SECRETS AND LIES
by R.J. Anderson 2005
Like the tavern itself, there was little about the proprietor of the Hog's Head that encouraged a second glance. The pub consisted chiefly of one squalid, dimly lit room whose windows and furnishings were overlaid with a thick film of greasy dirt; likewise the man who tended it seemed to be made of little more than dingy robes, tangled grey hair and grime. The barman -- as he was most often called, as few people seemed to know his name -- rarely spoke unless spoken to, and when he did reply it was in the form of a single laconic word or, more often, a grunt. No one came to the Hog's Head to converse with its proprietor, any more than they were likely to come for the wine or the atmosphere. The only reason the place had customers at all was because the drinks were cheap and nobody asked questions.
It was not surprising, therefore, that when a cloaked and hooded figure entered the Hog's Head late one July evening, neither the bartender nor any of the other patrons showed the least curiosity. Dropping a coin indifferently upon the bar and receiving a murky half-pint of Goblin Ale in return, the stranger glided to a table in the pub's back corner and sat down. There he remained, alone and silent, with a pair of thin, sallow, prominent-knuckled hands folded about his glass, until his fellow customers had all but forgotten his existence.
Some time later the barman came shuffling through with a tray and picked up a few empty bottles, his air of dull disinterest so complete that no one even saw him drop a small, heavily scarred brass key onto the stranger's table. Nor did anyone notice the hooded man's pale fingers loosen their grip on his glass just long enough to palm the key and make it vanish. And when at length the gargoyle's head nailed up behind the bar croaked "Last call!", the few remaining patrons drained their cups and staggered out into the night without ever realizing that the stranger in the back corner was not among them.
The door of the pub thudded shut, bar dropping and bolts grinding home; one by one the sickly-looking lamps went out, and the main room of the Hog's Head was swallowed up in darkness. Only a single wan light remained burning behind the bar, as the barman waved a negligent wand to Summon the remaining glasses and give them a cursory cleaning. Then this lamp too was extinguished, a door creaked open and shut, and to all appearances the Hog's Head stood empty for the night.
For several more moments the stranger did not move, his head bowed over his untouched drink. Then he slid smoothly out of his chair and wove his way through the shadowy maze of tables to the front of the bar. Crouching, he swept his hands across the floor, heedless of the sticky filth that covered it, until he had found a trapdoor set into the battered boards. One long finger traced the outline of a keyhole; deftly the little brass key was conjured, inserted, turned; and with a harsh whisper of "Lumos," the hooded man swung himself into the newly revealed hole and dropped into the darkness beneath.
By wandlight, it was just possible for the visitor to see that he had landed in a tunnel, lined with ancient stone and winding off in three directions away from the Hog's Head. Another pass of the wand, another murmured command, and the middle path began, very softly, to glow: immediately the stranger slid his wand back into his sleeve and strode down the corridor his spell had indicated. Several paces later, however, the path ended abruptly at a closed door, and this time the cloaked man was obliged to lift his hand and knock.
No sound came from the other side, but a few seconds later the door groaned open and the unkempt figure of the Hog's Head's barman stepped out, a tall gaunt silhouette against the light. There was no expression on his face, nor in his voice as he said gruffly, "Well?"
The other man paused for an instant, then lifted his hands and pulled back his hood. Firelight from the room beyond flickered across his features, revealing the glittering black eyes, hooked nose, and thin, almost bloodless lips of Severus Snape.
"Hmph," grunted the barman, and hit him.
For an old man, he could strike with surprising force. Snape's head snapped back, and he staggered; when he lifted his head again the corner of his mouth was bleeding. In a rough voice he said, "Albus never told you to do that."
The barman shrugged, apparently unfazed by the rebuke. "Not Albus."
"No," said Snape with a bitter edge in his voice, "that, you most certainly are not," and stalked past him into the room beyond. The barman looked dispassionately at his own blood-smeared knuckles, then shrugged again and followed his visitor in.
The room beyond the door was small and filthy, and would have been as cold as the rest of the tunnels underneath the Hog's Head if not for the lit brazier in one corner. A second door at the back of the room stood slightly open, but through the crack only darkness could be seen. A wobbly-looking table straddled a threadbare rug in the center of the floor, accompanied by a couple of equally decrepit chairs, but Snape remained standing, his gaze fixed on the sullen glow of the brazier.
