiny reddening fruit like pimples. Snape seized it as it flew over. 'Well, I suppose that will be enough,' he said after examining its green bounty.

Some movement down the far end caught Remus's eye. Three or four plants, huddled in a line, were hovering several inches off the ground and wriggling in their pots as though about to break free. He quickly cancelled his spell, and they fell back down, leaves rustling furiously as if rearranging themselves after their ordeal.

'Just look at how badly the Abysinnian shrivelfigs have been pruned,' said Snape at a cluster of bushes by his arm.

'The children have to learn.'

'The children have to learn dead wood must be removed if the plant is to endure.'

'Yes. Aren't they—'

Snape was already at the door and heading towards the vegetable patch. 'Secure the door, Lupin. There are Mandrakes in there.'

Remus tried again to engage him as he swept onward. 'I was just saying – about the new Order member – Nymphadora Tonks.' They climbed the stairs to the castle entrance. 'She is getting a lot of assignments.' He paused to hold open the door for a pair of students. By the time the fourth group of children had passed through with embarrassed mumbles of thanks, Snape was gone. Remus looked around and glimpsed his black robes sweeping down the steps to the dungeons. He hurried to catch up. 'I mean, I realise she's invaluable as a Metamorphmagus,' he said as they reached his office. 'But—' He backed away as Snape raised an arm and pointed a finger across him.

'Fetch that book,' Snape said as he carried on towards his desk.

'Don't you agree it's too many?' Remus picked up the book from the small table huddled by the wall. 'For a beginner?'

Snape frowned up at him distractedly. He looked down at the book Remus had deposited on the desk. 'What's this? Why have you brought me Seventy-one Cures for Warts and All?'

'I —'

'That one.' He pointed a long finger, and continued to stare down it until Remus pulled out Potions For The Perspicacious from the shelf.

'So —' Remus tried as Snape flipped through the pages.

'Let me see, let me see,' he muttered at a mass of scribbled lines down the margin. 'Is it possible … a counterpoison within the poison?'

'Poison?'

Snape lifted his head and eyed him suspiciously. 'Doesn't Black need checking up on?'

'Well…'

Snape turned to study a heavily annotated diagram and put out a hand across the desk in the direction of three bottles. His fingers wrapped around the closest. But it didn't seem to be the bottle he had wanted – he evidently expected it to be stoppered, as the other two were, because he brought it towards him so swiftly that a quarter of its contents had spilled across his robes before he looked up from the book. 'Damn it!' Something eel-like slithered down his front, leaving a track in the cloudy grey gunge.

He pulled out a cloth and wiped.

'Why don't you – where's your—?' But Snape's wand was right there, poking from his pocket as he swabbed; and it occurred to Remus that he hadn't seen him use it once today. His wand had been there all along, while he, Remus, had been summoning and locking and fetching. But Snape hadn't just been trying to get rid of him – there was something else going on here.

Snape was still trying to mop up the spill with the cloth and a deepening frown.

'Well, I ought to get going.'

Back in the entrance hall, Remus turned up the marble staircase. He found Dumbledore in the corridor outside his office, his travelling cloak on, talking to Professor Flitwick. He noticed Remus as he approached. 'Would you excuse me?' he said to Flitwick, who turned to Remus, nodded solemnly and departed without a word – Flitwick wasn't in the Order, but he knew Remus was, and took its aura of secrecy seriously. But Remus wasn't here on Order matters.

Dumbledore welcomed him with a warm smile. 'Ah, are you paying us another visit?'

'I need your opinion on something.'

Seeing his concern, Dumbledore steered him to a window. It overlooked the lawn far below – somewhere to the left were the greenhouses where he and Snape had just been. 'It's probably nothing,' Remus said. He hoped it wasn't. 'It's Severus. He's – he's not using his magic.'

He described what he had failed to notice while he had been chattering on. As he talked, Dumbledore's initial concern eased away little by little, until finally Remus could no longer ignore it. 'Something's wrong.'

'No, I don't think so.' Dumbledore was smiling outright now. 'Quite the opposite, I would say.'

'But … he's weak, isn't he? Why else wouldn't he use his magic?'

