Rating: soft R
Warnings: DH spoilers, slash
Disclaimer: Not mine, etc.; no money being made, etc.; please don't sue me, etc...

Ab Imo Pectore

Or, Seven Reasons to Love…

By Daphne Dunham

I. Because He Feels

The truth is that he's been hesitant to take him. Any potential outcome, he's thought, would inevitably be unsavory: Perhaps Remus would be there and a scene would ensue. Perhaps the boy would reveal himself to be a fraud and desecrate the headstone by casting the Dark Mark upon it. Or, alternately, perhaps Severus would be so overwhelmed by guilt and grief that he'd try to claw his way through the soil to reach her, so that he could hold Lily's bones in his arms, so that he could join her. The possibilities have seemed endless, but Severus has been insistent—and Albus curious. If he went with the boy, the headmaster has reasoned, he could certainly intervene in case of disaster. And so he has agreed to it—to a visit to Godric's Hollow, to the cemetery, to pay respect at Lily Potter's grave.

What Albus hasn't counted on, though, is his own emotions. Of course, he's known there would always be the specter of his own personal history here to haunt him—of Ariana and Gellert and of his sundry mistakes and acts of selfishness. Today, though, there's more: The headmaster is stunned, transfixed, as he watches Severus approach the Potters' graves. The dark-haired young wizard moves slowly in those final steps—seems to nearly stagger. He raises a hand to his chest, to his heart, to his throat. Then, Severus drops; he lowers himself to his knees by the tombstone, his fingertips falling to his side, clutching—tearing—at the grass surrounding him. Even paces away, Albus hears the boy's sob, his horrible, heartbroken moan at facing Lily's freshly covered grave.

"Severus….?" He questions softly as he steps closer and places a hand supportively on the young man's shoulder.

It takes a moment, but Severus manages to tear his gaze from the headstone and look up at the headmaster. His face is ashen, drenched with tears and torment, the lines and curves telling the tale of his love and self-loathing. Seeing it, Albus hesitates—no, not quite hesitates—startles, and he stares for a minute, in awe at the young man before him: The boy is no Death Eater—not really. He may bear the Mark, and he may have performed his own set of crimes; but he's not hardened, and he's certainly not heartless. The opposite, in fact, is true: Severus feels too much, too profoundly, too sincerely. He feels with such intensity that Albus half wonders how it's possible that the young man's heart has not yet burst—that Albus barely has the strength to empathize, to truly understand—that Albus is left feeling inferior, envious of the boy's depth of sensitivity. Severus' pain, his love, his longing… A true Death Eater, the headmaster knows, is incapable of such emotions; a true Death Eater is only capable of mania, of sociopathy, of being conscienceless.

Suddenly, Albus understands: Severus is a martyr, a saint; the boy should be raised high and exalted, a model of genuine love and suffering. Slowly, the headmaster lowers himself to kneel beside the dark-haired wizard. He feels weak, humbled, proven wrong. For weeks now he's doubted the young man before him; he's treated him with disdain and disgust; he's underestimated and misunderstood Severus—and in so doing, he's abused him. Silently, the headmaster chastises himself; inside his soul and from the bottom of his heart, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

"Severus, I…" he chokes, hoarse, struggling to find words to explain, to apologize, to express his remorse. He feels hot tears forming in his eyes. But words seem inadequate.

- - -

II. Because He's Fearless

He's not afraid, Albus notes with strange fascination. He's being threatened with Azkaban, with a trial, with the Dementor's Kiss—and yet he remains composed, stoical, undaunted: He merely stands there, silent and unresisting, staring out the window in a distant, detached fashion as the Auror binds his wrists. Perhaps it's because he's been expecting this all along, been anticipating that he would eventually be arrested, that one of the other Death Eaters would name him and the Aurors would descend upon him, to see justice done. Or perhaps it's because he feels he deserves this, that he ought to be punished for all he's done, to be held accountable for his sins… for Lily. Either way, Albus marvels, Severus' bravery is admirable. The headmaster can barely breathe just witnessing it—the injustice of it, the terrible beauty of this arrest when the boy has already repented, when he's already being punished—being forced to live knowing how he's contributed to Lily's death. Severus is suffering enough, Albus feels; surely, further chastisement is unnecessary—cruel, even.