"Whatever you have to say, Aberforth, I trust you will make it brief," he said. "I have business elsewhere before the night is--"
"Potter boy's off to Godric's Hollow, Molly says. Wouldn't let any of the Order go with him, just his friends. Might want to keep an eye out, eh?"
"I might," agreed Snape dryly. "And after that, no doubt, he'll start blundering about looking for the remaining horcruxes. Will anyone from the Order go with him then? I assume there would be considerable distress at Grimmauld Place if the boy succeeded in blowing himself up."
Aberforth Dumbledore sucked one end of his grey moustaches into his mouth and chewed on it thoughtfully. "Might be. Let you know when there's more word. Anything you think the Order should know?"
"Not at present. When I speak with the Dark Lord again, I will let you know." He paused. "I take it that no one in the Order has yet questioned where you get your information?"
Aberforth shrugged. "Run the Hog's Head, you hear things, is all I said. Seemed to be good enough."
"Very well," said Snape, and turned to go.
"Not yet," Aberforth told him. "Got one more thing."
"Well?" Snape asked.
The barman did not reply, merely jerked his head toward the door on the far side of the room. His face was inscrutable, and when Snape frowned at him he merely repeated the motion, adding a grunt for emphasis. Snape's mouth flattened. He stalked to the inner door and flung it open, saying as he did so, "This had better--"
An uncomfortable weight of silence descended on the room as Snape stood staring at the slim, cloaked figure standing in the doorway. The trembling light of the brazier washed over her, illuminating a pair of quiet green eyes and turning her pale hair to gold as she stepped forward and looked up into his face.
Another heartbeat passed before Snape spoke, but when he did, it was coldly. "Miss Moody."
"Right, then," said Aberforth, with a brief touch of his battered and filthy hat. He shuffled backward out of the room and shut the door behind him, leaving his two guests alone.
Maud Moody folded her hands into her sleeves in a gesture that looked serene but, to anyone who truly knew her, would betray that she was nervous. "I'm sorry to have taken you by surprise," she said. "But I thought that if I tried to arrange this beforehand, you might not come."
"You would be right," said Snape. "Unless for some reason you failed to receive my letter, I cannot see that we have anything to discuss."
"I received it," she said. "It was... impressively venomous, even from you. Did it take you long to write?"
Her voice was calm, and she moved without hesitation, walking past him to warm her hands at the brazier. A chill draught followed her into the room from the darkness beyond the door, and after a moment's pause, Snape closed it.
"Your uncle will not like this," he said.
"My uncle will not know about this," she replied. "Unless you decide you'd like to go and tell him, but at this point I doubt he'd let you live long enough to get the words out." She held her palms toward the coals. "Add that to your conscience, if you like."
"That I even possess a conscience," said Snape, "is a rather grandiose assumption on your part, Miss Moody."
He gave her a contemptuous look. "I knew you were naïve and somewhat gullible, but I confess I had not expected you to be stupid. Tell me, since it seems my letter somehow failed to communicate the depths of my profound disinterest in you -- what will it take to convince you that I am not the romantic fool you imagined me to be, and that your only sensible option is to give up and leave me alone?"
Maud appeared to consider this. "Do you know, I'm not quite sure," she said at last. "Perhaps you could try telling me why you think I ought to."
"Two words," Snape said between his teeth, "Albus Dumbledore."
The expression on Maud's face sobered into sorrow and something like pity. "I know," she said. "I miss him too."
Snape's hand came down hard on the back of the chair. "Miss Moody," he said, "Let me spell this out for you in simple terms: I. Killed. Him. I pointed my wand at his chest and I said 'Avada Kedavra', and he died. May I remind you that the Killing Curse is not effective unless the caster actually speaks the words and means them? Perhaps you were thinking I tripped over Potter's Invisibility Cloak in the midst of a coughing fit and murdered Dumbledore by accident, but let me assure you that was by no means the case."
"No," said Maud quietly. "I wasn't thinking that."