Dumbledore turned a considered gaze on him. 'I'm sure you know the magical core resides in the soul? So you see, the magic is not quite his.'

'You mean it's … James's magic? All of it?'

'That is a tricky one.' Dumbledore refastened his cloak, which had worked itself loose at his neck. 'Some magic comes from the heart as well as the soul.' He frowned in thought. 'I believe the Ministry still has a room devoted to the question.'

'But – he's choosing not to use it? Isn't that…?' Snape wasn't here, but still Remus was loath to use the word foolish about him.

'It's simply a matter of comfort,' said Dumbledore as though he were explaining a choice in sofas. 'He finds it easier to reject this part of him sometimes.' His slight smile was not directed at Remus.

'How can that be good?'

'Because rejection is better than denial. It is some kind of acknowledgement. And that is after all the first step to acceptance.' His eyes shone as he looked out across the school grounds. The January sky was a bracing blue.

'But he's rejecting James.'

Dumbledore turned back and regarded him, as though Remus's lingering concern were surprising. 'He's consciously electing not to use James's magic,' he said. 'For now. When he feels it's safe to do so. But in time this will make it easier, because he is asserting his control over it.'

'By not using it?'

'That will come.' He saw Remus's scepticism. 'But I think there is something else at play. The test, you see – the test that was used to prove he does indeed have James's magical core. It involved the signature passed down by James.'

'Passed down? You mean like an inheritance?'

'Harry inherited something of his father's magic.'

Of course. All wizards did. He recalled Harry's Patronus, the subconscious manifestation of James's Animagus form.

'I'm afraid it was necessary to acquire some discreetly in order to undertake the test.' Dumbledore did not offer to explain how he had done this. Remus did not agree with all of his methods in everything, but neither did he envy his difficult position in the war with Voldemort.

'I see – so it's Harry too? It's Harry he thinks he's rejecting too?' Remus remembered Snape's sudden protest at Christmas when he had seemed to read too much into his reference to family.

'This link to Harry – the fact it was his magic that confirmed everything – it's something more that must be accepted.'

'But he will – he has to. He can't carry on like this. He'll get into trouble.'

'No, no. Not Severus.' Dumbledore's confidence returned. 'He understands control comes with use.'

'I didn't see that today.'

Dumbledore looked at him thoughtfully. 'But I think it is only with you – because you understand.'

'Do I?' Remus didn't think he did understand all of this, not really.

Dumbledore saw his doubt; he smiled. 'Thank you for coming to me. But don't worry. He's simply distancing himself as his way of taking control. Severus won't let this affect him – not when it's important.' He sounded certain; in fact he almost seemed cheered by Remus's news. 'First step to acceptance,' he said, and landed a confident hand on Remus's shoulder.

-x-


Now unlocked, the paint-blistered door creaked open slowly onto the room as if caught in a draught. Shivering, Harry took a few steps towards the doorway, away from the shaft of light from the ceiling. The corridor beyond appeared swathed in darkness; there was no one there.

Suddenly, he felt a dull blow to his side as if he'd been elbowed…

Harry started, looking around. Next to him, Hermione was scribbling the last of her notes on Binns's History of Magic lesson, while the rest of the class were gathering their things and leaving. He rubbed his scar as the dream faded.

Casting him a reproving glance, she stuffed a hefty stack of parchment into her bag. 'You fell asleep again. Now, I know it isn't just Professor Binns's class, because yesterday you did it in Professor Flitwick's class as well. So – what's up? Aren't you getting enough sleep?' She peered in concern as he clawed at his scar.

At the front of the room, Binns's ghost left through the board as usual. Harry picked up his bag. 'It's this Occlumency,' he explained as he followed her into the corridor. 'I'm trying to practise, but it's really hard. I'm trying to clear my mind in classes, but then I end up falling asleep sometimes. It's just too – relaxing – you know?' He sighed. It seemed it was a fine balance between clearing the mind and dropping off altogether. Not that his pounding head let him do that very often these days.

'Well, just practise outside of classes, then.'

'I really need to do this, Hermione. I need all the practice I can get. I was so lazy with it last term. Voldemort could have found out about my dad already while I was just messing about.'

