Title: Unexpected Grace
Author: Cocoa-Snape (aka CocoaSnape)
Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs exclusively to JKR…she is a goddess. I am making no money from this and I intend no copyright infringement.
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Summary of what's been happening so far:
Snape used a time-turner given to him by Albus to go back and teach the week he missed while he was in the hospital wing recovering from his ordeal with Voldemort. Unbeknownst to Albus, he makes a detour and goes back to see himself after he returns from Voldemort's torture. He is shocked by the horrible shape he was in but much more by the way Albus cared for him, not to mention the fact that in his delirium, Snape confessed his love for Albus.
After attending dinner in the great hall, where Albus and Minerva see time-turner Severus for the first time, Snape follows the pair. There he sees Dumbledore preparing to enter his infirmed counterpart's mind to awaken him from his coma. Snape reels (and is still reeling) from the realization that it was Dumbledore who saved him from death.
In the last chapter, Snape returned from a 3 day revel and Albus found him sitting in the mud in a downpour. Dumbledore managed to alleviate Severus's depression and anger by joining him in the muck.
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Chapter 15: Never the same
There was no rainstorm on this night, but if there had been, Snape might have very well found himself wallowing in the mud once more. He made his way hastily past the main gate and towards the castle entrance and realized that despite his misery, tonight had in fact been the polar opposite of four nights prior. That had been a revel lasting three days; this was a personal summons from the monster himself and had lasted no more than an hour. Nothing out of the ordinary, at least at first. There had been no threats, no promise of pain, no Cruciatus, and yet Snape felt more broken than he had in a long time.
It had all started when the Dark Lord had mentioned another revel planned for the upcoming weekend. Snape's stomach had turned at the very prospect, having barely shaken the last out of his mind, not to mention the awkwardness of explaining his extended stay at Malfoy Manor to Albus. He had seized on this idea.
"I am honored by the invitation, my Lord. I do worry, however, about my frequent absences being conspicuous. Dumbledore did seem to notice the last."
Per usual, the Dark Lord leveled a harsh stare at him, not hiding his clear intent on reading him. It seemed that a long minute or two passed before the snake-like nostrils flared and he issued a pensive reply. "The old man does seem to keep a close eye on you. You've mentioned that before."
"Yes, my Lord. It is obnoxious to say the least," Snape responded, disdain dripping from his voice.
Snape could all but see the evil machinations twisting behind those ghastly red eyes.
"And you attend all the faculty meetings?" the Dark Lord probed. "You have access to his office and chambers, don't you?"
"The same access as the rest of the staff, my Lord," Snape responded immediately. He was purposely hedging against impossible expectations. He could foresee where this might be going, and if the Dark Lord really believed he had the capacity to go through Dumbledore's things and steal something of importance, he had to be sure to make it clear that that would be impossible.
"Nevertheless, it seems that that old fool is finally beginning to trust you." A pause. "I believe we can use this to our advantage, Severus. I have a mission for you, my servant."
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It was anything but easy seeing Albus this evening. Snape's first order of business had been assuring his friend that he was unharmed, and only after that had they moved to the formal space of Dumbledore's office, sitting across the desk from one another. As was their custom, he began the task of meticulously relaying every detail of what had happened in his meeting with the Dark Lord. Except this time with an omission.
Point in fact, Snape told Dumbledore everything, except perhaps the most crucial thing, the reason the Dark Lord had summoned him there in the first place. On some level he knew he was breaking the rules and, more importantly, breaking Albus's trust by not telling him the whole truth. But he could not bring himself to reveal something that he knew in the larger scheme of things would be of little consequence to his mission as a spy.
If Snape could be certain of anything, it was that the Dark Lord was fickle as he was vile, changing his mind about missions on a whim. It wouldn't be long before this ridiculous plan too was abandoned, and he was instructed to abort this drastic course of action at Hogwarts, one that Snape never intended on undertaking in the first place.
