On stranger waves, the lows and highs
Our vision touched the sky
Immortalists with points to prove
- Joy Division, "A Means to an End"
Snape is watching him. His dark eyes are impenetrable, giving nothing away even as they bore into the back of Alastor's head. Alastor's eye - no, the other one - has rolled to the back of his head. It's a staring contest, not that Snape's aware, and Alastor is winning.
Alastor's often wished, futilely, that he had any aptude at all for seeing inside people's heads. Oh, he can do it literally, sure as anything. It's easy enough to peel away skin and muscle and bone until all he sees is the brain, bobbing slightly in its protective case. But he's never been able to construct more than the rudest of Occlumency shields, the kind that any half-baked Dark Wizard could tear through like tissue paper.
And Snape is anything but half-baked.
Alastor remembers the first time he saw the kid in surprising detail, mostly because everything about that particular trial had been so different from what Alastor had expected. It had been only a week or so after Halloween of '81, when it seemed like half the world was caught up in the Death Eater trials. People were being accused right and left, and Alastor had been called to testify constantly. He had finally put his foot down and said that he'd give them all the names he knew, all the ones he'd recognized in battle, but he wouldn't be uselessly dragged around from courtroom to courtroom when he could just as easily say whether he had the intel or not from the comfort of his own office.
Snape's trial had been before that, so Alastor had been up in the stands when the kid had been brought in. Albus had, as usual, been sitting next to him, looking even more grave than usual. By this point, Alastor had seen enough trials to know the different reactions of the accused Death Eaters: fear or anger or all-out insanity. Snape's trial had been something different though, something that Alastor had never really seen.
The kid seemed dead. Not calm, like the self-assured Malfoys and Yaxleys who could get off through connections or bribery, fucking scum. Just... dead. Not looking around, not reacting as the Dementors hauled him in or even when the chains tied him down. His thin lips were pressed together, and Alastor thought that there wasn't going to be much talking from this one.
That assessment had been terrifically wrong.
"Severus Snape, you have been brought here in front of the Council of Magical Law to answer charges relating to the activities of the Death Eaters. You have been accused of providing He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named with Dark and illegal potions and reporting to him as a spy within Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. How do you plead?" Snape didn't answer. Crouch's gavel came down, and Snape flinched, looking up for the first time. His gaze slid from Crouch over to Alastor, and for a moment his eyes seemed to strip away all of the Auror's defenses.
"He's a fucking Legilimens?" Alastor muttered to Albus, but his old friend didn't respond. He seemed transfixed by the Death Eater, paying attention to the trial in a way that Alastor hadn't seen before. Then again, apparently the kid had been spying on Hogwarts. Of course Albus would be paying attention.
"Severus Snape, how do you plead?" Alastor looked back at Snape, who was now looking at Albus with something like loathing. "Snape, you will answer to these charges!" Snape's empty gaze slid back to Crouch, and his mouth lifted into an approximation of a sneer.
"Why should I," he said softly, "when you've obviously already made up your mind?" The audience began to mutter.
"How do you plead?" Crouch banged the gavel again, but this time Snape didn't flinch. On the contrary, he straightened a little, looking down at the chains binding him with a raised eyebrow.
"Tell me, do you show such hospitality to all your captives," he said, "or is it just the special ones who get sent to Azkaban without charge or trial? I seem to remember a time when the cells of the Wizengamot were actually used for those not yet convicted. Of course," he looked over at Alastor, and the Auror couldn't suppress a shiver at the way the boy's lips curled, "that was before you gave your attack dogs license to kill. Tell me, Auror Moody, did you show Evan mercy with the Killing curse in the end, or did you use the Cruciatus until his heart gave out? I have heard conflicting reports."
"Silence!" Crouch roared, banging his gavel. Alastor couldn't tell whether he was ordering Snape or the audience. Snape settled back in the chair, smirking.
"Not so Unforgivable now," the Death Eater said smugly.
"Filth!" Alastor snarled. Albus gave him an unfathomable look.
"Severus Snape, you have been accused of heinous and Dark crimes. How do you plead?"