"Then what precisely are you thinking? I believe my letter made it plain that I have come to find your company tedious, and the prospect of further dalliance with you nauseates me. Yet you persist in seeking me out. Have I debased you to the point that verbal abuse merely brings you cringing to my heels? Or are you simply too arrogant to take no for an answer?"
Maud blinked, and her eyebrows lifted in a look of mild surprise. "How do you know I didn't come here to Stupefy you, tie you up and bring you to justice?"
Snape made a derisive noise. "No doubt Uncle Alastor would be proud, but I know you're not that stupid."
"Thank you," said Maud.
"Miss Moody, I will only ask you once more, and if you do not answer, I will leave. Why are you here?"
"Because I know you," she said quietly. "Because I know that your words are not who you are. Because I know that you loved Albus Dumbledore, and that if he is dead by your hand, it is only because he required it of you." She took a step closer to him, looking up into his face. "And because you have no one left to care for you, except me -- and I will not let you shut me out."
"I hardly think--"
She cut him off, her voice level but firm. "I never asked you to protect me, Severus. Whatever made you think that you could? I could say that I was not safe from the moment I chose to love you, but the fact is, I am a Moody, and I have never been safe." She pulled a roll of parchment from her sleeve. "This letter must have cost you something to write, but frankly, there was no need. I will choose for myself which dangers to face -- and with whom I will face them."
Her hand closed around the letter, crumpling it, and then with a decisive motion she turned and dropped it onto the glowing coals of the brazier. It flared up instantly, the pages turning gold, then red, and finally crumbling into black ash.
"Now," she said, turning back to him, "that being said, I am not such a fool as to put myself, or you, in needless danger. And I'm sure the last thing you need is to have my welfare on your conscience. So if you feel it would be best for us not to see each other, or speak to each other, or otherwise acknowledge each other's existence, until all this is over--" She took a deep breath. "I will abide by that, and not try to contact you again."
"When this is over," said Snape flatly, "I will be either dead, or in Azkaban."
"Your name will be cleared, once the truth is known. Aberforth can testify on your behalf, tell them that Dumbledore asked you to--"
"Murder is murder, prearranged or not. I could have refused; I could have died rather than kill him." He made an impatient, dismissive gesture. "Not to mention that I have by no means confirmed your touching faith in my fidelity. Burning my letter was a fine bit of melodrama, but it proves nothing. You may think yourself acquainted with the real Severus Snape, but in reality all you ever saw was the mask I wore for your benefit. For all you know, I merely manipulated and used you for my own amusement, and I have been plotting Dumbledore's death for years."
She made a little, protesting sound at that, and the corner of his mouth curled sardonically. "Oh, you can put on a brave face, Miss Moody, but I know that deep down, you have your doubts. Don't pretend you hadn't noticed how much the old fool annoyed me at times, or how much I resented his tendency to gloss over the nastier traits of James Potter and his cronies -- not to mention that manifestly irritating brat of a son."
"That may be true," said Maud, with a slight tremor in her voice, "but I also know that you loved him -- Dumbledore, I mean -- in spite of his faults. And if I cling to the delusion that you also love me, in spite of whatever you might write or say to the contrary, then it's your own fault and not mine." Her voice lowered. "Or did you expect me to forget that you risked your life simply to ask my uncle's permission to court me?"
"Court you." His sneer made a mockery of the word. "You really are naïve. All that little incident shows is what boredom and lust can lead a man to do. Dumbledore set me a challenge that my pride could not refuse -- and at the time, the prize seemed as though it might be worth having. But as I told you in my letter, I have grown tired of playing these childish games, and I will be quite glad to move on." He paused, his black eyes gleaming. "For one thing, Narcissa Malfoy has been viewing me with considerable favour of late..."
Maud's face contorted, and she swallowed as though fighting nausea. "You'll try that hard to make me despise you," she said in a voice so faint it was barely audible. "All right, I underestimated your determination. But if you're asking me to believe that you killed Dumbledore out of malice, or that you never cared for me at all -- no. No, those things I will not believe. Never."
Snape shrugged. "Believe whatever you wish. I don't care, so long as you stop bothering me with your infantile prattle about love and fidelity and honour. The Severus Snape you thought you knew is not merely dead, he never lived. So go away, and leave me alone."
For a moment the young woman before him stood very still, the light of the brazier glittering redly in her eyes. Then she said, "You... want to be rid of me?"
