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The Perfect Moment
"Have you ever experienced a… perfect moment?"
Ah… the implications attached with that question. The heartache, the memory… the anguish.
"A perfect moment?" he asked.
"Of course. A moment when time stops. A moment that stretches into all of eternity… a moment that pervades everything until it is almost a separate universe."
"I… do not understand…"
"Have you never experienced a moment… a perfect moment… where everything was so beautiful, so wonderfully radiant that it was almost as if you could live in that one perfect moment for all of eternity…? Where nothing else mattered but that one moment?" There was apprehension in the speaker's voice as Snape struggled to find something that could match with the transcendental definition that the former was describing.
"Indeed, Severus, there are very few people who can lay claim to such an experience. I myself have experienced this moment several times… but then…" with an apologetic smile, Dumbledore continued, "… taking into account my not inconsiderable talent and ability that should not come as too much of a surprise."
Snape remained silent as he tried desperately to pinpoint a memory. Something he had chosen to all but forget… no mean feat since the events in question had occurred little more than a year ago. A year...? A lifetime more like. There was something lurking just beneath the surface of his recognition that was of the utmost importance; that he must tell Dumbledore… his instincts told him it was critical the great man knew…
Dumbledore in the meantime continued his speech, in a tranquil voice, his eyes containing a faraway expression. "Those who can lay claim to this experience are blessed. After all, to have such a singular effect on the great mechanisms of time and space… it is not something that everybody can do… Indeed, it is said that those who have experienced this are destined to achieve great things… maybe terrible, maybe amazing but thunderously great…"
"Thunderously…? Thunder… thunderbolt…" Snape whispered in a cracked voice as the forgotten memory finally surged through into his recognition.
"Ah… ahhh…" there was a hidden surprise in Dumbledore's quiet voice. "I did not know… I did not expect…"
Snape awoke with a start. He had almost dozed off. The darkness stretched all around him, but he was content. The huge cauldron in front of him bubbled and rumbled like a large, slumbering beast, and over its surface large drops – the colour of liquid gold – leapt like dolphins. There were, yet, a few hours to go before the potion was finally ready and so, hidden from the world by the inky black blanket of the night, Snape had finally sat down to employ that one faculty which had, for so long, lain dormant and latent: he could think. It appeared however, that he had been more exhausted than he had thought. And amid the deep, dark recesses of his mind, that one question had arisen; unbidden, unwelcome and carrying with it the pain of a lifetime.
Sitting up, more alert, he again returned to the memory he had been reliving.
Snape shook his head… almost as if in shame. Dumbledore dwelt with pity on the broken man in front of him for a moment, and then said: "You are not proud of this?"
He shook his head again. There was pain etched in every harsh line in his face.
"You think that to experience love in its purest form, to feel the strongest desire for another being than one can possibly have… is weakness?" Snape was silent. The pain had surged through him like poison.
"Severus… Severus, look at me." For the first time that evening, a tender, almost fatherly note came into Dumbledore's voice. Snape looked up. "How much you have suffered… so young… such talent… I pity your past…" Dumbledore shook his head sadly, an almost imperceptible glimmer of tears in his wise eyes.
Snape stood up, and moved to look out of the window. The sun had nearly disappeared over the horizon, and yet some last few rays could still be seen. "It was foolish, Headmaster… it holds no significance for me… The jovialities of youth…" A note of disgust crept into his voice.
"You speak as if you were an old man."
"Does being old mean that one must be advanced in years? Experience begets age… I have experienced too much to be… young."
Dumbledore paused before replying. "You are troubled Severus. And not by the future, but by the past. Those who live in the past waste away equally as fast as those who live in the future."
"And yet those who forget the past are fools."
"A compromise then. Learn from your mistakes. But do not dwell on them too much."
"That is hardly difficult Headmaster. As I have told you, my experience was insignificant. It means nothing."
"Your heart – I am sure – would beg to differ. You pass off something that many would give their right arms to experience… as insignificant?"
Dumbledore shook his head in sorrow. "You would not see it as something remarkable... something wonderful?"
