Disclaimer: The characters and other things belong to JK Rowling. I simply enjoy her world.


He lit a single candle as he entered the circular office, hoping he would not wake up any of the portraits who were genuinely asleep. They had long been used to sleeping by candle light, after all. He glanced at the portrait behind the desk. Lately he had become better at telling whether Dumbledore was really asleep or only pretending to be. This time the old wizard appeared to be dozing peacefully. He sank into his chair at the desk.

"Headmaster Snape!" said a silky voice from the opposite wall. "Another sleepless night?"

Snape cast a tired look at the portrait of the last Slytherin Headmaster before him

"Don't let my insomnia disturb your rest, Phineas," he said. "I'll be quiet."

"Some sleeping draught?" suggested a very sleepy voice from another portrait.

"No," said Snape curtly.

Dilys Derwent, awakened by the mention of insomnia, went back to sleep. Phineas Nigellus was looking at Snape quite as though he was still the Headmaster and Snape a newly arrived dunderhead.

"I have eternity before me," he said pompously. "A little less sleep won't make much difference to me. In your case, however, going without sleep night after night is very unhealthy."

"Luckily," said Snape a little impatiently, "in my line of profession one does not have to worry about long-term health hazards."

Phineas Nigellus had no answer to that. He knew very well that insomnia was among the least important problems the Headmaster had to face. Otherwise he was right, of course. Snape had spent a lot of nights in his office lately, sleepless. There were nights when he had to do something that he could not risk doing during the day or something that could not wait until the morning. Other times, like now, he just could not sleep and preferred to be in the office, ready and prepared in case anything happened. It was difficult to catch him unawares. Tonight, however, he expected a quiet night. Even the most stubborn and foolhardy dunderheads had to sleep sometimes and he guessed that they were tired enough after the eventful previous night.

The Carrows, too, had every reason to be asleep. In all probability, he alone was awake now, except for Minerva and Horace, of course, whose turn it was to patrol the corridors that night. Snape had organized patrol duty as soon as the Death Eaters in the village and the Dementors at the entrances and at the far ends of the tunnels had settled down to stay. Snape knew that he could keep them out only as long as they were convinced that he was fully in charge at Hogwarts, and he made sure it was so. Certain precautionary measures were still necessary, and Dumbledore's Army came in handy as the perfect excuse for the idea of night patrol. The teachers were supposed to maintain law and order at night and catch the rule-breakers. He knew his colleagues well. It was predictable that they would seize the opportunity to officially patrol the corridors and cover up anything that might get their students into trouble. More importantly, they could be trusted to be able to deal with a stray Dementor if one of those monsters decided to enter the castle at night, in search of prey. Naturally, he had not told them to guard the castle against Dementors. He had merely pointed out how well they were protected against intruders since no one, except for the Dementors themselves, could sneak into the castle unnoticed - and he had left it to their intelligence to deduce the rest. Even so, he felt compelled to check the entrances personally every night, sometimes several times a night. Tonight, with Minerva on duty, he could be a little more relaxed.

With a sudden idea, he stood up, went to the black cabinet, opened it, took out the Pensieve and put it on the desk. He was thinking of a memory almost three years old, most of which had taken place in the very same office. It was a painful memory but not nearly as painful as reality was. Lately, it had often been evoked in his mind and he wanted to see it again. It was one of those memories that could help him solve the mystery that Dumbledore, the real, the living Dumbledore, had been. Bleak though it might be, the memory was also the best proof he had that Dumbledore had cared for him and felt for him once as one human cared and felt for another, that he had perhaps been more than just an effective and treasured weapon in the old man's hands. He pointed the tip of his wand at his temple, pulled out the memory and placed it into the Pensieve. He watched it whirl for a few moments and prepared for the dive.

It was early morning in June, three years or maybe a hundred or a thousand years before, when he entered Hogwarts territory again, anguished, exhausted and nauseous, yet fully conscious of having successfully performed an important and difficult duty. The castle was asleep, worn out after the fiasco and the tragedy of the night. Never before had he appreciated Hogwarts as much as in that moment. Never before had he realized how much he was at home there, in the only place where he could be safe - and himself. He was longing to be in his room again, where he could try to shut out, if only temporarily, everything distressing and painful. He had thought that his fourteen-to-sixteen-year-old memories of the Dark Lord were vivid and precise enough but he had been wrong. No memories so old could really prepare him for what he would have to face. He had remembered the language, the attitudes and the rules, but the true horror of it had faded from his memory.

