But Voldemort knew Snape too well for that. His real punishment was his exposure as a traitor to the cause and the knowledge that he would never again be recognised or accepted as a Death Eater; never again be allowed the access to Voldemort and his plans that he'd hitherto "enjoyed."
(Never mind that anyone who betrayed him probably didn't want to be recognised as a Death Eater. I assumed the evil git was so mental he couldn't, or wouldn't, understand that.)
Nevertheless, the consequences were real. No more opportunities to suss out potential attacks on Muggleborn families, to give Voldemort misinformation, or to acquire vital information on Voldemort's physical and magical status; no more opportunities to make amends for his past in ways he felt were meaningful.
In short, Severus Snape would no longer have a purpose in life.
"Utter rot, of course," Albus noted succinctly. "He's truly brilliant at Potions -- Merlin only knows what he might have produced by now if it wasn't for the war and teaching. And he's forgotten more about the Dark Arts than Alastor ever knew to begin with."
"There's got to be something, Albus, some project or other that would make him feel he still has his hand in, surely," I protested.
"Not in quite the direct manner he seems to think is necessary. At the risk of making a sweeping and uncomplimentary generalisation, Severus has a most un-Slytherin-like need to put himself in harms' way. Otherwise it's not worth it, apparently." He turned distinctly pink. "Partly my fault, I suppose. I've never told him what it was like fighting Grindelwald, and like everyone else he has an exaggerated idea of what was involved. No obvious heroics. One does what one must without throwing ones' self on the sword at every opportunity. I didn't want to fight Grindelwald -- I'd much rather have pottered around with Flamel, but I did what I had to, and that was that."
"He told me, once," I mused, "that he would rather die trying to defeat Voldemort than rule beside him, constantly having to watch his back."
"That's precisely the attitude I've tried to discourage in him," Albus said grimly. "But he's never had anything positive to fight for, you see. Other people do so because they've families and loved ones to protect. But all Severus has ever had is that fear of betrayal."
"That's not precisely true," I cautioned. "I think he's done a lot of it out of love and respect for you."
"But I won't be here forever," Albus retorted. "I wish he would bloody well grow up and admit he truly cares about everyone else, as well. He is innately honourable and he's grown into a decent human being -- why can't he just accept it?"
I had my own theories about that, but I wasn't in the mood to dissect Snape further, or Albus' blindness about Snape's perception of himself and his motives. We both sat and brooded in silence for a while.
"You can stop that this instant," Albus said severely out of the blue, and I started. "I don't need you going all guilt-ridden on me as well. Neither one of us is to blame for this, or the deception. Lucius Malfoy's been trying to discredit Severus all year long -- Severus has always been a threat to his supremacy in the ranks. I think Malfoy only tolerates Pettigrew's closeness to Voldemort because Pettigrew takes care of his more unpleasant physical needs."
"Then what caused this, if not Malfoy's little chat with me?" I challenged him softly.
"I'm not certain yet, but I suspect it was the lack of deaths and injuries in the last few raids." Albus grimaced. "I used to be much better at this. Able to accept that there would of necessity be innocent casualties for the sake of the greater good. But the older I've gotten, the harder it's been -- especially when I've considered the damage it's done to people like Harry Potter and the Weasleys. I believe Severus picked up on that and arranged to warn the families himself. Trying to protect them and save me the guilt. He won't admit it, of course."
"He'd go behind your back like that?"
"He's still a Slytherin," Albus dryly noted. "Perhaps he thought he could pin it on one of our less-savoury informants in Knockturn Alley, but it backfired. No, I'm afraid Severus did this to himself, and frankly that's the only hope I have -- that he'll accept that and keep going. At least his motive was altruistic, if terribly damaging."
"Who does take care of you, Albus?" I asked after a bit.
"Fawkes," he replied promptly, "and the frequent use of my Pensieve -- to remember, sometimes, as well as to forget... you probably haven't read of those yet, have you? It's a solution that traps ones' memories, even the things one isn't even conscious of at the time, and you can view or retrieve them later.
"I expect it's much the same for Muggles, especially those who lived through their own version of Grindelwald. You do what you must because the alternative is immensely worse. It's well and good to have principles, but when you're fighting against someone with none, best be prepared to jettison some of yours."
I couldn't resist taking a tangent. "Uh, exactly how much overlap was there between the two worlds at that point?"
He chuckled at my unseemly curiosity. "That is something the Ministry desperately wants kept secret. There was much more cooperation on the Axis' side than ours -- those rumors about Hitler's interest in the occult are true, you know, and Grindelwald was only too happy to pose as a demonic force to fool him. He had Grindelwald's help coming to power, though once there he had no trouble wreaking his own havoc. I've sometimes wondered what would have happpened had they succeeded. Hitler likely should have found Grindelwald less cooperative later on.