She had an 'I told you so' look on her face, but said nothing. She watched him scratch his scar. 'Is it hurting again?'

He pried his hand away in irritation. 'It seems to be making it worse the more I practise. Maybe I'm doing it all wrong.' He gazed miserably at the floor as they walked to Transfiguration.

They caught up with Ron on the stairs. 'I forgot to ask,' he said to Harry, 'did you tell Padfoot about Prongs?'

Harry was still getting used to referring to his dad by his old nickname. They had decided it was a sensible precaution, as they were already using Sirius's, in case they were overheard. 'No,' he said, 'I didn't get a chance. Lupin was there all the time.'

He didn't know when he would get another chance. But Occlumency practice was the most important thing right now. He kept it up for the rest of the day, successfully avoiding drifting off and breaking Hermione's concentration in class.

His headache finally released him from its grip at dinner – just in time for the first Occlumency lesson of the new term. And he felt buoyed up again when, just half an hour into the lesson, he had managed to repel two of Snape's Legilimency spells in the space of a few minutes.

Snape, however, looked far from happy. He kept peering at his own wand after a spell had gone well (from Harry's point of view) when he thought Harry wasn't looking.

He seemed genuinely perturbed, but Harry was revelling in the feeling of achievement. It would only destroy the moment if he informed Snape it was down to the practice he'd been putting in since their last lesson the previous term. He felt his confidence growing each time Snape spent less and less time in his head.

Finally, after shutting Snape out with relative ease from a memory of yesterday's Divination, Harry recovered in time to see him putting away his wand. He peered at Harry from his usual place behind his desk. Between them sat the Pensieve he had filled earlier with his memories. 'We will continue this next lesson.'

Harry started and looked at the wall clock. 'But there's another twenty minutes left at least.'

Snape raised an eyebrow. 'Why, Potter, I had no idea you were having so much fun.'

Feeling himself reddening, Harry stiffened his gaze. 'Dumbledore thinks it's important I do this properly.'

'Indeed. That is why we will continue this next time. We will do it properly then.'

'What do you mean?'

Snape had turned to his desk; now he raised his eyes in a glare.

'What do you mean, sir?' repeated Harry.

Snape did not reply straight away. He seemed to be considering his answer, and Harry shifted impatiently as the black eyes studied him.

'I've been easy on you today,' he said at last, 'to aid you into getting back into it. I knew the absence of practice over the break meant we would have to start again from scratch.'

Harry knew this wasn't true; Snape had been doing exactly the same as before. In fact, he had been pushing harder into his mind since Harry had been finding it easier to repel him. Snape had never 'been easy' on him in his life. He felt like telling him this; that it was his own practising outside their lessons that had made it easier. But then he'd have to admit he'd never practised at all last term. Let the git stew, he thought.

But then, he considered, maybe Snape was wondering whether it was instead him who wasn't up to it with his Legilimency – maybe that was why he wanted to bring an early end to the lesson? The thought calmed him down. There was something oddly freeing about getting one over on Snape.

If he was going to go for it, it was now. He chewed on his lip. 'What you said at Christmas,' he began. He had a bad feeling when he saw the beginnings of a sneer, but he pressed on. 'I just wondered … if my dad's OK.' He braved Snape's condescending glare. Harry hadn't yet put away his wand, and he felt it grow slippery in his hand as he waited for Snape to goad him again into thinking his father was in some kind of trouble.

'He is fine,' said Snape at last in a flat voice. His mouth was squeezed as tightly as Harry had ever seen it.

Harry hadn't realised he had been holding his breath until his surprise at what Snape had said had died into relief. 'It's just that…' he said when he could speak again, and feeling he was now on a roll, 'I haven't heard anything. You know, like a letter or something.'

Snape's eyes widened. 'A letter?'

Harry's heart plummeted. He felt a stab of humiliation.

'You expect important work to be interrupted in order to write letters?'

'Never mind.' He stared at a corner of the desk. He didn't want to listen to Snape's mocking when all he wanted was to see or hear from his dad.

But after a moment Snape moved, drawing Harry's eyes back.

