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Chapter Three: The Morning of Our Discontent

The next morning, Snape opened his eyes only slightly, and as soon as he had done so, he had to squeeze them shut again. There was a driving rain spattering against the windows, thunder boomed and lightning riddled the sky in bright flashes. It was as gloomy as he felt, weighted down with a dampness he couldn't quite place. It settled on his shoulders and made him tense.

He shook his head, stroking his forehead. It was the same guilt and regret he felt shift on his soul every morning
after the relative respite of sleep. He managed to sit up and light the candle by his bedside, which had burned down low last night while he read, trying to keep his mind off of the next day's unpleasantness, but could not. Brief paragraphs had interrupted his frustrated huffs and clenching of fists, but when he tried to focus on something else it would crash back down on him again. It was like trying not to forget something delegated to someone else to remember.

He personally enjoyed a rain-ridden morning like this one, and hoped it would not enable Alastor to fly to Hogwarts, or if he did, that a crosswind would blow his filthy carcass into the Whomping Willow. He smiled grimly at the thought. Mission accomplished, and his hands wouldn't even get dirty.

He showered and dressed, then straightened before his mirror, inspecting his reflection. It wasn't as if he was preparing himself to impress Alastor, but his longest and deepest black robe would do for intimidation. Alastor may have been an Auror, but the instrument of the Ministry's power that he struck fear into Severus Snape was dead, and had been.

He blew out the candle and stepped out, locking his doors and meandering up the steps from the dungeon. He stopped at the mouth of the hallway, savoring the sweet silence of empty corridors and student-less stairwells. Only until tomorrow, he remembered with a twinge of anger. Only twenty-four hours of freedom without Potter and his cadre of annoying Gryffindors.

He opened the bronze doors to the Great Hall and smiled as he saw the professors lining the Head Table, who watched him with curiosity and hesitancy. They eyed him like a criminal just released from Azkaban, wary and wondering when he would snap again.

He took his seat calmly and smiled at Dumbledore. " Good morning."

Dumbledore veiled his surprise, except for the signature twinkling of his eyes. " How did you sleep, Severus?"

Snape shrugged, stabbing a piece of sausage and dropping it on his plate with his usual deftness. " Well, I suppose, considering the circumstances under which I was privileged to wake."

Dumbledore sighed. " Stubborn man."

Snape raised his fork as a toast and looked down the rows of empty seats and tables. Chewing thoughtfully, he let another half-smirk twist his lips. Soon the voices would rise and he would get the mix of adoration from Slytherin eyes and loathing from the rest of the Houses. They would be sorted in the endless and amazingly boring ceremony, which he had managed to sit through, completely sane, for thirteen years running.

He nearly choked. Thirteen. His thirteenth year of teaching in Hogwarts, and it was the beginning of this year that Alastor chose to make his inspection round. He coughed lightly, touching his napkin to his lips. Dumbledore slid his gaze over to him oddly, but Snape shook his head to let him know he was in no grave peril and simply took a sip of tea.

As if reading his thoughts, Dumbledore turned to him once more and said," You know, whenever a professor here reaches his thirteenth year of professorship," Snape curled his lip," Trelawney offers a blessing and warding off of malignant spirits. Are you interested?"

Snape took another sip of tea. " Mildly," he said in the same tone. " Sybil's skills are extraordinary, but don't you think I've been blessed with enough...luck...already?" He quirked his eyebrows.

Dumbledore thinned his lips. " It was simply a suggestion."

Snape nodded, focusing on a fascinating piece of leaf in his teacup.

Dumbledore added after a moment's silence," But the last professor who refused the ceremony was Professor Binns. And you, of course, remember what happened to the poor fellow."

Snape's hand, halfway to his lips with his teacup, froze. He gave a half-nod.

Dumbledore chuckled." Good lad."

From down the table, Professor Trelawney was clutching her forehead, moaning. Dumbledore leaned over and peered down the row, asking kindly," Sybil? Are you all right?"

