Disclaimer:  Anything you recognize, however abused, belongs to JK Rowling.  No profit, fame, or North American tour is intended.

Have you tried those new chocolate chip cookies with the coconut shreds baked in? mmmMMMmmm

~v~Jinx~v~ and rabbit  (who left ~v~Jinx~v~ unsupervised with an idea and a computer. The apology to the Ministry will be sent as soon as I catch an owl.)

                                       Knowledge is its Own Reward

            Albus Dumbledore slowly mounted the winding stairs which led to his office, being most careful not to spill any of the glowing violet dust heaped tidily into the small dustpan he carried.

            Fawkes heard him coming and launched into his entire vocal repertoire, working his way up to a welcoming screech that hadn't gotten any sweeter in all these many years.  Dumbledore contrived as always to present his pained grimace as a pleasant smile while he shuffled over to the excited bird, uttering gentle greetings as he neatly poured the incandescent dust into the bird's floor tray.  "Yes, yes, you're entirely marvelous, Fawkes," the elderly wizard cooed, earning an affectionate nip that singed his beard.  "A wonder, indeed.  There's no question.  Almost as wonderful, in fact, as I."

            The Headmaster wandered over to his desk and popped open two containers, procuring a lemon drop for himself and a marshmallow for Fawkes, which he pushed onto the end of a long skewer and held out to his fiery friend.

            The phoenix leaned out and nabbed the treat, igniting it;  Fawkes waited until it was quite blackened before greedily gulping it down.

            Dumbledore smiled.  "Good, eh?"

            The bird squawked agreement, flapping its wings in a childish plea for another.

            "Oh, there are more," the Headmaster assured the eager fowl.  "But, first, we could use your help."

            Fawkes cocked his head curiously, attentive to the Headmaster and in particular to the hand resting atop the marshmallows' container.

            Dumbledore smiled, and pointed down at the luminous violet dust scattered throughout the sand filling the floor tray beneath the bird's perch.

            Fawkes twisted his head this way and that, puzzled, and hopped warily down the wetly weeping branches of his willow perch, until he stopped at a precarious angle which left him nearly upside-down as he peered at the purple powder.

            After awhile the phoenix let out a low screech like the hinges on the Great Hall's doors, and began to weep.

            Dumbledore created a thick pane of glass between himself and the perch, in time enough to avoid harm from the blazing whirlwind that spun up wildly as the phoenix's shimmering tears fell hissing into the violet dust.  It was a spectacular sight, pretty as a tropical sunset, and over just as soon.

            When it was finished, the Headmaster applauded enthusiastically, and banished the protective glass.  "Most impressive," he lauded, skewering another marshmallow as reward and holding it forth over the shoulder of a rather charred and profoundly shuddering Severus Snape.  "Well done, Fawkes, thank you."

            The bird gulped its blackened prize, chuttered appreciatively, and began to languidly preen its flaming wings.

            Dumbledore looked at the shaking wizard standing half-crouched before him.  "Good evening, Severus," he said pleasantly.  "Lemon drop?"  He held out the container.

            Snape stared in his general direction, eyes wide and wild.

             After awhile the Potions Master's jaw worked, and eventually sound came out.  "Th --  th --  th --  th --  wh --  what h-h-happ  end?"

            "Your suspicions proved entirely correct," the Headmaster pronounced cheerfully, palming another lemon drop as he set the container aside.


            "Neville Longbottom."

            Snape shook like a tree in a gale.

            "Do sit down, Severus," the Headmaster invited with gentle concern.  "You look a bit the worse for wear."

            "nnuh...  "  Snape seemed to take stock of things, casting puzzled and wary glances at his own trembling hands, the preening phoenix, and the bird tray in which he was standing.   Abruptly he turned pale as parchment, and lunged into the nearest armchair just before his knees gave way.  There he curled up like a child.  It wasn't a very good fit.

            Dumbledore waited, letting the lemon drop melt on his tongue.

            After awhile Snape hauled his singed cloak about his shoulders and shivered, staring at the wallpaper as if the dancing daisies could tell him something useful.  "Neville... " he muttered,  "Longbottom....  "

            "Yes."  Dumbledore settled himself comfortably into his favorite chair, which was covered in a bold hibiscus print.  "Congratulations, Severus."

            "mm?"  It was very small, bewildered sound.

            The Headmaster smiled approvingly.  "On the success of your experiment.  You have always maintained that, if sufficiently terrified, Neville Longbottom would manifest powers beyond even Voldemort's wildest imaginings --  "

            Snape winced, so hard he sprawled across the chair.  "Neville...   c-cauldron....  "

            "And, of course, you've known for years...  I daresay you've carefully cultivated the fact...  that you  were the thing Neville most feared in all the world."

            Snape grinned, then seemed to realize that was inappropriate and tried to focus on Dumbledore, or at least on the Headmaster's riotously upholstered chair.  His gaze wavered as if he'd been drinking Old Ogden's Special Blazing Blend.

            "This evening saw the brilliant culmination of your efforts," the Headmaster enthused, "and I must say, your results were impressive."

            "...results....  "

            "Oh, yes.  The house elves will be a week repairing that crater in the Great Hall...  and, I'm afraid, the Head Table will be a good six feet shorter until we're able to properly restore it."

            Snape looked ill, and suspicious.  "What --  happened?"

            "Well, I'm still working out all the details, but from what I gather, you and Neville had had a particularly abysmal day in Treble Potions...  thus far I've heard about two melted cauldrons, and part of the floor turned to quicksand?"

            Snape nodded rapidly, shivering with recollection.  "Glass now.  Fix later."

            "I see.  Remarkable.  Well, subsequently, we had all gathered for our evening meal and had gotten as far as the fruit salads, when someone --  we've yet to ascertain who -- hexed Neville's Remembrall to come after you like a cannon-shot bludger."