He wanted to be alone; he wanted to rest and to forget for a few hours what he had had to do that night. He had dug up in himself that wretched dead creature, the Death Eater that he was no longer, and turned him into a present for the Dark Lord. He had left behind his real, current, living self so that the Dark Lord could not catch so much as a glimpse of him. Still, he had arrived two hours late, and he had had to endure - and survive - the fury of the Dark Lord, who had wanted to kill him or at least to capture and to torture him, as he would do with all traitors. He wished he could forget how he had told the Dark Lord his lies of unwavering loyalty, how he had offered his services to him with so many degrading gestures of unscrupulous willingness and complete submission. In the course of a long interrogation, he had allowed the Dark Lord to enter his mind again and again, to look for traces of secrets and lies. With self-discipline and concentration, he had closed down everything in his mind that could have betrayed the truth, so that neither the Dark Lord, nor he himself had access to his emotions of resistance and revulsion or to any comforting thoughts about why he was doing and enduring it all. Most of all, he wanted to forget how he had managed to create, in the process, the despicable and all too realistic ghost of the person that he could have become. He had done it knowingly, of course; nevertheless he had believed - hoped - that the resulting persona would be a complete stranger and would have nothing to do with him. Again, he had been utterly wrong.

The silver phoenix appeared only seconds after he had passed under the window of Dumbledore's office.

"Severus, please, come to my office," said Dumbledore's voice, and the Patronus disappeared.

He looked up at the office window. The only way Dumbledore could know when he arrived was if he was standing by the window watching the grounds. So Dumbledore was already up - or maybe still up, waiting for him to return and relate how the mission had gone. Of course, his role was a strategically important one, worth staying awake for a few more hours. What a fool he had been to think that he would get to spend at least some time alone, recovering from the recent shock, before the new day really started, before he had to assist or discipline his students, before he had to brew another potion for Madam Pomfrey, before Dumbledore found something for him to do again ... before he had to talk about his latest achievement. He walked up the stairs feeling very, very unwilling to discuss the task that he had just completed with perfect results.

When he entered the Headmaster's office, Dumbledore hurried to him. It was clear that Dumbledore had not slept that night either. There was an expression of worry and relief on the old face as he quite unexpectedly opened his arms and - for the first and the last time in their lives - embraced Snape. A few hours earlier, just before leaving Hogwarts, he would have been gratified to receive such a kind, fatherly gesture from Dumbledore; but now - he could not bear being touched. At once, he literally pushed the old man away, freed himself instinctively, without thinking at all. A moment later he regretted it and wished he had been more tactful, more grateful perhaps, but he could not take his instinctive first reaction back. Dumbledore regarded him with a curious, unreadable look, and gestured towards the chair which was Snape's usual seat opposite Dumbledore's own chair.

With Dumbledore's desk safely between them, Snape waited, without daring to look up, for Dumbledore's questions.

"I'm sorry, Severus. I'm terribly sorry," said the old professor.

He asked no questions. Snape succeeded in being tactful this time and suppressed the impulse to shout and to ask whether Dumbledore knew what exactly he was sorry about. Instead, he began to talk about his mission. He told him that he had managed to deceive the Dark Lord and that he had been accepted back as a Death Eater and as the Dark Lord's spy. He described the initial guidelines and instructions the Dark Lord had given him, and he mentioned various observations he had made. When he finished, Dumbledore spoke again.

"I trusted you, Severus, completely. I believed that you could do it if anyone could ... still I was greatly relieved to see you come back alive. You have done very well."

He only nodded, acknowledging the compliment and the concern alike. Dumbledore watched him intently.

"Is there anything else that you want to talk about?" Dumbledore asked.

He understood the question and shook his head.


He could not say more. Even breathing was becoming slightly more difficult. There was nothing else that he wanted to talk about. Nothing. He avoided looking into Dumbledore's eyes again, indicating that he did not want him to find out anything without words either. Dumbledore stood up, walked to the window and remained standing there for a while, apparently admiring the early morning scenery. Snape knew that his latest memories were safe in his mind and he could breathe more freely now.