Trelawney coughed and clutched her neck, nodding and smiling, her eyes magnified by her round, black glasses. " Worry not, Albus!" She cast a glance at the Great Hall's doors, which Snape was kind enough to close." We have a guest."

Snape's hand, around his teacup, tightened with a white grip. The bone china shattered, sending splinters flying. The
professors lining the table swiveled to face him, worry and concern etching their faces. Sinistra bit her lip, outlined in a deep black cherry paint, and asked softly," Are you all right, Severus?"

Snape nodded, his eyes glinting." Perfectly," he hissed.

" Just who are we expecting?" Sinistra asked, her violet eyes and thick black lashes riveted on Dumbledore.

As if on cue, the great doors swung open, and outlined in the flickering of an orange torch was the huddled form of a man. His limping gait brought him forward, into the full light of the levitating candles of the Hall. One bright azure eye rolled madly around in his head, the other, a dull grey-blue, was faceted on Snape.

Severus was no man to be intimidated, least of all in front of his colleagues. He was not afraid, no, though he had once been no stranger to fear. His thinned lips, his darkened eyes, his clenched, arching white fingers elucidated another feeling: complete fury.

The man was clad in a traveling cloak, buttoned at the chin in the deepest green, and he wore leather boots that were creased from many years of tracking and wandering. His face was scarred and pitted, and a large portion of the bridge of his nose was absent. Any witch or wizard who had lived through the terror of Voldemort in his earliest years knew who Alastor Moody was. His grizzled visage was easily recognized in the public eye. But few men, Severus excluded, would challenge his authority. Severus not only challenged it, he abhorred and saw himself superior to it.

Adherence to protocol did not mean a liking for it.

And since Moody was no longer a real Auror, no longer wore the crimson robes, but instead carried a flask at his hip to ward off unpleasant poisonings, he was no longer a complete extension of the Ministry's power.

Snape's sharp nose lifted a bit higher as the man drew nearer. He hissed," Here we begin the morning of our discontent." He stepped down from the Head Table, extending his hand before he drew close enough for Moody to grab it. Bad form on him for hobbling forward so infuriatingly slowly, he thought acidly.

Moody scanned Snape, from austerely polished black shoes to perfectly buttoned waistcoat, and managed to fling himself forward enough to clutch the Potions' Master's hand. He had to let go quickly, Snape supposed out of fear of letting the coldness spread beyond his fingers. He let one bushy eyebrow quiver before goading," Cold outside as you are
inside, eh, Sev'rus?"

Snape's lip curled." One of my more...endearing qualities." He towered over Moody, like the giant black spire of a foreboding castle stares down on the serf's dwelling. The loathing in his eyes was incomparable, and every professor could feel the angry static crackling between the two wizards, as was evident in their wide-eyed, apprehensive stares.

Dumbledore leapt to save the situation as Snape's hand drifted to his wand, which never left his side. He clapped once and said," Well, now that the introductions have been made, Alastor, would you fancy a cup of tea?"

Moody's eyes narrowed." House Elves: can they be trusted?"

Dumbledore spread his hands." I would not have asked, had I thought they were up to something."

Moody huffed as he climbed the steps to the Table, which Snape ascended moments later with a despicable glare in his eyes," Rotten creatures, they are. Had three myself, tried to suffocate me once."

" Is that all?" Snape whispered coldly.

Moody spun to face him, but couldn't place where the voice came from, as Snape was dabbing a napkin to his lips. He continued, eyes on Snape," They create their poisons...they give them to me when they think I'm not watching...a little drop here...a taste of something fatal there..."

" Pity you couldn't name them," Snape said icily.

Moody sank into a chair next to Sinistra, who separated the two men and did not seem very happy about the entire affair. Her eyes darted between the two, nervous. She laid her wand on the table and held it with a finger. He grated, " Sometimes I consider sending them to Azkaban for their treachery...backing out when my needs were greatest..."

