Dear Readers,

This is currently a ficlit (of roughly 4 chapters) that I hope to turn into a longer fiction at some point, but should stand alone for now. I was originally planning to wait until I had a full story but I have exams and other stories to write before that time so I thought I'd give you a taste of my version of a terribly over done genre, that has a bit of a twist. I'll be honest, mostly I'm just avoiding doing the statistics revision that I desperately need to do :S Hey Ho, happy reading...

Slumped in a stained and tattered armchair in an ill-lit corner of the sitting room of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, the sullen Potions Professor closed his eyes and sighed deeply. Severus managed to tune the talk around him to a low hum as he rubbed his temples soothingly. Only 15 minutes into the weekly Order meeting and he could already feel a headache developing. Sighing silently once more, Severus opened his eyes and tried to focus again on the updates that Albus was delivering to the assembled group.

Having been reformed after the Dark Lord's resurrection, at the end of the last academic year, the Order had been meeting regularly in order to hypothesize, strategize and share information. Members were an eclectic mix of old and new, that included aurors, politicians, teachers and even full-time mothers. Despite their importance and frequency however, Order meetings were currently slow and quiet affairs. With the Dark Lord still suppressing news of his return and the moronic Minister Fudge apparently doing everything in his power to help him, there was little to discuss at their confidential convergences than to lament the Ministry's idiocy and speculate on the Dark Lord's plans.

Severus huffed as the Headmaster asked about recent unusual occurrences. Honestly, the only odd thing Severus had noticed lately was the Headmaster's own suspicious behaviour. For a few weeks now, Severus had noted that Dumbledore was acting out of the ordinary; often making sudden and unexplained disappearances and invariably returning with concern in his eyes and stress etched into his features. In addition, the old wizard had approached Severus a few weeks prior and requested that the Potions Master brew a few extra batches of healing potions, under the ruse that they may be necessary in the current political climate. Severus, of course, had no reason not to believe such a reasonable explanation, until, that is, he checked the Hogwarts Infirmary stores and found that the extra potions he had brewed were now missing, despite the apparent lack of patients.

Severus frowned as he observed their leader speaking from the other side of the room. The old man was definitely hiding something. Of course, it wasn't unusual for Albus to hide things; in fact, he rarely divulged information without thinking about the long term and intricate effects of doing so. But this was different. For one thing, Severus was the greatest Occlumens in Britain and Dumbledore trusted him implicitly, so there was very little that it would not be safe to tell him. Secondly, whatever it was that Albus was hiding, it was clearly causing him some concern. Most, when facing the respected wizard, couldn't see past his jovial grandfather persona, but Severus, an experienced spy who relied on reading the subtle changes of a man's facial expressions, could discern when all was not right with his trusted colleague. And something definitely wasn't right.

As if proving Severus' mental point, Albus suddenly interrupted Arthur Weasley's report on Ministry changes and called an abrupt end to the meeting.

Dumbledore fixed a smile on his face as he spoke in a relaxed manner. "I'm afraid that's all I have time for this evening. We shall pick up where we left off next week." He clapped his hands together as if to signal the meeting's conclusion and a few wizards who had begun to doze suddenly sat up straight. Other faces around the room were expressing surprise and mild shock at the untimely ending of their weekly session.

"Albus?" Minerva frowned in confusion. "You're ending the meeting now? But we haven't even heard from Severus yet."

A few eyes turned to him at the mention of his name but Severus maintained an impassive expression. It was a good point though; Albus always asked him for his Death Eater updates at these meetings. The old coot always knew what he was going to say of course, as Severus would inform the Headmaster at the first opportunity, but Albus always insisted that Severus deliver his information to the Order himself.

"Yes, we will, of course, hear from Severus first next week." Albus now said, nodding his head at the younger man in quiet acknowledgement. "But I'm afraid I have some other pressing matters to attend to, so if you will all excuse me, I'm sure Sirius won't mind if you wish to continue with a more informal gathering for a while longer." He turned to Black for confirmation and the wild-haired wizard nodded his head amicably in agreement.

"Of course." He grinned. "Molly's cooking dinner for any who want it."

"Good." Albus exclaimed, clapping his hands together again. "Until next week then." He concluded and within seconds the room was filled with rumbling noise as people started conversations with those next to them and began to move about the room.

Severus narrowed his eyes as Dumbledore started weaving his way through the crowd, slowed down by those who wished to speak with him before their chance was gone for another week. Watching as the Headmaster grew more anxious to leave, Severus made his decision and rose swiftly from his chair.

Due to his sitting near the door, a practise he often favoured, and due to his unsavoury expression, which tended to discourage people from making polite conversation, Severus reached the exit before Dumbledore and was able to move quietly through the house towards the front door. There he leaned against the wall and crossed his arms in front of his chest defensively, avoiding the accusatory glares of the house-elves whose severed heads adorned the walls.

He only waited for a minute or so before his employer drifted down the stairs and along the corridor towards him. Seeing his sullen colleague by the door, Albus smiled. "Ah Severus, my boy, leaving already? You couldn't be tempted by Molly's famous rabbit stew and dumplings?"