"No worse than a phoenix and no better than an Auror." Snape's eyes pierced Alastor again. "Well, perhaps better. I have never performed the Avada Kedavra."
"Irrelevant! Can you deny that you provided He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named with Dark potions?" Snape looked back at Albus, and this time he looked like he was pleading. "Can you deny that you passed information pertaining to Hogwarts from within its very walls?"
"I was never a spy for the Dark Lord at Hogwarts," Snape snarled.
"Liar!" yelled someone behind Alastor.
"I'm not a-"
"Silencio!" Crouch bellowed. Snape's mouth contorted furiously, but no sound came out. Crouch's decision seemed to spur on the audience, for now the shouts of "liar" came loud and fast from every direction. "Severus Snape, if you will not give this Council an answer, your silence will be taken as admission of guilt."
"Oh, Severus," Albus sighed. The boy's mouth was hanging open. He seemed to try to speak once, twice, but when it was clear that Crouch wasn't about to lift the Silencing Charm he simply raised a surprisingly eloquent eyebrow.
"I see," Crouch said gravely. "The Council will remand you to Azkaban while we discuss your sentence." The eyebrow somehow managed to drive higher. Snape, still silenced, was taken away by the Dementors. His eyes were fixed on Albus, already back to their horribly dead state, until the door slammed shut behind him. The audience around them began to get up from their seats, but Albus didn't move. Alastor looked over at Albus, curious.
"Well, Alastor, what did you think of him?" Albus said gravely. Alastor grunted.
"If the scum had any sense he'd plead guilty to the potions charge, sell out a few of his clients, and stop mouthing off to Crouch."
"You believe him innocent of spying at Hogwarts, then?"
"Innocent? If Snape's innocent, then I'm the Minister of Magic. No, the kid's guilty, black as they come. But I doubt he was a spy." Albus beamed at him. "Don't do that! You're making me nervous."
"Oh, but this is excellent news, Alastor!"
"Just because I believe him not guilty of one charge doesn't mean I wouldn't be happy to lock him in Azkaban and throw away the key."
"Severus, how did you put it, 'mouthing off' to Barty is hardly a crime."
"Illegal, Dark potions, Albus. That would get him at least five years, even if it wasn't in the service of You-Know-Who."
"And his charges against you?"
"I did what I had to," Alastor snarled. "Rosier deserved what was coming to him. And don't think I didn't notice that your little pet Death Eater talked about dear Evan, a fucking murderer, like he was a friend."
"Phoenixes and Aurors, Alastor."
"There's a difference between putting down scum in the line of duty and murdering children in their beds."
"Mmm," said Albus. He sounded rather absent minded, but Alastor knew that look too well. Albus was up to something, no doubt a damn fool idealistic crusade. "I suppose I ought to catch Barty before he leaves." Albus stood, but Alastor caught his arm before he could go.
"Don't stick your neck out for Snape," Alastor said, half snarling and half begging. "He doesn't deserve it; he's guilty as sin. And you can't save scum like that."
"What makes you think that Severus needs saving?" Albus said enigmatically. With that, he swept away, leaving Alastor to brood.
Snape flits in and out of Grimmauld Place like a fucking ghost, not that Alastor blames him. It's obvious that most of the Order haven't the faintest idea what they're facing. The majority of their front line fighters had been killed in the last war, leaving only those who took a less active role or were with the Ministry. This Order has no idea what they are getting into.
Oh, there are a few exceptions. Molly and Arthur remember what it meant to have fighters in the family, even if they had been behind the scenes due to having a pack of young menaces last time. Minerva seems firmly on Snape's side, although whether that's because she understands the value of the intelligence he provides or just because they've taught together for fourteen years is anyone's guess. Tonks, weirdly enough, seems to have glued herself to the dour spy, although Alastor can tell that Snape doesn't appreciate that at all. And there's Albus, of course, as firm a believer in second chances as ever.
But the rest of them - Hestia, Mundungus, Black, Lupin, even Kingsley - are skeptical. Some because Snape's a spy, which Alastor can understand well enough. Hell knows Alastor hadn't been thrilled about trusting him back when they were first introduced. But for some of the others, Black especially, it seems personal, too personal for Alastor's comfort.
