Rating: K (PG)
Summary: "You know why I'm here," Snape's voice cracked. "Why do you make me say it, Dumbledore? Do you think I'm not humiliated enough?" A closer look at the conversation between Snape and Dumbledore on the night Snape betrayed Lord Voldemort.
The last time he had seen him they had exchanged spells – avada kedavra and stupefy.
Dumbledore had taught young wizards for more of his life than he hadn't, and he still knew the trace of every student's magic. Even now, after the hundreds had become thousands, and the thousands had blurred into one, he could feel the distinction every moment he felt a curse or a charm whisper past his ear.
So he knew, even before he saw, who approached him now.
"Don't kill me!" Snape had gasped, his wand dropping from his hand.
Dumbledore knew that he was excellent at Disarming charms, but that Snape was equally proficient at repelling them. Clearly the dropping of the wand had not been an accident, but a sign of surrender, the best a wizard could offer. What new trick was this? He listened coolly as Snape spun his freshest lies, how he feared for Lily Evans' life, how Lord Voldemort had refused to listen to his pleas, and he could not help but think, well, my boy, what were you truly expecting?
"Hide them all, then," Snape said now, as close to pleading as he ever came. He was still a young man, just barely twenty, his long black hair, heavy with soot and sweat and blood, wildly framing his face. There was a crazed, panicked look to his eyes, and his neck muscles kept twitching from side to side, his guard up, wary, even now. "Keep her – them – safe. Please."
He noted the use of her, so quickly changed to them. Snape was clearly good at what he did – twisting his pleas to his audience, bringing his will into action.
"And what will you give me in return, Severus?"
Snape's eyes widened – but not at the request, Dumbledore realized suddenly, but at the acquiesce. It must have been a long time indeed since anyone had listened to him. Helped him.
"In – in return?" Snape said, still staring at Dumbledore with that dazed sort of expression. "Anything."
Dumbledore looked at the desperate figure kneeling before him, his heart twisting as his mind recalled the bright-eyed eleven-year-old boy, so talented, so thirsty for knowledge, so eager to prove himself.
Anything. Careless words, unlike a brilliant master of espionage.
He was suddenly struck with the realization that perhaps Severus Snape was being genuine.
"A foolish promise, Severus. What would you do if I asked you to slit your throat, here, now?"
"I would do it!"
"Is this how you swore yourself to Voldemort?"
Snape flinched violently, and Dumbledore decided he had heard enough. "Stand up," he said.
The man looked at him uncertainly, but pushed himself to his feet.
"Why are you here tonight, Severus? Truly? You have proven yourself a liar thrice over, and then thrice more." He watched Snape's face carefully. "You smile, though you hide it, because you believe it to be praise, and perhaps in your mind it truly is. You have not earned your position at Voldemort's side for nothing."
A confused boy, so very, very confused. Longing so much to be liked, longing for power to justify his worth.
"You know why I'm here," Snape's voice cracked. "Why do you make me say it, Dumbledore? Do you think I'm not humiliated enough?"
"I bid you stand, while your master forces you to your knees. Do I humiliate you?"
Indeed, Snape looked as though he had been more comfortable on his knees. Standing now, he looked uncertain, his hands flexing restlessly by his sides as though he had no idea where a person usually put them.
"I didn't come tonight for your forgiveness – or – or for anything else you might have to offer. I only need your help."
"No," Dumbledore said quietly. "You also need my trust."
Snape's expression contorted, and then became oddly blank. "I can't – I can't – all I have is that I'd die for her!"
"You who has stared death in the face, speak so carelessly of it."
Yet his tone was not accusatory, but sad. Gentle.
Something hot flashed in Snape's eyes, and his hand rose almost instinctively, though the effect was negated somewhat by the lack of a wand in it. "What more do you want from me?" he almost screamed, every word thick with frustration. "I've said what you've wanted, I'd do anything you asked, I – I - " he struggled for words, so unlike him.
Dumbledore let the man's anger flow past him without breaking, and when he next spoke, his voice was soft. "This is not about saying the right things or doing whatever I ask, Severus. That is how Voldemort measures those he commands. Not I."
Snape gaped, then quickly recovered his composure.
Dumbledore had not known Severus very well when the boy had been a student. Snape had been quiet, withdrawn, and worn his scowl and sneer like armor. In retrospect, he had likely learned to close himself off as a result of the teasing he had endured. Yet on this night, Snape had come to him vulnerable, laid bare, all his defenses stripped away in his desperate bid to protect Lily Evans.
And he knew then, without a whisper of doubt, that there was something worth saving.
"You have come tonight intending to betray everything you think you have sworn away, and perhaps you think this is only one deviation, and that your allegiances, your very core, need not change. That is unacceptable. I do not work with Death Eaters."
Snape's head lifted. "But you believe me," he said.
So the man was still as clever as the boy had been. He had heard every word that Dumbledore had left unsaid.
"I believe you love Lily Evans with all your heart, Severus. I believe that because of that, while your heart still knows how to hold love, then there is good in you."
At those words, Snape went rigid.
"How long have you loved her?"
Snape was already shaking his head. "I won't play that game, Dumbledore!"
"And yet you would do anything."
Caught in his trap, Snape's features contorted angrily. "Years. Years." Pain was etched in his every feature. "I've – I've lo – for years."
And finally, Dumbledore allowed himself a smile. "Then you needn't look very hard to find the good in you."
"You ask me to change my life. Everything I've done. Everything I know." Snape laughed, a low, mirthless chuckle. "You don't want me on your side, Dumbledore. You don't know what I can do, and what I've done. It's easier this way. And even if I were to recant my life tonight, on this forsaken hill, you would not trust me." He paced. "I could leave now, you know. You have no hold over me; you will already be taking every precaution to keep her safe. I will have achieved what I came here for, I've warned you of the danger."
He was rambling now, hiding his intents in words. Dumbledore recognized this well.
Clearly, so did Snape. He began to laugh again, like a creature cornered, crazed, bitter, his thin shoulders shaking wildly. "Damn you, Dumbledore." With sudden ferocity, he whipped around and faced him straight on, his white hands fisted at his sides. "You think I can be redeemed? Am I to be your pet project? You are clever, you always were, don't think I don't know how you twist heartstrings and pluck out your own melancholic melodies. You play me even now."
Dumbledore folded his hands into his robe, quite serenely, and let the man talk.
"Fine!" Snape nearly spat, "I'll do it. There, I'm no longer a Death Eater. I can already feel a grand transformation sweeping over me, my entire self elevating to some greater plane of enlightenment, and if we both listen closely enough, I'm sure we'll hear some marvelous orchestra chorus in the background, a rising crescendo of triumph and redemption and all those things in life that fools tell tales of to their children."
"As auspicious as circumstances usually are, I am not so young and naïve that I believe your loyalties can shift like leaves in the wind," Dumbledore said, and smiled inwardly as Snape raised an eyebrow, unsure whether or not he had just been complimented. "And it is not my intent to redeem you, Severus."
Something dimmed in Snape's expression, and he gave a careless shrug. "Your spy, then."
"Yes," Dumbledore said, "and perhaps you will redeem yourself."
And so the bargain was struck.
- end -