Dedicated to my best friend on her eighteenth birthday. Writing a story is a tradition of mine; hopefully one day, it will be a tradition of ours! Look closely, my dear, and you will see what makes this story uniquely yours.
He was sat opposite the ornate wooden desk, fidgeting with a loose thread on his robes. They were always shabby and second hand, his clothes, because his family simply couldn't afford anything better. His eyes were lowered, because he would not look at the man watching him. He didn't want to be in trouble, it wasn't his fault, he had been provoked! No one ever understood that, really. There was a very loud silence, awkward to break. Then finally, "I am not going to punish you, Mr. Snape. I thought, perhaps, we could simply talk."
Snape raised his head. He stared across at those bright blue eyes, "Talk?" He repeated, voice incredulous.
"Indeed. I was looking at some of your recent essays. Professor Slughorn gave them to me. He asked me to read them. Your writing style is absolutely beautiful—have you considered writing about potions and their experiments as a career?"
Snape wasn't entirely sure how to react to this. He was not used to receiving such compliments. "I...I..." He stammered, "I...maybe..."
"You should. I can truly feel the emotion behind your words. You are incredibly passionate. Make sure you do something with that passion." Albus Dumbledore patted the parchment almost reverently. "Off you go Mr. Snape. But if you ever need to talk or ask advice—know that I am here."
Snape rose from his chair, nodded abruptly and headed for the door. At the last moment he glanced back, as if remembering his manners. "Thank you, Headmaster."
Dumbledore smiled at the teenager, "You are very welcome."
"You could always just talk, Severus." Albus Dumbledore said firmly to the dark figure sat on the garish red and cold sofa by the window. So far, Snape had not spoken—he had been staring at something far beyond the realms of Albus' world. "It helps."
Snape glanced at him, "You do not want to know. Do not humour me, Headmaster."
"And why would I not want to know what is bothering one of my dearest and indeed closest friends?" Albus asked brightly, "You underestimate me."
"I do not wish to bother you. We can discuss the Death Eater meeting and then I shall leave. My problems are trivial compared to those of the war." Snape replied, voice neutral.
Albus sighed and stepped forward. "Severus. I am here, willing to listen. I have all the time in the world. For you, I always do."
Severus looked at him again, as if trying to decide if he was being genuine or not. "Why..." He shook his head and turned away.
Dumbledore sat next to him on the arm of the sofa. "You're my friend. Caring is part of the territory. Now, do I have to ask you again? Unless you open up, you will never feel any better, my dear boy."
Severus clasped his hands together in his lap. "I am not quite ready yet."
Albus rested a hand on his shoulder. "When you do feel ready, then I will be here."
"I appreciate it."
"The things I have done...you could never understand, Headmaster." Severus leaned against the marble surrounding the fireplace, looking into the flickering flames, his face lost in the past. "I do not even understand why you allow me to stay here."
Albus looked at him over the top of his knitting magazine with the smallest of smiles. "I know you may find it hard to believe, Severus, but I actually find you rather good company. What you have done before is in the past—we cannot change it—but we also cannot continue to live in it. We both have dark parts in our past—but we have to move on from those and walk toward the future instead."
"It is hard to forget the sins I have committed." Severus murmured, and Albus was not sure if Severus was talking to him or to himself.
"I did not say forget. Learn from, indeed. But do not allow your past to control your present. Now, come and tell me which of these patterns you would like for your Christmas present as I cannot decide between the stripes or the polka dots."
Almost reluctantly, Severus wandered over and looked over the Headmaster's shoulder. "The stripes." He said after a moment.
"I think polka dots would look better." Albus replied with a twinkling gaze.
Snape raised one eyebrow at him and glared in his direction.
"I respect your opinion, Severus, and shall do the stripes."
"So. What are you planning to do this holiday?" Albus Dumbledore looked across the room at Severus Snape, his newest teacher, who was packing his clothes into his bags. "Anything interesting?"
"I plan to finish studying at home." Severus replied shortly, frowning as he contemplated what he had already packed and what else was left. He liked to pack quickly and last minute.
"Do you have a new project? I remember you mentioning the Draught of the Living Dead two months ago. How did that go?"
Snape looked at him, "Why all the questions?"
"Just showing interest, my dear. I feel like I should get to know you better. You have worked here for a year after all."
Snape went back to his packing.
"If you ever need it, I stay at Hogwarts over the holidays. If you ever wanted to discuss your theories, I do enjoy debating over such issues." Dumbledore folded his arms, "After all, I do have one of the greatest wizarding minds of all time..."
Severus turned and stared at him. His eyes were slightly narrowed. There was a long pause.
And then Severus raised one eyebrow. "Do you think, if I were to use holly instead of mistletoe, it would create a more effective potion—or is it too dangerous?"