" Loyalty must be gained," Snape hissed.

" Occasionally I find myself wondering how much trouble I'd find myself stuck in if I just wrapped my hands around their scrawny necks..." Moody said with a hunger in his eyes.

" I'm sure they'd be willing to risk the same," Snape said loftily, tapping a finger on the table.

From down the table, Flitwick asked," Are we still speaking of House Elves?"

Moody thrust a fork into a piece of toast and lifted it to his lips, biting off a piece angrily." Oh, yes."

Snape stood, sliding his chair back calmly." Excuse me, Headmaster," he said quietly. He gave a gentlemanly bow to
Sinistra and nodded to the rest of the professors, descending the steps. Suddenly, a harsh voice called out:

" Oh, no you don't, you filthy snake!"

He turned, his eyes murderous. Moody was standing abruptly, difficult with the curvature of his back, his mouth covered with crumbs." You think you're going to slither on down to your hole, tidying up before the big bad Auror finds something wrong with your nasty potions? You think I'm going to let you burn all your Dark Arts books? If you think, for one second, that I'm going to let you take another step while I'm here inspecting, you've got another thing--"

Snape backed up a step, closer to the doors. A defiant fire was in his eyes. He smiled. " Continue."

Moody's mouth was working around something invisible, and he was having difficulty chewing it." You are a coward, Severus Snape! You run from adversity like a spider from the basilisk!"

Snape said coldly," Now who's the snake?"

Moody stood, thundering," You will not hide anything from me, Snape!"

Snape spread his hands, his lips sliding upward into a wolfish smile." Oh, I have nothing to hide, Alastor," he said smoothly, taking another step back." Come with me, I shall show you into my wicked lair," he added with a dramatic flourish of his hand." I shall enthrall you with the noxious fumes and banned elixirs of my tortured existence!" He gave a short, mirthless laugh." Are you afraid?"

Moody growled," Fear isn't in my vocabulary."

Snape said silkily," So few things are."

Moody gave a snort." And you? Dithering about useless powders and cauldrons--"

Snape had been starting for the door, but now, like a hellish wind, he spun round and withdrew his wand. He looked no less than a Death Eater. His eyes burned with absolute contempt." How are you insult my profession!" he seethed, his wand pointing directly at Moody's face, which, in the instance of being confronted with Severus Snape's wand, had dropped its smug grin. " How are you speak of things of which you have no knowledge! I would so love, I so ache, to pour a little draught into your morning tea, I would rejoice to see you writhe in agony before me!"

Moody slammed his fists on the table, rattling Sinistra's plate. She was pale and shaking as she watched the duel of words between the two men. " Is that a threat?"

Snape enunciated perfectly," One which I am more than willing to carry out!"

Moody shouted," You are too spineless to do anything more than spit on my shoes!"

Snape was murderous." I have committed crimes you'll never know! I have done things that your feeble mind only wonders about at night and quivers at the mere thought of! I am not a man to be insulting!"

Moody smirked." Try me."

Snape's lips were white, and his right hand was twisted around his wand, which had not wavered." I have murdered with Curses you've never heard of, I have destroyed minds, homes, children, I have spilled blood on the account of a Lord you'll never have the magic in you to confront!"

Moody said arrogantly," And you, so proud of your useless war efforts."

Snape cried," I have given my sanity and have sacrificed more of myself than you could ever fathom! I am more of a wizard than you could ever be!"

Moody thrust his thumb in his chest." At least I am not a traitor! At least I am not--"

At this, the argument stopped, as Dumbledore shot to his feet. " I have let you both vent for the time, but this is not
behavior I want to see in grown men." He clapped his hands, and Dobby appeared at his feet, his huge green eyes shining with obedience." Dobby, please show Master Moody to his rooms. I must speak with Severus in my chambers privately. Send for me when Alastor is settled and has had a bit more to eat. Make him comfortable."

