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Chapter Twenty: Confrontation and Conspiracy

Severus' lip curled faintly at Dumbledore's question, not quite able to restrain the entirety of his anger at the older wizard as he muttered, "I should think that you would know more about the subject than I. Why don't you tell us?"

Harry felt a shock of pleased surprise at Severus' inclusion of him in the statement, seemingly without forethought. When the Headmaster hesitated and then gestured towards the small grouping of chairs off to one side of his office, Harry found himself obeying half out of habit and half from weariness. Severus delayed a purposeful amount of time, starting into the Headmaster's gaze before turning to occupy one of the empty chairs as well. The Headmaster took the third, adjusting his robes before settling himself and folding his hands before him.

"You have had a harrowing experience, I see," Dumbledore murmured in tone of concern and sadness. "I did not expect it to happen this way, Severus."

Next to Harry, Severus stiffened in his seat. It's one thing to suspect, or even to know from your own suspicions, Harry thought. It's quite another to have them confirmed. Harry felt his own posture stiffening as well, but remained silent. He knew Severus wouldn't appreciate a distraction at this point, and Harry didn't want to provide one for Dumbledore.

Severus' voice was somewhat roughened when he next spoke, "And what exactly were you expecting then? To keep this secret until you decided to use it at your convenience?"

"No, Severus." Dumbledore's words were gentle, and his sadness and regret seemed sincere to Harry. "It was never my intent to use you," he sighed, the words 'my boy' left unspoken while Severus was so mistrustful, showing Harry the depths of Dumbledore's own familiarity with Severus' reactions. "Only to keep you unharmed until the time came."

"Unharmed?" the painfully dry sarcasm in Severus' question was enough of a statement in itself as Dumbledore winced; apparently he had some idea of what might have come to pass, Harry noted. So far Dumbledore hadn't made any overt or even subtle moves that might be construed as aggressive, and there had been no changes to Severus' aura other than his quietly roiling emotions. Rather than confronting Dumbledore about recent events, Severus opted to take advantage of Dumbledore's apparent willingness to talk in order to get further information. Otherwise if the confrontation went poorly there would be less chance of getting the information afterwards. "Tell us what your intent was, and what is happening between Mr. Potter and myself."

For an unguarded moment, Dumbledore raised a hand to his face, pressing at the bridge of his nose before running the hand downwards as though in a wish to wipe the subdued pain from his features. "As I said, I was watching over you until the time came for fates to be fulfilled. It was my wish to keep you from being troubled over this, especially in light of your continuing your duties as my spy, Severus. Certainly you can see that it was an act to protect you from Voldemort- at least as much as I am able with you being in your position." Severus' features remained hard and impassive but he was listening to Dumbledore for the moment, so the Headmaster continued, leaning forward in his seat earnestly, but carefully enough to not intrude in Severus' personal space. "I trust you to keep our secrets, Severus. But I don't trust Voldemort to not try and rip them from you should he sense that something was amiss."

"And so you felt that it was your duty to weave such spells within me that show a distinct similarity to the ones placed there by Voldemort himself," Severus finished bitterly.

"You've seen the effect of one of my spells, Severus; I can see that it was activated," Dumbledore solemnly intoned. "It was not my intent that it be activated randomly. It was a guard against Voldemort being made aware of your knowledge when I made you aware of your nature. The energy shaped by Voldemort sought to escape you- it was designed to send him information on your status on the event of your discovery of certain things, and to incapacitate you at the same time by draining you of much of your energy and make it easier to collect you. Or to make you more susceptible of following his mental commands from afar. My spell was designed to contain that energy from escaping you and traveling to Voldemort. But," Dumbledore's voice grew softer and filled again with remorse, "I did not expect for it to be activated anywhere other than in my presence where I could properly see to you and terminate Voldemort's sending as well as my own protection after explaining things to you."

"Explaining things to me?" Harry winced as he watched Severus' aura flare with sudden rage to match the dangerous cold tones of his words. "What exactly gave you the right to decide what I do and do not know regarding myself? I may have been a student still, but you are not my Father," Severus noted with bared teeth.

"No, I am not," Dumbledore admitted, "Yet you still cried out to me for help. You did not realize it, but you did nevertheless."

"And how did I do that, might I ask," was Severus' sarcastic rejoinder.

"By following the instructions given to you by Sirius Black, a boy you hated and did not trust, and finding yourself face to face with a young but no less dangerous werewolf otherwise known as Remus Lupin," Dumbledore calmly replied. Harry felt his back straighten, uncomfortable with the reminder of the conflict between Severus and his Godfather. "It was then that it became apparent to me that your inner strength was driving you to such lengths ... that something was most definitely amiss." More quietly Dumbledore added, "... That you would rather kill yourself than to continue in your situation. It was then that I began to look into what would cause such a silent outcry ... and discovered what you are."

Harry found that he couldn't remain silent any longer, not with the darkness and throbbing hurt that was coming from Severus. "Sirius told me about what happened that night. Points and a few detentions," he bit out. "You kept the knowledge from Severus back then and let Voldemort get a hold of him- let him be trapped into becoming a Death Eater, let him live in misery for all of this time. You manipulated him just as much as Voldemort. More even, because you knew what Voldemort was doing. And you allowed it." Anger swelled within Harry as he stared at the older wizard who showed no signs towards anger of his own; instead he looked older and more tired than Harry had ever seen him.

"I have regretted much in my life, Harry," Dumbledore murmured, with a glance at Severus as well. "But the things I have done are things that seemed necessary at the time. Some of them were mistakes, but most of them were still quite necessary. If I hadn't kept my awareness a secret thing, Voldemort would have eventually found out. I could not keep Severus here indefinitely; he had a family to return to over the summer holidays, and he would have been taken."

"I *was* taken," Severus muttered with a speculative glance towards Harry. "Sometimes while I was visiting with the Malfoys..." Here he paused, and Harry saw flash of protectiveness and fear before Snape continued, "I was even conditioned to meet them occasionally while I was here at the school."

"And that is why I found it necessary to put certain measures of my own into place, Severus." Dumbledore shook his head, "I regret the necessity, but only because of how it affected you. If it was to happen again, I would have to do the same thing. It is the burden of responsibility, and I'm afraid that I cannot ask for forgiveness."

"Cannot, or will not?" Harry asked with a deep frown, offended on Severus' behalf. It seemed that it was Severus' turn to listen to Harry speak in silence, his aura brooding and thoughtful.

"Cannot," Dumbledore murmured, solemnly studying the other man. "In all of the time I have known you, Severus, I have grown to become quite fond of you, and it has pained me deeply to watch this happening. But I knew that once the prophecy was fulfilled, it would be worth all that has come to pass."

With a quiet sigh Severus asked, "Worth it for whom?"

"For us all, Severus," Dumbledore replied. "For us all."


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