Stockholm, 1981-1998* * * * *
By Daphne Dunham
* * * * * * *
The old man scarcely lets him out of his sight, especially in those first few months. They take their meals together: breakfast in his office, lunch in Severus’, dinner at the staff table in the Great Hall. They sit together in the evenings: Severus grading papers, Dumbledore writing letters, parting only when the candle’s burned down and the ink in the jar between them is nearly gone. Their conversations are often insipid: impersonal commentary on the weather, a polite query on how classes went—anything to avoid discussing the reality of the events that brought them to this situation. And there are moments when their eyes meet that Severus is certain Dumbledore’s wandering his mind: probing his memories, his thoughts, trying to discern if he’s in earnest about his commitment to the headmaster—to the memory of Lily Evans—to protecting her son.
Severus doesn’t blame him—not really. The old man has the right to be cautious where his Potions Master is concerned: He’s staked his reputation on Severus, sworn to the Ministry that the hook-nosed young man is not truly a Death Eater anymore and, by so doing, claimed full responsibility for him. And although Severus can’t help but somewhat resent being constantly doubted, monitored, and held like a hostage in his own home, the truth is, Dumbledore is far more pleasant a warden than Dementors would be—and Hogwarts is considerably more comfortable a penitentiary than Azkaban. The civility with which the headmaster is serving him tea reminds him of this.
“A splash more, Severus?” Dumbledore offers; he’s already pouring before Severus can respond.
The young man takes the cup in his hands. The porcelain is smooth and rigid like bone or the edge of a cauldron, and bringing the cup to his lips, Severus sips slowly, the hot liquid washing over his mouth. It’s Darjeeling, he notes, and in many ways he feels imported and foreign like the tea, out of place sitting here with the headmaster when he knows he deserves a much harsher prison.
“Biscuit, Severus?” Dumbledore is already lifting the tray, nodding expectantly down at the chocolate biscuit closest to the dark-haired wizard sitting across from him.
Severus isn’t really hungry—and he feels a bit like a child being plied into obedience with sweets—but he reaches out his hand and takes the biscuit anyway. It’s difficult to completely loathe a captor who at least makes an attempt at kindness.
For Severus, it’s not really a moral matter, a question of right or wrong. He sees sin on both sides: Voldemort killed the Riddles, and Dumbledore, as he learns in time during their increasingly personal conversations, is responsible for Ariana; Voldemort ruled by fear, and Dumbledore—at least where Severus is concerned—by manipulation. Both brilliant, both charismatic, both powerful—regardless of whether they claim their motivations are for hate or for love. Severus is on his own side, he has realized—the gray between Voldemort’s supposed black and Dumbledore’s supposed white. There are moments when, looking back at how things have been and looking forward to how the headmaster supposes they’ll someday be once more, that Severus still doesn’t quite know which of his masters truly is “evil” and which truly is “good.”
There’s certainly nothing “good,” for instance, in extracting loyalty from Severus the way Dumbledore has: forcing the young wizard to sacrifice everything, harnessing him with the yoke of his guilt—and, when Severus sees the gift placed atop his stack of papers for grading that night, he suspects a bit of bribery as well.
“What is this, headmaster?” he asks, an eyebrow raised skeptically as he takes the new quill in his hand. It is quite elegant: an emerald green which seems to glimmer with flecks of gold when the light catches it just so.
Dumbledore scarcely looks up from the letter from the Minister that he’s reading. “I merely thought you could do with a new one, Severus,” he replies simply. “It has self-replenishing ink and a Cushion Charm for comfort.”
Later on, though, as Severus sits beside him on the sofa by the fire, it is clear that the headmaster’s intentions range beyond a friendly gesture. After the letters and exam papers have been put aside, the hook-nosed young wizard feels a hand on his thigh. Severus inhales sharply at Dumbledore’s touch, startled. In a moment, the old man has his hand inside the Potions Master’s robes; his breathing becomes agitated as he begins to forage, and he licks his lips hungrily, greedily. Severus shifts uncomfortably, trying to repress the urge to pull away, and the headmaster pauses to look at him questioningly, as if asking in afterthought if he may proceed.