Dobby nodded and hopped off of the terrace, smiling toothily up at Moody, who looked ready to kick him. He bowed graciously, oblivious to the row that had just taken place, and opened the doors to let the guest out. Snape stood, seething, and watched with hawk eyes until the doors rattled closed. He turned and looked at Dumbledore, his lips thin. " I hope you're satisfied," he said smoothly, sliding his wand into his robes. " He seems perfectly fit to take up the vacancy of resident git when I'm killed off."

Dumbledore came closer to him, patting his shoulder. He led him out of the Hall, into the cool, dark hallway." This will be difficult for you, I can see this plainly, but we must not let your emotions and his...hostility...overwhelm us. You are every bit to blame as he is--"

" Do you have any inclination as to what he did to me?" Snape asked, stopping in the corridor. He faceted his gaze on Dumbledore, pinning him in place as easily as a viper would stun its prey. " When I was in my first years of service, he went out of his way, before my Death Eater brethren, in any public place, especially in front of the Minister, to mention my...affiliations. He nearly got me killed several times. I am thoroughly convinced that he, along with one other Auror whom you've met and who is, and I say this gleefully, deceased, was the reason I was caught years ago and condemned to Azkaban. And this is the man you want me to spend an entire term with." He waved a hand." It's ridiculous."

Dumbledore whispered," Though not impossible."

Snape sucked his bottom lip between his teeth, contemplating. Finally, he said," If one day you find me dead, turn to him for conviction. My blood will be on his hands, I assure you."

Dumbledore, never a fool but always a meddling old wizard, commented," How would I know if you didn't--"

Snape hissed," Because I keep potions concealed in my robes to save my life, not end it. As much as everyone would like to think." He pivoted, a signal that the conversation was over. " Now," he began, starting a new one," what is it you wanted to discuss?"

Dumbledore inhaled slowly." I wanted to tell you that I had the House Elves enter your office--"

Snape took a sharp breath, surprised and offended." You what?" he murmured.

"--to bring your Dark Arts books up into my office, where Alastor will never be permitted to enter as long as he is a professor here," Dumbledore finished." They have also found some rather shady elixirs that would have been brought to the Ministry's attention, and have put them under my care as well. I knew you, being proud of your abilities and one of the few to stand your ground before Ministry jurisdiction, would never confiscate them. I took the liberty."

Snape paled, all color draining to a hidden spot in the floor. " You did."

Dumbledore shrugged." It was best." Seeing the complete devastation in Snape's eyes, he added hastily," Oh, perhaps 'confiscate' was not the right hid them. Alastor has no proof that they existed."

Snape straightened slightly, as the effort of being shocked and appalled had deflated some of his ramrod posture. " I see." He was bewildered, an odd and out-of-place emotion for such a man." Well...thank you," he said with an inclination of his head." I shall see to it that you are repaid."

" Come now, Severus, you've more than repaid your debts," Dumbledore threw the matter away." Have a glass of
sherry with me, Alastor won't be ready for some time yet. I gave Dobby specific instructions earlier to check on all matters, trivial and important."

Snape chuckled." Dobby will suffer for this, Headmaster."

" Dobby has powers within his kind that we can't begin to understand," Dumbledore remarked, walking stiffly up the stone steps to his office." He has been told to check sheets, thread count, goblet design, bed skirts, ewers, mirror frames, bathroom towels, soaps, candles...all items necessary to make a guest comfortable."

" You never checked them with me," Snape muttered, casting his eyes to the windows. The rain had not relented.

Dumbledore grinned." I knew from years of acquaintance with you exactly what you wanted." He spread his hands. " You are an easy man to make comfortable, and I knew the more sparse your accommodations, the more you would slowly let trickle in from your own collections, and the more you would inadvertently let me know about yourself. You were a very guarded and private young man."

Snape said, lips barely moving as he admired the storm outside," I have not changed."