"It is understandable," said Dumbledore at last, "that you hate me for sending you there. I am aware of my responsibility, of course."

Dumbledore's words made him feel guilty, and he had had more than enough guilt to cope with already. It was unfair. It was maybe the first (but not at all the last) time that Dumbledore had played that powerful card. The cunning old man that he was, he knew very well how much Snape cared for him, how he had become the ultimate recipient of all the emotions Snape had not wasted on his real - no, not real, only biological - father. Besides, Dumbledore was not the only one aware of his responsibility.

"I don't hate you," said Snape. "I ... hate myself."

Dumbledore began to walk around, following the shape of the circular office.

"I'm sure you realize, Severus, that we have to use every possible means to fight against Lord Voldemort. There are only a handful of wizards and witches at the moment who are willing to participate in this fight. Last time the Ministry was on our side, but now - it's different. I need all available information about Voldemort and his Death Eaters and I need someone who will be able to cleverly manipulate him, too. The future is at stake. A lot of lives are at stake."

"I know," he said, "and I'm not asking you to give me a different assignment. I will carry on. I'm the only one who can do the job."

There was not a morsel of pride in his words.

"As a very old man," Dumbledore continued, "I have seen and experienced even more than most people suppose. Don't think that I cannot imagine the horrors that you don't want to talk about. But whatever you had to go through this past night in the company of Lord Voldemort, remember that you had chosen to do it willingly for a noble cause, therefore it was an honourable act of bravery and self-sacrifice."

"Except," said Snape "that it does not feel honourable at all. It feels disgusting, dirty ... shameful. It feels humiliating."

By the time he checked himself, it had already burst out of him. He had revealed more than he had wanted to. Dumbledore stopped walking. They both were silent for a while, Snape ashamed, Dumbledore thoughtful. Then Dumbledore spoke - and his voice was exceptionally mild and sympathetic.

"These tormenting emotions, Severus, are reliable signs meaning that you are ... safe. As safe as I thought you would be."


He did not understand.

"Don't get me wrong," said Dumbledore. "Your life, like the success of your mission, depends and will depend exclusively on your own valuable skills. I know that you are taking a great personal risk and that you have to face the danger alone. The safety I'm talking about is of a different kind. It means, no matter how close you may be to Lord Voldemort in the future, your soul will be safe. You are safe from the temptation of the Dark Side."

"Temptation ..." Snape repeated bitterly. "I'm not ... not that stupid teenager any more."

"I agree," said Dumbledore, "and it is very important. The war is just about to begin and none of us can tell what lies ahead of us. There may come a time when Lord Voldemort, who is, as I hear, more powerful today than he was fifteen years ago, might offer you more, in some respects, than I or anyone else on our side could. Being near him and accepted as one of his own is a dangerous and corrupting experience, as you no doubt realized years ago. Still, I'm not afraid for you. If I were, I would not give you this job."

Walking back to his chair again, Dumbledore passed Snape, and he put his hand on Snape's shoulder for a short moment. Snape did not move. Dumbledore sat down.

"Today," he said, "you don't have to do anything. Take the day off and rest. I will substitute for you as Head of Slytherin if you are needed. Tomorrow you will come with me to the first meeting of the new Order of the Phoenix."

There was kindness in those blue eyes.

"Don't forget, if you perhaps want to talk about something troubling you, personally, I'm a good listener."

"Thank you," he said.

He was sure that he would never want to talk about what it really meant to be a spy among the Death Eaters; yet, he appreciated the offer.

He had never talked about it. The ordeal had continued and was continuing still. He kept closing down his emotions and watched what he had to watch without giving himself away, without making the smallest mistake. He had been able to witness the execution of a colleague, hear her cries of help, let her die thinking that he was an enemy - because he could not save her and he had to keep his cover. He was a master Occlumens, after all.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to close down parts of his mind permanently. Occlumency required concentration. The moment always came when he finally released his imprisoned thoughts and emotions. Then they came flooding, all of them. The sorrow, the anger, the compassion, the horror, the disgust, the shame ... and the guilt. Once or twice he had thought they would kill him, but then he had learned to handle them. It was speaking about them that he had never learned. But they were there and they shielded him from the temptation of the easy way. He could not be attracted by the lure of dark power, there was no danger of that. But perhaps without these emotions he could have been tempted to get out of it, to leave, to disappear from the country, from the world even ...

