AN: Thank you for all of the great support I've gotten, it makes writing and posting such a joy when people interact with my work. The last chapter was an emotional one for me to write, and basically it was Snape admitting his abuse was the basis for his occlumency. I've always felt that's why he was unable to teach Harry in canon, because it stemmed from abuse; both at his father's hand and as the target for the marauders. Being vulnerable to Harry about that abuse would have been too hard in canon, and so he wasn't able to teach him.
I had a version of this next chapter slated later in the story, and a comment from reviewer StEmpois made me think that this might be a more logical time to address this after all. I also needed a chat with Dumbledore as a bridge to the next part, so this chapter was born. J Comments from readers often make me think differently about my characters and story and can lead to a much richer writing experience for me and (hopefully!) reading experience for you. Thanks!
Snape entered the room, barely glancing at the headmaster, and began removing his complicated robe with many buttons.
"Good evening, Severus," Dumbledore greeted him, his eyes dancing.
"I need you to beat me," Snape answered him curtly. "Use whatever you have handy – a cane or a whip. I don't care."
"Why do you want me to beat you?" Dumbledore asked, as calmly as if Snape was ordering new potion supplies.
"I am sick of the hypocrisy and guilt," Snape snapped at him, succeeding with the last tiny button and shucking off his outer robe. He knew he could easily remove the clothes magically, but there was something earthy and normal about removing them by hand that he wanted. "I'm sick of being in the position of smacking my ward and giving him forgiveness and getting none myself."
"So you thought that me beating you might give you some measure of the absolution you're seeking," Albus reflected, watching Snape remove his vest.
"Obviously," Snape drawled, looking the headmaster in the face. "Do you want me bent over your desk?"
"And for what sins would I be punishing you?" Dumbledore asked. "And why are you coming to me for this?"
"You are the only one who bloody knows everything!" Snape snapped at him. "Who else knows about the prophecy and Lily? Who else knows my true loyalties and the reasons I've been so hard on Harry? Who else knows the resentment I harbor towards James Potter?"
"I see," Dumbledore nodded. "I am the logical choice then. Are there any more sins you'd like to confess or is that about it?"
"I was horrible to him," Snape said in a small voice. "I had convinced myself that I was justified, that it was part of my cover. That I deserved the privilege of being horrendous to the son of my enemy. Nobody would dispute what James Potter did to me in school – and now his son was at my mercy and would pay for any humiliation I had suffered. So I bullied him, corrected him, even tormented him. Yes, I protected him out of my obligation to his mother, but there was not a concern about anything else. I gave not a second thought to how his relatives might be treating him and I assumed him to be a lying, egotistical brat. I was so very wrong."
"You were," Dumbledore told him kindly.
"So beat me already," Snape told him harshly. "Or would you prefer my shirt removed? I can take it."
"Of that I have no doubt," Dumbledore nodded. "You can take pain more than anybody else I've ever met."
"Then get on with it," Snape demanded impatiently.
"You make the offer extremely tempting," Dumbledore said softly. "Your bristly persona almost dares me to. But I'm afraid that I will have to decline the offer."
"This is not a bloody offer!" Snape thundered. "I am standing here ready to take my punishment like a man, and you are refusing to dish it out!"
"Is it really like a man?" Dumbledore asked, his voice still soft. "Or is it as a boy? A boy that was perhaps abused by his father and rejected by his classmates?"
"You speak in riddles, Headmaster," Snape answered, his eyes narrowing to let Dumbledore know he knew exactly what the Headmaster was referencing. "I know not what you are referring to."
"You are seeking absolution as a child," Dumbledore continued. "And in the only way you know of for a child raised with such brutality. But the absolution I could give you with a cane is not the absolution you seek."
"It's not?" Snape asked, for the first time dropping the usual anger and sarcasm.
"It's not," Dumbledore confirmed. "Your body would hurt for a time, but you would know deeply that you hadn't truly paid for it. If, when Harry wronged you and looked in your pensieve, you had just beaten him bloody - would that have fixed everything?"
"Not really," Snape admitted.
"Of course not," Dumbledore nodded. "His pain didn't pay for anything, it absolved him of nothing. How did he earn your forgiveness?"
"His apology," Snape answered, feeling very young and stupid. "But mostly I think it was that I saw that it grieved him that he hurt me."
"Exactly," Dumbledore answered him. "The punishment you gave Harry was as a deterrent, and perhaps to help him along to that place of remorse. Adolescents sometimes have a harder time understanding those deterrents without someone reinforcing those boundaries, which is why discipline can be helpful. A beating would do you no good, as you have a far more effective deterrent than a cane and you are already deeply in a place of remorse."
"What deterrent?" Snape asked, again feeling stupid.
"You obviously care for the boy," Dumbledore told him. "Hurting him is enough of a deterrent for it not to happen again."
"He doesn't know that," Snape objected.
