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Chapter Five: Potions Once More

When Snape woke, he was very alone and very cold, lying on the stone floor of his office. His arm throbbed where the Dark Mark burned his skin. He moaned loudly and lifted his right arm. His left was useless. The Auror must have applied pressure even after he was struck unconscious.

He crawled toward his fireplace, reaching for the small pot of Floo powder. He tossed it in, groaning," Dumbledore."
He inched forward and thrust himself into the fireplace. In a rush of green light, and choking on the swirling ashes, he arrived in a heap on Dumbledore's office floor.

The Headmaster was not there, and Snape cursed mentally, struggling to at least his elbows. He leaned against the hearth, taking deep, even breaths. With every heartbeat he felt his Dark Mark throb angrily, the cause of his irritation, the surly glances when Voldemort's power grew stronger, the wariness.

Dumbledore's office door swung open, the ancient oak creaking against its hinges. The Headmaster nearly dropped his parchments, along with a rather large cup of tea, as he saw the dark figure slumped against his fireplace." Severus?" he inquired softly, almost hesitantly.

Snape nodded, and managed," Moody has more pull in Ministry affairs than I first imagined."

Dumbledore set his papers and cup on his desk, bustling forward and kneeling beside Snape. " Are you all right? How did you get up h--"

Snape sighed shakily." Floo," he replied with a moan, straightening himself against the bricks. " Two Aurors came down during my inspection...which went better on my behalf than his, I think, and meandered around for a bit..." He trailed off as he saw the worry in Dumbledore's eyes, as well as the dark, foreboding shadows under his brows as they knit together. " Headmaster?" he tried.

Dumbledore shook his head quickly, as if shaking off snowflakes." I"

" Yes?" Snape pressed.

" Well, Alastor was to come alone, without direct Ministry interference...that was the entire purpose of sending a retired Auror, was it not?"

Snape smirked." May I divulge a piece of...sensitive information to you?"

" Of course," Dumbledore replied somberly.

" Moody was fired," Snape said, relishing the moment with barely restrained triumph. He looked ready to burst out laughing, but the man was quite beyond that.

Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully." Severus...would it be possible that...Death Eaters...such as ones whom you've named in the past...those who had ties with it conceivable that they might have the abilities to gain access into the Ministry and its Aurors?"

Snape sighed." They've been known to do it before. I wouldn't put anything past Antonin. He's a brilliant man; if only he could devote his mind to something better," he added regretfully." Murder is not the path to greatness." He sniffed.

Dumbledore dipped his head. " But why would Alastor converse with known Death Eaters? He despises all elements
of Black Magic, the Dark Arts, anything in those areas of expertise."

Snape's thin eyebrows lifted." Expertise?" he repeated." My, Headmaster, we're getting a bit of admiration when we speak of such treacherous practices, aren't we?"

Dumbledore muttered," Do not think for one moment that I condone Death Eater motives." Snape lifted his head slightly." We must get you cleaned up," he said in a sudden subject change. Snape got to his feet surprisingly well, feeling had returned to his lower extremities and he was able to flex his left arm.

" I think I'm all right, Headmaster--"

" You most certainly are not. There's a bruise on your face that makes Sybil's purple scarves green with envy. Sit, by the fire. We need to look at this," Dumbledore said, waving a hand. A stool and a bowl of water appeared, as well as a white towel.

Snape sat on the stool obediently and tilted his face toward the light of the fire. He bit his lip, thinking. Would Moody be reprimanded as Dumbledore vowed he would be? Verbal insults were not grounds for a 'sacking' as the students lovingly referred to the dismissal of a professor, but would bodily harm suffice?

" Headmaster," Snape tried, his voice sliding into the silky, reverent, wary tone he used when speaking to superiors," What...what will the Ministry...and other...forces...employ to apprehend Moody's actions?"

Dumbledore clicked his tongue in disapproval as he wiped at a scrape on the back of Snape's neck. " Oh, the Ministry knows nothing, of course, as they often do. And even if they did know, they would not consider it. They would address a letter to Hagrid before they addressed this matter." He chuckled at his own joke.

Snape shot back," This is not a time for witty puns, Headmaster, I am quite serious." He swiveled to face Dumbledore, his eyes alight. " I am not going to sit by and watch a potential colleague run free from punishment before he has taken office." His eyes narrowed to dangerous black slits." As I have done before."

Dumbledore ran his hand through his beard." I understand, but without sufficient proof--"

" Proof?" Snape pointed to the bloodied rag Dumbledore held in his hand." This is not validation?" He straightened." I take my occupation here seriously, Headmaster, as seriously as I favor my duty to the Order. Which I know you will be starting again soon, with new threats previously unseen rising to the surface."

Dumbledore acquiesced with a silent nod.

" I also want you to be aware that I am more than willing to accept his position as Defense--"

" Under no circumstances will you do such a thing," Dumbledore said coldly, holding up a hand for emphasis. " You
are a Potions Master, and thus you shall remain."

Snape's lips quivered, and his hands clenched around the edges of the stool." Headmaster, do not be impudent. You know full well I am more qualified for this job than he will ever be--"

" Yes, I agree," Dumbledore said smoothly. "Pardons cannot be dealt out like free pasties, Severus, they take time."

Snape stood, enraged. " What do I have that needs a pardon from you?" he cried, hurt." What have I ever done, short of give every drop of my blood for this cause which you so arduously uphold? Why must I wear this stain, like some proud banner of honor? It's not who I am anymore, it's not who I want to be, don't they realize this?" He sank to sit on the stool again. " When will it be my chance to get rid of this shame?" His voice had died down to a whisper.

Dumbledore laid his hand on Snape's shoulder. " Severus, you must understand. It is not safe, not now, and not at any point in time that I can foresee in the near future. You must realize...I do this for your own safety."

Snape nodded." I apologize for my puerile behavior, Headmaster, I did not mean for it to go so far." He hung his head. " I have overstepped the bounds, as a professor and as one whom I would hope you considered a friend."

Dumbledore smiled." I do, and that is why I wish to protect you. You are correct, the Order will be forming soon. I can see a new threat on the horizon. It is like a storm gathering in the distance, and though I cannot stop it, nor can I hear
the thunder, I can smell the rain."

Snape took a deep breath, holding his left arm gingerly." Storms always wash away what needs to be cleansed."

Dumbledore nodded." Too true."

Snape stood, swallowing. " I have an exploded cauldron to repair and a Veritaserum mix to tend to, Sir. If you don't mind, I shall be readying for tomorrow's classes as well. I am simply shivering with anticipation."

Dumbledore smiled." Good luck to you."

Snape had reached for the door, but turned slowly." Oh, and on the matter of luck...I shall be visiting Sybil soon, in need of a specific...blessing, I believe?"

Dumbledore nodded.

Snape sighed, hanging his head. " It's going to be a very rough year." He gave a sardonic smirk. " Let us hope those words do not prove to be prophetic."

Heartfelt thanks to those of you who have dutifully followed this story, to the very end. I appreciate your reviews immensely. Thank you very much!

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