"Is it really necessary to do this, Alastor?" Albus intercedes as he watches. "The boy is no Death Eater."

"That'll be for the Wizengamot to decide, won't it, Albus?" Moody reminds him gruffly as he tucks his wand back inside his robes. He lightly tugs on Severus' wrists, testing the magical binding to ensure it's secure. Satisfied that it is, he grasps the younger wizard by the upper arm to guide him, to steer him to the door of the headmaster's office and to Azkaban instead. Severus does nothing to resist; he merely follows, jaw clenched bitterly and chin held high.

"The evidence against him is strictly anecdotal, Alastor—you know that as well as I do," Albus protests further, this time more incensed. He steps forward, moves out from behind his desk. "It's unreasonable to hold a man based on hearsay, especially given the circumstances. I've tried to make Barty see this."

As Moody turns back sharply to face the headmaster, Severus is jerked to a wild stop. "He'll have a trial, Albus," the Auror replies gruffly. "And he's not the only one who's been arrested based on the testimonies in other suspects."

"And so that makes it right, Alastor?" the headmaster challenges. "I thought you believed in justice."

"I believe in being vigilant," Moody barks.

Exasperated, Albus sighs but says no more. He will not win today: This is not the time or place for a battle of ethics and political philosophies. But as he watches the Auror push Severus through his office—by the chattering portraits of headmasters past, around the tables of whizzing silver bobbles and instruments, and out by the winding staircase with its great stone gargoyle standing guard—Albus is determined. The boy won't stay in Azkaban if he has anything to say about it. The headmaster will fight this; he'll testify on Severus' behalf, appeal to the Wizengamot, argue with the Minister himself if he has to. After all, he needs the young man—he's so composed, so fearless, so motivated: He'll be important in any future battle against Voldemort.

…And besides, Severus doesn't deserve prison—not when it comes down to it, anyway. Watching the final swish of the young wizard's dark robes as he disappears through the doorway, Albus believes this, knows it in his bones, in his blood, from the bottom of his heart. It makes him ache; it makes him tremble.

- - -

III. Because It's Been Too Long

The boy has gone right to sleep: a cup of tea and a warm roll—he wasn't very hungry, he'd said, though Albus had offered to see that he receive a proper meal—and then a moment of quiet by the fire, and he was dozing, leaving Albus to paternally drape a blanket over him, show himself out, and wander back up from the dungeons and to the comfort of his own tower.

It's a relief, really, that Severus has fallen asleep so easily, Albus thinks as he sits in his chaise and sips his nightcap, absentmindedly turning over the page of the Evening Prophet. With other wizards, there would have been weeping or thrashing or nightmares—vivid, disturbing, violent replaying of the Dementors and the wailing and the bleak walls of prison. Not with Severus, though: He's too fearless, too composed to be completely broken by a few weeks in Azkaban. Realistically, though, tonight will probably be the first peaceful night's sleep he's had since Moody arrested him. But it will continue to get easier every day; Albus is confident that it will: Tomorrow, Severus will eat a little more—a full meal, perhaps. And a few days after that, he'll go back into his office. And a few weeks after that, he'll return to teaching. Albus will watch him, will make sure he's all right—after all, he's already invested so much in the boy, in testifying on his behalf and making the daring claim to the Ministry that Severus is no more a Death Eater than he himself is.