But Severus only stares ahead, unblinking, silent and still, neither encouraging nor resisting. If this is what the old man wants, he’ll comply: It’s better than Azkaban, he knows.
Dumbledore seems more confident in the faithfulness of the young man in his custody now: He occasionally lets Severus leave the castle unaccompanied if he wishes—just short trips, a firewhisky at the Three Broomsticks or some errands in Diagon Alley; he knows Severus will always come back. And he’s become more generous with his gifts: He manages to track down that rare, leather-bound first edition of Advanced Potion-Making that Severus has been wanting, and a few ounces of powdered horn from the Romanian Longhorn dragon make the ideal birthday present. And Dumbledore’s more considerate when he takes Severus: He kisses him, though never on the lips—Severus won’t allow that. And he’s patient—won’t persist if Severus seems uneasy and leaves when he’s finished, rather than force himself into the young man’s company through the night.
It surprises them both that evening when it’s Severus who reaches for the headmaster first. He twirls a few locks of the old man’s beard in his fingertips, flirting bashfully—and when they make their way to his bed, he insists on laying on his back, one leg propped on Dumbledore’s shoulder, so he can watch the man toiling over him. If the headmaster isn’t mistaken, the younger wizard is enjoying himself tonight: He’s genuine when he moans, and the flush on his cheek isn’t from humiliation but from the heat of wanting, and when he spills himself, it’s with a faint smile—not a scowl.
“You don’t have to go… Albus,” Severus says quietly when they’re through. It’s the first time he’s called the old man by his forename—the first time he’s felt comfortable with the familiarity and fondness inherent in doing so; the syllables sound strange and lovely on his lips, and he likes it.
The headmaster pauses; his eyes twinkle as he sidles back into bed beside Severus. For once, Severus doesn’t turn away when he tries to kiss him on the mouth.
The last time he sees Tobias Snape alive is, oddly, when he returns to Spinner’s End for his mother’s funeral.
“My son, the cock-sucker,” the elder Snape hisses when he sees him.
Tobias slurs when he speaks, and even from the doorway, Severus can smell the whisky on his father’s breath. He bristles at his father’s malediction, his fingers twitching with the urge to withdraw his wand and end this discord between them at long last. But he pauses when he thinks of Albus—Albus with his presents and kisses, Albus who’s risked himself to keep him out of Azkaban, Albus who’s given him the chance to assuage his conscience in regard to Lily.
“Albus is a good man,” Severus says instead, through clenched teeth.
“It ain’t right, what he’s doing to you, boy—the way he’s controlling you,” Tobias insists. His agitation has increased, along with the volume of his voice, and he raises a finger pointedly to emphasize his stance on the matter.
Severus glowers: His father has picked a hell of a time to begin to care about what happens to him. He turns sharply toward the stairs, toward his parents’ bedroom, where he hopes to find a few of his mother’s things for keepsakes—if his father hasn’t binned them already, that is. “And what you did to me all my life was right—the beatings and the yelling?!” he seethes under his breath, barely audible, as he stalks away.
Later that night in Albus’ chambers, Severus is especially enthusiastic as he drops to his knees and labors at the headmaster’s lap. Mostly to please Albus. But partly out of spite for his father.
It always seems to come as an afterthought—an addendum, a codicil—nearly forgotten and then glossed over as if trivial, barely worth mentioning: an instruction, a request—an order, essentially, even if it isn’t quite posed as an ultimatum. Most often it’s given following the revelation of good news, sometimes after the satisfaction of a decadent meal, and other times in the peacefulness of post-coital relaxation: all fine, friendly moments, times when the last thing expected is such a directive, times when Severus will be left blindsided—when he’ll be rendered helpless, immobilized so that all he can really do is nod dumbly and agree to whatever the headmaster has requested this time.
That’s how it is tonight, too—only this time, they’re standing at the top of the Astronomy Tower, sipping scotch in a toast to Severus’ return to the castle following the summer holidays and enjoying the loveliness of the evening, the fading warmth of late August and the stars overhead.