Severus scowled and pushed himself off of the wall, using his formidable stature to effectively block Dumbledore's path to the door.

"I have no wish to sit around listening to their mindless gossip no matter how good the food is." He drawled before his tone became silkier. "I was merely waiting for you so that we might return to the school together."

For the briefest moment, Albus looked slightly uncomfortable, but he was soon his calm and serene self once more. "Ah – I actually won't be returning directly to Hogwarts this evening, my boy, so you'll have to return without me I'm afraid."

"Oh?" Severus said with forced lightness in his inquiry.

"I have business to attend to." Albus gave in a vague explanation.

"Business?" Asked Severus again, in an overly casual tone and the skin around Albus' eyes tightened in response.

"Yes." He replied in a clipped tone and Severus had to resist the urge to laugh at his obvious irritation.

"It's rather late to be having a business meeting." Severus' voice was still slick as he fished for information, though by now both men knew the game they were playing.

Albus, deciding that he didn't have time for his young colleague's games, dropped all pretence as he snapped back, "Yes, Severus, the meeting's late and now I'm late, so if you wouldn't mind…" He gestured with his wrinkled hands for Severus to move out of the way, but the dark-haired wizard stood firm.

Dropping his voice back to its usual snarl, Severus spoke seriously. "Not until you tell me what's going on, Albus."

The elder wizard raised an eyebrow. "Really, Severus? You believe yourself able to stop me leaving?"

Severus smirked. "No, Headmaster, I know that I would not defeat you in a duel." He paused. "I could, however, last long enough to cause a scene. I'm sure some of the other Order members who would come running would be just as interested as I to know where their esteemed leader keeps disappearing to."

Dumbledore glared at Severus but remained silent, unsure of the best way to end the conversation as quickly as possible.

Severus, meanwhile, feigned casual indifference to the silence he was met with, examining his nails with a smug expression. "By all means, take as long as you like, Headmaster. I certainly don't have anywhere pressing to be."

Dumbledore sighed before speaking in a low and serious tone, "Severus, I don't have time for this now. If you still wish to discuss your concerns in the morning you are quite welcome to come to my office and we will discuss it then. But right now, I am needed elsewhere." He moved to pass around Severus and the younger man did not prevent him doing so.

Albus turned to the claw-footed cloak-stand that stood regally near the front door and began to look for his own outer robes amongst the dozens that hung there. Having found it, he was halfway through putting it on before Snape spoke again.

"If something is causing you this much anxiety, Albus, then I should be informed."

Dumbledore turned and faced his young colleague again, giving a small, smile at the man's concern for him as he shrugged his robes around him.

"Severus, where I am going is not conducive to defeating Voldemort. It is of no strategic importance. It is a personal matter and therefore does not concern you."

The old professor turned towards the door once more but paused when he heard Severus' furious growl.

"Doesn't concern me?" He snarled. "Fine, but you can brew your own healing potions from now on."

Dumbledore froze. His shoulders slumped and his head hung low as he turned slowly to face his fuming spy. He hadn't realized that Snape knew the extra potions were missing from the infirmary, though he probably should have anticipated that nothing would slip by the wary potions master. Either way, it was little wonder the younger man was concerned.

"Severus, I –" He tried to explain but was swiftly interrupted.

"Don't. Don't bother spouting another pitiful lie." Severus hissed, stepping closer to Dumbledore so they were barely inches apart. "I've done everything you've ever asked of me, Albus, and I've done it all without question. I know that there are things you won't share, even with me, but I've trusted you regardless. I've given fourteen bloody years of my life to the cause and that's fine." His voice lowered to a barely audible whisper. "We both know why I serve without asking for anything in return and I will keep serving until my debt is paid." He drew in a ragged breath before continuing as angrily as he had started. "But don't you dare start feeding me your pathetic bullshit lies, because it's demeaning to both of us and quite frankly I deserve better than that."

The seconds ticked by as they looked each other in the eye, master and apprentice; stood so close together that each could feel the other's breath on their skin. The air around them crackled with the intensity of their stare, filled with power, but also with mutual respect; neither underestimating the other.

Finally, Dumbledore sighed, flicking his eyes to the ground and then back up to Severus where they held a new determination.

"I can't tell you, Severus, because it's not my secret to tell." He raised his hand to stop Severus' imminent interruption before it had begun. "I can't tell you. But I can show you."

Severus frowned, but he recognised the offer as the best he would get and gave a quick nod of his head in assent. He grabbed his own cloak off of the gothic stand and followed Dumbledore out of the door and onto the front step outside. Once they were stood side by side, Severus felt Albus' bony hand grasp him firmly around the arm, just above his elbow. Severus raised an eyebrow and looked up to see Albus' face creased with worry and looking back at him.

"Ready?" The older man asked and Severus nodded his head sharply before being sucked into the dark and nauseating dimension of Side-along Apparition.

AN: Thanks for reading guys. Let me know what you think and I'll see you all again soon!