For years, he had thought he was doing everything for Lily, to protect her son. Now he knew that he could not protect the boy any more. What he had believed to be his life purpose for a long time had been taken away from him. And yet ... there were others to protect, others to fight for... After everything that he had seen and done, if he failed to carry out the full plan, what would be the difference between him and the worst of the Death Eaters, the most enthusiastic followers of the Dark Lord? He could not give up. His memories tormented him and guarded him, and his soul was safe from temptation. Was it all that mattered? His soul could be bleeding from a thousand wounds but it was immune to temptation. Of course, that was what mattered to Dumbledore ... His loyalty and his perseverance were all important for Dumbledore's plan.

Perhaps Dumbledore had intended him as early as the first night of the war to become the Dark Lord's right-hand man. But did Dumbledore, could Dumbledore, foresee how events would turn out in a few years? Could he anticipate so early that the Dark Lord would one day rule wizarding Britain while he, Dumbledore, would be dead? Could he foresee that his spy would be integrated into the Dark Lord's inner circle to such an extent that no living person would as much as suspect his true allegiance? He was now Headmaster of Hogwarts by the combined will of Dumbledore and the Dark Lord. It was a position of power of some sort and a title in any case, more than he had ever had; but power and title could never have tasted bitterer to anyone than they tasted to him.

It was not easy to look into the eyes of his colleagues and former teachers every day, knowing that they considered him a traitor and a cowardly murderer. It was not easy to bear the contempt and the hatred of teachers and students alike in the school that was his best and truest home ever. It was not easy to keep up appearances and still protect the same students and colleagues as much as he could. It was not easy to know that every single member of the Order of the Phoenix would be glad to kill him as an enemy. There was a good chance that he would one day die in the hands of one of those he was protecting. The unpopularity of the current Hogwarts Headmaster surpassed by far the unpopularity of the former record holder, whose portrait was now watching him silently from under half-closed eyelids. The Dark Lord, however, favoured him. It did not mean much, of course, because nothing was easier to lose than the Dark Lord's favour. Still, at present, the Dark Lord's favour meant power and relative safety to anyone who was the Dark Lord's real follower. To him, it meant only the opportunity to perform the duty that he had been entrusted with by Dumbledore.

Dumbledore had had no doubts that Snape would do and could do his increasingly difficult duties exactly as he was meant to, just as he had seemed to have no doubts that the boy would be both willing and able to do everything that was necessary for the Dark Lord's defeat. Snape realized that he had no doubts either. If Dumbledore had been correct regarding one of them, he could well be correct regarding the other one as well.

Dumbledore had trusted him. Dumbledore had asked him to give up everything that he still valued in life, made him become the Dark Lord's confidant and right-hand man at a price that he was most unwilling to pay and turned the better half of the wizarding world against him. At the same time, Dumbledore had told him a secret which no one else knew, a secret that would influence and possibly decide the outcome of the war. As soon as he told the boy the secret, he would know what he had to do to make the Dark Lord mortal and vulnerable. If he told the same secret to the Dark Lord, the Dark Lord would know how to guard his life and his power. How much easier it would be to tell the Dark Lord than the boy... He knew how to find the Dark Lord. The Dark Lord would listen to him with interest and believe his words. Potter was out of his reach and anyway... Potter would much sooner kill him than listen to anything that he had to say. Even if he managed to force him to listen, how would he make him believe what he was saying? Yet, he was keeping the secret for the boy and for the boy alone.

Dumbledore had known that no temptation could reach Snape, Dumbledore had known that Snape would be loyal to him even when he was nothing else but a portrait on a wall, regardless of what the Dark Lord might have to offer. Dumbledore had confidently sent him through hell without ever being afraid for his soul.

"Deep in thought, Severus?" said a quiet voice behind him.

He turned. Blue eyes were twinkling at him, blue eyes full of secrets that they would not share.

"Quite immersed," he said.

"Did my army keep you awake again?" Dumbledore sounded a little worried. He was always worried about students.

"Not this time," he answered, watching the portrait of his predecessor observantly. "There are things troubling me ... personally."

The blue eyes twinkled again.

"You know that I'm a good listener."

Snape cleared the Pensieve away and locked the black cabinet. There were things that he simply could not talk about. Yet, it was comforting to know that Dumbledore remembered.