Dumbledore pursed his lips. "I think there is only way to settle that one."
Six hours later, both were bent over a furiously bubbling cauldron, Severus scribbling away in his potions journal and Albus commentating—and Severus' bag was left forgotten on his bed.
Albus Dumbledore pushed his fingertips together, resting his chin against the steeple he had created. His eyes followed the shadowy figure pacing up and down in front of him. The clock on the mantelpiece was ticking softly in the background, and he was counting each breath that he took. There was a piece of loose skin against on his bottom lip which he was aggravating with his teeth as he continued to wait.
Backward and forward. Clearly Severus was trying to figure something out in his mind before speaking. Perhaps he just wanted to be near the Headmaster, who always managed to instil some sort of calm in his younger protégé and friend.
He didn't speak, however. He knew, that when the time was right, Severus would talk to him. He did not need to interrupt the constant pacing, that had been continuing for quite some time now.
Finally, Severus turned. His eyes were glistening. "I don't want to do this."
That was Albus' cue. He stood up and moved across the room. "Talk to me."
"How can you see the bright side of this situation? The Dark Lord has returned, a student has been murdered, and we have been hiding a Death Eater in the safety of our own castle!" It was rare for Severus to speak his mind in such a way to the headmaster, who he respected and admired beyond belief. "Why do you sit with that inane grin on your face?"
Albus Dumbledore folded his arms and raised one grey eyebrow. "Severus. My dear, dear Severus. You do not realise what this means."
Snape whirled. "What do you mean, I don't know? The Dark Lord is alive!"
"Yes, I know." Albus replied, still seemingly cheerful about that prospect.
Severus stared at him, incredulous. "The Dark Lord is right—you truly are insane."
"No no, dear boy. I am simply optimistic. This means we can finally destroy Voldemort, once and for all, for we hold all the cards. There is a plan, Severus. A plan set out for all of us, and it will guide us back to victory."
Severus shook his head. "Insane. Absolutely insane."
His movements were sluggish, and his limbs felt heavy. He could taste blood in his mouth and realised he had bitten his tongue several times. But he was homeward bound now—and soon, he would be back within those stone walls that granted such protection for him.
But the fact he was hot and cold at the same time, exhausted but filled with adrenaline, breathing fast but still unable to get oxygen to his lungs, drenched in sweat yet his lips cracked and dry, meant he was alive. And, right at that moment, being alive was quite an achievement.
He crossed the boundary into Hogwarts and leaned against the gate to find the energy to continue walking. He was looking forward to falling into his bed and sleeping until at least tomorrow afternoon, as his body attempted to heal. He pushed himself away from the stone and started across the expansive Hogwarts grounds, arms slightly spread as he struggled to keep his balance.
There was a light before him. He squinted slightly, trying to make out what it was. The blood at the back of his throat gathered and for a moment he forgot how to swallow. He coughed, bringing one hand to his mouth and spitting the foul metallic liquid away. The light was coming closer.
"Severus? Is that you?"
He raised his head because the voice was familiar to him. His hands dropped to his side as he took one small step closer. "Headmaster."
The light dimmed and he recognised the silhouette of Albus Dumbledore as he quickened his pace. Suddenly, he was gripped with this desire—he was alive and although he was in so much pain, he ought to be thankful for that—and he half ran toward Dumbledore. Dumbledore swept him up in his arms and held him tight, and Severus heard the whispered "thank you" as Dumbledore offered some sort of gratitude to whichever powers it was who watched over them and somehow kept them together. He pressed his head to Albus' shoulder and closed his eyes, for the first time in such a long while feeling totally safe and at home.
"Severus Snape. You are a perfectionist. You cannot stand failure, and you depend far too much on me for support and guidance. You cannot live your life to please others, you do not recognise your own self worth, and you are incredibly insecure. You need to find the inner confidence to try to go out and convince others that you are someone worth knowing and worth fighting for, but instead you simply damn yourself further by staying indoors and drowning yourself in self pity. You are incredibly hard on yourself, despite all your many talents, and you will not let anyone in to help you. You are selfish, withdrawn and sometimes incredibly rude." Albus Dumbledore stopped, looking at the slightly horrified face of Severus Snape before him. He smiled, "But I love you all the same."
He turned away from the portrait. He would not look at it. He did not want him to see the tears in his eyes, the way his bottom lip was trembling and how he was swallowing hard to rid the lump from his throat. He did not want that portrait to see his weakness. He folded his arms and stared bitterly out of the window.
"Severus. Nothing has changed. I am still here. I can offer you wisdom and advice and—"
"Everything has changed!" Severus spat in return. "You are no longer tangible, Headmaster! I want to be able to talk to you! I want you to be able to put one arm around me, like you did when I was younger and needed your guidance and manipulation! You are just a...caricature." If he had been facing Dumbledore at that moment, he would have seen the older man wince as the words were hurtful.