“I meant to mention this to you sooner, Severus,” Albus says casually as he places his empty tumbler aside. “Remus Lupin will be joining our staff this year as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.”
Instantly, Severus glowers at the news. He tears his eyes away from the stars at once in favor of glaring at his lover. “The… werewolf?!” he hisses incredulously. A furious flush rises in his cheeks, visible in the moonlight. “Albus, you must be mad—consider the children’s safety—”
The headmaster raises a hand to silence him, to still and reassure him that he has already considered the students’ safety and has a fail-proof plan. “The students will be just fine, I assure you, Severus,” he insists with maddening calm.
When Severus’ glare only intensifies at this overly optimistic assertion, Albus continues on to explain. “They’ll be quite safe, Severus, because you’re going to see to it: You will make the Wolfsbane potion for Remus. It will help him tremendously and ensure that he remains docile enough not to be a threat.”
In his rage, Severus is rendered incoherent. He can barely find the words to express his anger, his disapproval: He has wanted the Defense Against the Dark Arts position; he has toiled to earn Albus’ trust; he has nearly been killed by the very creature that the headmaster is quite happily inviting into the school. “Albus, you can’t be serious! Lupin almost murdered me—he’s a menace to the school—a liability—he’s—” he sputters.
The headmaster, however, remains composed. He merely peers at Severus meaningfully, his pale blue eyes probing him through the boundaries of his spectacles. “Lily was friends with Remus, Severus,” Albus reminds him softly. “I’m sure she would have appreciated any efforts you could find it in your heart to take to ensure his health and safety.”
At this, Severus quiets abruptly; he withers, looks like a plant denied the sun for too long. And without pressing further, Albus feels rather smug, feels quite confident the matter is settled: Anything mentioned in the name of Lily Potter usually is. Just to make absolute certain that there will be no resistance to his plan, though, the headmaster brings a hand to rest affectionately on the younger wizard’s shoulder.
“Please consider it, dear boy,” Albus says kindly. He leans closer to the Potions Master—closer, closer, until his lips press against the man’s hairline, his sallow temple, in a gentle kiss. “I love you, Severus,” the headmaster tells him softly. Then, he turns to leave: a flawless execution of his strategy.
The click of Albus’ boots resounds on the stone ground as he walks away. Slowly, Severus moves to lean against the closest wall, to steady himself. He wraps his arms around himself, trembling slightly, the softness of the headmaster’s kiss still on his temple. Albus says he loves him. He loves him. A small smile, faint, scarcely noticeable, creases Severus’ lips. No further consideration is required; he’ll make the Wolfsbane for Lupin—for Albus.
After all, Severus has never quite been loved before.
Narcissa smells like expensive perfume, and her golden earrings are cold against his mouth when he nibbles on her ear. She breathes his name, the last syllable falling from her lips in a moan: Severus. It’s been too long since she’s had a man—since Lucius has been in Azkaban—and she’s aching to be touched. And for Severus, it’s been even longer since he’s had a woman—since before Albus. The events of last night have left him shaken, shattered—though he doesn’t have the luxury of admitting it—and Narcissa is better comfort than no comfort. After all, Severus can scarcely count the number of boys he knew who used to wank to thoughts of her when they were alone in their dormitories. Mulciber—Avery—Rabastan Lestrange. Even now, years later, any one of them would still envy Severus the position he’s in at this very moment: Narcissa Malfoy, panting beneath him, legs wrapped around his waist, showing him exactly how grateful she is to him for having protected her son this year—for having killed Albus Dumbledore in Draco’s stead.
And ironically, Albus Dumbledore is indeed all Severus can think about as he takes what Narcissa is so arrogant to assume is a reward. He thinks about how the headmaster’s skin was smooth like parchment and how his kisses were like being touched by tiny bursts of starlight—how his beard used to sway, pendulum-like, ticking away their moments together, as he moved above him and how good it felt to be taken sometimes rather than the taker. Suddenly, Severus hates Narcissa; he hates the sacrilege of being with her, the pretense of celebrating the victory of Albus’ murder when it’s Albus whom he’d rather share a bed with right now. Severus’ body cries out to him: This is wrong; this is an abomination; this is a betrayal of Albus’ memory. With each thrust, he feels angrier, feels dirtier, feels guiltier—until all the rage and loathing come pouring out of him in tears, sweat, and semen.
