Snape stared balefully at the gargoyle guarding the door to the Headmaster’s office. He could not shake the nagging sensation that there was something uncomfortable awaiting him. The collective sigh that had permeated the wizarding world not six weeks before still eluded him, and he had a vague sort of prescience that something very vexing was about to happen.
And Severus Snape was right.
“Voldemints,” he muttered to the gargoyle, musing that even Honeydukes was celebrating the demise of the Dark Lord. The thought did not cheer him. Instead, the dread seemed to settle into his bones as the stone wall slid apart, and the moving stairs propelled him toward the ghost of Albus Dumbledore. Snape paused at the oak door, and took a deep breath.
“Come in,” came a voice from the other side, before Snape even had a chance to use the knocker. The door opened into a round room, red with dusk.
“Lovely sunset, Severus.” The ghost was hovering next to the west window, staring out over the lake.
The Potions master clenched his teeth. Dumbledore liked to break bad news slowly, which meant that Snape had wasted an awful lot of time in his office over the years. “I did not notice,” he lied. “I went out to smoke.”
Dumbledore still would not look in his direction. “You ought to give it up,” he said absently, “it’s bad for your health.”
“As was serving at the side of the Dark Lord for two years,” Snape retorted. “Besides, I barely smoke twenty a week, what with the rules you have instituted.”
At this the ghost did turn. “Yes, Severus. It was my goal in life, as it is now in death, to deprive you of every pleasure.”
Sarcasm was not something unknown to Dumbledore, but it occurred to Snape that in death his wit had grown even more acid. Yet Snape was not offended. He merely stared at him, waiting for the guilt to set in.
“Apologies,” said Dumbledore’s ghost at last, “but it has been…a trying day for me, and I need to talk to you. Please sit down. I’ve had Dobby bring in some lemonade…”
Snape sat slowly, looking at the desk, where indeed now rested a pitcher, sweating lightly, and one solitary glass, filled to the brim with ice.
“Lemonade?” Snape asked dubiously. “But it’s…”
“Black, yes,” replied the ghost, “at least in this fading light. In full light it’s a rather grayish-purple. It’s the blackberries.”
Snape continued to stare at the pitcher until the ghost spoke again. “You are rightfully suspicious, Severus, but please have some. Besides, I can’t partake anymore and I like to live vicariously.”
“It is the only way you can live, Albus,” said Snape softly, “for which you have only yourself to blame.”
Dumbledore ignored this. Besides, it was true. “I had Dobby put in half the sugar as he used to when I was alive,” he urged in a lilting voice. Snape assumed this information was supposed to tempt him. It did, but he was not about to let Dumbledore see that.
Finally, after he had spent a suitable time glowering, Snape poured, and took a sip. It was cold and very tart, and fragrant with summer, and if Albus Dumbledore noticed that Snape, despite his initial misgivings, drank the first glass in rather short order, he had the wherewithal not to mention it. And he waited until Snape had finished his second glass before he spoke.
“Severus, I have news today from the Ministry that will no doubt come as an unpleasant surprise.” After this he merely stared at Snape, whose entire body had suddenly gone rigid.
“Out with it…” Snape said.
The Headmaster’s ghost blinked a few times, then took what appeared to be a deep breath. “It is to be announced tomorrow that all former Death Eaters, both in Azkaban and at large, will be granted clemency.”
At this Snape gripped the arms of the chair reflexively, and his eyes narrowed. He had suspected that he was in for a nasty surprise, but this was out of the bounds of even his pessimistic imagination. “What?”
“Do not make me repeat myself, Severus. It was difficult enough to say the first time.”
Severus Snape, who had indeed been through many a difficult and unsettling experience, suddenly felt as if the world was tilting off its axis. “You cannot mean that, Albus,” he hissed.
The ghost moved to hover over his desk chair. “There is the feeling amongst certain members of the Ministry, most of them in fact, that it is far safer to incorporate these wizards back into the fold, to subsume them into the community of good in order to dilute their propensity for evil.”
“Clemency for the Carrows? Yaxley? Mulciber? Clemency for Bellatrix Black?” Snape’s voice was quiet with shock and horror.
The ghost nodded slowly. “Their victims are to be considered casualties of war.”
“And they plan to…to free Macnair and…and Malfoy?”
“At tomorrow dawn, yes.”
Snape’s hands were clenched now. “What makes you think they won’t return to their old ways, despite the death of the Dark Lord? They are dangerous!”
At this the ghost merely sighed. “They are tired, Severus. Malevolence is tiring, almost as tiring as guarding against it.”
“There has to be another way!”
“Oh there is, Severus,” said the ghost, looking down, “it was discussed it at length. And though it had its proponents, in the end it was rejected.”
“Why? What on earth could be worse than freeing them?”
