A Nice Summer
Snape sat at his desk, quill in hand, his black eyes narrowing as he regarded the parchment on the desk in front of him with disfavor. It was the roster of his third-year students. Six rolls of parchment bearing the grades for his students in the other years were piled to his left. It was weak, he recognized, to put off recording the grades of that class until last. Still, a week after Sirius Black’s escape from justice, he could not think of Potter and his friends at all calmly. With a grimace, Snape picked up a final exam paper from the pile on his right and recorded the results on the parchment.
There, all done, he thought, as he recorded the last mark, an "A" for Zabini, Blaise. His oft-married, oft-widowed mother must have a knack for potions, at least of the love and poison varieties, Snape mused. Blaise, however, appeared to share his father’s lack of interest in the subject. As Snape straightened, his shoulder-length black hair swung back, revealing thin lips curled into a faint sneer. He waited briefly for the ink to dry, then rolled up the parchment and placed it with the others.
For a moment, he considered sending a house-elf to the Headmaster with the grades. No, he always took his grades in person; he would act no differently this year. He had done nothing wrong. Resolutely Snape stood up and tucked the rolled parchments under his arm. His black robes billowing behind him, he strode out of his dungeon office towards the stairs.
“Unless you are suggesting Harry and Hermione are able to be in two places at once, I’m afraid I don’t see the point in troubling them further,” Dumbledore’s words echoed in his mind. No third-years would be able to manage that trick by themselves, Snape knew. Which meant they had managed it with Dumbledore’s connivance, and so Snape had dropped the subject. He was not going to accuse the Headmaster of aiding a fugitive in front of the Minister of Magic, so he had stormed out of the room with what shreds of his dignity he had retained.
Black’s story was pathetically bad: he claimed not to have murdered the Muggles or Pettigrew. This was patently ridiculous, in the face of some fifty witnesses to the act. Not, Snape repeated to himself for the hundredth time, that there was a good story to be had. Even if this were true, if the deaths had been some freak accident or unintended magical mishap, it was Sirius’s other crime that was truly unforgivable. How Potter could stand to listen to the traitor, Snape could not fathom. Potter would not hear the plain truth about his father from Snape, but ensured his betrayer’s escape from justice! And his mother’s… Snape’s fists clenched at the thought. How could Dumbledore have believed him?
Snape found himself facing the gargoyle that guarded the hidden staircase to the Headmaster’s office. Taking a deep breath, he composed himself.
“Treacle taffy,” he said calmly, and the gargoyle moved out of the way as the hidden doorway to the staircase opened. Snape strode up the moving staircase and knocked at the door.
“Come in,” Snape heard Dumbledore call through the door.
Snape opened the polished oak door and shut it behind him.
“Ah, Severus, good to see you,” said Dumbledore as he rose from his chair, smiling.
“Good afternoon, Headmaster,” said Snape correctly. Even after all these years, he found Dumbledore’s breezy politeness under strained circumstances almost shocking, somehow. Difficult to understand, and certainly beyond his ability to emulate. He walked over and extended the rolls of parchment to Dumbledore, who accepted them.
“The final grades, I presume?” said Dumbledore, placing them on his desk.
“Yes, for all my students,” Snape responded.
“Excellent! I’ll have a look at them later. I was just having some tea when you came by,” he added, gesturing to the silver tray and service on one corner of his desk. “Please, join me.”
“Thank you, I will,” said Snape.
Dumbledore waved his wand, and a small table popped up next to the visitor’s chair in front of the Headmaster’s massive, claw-footed desk. A second flick of his wand, and the tea tray floated steadily over from the desk and settled itself on the table.
“Please, make yourself comfortable,” said Dumbledore. As Snape poured himself a cup, Dumbledore picked up his own and settled back down into his chair. Snape sat down, his back straight, and took a sip, peering at Dumbledore over the rim of the cup.
Dumbledore’s blue eyes regarded him steadily over his half-moon glasses. Snape set down his cup, and fixed his cold black eyes defiantly on Dumbledore.
“Very well, Severus, get it off your chest,” said Dumbledore.
