"All right, you said you would explain when we got back, and we're back, so please explain now. Sir." Severus Snape rested his teacup on his knee and glared across the table at Albus Dumbledore, who was placidly buttering a scone. "How did you know where to find Potter and me? How did you even know we needed to be found?"
They were having tea in the Headmaster's office, with Dumbledore swaying gently in a high-backed rocking chair next to the fireplace and Snape drowning in an overstuffed recliner across from him. The window was open to admit a warm late-summer breeze and an occasional, disgustingly cheerful trill of birdsong. Behind Dumbledore's chair, Fawkes squatted on his perch, looking like an oversized plucked chicken. The bird's expression was sour, and it kept plucking at its few remaining tail feathers as if it just couldn't wait to finish molting and end its miserable existence. Snape knew exactly how it felt. His life as a spy was over; he was suspended in limbo now, waiting to begin another existence as… he had no idea what. Dumbledore had promised there would still be a use for him in the war, but had given no specifics as of yet. In the meantime, though, he was still a teacher, and Head of Slytherin House.
There was no more need for pretense. He could guide the children openly now, without worrying that one of them might repeat his words to a Death Eater parent. With his cover blown to smithereens, Snape could finally do his official job the way it needed to be done.
Dumbledore finally got the scone buttered to his satisfaction. He topped it off with a spoonful of gooseberry jam, took a bite, and chewed contentedly for a while before addressing Snape's question.
"It was the most curious thing, really. After you and Mr. Potter left for St. Mungo's, I returned to my office only to find a delegation of rather agitated Slytherins waiting outside my door. You really must try some of this jam, Severus. The house-elves have truly outdone themselves this time."
"No, thank you." Snape mentally debated the pros and cons of leaping across the room and strangling Albus Dumbledore with his own beard. The short-term satisfaction, he decided, would not outweigh the long-term frustration of not getting to hear the rest of the story. So he merely took another sip of tea and muttered, "Please continue" through painfully clenched teeth.
"It seems," Dumbledore went on, "that the Malfoy family has been indiscreet. Lucius allowed Draco to overhear his plan to capture Mr. Potter as a surprise gift for Voldemort, and Draco bragged about it in the Slytherin common room."
Snape bit back a curse. "The boy is an idiot."
"Or simply overconfident. He expected his housemates to approve of the plan, because of the harm it would do to Mr. Potter. He did not consider the danger to you. But the other Slytherins did. They found it unacceptable."
A drop of tea splashed onto Snape's leg, making him aware that his hand was shaking. He put the cup down on the table (the teapot promptly waddled up to refill it) and folded his hands in his lap, lacing the fingers together.
"They came to warn you so that you could help me?"
"Nine of them. I haven't had so many Slytherins in my office at once since the great N.E.W.T.s cheating scandal of 1972. I could give you a list of names…"
"Don't." Snape shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I have to treat them all the same anyway - those who went to you, and those who heard and did nothing."
"And young Mr. Malfoy?"
"Him too." Snape sighed. "The boy is a spoiled brat, and a danger to himself and others, but he doesn't deserve to end up as Voldemort's lackey just for being what Lucius made him."
Dumbledore watched him thoughtfully as he scooped butter and jam onto another scone.
"You can't save everyone, Severus. Especially not those who think they don't need saving."
Snape winced. "I can't afford to write anyone off, either."
For a few minutes they sat in silence, just a pair of colleagues comfortably drinking tea in a sunlit room. Between the warmth, the food, and the insidious softness of the chair, Snape found himself perilously close to nodding off into his cup. He shook off the stupor with an effort, and dredged up the next question he'd been meaning to ask.
"Have you had a chance to examine that bloody robe yet?"
"Oh, yes. You were right, you know. Lucius did arrange to have it made when Draco told him the Slytherins were putting together a get-well gift for you. He anticipated that we would need to get you and Mr. Potter to St. Mungo's as soon a possible once the cure was ready, and that meant a Portkey."
"He would." Snape sighed. "Lucius always was always clever, I have to give him that."
Dumbledore nodded. "And exceptionally good at Charms, too. I remember it from his school days. The one he put on the robe, for instance - I've never seen one like it before. It activated when you touched a Portkey, and attempted to replace the Portkey's navigational spell with one of it's own, while at the same time alerting Lucius."
"Yes." Dumbledore looked rather pleased with himself. "I believe the spell was intended to place you and Harry inside Malfoy Manor. But either it didn't work quite as intended or - and perhaps I flatter myself - my navigation spells are not so easily overpowered. You landed about two miles south of where you were supposed to."
"I wondered why he and his thugs weren't there waiting for us." Snape smirked. "Lucius was also always a little too conceited for his own good." And apparently his son got the conceit without the brains. Snape's smirk turned into a grin as he recalled that circumstances no longer required him to mince words with Draco Malfoy. "He always thinks he's got it all covered. And he always ends up making a mistake."
Dumbledore's face crinkled in quiet merriment. "In this case," he said, "I suspect his biggest mistake had nothing to do with misjudging the navigation spell."
* * * * * * * * * *
"Damn you, Wormtail, what's taking so long?"
"I'm sorry, My Lord!" The small man whimpered as he dropped the last mermaid scale into the boiling cauldron in front of him. "But this is a very delicate preparation. It simply cannot be rushed." He stirred the concoction with a trembling silver hand, throwing occasional furtive glances over his shoulder at the far side of the room, where Lord Voldemort slouched in a reclining chair. The Dark Lord was draped in a thick hooded cloak that covered him from head to toe, shadowing his face and concealing every inch of his body except for his toes and fingertips. The red eyes that glowed beneath the shadow of the hood looked particularly furious.
"I don't want excuses, Wormtail. I want results! Remember, I do not require magic in order to rip your worthless life from your sniveling little body."
"Please, My Lord," Wormtail sobbed, "it will not take much longer. But the potion is at a delicate stage. I must work without distractions, or it will spoil." He unstoppered a jar and began spooning Billywig stings into a mortar.
"Very well, then. Go on." Voldemort slouched lower in his chair. A fold of his cloak slid aside to reveal a scaly gray knee marked with brightly colored polka dots. He hissed angrily and raked his nails across the spotted skin.
"Don't scratch it, My Lord," Wormtail whimpered from behind the cauldron. "You'll only make it worse."The End