But above all else, the primary reason Snape was unwilling and unable to discuss this 'mission' with Albus was because he knew without a shadow of a doubt that the moment he did, every conversation from now until the end would be about this. There was the Dark Lord again, dominating what little time he had with Albus. Despite his crippling injuries of some weeks ago, he had enjoyed these past months spent with Albus more than any he could remember in his life. And with still two months of summer remaining, he wanted every moment of Albus's attention to himself, without the Dark Lord's contemptible schemes clouding their time together. It may have been selfish, Snape knew, but to him, it was self-preservation.
As if on cue, there was Dumbledore keenly prodding him on his recounting of events, implicitly aware that something didn't quite make sense, that there had been something else.
"And that was all, Severus?" Dumbledore asked gently, his head quirked to the side and a curious expression on his face.
"For the most part," Snape answered evasively.
Dumbledore seemed to study him for a second too long before prompting further, "He didn't say anything else?"
Snape took a breath. "Well, he expressed his… pleasure," Snape said with a grimace, "that I stayed at Hogwarts as his spy. That I delayed returning to him that night in order to secure my position here."
"Hmm, now that's very interesting."
"Yes, well, he seemed impressed with my foresight. And so it seems that after all that has happened, he is satisfied with me, at least for the moment."
Dumbledore stared intently at the tips of his fingers, steepled together, a sign that he was deep in thought. It was barely a moment later before Dumbledore proposed an incredibly insightful theory. "He's going to ask something of you, Severus. Why else would he be glad you're still here? He'll want you to do something. Don't you think?"
"Perhaps," Snape replied slowly, panic rising in his chest at Dumbledore's perceptiveness. "I had considered that," he said, doing his level best to control his expression. For little did Albus know that the Dark Lord had not only already asked, he'd ordered.
"Although what I cannot be sure what that might be," Dumbledore continued pensively. "Let me think on it."
Bloody hell! Leave it to Albus to figure it out on his own!
Snape nervously played with the cuff on his sleeve, eyeing the man across from him who was completely absorbed in his thoughts at the moment.
It was nearly a minute later before Dumbledore spoke again. "Perhaps it's as simple as you gathering information for him about the Order. He might believe you're beginning to gain my trust and with it, access to more information." Snape tugged at his collar. He hoped Albus would end these speculations now before he solved this entire riddle. But Dumbledore was undeterred, rattling off potential scenarios. "It may involve you compromising the wards, or perhaps learning about the details of their structure from me. Or this may have to do with Harry in some way, his connection to the prophecy, although I can't imagine how. Or perhaps this is as simple as getting to me. Hmm…" As Dumbledore considered all he'd said and thought, Snape winced, desperately wishing Albus would stop talking. After a moment, the Headmaster snapped out of his reverie and turned his attention back to his friend. "But I think we will not have to worry about such obvious maneuvers in the now. It unlikely given his underground state that Voldemort will compromise that for any overt assault."
"I agree," Snape said, inexplicably relieved the guessing game was over. Feeling incredibly uncomfortable, his stomach burning from the guilt of the secret he was keeping, he made to leave.
As he stood, Dumbledore spoke softly, "Are you leaving so soon? Would you mind staying a moment longer?"
"Is there something else?"
"Actually there is," Dumbledore said heavily. In a moment of panic, Snape half-thought Dumbledore had figured it out. Anticipating a reprimand, he was surprised to hear Dumbledore's next words. "I owe you an apology, dear boy."
Dumbledore's voice was low and serious, his sense of remorsepalpable. "For your having to continue with this ordeal. I promised you years ago that I would keep you safe from him and I have betrayed that oath."
The words were met with a flurry of impatience from the younger wizard. "Must we go over this again? These are times of war, not to mention that we've discussed this endless times. We both want him dead, and you know more than anyone how much I want to be a part of seeing that happen."
"Albus, please stop," Snape interrupted sharply, a tinge of annoyance in his voice. "This was our deal."
"No, my boy. You are wrong there. You fulfilled the obligations of that deal thirteen years ago. You owe me nothing, Severus."
Just my life 10 times over. And here I am lying to you.
"In fact," Dumbledore continued solemnly, "it is I that owe you the debt."
"Don't be ridiculous," Snape snapped, growing intensely irritated with Dumbledore for his self-condemnation. Albus had done more for him than he could have ever expected over the years, not the least of which had occurred in the hospital wing just a few weeks ago.