"He knows more than you think," the headmaster told him with a twinkling eye. "Which is also why I'm going to recommend that you apologize to him."
"Apologize?" Snape echoed, feeling horrified.
"Of course," Dumbledore nodded. "It's what civilized people do when they've wronged another."
"But I can't apologize," Snape told him. "I am his guardian; he would lose all respect for me."
"Many people erroneously think that apologizing compromises them in the eyes of others," Dumbledore agreed. "But I have found that rarely to be the case. How did you feel when I apologized to you for not being able to keep Lily safe?"
"I saw how much it grieved you," Snape admitted. "I saw your sorrow as well as your own regret."
"Did you think any less of me?" Dumbledore asked. "Would you have felt better had I blamed others and denied my involvement?"
"Of course not," Snape agreed reluctantly. "It would have been much worse. But it was different – you didn't really do anything wrong. You tried your best; I didn't."
"I believe that those that are guiltier need to apologize even more," Dumbledore gently told him. "Imagine what it would mean to Harry to have his guardian, the one is is learning to like and respect, actually apologize for the harm he'd caused. Do you think Harry forgot how you were to him his first several years?"
"No," Snape agreed reluctantly. "But I always thought it best not to bring it up."
"For your sake or for Harry's sake?" Dumbledore asked, pushing.
Snape didn't answer, he was lost in thought. He fingered the fabric of the vest he'd removed, thinking how much easier it would have been if Dumbledore had simply agreed to beat him.
"I'm not telling him about the prophecy yet," Snape told Dumbledore, and they both recognized the admission in the statement.
"All in good time," Dumbledore answered. "He doesn't need to know of it yet."
"I will think on this," Snape nodded, though they both knew that was merely a formality.
"I also have some penance for you in addition to your apology," Dumbledore continued. "I think you should accompany Harry on his visit with his Godfather."
"What?!" he asked in shock. "Why would I do that?"
"I think it would be good for Harry to see you two cooperating," Dumbledore told him. "I have informed Sirius and Lupin of the guardianship, and they are most eager to talk with Harry, and of course with you."
"They likely are planning on how to get revenge on me," Snape bitterly predicted. "I will be lucky if I come back in one piece."
"You have to allow for some maturation," Dumbledore told him calmly. "I know they treated you unfairly in school, but things are different now."
"Less accountability?" Snape snarled. "They don't fear detention?"
"Don't you see?" Dumbledore chided him gently. "You hold in your hands the one thing either of them values – Harry. They are desperate to have some good rapport with you because they know that you are tasked with caring for and protecting someone they would, either of them, gives their lives to protect."
"I doubt there is much I can do to convince you," Dumbledore acknowledged. "But trust me in this: they love that boy. Fiercely. Either of them would care for Harry if they could, and both are lamenting the fact that they can't. Both of them are feeling remorseful for how they treated you, and both want to have time with Harry."
"They're probably just worried that I'll take out my anger towards them on Harry," Snape acknowledged darkly.
"Oh, you mean like you did before?"
Snape glared in defensiveness, not daring to acknowledge the truth of the situation.
"You have your punishment, then," Dumbledore directed him mildly. "And one that will do a lot better than stripes on your body. You must learn to work with Sirius and Remus, and you must figure out how to apologize to Harry."
"It would be much easier to be beaten," Snape sniffed.
"Of course it would, my boy," Dumbledore chuckled. "But you need to be a grown-up now. And unfortunately that means that you have to take responsibility for your part in the relationships that you are in."
"I wanted to take responsibility how I wanted to do it," Snape complained.
"I would be careful what you offer to me, my boy," Dumbledore chuckled. "Someday I may take you up on it."
"I wouldn't offer something I didn't want," Snape told him acerbically.
"Of course you would," Dumbledore told him. "You don't really want me to beat you, you simply want to feel less guilty."
"It would have worked," Snape replied grumpily.
"Well, let's see if my recommendations work better than your ideas," Dumbledore smiled. "Tomorrow is Saturday, that would make a good day for a visit."
"They had bloody well better not apologize," Snape snarled at Dumbledore, knowing that he'd been beaten. Sighing, he began to re-dress himself.
"I would think that would mollify you," Dumbledore smiled.
"It would only be to ease their guilty conscience," Snape grumbled, fussing with the buttons. "I have no desire to lessen their guilt in any way."
"I understand that's how you feel," Dumbledore told him levelly. "I am glad that, for your sake, Harry is of a more forgiving bent than his guardian is."
Snape glared again, silently buttoning up his cloak. Though there was a part of him that very much enjoyed the fussiness of his wardrobe, this was one moment that he wasn't liking it one bit. He wanted out of Dumbledore's office, but he wanted out fully clothed. Sighing, a flick of his wand sent the rest of the buttons gracefully buttoning.
"You ask the impossible, old man," he straightened his vest and then swept his robes dramatically as he left towards the door.
"Every day, my boy," Dumbledore answered. "Every blessed day."