It took awhile before Dumbledore spoke again. “Annihilation,” he said at last. “Kill all the Death Eaters, and former Death Eaters, and all their kin, down to the last child in its mother’s womb.”
At this, though his skin was pale to begin with, Snape visibly blanched.
“Look upon the history of the Muggle and Wizarding worlds, Severus,” the ghost continued. “Other than the utter destruction of the opposing side, there is no other way but forgiveness and acceptance to forestall future violence. Shall I cite examples?”
Snape turned away. He suddenly felt sick. But then, demonstrations of Dumbledore’s wisdom usually made him sick.
“Please don’t,” he growled.
“Keeping the remaining followers of Voldemort fugitives, or in Azkaban, and alienating them from the wizarding world, will do nothing but cause an appealing and very dangerous myth to evolve around them, which is exactly what happened after Voldemort was thought vanquished at Godric’s Hollow. We cannot allow this. They must be subsumed within the greater community. Their children, and their children’s children, must not have cause to romanticize his memory.”
“But they deserve…”
“Sometimes, for good or for ill, people do not get what they deserve,” the ghost interrupted. “If we are lucky, they get what is expedient and produces the most good for all.”
“It was my job to know the minds of Voldemort’s followers. Why was I not at least consulted?” Snape asked at last.
To this the ghost said nothing, only looked at Severus Snape with terrible pity. “I tried, Severus, but I’m afraid…”
“I am not trusted,” said Snape bitterly, “by either side.”
“I am doing what I can to remedy that.”
But Snape had grown quiet now. His hands were balled into fists on his lap, his face a picture of angry denial.
“Severus…” the ghost said softly, “you are almost as logical as you are courageous. You will see that this is the safest, most prudent course of action.”
At this Snape looked up angrily. “Your flattery will do nothing to change my mind,” he spat out savagely.
“It is honest praise, Severus, not flattery," said Dumbledore matter-of-factly. "You simply do not like yourself well enough to discern between the two.”
Snape proffered a disgusted sneer in reply. “Still trying to build up my ‘self-esteem’, are we? I thought you had given up on that a long time ago.”
The ghost’s expression was bland, and indulgent, and just short of a smile. “Apparently not,” he said.
Snape stood up. He was shouting now. “Do you think that your respect for me, even your affection, will change my opinion of this situation one jot? You vastly underestimate the Dark Lord’s former servants. They were more dedicated to him, and to his cause, than ever I was to you and yours!”
Albus Dumbledore stared at Snape. Snape, his former student. Snape, his colleague. Snape, his savior and his killer and above all, Snape his friend.
“No, Severus,” he said at last, with utter finality. “They are not, and they never were.”
Snape met Dumbledore’s eyes, and though the old man was a ghost, he could only hold them for a short time before looking away. At that moment he thought the terrible burden of the dead man’s love, and his faith, would squeeze the very life out of him.
“Damn you, Albus.”
The ghost was smiling now, a rueful smile, as he looked down at his misty body. “Apparently not.”
Severus Snape was quiet for a long time. “Sometimes I wish you were alive so that I could kill you again,” he said at last, softly.
Dumbledore chuckled at that. “Alas, my dear boy…I can only provide you that pleasure once.”
At that moment Fawkes flew through the open window, and settled on his perch, eyeing Snape warily. Finally he squawked rather loudly.
“Don’t fret, Fawkes. Dobby will be here soon with your dinner,” Dumbledore soothed.
The phoenix squawked again, but more softly. His eyes remained settled on Severus Snape.
Suddenly all Snape himself wanted to do was sleep. Sleep and forget. “If you will excuse me,” he said heavily, “I am going to my rooms. To think.”
The ghost nodded. And Snape had almost reached the door, was almost free, before the Headmaster called his name again.
Snape stopped, frozen. Then turned slowly.
Dumbledore’s expression was blank. “They will come for you, you know. Not right away of course, not until they have found their feet, so to speak. But they will come.”
Snape’s eyes narrowed. “To kill me? Surely they know better.”
“Worse, Severus. Oh, much much worse.”
Snape folded his arms across his chest. “And what could possibly be worse?”
At this Dumbledore only chuckled. Then he chuckled some more. After a fair amount of chuckling, during which Snape actually began to consider reaching for his wand and using the ghost as target practice, Albus Dumbledore at last grew grave. The gravity was feigned, of course, though his voice was solemn enough.
“Yesssss,” Snape hissed, “out with it!”
“They wish, Severus,” the ghost said solemnly, “to find you a wife.”
Snape looked at the Headmaster, horrified. “A what?” he demanded, though he had heard the ghost perfectly well.
But Albus Dumbledore did not answer. And beginning to chuckle again now, he melted into the stone floor and disappeared, down toward the great castle below.