Chapter Two: Hell Itself Invited for Tea
It was said in Hogwarts that one could sense Severus Snape approaching. The air grew colder, there was an unpleasant prickling sensation on the back of one's neck, some guessed from the Dark aura he radiated. One student even attested to watching a thunderstorm accumulate right outside of the Slytherin dormitories mere minutes before Snape burst in to do an emergency search for his stolen gillyweed. Most professors did not believe in the rumors, for they tolerated and respected Severus, least of all Albus Dumbledore, but when he felt ill after eating a bit of treacle pudding, he sincerely debated blaming the sickness on the pudding or Severus's imminent approach upon news of Moody's summons.
When a polite but loud knock resounded on the heavy oak of his office door, he was inclined to blame the latter.
Dumbledore had no sooner opened the door a crack with his wand than Severus had stormed in, as if hell itself had been invited for tea, bringing with him a whirl of black robes, smoldering eyes, and an unfriendly draft from the stairway. He held up the white letter, severely crumpled along the edges and asked softly, so softly Dumbledore almost had to strain to
hear him, tilting his head," Can you explain this, Sir?"
Another aspect of Severus all agreed to with instant unity: He was most dangerous when speaking quietly.
Dumbledore nodded. " I can." He looked away, waiting for the outburst. Three...two--
" Well?" Snape asked acidly, taking a step forward, brandishing the letter like a sword.
Dumbledore slipped his gold spectacles onto his nose and sniffed, gently taking the letter from between Snape's fingers and setting it with irritating caution onto his desk. " Severus, I myself am not particularly excited over Alastor's appointment, as a matter of fact, I found out scarcely five minutes after you left, and then I had the necessity to explain the situation to Minerva."
" Is she being inspected, too?" Snape inquired, fervently hoping the answer was 'yes'.
Dumbledore hesitated a moment too long. The flash was in Snape's eyes before the Headmaster opened his lips.
Snape's lip curled. " I knew it," he hissed." I knew Fudge and his petty excuses for underlings would crawl over here, hoping to unearth some evil artifacts and dirty little secrets about my life, ripping open every book and uncorking every bottle--", his voice was getting louder,"--that I've worked so diligently, so faithfully, to read or concoct for the last thirteen years of my life. They'll be trying desperately to find a reason to throw me into Azkaban for something as simple as an uncovered cauldron!"
Dumbledore tilted his head." Is that really how you feel about the Ministry you've come to defend? The Ministry your father, and you yourself, found solace within?"
Snape's silence, his gaze like obsidian, and just as emotionless, conveyed more than words possibly could have.
" It ruined you," Dumbledore mused quietly. " He ruined you."
Snape did not meet Dumbledore's eyes, but looked away, taking a shaking breath, his fingers curled in his lap uncomfortably. "Yes."
" Is that why you hate Alastor so?"
Snape's gaze hardened, full of fury this time, not blank and bottomless. " You have no idea...the things he's said to me, what he's done to me...the filthy lies he tells when he thinks I can't hear him..." He lowered his eyes. " But I'm always listening," he whispered. " Always waiting for the moment when he'll slip, let the whole world know what a low, pathetic excuse for a wizard he is. If there's one thing infiltration taught me, it is to always listen, even to those who never speak."
His voice was icy. " I can see it, in the way he moves, the way his lips grind together when he hears my name, the quiver of his muscles in his throat, the way his eye swivels madly in his head, like he's searching. I've known many deceivers, and they are about as skilled in telling the truth as they are in hiding their lies. They betray it, in their every breath. I can almost taste it, the fear of being caught, the uneasiness."
Dumbledore's eyes were round and wide, and he coughed to stifle his surprise. " If I'd known you harbored that
" Come off it, Albus," Snape said in an uncharacteristic lapse of silky tone, his voice rasping out in a harsh snarl. " You know as well as the next member of the Order that Alastor and I have had our differences, many of them almost settled with a bit of wand waving. Needless to say, if it had gone to that point, he would be dead. " He smiled cruelly." Pity. Maybe I could be thrown to Azkaban for a murder I was willing to commit."