"On our side, Churchill was aware -- had wizarding cousins, you see -- but our folk still insisted on separation. It was easy to put official blame for the damage from wizarding battles on stray Doodlebugs and the Luftwaffe. A pity, because we could have helped the Muggles a great deal more than we did."
"That's certainly missing from the texts," I observed sourly. "That's what really piqued my curiosity, you know -- the absolute lack of reference to what was going on in the other world. I hope you're writing your memoirs. It would be a pity to let the 'official' version stand."
"That's what the Pensieve is for. I've been far too busy living to hole myself up with a quill; only retired Prime Ministers have time to muck about with writing and painting," he said with a smile.
"Well, when this is over I think you ought to make an atte-- wait a minute," I interrupted myself, and fixed him with an accusing stare. "I find it hard to believe you know about Churchill's retirement. Just who were those cousins?"
He didn't answer -- just grinned at me, and the lovely laughter lines at his eyes deepened. "Very distant," he finally conceded, "and on his mother's side. My great-uncle emigrated to the Colonies."
The many clocks in Headmaster's office chimed ten, and I reluctantly pulled myself out of the cosy chair. "I've a tremendous backlog of marking...."
"-- and I've kept you from it in more ways than one. Thank you, dear heart, for letting me rant. I sometimes despair of what to do with the exasperating beggar, and it helps to talk it out. Minerva's far too impatient and practical to tolerate wading through others' psyches."
"Well, I don't know what to counsel you," I said matter-of-factly. "He's clammed up again, and I doubt he'll open up, given that we still shouldn't be seen together."
"Let me think about that," Dumbledore said absently. "There ought to be some compromise we can work out."
"As for keeping him occupied, I think you're simply going to have to give him something to do, whether he likes it or not. A purpose of your direction, until he can find his own."
"That's the only thing I can think of, too. A trail of breadcrumbs until he can find the path himself?"
"Something like that."
"No, he won't like that at all," Albus said with a shudder. "I suspect you're not the praying type, my dear, but if you are -- pray for me."
Oh, joy. Skulking down to the dungeons in an invisibility cloak....
I tried it out in front of the mirror.
He grabbed my hand and pulled me inside, snagging the hood of the cloak and pulling it from my head.
"What are you playing at, and where did you get this wretched thing?" he hissed.
"I'm not playing, and Albus," I shot back.
He glared at me for another moment, and then stomped back to his chair and threw himself into it.
"Here to spy on me?" he grated out. "I'd have thought that was beneath you -- though not him."
"No, I think he just didn't see any point in enforced separation any longer."
He glared again, and I think he was tempted to comment on 'enforced separation,' but he restrained himself -- which gave me not a little thrill. With Snape, you had to consider what he didn't say as much as what he did.
The room was a shambles, as was he. He hadn't shaved that day; his shirt was rumpled and creased; and the level in the brandy decanter was alarmingly low.
"I'm bored witless, frankly," I noted brightly. "I have to admit I've missed the chess games and the conversation. Filius is a dear, but even I get tired of talking about Theatre all the time."
He sneered slightly but relented enough to wave the chessboard over to the table and set up a new game as I handed the cloak over to the cloak-tree beside the door.
It took him only four moves to notice something was up: my style of play had changed markedly. I was making much more risky moves than usual -- not careless, but more aggressive.
"You're up to something," he noted suspiciously. "You've been practising with someone else."
"No, I haven't," I retorted truthfully, and he snorted.
"I have not touched a chessboard since our last game," I elaborated, determinedly ignoring the insult. "I have, however, been reading up on strategy and attacks. Rather intensively."
He sighed and sat back, folding his arms over his chest.
"You'd best make your point now," he stated deliberately, "before you drive me altogether mad."
"There is no point, Severus," I said patiently.
"You reading up on chess on your own account is as likely as you picking up a broom and attempting Quidditch."
Well, he had me there. I'd done it to try to become a better opponent for him, in fact.
"If there is a point -- and I'm not admitting there is one -- it's simply that the old way wasn't working. If I'm going to get any good at this, it's going to take changing my style and attacking things from a different angle. Pawn takes Rook," I directed, and my pawn walloped the rook off the board.
It shocked the hell out of him -- both the statement, and that he'd been so careless as to send his rook into a trap.
He shoved the chair back from the table and started pacing; I waited for him to come out with whatever it was.
"While I appreciate your concern -- and Albus', believe it or not -- I would very much like to be left alone," he finally spat out.
"I'll go if you ask me directly, but frankly I think you've had enough time to brood over this, don't you? I recall someone saying that to me once. Several someones, in fact."
"'This' -- to which 'this' do you refer, Hunter?"
Back to 'Hunter' again. Bloody fecking wonderful.
