Disclaimer: Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore both belong exclusively to JK Rowling. I'm not making any money through this (though I admit I'd quite like to) and I hope no one gets offended by anything in it. I also thank AllyKulla for her one tiny contribution- the idea of raising your hand when drowning. But it belongs to her. Go check out her fanfic.

Seeing Angels By Fizzy the Lizard

Albus Dumbledore was easy enough to contact. Not necessarily easy to find – he did many things with his life, often in thoroughly strange places a long way away from the usual haunts of one hundred and thirty-year-old men – but easy to contact. He was the Headmaster, and as such required a regular address. After all, it wouldn't do for the parents to have to chase the Headmaster of Hogwarts around every time their snotty-nosed little brats complained about something.

Severus didn't think he would ever be a teacher. Children lacked focus. They certainly lacked discipline – of his seven years at Hogwarts as a student, he had only once seen students of any age really regarding their classes with any sort of seriousness, and that was towards the beginning of their final examinations. Add to that the fact that some students simply had no ability and it became almost hopeless. The ones that were moderately capable – he clenched his fists without noticing he was doing it, thinking very clearly of a certain irresponsible pair – were also foolish, and that was worse. Had there been a way to thin out classes so that only the capable and those willing to be driven forward were present, it might perhaps have been half bearable. But there had been nothing when he was at school, and while Dumbledore remained Headmaster there probably never would be.

But (as he reminded himself silently) that was not the point. Criticising Dumbledore now would accomplish nothing.

The gargoyle (an irritatingly cheerful thing with a Cockney accent, which he remembered Dumbledore referring to as Frederick) turned its head with a slight grinding noise and studied him. "I 'eard yer say you 'ad an 'ppointment wiv Dumbledore, but yer di'n't say it was fer tomorrer! Are yer comin' in or not?"

"I can't," he replied coldly. "You have yet to move."

"Well, there's no need ter be rude…" the gargoyle muttered. It stopped and peered at him. "'Ang on…I've seen yer before, I 'ave. 'Few years back now, comin' up 'ere wiv them boys as was such troublemakers – yer know the ones I mean, Black an' Potter, an' that quiet one, wotsisname, the Lupin lad…no Pettigrew that time, but 'e was probably in bed like a good lad…"

"Move." He kept his voice as calm as he could. Had this infuriating creature not been carved out of stone, he would have been strangling it. "That incident is between Professor Dumbledore, the other boys and myself. Do not mention it again."

The gargoyle muttered mutinously, but moved aside with a long scrape. It turned its head around (with another, smaller scrape) and bawled, "Your 'ppointment, Professor Dumbledore sir!"

And there was Dumbledore – long silver beard, dark blue robes, very fine with silver threads worked into the fabric. Half-moon glasses perched on the end of his nose. A quill – eagle feather, by the look of it – was tucked behind his left ear. He nodded gravely, but did not smile. "Come in, Severus."

Severus really did not change very much. Unfortunate that he should be like that, when if he could have had a slightly better start – a family that cared for him, perhaps even one person closer than an acquaintance – his own ambition could have taken him so much further, and he could perhaps have achieved so much more already. However, none of that had happened. As matters stood, his pride held him apart from others, and while he said this did not matter, from what Dumbledore had seen of him he had not been a particularly happy child. He had grown from that child into a cynical and a lonely young man. In the potions laboratory, he was close to contentment – potions ingredients did not make too many sudden and unexpected changes, and experimenting with their properties pleased him very much when it worked out – but with people…no. Over the years, Dumbledore had shifted from teaching Transfiguration or any conventional classes to assisting the students in a much more difficult lesson. Dumbledore did not have very many failures in this lesson, hard as it was, but it saddened him to count this young man as one of them.

He did not say this aloud. Severus was intelligent enough to figure it out for himself.

"Would you care for a cup of tea, Severus?" Dumbledore rather enjoyed his afternoon cups of tea. They were a comfortable little ritual, and one of the house elves (Simmy, if he remembered correctly) made outstanding fruit scones. He made certain to have at least one per day, and sent his compliments down with the plate.

"No." Severus did not seem comfortable. Of course, his last visit here had been under unpleasant circumstances. He had been very badly frightened – no doubt the incident would be remembered for the rest of his life.

"You're certain? Perhaps a scone?" He offered the plate. "I can recommend them. They really are quite superb."

"No…thank you."

That had been an afterthought. The pause, and Severus was not used to thanking people. He did not often have cause to thank anyone. Dumbledore sat back and studied him, trying to imagine what should bring him here. He made a point of being available should any of his students (or indeed ex-students) wish to see him…but Severus did not ask for help or guidance. He never had.

Always, always, he wore black. The school uniform for Slytherin had involved green and silver as well, but looking at him all anyone had usually been able to notice was the black robes over the top. Now he was no longer required to wear school uniform (at twenty years of age, he was far too old), he had reverted almost entirely to plain black. Black trousers, grey shirt, black robes. No colour anywhere. Even his socks, barely visible beneath the hem of his robes, were black. It did not suit him well. With his greasy black hair (which he had always worn in very much the same style), his sallow skin and his hooked nose, he had never been handsome – and he knew it, thanks largely to the efforts of James Potter and Sirius Black, though there had been others – but now he looked like a vampire. He sounded very like one too – such formality. Right from the beginning, he had spoken more formally than many children did. He did not sound young. Perhaps he preferred that.

Dumbledore put the tea down. "What would you like to discuss?"

Severus did not answer. Instead, he seized his left arm and began rolling up the sleeve. Burnt clearly into the skin of his left arm was a…tattoo, but not quite. It was a skull with a snake poking out of its mouth, and it was purplish-black.