And that's not even with counting the kids, who are absolutely convinced that Snape's actually a Death Eater. Like it wouldn't be obvious if they had a leak, especially with how much Snape knows. Like Albus wouldn't vet his spies. Mundungus is more likely to be giving them away to You-Know-Who than Snape, if only because he's a careless lowlife who's only in it because another war would be bad for his brand of business.
And, look, Alastor's argued against allowing Snape into general Order meetings. As far as he's concerned, Snape shouldn't know more than absolutely necessary, shouldn't know more than whatever lies and half-truths Albus is letting him feed to You-Know-Who. But Albus is insistent, and at any rate Snape hasn't failed them yet. That's enough for Alastor, even if he still doesn't know how the hell Albus got a Death Eater to defect to their side.
You can't argue with results, and Snape gets them, gets them a damn sight better than most of the Order. It's too much like not looking a gift horse in the mouth for Alastor to trust him absolutely, but he trusts Albus, and that's enough for now.
The second time Alastor meets Snape, it isn't an accident. Fuck, it's at Albus's request. Alastor has always been shite at turning Albus down, even when he thinks that Albus is being a damn fool. Still, he had never thought that he'd be willing to brave Azkaban, not by his oldest friend. It just went to show that you could never know a man.
"I still don't see why you'd bother," Alastor muttered as they waited for the Dementors to bring the Snape boy. There was only one place in Azkaban that was suitable for their purposes, an interrogation room that was hardly comfortable but gave them privacy. Absolute privacy was the one thing that Albus had insisted on, no matter how Alastor had argued that they ought to have at least three Aurors to keep Snape from becoming violent.
"I believe, Alastor, that things will become clearer to you after our interview with Severus," Albus said.
"Don't know what you think you'll get out of him. I've see the transcripts from his interrogations. The kid doesn't know shit we haven't got already." Albus just hummed pleasantly, and Alastor resigned himself to not getting anything out of him, not until the older man was good and ready.
The door opened with a horrid creak, and Alastor steeled himself as the Dementors entered, trying not to cringe away. If he had to spend much longer in this hellhole, he might just go as soft as Albus. Snape was being carried between the Dementors, eyes crushed shut and struggling weakly. His mouth was moving frantically, and Alastor realized that Crouch's Silencing Charm must have not been lifted.
"Finite Incantatem," Albus said, apparently realizing the same thing.
"-told you, I don't know, don't know anything else, please-"
"Severus," Albus said. Snape opened his eyes, for a moment looking so terribly hopeful that even Alastor ached with it. The next moment, Snape's face fell, hope sucked away by the Dementors that flanked him.
"Headmaster," he said. "Headmaster, I swear, I wasn't spying on you, I wasn't-"
"I believe you, Severus." Albus turned to the Dementors. "You are dismissed. Go back to your posts." The Dementors nodded, leaving Snape swaying on the spot.
"Albus, are you sure? This one seems to have some fight left in him. Might be dangerous." Snape turned to Alastor with a look of undisguised loathing.
"Him! What's he doing here?"
"All in good time. Sit, Severus." Snape collapsed bonelessly into the hard wooden chair they used for interrogations. Albus frowned. With a flick of his wand, it had changed into a squishy armchair. Snape closed his eyes as he sunk into it, whimpering with pleasure. Another flick, and Albus had conjured two more identical armchairs. Alastor sat in his, grumbling.
"What is this, a bloody social call?" he said. Snape actually had the audacity to snort.
"Close enough," Albus said. "Now, Severus, I'm sure you have questions for me." Snape opened his eyes reluctantly, like if he didn't keep them closed he'd wake up in a nightmare.
"Yaxley?" he said. Albus shook his head sadly.
"Off on a technicality. They're blaming the leak in the Department of Mysteries on Rookwood." Snape scoffed.
"Like he isn't Yaxley's patsy. Tell me the bastard at least lost his job." Albus shook his head again. "Great. He'll have half the Ministry feeding him intel within a year, mark my words. You want me to keep in contact with him, correct?"
"If you are able."
"Albus, what the hell is this about?" Alastor burst out. Snape, the bastard, looked absolutely delighted.