But there's more to it than that, the headmaster reluctantly admits to himself as he turns over another sheet of the newspaper, giving up on reading yet another page. He cannot stop thinking about the boy. There was a moment as he stood before the Wizengamot, glancing from Barty Crouch to the gaunt, miserable face of Severus in chains that Albus felt something feral pounding within his rib cage, aching to be set free. And there was a moment when he glanced over at Severus, closed-eyed and peaceful, asleep on the sofa by his fireplace downstairs that Albus felt it again, warmer this time—yet just as fierce. The headmaster had to force himself to leave the dungeons, not to linger in the shadows to stare at the pallid, pure young man as he slept. And there is a moment now, as he sits here thinking about Severus and the day's events, that Albus feels it again—that gnawing in his heart.

Suddenly, Albus cannot help himself: He slips a hand into his robes. His body isn't as strong and supple as it once was, but at least his skin is still responsive to the touch. He lets his palm wander across his abdomen; then he navigates lower. He exhales slowly, imagining what it would be like to share this with Severus, for Severus to touch him as he's doing right now. The idea appeals to the headmaster, makes him burn in a way he hasn't for a great number of years—since that odd, firewhisky-inspired night with Elphias Doge shortly after Gellert went to prison. His hold on himself tightens, his strokes become more frenzied at the thought of it. Albus' hips rise anxiously to meet his moving fist—faster, tighter—and sweat gathers at the backs of his knees, in the shallows of his neck. Then, in those frantic seconds that he's spilling himself, the headmaster finds himself gasping Severus' name, barely able to breathe from wanting him.

Afterward, Albus cleans up with the hem of his robes and a wave of his wand. He feels instantly ashamed of himself—dirty, like a perverted old man—for even allowing himself these few moments of lust. After all, Albus has violated certain boundaries, pushed certain sacred limits: employer and employee, father- and son-figure, mentor and advisee, guardian and guarded. And that's not all: He's old enough to be the boy's grandfather—his great-grandfather, even. He taught Severus—and he taught the boy's mother: Albus remembers the way Severus sat hunched at his desk as a student, studying furiously, neck tucked against his chest and fingers pinched around his quill, oblivious to the passage of time; it's the same way Eileen Prince had studied when she was a girl—so focused, so earnest, so….

Disgusted with himself, the headmaster wraps his robes around himself once more. "It's only because it's been so long," he whispers to himself sadly, trying to assuage his own conscience—to make an excuse for his behavior. Albus feels moisture in his eyes, though, and as he looks around the shadows of his chambers, he knows in the bottom of his heart that this justification is not quite good enough to pardon him.

- - -

IV. Because He's Gifted

"You're doing well, Severus," the headmaster encourages. "I know it's difficult, but you are—you're doing quite well, in fact."

And it's true: Severus is exceptional, Albus notes to himself; he is naturally adept at Occlumency, it would seem: already accomplished after mere dabbling and only this second formal lesson. Nonetheless, the dark-haired young wizard looks skeptical at the headmaster's assertions. His breathing is heavy—nearly panting—but as he leans back in the chair to rest, to regain his senses, he nods in agreement despite himself. He closes his eyes for a moment and takes a deep breath, swallows hard. Even without looking, he can feel the warm probing of Albus' weighty stare upon him—on his heart, in his mind, pressing against his soul.

"All right," Severus murmurs as he opens his eyes, "I'm ready." He sits at attention, close to the edge of his seat, and forcing calm over himself, he looks boldly, squarely at the headmaster, encountering his gaze fearlessly.

"Legilimens!" Albus commands, taking aim on Severus once more. In a moment, he is sifting through the shadows of the young Potions master's mind: Lily, giggling, reaches up to touch his face, to brush hair from his eyes; Severus' face flushes and he looks away nervously…. Voldemort is hovering over him, giving him a command; Severus genuflects and vows it will be done…. Eileen reads to him, kisses his forehead as he cuddles against her—and yet, he is afraid; he knows that in minutes, his father will be home….