'A letter can easily be intercepted,' said Snape, his appalled expression gone, replaced with his usual sour look. 'It would be dangerous and foolish.' Suddenly something blazed behind his eyes. 'Not that your father wasn't more than capable of bringing danger through his foolishness.'

Harry barely heard this last insult. His gaze fell. 'Of course.' He had known it would be too dangerous, but he had hoped that maybe… He lifted his head. 'If he gave it you, though. I mean, by owl might be risky, but—'

'Absolutely not!' Snape growled. 'I suppose you would like to endanger me by having such a thing discovered on me?'

Judging by the viciousness of Snape's glare, and the way his mouth was twitching, Harry knew it was no use pursuing the subject of correspondence. He sensed Snape would most likely throw any letters from his father on the fire anyway. 'He does ask about me, though, doesn't he?' he asked, feeling a lump forming in his throat.

Snape snorted. 'You really think there is the opportunity for mindless chitchat?'

Harry swallowed around the dryness. 'Forget it,' he mumbled and turned to go. He was at the door when he remembered something else; he turned back. 'Last term, sir. When you said my dad had forgotten about the Fidelius Charm. He forgot about that week? I mean, I know the Fidelius was done the week before, so whatever happened to him, it made him forget the past week?'

Snape's eyes were flaring again. 'Haven't I told you before – I do not know what happened to him.'

'I know that. I'm asking about when he forgot – how much did he forget?'

'A lot,' replied Snape swiftly.

'How much is a lot?' Harry pursued. 'A week – a month, a year…'

Snape thinned his lips. 'Years, Potter, years.'

Harry felt the chill of shock. 'How permanent is it?'

Snape sneered, his cold black gaze fixed on him. 'Either something is permanent or it is not, Potter.'

'I mean, can he get it back somehow?'

There was something unsettling about the curl touching Snape's mouth. He seemed almost pleased with the question. 'No,' he said. 'Never.'

Harry stared without seeing him.

Snape turned away. 'I have things to do, so if you don't mind.'

Harry left Snape's office in a daze. Could it be true his dad had forgotten so much?

If it was, it would go some way to explain why he had heard nothing from him in all these years. He felt angry, and betrayed, that Lupin had not told him about this. Instead, he'd had to find out from Snape that his dad did not remember him, that his dad did not know him. He must have forgotten everything, everything that mattered – his wife, his son, the reason he was a Death Eater spy.

The thoughts plagued him as he made his way to Gryffindor Tower, intent on clearing his mind so as not to lose the achievements he had made in Occlumency. It somehow felt even more important to practise hard.

A few yards from the portrait of the Fat Lady snoring fitfully over the quiet corridor he came to a stop. It was suddenly obvious why he had not heard from him – not only did his dad not know him, he did not even know Harry had learned he was alive. He still thought Harry believed he was dead. He did not know he was trying to protect him.

It was Snape that was preventing him from knowing, he decided as he watched the Fat Lady twitch in her sleep. Snape was his only contact in the Order; he was taking his dad's information to Dumbledore and giving nothing back. It seemed Snape wanted only to keep Harry and him apart.

Harry needed to let him know he was no longer alone. He wanted him to know he was doing Occlumency to keep him safe. He had to give him hope by showing him he was backing him all the way in every risk he was taking to bring down Voldemort.

He would not endanger him with a letter. But he had to do something.

-x-


Snape gazed down into his glass at the crimson liquid glistening in the soft light of the fire.

He had not realised precisely how tense, how on his guard, he had been these past weeks – these past months. Not until now, since his private audience with the Dark Lord half an hour ago in which he had been 'informed' of the Dark Lord's gift to him fourteen years ago.

It seemed he had finally passed his test when he had responded by confessing he had already been informed by Dumbledore some months earlier. It had, of course, been too trifling a matter for him to have bothered his master with. The Dark Lord had been pleased with this explanation.