"Oh, you didn't tell him, did you?"
"I felt that a practical demonstration would be better, yes."
"Albus..." Alastor growled. Albus turned to him, eyes twinkling maddeningly.
"Do you remember how, a little over a year ago, I told you of a new source of intelligence, one that only those we had the greatest confidence in could know even existed?" Alastor nodded reluctantly. Damn it, he could see where this was going. "Severus defected, and he has been giving us intelligence on Lord Voldemort ever since." Snape flinched at Albus using You-Know-Who's name, but he still managed to look horrifically smug.
"Wait, just Snape? I thought-"
"You thought I had a network?"
"With the amount you were passing to me, yeah, I thought you had a network."
"There were, at times, other sources. None of them besides Severus lasted more than a few weeks, however. Voldemort's methods of ensuring loyalty are quite thorough."
"Which just makes it more likely that Snape's a double agent!"
"Alastor, Severus has proven himself trustworthy, I assure you." Alastor opened his mouth to argue.
"Lucius?" Snape said quickly.
"He avoided Azkaban by claiming to be under the Imperius." Snape nodded, a hint of a smile on his face.
"Happy that your friend got off, Snape?" Alastor snapped.
"He has a one-year-old son," Snape said dryly. "But by all means, deprive a child of his father and have him grow up with the shadow of Azkaban hanging over him. That won't have consequences at all."
"Oh, so we should allow murderers and Death Eaters to walk free for the sake of their spawn?"
"Alastor," Albus said. Alastor glared at him, but the man had already turned his attention back to the Death Eater. "Anything else, Severus?"
"Are you planning on getting me out of here?" When Albus didn't answer immediately, Snape sat up as well as he could, nerves clearly fraying. "It's only - I can't do much in here. You said you wanted me to keep an eye on Yaxley, see what he knows. I can't do that here, I can't-"
"I am sensible to your concerns, Severus," Albus said. "Unfortunately, the only way I can find to give you your freedom will make it impossible for my plans to fall into place, unless..."
"Unless?" said Snape, sounding desperate.
"How confident are you that your connections can be maintained no matter what?"
"That depends on what you mean."
"I would have to reveal your role as a spy, all of it. Alastor would support my assessment of your intelligence work."
"What makes you think I'd do anything of the sort?" Alastor grumbled. It was a token protest, he knew. He was already going over, in his mind, the Aurors who had been saved with the intel that Albus had passed to him. It was an impressive list, not that he'd ever tell Snape.
"How public would be this revelation?" Snape said, looking very pale.
"It would be common knowledge within the Council of Magical Law, at least. Quite possibly throughout the Ministry, though I doubt that most would take notice."
"But my connections will!"
"Will you be able to convince them of your continued loyalty to Voldemort?" Snape was quiet for a moment, obviously deep in thought. With the way that he was gripping the arm of his chair like a drowning man, Alastor could tell that the Snape would rather die than tell Albus he couldn't keep spying if his cover was blown. For the first time, Alastor felt some stirrings of compassion for the kid.
Look, Alastor was an Auror. He knew how to spy on people, though his talents were more in the vein of sitting in disreputable pubs and listening for loose-tongued maggots. More to the point, he knew men, good men, who had joined the Ministry specifically to spy for them, for the good guys. And Alastor knew that there were some things that just weren't done.
The first rule of any spy operation was to keep the agent's cover at any cost. The second rule was to never put the agent in a situation where they had to choose between their spymaster and their mark. Aurors may have been some of the most talented and well-trained witches and wizards in the world, but they were a Knut a dozen compared to decent spies. So you gave them leeway, you protected them from departmental rules and international law, you did whatever you damn well had to in order to keep them on your side and giving you intelligence.
Albus was breaking both those rules to pieces with what he was doing, by saying that he'd only get Snape out of Azkaban if he could continue acting as a spy. Alastor still wasn't convinced that Snape hadn't been pulling a fast one, but if he hadn't, if what Albus thought was true, nobody was giving Snape a goddamn reason to stay on their side and not sell them out.
"Maybe," Snape said at last, his voice coming out in a defeated whisper. "I - Lucius, at least, I can convince, and he has - I could do it. It would take time, but I could try." Albus nodded.