"Concentrate, dear boy," the headmaster whispers in encouragement, bidding Severus to deter him, to protect himself—to place barriers, repel him, or offer up false memories even as he searches his mind. In the next moment, there is nothing—a blur, a haziness; Albus can see nothing but fog, feel nothing but calm. "Good!" he exclaims, jubilant at the success of his tutee.

"Now focus further—resist it, push back…." Albus instructs. He doubts the young man is ready, but it will be interesting to see—and it will be good for him to test his strength.

No sooner has the headmaster thought this than he feels a sudden, sharp incision into his memories. His mind is racing before him, beyond his control; he grips the arms of his chair and watches it: He raises his goblet of pumpkin juice at the staff table in a toast to the new school year…. The headmaster is chatting with Horace Slughorn, trying to dissuade him from retiring…. Aberforth nods in polite acknowledgement of his presence from across the room; Albus is relieved that there seems to be peace between them…. Severus is succeeding, is defying his expectations. Albus is so pleased, so proud, but then…

The headmaster is sitting in his chambers, in his chaise, robes half open and eyes closed. His head lolls and his hips rise as he strokes himself with increasing fervor. There is a frantic, fragile expression on his face as he comes. "Severus…" he murmurs slowly, half-groaning, each syllable accented.

In the next instant, the spell is broken: Albus is alone in his memories and the seconds pass so slowly, tolled by the panicked beating of the headmaster's heart and made heavy by his yoke of guilt and humiliation at being discovered.

"Did you mean for me to see that?" Severus bursts sharply, his eyes flickering with anger. There is a furious flush high in his cheek: Surely the headmaster is mocking him, is being cruel. Severus is nearly shaking with rage at the thought of it, the cruelty of it, the injustice of it. He has, after all, left himself completely vulnerable to the old man, has trusted him, has risked his life for him. And this is how Albus repays him, offering this image—these feelings—of him fantasizing, lusting, longing when Severus knows very well the headmaster doesn't—couldn't—feel this way about him, that no one has ever felt this way about him.

But as the headmaster looks up, there is embarrassment written across his face. It's there, in his eyes, which avert Severus', darting bashfully down to the floor. It's there, in his cheeks, which are just as bright as Severus'. It's there, on his lips, which tremble awkwardly, as if balancing on a precipice, unsure what to say.

"Forgive me, Severus," the headmaster murmurs at last. "It appears that you have mastered these skills even faster than I had expected you to. I was unprepared for that—for you to progress to quickly."

Before Albus can say anything more, he finds himself alone in his chambers, the slam of his door ringing in his ears. Sadly, he stares into the inner flames at the fireplace before him. Of course, Albus doesn't blame the boy for his reaction—the shock, horror, and disgust of it; in fact, he completely understands—sympathizes, even. From the bottom of his heart, though, he wishes things could be different, could be better—that they could be forgotten or erased… or—he dares to wish—reciprocated.

- - -

V. Because He Needs Him

Albus doesn't notice him at first: His thin, dark frame—the curtain of black, misbehaving hair—the way he sits hunched over the desk, studying furiously… He nearly seems to be absorbed by the shadows. It's only the light off his candle that gives the boy's presence away. Spotting the golden flicker as he rounds the stacks, Albus startles; he freezes where he stands and nearly drops the heavy tome he's carrying. He hasn't been expecting to find anyone in the library after hours, so late at night it's early morning, and he's utterly embarrassed by the sight of Severus. The past few weeks—since the abrupt and humiliating conclusion to their Occlumency lessons—have been awkward, after all. There's been the silence when alone in the staff room, the avoidance while passing in the corridor, the averted gazes at mealtimes in the hall. It's been torment.

"Pardon me, Severus," Albus says quietly. "I didn't expect that anyone would be here at this time of night."

The young man looks exceptionally pallid right now, by candlelight with his milky skin contrasting with the darkness. As he stares at the headmaster, though, a slight blush rises in his cheeks. "Dumbledore," he says; he acknowledges the older wizard with a brief nod but nothing more. Before Albus can shrink back into the shadowy safety of the stacks, Severus' nose is lowered down toward the musty parchment of the open text before him once again.