As always, the old man knew just what to say, Snape reflected. The week-old arguments that had been forming themselves in his head as he walked over seemed, suddenly, a waste of breath. They were beside the point. He’d had a week to think it over, and while he was no more pleased with Dumbledore’s decision now than he had been a week ago, he recognized that he had no choice but to accept things as they were.
“You heard my story, and Black’s. You believed him, as is your prerogative. You arranged his escape, and we both know it. There’s really nothing further for me to say,” Snape said, fighting to keep his voice calm as bitterness welled up in him.
“So you no longer blame Harry for the escape?” Dumbledore asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Oh, Potter was up to his neck in it,” Snape responded acidly. “But I feel confident that the magic of time-travel is, at present, beyond the capacity of even the appallingly well-read Miss Granger, absent outside assistance,” said Snape, with a pointed glance at Dumbledore.
“Touché, Severus,” said Dumbledore with a smile. “I see you took my little hint.”
Snape nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
“Very well,” Dumbledore continued. “Now that you have said your piece, I beg you will permit me to say mine. For much of what transpired concerns your future more than you know. Sirius Black was not the Potters’ Secret Keeper. And so he could not have been the traitor.”
“But how-” Snape began.
“Hear me out, Severus,” Dumbledore interrupted him. “He pretended to be, as a ruse. Actually, that responsibility was entrusted by the Potters to Peter Pettigrew.”
“Whom Black conveniently murdered, so we may not now confirm this tale!” spat Snape.
“Peter lives, Severus, I have no doubt of it,” Dumbledore affirmed. “Remus and Sirius both insist on this point, and I am a sufficiently skilled Legilimens to know when I am being lied to.”
Snape grimaced. He had seen this argument coming, he even believed it to be true, but it could not be right.
“Yes, but it is impossible!” he burst out.
“There is more to the story than we knew. The witnesses to Peter’s supposed murder were all Muggles, too ignorant of magic to understand what they had seen. Peter, it seems, is an Animagus, a skill he acquired with the help of his school friends. He blew up the street, killing the Muggles, as he assumed his Animagus form, and then scurried away. The Muggle survivors naturally assumed he had died, and fingered Sirius, the survivor, as the killer.” Dumbledore paused, and regarded Snape calmly, his face grave.
The anger Snape had been keeping on a tight leash as the conversation proceeded ebbed away, replaced by a horrible, sinking feeling in his stomach. A flash of memory came up, from a week ago: Black, his grimy face white with fear, mumbling incoherently about the Weasley boy’s rat…Snape cursed as understanding burst upon his mind.
“Wormtail! The rat was Pettigrew!” he exclaimed.
“Indeed,” Dumbledore said. He smiled gently as he sipped his tea.
“A rat,” Snape mused, with a curl of his lip. How…apt. “And where is the rat now?”
“Alas, Lupin transformed as he and Sirius were bringing Peter back to the castle,” Dumbledore explained. “In the ensuing confusion, he slipped away. I fear he will now seek out Voldemort.”
“Why now, after all these years?” Snape asked.
“Sirius’s appearance here has driven him out the place he has been hiding since the Potters’ murder,” Dumbledore said, setting down his cup. “Moreover…it seems, last week, that our resident Seer made a new prophecy for Harry,” he added.
“Professor Trelawney made another prophecy about Potter!” Snape exclaimed in surprise.
“No, Severus, she made it in his presence, on the very day Peter escaped,” Dumbledore corrected him. “She entered a prophetic trance, and told Harry that the Dark Lord’s servant would that very night return to his master, to help him rise again. While I do not set great store by prophecy, the coincidence in this case rather convinces me.”
“You had hoped, after the Philosopher’s Stone was destroyed, that we might have until after Potter left school,” Snape remarked.
“Indeed, it would have been my preference,” Dumbledore agreed with a sigh. “Alas, it is not to be. Well, I have already put a plan in motion to keep Harry safe next year,” he added.
Snape said nothing. Reaching for his long-forgotten cup, he drank some of his now lukewarm tea. If Dumbledore wanted to tell him, he would. If not, well, it seemed the time was coming again when it might be better for him not to know things.
“For the summer, Harry will be safe with his mother’s blood, at his aunt’s house, as usual,” Dumbledore explained. “And in the fall - Alastor Moody has already accepted the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for the next school year.” Snape’s mouth twisted into a scowl. At least there would be competent instruction in that subject, for once, since Moody had been an Auror, one of the best. But Moody knew his secret, and trusted his sincerity…not at all.
