Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters or places in this story (said characters/places are property of JK Rowling).

To Swallow One's Pride

There was a time, in his journey to the Headmaster's office that morning, that Severus Snape very much considered turning right around and flooing to St. Mungo's on the grounds of temporary insanity.

That was the reason he was doing this, of course. There was no other explanation. He had to be insane. Yep, that was it. Because certainly he didn't care -- the very thought of "Snape" and "care" in the same sentence made even him laugh.

Oh gods, he was laughing now? Surely he was losing his mind. Just when he'd finally determined that, yes, he most definitely was insane and in need of serious help, he discovered himself standing in front of the large gargoyle that barred enterance to the headmaster's office. Remembering the last time he'd gotten this far to walk away in a huff and the Headmaster had suddenly come down from his office to acquire as to what he wanted, Snape hissed the password at the statue and swept up to the man's office, his teeth barred in self-loathing. Why was he doing this?

He didn't have a death wish, yet he was certain this act would rob him of whatever pride he had left, and he would die of shame. The whole thing was absurd. It was laughable. Yes, he'd be stone cold dead on the floor, and Albus Dumbledore would be standing over him laughing at his last words. Hell, he might even come back as a ghost to laugh at his last words himself -- this was insane!

"Ah, good morning, Severus. Lemon drop?" Infernal Dumbledore was sitting at his infernal desk, doing infernal paperwork of some sort, holding out an infernal tin of infernal candy. Infernal, infernal, infernal. Yes, get mad at everything around you, this is the best way to not humiliate yourself as you're about to do.

"No, Headmaster, thank you," he replied tersely, feeling the sudden urge to grab the tin and throw it at the old man. Fat lot of good that would do, though. He was on a mission, and despite the fact that the mission very much made him wonder if he was under the Imperius curse or something of the like, he was bound and determined to do it.

Always did like a challenge.

"Then is there something I can help you with, my dear boy?" There's that annoying twinkle in his eyes. That cinches it, Severus decided firmly. He knows preciesely why I'm here, but being the annoying old buzzard he is, he's determined to make me come right out and say it.

Blast it all.

Dumbledore gestured towards a seat a step or so from Severus, and he sat quickly, fingers tapping on the armrest. "Term's ending tomorrow." Oh, just brillant. As if the guy who runs this madhouse didn't know the nutters are all escaping tomorrow. Just brillant, Severus, you dolt.

A small smile graced Dumbledore's lips, and, as if it was humanly possible, his eyes twinkled more. "I'm well aware of this." Oddly, his voice didn't hold a level of sarcasm or cynicism, as Severus' would have, should some great twat come and told him something like that. It was merely a voice of amusement, as if the whole thing was some bloody joke.

"And you'll be sending the Potter boy to his relatives, I presume?" Could you be any more obvious? Well, maybe if you were dancing about in front of him with the words scrawled on your chest in neon glitter or something. Severus shuddered at his own mental image of himself in such a state.

"Yes. Why the sudden interest in Harry's place of residence, if I may ask?" Of course you can ask, you big galoot, you already did anyway.

"Well...the Dark Lord wished me to try and discover such a thing. I simply wanted to be sure I did not lie and inadvertantly tell him the truth."

Oh, yeah, that story made a whole lot of sense. That was about as likely as my falling in love with Trelawney...another shudder.

Dumbledore surveyed him sternly over his glasses for a moment before chuckling. "Any chance you might inadvertantly tell me the truth about what you're really doing here, asking about where Harry's going, Severus?"

Words were becoming decidedly more difficult, he realized. Nothing seemed right. Anything he thought of to sayeither made him sound like he actually cared (he had to repress yet another shudder at the thought), or like a complete bumbling moron.

So, to save himself from looking like a nitwit, he replied, "I taught him Occlumency this year."

As soon as the words spilled from his mouth, he wished to beat his head against the table. When had he suddenly started pointing out the obvious like this? Oh, right, about the time he came up with the whole brillant idea for this conversation.

Severus suddenly realized that if the boy in question, Potter, could see him now, he'd most likely be in the corner, hyperventilating in hysterical laughter. And, who could blame him? Severus knew this whole thing bordered on -- no, not bordered, was -- insanity.

"I seem to remember something to that effect occuring," Dumbledore commented humorusly.

Oh for the love of...now he's making jokes about this? Severus had to grip the arms of his chair very tightly to keep from ramming his forehead into the desk in frustration.

"He was very miserable at it," before he could bring himself to marvel at his third downright genius statement that morning, he plowed on, "and I witnessed several...interesting things about his childhood."

Dumbledore arched one eyebrow in that annoying way that proved this wasn't news to him. This whole conversation wasn't news to him. He knew why Severus was here. Severus thought for a moment that maybe he'd always known of these memories of Potter's, but then decided against that quite vehemently. Dumbledore wouldn't allow such things to occur to his Golden Boy if he knew of them. "Oh?" he said innocently, unable to hide a grin.

"Yes, oh," Severus retorted bitterly. "It appears I was -- misguided -- when I believed he was pampered his whole life."

Egads, did I just come close to admitting I was wrong? That simply cannot be. I can't be wrong, I'm never wrong.

"And?" Severus' hand was a full seven centimeters off the arm of the chair before he realized how odd he would look smacking himself in the forehead in the middle of the headmaster's office, and he returned the hand to its resting place. This man could talk in sentences longer than a syllable before today, could he not?

"And, I was suggesting -- and don't you dare presume to think I actually care --"

"Never would I dare to think such a thing," Dumbledore replied, a fakeshocked expression on his face. Great, I finally get him to say something, and he's being sarcastic.

"-- that perhaps someone, most definitely not me --"

"Of course not."

"-- pay a visit to those relatives of his. With recent events, the last thing we need is a saviour on our hands who is too thick-headed to defend himself against those Muggles."

Satisified that he'd done what he'd accomplished without making it look like he actually cared that Potter had just lost his beloved mangy mutt and was going to the one place he shouldn't go to in order to deal with it, Severus swept from the room, but not before catching the huge grin on the old headmaster's face. As soon as he returned to his office, he smacked his head thickly against the table.

Somewhere in the process of swallowing my pride, I managed to choke on it.

A/N: I'm not sure how pleased I am with this particular piece, but there are definitely some things I like about it. Anyway, for any that got confused, this was basically an AU-ish missing moment from OotP in which Snape was the reason behind the Order meeting the Dursleys at the train station.

Oh, and I'm a bit concerned that the portion I put in when Snape was standing before the statue in front of Dumbledore's office was confusing. When he says that he remembers the last time he stood there and Dumbledore came out after him, I wasn't referring to an actual canon event or anything. I was just making up an instance in which Dumbledore knew Snape had been outside and had come out when Snape tried to walk away.