Albus' feet are like lead and his heart is pounding as he winds his way away from Severus. Instantly, he resolves not to linger: He will find the last book he needs—that rare volume on horcruxes—quickly and rather than stay to read, will leave Madam Pince a note that he has it in his office. By the dim light at his wand's end, Albus skims through the titles on spines of the books lining the shelves surrounding him. With fumbling fingers, he reaches to brush away the dust upon them, to clear the elegantly scripted titles embossed upon them: Darke and Dangerous DraughtsWarlocks' Words of Wikked Wisdom…

As the headmaster reaches for another volume, he is stunned to find that his is not the only hand extending toward it: Severus' palm, warm and strong and somewhat rough, intercepts his, rests upon it on the spine of the closest book. Bewildered, Albus turns. The young man is standing beside him, so close that he can practically see the loneliness draped like curtains in his black eyes and virtually feel the eager, unsure palpitation of his heart. Severus opens his mouth to speak, to explain himself in reaching for the headmaster, but his voice catches awkwardly in his throat and he falls silent.

"My dear boy, what is it?" Albus asks gently, concerned, watching the Potions master closely—monitoring the way his eyes flicker and jaw tenses for any hint at what is troubling him.

The kiss, when it comes, is completely unexpected. The headmaster is still trying to search Severus' face for clues, for an explanation, when the boy, having apparently built up a certain strength of courage to do so, leans forward and presses his lips to his. Albus is caught off guard, open-eyed, unresponsive, and stunned. He can only stand still, rigid, and gasp.

"Severus?" he questions.

The boy pulls back slowly. "Please, Albus," Severus murmurs. The forlorn glassiness in his eyes is begging, pleading with the headmaster to show him tenderness, to prove to him that he is worthy of affection, that someone can care for him—and beseeching him not to wound his pride in the process.

Staring at Severus, Albus is dumbfounded. He hesitates. The boy is aching—is confused, he thinks. He doesn't know what he asks, what he desires. He's never been with a man before—never thought about it, never craved it…. And yet, the boy is being completely earnest; the headmaster scarcely needs Occlumency to see that. And Albus wants him so badly.

"Albus, let's be logical about this," Severus presses calmly, rationally. "I know how you feel—and I… I need this," he pauses, then adds uncomfortably, face flushing, "…need you."

The young man's words are invitation enough for the headmaster: His body capitulates before his mind has the chance to debate further. Albus leans in closer to Severus, wand and books placed aside. He gently brushes the boy's face with his fingertips, feeling of the contrast of slight stubble to soft skin from chin to cheek. Then he brings a hand to cradle the back of the young man's head and, closing his eyes, presses his lips to Severus' once more. Even as he does this, the headmaster feels quite confident that he's made better decisions in the past, but he refuses to doubt himself. The boy says he needs him, after all. It's wonderful to be needed—and from the bottom of his heart, Albus is quite certain that he needs Severus, too.

- - -

VI. Because He's Beautiful

It's just sex, Albus tells himself as he stares at the ceiling, waiting for his breath to come back to him, for his lungs to stop quaking—for the dust to settle on his skin again and for the familiar creaking in his antique bones to return. It's just sex—nothing more. After all, Severus is young, and despite the harshness of many of his features, there are handsome things about him: the darkness in his eyes, their mysterious, foresty shadows; the muscles in his legs—hard, virile arcs and lines—sinuous; the curve along his backside, the nexus where thigh meets hip, so firm and well-formed that it makes Albus hard just thinking about it. And it's been a while for Albus since he's had the time or opportunity to share his bed; he's missed this: the warmth of flesh on flesh; the suede and strength of another man's cock in his hands, in his mouth; the muffled murmur—like music—of a racing heartbeat beneath him. It's just sex—that's all. Surely any man in his state—when confronted with such a lover and a hitherto lack of exploits—would certainly seize the opportunity just as he has.

