PROLOGUE: The Memory of a Secret
The beginning of the end.
Severus Snape knew it was fast approaching, the moment he had agreed to yet again another of Albus –too many middle names –Dumbledore's hair-brained scheme.
The dungeons held many secrets, some of which would forever be shrouded in mystery and darkness –others would become known only to a select few –a few, that included the dour Potions Master.
The dungeons were his refuge –had been his refuge since he was a little boy of no more than eleven. Hogwarts was truly a majestic place, but none held as much allure and magic as the cold, dark and damp walls of the level below the Great Lake as it did to Severus. Here, he was free of those blasted Gryffindors –their straight-as-a-rod ideals; free from taunts, jeers and pranks; free from their judgment –their stereotyping. Here, he can escape his 'dungeon bat' persona and be himself: a secret known to none but himself; none but the four walls of his chambers.
Only a few have ever been in Severus Snape's chambers; and still even fewer have been in, let alone, knew of the existence of, that hidden room to the right of his private office' fireplace, obscured by an unassuming 17th century tapestry of a birch tree –in fact, if you ask the Potions Master, he would confidently tell you then that only he, knew of what lay behind that secret door. He preferred for it to be that way, hopefully, until the very end of time…
But, it was not to remain as such for eternity.
That one chilly night of February '96 became the beginning of the end for his secret. Another soul would learn of the existence of the other side to Severus Snape.
Harry sighed. He thought that when he had failed to get that 'O' in Potions, that he would already forever be free of his 'most-hated' Potions (the Ultimate Most-Hated title being bestowed upon a certain centaur-hating, toad-like lady named –cough- Umbridge –cough-) Professor, Greasy Dungeon Bat from Hell, Severus Snape. But no, of course the git had to get the DADA position, which Harry expectedly got the highest recorded OWL in recent history for. Now, he saw the bastard thrice a week for at least two hours a day –more, if the sodding Head of Slytherin managed to find reason to give him detention, which was almost a daily occurrence. In Harry's humble opinion, he could use a day without seeing the man glare at him with those fathomless onyx irises. In his mind, whenever he got the urge to hex the man into oblivion, his only consolation was the thought that no DADA Professor had lasted for more than a year since Ol' Voldie put a curse on the said position. Harry's 7th year, if he managed to survive for that long, should relatively be Snape-free.
But that was still half a year away, and Harry still had to endure the Potions master for a few more months –or in that day's case, a few more hours. It was Friday, he did not have DADA classes with Snape, and yet somehow, he had managed to land himself a detention with the man.
Okay, so the detention was supposed to be with Slughorn. It all started when Harry had mislaid the Half-Blood Prince's Potions book. Hermione still thought of the vandalized copy of Libatius Borage's Advanced Potions-Making as sheer evil, so she wouldn't help him at all. The walrus-like professor had run out of excuses to give his 'star pupil's' recently less-than-stellar performance –'being pressured' just did not quite add up anymore when your supposed –Amortentia started to emit noxious fumes and ended up burning the nose hairs of anyone who got a whiff of it. Half of Harry's class ended up in the Hospital Wing in various stages of disarray; and with a shake of his head, Professor Slughorn had assigned the Boy-Who-Lived detention, in hopes of 'getting him back in the game.'
For some reason though, Slughorn got off seeing to the said detention (whether it was because THE Gwenog Jones was supposedly visiting him or he had gotten his fat hand stuck in his box of crystallized pineapples, it was unclear) and thought it prudent to pass the Chosen One's punishment to his nastiest colleague who simply hated Harry Potter with passion, Severus Snape.
Based on the instructions taped on to Slughorn's office door, Harry was to report to Snape's private office, which was surprisingly (or not) still in the dungeons, at precisely 8 o'clock that night, for a productive evening of not-so surprisingly, scrubbing cauldrons; The stoic, ebony-haired man may have relinquished the Potions Professorship to Slughorn, but he was still the Potions Master of the school and still brewed the necessary concoctions for the Hospital Wing and the Castle's inhabitants upon request.
A quick 'Tempus' told Harry that it was already '8:05 p.m.' 'Oh joy,' the emerald-eyed young man thought as he madly dashed towards the direction of Snape's chambers in the appointed Defense corridor down the dungeons. 'Snape is going to skin me alive.'
An out-of-breath Harry Potter made it to his dreaded destination, five minutes later. Without further ado, he raised his hand and knocked.
"Professor? It's Harry Potter. I'm here for my detention."
No scathing remark came. No condescending comment on Potters being above and beyond the courtesy of punctuality and wasting other people's time –neither did a polite response. Harry frowned. Was Snape in his lab, brewing? Did Slughorn forget to tell him about Harry's detention?
"Professor Snape? Professor Slughorn told me to come here to serve my detention. May I come in?"
Still no response. Harry purposely pressed his ear against the door. Not a whisper could be heard from inside. Not even the crackling of a log on fire. Was the man busy? Away? Should he just come back another night? But what if he did not show up tonight, will Snape just use that as an excuse to give him more detention? The young man shrugged. Knowing Snape, he probably will. Maybe he should leave a note on his door.