Dumbledore pulled his desk chair closer to Snape's, folding his hands in his lap. " Severus, come now. Your life is not worth a moment's gratification."
" A moment's?" Snape seethed, standing abruptly. " Everyone seems to think that murder is only satisfying for the split second, that the joy in watching someone else's agony is..." He searched for the word. " Intoxicating," he finished. " But it's not. It is either an eternal torment for a sin committed, or it is a constant ecstasy at the end of someone's life." His eyes narrowed. " I may be a Death Eater, Albus, but I am certainly not willing to kill Alastor for the pure fun of it. I have my reasons," he added, nodding slightly," for perhaps thinking such dark thoughts as I've mentioned before. But to murder Moody would be because of something he's done to me, not to laugh in his face."
" And what did he do to you?" Dumbledore asked carefully. The lofty tension in his tone suggested his knowing that he was treading on hallowed ground.
Snape tensed visibly. " Many things. But I must show him that I am capable of controlling myself, that I am better in all ways of contending than he is." He sat again. " Thus, I wait. I long for the moment when..." He trailed off. " It does not matter."
" Of course it matters," Dumbledore countered. " And if you would only tell me what it is he's done to you, perhaps we could waive this inspection and save it for another time..."
" Or another Auror," Snape said coolly. " Will he be leaving as soon as he's finished? And I'm carried off in irons?" he added silkily.
Dumbledore twisted his fingers in his lap. " Not quite."
Snape's eyebrows shot up at this, and he asked smoothly," Not...quite?"
Dumbledore took a deep breath, standing and circling around his desk. The chair he had sat in disappeared in a puff of smoke. Snape swatted it away irritably. " Alastor...has been asked to take up the Defense post." He turned away.
The gaze being burned into Dumbledore's back was one of immense pain, disappointment, a rejection for the thirteenth time. The Potions' Master's voice was thick with hurt. " You have chosen someone else again," he said softly.
Dumbledore nodded quietly, looking out the window of his office, at the sparkling stars that glittered over the lake. " I have."
" Why?" Snape asked, strained, painfully. " Why do you insist on cutting me like this?"
Dumbledore gripped the windowsill." I am doing no such thing."
Snape stood, slowly rising and creeping toward Dumbledore like a great black shadow." Then what is it you're doing?" he asked quietly. " What is it you look for? If devotion and sacrifice are the criteria for such a position, I certainly qualify. And if bloodshed and torture count for it, I'm the man you seek. But if you intend on hiring someone incompetent and ridiculously inept, then you have found the professor you sought."
" No, I save those skills for Potions," Dumbledore shot back heatedly, visibly unable to stand his ground with Snape's aquiline nose and onyx eyes mere inches from his face. The moment he said it, he turned sharply, his eyes wide.
Snape took a step back, appalled. " I see," he said tightly, turning on his heel. He opened the door and then turned,
pointing his wand at the envelope on Dumbledore's desk and catching it on fire without a word.
Snape hurried to his chambers, a dark cloud of fury seeming to hang over him. How dare he! The insolent old man! Of all the people in the world to have said such scathing remarks to, of all the Dark wizards he could have chosen, Severus Snape was a poor decision. He had sacrificed his all for the Headmaster and then some.
And this is how I am repaid? A burst of insults and a grizzled Auror to tell me I'm doomed for Azkaban?
He threw open the doors to his private rooms, waving his wand like he was producing the Killing Curse and tensing as the heavy oak rebounded off of the stone walls. He thundered inside, the door banging shut behind him. As he strode through the living area, papers left on a low coffee table ruffled and books flipped open to pages where he had left bookmarks. The fire sprang to life and the ashes dusted themselves out of the way. The power of such a man was not to be
He sank onto his bed, running his fingers through his greasy hair. A shower would do him well, something to calm his nerves. He looked out the window, relieved to see that it was still evening. He turned to look at his antique hourglass. About seven fifteen. He had time to wash up before going to sleep, which was always fitful and never relaxing.