'Ah…' sighed Lucius from the armchair nearby. He stretched out his legs toward the fire that pressed its heat into the cold Malfoy parlour. 'Just like the old days, eh, Severus – the ball-and-chain out somewhere with her sister for the evening. No doubt spending more than a few Galleons in the process,' he added with a grimace. 'Detestable woman, Bellatrix,' he said, staring at the crackling flames as though he wished she were in them. 'All those years in Azkaban and she emerges even more self-important than before – as if she's the Dark Lord's new favourite.' He shifted his attention from the fire. 'You won't tell Narcissa I said that, will you? She's rather fond of her dear sister.' He spat the familial reference with a particular sort of bitterness, with the supercilious edge only the Malfoys were able to achieve.

'Your secret is safe with me, Lucius,' replied Snape.

A mischievous smile touched Malfoy's lips. 'And yours with me, Severus.'

Snape surveyed him over his wine. 'What secret would that be?'

Lucius showed a few of his pearly white teeth. 'Do you think the Dark Lord would tell you and not me?' Grey eyes danced with the flames as he sipped his wine.

So he also knew. Snape held his gaze with an empty look. The Dark Lord had been talkative tonight.

'Oh, don't be so coy,' Lucius said, plainly misinterpreting the silence. 'The Dark Lord would not have gone to so much trouble for just any Death Eater. Not even for certain of the most favoured of us – not mentioning any names.' He looked more alive than ever in the firelight; his face glowed with the wine he had drunk.

In acknowledgement of the compliment, Snape presented him with a modest smile.

'It could have been worse,' continued Lucius. 'The only people around to use could have been Squibs or worthless Muggles.'

In that case, reflected Snape, ensuring his thoughts were not reflected towards Lucius, our pragmatical Lord would have simply left me for dead.

Lucius leaned towards him across the fire. 'You mustn't think anything of not being told sooner. I suspect it was my dear sister-in-law who placed doubts about you in his mind. What a shame I wasn't able to spare the gold to keep her out of Azkaban…' He lifted his eyebrows theatrically. 'But then,' he sighed, sitting back and drawing his eyes back to the fire, 'she and her sister are busy spending it now she is out.'

Snape gave him a moment to convert Bellatrix into ashes.

He turned back purged, beaming. 'But the irony! The delicious irony of your … situation.' He did not seem to notice the irony of his describing it so benignly. 'I would have given a thousand Galleons to see the look on Harry Potter's face as he was told.' He laughed.

Snape offered up a more appropriate smile to Lucius's grinning face; it shared the joke on his behalf so that he was free to think.

But he had already realised from his audience with the Dark Lord earlier that it was assumed the boy had been told. What the Dark Lord did not know was that Dumbledore could be convinced to keep secrets – as long as he in turn could keep his spy in the Dark Lord's circle.

'Were you there?' asked Lucius, eyes wide with eagerness.

'Unfortunately not. The old coot told the boy and me separately.'

'Ah, shame.' Lucius settled back into the plush armchair, perching his glass on his stomach. 'I have a Pensieve somewhere – used to be my grandfather's. You could have shared the memory with me.'

Snape raised his eyebrows. 'Perhaps I would not have wanted to share such a treasured moment as that surely would have been.'

This sent Lucius into another happy fit. Wine rolled into waves as his belly shook. Removing his drink to the safety of the table at his side, he rested his head, blond hair spilling across the cushion, and gazed up contentedly. 'But think of the possibilities! I'm sure you already have?' He cast him a sly glance. 'The "boy who lived" is young, he's highly impressionable. Any well-deserved remarks you send his way would hurt him a hundredfold now.' He shook his head at him in awe. 'I know you've always wanted to make the brat's life intolerable, but this… You can really twist the knife in now, can't you?' His wild gaze betrayed the imagined scenes he was indulging in.

Snape watched his mind working. Perhaps it had been remiss of him, but he had not given thought to any such 'possibilities'. He had preferred not to think about the idea of the Potter boy knowing. But he had to admit there was a certain truth in what Lucius said. Potter was indeed far too forgiving when it came to his father, and taken in with romanticised notions of him. Snape found himself wondering whether he might have been too hasty in opting to keep this from the boy. Perhaps the awkwardness of the resulting situation would have had some compensations after all.

'The boy's father jinxed you about a bit, didn't he, at school?'