"Being beaten half to death? That's not the least of that, you know, Poppy didn't tell you and Albus all. They did more damage than was apparent -- used a bit of my own medicine on me, though thank the gods they were far more crude about it. Now I know what my poor godsforsaken victims went through," he said bitterly. "Or is 'this' just my utter uselessness to Dumbledore? Or my stupidity?"
I hadn't expected this. Bitterness, yes, but not specifics: everything he might have confided to Albus or me earlier, and hadn't -- had shoved deep in the back of his mind, and had allowed to fester for two weeks.
And I didn't want to contemplate what he meant by 'my own medicine,' both in terms of his past activities, and what the Death Eaters had done to him -- though the implication was obvious.
"Well?" he demanded harshly.
"I'm not saying you don't have a right," I finally said. "Nor that you shouldn't be disappointed with yourself for your so-called 'stupidity,' if you like. But you are far from useless, unless you choose to to be. There are other possibilities --"
He swung 'round to stare at me, enraged. "Do not," he ordered, "speak to me about 'possibilities.' Not you of all people," he added in a mutter.
"Is that a veiled reference to 'if anyone, would have been you?'" I replied evenly. "Because if you hadn't noticed, I'm here. Albus may have enabled it, but I'm not here out of duty. It's my own choice, and I made it despite your lack of interest when you're not on the verge of expiring."
That took the wind out of his sails quite nicely: he had that stunned, deer-in-the-headlights look.
And I didn't have the heart or guts to exploit it. Getting soft in your old age, Hunter.
"I don't need your pity," he finally retorted.
"You don't have it. Empathy, yes; outrage for you, certainly. Impatience at your pig-headedness -- absolutely. If you still think I have an ulterior motive, ask me to go and I will."
He stared at me for a very, very long time, and then sank back down into the wing chair by the fire.
"No," he muttered. He didn't volunteer anything else, so we sat there in silence for several minutes before he spoke again.
"The worst thing he said," he murmured reflectively -- and I didn't need to ask whom -- "just before he was finished with me, was 'How long do you think the old fool will tolerate you now?'" He turned to me, his dark eyes clouded. "How long?"
There were several banal answers to that -- none of which, including an outright denial, would persuade him in his present condition.
"I think he knows you very well," I said carefully, "and Albus not at all."
His eyes darkened. "That's not an answer."
"Yes it is. He knows you doubt your worth -- not as an agent or Potions Master, but as a human being."
"Please," he sneered. "My worth as a human being is, now, practically --"
"Oh, of course," I retorted sharply, "that's why you put yourself in peril and years of work in jeopardy to warn those people, isn't it? Why you took the responsibility yourself, rather than letting Albus carry the burden of their deaths -- because you're a waste of life."
He didn't refute the charge, and the embarrassment in his eyes told me that Albus was spot on with his suspicions.
"Yes, Albus knows," I told him flat out, "and I don't know which of you I want to throttle more at the moment -- him for not understanding why you feel you have to continually redeem yourself, or you for insisting that whatever you do, it's never enough."
"The things I have done are unforgivable," he said through gritted teeth.
"Correct. Absolutely correct. But you don't seem to understand that that's precisely the point of forgiveness."
I'd stunned him yet again with that -- gratifying, that was, and this time I took the advantage.
Easy, Hunter. You have to put this calmly and logically, or he'll never understand. It's obviously a totally alien concept to him, no matter that he bandies the word about.
"You regret your crimes, you never want to repeat them -- you've repented, in other words. I'm not saying that you should stop making amends. I think you have an obligation to do so, in fact. The extent to which you'll go to achieve that is a matter for you and your conscience -- or your code of ethics, if you like, since I suspect you think you have no conscience.
"But the problem is that forgiveness has nothing to do with that. It's not a reward for repentance, or for paying off a debt. None of us deserve it, no matter the degree of our crimes, and it can't be earned. It can only be granted. It's an act of love on the part of the pardoner, and you have nothing at all to do with it. It's neither your decision nor your responsibility, and not one single thing you've done can alter or negate it once's it's given."
He stared at me, speechless. I took a deep breath before going on.
"Albus has been offering you forgiveness from the minute you walked back through his office door -- but you won't accept it. I don't think you'll ever find peace with yourself until you do, because as long as you insist on thinking of forgiveness as some kind of reward, you'll deny yourself it. You don't really think you can ever repay that debt, I suspect.
"Albus once told me that guilt is innate in the decent sorts of human beings, and it's true, but you refuse to accept your remorse as what it is -- a sign that you are a decent human being. I can't convince you of it. Albus has tried for years and evidently failed, and you've more reason to trust him than me. So you'll have to deal with that yourself, when you're ready. If you ever are."
I didn't think he'd got it: confusion was writ large across his face, and I knew I'd failed.