An onslaught of images of himself in that hospital bed flooded his mind – retching, shaking uncontrollably, with Albus holding him, whispering comforting words, doing everything conceivable to minimize his pain. And here was Albus talking about debts being owed. It was he who owed the debt. That thought gave Snape pause. A sudden sadness overwhelmed him as he realized that Albus would never know how profoundly grateful he was to him. How could he if he'd never spoken of it? Sadness morphed into anger. He'd made a resolution to himself that he'd never tell Albus what he'd seen when using the time turner. It had seemed impossible to do anything but forget that horrible night – the very thought of how weak and pathetic he'd been brought on waves of shame and self-loathing. The idea of mentioning it to Albus had seemed unthinkable. But now, this self imposed silence felt incredibly selfish, and bordered on sinful. He seized on his remaining courage and spoke hurriedly before it left him.
"There is something I've been meaning to say to you, Albus," Snape said, the tension tightening every muscle in his body. "I suppose now is as a good a time as any." Dumbledore was eying him curiously, and for his own part, Snape made a point of reinforcing his mental walls before he spoke further. He couldn't risk Albus caching a glimpse of any strayemotions. He continued somewhat dumbly, "I… well, I wanted to thank you for taking care of me after…"
It was a moment before the elder wizard interpreted Severus's silence as having been unable to finish. "The thank you is unnecessary," Dumbledore replied nonchalantly, "but I believe you've already thanked me once before, Severus."
A steeling breath before he managed to continue. "No. I mean yes," he corrected himself awkwardly. "But not for…" He stopped again, but this time forced himself to blurt out the truth in a rush of words. "I know it's against the rules but I couldn't resist looking in on myself that week and I saw you."
Dumbledore managed to force back the surprise from his face as his mind raced to understand what it was exactly that Severus was telling him. He'd gone back with the time turner. But surely not far enough to see what he thought Severus might be alluding to? But what else could he mean?
Dumbledore's face was a blank slate, and Snape could not discern what he was thinking. A moment later, the elder wizard spoke.
"You went back an extra few days?"
"I was curious," Snape confessed.
"I see," Dumbledore said flatly, his tone unreadable.
Snape's discomfort magnified exponentially and he cursed himself for ever bringing this up. His memories of the shame he'd felt when he'd first seen that night resurged. It was all he could do not to bolt from the room.
Dumbledore's mind was a flurry of thought and analysis. Like hundreds of puzzle pieces suddenly falling into place, Severus going back to see this answered a lot of questions. It explained a lot – namely Severus's discomfort around him for the past weeks. Thinking back on it, in fact, he could pinpoint the moment it started, the moment he'd returned from the time turner.
Dumbledore had been relieved that Severus had retained no memories of that time, and it seemed he'd been right in assuming that it would make Severus uncomfortable. He remembered how jumpy Severus had been seemed whenever he'd touched him, whether it was the back massage or even something as simple as a friendly pat on the shoulder. He'd thought nothing of it at the time, dismissing those moments as figments of his imagination. Now it made sense, although that understanding only elevated the strain between them.
He wondered what precisely Severus had seen from that night that had disturbed him so. Had he seen himself being cradled in his arms? He knew that Severus had something of an aversion to physical contact and affection – he might have been embarrassed by his weakened condition. That possibility seemed ridiculous. As he searched his mind for another explanation, the one that came to him left him in panic.
Perhaps, Dumbledore thought, Severus had misperceived his intentions that night, believing that his physical proximity to Severus's incapacitated form had been an inappropriate gesture. The more he considered it from Severus's point of view, the more Dumbledore conceded that in some way it had been. It certainly had been an unorthodox response on his part – that had been clear enough from Poppy's reaction alone, but his only thought that night had been helping Severus through that grueling time. Dumbledore's stomach twisted in a knot as the very notion that Severus might have mistook his attempts at comfort for something untoward. But then again, little else could adequately explain the awkwardness he'd been sensing between them.
Now the question was what to do about it? Leaving things unsaid would preserve the status quo, which clearly wasn't the best option. Would it be better to explain his actions and risk making Severus even more uncomfortable? Or would it be best to leave things be?