"Very well," he said. "I will begin working with Alastor to secure your release. In the meantime..."
"I can hardly do anything from in here, Headmaster." Snape was pressing himself into the fabric of the armchair, like if he tried hard enough he could meld into the thing and not have to go back to the Dementors.
"You won't be in here long," Alastor said, not even realizing that he was, essentially, throwing his lot in with a maybe Death Eater, maybe spy. "We keep track of what intelligence comes from where, and we've been depending on the source that's been passing through Albus for ages. If he can get me proof that it was you, I can put down a dozen times, at least, where it meant the failure or success of an operation." Snape eyed him, suspicious.
"Thank you," he said stiffly.
"Before we go, is there anything else you would like to tell or ask me, Severus?" Albus said. To Alastor's surprise, Snape didn't turn back to Albus but instead addressed Alastor.
"Evan?" Alastor didn't answer. "What happened to Evan?"
"Bastard deserved it." Snape glared at him.
"You owe me. I gave you the - I sold him out. You killed him. You owe me."
"I don't owe you anything, Snape. You knew what you were getting into when you defected. Don't pretend that you can go spying on Death Eaters and come out smelling like roses."
"Are you sure you want to know, Severus?"
"It doesn't matter what I want. I need to know."
"Alastor," Albus said softly. Alastor sighed. He couldn't have told anyone, even himself, why he was so reluctant to tell Snape what had happened.
"He died while we were interrogating him. Nothing we could do."
"How long?" Alastor didn't pretend that he didn't know what Snape was talking about.
"Three hours." Snape flinched. "We didn't - We thought Rosier could take it. We were planning on bringing him in to Azkaban."
"Then dying really was a kindness," Snape muttered. He looked back up at Albus, expression clouding over until it was completely blank. "How long until..."
"It will most likely take a few weeks," Albus said, "and there will be an appeal." Snape nodded, looking pale.
"I can survive a few more weeks," he said. Alastor looked away when the Dementors came for the kid. He didn't want nor need to see that, not when he knew for a fact that it would be a damn sight longer than a few weeks before the appeal land on Crouch's desk.
Alastor stays after the meeting at Albus's request. The rest of the Order trickles out slowly, discussing their tasks in low voices and shooting odd glances at the few who are making no move to get up. Alastor gestures towards Albus, which is explanation enough, but he doesn't miss the mistrustful looks being shot Snape's way. The stupid kid just glares back haughtily, only stopping to smirk at something Minerva whispers to him.
"So, what's this about?" Alastor grunts, shifting so that he's a little closer to the other men. Snape's expression is as even as ever, but Alastor can see how the spy draws away from him slightly.
"Severus has come to me with a grave piece of news," Albus says. "I feel that you are the best able to make use of it."
"Alright, Snape. Let's hear it," Alastor says. Snape straightens slightly, hands clasping together like a schoolboy about to give a recitation.
"The Dark Lord is planning a mass breakout from Azkaban the Friday after next. He will be specifically targeting his most loyal followers."
"Shit!" Alastor curses. "He's already that confident?" Snape nods. "Do you have names?"
"Of the leaks or the targets?" Alastor scowls, and Snape waves it aside. "I don't know the names of those he's planning on liberating, but I can guess. All three of the Lestranges, at the very least. Probably Dolohov and," Snape winces a little, "and Mulciber. I will know more as the date approaches."
"He's planning on you being there, then?" Snape hesitates.
"I don't believe so. I'm too valuable for him to waste on an operation like this. Lucius will be involved, however, and he has no secrets from me."
"Fine," Alastor grunts. "But what the hell am I supposed to do about this?"
"Warn the Ministry. Have them increase security," Albus says.
"I'm not with the Ministry anymore, Albus. My word doesn't mean shit there. Why don't you have Kingsley do it?"
"Kingsley has enough trouble diverting Cornelius. He shouldn't be distracted by this."
"Besides," Snape says softly, "it may be best not to involve the Ministry." Alastor's eye narrows.
"What do you mean by that?"