            Snape's eyes widened and Dumbledore nodded encouragingly.  "Seeing a shrieking scarlet sphere hurtling towards your head, you reacted instinctively and reversed its course, simultaneously increasing its speed of travel tenfold.  Certainly you meant it to challenge the prankster responsible, but when Neville saw it headed his way, he panicked."

            They sat there while Snape digested all of this.

            ".........And?" Snape asked at last.

            "And," the Headmaster replied in soft tones of wonder, "there was a sort of...  pause  in reality...  a marvelous silence, like a thunderclap turned inside out...  and we all heard you whisper, 'This is going to hurt...  '  and then the full force of Neville's defensive spell hit your corner of the Head Table."

            Snape's sallow complexion shaded to green, giving him the look of an ailing chameleon.

            Dumbledore went on reminiscing, "There was a sort of...  well, a flash, as of sheet lightning, only it was purple and it smelt of vanilla...  "

            Snape made a thick, choking noise.

            "...and then you were still sitting there, only the table and chair had gone, and all that remained of you was your skeleton...  entirely complete and connected, glowing a very lovely shade of lavender."

            Snape's mouth fell open and all the color fell from his face.

            "And then, Seamus Finnegan uttered a rather crude exclamation of surprise, and with that simple sound, you just...  crumbled to dust."

            Snape made it to the bird tray before sicking up.  Fawkes fluttered angrily above him, squawking indignantly.

            "...sorry...  "  Snape rested on all fours and looked about vaguely, fumbling at his pockets.  "......Where's my wand...?"

            "Minerva, Verna and Filius are having a go at restoring it," Dumbledore informed him.  "Currently it resembles a rather fancy pretzel."

            Snape put his head in his hands, careful not to touch his hair, and let out a low moan.

            "Yes, it is a terrible burden, to be right all the time," Dumbledore commiserated.  Kindly he charmed away the mess, while Snape crawled back to the chair he'd so suddenly vacated.

            The Potions Master resettled himself carefully, tucking his charred cloak fastidiously into place before looking at Dumbledore, this time with a gaze that was very nearly fixed for several moments.  "How's Draco?"

            The Headmaster shrugged easily.  "He seemed well enough, as he was running out of the Great Hall, shrieking in terror."

            Snape sagged into his chair.  "Well...  at least we don't have to worry about him becoming a Death Eater....  "  Thoughtfully he undid the buttons on his sleeve and peeled it back to inspect his left forearm.  With a scowl he covered it again and glared in the general direction of Fawkes.  "Did you have to be so thorough?"

            The bird screeched, recognizing challenge when it heard it.

            "Now, Severus, there's no need to be grumpy.  He did just save your life."

            "Oh, yes...  but....  "  Snape went very still, and then his shoulders slumped wearily, and he shook his head at some idea.  "Phoenix tears are powerful enough to restore anything...  no matter how long lost or how badly harmed....  "  For just a moment a haunted, hunted look flickered in his eyes, and he cast a strained, hopeless smile at the Headmaster.  "You could have hid me in a jar, in my office, for the duration of the crisis...  reincarnated me later, when it's all over and done with....  "

            "So I could," Dumbledore agreed mildly, "but then Harry Potter and his friends would doubtless have managed to abscond with you, mistaking you for powdered mothwings or ground-up whiffleroot, and you would have wound up even worse off than you are now."

            Snape groaned and covered his face.  "God, yes, at the bottom of Longbottom's latest offering in melted cauldrons...  or stuck to all those nasty beans at the bottom of Weasley's pocket...    "

            "There, you see?  Worse fates, indeed."

            Snape scowled and folded his arms rather petulantly, looking like nothing so much as a vexed child as he sank rigidly back into his chair.  "Longbottom was supposed  to realize his formidable powers in front of Voldemort, preferably while also surrounded by Death Eaters!  Would've taken the whole lot out, while Potter went round the back way and blasted the Dark Lord to smithereens!  Idiot boy!  He can never learn anything  on schedule!"

            "You know how unpredictable magic can be, during the adolescent years," Dumbledore soothed.

            "Why do you think I go about warded by a double dozen deflective hexes?!  All of which Longbottom has thoroughly destroyed --  "

            "Thoroughly," Dumbledore agreed.

            Snape shot a glare in his direction.  "I hate children, Albus.  I hate children, I hate teenagers, and I'm not keen on most adults I've met.  You know that."

            "I know.  You're bearing up tremendously well, given the circumstances into which you've placed yourself."  Dumbledore cast a brief but pointed glance at his colleague's left arm.

            Which Snape drew back beneath his charred cloak.  He looked ashen for a long moment, then squared his shoulders and assumed a more reasonable look which he reserved for his professorial capacity.  "You promised," he said quietly, "that when this is all over I can go live in the Australian Outback, far away from everybody, and concentrate on my studies."

            "Yes, Severus.  When it's all over.  And I promise to drop by regularly for tea."  Dumbledore offered another supportive smile of steely affection.  "Now, dust yourself off, and back you go...  difficulties don't clear themselves up on their own, you know."

            "I know."  Snape stood up with the grace of a newborn fawn, and staggered with dignity to the door.  "Thank you, Fawkes.  Thank you, Albus," he said politely, sketching a very brief bow before opening the door.

            And then he stood there, staring down into the torchlit stairwell as if into the Abyss.

            "Go on, Severus.  I have faith in you."

            Snape swallowed several times, as if searching for his voice.  At last he said softly, "Albus...  when I turn up in Treble Potions tomorrow...  Longbottom will be scared out of his wits."

            "Entirely possible," Dumbledore agreed.  "I hereby grant you permission to hold the class outside, preferably in that patch by the East wall where nothing ever grows."