'He tried. He had a general feeling he was a cut above the rest of us.'

'So –' Lucius was pouring himself another glass and replenishing Snape's before he had a chance to object, '– the ultimate revenge, isn't it? Being forced to give life to you, whom he once considered beneath him, and now used as a weapon against his own son! Just priceless!'

Lucius was luxuriating in his own thoughts again. The grey eyes were on Snape but not seeing him. Snape fixed a smirk to his lips; the fresh wine hitting his stomach seemed to burn as strongly as the fire before them.

'Tell me,' said Lucius after a gulp of his own, 'did James Potter have any … special abilities, do you know?'

Snape studied him. 'How do you mean?'

'Well, I'm sure he didn't, the arrogant prat.' He made a derisive noise. 'But … well, any magical abilities he might have had could have been passed on to you.'

'I'm not sure I follow you, Lucius.'

'I mean, such as,' Lucius fingered his glass, frowning in thought, 'I don't know … resistance to the Imperius Curse? One never knows when that may come in handy. Or some kind of interesting wandless magic, or…'

Snape snorted. James Potter's boundless arrogance would have nullified any chance of mastering even the most basic forms of wandless magic.

'…Animagus Transfiguration…'

Snape paused with his glass halfway to his mouth. He quickly took a sip before Lucius could notice him falter.

'…well, not that you'd know that anyway,' Lucius continued. 'Undoubtedly, he'd have been unregistered – like Sirius Black. Keeping a low profile, that one, isn't he?'

'Dumbledore likes to keep his pets on a tight leash.'

'Still – might be worth a try?'

Under Lucius's watchful eye Snape drew a careful breath. 'James Potter was a big-headed imbecile. His special ability was to spend every waking moment in childish attempts to gain the attention of his peers. Indeed, his biggest ability was to think himself special.'

Lucius grinned heartily. 'To the Dark Lord,' he said, raising what little remained of his drink. 'I would truly have missed your company, Severus, if it hadn't been for his timely and glorious intervention.'

Snape mirrored his movements as a show of gratitude for the sentiment. He only pretended to drink, nevertheless; the stifling heat of the fire was pooling with the alcohol he had already ingested and turning his stomach.

After Lucius freshened his own glass, Snape politely declined a refill. 'I regret I must get back. I have to rise early in the morning.'

Lucius rose from his chair with him. 'Dumbledore keeps you on a short leash, too, doesn't he?'

'One must keep up appearances, Lucius.'

If anyone empathised with that sentiment, it was Lucius Malfoy. The nod of understanding was brief, like an unwanted reflex. Snape registered his seeming reluctance with interest, but then the full Malfoy air was back. 'You know, I heard from a little bird you're giving the boy private lessons in Potions? I do hope you didn't think of it just so you could give the poor boy a hard time.' A playful smile tugged at his mouth.

'The boy is even more useless at Potions than his father was,' replied Snape, who surmised the little bird's name was Draco. 'It wasn't hard to convince that buffoon of a headmaster they were needed. Of course –' he gave Lucius a meaningful glance as he took a pinch of Floo powder from its container on the mantelpiece, '– I make sure my time is being well spent.'

Grey eyes gleamed with mirth. 'Oh, I'm sure you do, old friend. I'm sure you do.'

He spent the next day mulling over what Lucius had said. Some things had promise. He had no desire to work the big-headed imbecile's particular brand of vacuous magic. But there was one thing he could put into immediate practice: Harry Potter may not know the full truth, but the boy did know a half-truth he could use to his advantage.

The bane of his life at Hogwarts – apart from the boy himself, of course – was Potter's accessory in crime. Whenever mischief was caused, it was sure to be behind it, with Potter hidden within its folds. Ever since Dumbledore had foolishly presented it to the boy on arriving at the Castle, it had fallen to him to find a way of confiscating it from under the Headmaster's keen eye. Now he finally had the perfect way, he regretted not thinking of it sooner.

It did not help the boy's cause that it was the same article of clothing which had helped him to discover the half-truth in the first place. Because even if he'd had the presence of mind to place a soundproofing spell on his office door at the time of his and Lupin's talk, Potter would still have learned what he had. As long as the boy had his Invisibility Cloak, he would continue to believe himself entitled to sneak around unhindered.