"Finally," said Snape, "we have attained some semblance of communication. Yes, Miss Moody, I do want to be rid of you. I would like that very much."
She took another step closer, close enough to touch him, although her hands remained at her sides. Leaning toward him with softly parted lips, she breathed, "Then kill me."
Now it was Snape's turn to be still. At last he said, "What?"
"Kill me," she repeated. "Why shouldn't you? If all that you say is true, then Aberforth's confidence in you is just as misplaced as mine, and you have been using him to feed false information to the Order of the Phoenix. The only way you can prevent me from going back to my uncle and warning him is to kill me." Her gaze held his. "Not to mention that it will relieve you of a persistent nuisance, and prove once more that your loyalty to Voldemort is beyond question. Or did the Dark Lord never wonder how I escaped all those years ago, when you and your fellow Death Eaters were sent to capture my father and kill my mother and me?"
When Snape remained motionless, she reached out swiftly and caught his hand in hers, lifting it so that the black wand pointed at her throat. "You killed Albus Dumbledore," she said. "Your Headmaster, your patron, the greatest and best-loved wizard of the age. Surely you won't draw the line at one insignificant former student? I'm not even a member of the Order, nor ever likely to be, with such questionable judgment. With so many more important people to mourn, the wizarding world will hardly notice that I'm gone."
Snape's eyes narrowed, and his fingers tightened around the wand. "Don't tempt me," he said. "If I were you, Maud, I would Apparate away right... about... now."
Maud released his hand. The wand remained pointed toward her as she stepped back and spread her arms wide. "All you have to do," she whispered, "is speak the words... and mean them."
There was a long and awful silence while the potions master and his former apprentice faced each other in the ghastly half-light, neither one moving, nor even blinking. At last Snape licked his lips, parted them, and rasped, "Avada--"
Maud's green eyes widened a little, and for a moment the outline of her body wavered and blurred before firming again. She held herself steady, her jaw set in determination and her head tilted a little back.
"Avada," repeated Snape harshly. "Avada Kedav--"
Then all at once his hand opened, and the wand dropped with a clatter to the ground.
Maud lowered her arms and gave a tremulous smile. "You see," she said, but whatever else she had meant to say was lost when Snape spat out a bitter oath and dropped to his knees. Hands clenching in the lank hair at his temples, his face contorted, he went on swearing between his teeth as Maud knelt down and pulled his stiff, shaking body into her embrace.
"Severus," she said softly. "How long did you know you were going to have to kill him?"
"I tried," said Snape, muffled against her shoulder, "I tried to find another way. After I swore Narcissa the Unbreakable Vow that I would kill him if Draco failed -- when I told Dumbledore what had happened, he smiled."
Maud's mouth quirked a little, sadly. "He would." She drew back a little, framing his face between her hands. "You're bleeding."
"Aberforth hit me. No," he said in a sharper tone as Maud reached into her sleeve, "don't Heal it."
"You haven't suffered enough? All right." She brushed the corner of his mouth with her fingertips, then leaned forward and kissed him. For a few seconds, Snape did not respond; then all at once his hands dropped to her shoulders and closed around them, pulling her against him fiercely. It was a long time before they parted, and Maud brushed the hair out of her face with a self-conscious, almost shy gesture.
"No more letters," she said. "And no more lies. Please."
Snape folded her hand in both of his. "No. But as usual, you give me too much credit for altruism. It is true that I did not want to see you suffer by association with me, but it is also true that I cannot afford to be distracted. Not now."
"I know." Her eyes were sober. "That's why I came. To let you know that I understood, and to say -- to say goodbye."
"It may very well be forever. You must know that."
"Go back to your uncle," said Snape. "Ignore, if you can, his hatred of me -- though it would be better if you could appear to share it, but we both know your limitations as an actress."
Maud gave a wan smile. "Ranting and stomping isn't exactly in character for me anyway. But grief..." She looked down at their clasped hands. "That, I think, I can manage."
Snape was silent a moment, watching her. Then he said, "You're going to wait for me, aren't you? Pointless and ridiculous and self-defeating as that is."
"Yes. I am." Her head came up. "And don't pretend you aren't secretly pleased by that."