"I would not" was the curt reply.
"And you fail to acknowledge that your very being is torn into shreds of agony, that one whole half of your heart is with that person – wherever that person may be – whom you shared the thunderbolt with?"
"I do fail to acknowledge it. After all why should I agree with something that is not true?"
"And yet… it was you yourself mentioned that you had experienced a thunderbolt?"
Snape stiffened. He had indeed said the same.
"Besides being a magical mystery, a thunderbolt… not only rare… is one of the most beautiful things one can experience. I regret to say, that although I have knowledge of many occasions of perfect moments, I cannot lay claim to having undergone the thunderbolt… I thought it a myth… a hyperbole spread by young lovers to exaggerate their experiences. I am most curious."
A bitter tone entered Snape's voice. "Curious? Headmaster… how can you call a thunderbolt beautiful? Indeed… it is the most hideous… the most wretched thing conceivable."
"How so?" Dumbledore asked in a polite voice that all too obviously displayed his clear defiance of Snape's opinions on the subject. Recognising this, the young man turned away from the window, prepared to elucidate his point. However, almost immediately, he gave up. How could he defend something that was so obviously untrue?
Snape nodded. He looked out of the window again. The sun had disappeared completely. Dumbledore, standing some feet away gazed at the silhouette of the tortured man in front of him and a great wave of sadness fell over his heart. His words from earlier on in the evening came back to him. So young…
Snape walked back to his chair. Dumbledore carelessly flicked his wand and the meagre curtains snapped shut, another flick and the door followed suit, still another and a roaring fire sprang up in the hearth, bathing the room in light. "Tell me," he said calmly.
"What do you wish to know?" Snape asked him.
"Anything that you want to tell me."
Snape paused a moment, contemplating where to begin. "And you will not-"
Dumbledore interrupted him, with firmness: "Whatever you choose to disclose shall not pass this room."
Snape nodded, completely reassured, and without any further ado, he began.
The present-day Snape was brought, once again, out of his reverie by a sound. Something had rushed in from the open window of the great room in which he sat. Stiffening, he drew his wand in one quick movement, and equally as subtly whispered: "Lumos." Immediately, the darkness receded and the room was bathed in light. "Fawkes… you have come." The beautiful phoenix gently deposited his load on the stone altar a few feet away from Snape. It was voluminous, wrapped in a rich purple cloak – embossed with golden stars, and looked extremely out of place in its drab and stone-grey surroundings. Snape knew perfectly well what it was.
Fawkes flew over and perched on his shoulder, and with – it would remarkably seem – familiar fondness, he nudged Snape's long hair. The latter smiled and stroked the magnificent creature, which uttered a content croon. Potter wasn't the only one who had befriended Dumbledore's bird. After all, the infamous young sufferer wasn't the only one capable of showing loyalty to Dumbledore.
He moved to the caldron and stirred it a few times clockwise, keeping his movements still and smooth to avoid spilling anything. "Almost ready Fawkes. A few more hours at most… and then we shall truly see the greatness of Albus Dumbledore."
Moving quietly over to the purple-clad object, he gently pulled the cloak away and beheld a serene face. Death had not touched the man. There was no decay, no discolouration; it was like Dumbledore was in a deep sleep – and at any moment Snape expected his wise eyes to open and look at him. He still wore his half-moon glasses – they were probably enchanted to stay on his face.
"You know what to do Fawkes." Immediately, Fawkes flew to Dumbledore, and picking him up effortlessly by his sleeve, he flew to the cauldron and deposited his master into the potion. Immediately, there was a violent hissing and the gold colour of the potion turned into a most wonderful turquoise.
Snape sneered in triumph. "It worked…. As I knew it would." After all, he was not the greatest Potions Master in the world for no reason.
He watched Fawkes fly to the rim of the huge cauldron, and settle there, with as little care as if he were perching on his golden perch in Dumbledore's office. And instantly, he started to sing.
This song was different from any other that Fawkes had ever sung or would ever sing. It was not a lament, or a song of pain or joy… it was none of these things. Instead… it was a call. A summons.