Dumbledore was almost staring at it. Perhaps he was having difficulty believing it. If he was, he must have been a lot more stupid than he ever let on – there were many of them around. Most of the Death Eaters were young. Some of them were very young indeed – there was more than one seventeen year old, following their fathers or elder brothers into service. Not many women, and those that were there were thoroughly sadistic. They joined mostly because they liked inflicting pain, rather than for particularly strong ideological reasons. The fact that they were all from or married into old and respected pureblood families simply put them in a position of power. Eventually, Dumbledore said softly, "I see." He looked upwards into the younger man's face. "How long have you been doing this?"

"I joined on my eighteenth birthday." He didn't flinch. The words themselves were flung out almost proudly. He wanted Dumbledore to know it had been his choice.

"Why?"

"Because I could. There is no other reason."

"But was it the beliefs that triggered it?"

"No. I wanted to make an impact – my existing situation did not allow it."

Dumbledore stopped and considered the words. Severus waited. He would get there eventually. For now, it was merely a question of hoping he did it faster than he was now. He could have done without the official Death Eater beliefs – they meant very little to him, and words did not prove anything. Actions were remembered far more often than the words said before them. The actions he had completed so far were a waste of his time.

"So why, then, did you come to me?" Dumbledore spoke gently. "I would have no choice but to denounce you, and you knew that before this conversation began."

"I have been doing this for two years now. So far, nothing has changed. I did the same thing last week as I did last year. I am not moving forward, and any pleasure I took in inflicting pain is gone. I joined so I could test myself, and so far I have not been tested at the level of my abilities. There is little skill in what I do. I can do more than this, and the opportunity is not there to prove it. I have had enough."

That was the most he had ever said in one sitting to a teacher outside of Potions class. For most of the time, he had sat up the back and done his work…and then thought quietly to himself of what he would do when he had a life to himself. Powerful thoughts. To start with, he would establish himself as a professional potion-brewer – just to show that he could. He would be the best in the business, if it took him years to achieve, and more importantly, he would do it entirely on his own. Not so he could become famous and give lectures, as usually happened with eminent wizards – that would have been a waste of time unless they were truly serious about using what they learnt, which he doubted – but so he could be more than people's expectations of him, which had never been particularly high.

He had realized that, as a Death Eater, it would not happen. The only way out of service – and he had seen this done many times by now, in a wide variety of pointlessly hideous ways – was death…or possibly Dumbledore. It was not begging for release – Severus Snape had learnt very early on in his life that begging did not help. If anything, it made things worse. So it could not be begging, and it was not asking. Perhaps if he were drowning, it would have been the sudden, shattering realization that he could raise his hand.

Dumbledore had heard a story once, when he was quite young. His mother had told it to him as a bedtime story. Over in the next bed, Aberforth had fidgeted and made a lot of noise, as he usually did when he was bored – a habit he had yet to abandon completely – but he had listened very carefully. He had enjoyed the story very much, and had kept it in his memory, word for word, right through his childhood, through his adolescence and into adulthood. It had angels in it. More correctly, it had one, very special angel in it.

Perhaps not the best thing to say to a man far too old for stories…or the best thing to say to a man who had never really been told one.

"Severus, I am going to tell you something, and I want you to listen. I heard a story once, years ago, that I enjoyed very much. I am going to tell it to you."

"I don't have time for stories," he said flatly.

No time for stories? How very sad. "Have you ever really heard one?"

"I have. I have no wish to hear another."

"Listen to this one. It is very simple, but I would like you to hear it."

There was a very special voice that had to be adopted for proper storytelling. Just as cricket could not be played properly without a bat or Quidditch could not be played properly without a broomstick, a story could not be told properly without this voice. Dumbledore attempted to produce it.

"Once there was a man, in a prison cell. He was sentenced to be hanged the next morning, and he could not see a way out of it. He was going to die, and there was nothing he could do. Naturally, he was not looking forward to this unfortunate event. Imagine his surprise then, Severus, when a man appeared in the corner of the cell. The man was all in white, and he had a great pair of golden wings growing from his back – an angel. The angel told him he could save the man from hanging, but the path he would walk afterwards would be harder than anything he had ever known. The choice was left entirely up to the man."

"Where is this leading?" Severus wasn't made for listening to stories. He couldn't see what lay beneath the words.

"The man decided to stay where he was and let himself be hanged. I could not tell you why, but he did. So he was hanged, and on the way up the steps he wondered whether or not another angel would appear to help him. No one did, and so he died. A month later, there was a different man waiting to be hanged in the same cell. The angel appeared to him as well, and offered him precisely the same choice in precisely the same words. The second man thought about it and chose to accept the offer. When he said he would take the chance, the angel smiled."

"Is that it?"

"Yes, Severus, that is the story. Was it so bad?" Dumbledore smiled. There was a reason he had told that story.

"I saw little point to it."

Dumbledore leaned forward. "I can show you the point to it. You came to me and said you have had enough of the Death Eaters, but you cannot be seen to leave them. I am going to ask you to make a difficult choice. You can stay where you are and remain as safe as you were before we spoke. Or you can assist me in stopping them, report to me on their activities and have more difficulties. The reasons for this choice remain private, and you do not even have to tell them to me. It will be difficult, but the choice is entirely up to you."

"You would trust me with that, when you know what I could do to you and what I have already done?" So he knew himself, and was not entirely happy with what he saw. Better, perhaps, than a Severus who was enjoying himself as a Death Eater.

"Yes, Severus. If you said you would help me, I would trust you to keep your word. Whatever else you are, you have always kept your word." He stood up behind the desk. "However, there is one small thing I forgot to tell you about angels."

"What would that be?" he asked shortly. Even after that, he had very little time for stories.

A grave little nod. "You only ever see one."

FINIS