But his dear father would be demanding its return now. Plainly, the Potter boy would be distressed at the thought of losing his prized possession. But as Lucius had said, the boy was impressionable, and his sentimentality for his idealised father would surely win out in any battle of the Potter egos.

It was with such pleasurable thoughts, looking forward to accosting Potter to put his plan into action, Snape dismissed the afternoon's third-year class. Perhaps, he reflected, gathering his notes after the last of the student rabble had left, he might even be able to find some use for the Cloak himself, as he had done a few years ago when he had surprised the little meeting with Black in the Shrieking Shack.

He cleared the board with a flourish of his wand, and turned.

Maybe he had been indulging too heavily in these imaginings, he thought, as his gaze fell on the very subject of his happy plans.

The boy was standing by the half-open door, holding the handle and peering around as though lost. Snape watched as he glanced back at the corridor and closed the door. He fiddled with his bag as he came clumsily forward through the tables. He was still rummaging inside it when he reached the desk.

'Potter. What are you doing?'

'Sir…' he said, putting Snape instantly on guard. At last Potter pulled something out. He brought it to the desk and raised an expectant gaze. Snape looked. It was a parcel.

'What is this?'

'It's… There's no note or anything.'

The cover appeared to have been torn from old wrapping. Snape saw the letters thday underneath the layers of blotchy parchment and hastily knotted string. It was not addressed. He lifted his gaze to the boy's guilty look.

Potter reddened. 'There's nothing traceable, I swear.' He shifted furtively. 'Can you… Can you please give it to him? To my dad? Sir?'

Snape did not say it immediately. He allowed himself an enjoyable moment to watch the doubt spread across Potter's face as it anticipated the refusal already playing on his lips.

But then he wondered. Though he had told him there were to be no letters or parcels, wasn't this exactly the sort of thing that would make Potter more amenable? If he indulged him, it might make it easier to bring further requests from his father – certainly, turning him away now would make it more difficult to get him to hand the Cloak over later.

He foresaw the happy look on Potter's face, and stiffened. He reached for the parcel as he kept a close eye on Potter. It gave way beneath his finger. He prodded harder and watched the boy squirm satisfyingly. Still, it was not enough to compensate for what he was about to do.

He forced his jaw loose. 'If there is anything identifiable – anything – you will find yourself in a detention not even a memory charm will erase.'

Potter's entire body seemed suddenly to slacken. 'No –' he shook his head more vigorously than needed, delight writ large on the Potter features '– there's nothing, I promise.' The speed with which he took up his bag with an anxious eye showed plainly he knew how close it had been.

His mumbled thanks as he turned did nothing to lessen Snape's tension as he fought against the unnatural turn of events. He had to remind himself – as the door banged and the boy could clearly be heard running down the corridor – why he had done it. It would be worth it, once he had the Invisibility Cloak and he could relax knowing Potter could no longer pry unseen around the school grounds – or even off them, as he knew he had done two years ago, floating head and all. He would give it a few days before beginning to convey demands from his erstwhile father.

First he had this thing to get rid of.

He worked through the options. He could just throw it away. But then, he considered, peering at the messy wrapping, whatever it was may be of some value – materialistically speaking, of course.

Then again, he thought, jabbing it warily once more, it might be one of the Weasleys' gaudy knitted sweaters Potter was simply trying to palm off as a gift.

He removed his finger with distaste and wondered: What if there was indeed something identifiable within that would justify a pleasurable detention or two? He was sure he could find a scrap, if he tried.

He pulled the string with care as though it were concealing one of the Weasley twins' practical jokes.

Peeling back the shabby layers, he froze in recognition as the delicate silver material slid onto the table.

Damn the boy's insolence!

He slung the paper back around the Invisibility Cloak and gathered it up with his notes. So Potter thought he could gain the attention of his father this way? He strode into his office and tossed the offending item into his desk. The boy was an exhibitionist – just like his arrogant father. He slammed the drawer shut.

The Tortured Soul by purpleygirl [Reviews - 0]

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