[a/n: the title's a rather apt reference to slavery]
"You wanted the truth, Potter. Did you think it would be gleaming silver?" Snape asked, his voice cold.
"no... but!" Harry was almost half a step behind in the conversation, still thinking about Snape letting him stay there. He might be pointlessly cruel, he was often impatient to the point of rage... but something here wasn't adding up.
"There are reasons you haven't been told everything, even when it's your own tale, and you've the right to hear it. Truth is rarely pleasant, and never kind." Snape said. Harry nodded solemnly, if a bit absentmindedly.
"Then tell me the truth - you said you spoke up for me... what did you say?" Harry asked, more hoping to see something accidental in the older man's words than anything else.
"I wouldn't count it as much good done, even if it had worked - you realize? A good deed that costs you little is nearly worthless."
"I still want to hear it." Harry said stubbornly, his implacable green eyes belying the softness of his tone.**
"Very well - it was two years, nearly to the day, from when you had been delivered to the Dursley's doorstep. The fanatical Death Eaters had been captured and imprisoned-"
"Except for Lucius Malfoy" Harry Potter chimed in.
Snape looked down his nose briefly at Harry Potter, and then laughed, his rich baritone ringing in Harry's ears. "Lucius has never been, and never will be a fanatic. He is a power-hungry fool, whose only motivation is aggrandizement and lust for power."
Potter tilted his head, and said, "Sir, if the Light offered him enough money, enough status - he would switch sides?"
Snape said with a sharp-edged smile, "Most likely. And if we hatched a scheme that depended on Malfoy being on Dumbledore's side for a few days, it might be worth it." Potter waited rather than interrupting, "When someone's price is power, they are always on sale to the highest bidder. And the Dark Lord would bid highly to win Malfoy back - it would crush morale if he allowed one of the arch Pureblood Supremacists to leave him, to fight against him."
"What's Draco Malfoy's price, sir?" Potter asked, secretly glad that he managed to keep the twist of hate out of his voice.
Snape said sternly, if kindly enough - for a Snape, "That is adult knowledge you're asking for, child. You'll use it accordingly, or you'll suffer the consequences."
"I think I've had enough detentions for one lifetime, sir." Harry Potter said.
"That has yet to be determined," Snape said, his scowl completely masking the grin he felt - the idea of Potter managing a year without finding some way to need a detention was laughable. "But a man's trouble isn't limited to detentions. Draco Malfoy is the type of person who is unpredictable when pressed - and I needn't tell you how dangerous a Slytherin can be, if properly motivated."
Harry simply nodded, thinking about Draco Malfoy - a more spiteful and arrogant, vindicative boy he'd never known. Dudley wasn't nearly as bad (at least he knew he was fat).
"Draco's weakness, his price, if you will, is his family. More specifically his mother. Trouble her at your peril." Snape said gravely, before smirking, "In school, I have always thought it best that children train themselves - so long as the cubs keep their claws sheathed and the snakes remember not to poison everyone in sight. If you wind up calling him a mama's boy, that's perfectly appropriate. Hurting his parents is well outside the bounds of playful activity."
Harry Potter nodded, thinking wistfully about his father and mother - wishing that he had enough memories of them to care as much as Draco did about his parents.
**Harry doesn't realize how much he's learning from Snape.
[a/n: Snape bends the truth as easily as he breathes. That doesn't mean he particularly likes to do so.
Message to Hufflepuffs out there: If you didn't notice that Snape was (presumably) bending the truth with Dumbledore, learn to read a bit more thoroughly.
Perhaps more accurately, his lies (by omission, mind) were constraining how much of the truth he choose to reveal. Slytherins are subtle creatures.
Snape has a melancholic view towards life in general, influenced by his upbringing, no doubt. His thoughts towards utilitarianism do not reflect my own - though I do share a dislike of people that insist on prettifying everything. One can do wrong and have it turn right in the end, can tarnish a victory with innocent blood. It should not be glorified.]