Chapter VII - Strategies and Tactics
Harry came in, crossed the office and started a conversation with Ceci, who quickly told him that she had spent the night in Snape's bedroom! Harry wanted to ask her for more details, but the teacher was staring at him with an impatient look. Even so, Harry still made a point of standing before the scrying mirror, pensive. "Those unicorns aren't like the ones we have here, are they? Our unicorns don't attack nymphs!"
"Those unicorns and nymph are from Germanic Mythology," Snape explained. "This mirror was Grindelwald's. It was the only one of his belongings Dumbledore kept."
"Because it is not, necessarily, a Dark Magic object... It depends on how it is... configured. He gave me the mirror last Christmas. I asked him why he kept the decorated frame, the unicorns burning the nymph. He told me they symbolise the vital energy inside of us all."
"Erotic, isn't it?"
Snape arched an eyebrow. "Is that what it symbolises for you?"
"Seems pretty obvious to me."
"Anyway. Be that as it may, Dumbledore kept the frame, but altered the spells in order to block the dark energies. I started changing the configuration to tune it to my energies, but up until that night you were here, it hadn't shown me anything special!"
Harry turned his attention from the mirror to Snape, intrigued. "Is that a good or bad thing? What does it mean?"
"I'm not sure I want to know."
Harry rolled his eyes, frustrated.
"Very well, Potter, enough gibberish for today. Sit down. You said you had questions about your essay."
They both sat at the desk, and talked for a long time about several topics in Harry's essay - which Snape had apparently considered satisfactory, since he wasn't cudgelling Harry with his usual caustic criticism. They discussed general subjects - such as, for example, potions that were considered strictly Dark Magic - and specific ones - such as the use of Jobberknoll feathers in important potions for mind control, like Truth Serums and Memory Potions.
At the end, Harry commented, "You know, I reckon I understand why you told me to write this essay. Because I, er, should pay more attention to classes, since they're going to give me some basis for more advanced studies."
An unprecedented beam appeared deep inside Snape's eyes, which usually reminded Harry of a dark tunnel. "I'll be damned, Potter. I'm amazed. I hope this will reflect on your behaviour from now on. Speaking of which, there is something I would like to ask you."
Here it comes, Harry winced. First Snape talked civilly to him, then almost praised him. Either the serpent was about to lunge, or the person before him wasn't Professor Snape, but someone who had drunk some Polyjuice Potion.
"You told me you hate me and Dumbledore. That you hate me is hardly news," said Snape with a sarcastic grin. "But did you really mean that about Dumbledore?"
"When you were giving me Occlumency lessons, well, you saw the kind of childhood I had," Harry replied. "With the Dursleys..."
"Dumbledore did what he thought to be best for your safety."
"For my safety, yes, but not for me. He just wanted me to turn into a good weapon against Voldemort. He does the same to you, forcing you to go on being a Death Eater."
"Don't talk that way, Potter. You don't know half of the story."
"Exactly! That's another reason to hate you both. You expect me to save the world, but never tell me the whole story."
"Nobody expects you to save the world on your own. But this is a war. Not everything can be told to everybody. And Dumbledore is in a hard position. He has to know everything and control who is allowed to know what. Try to put yourself in his place. Don't make the same mistakes I made."
Snape didn't answer.
Harry insisted. "It was because of Dumbledore... because he didn't do anything to defend you... that you joined Voldemort?"
"I was enraged, against everything and everyone, but especially against Dumbledore." An expression of deep pain crossed Snape's face. "You... never had the sort of contact I had with Dark Magic. You would hardly tread a path as dangerous and erroneous as mine. But you might react the way you are doing now, being distracted, reckless. Not caring about what happens. And that is not good."
"It's not good for who? For the 'cause'? Dumbledore told you to say those things to me, didn't he?"
Snape stared at him with surprise and resentment. Then he regained his usual sneer. "That is obvious, isn't it, Mr Potter? Why else would I care about your behaviour?"
Harry folded his arms, making a mighty effort to keep his head.
"Listen to me," Snape insisted. "Dumbledore isn't that gentle grandpa you thought him to be at first, always giving you chocolate frogs and a friendly smile. You have already realised that. He is, in fact, a great strategist."