"Severus. Listen to me, my boy. Please. You need to hear this, because otherwise you will never truly understand. Will you look at me?"
Snape turned and looked at him.
"This will be difficult for you, I know, and if I could have this any other way, then I would. You know I wish I could be back with you, in physical form, but I can't. You, Severus, are fantastic in every aspect—and although you will be faced with opposition from all sides—you must not let anyone tell you otherwise. I am so proud of everything you have accomplished—how well you carry yourself, despite what has happened in your past—and the person who has emerged, right before my eyes." Dumbledore paused. "Know I am always here, despite the land and impassable void that now separates us. You, my dear Severus, are forever a part of who I am. That will never change, whether I am tangible or not."
A tear, unbidden, had slipped from Severus' left eye as he stared at Dumbledore, listening to each syllable and most likely storing them in his mind for future reference. He moved closer to the portrait, reaching out one hand and touching the oil paints that illustrated the headmaster. "You're just a picture."
Albus shook his head. "Maybe. But one day we will be reunited, my dear. You will just have to accept that, for now, I can only use words."
"That's impossible." Snape whispered.
"Things are only impossible if you believe them to be."
He can tell by the way the note is written. There is punctuation, for a start. Often, in such an informal method of communication, his protégé chooses not to use as much punctuation as he should—because the formality does not require it. So the fact that all the right letters are capitalised, and how there is a blunt full stop at the end alerts him that something is not right.
Then there is the fact that he has been remarkably quiet. They write their conversations on these magical, enchanted sheaves of parchment to keep in contact when they are unable to speak face-to-face. These are observations and comments and sarcastic remarks, for the most part—although some rather deep soul searching has also occurred on these pieces of gold paper. But for the past few weeks, there have been few exchanges. This is out of the ordinary indeed.
When he demands to know what is wrong through the medium of parchment, he does not receive a reply. That means something is wrong too.
So he will persist, because he knows Severus is lying to him when the response, "I am fine." arrives on his desk.
But that is simply because he knows him so well.
"I think you will find, my dear boy, that I am correct—as always."
A pause because his opponent is deep in thought, staring at the board before them. He raises his eyes, "I disagree." He picks up the tiles and places them on the board in an order that resembles a word. "Your turn."
He is quicker to move, using one of Severus' tiles to form his own word, slightly longer. "I do not see how you can even offer your opinion on this subject, considering you have never sampled the item in question."
Inversion of dark eyebrows. "I am not a dessert virgin, Albus. I have tasted dulche de leche cheesecake, and I still believe that lemon is better." Another word is played.
Albus does not have a word to play straightaway this time, "You do like to play the awkward letters, do you not? A 'j' does not help me. Fine, I suppose this matter is one that we shall have to agree to disagree on." He waved his finger and the tiles shuffled slightly, reaching into the bag on the desk and pulling out another of his sherbet lemons. "Thank you for these, Severus, my dear—you always know how to make an old man particularly happy."
Severus stretched his back, fidgeting with his tiles. "I thought I needed to repay you for the journal."
"With my sentimental twaddle written on the inside cover? I do like to embarrass you." Albus looked at Severus, eyes twinkling. "I think, if you had not been in the staffroom at the time, you might have cried."
"I do not cry, Headmaster, for any reason. Are you going to play, or do you have to forfeit your turn?" Severus swapped two tiles on his rack.
"Indeed, I can play." He put the word on the board, grinning slightly as he utilised Severus' 'j'. "I believe you are still winning, though."
Severus frowned at his letters, glaring at them as if they were students in his class. Albus smiled at this, glancing over at Fawkes who was dozing on his perch. "I was contemplating something, earlier, Severus."
"Really, Headmaster? How very thrilling for you."
"I was wondering what Fawkes would be if he was a bird of ice, and not a bird of fire."
Distracted from his tiles by this pearl of wisdom, Severus looked rather incredulous. "And where, may I ask, did this come from?"
"Inane thought, my dear Severus. You know me, my mind wanders."
"They have such a thing in the Muggle world. It is called a penguin." Severus' voice showed just how unimpressed he was with Dumbledore's latest conversation subject. "We are nearing the end of this game." He shuffled his tiles one final time. "You are going to lose this, Headmaster."
"I let you win." Albus smiled genially.
"Of course." Severus placed his letters on the board, a seven letter word. Albus reads it aloud. "Friends. Very good. I knew that allowing plurals was a mistake."
Severus was examining the scores. "Your turn." He added two tiles to his rack, emptying the bag.
Albus pursed his lips and considered. Finally, he put his own tiles onto the board, using the last of Severus' to connect it to the rest of the game.
"I'd fight for you, I'd lie for you, walk the wild for you-yeah-I'd die for you."
~ Bryan Adams.