As the awkward silence loomed between them, Snape took in the look of profound discomfort suddenly gracing Albus's countenance. He cursed himself once more for mentioning the time turner. His throat felt incredibly dry and it seemed to be becoming harder to breathe by the minute. He needed to get out of here.
Snape stood abruptly and said, "Perhaps this isn't the best time to discuss this." He turned to go, but before he could take a step, Dumbledore's voice halted him.
"I think it would be best if we discussed this now."
It was a trademark of Albus, to want to talk, but even as he said it, Snape could detect the hesitancy in Albus's eyes. Snape didn't need another excuse.
"Actually, Albus, it's been a long night, and—"
"Please, Severus," Dumbledore insisted gently, gesturing towards his sitting room. "Come and have a cup with me."
Snape glanced in the sitting room's general direction and his body rebelled at the very thought of what discussion might accompany that harmless cup of tea. But being unable to deny Albus's request, he simply nodded and entered the sitting room first, taking his usual seat on the red sofa, eyeing the ready teapot. As Albus reached for the teacup, he must have read his mood or the involuntary expression of distaste on his face because Albus instantly transfigured it into a crystal tumbler. He pulled a glass decanter full of amber liquid from the side cupboard
Snape's eyebrows went up, but he did not complain. A drink sounded absurdly good right now. Dumbledore waved his hand and two ice cubes appeared over the glass dangling in the air.
"How do you take it?"
Severus shook his head. "Neat." The ice promptly disappeared and Dumbledore handed him the tumbler, which held a healthy amount of liquid. As the elder wizard poured himself a cup of tea, Snape took a sip and found the cognac smooth and rich, one of the most expensive he'd ever tasted.
The silence stretched between them and Snape could tell that Albus was thinking carefully about his next words.
Finally, Dumbledore asked carefully, "May I ask exactly what it is that you saw?"
Snape's skin prickled hot all over. Here they were, getting to the nitty-gritty of it, and once again he wished he could take back his earlier admission. But honesty filtered through his embarrassment and he managed a garbled, "Everything."
"I see." The same short response. It did not bode well for Albus's mental state, but Severus didn't need that to judge his mood. Point in fact, he'd never seen Dumbledore so visibly disturbed before. He looked slightly ashenand that thought caused his own anxiety to heighten. He took two large gulps of the cognac, grateful for how easily it went down while simultaneously regretting wasting its luxury on such an occasion.
Although his glass wasn't yet empty, Dumbledore lifted the decanter and offered him a refill, which he gratefully accepted. To his surprise, Dumbledore then filled his own tea cup, half full with tea, with the cognac to the top and drank it down. Snape's eyes widened in shock at the sight and he jolted involuntarily, his mind fighting against the dissonant image of Albus indulging in such a way. Although perhaps indulging was the wrong word – coping was probably closer to the mark.
The longest silence yet of the night stretched on, dragging on between them interminably as each man was lost in their thoughts, regrets and anxieties.
Severus's guilt spiraled out of control as he lost himself in the painful imagery of Dumbledore pacing about his room frantically as he himself shouted hateful words for sending him back. It was no wonder Albus had not mentioned that night to him before; everything about it was positively mortifying to recall. His resentful tone and rage towards Albus, and on the opposite side, his confession of love. Studying Albus's countenance, it seemed that his own inner turmoil was reflected there.
"I want you to know there were things I said that I didn't mean," Snape said abruptly, desperate to make things right between them again.
A stab straight through Dumbledore's heart. So many possibilities about what Severus might mean, but in that moment only the most painful resonated in his mind, and the fact that although it had been self-evident, Severus had felt it necessary to make sure he understood that his words of endearment were not true. Perhaps Severus felt the clarification was necessary to prevent Dumbledore from propositioning him. Dumbledore chest constricted painfully at the thought.
Severus was still speaking, trying to explain, but doing it badly. "I was not myself. I was..."
"Of course, I understand, Severus," Dumbledore offered kindly, his voice genial and full of understanding doing his level best to hide the crushing disappointment from his voice. "You were delirious. You need not explain any more."