He stood wearily and opened the door to the bathroom, running the silver taps a moment later and letting the room fill with steam. He stepped into the comforting stream of water moments later, after laying out an array of simple black nightclothes and a fluffy green towel. If any of his students discovered he used warm, magically heated towels...
When he finally stepped out, refreshed and more than a little damp, he meandered over to the large, silver mirror, swiping at condensation and peering at his reflection. The many scars that crisscrossed his neck and chest would make anyone recoil, though he was grateful for his high-collared robes that hid such disfigurements. He stared into his face, which stared back with an intensity that would scare the skin off of Neville Longbottom. If he was on the receiving end of that glare, however, he didn't think he'd be so quick to be afraid. He understood people like himself, the weary lost souls, the redemption-seeking murderers.
Sirius Black, however, did not gain his pity.
He toweled his hair dry and hung the towel, stepping into a leisurely pair of black pants and a button-up black shirt. Wiggling his toes, he walked into his living area and waved his wand, which never left his side except when he showered, at a teapot. It filled with water from the small sink-area and then levitated to the hearth, where it boiled merrily.
He was about to curl up on his low black couch with a book when there was a knock at the door, hesitant. He stood with a small growl and set the book down, as well as his steaming cup of blackberry tea. He called through the door," Yes?"
Dumbledore's voice came back through to him," It's me, Severus."
Snape was tempted to reply acidly," I don't know a me" but did not. He opened the door and stepped back, wincing at a sudden draft of cold air. " Yes?" he asked loftily.
Dumbledore lowered his eyes. " I wanted to apologize."
Snape turned and waved two fingers, letting the Headmaster walk in a bit farther. The door shut as soon as his heels left the threshold, and he sat opposite Snape in a dark plush armchair. " Apologize for what, exactly? There are so many grievances that have been made against me in the past day I am not quite sure where you would begin." The Headmaster was about to open his mouth to argue, but Snape would not allow it. He lifted the teapot. " Tea?"
Dumbledore nodded slightly. " Please." He studied Snape as he worked at pouring the tea. Such deftness, cleverness, in those hands. It was hard to imagine anyone finding fault in his Potions work. " I feel you will do incredibly well in your inspection tomorrow," he said timidly, taking a ginger sip of the hot tea.
Snape lifted an eyebrow. " Really."
Dumbledore nodded. " I would never lie to you, Severus."
Snape's eyes narrowed, and his nasal snort conveyed his disbelief.
Dumbledore set his teacup on the low mahogany table. " Let me clarify. I have never lied to you in an instance where it was not necessary."
Snape smiled briefly. " You can always tell me the truth, Headmaster. I can handle it, you know."
" But the truth hurts."
" So does the deception," Snape said pointedly. He sipped his own tea and then coughed lightly. " And I don't need your apology. Many things are said in the heat of the moment that we really do not intend on vocalizing, and I understand that completely."
Dumbledore spread his hands. " It's just not fair--"
" You're right," Snape conceded with a glint in his eye. " It's less than fair, it's cruel. It's cruel that I should have made you apologize for something you meant to say."
" I didn't mean to--"
Snape raised a hand. " Headmaster, please. You're putting me in the same room as Alastor Moody, for one. You're making me a subordinate to a man whom I detest, personally and professionally. You are expecting me to be able to control my famous murderous urges for one day. These are trying enough, to be sure, yet I am confident in my own strength. It is his I worry about. And now you want me to let you walk away with words that should never have been said, words that cut deep."
" You just said you underst--"
" I do understand," Snape nodded. " But we are not all forgiven for what we do and say. It is a fact of existence. Pardons cannot be dealt out like free pasties, Headmaster, they take time."
" I see," Dumbledore said hesitantly.
Snape stood. " Excellent. If you don't mind, Headmaster, I had really best be off to bed. I've got a trying day tomorrow."
Dumbledore squeezed his shoulder, walking to the door. " You'll pull through."
Snape raised his cup of tea like a toast as the Headmaster left. " Let us hope those words prove to be prophetic."
There will be a third chapter, I promise! Reviews are greatly appreciated. Thank you!
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