And yet, when he takes a deep sigh and glances over at Severus a moment later, Albus cannot help but feel a dull, heavy mass weighing on him, paining him. The young man is already rising from bed, crossing through the shadows. The flicker of the candlelight on the bedside table casts a warm, golden hue across his smooth pallid flesh; it makes him look nearly like porcelain. Watching him walk toward the bathroom, Albus wants nothing more than to pull him closer again and pierce that china-perfect sphere along his backside once more. All the headmaster is aware of is his own desire and the sound of water from the faucet as Severus makes short work of washing.

"Leaving already, Severus?" Albus asks softly when the dark-haired young wizard reemerges from the bathroom. By the dim light, the headmaster can barely make out the sight of the boy gathering up his clothes from across the room—boots, robes, underpants on a chair, off the floor, at the end of the bed. As Severus begins to dress, Albus cannot help but feel disappointed—feel that mass grow heavier, more painful, in his heart. He is surprised to realize that he misses the boy already, longs for him even before he's left.

"Exams to grade," Severus excuses. He pulls his robes over his shoulders without ceremony; tacitly, the headmaster regrets the disappearance of that warm, ivory flesh he so enjoys. "It seems never to end."

"Ahh, yes, paperwork has a tendency to do that—never to end, that is," Albus replies, attempting not to sound too deflated. There is a slight hopefulness in his tone as he continues, "Shall I plan to see you tomorrow then?"

"Of course," is the reply.

It's a response spoken so simply, so plainly, so nonchalantly that the headmaster cannot help but feel slightly saddened that Severus isn't more eager for the promise of their next rendezvous—that he doesn't look forward to them as much as he does. Dumbly, Albus listens to Severus close the door to his chambers, to the boy's footsteps echoing on the stairs descending the turret—softer, softer, until he hears nothing but the silence of being alone. And the headmaster has to remind himself: It's just sex.

But even as he tries to convince himself that his interest in Severus is strictly sexual—the result of circumstance and simple physical attraction—the headmaster doesn't fully believe it, doesn't completely trust himself. Albus knows himself better; he knows from the bottom of his heart that he's in danger: He knows that he might fall in love, that a piece of him already loves the sallow, black-haired young man beside him—and has, in fact, since the moment he saw him weeping at Lily Potter's grave, so broken and bereft, all those months and months ago.

- - -

VII. Because He Means Well, Despite It All

The boy, he's thought for months now, doesn't quite return his feelings. Oh, Severus is willing enough, of course: There are times when he's so hungry for Albus that he's already taken off half his clothes on the stairs up to the headmaster's chambers. And Severus cares enough, Albus supposes: He did insist on making a special batch of Pepperup Potion for him a few weeks ago when he was feeling under the weather. Severus doesn't, though, dote on him as Albus does him—and he seems maddeningly placid any time the headmaster mentions Gellert—and he hasn't stayed at the castle for the holiday, even though Albus asked him to.

Fortunately, Albus loves him enough for the both of them.

That love, though, doesn't mean that he still doesn't feel somewhat lonesome as he rises from bed that morning with a yawn. He blinks away the haziness and waits for his feet to adjust to the cold of the stone floor for a moment before shuffling out of the bedroom and into his sitting room. He's greeted by a snowy view through his window, embers smoldering in the fireplace, and an overflowing stocking dangling from the mantel above it. With a heavy sigh, Albus reaches over to pour himself a cup of tea from the table freshly laid out with breakfast items by the house elves. Taking his first sip, he cannot help but miss Severus. He imagines him back home at Spinner's End with his mother, dutiful yet miserable. And Albus cannot help but wish Severus was here instead, beside him—that they were sharing gifts and egg nog before falling back into bed for the rest of the day…. And then he cannot help but sigh again.