Snape closed his eyes, steeling him against the meaning of Albus's words. And he found himself simultaneously hoping and dreading that Albus would understand that he that he'd meant every word of those spoken endearments that night, most especially those critical three words. But he couldn't bring himself to say it; it was too great a risk revealing so much. He'd revealed far too much already.
The thought brought on a sudden wave of uneasiness in him as he remembered all that Albus had done for him. How he'd spent that week of his unconsciousness, and the many more following, tending to his needs. His emotions were in uproar – a mixture of overwhelming gratitude and burdening shame. If only it had never happened. If only he'd never seen it. If only Albus hadn't been there to hear him say those horrible things.
"You needn't have stayed, Albus," he found himself whispering softly, not even fully aware he was speaking his thought aloud.
'Do you wish I hadn't?' The question burned Dumbledore's brain, but he did not voice it. Instead, he returned Severus's gaze with an intensity he was sure the younger man had seldom ever seen on him before and said simply, "Of course I needed to stay."
Snape lowered his eyes from Albus's penetrating gaze and took a long sip of his drink before waving his hands in the air, trying to dispel the nervous tension that had taken hostage of this conversation. "Everything turned out alright in the end, Albus. You needn't have felt guilty for anything."
"Guilt, Severus?" Dumbledore asked incredulously. Was that truly why Severus believed he had cared for him that night?
Dumbledore eyed Severus for a very long moment and wondered how earth the man in front of him, one of the most complicated he'd ever met, could possibly reduce all that he'd felt down to one emotion. And such an uncomplicated one at that. "The burden of sending you back to him is something I will carry forever, Severus," Dumbledore said, leaning forward in his chair. "But guilt had nothing to do with why I stayed with you," he added, feeling as forlorn as he did relieved at Severus's confused expression.
He filled his empty teacup with a second helping of cognac and wished he had the strength to finish his thought. 'I wouldn't have left your side for anything. And if I could have traded places you, taken away your pain, I would have… in a heartbeat.'
All of it, left unsaid. His eyes pleaded with Severus to understand, imploring him to listen to his hidden thoughts. Ask me why I stayed and why I held you in my arms. Ask, and I'll tell you everything!
But Severus did not ask.
Another minute of silence passed before Snape spoke again, attempting a nonchalant mood. "Well, I… I just wanted to thank you… for taking care of me that night." The words felt so hollow in his mouth even as he spoke them, and he cursed himself for sounding so trite, so emotionless, so unlike the way he felt in that moment.
"No thanks are needed, my boy."
"And I'm sorry for…" He stopped. What to say? I'm sorry for telling you I hated you for sending me back. I'm sorry for acting like a weak fool. I'm sorry for bringing such shame to myself it's making you uncomfortable. I'm sorry for begging you to hold me (even though I'm so glad you did). I'm sorry I told you I love you and now you can't even look at me without paling. "I'm just sorry for the trouble."
Dumbledore sighed heavily, frustrated with Severus's repeated apologies. "It was no trouble, Severus," he said heavily.
"It's late, Albus. I should go." Snape stood, moving his hands awkwardly at his sides before settling on smoothing down the wrinkles in his robe. The awkwardness between them had grown to almost beyond the point of tolerability and he had to leave. Originally he'd thought that he could have tried to continue their friendship despite Albus's discomfort. But it appeared that Albus was more overwhelmed by the events of that night than he'd imagined. Not to mention that his own discomfort was intolerable with the Dark Lord's vile voice ringing in his brain, plans he could not bring himself to confide in anyone, not even Albus, the one man he was obliged to tell.
He considered telling Albus he'd not be coming around anymore because of the Dark Lord. It was true in a way. But he knew that Dumbledore wouldn't allow it. He'd already done his best to draw him out, to keep him from closing off. So instead, he went with a standard excuse, once that Albus could easily believe.
"Now that the summer's underway," Snape said, his voice suddenly cold and professional, "There are several research projects I'd like to pursue."
"Hmm." Dumbledore could see where this was going, but if this is what Severus wanted, he played along dutifully. "Anything I know about?"
"I don't think so," Snape replied evasively. "I expect I'll be very busy."