" Indeed," Dumbledore assented, letting the gargoyle leap aside and stepping onto the moving stairs. Snape joined him, his hands crossed over his chest. " You do like sherry, do you not?"

Snape sighed." It's not my favorite, but it will do."

" And just what is?" Dumbledore asked carefully, opening his door and stepping into the warm golden light of his
office. Fawkes gave a low crow and nestled into his pile of ashes. Dumbledore stroked him while Snape inspected a small set of brass scales.

Snape smiled craftily." Perhaps if you let the House Elves do a bit more cleaning, you'll soon discover."

Dumbledore worked his bottom lip thoughtfully." Hmm." He opened a cabinet and withdrew two goblets and a bottle. Pouring some of the sherry out and handing a glass to Snape, he dipped his head." Cheers."

Snape grinned briefly." Slainte." He took a sip, and then reached over to peer at a vial of some potion he'd made, sitting in the Headmaster's wine cabinet. As he did so, he knocked over an inkwell. " Mae'n ddrwg gyda fi," he said hurriedly, waving his wand to clean it up.

Dumbledore chuckled, sitting at his desk and handing over a thick packet of parchment." The Ministry sent these this morning. They are regulations and criterion for your inspection. If Alastor violates any of these, he faces Ministry punishment, as well as a revocation of his former Auror status."

Snape flipped through the pages dismally, a dim smile playing across his features. " I shall read these carefully, of course." Becoming suddenly serious and very pallid, he murmured," If he so much as disrupts a single vial, Headmaster, I assure you, there will be such fury as he has never--"

Dumbledore lifted a hand." Calm yourself, dear boy. We don't need you flying off our Nimbus like this."

Snape quietly fumed, nostrils flaring.

" I will be in my office, here, should any problems arise."

Snape nodded, but a thought sprang into his mind, one which he wanted an honest answer for, one which, if an answer contrary to what he hoped was given, would disappoint him greatly." Headmaster?"

" Albus," Dumbledore said offhandedly, lighting a candle.

" Yes, well, I...I have a very solemn question to ask you, one which I hope you might consider and answer truthfully," Snape managed, wary of Dumbledore's response.

His eyebrows perked." Yes? And would you expect anything otherwise?"

Snape looked down at his feet, running his finger along the edge of the etched glass goblet." Well, I...sometimes..."

" Go on, Severus," Dumbledore laughed, waving a hand.

Snape lifted his head, taking a deep breath." If Alastor...does...anything---"

Dumbledore's brows lifted a bit more.

"--shall we say...characteristic? Of his nature?"

It seemed the old man's brows would reach his hairline.

"" Snape finished uneasily. Dumbledore relaxed." I mean, would you treat him as you professors and I?"

Dumbledore nodded firmly." I would indeed."

Snape did not seem neither happy nor disappointed, simply glassy-eyed and thoughtful." What if...he commits an act...against someone..."

" Who is 'someone'?"

" Me," Snape clarified softly, his word barely heard even in the relative silence.

Dumbledore could see, by his knowing smile, that, clearly, this matter was bothering Snape, enough to make him
take time with his words, whereas his normal tirades were well-thought out, skeptical, cynical, and scathing to the end of every punctuation mark. He stood. " Oh, Severus, you mustn't think that I favor him." He sighed through his nose." If
anything, I favor you."

Snape blinked." Me?" he repeated, aghast." Why me?"

Dumbledore stood in front of him." Because you are the most intelligent, fiercely devoted, and skillful man I've ever met, and you've faced more adversity and tests of true character than any man I've ever known. You are the epitome of the name of 'wizard' and you do it justice. Now, more than ever do you do it justice, and yet despite your triumphs you have flaws and shortcomings no one else can seem to glance past."

Snape lowered his gaze.

Dumbledore said quietly," But I can."

There will be more after about a week, I think. I'm going to be extremely busy, and as much as I would love to keep adding chapters that have already been written, I don't think I'll find much time. Many thanks to those who reviewed; it means so much to me!

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