Reluctantly, Albus sets down his tea and resolves to start in on the task of opening his presents. Slowly, he sorts through the fancily decorated packages peering at him over the top of the stocking over the fireplace. Round packages, square ones—hard ones and soft. The ribbons pull apart quickly, and the shiny, smooth paper tears easily beneath his fingertips, revealing the typical array: bottles of Madam Rosmerta's best mead; tomes of the latest advances in magical theory; and a variety of eloquent quills, fine inks, and sundry silver, whizzing wizarding knickknacks. As usual, his liquor cabinet and bookshelves will be well stocked in the year ahead, it would seem.

It's all well and good, he thinks to himself as he nears the end of the stack. No surprises, nothing overly personal, nothing embarrassing—just the usual tokens of respect and stuffiness he's come to expect over the years. It's almost a relief, really; after all, it will make drafting his thank-you notes that much easier: Dear Minister, Many thanks once again for your kind gift of a bottle of mead. And yet, for some reason Albus doesn't quite feel overly pleased about it. He doesn't mean to be ungrateful, he quickly decides. It's merely that he's exhausted of the ordinary, weary of routine. For once, Albus would like to receive a gift that has taken thought, that illustrates that the person giving it understands him, knows him—truly grasps who he is beneath his wise-and-venerable-professor exterior. He hasn't had such a gift in a long time—if ever.

As he slips his hand back into the stocking and withdraws the last of his presents, though, Albus finds himself relieved to discover that it's never too late for first times: The package is ordinary looking enough—in fact, its simple emerald wrap and slim rectangular box make it rather inauspicious. Yet tearing back the paper and lifting the lid of the container, the headmaster cannot help the wide smile that spreads at once across his face—or the warm chuckle that quickly follows.


He's been given socks. What's more, they're the most wonderful socks Albus has ever seen, knit of a soft, crimson thread that's simultaneously silken and sturdy—and, as he finds when he lifts his bare, chilly feet off the stone floor and slips them over his toes, they are imbued with a self-warming charm. They heat his skin on contact, make his feet tingle with comfort. Albus sighs contentedly at how soothing they are. At last, he thinks, someone has appreciated his ongoing joke that all he really wants is a fine pair of socks; at last, he thinks, someone understands that all he craves is a little bit of comfort, a simple pleasure…. But who?

Then Albus sees it: a small slip of parchment at the bottom of the box, resting beneath where the socks were carefully folded moments ago. Leaning forward, he takes the piece of paper in his hand and instantly recognizes the tiny, cramped handwriting of his Potions master.

For the one who is as warm and comfortable to me
as this pair of socks will be to him.

Despite his laughter at the unexpected delightfulness of his gift, a small tear forms in Albus' eyes. By this, the least pretentious of his gifts, he is most appreciative and most moved. As usual, he has underestimated his dear Severus Snape; the sensitivity of this gift is evidence of this—a reminder that the young man has such intensity of feeling that it shames him, humbles him. Albus can see that it's painfully obvious now: Of course the boy understands him, of course the young man cares for him, of course Severus loves him. He may be reserved and he may be detached; he may be peevish and he may be harsh. He may be secretive, awkward, uncomfortable, and even cruel….

But looking down at the socks, Albus knows that none of this matters; he knows from the bottom of his heart that Severus means well—that he loves well—despite it all.

A/N: "Ab Imo Pectore" should (hopefully!) translate from Latin to "From the Bottom of My Heart." Someone once left as feedback from one of my other AD/SS stories that she could understand how Severus could fall in love with Albus but not so much how Albus could love someone like Severus. Ironically, I feel just the opposite: I think it's Albus who'd be more prone to falling for Severus. Needless to say, I took the opportunity to explore. What I've hoped to do here is outline a few of the reasons (certainly there are more!) why/how I feel Albus could fall in love with Severus. In a way, then, I suppose this piece can be a bit construed as a defense of AD/SS slash….