'Wait a minute, if Snape was indeed away, he would've left a note on the door himself,' Harry mused. 'He's that kind of man. I doubt he'd forget to do so even if Voldemort had called for him… What if something had happened? Maybe the git got hurt on a raid, or he got exploded on by one of his many experiments… Maybe he's passed out on his office floor, bleeding to death!'
Such were the thoughts running through Harry's head as he paced in front of the DADA Professor's office door. IT was in a rather deserted part of the dungeons, remotely away from the Slytherin Dormitories and Snape's old Potions classroom. Harry doubted that many ever came this way unless they had to –or they wished to die a grisly death.
Should he call the attention of another professor regarding his worries on Snape? What if it was all for naught? Harry shuddered to think what the stern wizard would do to him if Harry brought half the Hogwarts staff down to Snape's quarters because of an embarrassingly false alarm.
'Why am I caring anyway?' Harry thought ruefully. 'Why should I care what happens to that git? Dumbledore trusts him, but…' He shook his head. The sensible thing for him to do would be to leave his note taped onto the door and head for Gryffindor Tower. That was what he should do. But when was Harry Potter ever sensible?
Harry gently nudged the closed door, half-hoping, half-expecting to find it locked.
It wasn't. Dread and confusion flooded him. Since when did Snape leave his door unwarded? The man was a very private and paranoid person if there was any that Harry knew. With a deep breath, he pushed it open. He had anticipated blaring sirens and flashing lights to come as he crossed the threshold of Snape's private domain. But three steps later, with both his eyes half-closed, he surmised that he wasn't going to be attacked. He opened his emerald eyes. If it was his Gryffindor bravado, or his innate curiosity that drew Harry towards sticky and -most of the time –dangerous situations that made him think it was a good idea to enter the surprisingly unguarded office to find out what had happened to his most-hated Potions Professor, it was unclear. What had he learned from his trip there in his fifth year? The jar of cockroaches hitting his head must've addled his brains somehow.
'That was different,' his mind reasoned out. He just wanted to see if Snape was still snarky and alive…
Snape wasn't there. The fire was burning merrily in the hearth though, but there was no sign of the man in his outer office. Harry surveyed the rather familiar area –he had been there one too many times, and in those times he'd been there, nothing had changed at all.
The walls were made of stone; tidy bookshelves lined almost every part of the room, Oriental rugs in earthen colors covered patches of the paved floor. A simple yet functional desk stood in the middle of the dimly-lit space, as did a couple of thinly-padded armchairs by the hearth. There were two doors adjacent to each other. One, Harry knew, led to Snape's private laboratory; the other, most probably to the man's bed chambers. There were no portraits, no sculptures… nothing but a single tapestry of a birch tree to the right of the fireplace –not even a single Slytherin banner was present, which was quite surprising. All in all, that particular space had the feeling of being unlived in, as cold as the man who resided within those walls.
"Professor?" Harry had suddenly remembered his purpose for coming there. There was no reply, no hex that came his way. He glanced at the two doors. He shook his head again. He wasn't completely suicidal. It was enough that he came into Snape's office unannounced. He had done his duty. The man wasn't there. As Harry decided on what to write on his 'I-was-here' note to Snape though, something caught his attention on his way out.
'Was that –music?' Harry scowled. 'Music? In Snape's quarters?' He looked around. He could not see anything that cold produce such a sound. They say that without one's vision, one's hearing was heightened. He closed his eyes and listened. 'A –piano?' He was not very well-versed in any kind of music, but he knew enough to know that the piano music he was hearing was not of the recorded type that his Aunt Petunia listened to on the classical music radio station. Harry blindly turned to one direction. His ears perked up.
'Whatever it is that is creating the sound seems to come… from here.' He approached the fireplace. The mantelpiece was bare. In fact, aside from the burning logs, there was nothing else in that general direction other than the hanging birch tapestry. Harry furrowed his brows. The sound was louder near the tapestry.
'A musical tapestry?' Having been given a crash course at all things magical at the age of eleven, Harry had long learned to expect the unexpected… but a tapestry that played classical piano music? He leaned in for a closer inspection.
He could hear it even clearer now that he was standing right next to the 17th century heirloom piece. The melody seemed quite familiar, now that he thought about it –it was definitely something he had heard before, but for the life of him, he could not identify the title for. He closed his eyes once more, his ears beckoning him to move closer…
The melody was hauntingly beautiful –it was slow and sensual, almost like a lover's gentle caress, a promise of eternity and romance like no other. It called out to him, reached into his heart and grabbed the beating organ by its sinews. Harry all of a sudden caught himself in an otherworldly trance. His hands began moving on their own accord, reaching for, and lifting the plain birch tapestry up. A carefully concealed, plain wooden door greeted the emerald-eyed young man's sight.
