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Chapter Twenty-One: Hypothesis and Hindsight

Snape had been watching Harry out of the corner of his eye as Potter spoke up for him again regarding Dumbledore's actions. Despite the boy's anger- or because of it- this hadn't been easy for him; he could see Potter's posture slowly worsening as exhaustion slowly crept up on him again. He knew the Headmaster wouldn't miss a detail like that and so was unsurprised at the next words from the older wizard. "But while there is much yet to tell, both of you should visit the hospital wing. You need rest and to recover from the hardships of your journey."

"And when will we be continuing this conversation?" Snape found himself growling. "I am aware of how much work you have to do in preparation for the next school year."

Dumbledore straightened, his gaze one of calm determination in the face of Snape's restrained ire. "I give you my Oath that I will not keep the knowledge from you any longer. But both of you must regain your strength before we continue, so that we might guard against further conditioning that has been set by Voldemort. Wards will be placed around the Hospital Wing during this time so that no one can enter or leave without my allowance." As Snape bristled, his rational self nevertheless knew Dumbledore's reasoning even before it was explained to him, "It must be done so that you aren't commanded to leave Hogwarts from afar, Severus." Snape nodded once brusquely before getting up to leave without expression.

Potter rushed to follow, his lips pressed together in a frown that looked to be an unfamiliar part of his face. With an inner sigh that was the only reflection of his weariness that he would allow, Snape took his leave and led the boy to the Hospital Wing.

Snape bore Poppy's fussing as she was wont to do whenever it was necessary for him to receive treatment from her. Given a bed towards the rear and the more private part of the wing, Snape simply rolled onto his side, facing away from Potter, and went to sleep so that the boy wouldn't have the chance to ask him further awkward questions- and so that he would sleep as well, having little else to do.

Facing those green eyes and his questions could wait until tomorrow.

Blood tainted breath and a deep-throated growl made Severus wrench open the eyes he had squinted closed the moment before, instinctively unable to hide from the threat in his self-imposed darkness. He knew that something was fundamentally wrong with everything - with himself.

He didn't feel it- he knew himself beyond such emotion most of the time, although at the moment he felt the pounding of his heart in adrenalin-fueled fear.

He knew he had to figure it out. He wasn't about to just go where the wind blew him- his rational mind demanded that he test out hypothesis after hypothesis; this was another one of them, albeit a rather drastic one- but logic demanded it.

He had controlled the variables to every extent that he could, but if he were to receive true results that would give him the answers, he needed to be certain of one thing. That he wasn't controlling every variable- that he wasn't dreaming this, trapped in his own mind. And that proof faced him now.

He knew that if he so much as moved to raise his wand, he would be killed.

"PETRIFICUS TOTALUS!! Get a move on, Snape- that's not going to hold him for long!"

And so he heard the words of James Potter. Uncertainty and doubt crashed in once more. Did he manufacture the Gryffindor- the most realistic of saviors? Was it placed into his thoughts for him?

"Are you daft, man! Come on, run for Merlin's sake!" Severus felt himself tugged, turned, pushed into a shambling run towards the other end of the tunnel and the night outside. Sounds of an angry werewolf stirring and then running behind them before they climbed out of the hole. Were there moments that he remembered blacking out? A difference in time between one moment and the next? Did his actions make sense to him?

Potter's voice again, "Snape! Snap out of it you git!" More pushing. Walking on grass. Hard surface underfoot. Shouted questions- Black. Muttered answers- Potter. More pushing and walking. Echoes. Quiet discussion. A sneered comment. Something flicked the back of his head. Stopping. Upwards movement. A voice... concerned. Questioning...


His voice melded... melted slowly into something else more powerful, more aggressive in its charisma.

Severus stirred but didn't open his eyes; the curtains of numbness were slowly parting and the spoken words began to make sense again.

"Dumbledore is sure to take more of an interest in him now that he's drawn attention to himself. I intend to control the damage and to keep him from growing closer to most anyone, except for... us."

A painfully familiar voice. "Will you use the Imperius Curse, My Lord?"

"My work will be for the long term, and will require changes over a period of time lest they seem overly suspicious. The conditioning will gradually cause him to withdraw from others. The potion you created at my request, my dear Parcelsis, will take care of the physical changes. I am pleased with your addition of the reasoning for the potion's use; Severus himself must also not suspect. We have seen the results of conflict within his mind..."

The rest of the words were drowned by his shock, and he felt his throat constrict with the pain of his Father's betrayal and the effort it took him to hold in all sound- to not whimper, to not move.

Something touched his arm. Shaking him. Calling to him. A youthful voice, concerned. He opened his eyes, in need of something to lead him from the void.

".... Harry."

... agony ... pain, but not physical. Harry stirred and woke himself, dragging himself blindly at first towards the source- and found Severus curled into a tight ball, a soft whimper barely heard. Harry bit his lip; he couldn't stand seeing the torment in Severus' aura, but he wasn't sure what his reception at being awakened in such a state would be. It didn't take Harry long to make his decision however. If Severus thrust him away, at least he'd be awake and safe from that nightmare. He reached for Severus' shoulder, gently moving it and calling, "Severus. Wake up- you're having a nightmare. Wake up, Severus. Come on..."

Black eyes opened, gateways to the Abyss as Severus dragged in a breath of air. ".... Harry."

Harry felt himself beam at Severus. Perhaps they'd get back to being on a first name basis again. It depended upon how he handled this now, he knew. A little hopefully he fed Severus a straight line that would be easy for him to latch onto. "You're awake."

"You're observant." Severus didn't disappoint, even while it looked like he was still collecting his soul together from the pit he'd just emerged from. Even better, he wasn't scowling at Harry, and the indications in his aura gave Harry the idea he might even accept a little carefully offered comfort. He knew he shouldn't manipulate Severus like this, using his emotions against him... but he was doing it for Severus' benefit. Slowly Harry kept his hand in sight and settled it gently upon Severus' still trembling shoulder. It seemed to give Severus something to anchor himself to as he gradually stilled and the wild look left his eyes.

Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Severus paused before murmuring, "Thank you, Harry."

"You're welcome," Harry responded just as quietly. When Severus moved to sit up, Harry reached over to the next bed and grabbed another pillow, handing it to Severus to use rather than putting it behind his back for him. A smart move Harry knew, since he was fond of keeping his hands intact. "Are you all right now?"

"I imagine that you have a good idea of the answer to that," Severus noted.

"Well then," Harry watched as Severus raked his black, greasy hair out of his face, "Is there anything you'd care to talk about while we wait for Dumbledore?" To make both of them more comfortable, Harry sat down on the bed next to Severus'.

With a sigh, Severus eventually muttered, "I believe I've remembered a few more details that had been kept from me previously."

Harry debated internally between saying what first popped into his head and restraining himself. He decided that Severus might get uncomfortable if Harry changed *too* much, so he spoke up, "From your reaction they don't seem to be good ones."

Nodding in pensive agreement, Severus muttered, "I know now why my hair is the way it is. Why my complexion changed when I was younger. Why it was done to me."


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