"There are two ways that the Dark Lord could go about this," Snape says. "He could have some of us - of the Death Eaters break his targets out, but that is unlikely. He doesn't want to be revealed to the public, not yet, not without the prophecy in hand. So his other option is an alliance with the Dementors. If he chooses that route, and I believe he will, the Ministry increasing security would play right into his hands."
"The Dementors are under Ministry control."
"The only reason he didn't use them in the last war was because he was too focused on crushing the resistance of the Order to bother with allies. He will not be so short-sighted again. You know he has already established alliances with the giants and with Greyback's pack. What makes you think that you can stop him from-"
"They've been under Ministry control for over a hundred years! Sweet Merlin, Snape, make some sense."
"You call that under control?" Snape jumps to his feet and begins pacing. "Look, back when Azkaban was established, the Dementors were given the choice between imprisonment or genocide. They chose imprisonment - And, yes, Auror Moody, Azkaban holds them just as it does the Death Eaters. They have been angry at the Ministry for a long time. Would you blame them for joining the Dark Lord? He offers them freedom and feasting. Would you stay with those who only offer you imprisonment and bread and water?"
"Fine, I see your point," Alastor says reluctantly. Damn Snape for being right! "So how the hell do you propose we stop this? We can't let Death Eaters break out of Azkaban."
"I don't know," Snape says. He stops pacing, staring into the fire.
"I was hoping you would have some suggestions, Alastor," Albus says. Alastor leans back in his chair with a sigh, turning the problem over in his mind. The longer he thinks about it, the more it looks like there might not be a decent answer. The Dementors are the first and only line of defense in Azkaban, and it isn't like they have anything that would make them less likely to defect. If it could even be called defecting, the way Snape talked about it.
"I'm beginning to seriously question why I ever worked for the Ministry," Alastor says. He sees Snape's lips twitch at that.
"And people wonder why I chose to spy for the Headmaster instead," he says.
"I figure something out," Alastor says, standing. "Call in some old debts, maybe get some Aurors stationed at Azkaban. I can't guarantee anything, mind you."
"I'm sure you'll do everything you can," Albus says. Alastor doesn't respond to that except by catching Snape's eye. The younger man closes his eyes and nods, just slightly, just enough. No one in this war knows better than Snape just how worthless "everything" can be.
Alastor had been too swamped to seriously consider going to Snape's appeal. He had been put in charge of flushing out the Death Eater cells, and he hadn't had a decent week of sleep in the six months since Snape had been locked up in Azkaban. So the next time he saw Snape, the kid had been given his freedom. For whatever that was worth.
"Albus," Alastor said, nodding at his friend as he entered his office. Then he frowned. "Snape."
"Auror Moody," Snape said coldly. Even under layers of robes, he looked painfully emaciated, his wrists so thin that Alastor could've easily snapped them.
"I was hoping to find you here, Alastor," Albus said, smiling serenely. Alastor scowled.
"More likely than finding me anywhere else. Every time I think our job's finished, another bloody Death Eater cell pops out of nowhere. And that's not even counting the usual threats we have to work on. Why're you here, Albus?"
"Why, to help you, of course!"
"Why don't I like the sound of that?" Alastor half expected Snape to snort at that, or at least give some indication that he'd heard. God knows that kid had been eager enough to jump on any sign of Alastor being dissatisfied with Albus before. Snape doesn't even blink. "Well, what have you got for me?"
"Severus has agreed to help infiltrate the remaining Death Eater cells."
"He wants to spy for the Ministry?" Alastor's magical eye spun over towards the kid, though he kept his real eye fixed on Albus. Snape would be an asset, certainly, but he hadn't expected the kid to want to get back into spywork, not with a cushy job waiting for him back at Hogwarts.
"Believe me, Auror Moody, working for the Ministry is the last thing I want," Snape says. "You'll be borrowing me from the Headmaster, nothing more."
"And what makes you think that we don't have perfectly good spies in the Auror Office?"
"This wasn't my idea, I assure you."
"Severus," Albus said, his voice carrying just a hint of warning.
"Headmaster, you know my reservations, you can't expect me to just-"
"I expect you to keep your word, Severus." Snape bristled like an offended cat. "Assisting the Ministry in this is the best way to ensure that." Alastor blinked. Well, wasn't that interesting.