"Ah, a marvellous strategist. He had the supreme intelligence to put a drunk and a squib to watch over me. I ended up attacked by Dementors. Then he spent an entire year running away from me, instead of simply warning me that Voldemort was trying to possess me and that I shouldn't believe in everything I saw in my dreams. And the Order of the Phoenix spent an entire year defending a useless prophecy, instead of asking me to go to the Department of Mysteries to destroy it. My godfather died to protect that stupid shit. Brilliant."
"Potter, those delusions of grandeur of yours are becoming insufferable. You don't even respect the most powerful wizard in the universe. Truth is, you don't know everything, and you shouldn't jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts."
"I've had enough of that litany. So why don't you tell me the facts? How am I supposed to trust Dumbledore if he always has yet another rabbit hidden in his hat?"
"The wizarding world is under the threat of the Dark Lord, and Dumbledore is currently the most powerful wizard opposing him. If we win under his command, he won't try to dominate us or destroy us like the Dark Lord would. Therefore, the best thing to do now is trust him and follow his guidance."
"I thought you liked him. Admired him, at least."
"It's more than that. I have put my life in his hands."
"I don't get it. I don't get any of it."
"Have you ever heard of a Magical Debt? Life Debt? It is not a mere formality, or a matter of ethics. It's a permanent mark in a wizard's life. A stronger mark than this one." Snape showed him the Dark Mark. "It's like being chained. But being Dumbledore's slave isn't the worst thing Fate could have reserved for me."
"Oh, yeah. You could be in Azkaban. For Merlin's sake, you're not only Dumbledore's slave, you're Voldemort's too. What fate could be worse than that?"
"There is something worse than Cruciatus. Have you ever heard of... a guilty conscience? I don't think so. It is a very complex concept, beyond your capabilities," Snape added defensively.
Harry couldn't take his eyes from Snape. At that strange moment, he wanted to hug him. Comfort him. But he knew Snape would consider that a demonstration of pity, and would reject it. And even if he realised it wasn't pity behind the gesture, still Snape would reject any attempt of a closer relationship. However, Harry still had a last ace up his sleeve. "Maybe that 'conscience' thing is another of Dumbledore's blackmails to force you to do his dirty work."
"Brat, you are proving yourself a first-rate Slytherin! I believe I'll have to change my tactics concerning you."
"Are you going to teach me Defence Against the Dark Arts?"
"Ten points from Gryffindor, Mr Potter, for your cheek."
"Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff can all go to hell!"
"Merlin save us, were we the ones who created this monster you've become?"
"You don't really want me to answer that question, do you?"
"Albus, the boy is getting out of control!"
"Easy, Severus. Sit down, have some tea. I made your favourite, Earl Grey. No sugar, just as you like."
Snape shook his head, exasperated. But, as always, he obeyed.
"I understand your concerns." The Headmaster looked at him with a twinkle in his eyes. "However, not everything is lost: he trusts you."
The Potions master rolled his eyes, without saying a word. Dumbledore poured the tea in the two cups and offered him a brownie, which Snape, holding himself in by a thread, refused.
"It's all very simple, Severus. You just have to let him get closer to you."
"Albus! What are you saying? You don't know what you're asking me..."
"I believe I know." The old wizard gave him a broad smile and leaned back in his purple armchair. "The boy likes you. And that makes you more frightened than the imminence of a Cruciatus from Voldemort, doesn't it, Severus?"
Snape stood up abruptly. "If you summoned me here to laugh at my expense, you have wasted your time. I'm not going to tolerate..."
"There, there. No need to be so upset. Sit down, drink your tea and let's talk calmly."
With a deep breath, Snape sank back in the chair.
"No, Severus, I'm not asking you to take him to your bed..."
"That would be the last straw! A boy young enough to be my son!"
"When you get to be 150 years old, like me, you'll see that difference is insignificant... But don't worry, I understand how you feel. I'm only asking you to give him the opportunity to get closer to you, to open up, to share his doubts and plans..."
"In other words: I'll have to spy on him too."
"Behind all that cynicism, my boy, you know you have a lot to gain from his company."
"Oh, sure. A lot to gain: grey hair, wrinkles, headaches..."
"He is also changing you, isn't he? That's what scares you so much. Everything will be all right, Severus. You two will come out stronger from this union."
Snape shivered. "Albus, you're playing with fire."
"That is the element that rules my House, isn't it?" said Dumbledore, with a jesting grin.