Disclaimer: Not mine. Sadly.
Author's note: Gratitude to Chary cannot be overstated. She betaed and rebetaed this story and if it makes any coherent sense, it is entirely due to her.
You knew, all those years ago, about a secret order that Albus Dumbledore had convened to fight the Dark Lord. Who was in it, and what they did, you knew of that only from the other side, when standing in the midst of Death Eaters as they had crowed reports of this death or that torture in gleeful pride.
Your task had been different, to be a spy. You had been without sure knowledge of your allies, and they had known nothing of you. You were forced to walk alone and in the end there was no one on either side you would call friend.
But many you called enemy.
Albus Dumbledore had demanded that you shake the hand of one of them. Sirius Black was dispatched to locate the other members of the Order… but this time, you would be a part of them. Knowing who your allies should be doesn't make them your friends.
Some, Mundungus Fletcher, and Arabella, are completely unknown to you. Others you safely assume will be there without any mention of their names. Moody. Lupin. Black.
You had shaken his hand, but you'll never trust him, never be his friend.
You looked at the piece of paper in Albus Dumbledore's hand and read the address out loud, a technique you had developed to commit a potion or a fact to your memory. "Will I Apparate inside the house?" you asked.
"No, in the square outside. The house is heavily charmed and Unplottable. I'm sure you'll have no problem, Severus."
If anyone else had said it, you would have brushed it aside as an empty platitude.
Finding the new Order of the Phoenix's safe house was not what he was talking about. You nodded, slowly, willing to accept, for the moment, the assurance that those who had known you fifteen years ago would not reject you now.
You arrive just after sunset, the damp heat of London closing you into an uncomfortable cocoon. Hogsmeade and Hogwarts were cooler, cleaner, less oppressive. But no matter. A man who has endured more than a decade in a dungeon that alternated dank freezes and mouldy heat waves learned not to care about the weather.
You walk up the front step silently, studying the House of Black. You'd heard of it when you were a student. The House of Black hosted parties every summer for the Slytherin students that met the Black family's standards. Every autumn you heard about the party from most of your House mates. Regulus Black would not have been a popular student if he hadn't carried the name. The name Snape had carried none of the whiff of ancient money or the cachet of power.
Yes, it is plain to see what Florence and Bertha Jorkins had unguardedly blathered about on a train-ride north to Hogwarts one year. Now, the house is barely cared for, but the nobility of the lines and the grace of the front door tell their own tales of old money and proper attention.
Molly Weasley meets you at the door before you can knock, and invites you inside with a hurried whisper. "We're meeting downstairs in the kitchen," she hisses.
You raise an eyebrow, as she gently closes the door. "It's the only place clean enough, I'm afraid. The house-elf, he's quite unstable."
Molly's explanation is supposed to reassure you that the meeting is still of vital importance. You have brought your own news, you know the worth of it. But "a kitchen," you reflect, and despise the thought of it.
"Quite," you say in a low tone.
A haranguing voice begins to rant before the final consonant falls from your mouth. Two of the Weasley boys are wrestling with a dusty red curtain that hangs on either side of a portrait. The voice, that reedy, flat tone that you know from the portraits at Hogwarts, shrieks epithets and threats.
You walk to stand in front of it, and look at the hag who continues to rage as the boys yank unsuccessfully at the drawstrings. One of them pulls, and the fabric, rotten with age, splits and leaves him unable to close the curtain any further.
It doesn't matter what she said, because she stops when she sees you, standing there, looking faintly bored with her outburst. Her breath comes out in heaves and she stares at you and you stare back, a noiseless war of wills in your locked eyes.
"You, a traitor, too. I should have known." Her viperous words do not surprise you, only that she seems to recognize you when you never met her in your life.
Mrs. Black turns her back and walks out of the portrait.
You are not the first, or the last, to join the meeting. Introductions are made as they are needed. Kingsley Shacklebolt, Mundungus Fletcher, Dedalus Diggle - these are all new to you, whereas you know Remus Lupin, who limps over from a chair near the stove and offers a hand. You do not take it, nor the Butterbeer from his other hand. Albus watches the snub, just as you know he would. Not a petty move, you tell yourself. Not petty to refuse to take the hand of the werewolf who nearly killed you twice.
Nor do you take the hand of your host. You have shaken his hand once and you swore you would never do it again. Dumbledore looks at you over his half-moon glasses, but otherwise will not comment. You know that he believed the battle is half over that you agreed to come here, to this House of Black, to tell your story of your return to the Dark Lord.
The doors are closed behind the final person staggering down the steep steps. A house-elf, more pathetic than you've ever seen, mumbles under his breath as he walks past you to the boiler closet, and you look away, uncomfortable with his decrepit and angry voice when ordered by his master to go elsewhere -"Like the drawing room, Kreacher, and do a decent tidy and save Molly the effort." The door closes again, and now Albus Dumbledore stands, shaking his head.
The meeting is a retelling of Harry Potter's story. A copy of the Daily Prophet is slapped down on the table, and comments about the obvious skewing are made. A young woman, who addresses you as Professor Snape, suggests one or two particularly annoying curses that might be used on Minister Fudge. Her voice does not match her face, but after a few minutes, your mind connects her; Tonks, the bumbling idiot who nevertheless managed to secure O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s enough to go on to study to be an Auror. Shacklebolt laughingly agrees, and you think that if these were the Aurors that the Death Eaters are to face, the Death Eaters will find it easy enough.
Now, Albus turns to you.
"Severus, you answered the call of Voldemort. Will you tell us what you learned?"
After your tale, the remainder of the meeting is brief. Tasks are assigned, guard duty for Potter arranged, and you stand to take your leave before that cake that Molly Weasley had been surreptitiously decorating from her seat across from you is brought forth. No food from this house will cross your lips.
Nymphadora Tonks follows you up the kitchen stairs, but stops you with a single question. "Professor Snape?"
You restrain a sigh and turn to meet her. "Yes?"
And she asks you the one question you'd seen in every eye since your arrival. "Why?"
Why? Why did you become a Death Eater? Why did you become a spy? Why do you risk your life now, joining them here?
There was one man in the room who knew the truth, and one man who, had he bothered to give any of his long vaunted intelligence to the problem, should have known. Your eyes flicker across the room to Dumbledore and then to your enemy.
To Nymphadora, however, you will give no answer. You turn and leave her standing on the stairs, looking bewildered and unwilling to follow you any further.