"Headmaster..." Snape trailed off unhappily, voice tight and pinched with mistrust.
"Nah, let me hear these reservations, Albus," Alastor said.
"That won't be necessary," Albus said.
"I'm not working with a spy who trusts his marks more than his handlers," Alastor said bluntly.
"I assure you, Alastor, I trust Severus, and I have complete confidence in his ability."
"Yeah, well, I'm not the one you have to convince here, am I?" Alastor turned to Snape. The kid still looked unhappy, no surprise there, but he did seem a little less tense. Confused as hell, but less tense. "So, Snape, what're your reservations here?"
"Nothing that will affect my ability to infiltrate the remaining Death Eaters," Snape said quickly.
"Never said they were."
"Then I don't see how this is relevant, Auror Moody." Merlin, but the kid was relentlessly aggravating.
"I'd say that they're pretty fucking relevant, Snape. I can't have you defecting at the first sign of trouble." Snape's tension was back.
"I'm not going back to their side," he snapped.
"Course you aren't. But you don't trust the Ministry not to think you have." Snape flinched at that. He managed to minimize the movement, but he still flinched. "Am I wrong?"
"The Ministry used my silence as evidence of guilt. After putting me under the Silencing Charm, mind you," Snape said quietly. "Of course I don't fucking trust them."
"I don't blame you," Alastor said. Snape actually looked him in the eye, he was so shocked. "But I can't have a spy that doesn't trust the Ministry utterly."
"I don't need to trust them to do my job." Fucking hell, what kind of operation had Albus been running? "I'll still be reporting to the Headmaster; you'll just be borrowing me." With the way Snape said "borrowing," it was obvious he was trying to convince himself.
"What makes you think you can do better than the spies I already have?" Alastor said.
"How many of your spies have the Dark Mark?" Snape countered, obviously more comfortable defending his abilities than explaining his distrust towards the Ministry. Alastor's mouth dropped open at that bit of information.
"Shit, you were that far in?"
"I've never claimed to be a good man, much less a hero." The unlike you went unspoken. "I was given the Dark Mark shortly before turning to the Headmaster." Huh. Well, that answered some of the questions that had been going through Alastor's mind the last few months. The kid had obviously been content to stay on the outskirts of You-Know-Who's forces, probably something to do with that illegal potions charge that had never been adequately explained, only to get cold feet when he was saw what he'd been helping with. Still didn't explain what the hell he'd told Albus to get the man to trust him so much, but Alastor could at least see how Snape defecting had even happened.
"Well," Alastor said. "That would help, wouldn't it?" He looked down at the parchment covering his desk. He didn't want to accept Snape's help, especially since he knew that the spy wasn't exactly enthusiastic about collaborating with the Ministry. But the Death Eater cells were popping up and doing damage faster than they could smoke them out. Having a relatively high-ranking Death Eater to help them figure out where the hell these maggots were coming from could be the difference between squashing this out or letting it get completely out of hand.
And they needed a breakthrough. Fucking hell, they needed a breakthrough. Too many people had been hurt or killed because they hadn't been able to shut this down already.
"Fine," Alastor said at last, "but we're keeping this just between the three of us. I don't need the MLE and the HAO getting on my case about taking unregistered sources of information again." Snape relaxed slightly.
"It's probably just as well," he said. "After all, I'm planning on using a grudge against the Ministry for throwing me in Azkaban as my cover story. Wouldn't want someone like Yaxley finding out that I'm actually reporting to Auror Moody, of all people."
The Azkaban breakout happens just like Snape said. Fucking everything keeps happening just like Snape says it's going to, and Alastor is beginning to think that they should just give in and make Snape the head of the Order of the Phoenix. He might not have any more answers than Albus, but at least he seems to be actively trying. Albus, the bloody bastard, keeps acting like waiting on the Ministry seeing sense is a strategy and not a cop-out.