Dumbledore's throat swelled even though the words were not unexpected. He was losing him. He was losing Severus. And if he could have, he would have said anything in that moment to stop it from happening. "Of course," he said, trying desperately to hold back the looming sadness. "I understand, Severus," he finished, knowing he was giving Severus what he wanted, space away from him. However much he hated it, he hated more that he was the cause of the palpable tension between them.
"Well then, goodnight, Headmaster."
Snape turned sharply and began heading for the door.
"Goodnight, Severus," Dumbledore said softly, unable to prevent his voice from shaking slightly as he spoke.
Snape stopped suddenly at the door, his back to Dumbledore. He wasn't sure why it was that his feet felt suddenly glued to the floor, whether it something he'd heard in Albus's voice, or simply the burning in his chest that had by now intensified to the point of agony. But he couldn't leave. Not yet.
Dumbledore found himself clutching his teacup tightly in his hand, overcome with anxiety as he eyed Severus standing there in silence as if frozen. He could see the tension in his friend's hands as they clenched perceptibly and he found himself dreading whatever it was Severus was going to say. The moment stretched and the tension grew and when it was well past a minute, Dumbledore realized that he must have been mistaken and that Severus was probably waiting for him to say something. Waiting for him to apologize for what had happened. To apologize for invading his personal space when he was incapacitated. There was no doubt in his mind that he would apologize – he would do anything to mend this rift between them. But just as he opened his mouth to issue an apology, Severus spoke, his back still facing Dumbledore.
"You should know, Albus," Snape began, his voice full of sudden strength, masking the trembling of his insides. "You saved me… once again."
Dumbledore was stunned by the intensity of Severus's words. Struggling for words, he asked, "What are you talking about?"
A cold shiver passed through him and suddenly the need to confess, at least this one thing, to the most important person in his life was consuming him. There was no turning back. Slowly, Snape turned to face Albus, and began tentatively, "I don't know if you know. I didn't know it for a long time." Despite the fact that his voice was soft, he could tell it was wavering.
"I went back and saw you entering my mind." A beat as he struggled to control his emotions. "I didn't know it was you then, but I should have…" His voice cracked; he couldn't help it and he tried fervently to swallow the lump in his throat. "I know now."
Dumbledore's mind frantically processed the meaning of what Severus was telling him. He'd never known if his efforts that night had done anything to impact Severus's recovery. He'd never known if it been his entering his mind or a simple coincidence that he awoke the very next day.
"I confess I… I was ready to…" Snape paused, his voice unmistakably thick with emotion. He covered his face with his hand as he struggled to will his tears back into his eyes and dropped his gaze to the floor. "I was ready to go, ready for it all to end. You were right. I'd given up," Snape said, still looking down. "But something stopped me. I heard a voice… your voice."
A brief pause and then Snape looked up, meeting Albus's eyes fully with his own for the first time. "And it brought me back," Snape said, his voice hitching with emotion. "And it… and you… you made me want to live again."
Dumbledore was paralyzed where he stood, rendered completely breathless by the sudden openness in Severus's eyes. It was something he'd rarely seen, Severus deliberately showing him the absolute truth of his words in his eyes. He saw it all there, how his voice had brought him back, his gratitude and a devastating desire to show the truth. It was beautiful. And Dumbledore was left stunned and awed by the moment, taking in every single second of this rare gift.
And then as suddenly as it all had appeared, it was gone the next instant, and over Severus's eyes, the familiar mask slipped back into place.
"I just thought you should know that," Snape finished, his voice suddenly flat and firmly controlled. So much so that it was almost as though he'd imagined all that emotion of a moment ago.
Just as Dumbledore struggled for something to say, for an appropriate response to all this knowledge, Severus interrupted his attempt with an almost cold voice, filled with cold finality. "Goodnight, Albus."
Severus headed for the door and was gone in an instant, leaving Dumbledore with a tear sliding down his cheek and the tacit knowledge that things would never be the same between them again.
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Author's note: Thank you everyone for your support and patience! Your enthusiasm and support is appreciated.
Thank you very much to my beta for this chapter, Snape's Nightie.
I anxiously await your comments. xx