And it was heard. There were brilliant and blinding flashes of light – that made the darkness of moments ago almost as distant as the moon – and out of midair appeared eleven large, beautiful and graceful phoenixes. Silver and gold and red and orange and yellow and blue and green… all colours conceivable were present in that room that night. And as if they had one mind, each and every bird settled around the rim of the cauldron and – along with Fawkes – formed a perfect circle. And instantly, each began to join Fawkes in his song. If one phoenix sounded beautiful, twelve produced an ethereal sound – a sound so incredibly divine, so lovely that Snape was transfixed; he could never have imagined something so otherworldly and delightful. His heart leapt with joy – for it was impossible to feel any pain or sadness. He imagined even the Dreaded himself would feel as much happiness as he was capable of experiencing. And then, there was a flash of light from the centre of the bubbling golden liquid that rose into a column high above the singing birds, high above the cauldron, high above Snape. Each phoenix stopped singing, and the single column of light split into twelve beams and each beam raced towards a phoenix. And as each phoenix received his or her own beam, a brilliant brightness – a flash of light brighter than the sun (Snape turned to avoid being blinded) – emitted from each phoenix. And when it faded, there was silence. Snape turned around towards the cauldron again and saw that each of the creatures was crying. The tears poured thickly and furiously into the cauldron, and the potion bubbled furiously and fiercer than before.
Still the tears came, and kept coming. For twenty minutes Snape stood watching the divine sight, the sight that no one had ever seen before nor ever would, and as he did, the man was humbled. This was why he had chosen to follow Dumbledore. This was why he knew with absolute certainty that Voldemort had no chance against one of the greatest powers the earth yielded: love.
Finally, one by one, the eleven phoenixes who had answered Fawkes, disappeared with flashes of light. The latter rose into the air and hovered, flapping his huge fiery wings, and looked at Snape.
"Ah Fawkes… this is the only way. We devised this years ago in case something like this happened."
Fawkes blinked and then wheeling around towards the column of light still pulsing from the potion, he started to spin, faster and faster, until he was nothing but a blur. And then with a final melodic note of song, he plunged into the centre of the cauldron, into the column of light. Snape heard the splash as the phoenix broke the turquoise surface of the potion. The column of light faded, and once again the fierce bubbling ensued.
"Essence of Felicis, tear of phoenix, blood of soul, spirit of spirit, the Elixir of Life…" Snape twirled his wand in his hands, which were a blur, faster and faster and jets of white light emitted from it, entering the potion without so much as disturbing its surface. And then reaching into the deep volumes of his cloak he pulled out several bottles and in one hurried movement, he emptied the contents of all of them into the potion. And then there was thick silence. No bubbling of the potion, no roaring of the flames… there was silence. And then Snape took another bottle out of his cloak. This bottle contained a substance that no one knew existed. It had been concocted some ten years ago by none other than himself – with Dumbledore's full permission of course. If he were found in possession of it, he would spend the rest of his life in Azkaban. It was so bright, so luminous that Snape had wrapped it in a black cloth. And still he could see its light. Unscrewing the top, he shut his eyes and poured the mysterious liquid into the potion. And the wonderful turquoise of the potion glowed bright as well… and it became luminescent and stayed that way – and its surface gently swayed, although it had not been stirred.
"Nothing to do but wait," Snape muttered to himself. The darkness was back, save for the gentle illumination provided by the potion. He sat down and remembered, with an arrogant laugh, the words he had uttered almost six years ago: "I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death." The boast – particularly the last three words – had not been made in vain.
He resumed his thoughts.
Author's Note: I would just like to bring attention to this last passage: "He sat down and remembered, with an arrogant laugh, the words he had uttered almost six years ago: 'I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death.'
An observant reviewer has pointed out that "it's supposed to be 'put a stopper in death' not 'stopper death'."
I would just like to say that "stopper death" is from the UK version Harry Potter books, which I use. In the movies, it is indeed "put a stopper in death" (and I think it might be the same in the American version). But I am using the UK version quote – i.e. "stopper death," because this is the version that I have.