He gave a short bark of a laugh. "It seems I have no secrets at all, where you are concerned. Very well, then. I know better than to try to match a Moody for stubbornness."
Maud withdrew her hands from his and rose awkwardly to her feet, brushing the dust from her robes. "You'd better go," she said. "I heard what you said to Aberforth: you have business elsewhere. I won't ask what that is, as I'm sure it's better for me not to know. But Severus -- please take care."
Snape unfolded himself from his crouched position and stood looking down at her, his face unreadable. At last he said, very quietly, "Forgive me."
"Already done," said Maud, and now her smile reached her eyes. "I love you."
He bent his head a little, as though her words had shamed him. But in the end he made no reply, only stooped and kissed her again, hard and swiftly. Then with an almost inaudible pop, he Apparated away.
Maud Moody stood alone in the chill semidarkness of the room, holding her elbows and shivering. She closed her eyes, and a lone tear made its way down her cheek, barely visible in the brazier's dying light.
"Not much of a romantic, is he?" said Aberforth, poking his unkempt grey head through the doorway.
If Maud was either surprised or annoyed to find him still there, she did not show it. "No," she said in a resigned voice, "not at the moment, to be sure." She brushed her face dry with the back of her hand and stood a little straighter. "Thank you for your help. I won't trouble you again."
Aberforth gave a noncommittal grunt. "Like to know how you found me, though," he said after a moment. "Wouldn't want anyone else figuring out what you did -- about using me to get to Snape."
"I don't think anyone will," said Maud. "Even for me, it was a shot in the dark. I only recognized you in my uncle's photo of the original Order members, and I thought that if my belief that your brother planned for Severus to kill him was correct, then he might well have taken you into his confidence. It made sense for you to become the secret liaison between Severus and the Order, once Professor Dumbledore was gone."
"Smart girl," said Aberforth, regarding her over the top of his grease-streaked glasses in a way that made him look suddenly very much like his dead brother. "Best be going then, eh?"
She nodded, and turned to leave.
"Only you might step in for a pint, some night or other," added the gruff voice from behind her, "or whatever it is a slip of a thing like you likes to drink. And if you've anything you think you ought to send to someone -- a note, f'rinstance -- I might see my way to passing it along."
Maud stopped short, and her head bowed, although she did not turn back. "That," she said at last with obvious difficulty, "would be very kind of you."
"Got to have something," said Aberforth cryptically. "Night."
"Goodnight," said Maud, and Apparated out.
The old barman, left alone, looked about the dusty chamber and made a sound halfway between a snort and a sniff. "You always were a sentimental fool, Albus," he said into the silence. "Keep an eye out for the girl, hmph. More like he'll ruin her than she'll make anything of him, if you ask me."
There was, predictably, no answer. At last Aberforth rubbed his long nose on one grimy sleeve and waggled his wand at the brazier, which immediately went out. Then he shuffled through the pitch-black room to the inner door, pulled it shut behind him, and plodded up the creaking stairs to bed.
Author's Note: Heartfelt thanks to my betas lizbee and especially cesario, whose shrewd and practical observations about characterization, tone and structure helped make this story a great deal better than it would have been otherwise. Any shortcomings that remain in this final draft are entirely my own fault.
This story follows the events of "The Potions Master's Apprentice" and "Personal Risks", and is meant to stand as a more canonically viable alternative to the popular but now unfortunately AU "If We Survive". I have tried to take into account Snape's character as presented in OotP and HBP, for whatever that may be worth. I have not addressed the question of Snape's apparent megalomania in announcing himself to Harry as "I, the Half-Blood Prince!" but my take on that scene* would be better served in essay form, or perhaps in a brief genfic.
As always, comments and criticisms are welcome. Thanks for reading!
* The short answer is that I think he was simply trying to let Harry know in the quickest and most direct way that it was his textbook he'd been cribbing off all year. Vain as Snape undoubtedly is in some respects, I really can't imagine that he'd still be preening himself on a ridiculous self-bestowed (or possibly Lily-bestowed) title that he'd used as an adolescent, especially as the term "half-blood" isn't that prestigious and any fool would know he wasn't really a prince...
Oh hey, now I don't have to write the essay or the genfic. Go me!