Logical reasoning and self-preservation be damned. There were many things that could go wrong when one dares to open hidden doors –they were hidden for some reason now, weren't they? Harry's adventures with the three-headed dog, Fluffy and the 60-ft. long basilisk come to mind. But the pull of the mesmerizing tune, Harry found, was stronger than anything else that made sense, never mind the fact that he was trespassing in a teacher's private quarters.
With the seemingly surrealistic sound over powering his thoughts and senses, Harry found himself gently pushing the door open.
"Night time, sharpens, heightens each sensation/ Darkness stirs and wakes imagination/ Silently the senses abandon their defenses…"
The low, velvety voice that rose above the melody assaulted his ears like a honeyed poison, almost making him forget his surprise at finally seeing what, or rather who, was creating that rather enchanting music.
"Slowly, gently, night unfurls its splendor/ Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender/ Turn your face away, from the garish light of day/ Turn your thoughts away from cold, unfeeling light/ And listen to the music of the night…"
The small, otherwise cold room was lit up with numerous burning candles –a striking contrast to the one before it. Shadows on the walls danced to the tune of the flickering orange tongues aflame. The sound was greatly magnified in the concealed space. It was like listening to a concerto in an auditorium.
"Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams/ Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before…"
Severus Snape's eyes were closed. His long, ebony hair that did not appear to be as greasy as it did when the man taught Potions day in and day out, was tied loosely by his nape with a thin leather cord; a few strands escaped though, and was framing his pale but striking face. Off were his death black robes, gracefully discarded over one end of the low bench he was sitting on like a puddle of crumpled silk. What he had on instead was a stark-white button-down shirt with the top two buttons undone; what looked like a gold chain hung from the man's neck, its pendant concealed by the rest of the shirt/ The sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. It looked quite rumpled. But what made that already unusual scene even more arresting were those that Harry could not plainly see from his vantage point, partially obstructed by the grand piano, by the doorway.
"Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar/ And live as you have never lived before…"
Possessed. There was no other word to describe the way the dark-haired man was playing that evocative melody. His enthralling voice rose to every hill and dipped to every valley of his accompaniment. His long, elegant fingers softly caressed every key, made love to every note. Harry remembered seeing the man brew during detentions when it was just the two of them alone. Severus Snape loved his craft to the ends of the earth, but it was certainly of no comparison as to how the Potions Master was now making beautiful music in that very room –He was moving like a man consumed with raging passion –a man whose true purpose and reason, he's finally realized.
It was hard to reconcile the image of the cold, heartless git to that of this impassioned virtuoso; But Harry knew deep within him that no matter how improbable it may seem, they were one and the same. The emerald-eyed young man felt himself drawn to that tableau before his very eyes; he was drowning in sensations he could not even begin to describe. What was it that made this man hide this part of him from the world? Was it his loss, or theirs? How could a man like Severus Snape, a man who seemed so jaded and frigid, exude such warmth and vibrancy in a cold, dark and desolate room like this? What was his secret? His Holy Grail?
The song seemed to be approaching the ending. Harry knew he should do something. He was torn between announcing his presence (and thus ending his peaceful existence) and walking away unscathed (or at the very least attempting to). In the end of the split-second debate in his head, he decided that it was a mortal sin to disturb Severus Snape in the middle of a rousing performance.
Harry considered himself lucky as he backed away, unnoticed, from that once-concealed door; not only because he was not caught intruding at possibly one of his most-hated (a little nudge from the back of his mind was enough for him to question that now) Potions Professor's most private moments. No, Harry thought, it would not have mattered to him if Snape caught him and cursed him to oblivion for having walked in on that rather passionate scene. It would not even have mattered to him had Snape decided to turncoat and take him directly to Voldemort to be slaughtered. No, Harry thought, it would not have mattered at all. Anything would have been worth that small glimpse of the dark wizard's humanity. Harry quietly exited the way he came in. He would have to give up another night –or two, most likely –to serve this detention.
As he wordlessly climbed into his four-poster bed much later that night, he paused a moment to clear his mind of the rest of that particular day's humdrums. He knew that he was forever hopeless at the Art of Occlumency, but if only to commit that one vivid image to his memory, he would try to empty his head of all other thoughts.
The man's face… his eyes… he had not seen the man's eyes as he had played and sang, but Harry's imagination more than made up for what he had failed to see. He knew, had he glimpsed into those fathomless pools of obsidian, in that specific instance, he would have not been frozen by that normally ice-cold glare, but consumed –by the burning flames of passion in them, fire that reflected the one from deep within the dark wizard's soul –one that few would ever get the chance to see. Never again would Harry judge the man as cold and unfeeling.
'What is your secret? Will you tell me? Will you teach me? Will I ever truly find out?'
As the young Gryffindor finally closed his emerald eyes to rest that night, his mind held nothing but visions of dark eyes, candles… and music that spoke directly to his heart and soul.
The beginning… of the end.
The memory of a secret.
'Will I ever truly find out?'
-END of PROLOGUE-