They do see sense, eventually, but not before a bunch of teenagers almost get themselves killed and You-Know-Who shows up in the Ministry atrium. And isn't that just a load of fun mopping up, what with the Death Eaters to subdue and the memories to collect from traumatized kids. Granger was hit with something that'll have her on half a dozen potions for months, and of course Black went and got himself killed. With all the chaos on their end, it's no surprise that Alastor barely sees Snape for a while. He can't imagine that it's a particularly restful time for the Death Eaters either.
The first time he sees more than the trailing tail of Snape's billowing robes is late one night in one of the lesser-used rooms of Grimmauld Place. Alastor has actually been trying to catch Snape for over a week, ever since Albus showed up at one of their meetings with a shriveled, blackened hand and no good explanation. There's no way in hell that Albus had managed to stop a curse like that by himself, and Alastor would bet anything that Snape had been the one to handle it. Still, the way that he finds the kid is surprising even by those standards.
"Snape," he says. The spy is standing in front of the fire, arms around himself like a cage to keep out the world. "Snape, what happened?"
"Don't," Snape croaks. "I can't. Not - Not tonight."
"Snape..." Alastor isn't good at gentle. He's never been good at gentle. Still, he tries to approach the kid gently, as though he's a deer that might be spooked if Alastor moves too suddenly.
"Please-" Alastor touches his shoulder, and Snape folds in on himself. He lets Alastor pull him in, not into a hug exactly, but the closest possible approximation. His forehead rests against Alastor's shoulder, and he can feel the kid trembling slightly. It's quite possibly the strangest thing Alastor's ever done.
"It's alright, Snape," he says, patting the kid's shoulder awkwardly. "It's - It's alright." Of course, knowing Snape, it really isn't. "What's this about?" Snape lets out a kind of wheezing half-sob.
"The Headmaster..." he says.
"Something's wrong with Albus?" Snape's trembling gets worse, and Alastor knows that he's gotten it right. "What is it?"
"I'm not supposed to tell anyone who doesn't already know." A jolt of anger goes through Alastor, hot enough to burn.
"Fuck that," he snaps. "If something's going wrong with Albus, I should know about it. Hell knows he needs somebody to keep his plans going if he gets put out of commission." The way Snape goes shock-still tells Alastor everything. "Oh, fuck no."
"The Headmaster is dying," Snape says, his voice forcefully emotionless. Alastor can't decide whether he wants to punch something or sit down and cry. "The curse - I tried everything, but it's going to spread." Oh, he's definitely leaning towards punching something.
"How long?" he says instead.
"A year? I'm not sure. He's not - He's not letting me look at it as often as I'd like, so I don't know-"
"Fuck," Alastor breaths. "Fuck!" he almost shouts. Snape pulls away from him fearfully, but Alastor's too pissed off to really notice. "That absolute fucker! Doesn't it even cross his mind that maybe, maybe he should tell the rest of his little resistance group that our fucking leader is about to kick the bucket? Doesn't he think that might be a relevant piece of information?"
"I'm sorry," Snape says. Alastor waves him off.
"I'm not blaming you. God, that bastard! At least at the Ministry, they had a concept of what 'need to know' info was!" Alastor kicks the edge of the marble fireplace, which turns out to be a shit decision. "Fuck!"
"I'm doing all I can," Snape says. "I'll try to get him to let me look at it. I don't know, I don't know, he's been more... distant than usual."
"Well, if you're saying that, we're completely fucked." Alastor looks back at Snape. He hasn't seen the kid looking so hopeless since Azkaban, and back then he'd thought Snape was scum. Seeing him like that now is a thousand times worse, and Alastor doesn't know what the hell he's supposed to say to make it better.
"I - Whatever happens, can I report to you?" Snape says. Alastor can smell another plan that he's not in on, but that's alright. The kid will need someone to report to once Albus dies anyways, and it seems like somewhere along the line that person became Alastor.
"Of course," Alastor grunts. "We can hardly carry on this war without our chief spy." Snape gives him a small smile that's heavy with a horrible kind of relief, and Alastor shivers. He tries not to examine just how much trust he has in an ex-Death Eater and how much trust Snape has in a Ministry man. It seems too unlikely to be real, but what other choices do they have?
Snape is hardly a hero, but then again neither is Alastor. The trust they have, tenuous though it is, will have to be sufficient.