“He will be a useful set of eyes and ears at the school, if there is trouble,” Snape allowed grudgingly. If Moody does not waste all of his time and energy keeping his magical eye on me, he did not add. Dumbledore, characteristically, seemed to hear the remark anyway.
“You will manage to get along with Alastor, I am sure,” Dumbledore said, with a pointed glance at Snape.
“Naturally,” Snape agreed, without much enthusiasm. After all, he had mostly managed to get along with the recently departed Lupin, another teacher Dumbledore had brought in to ‘help’. At least Moody would be up front about his feelings. Snape could respect that. Keeping his own eyes open for trouble while avoiding Moody would doubtless prove an irritant, Snape thought. But he knew it would not be his biggest problem, next year. The Dark Lord’s return was a far greater problem, which still hung, almost palpably, between him and Dumbledore, unremarked upon. Best drop the subject of Moody and get on with the real issue.
“So much for my plans,” Dumbledore said, before Snape had hit upon a way to broach the subject. “You, too, have plans to make. I am afraid our decision to go to the Ministry after Voldemort’s disappearance could prove costly. Too many have heard my testimony for Voldemort to remain long ignorant of it, once he again gathers his followers to himself.”
Snape considered this. Revealing Snape’s spy work to a closed Ministry tribunal had ensured Snape would not face a public trial, and thus, possibly, a trip to Azkaban. It had also kept both his spying and his Death Eater status from becoming generally known.
“It was the right choice,” Snape opined dispassionately. “The Dark Lord was becoming displeased with me anyway. Your testimony demonstrates that I was able to gain your confidence. That could prove useful to the Dark Lord. I will simply have to allay his suspicions, so that the seeming advantages to him of accepting me back outweigh his misgivings.”
“And you believe you can accomplish this?” asked Dumbledore.
“Yes,” Snape answered. Dumbledore gave Snape a long look over his half-moon glasses.
“When the Dark Lord calls his Death Eaters back, I will go,” Snape stated flatly, his black eyes narrowing as he answered the unspoken question. “The prize is worth the risk. As a deserter, I would become a target. I will have to hide myself, or my loyalties. As a spy I can be more useful, so I choose the latter.”
“Very well, Severus,” Dumbledore said gravely. “Do not hesitate to ask my assistance, as you make your preparations. Have you any ideas?” He would need every trick he had learned, to have a chance, Snape thought. And every bit of advance information he could provide for himself…
“I think it is time I went and offered my sympathy to young Mr. Malfoy and his family, over the unfortunate escape of that vicious hippogriff,” Snape said, setting down his teacup. Dumbledore nodded his approval. Suddenly there was a sharp rap on the office door.
“Yes, that is an excellent idea, Severus,” Dumbledore said, rising from behind his desk. As he walked by Snape, he added in an undertone, “Lucius will bear watching, this summer.”
“I will let you know if I hear anything of interest, Professor,” Snape said as he stood. “Thank you for the tea.”
“You are welcome. I am glad you stopped by,” said Dumbledore, as he opened the door.
“I realize I am a trifle early-” Professor Sprout said as she stepped into the office. “Oh, my apologies, Severus!” she added, as she noticed Snape standing in front of the desk.
“It is quite all right, Pomona,” said Dumbledore, “Severus was just leaving.”
“Indeed, I just stopped by to drop off the final Potions grades,” Snape told the Herbology professor. Judging from the stack of papers she was carrying, her appointment was for the same purpose.
“Goodbye, Professor,” Snape said.
“Goodbye, Severus,” Dumbledore replied. “If I do not see you before you leave, have a nice summer.”
The door closed behind him as he stepped onto the stairs. Reluctantly, he pulled back the left sleeve of his robe to look at his bare forearm. It was so pale that it seemed white, against the blackness of his robes. There was no mark upon it, as had been the case for nearly thirteen years now. Roughly, he shook his sleeve back down over his arm. The spiral staircase stopped, and the wall in front of him parted.
He swept past the gargoyle and strode rapidly down the hallway. While his reprieve of thirteen years still lasted, he had people to see and preparations to make. A nice summer, indeed.