“The Dark Lord will see that Lucius is freed from Azkaban soon,” Severus tells Narcissa afterward. He sits on the edge of the bed—where Lucius would typically sleep, he guesses—and begins to dress.
The blond head nods against the satin pillow, understanding the hint behind his words: There will be no repeats of this evening’s excursions in the bedroom. “You won’t tell him, will you?” Narcissa whispers, trying to mask the tremor of fear in her voice.
Severus stands. “No, I won’t tell Lucius,” he says, though not especially kindly; it’s no great act of chivalry, after all: He wants to forget this happened—that he has betrayed Albus and done it so quickly—just as much as she does.
The thundering of his heart rises like tribal drums in the distance, growing ever-louder on approach. He feels the pounding in his veins, hears it ricochet off the walls off his mind, sink into the hollow pit of his stomach. Voldemort’s words burn in his ears, sear him to the bone as the grim reality occurs to him: Dumbledore must have known; he must have intended for this to happen—for him to kill him, to become the master of the Elder Wand. And, worse, Dumbledore must have figured that Voldemort would eventually assemble the pieces—that he’d eventually try to usurp control of the wand from Severus—and that leaving the Elder Wand to Severus was tantamount to a death sentence for him.
But Dumbledore had done it anyway…. he hadn’t cared, didn’t mind the loss of Severus.
The blood oozes from his neck in those miserable seconds that Severus assembles the terrible pieces, that he collapses to the ground. Soft reverberations echo against the dusty floorboards as Voldemort stalks away, and as Severus lays still, feeling their subtle shudders against his spine, he thinks that perhaps he could—that he should—resist death more, fight it more; but he can’t, won’t. It’s not worth it—especially not having just found out he’s been betrayed by his lover, his master, his warden.
He feels cold, so cold—cold in flesh and cold in spirit as he senses another faint rumbling among the floorboards. Severus’ eyes are foggy, hazy, but through the shadows, he can recognize the face hovering above him, that long-loathed likeness of the boy who so resembles his childhood enemy—and his childhood love. There he is, with the lightening-bolt scar and unruly dark hair; there he is, with his eyes—those eyes, Lily’s eyes….
The fury and disappointment melt, and a surge of warmth pulses through Severus as he gazes up at Harry Potter, into those eyes. And at once he remembers: He remembers how kind it was of Albus to give him the chance to atone for his role in Lily’s death. Severus remembers the decency with which he acted as his warden—the tea-and-biscuit afternoons that would have been unheard of in Azkaban, with the Dementors. He remembers the way the old man was so considerate a lover—his patience in refraining from kissing him and the guilt Severus felt after being with Narcissa. He remembers the generosity of the headmaster’s gifts—the quills and books and rare potions ingredients. And Severus remembers the light and peace and gratitude in Albus’ eyes the first time he said he cared for him, that he loved him.
A dull ache thumps in Severus’ heart and his body seems to be weeping at the thought of it all. No, there must be some mistake—Severus won’t believe it; he can’t believe it: Albus wouldn’t have knowingly done this to him; he wouldn’t have killed him, same as if he’d been the one to order Nagini upon him. It was an error—a catastrophic one, but an error nonetheless; the old man was bound to fumble now and again—he’d heard him say so himself, once or twice. So in the next instant, Severus grasps desperately at Harry’s robes, at once determined to complete his task of helping the boy and share the memories of all he knows with him. He’ll do it for Lily, and he’ll do it for Albus. After all, the old man said he loved him. He must have loved him. He must have….
…. Didn’t he?
A/N: The title is a reference to Stockholm Syndrome, which I think throws an interesting twist on evaluating Snape’s loyalties.