"Here endeth the lesson," I muttered to myself in resignation, knowing he wouldn't get the reference. I sighed and sat back in the chair, and after a long moment I came to a decision. "End game," I softly told the chess set. "Tuck yourselves back in, please," and I pulled out the velvet-lined drawers so they could.
Snape didn't object -- but he started when I rose and moved toward the door.
"Where are you --"
"Home. You're right, of course," I said matter-of-factly. "This was a mistake." I slung the cloak about my shoulders and did up the clasp. "Look," I said gently, "I really didn't come here to read you the riot act. I missed our time together, it's that simple. I'm sorry that I misread the situation and invaded your privacy -- I truly thought some company might be welcome. I'll not do it again. You know how to reach me if you wish to."
And before he could budge from his chair I'd flipped the cloak's hood over my head and slipped out the door.
Albus sidled up to me after breakfast and pulled me aside to the Anteroom after the others had left the Great Hall.
"Severus came to me last night," he murmured, "and asked if he might resume work on some of his old research. Things that might prove useful against Voldemort."
"Good. You didn't have to leave the breadcrumbs, then?"
"No. Didn't think I'd have to -- I'd sent my little girl-guide into the wood to bring him out, after all."
I stared at him reproachfully, and his eyes twinkled back.
"You're incorrigible," I said. "Firstly, I despaired and gave up. Secondly, he's probably just bored out of his skull. He can't sit still for more than two minutes without occupation -- not without a good supply of brandy, at least."
"I'd agree with you -- and I know well he can't sit still, never could, drove Minerva wild in Transfigurations. But he thanked me before he left. He's never done that, not even the night he came back to Hogwarts. He didn't specify, but I don't believe it was for granting him permission to resume the work. He'd simply have moved his materials to the Hogsmeade house and worked on it there had I objected."
"I really wish you.... I could have made things immeasurably worse, you know, I wasn't prepared for it. I'd really only gone to spend some time with him, but he kept insisting I had some point to make, so I obliged."
"I don't believe you could have made it any worse. What did you say to him, by the way?"
"I clarified the nature of forgiveness. I got the sense he didn't have the slightest inkling what he meant when he threw about words like 'unforgiveable.'"
"Ah." Albus' face creased in irritation. "I admit it never occurred to me that was in doubt. I've never made a secret of it -- told him outright many times."
"But did he understand that forgiving himself isn't the point -- is impossible, in fact? That was the sticking point, I think -- and that keeps him believing he has to earn it by repaying his debt."
"Merlin's --" Albus ran a hand over his tired eyes, and then looked at me ruefully. "It never occured to me that it might come down to a misunderstanding of the concept -- and it should have. There's nothing I know of in his past to have taught him that distinction."
"How do you learn it, Albus? I don't imagine the purebloods ascribe to any kind of religious philosophy or theology, do you? You celebrate Yule, but it's much like a secular Christmas observance."
"No, it's all very abstract. There's a group in the Summer Islands who hold to the Old Ways and gods, and they're considered outright loonies. Which isn't to say that there is no entity or Master Hand behind the universe, just that such a belief isn't part of the modern wizarding philosophy."
"So experience is the only teacher, then."
"Yes. And despite our efforts, we can't always provide it here." He shot me an embarrassed look. "See if you can't work something or other into the curriculum next year, will you?"
Oh, wonderful. You try to teach a concept like that without reference to religious beliefs. It was impossible to contemplate trying to do it in the context of world religions -- you're talking a term-long course all of its own, there.
"At any rate, he's back with us, and the two of you are speaking again," Albus added with satisfaction.
"I wouldn't say that. I walked out on him and told him it was his move next."
"Oh. Well, give him time. If he's found the advice useful, he'll come to terms with it eventually and forgive you."
I wasn't willing to put a wager on that. Nor did I appreciate the unintended irony in Albus' last statement.
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Albus' great-uncle who emigrated: Winston Churchill's mum was American, so Albus is referring to the US when he says "the Colonies." Of course, at the time a great-uncle of his would have emigrated, they probably still were colonies. One wonders, given Aberforth's possible tendency to engage in, ah, questionable activities, whether said emigration was entirely uncoerced.
'Num Celare Charms': non-concealment charms.
'he glowered in that particular manner he usually reserved for Potter': there's something going on there that JKR's setting up, I'm sure, though I'm not certain what. Have you noticed that in both incidents where Harry runs into Snape while using the Invisibility Cloak that Snape seems to sense something? It could simply be a sensitivity to the Cloak -- we know that Dumbledore can actually see through the cloak somehow -- but Snape seems to know it's Harry in particular, though he's not entirely sure (see his words to Harry in GoF in the Potions classroom, just before the Karkaroff-Mark incident). It's doubtful Snape has a magical eye like Moody's, so could he have some kind of sensitivity to Harry's presence, and why? I have my suspicions, but can't tell you more as it's a potential spoiler for a future chapter.