Yes, Snape was gone. Now. Severus could have disapparated when Aberforth saw him upstairs. So why did he stay and let himself be caught, knowing the Headmaster of Hogwarts would recognize him?
Dumbledore left the room, immersed in his thoughts. Severus Snape was anything but stupid. He was good at the Dark Arts, but even better at potions… and at hiding his thoughts. Yet he had taken a considerable risk, tonight. Why? When their eyes had met, there had almost been an understanding…
And suddenly, Dumbledore knew Snape had done his best to be caught – and to be brought before him.
But why? he thought, walking out into the pitch dark night. It makes no sense!
Outside, it was raining, as he knew it would since he had left Hogwarts. The shadows were so dense the street lamps couldn’t disperse them all.
Albus Dumbledore quickened his pace. For once, he wouldn’t enjoy much the Hallowe’en Feast.
Hallowe’en, he mused.
Tonight, magic was strong. Stronger, some said, than any other day.
They may be right, after all, he thought.
Dumbledore had many things to do. He would have to tell a few people – maybe not about the prophecy itself… ah, well, he would think about that later –, people who were dedicated, like himself, to defeat Voldemort. Dumbledore had never fancied himself in the role of a leader, he had never tried to enroll anyone in any kind of "army", but they had turned to him for leadership, one by one, as the years went by. At the beginning, Dumbledore had shied away from being responsible for so many lives, but most would have fought Voldemort on their own, so he told himself they were safer as part of a web. Actually, he was particularly proud of one of the youngest, Lily Evans Potter. The day she turned seventeen, she had come to his office and said:
"I’m legally an adult now, Headmaster. I don’t want my children to grow up in a world raked by war and fear. I know there are people doing their best to defeat Lord Voldemort. I want to be one of them."
Her voice didn’t quiver when she said Voldemort’s name. He knew she had just paired up with James Potter, but all the same, it was not the reason why she was telling him that. She was as brave and courageaous as she was talented. And she was muggleborn. But those were secondary reasons too. Above all, she had a soul so pure, she had so much empathy, she couldn’t bear what was happening around her. She had to make things better. Or die trying.
Dear Lily, Dumbledore thought.
He made his way back to his office and took out his cloak. Then he removed the memory of what had just happened in the room above the bar, at the Hog’s Head, and placed it carefully in the Pensieve he had put on his desk earlier. He had to study it, objectively.
As though I would ever forget one word of Miss Trelawney’s prophecy…
He did it anyway. When you defied Voldemort, you generally didn’t live to tell the tale. Not so many people could pride themselves on having been given the chance to celebrate a victory over him… much less three.
And I know all of them, he thought. I will have to find out who those thrice defiers are before Voldemort hears about the prophecy…
Because that day would come… Yet for some reason, he had the feeling today was not it.
Since both parents have to have defied Voldemort three times, they must be working together. And the woman has to be of childbearing age, he mused.
And from those two a child would be born at the end of July. In nine months from now…
But the feast was about to begin. Dumbledore would ponder that mystery later. He was not ready to identify the "lucky" ones, anyway. Not yet. Because a nagging thought kept on crossing his mind : they would be in great danger.
An owl was awaiting his return. Fawkes eyed it suspiciously when Dumbledore took the message it was holding in its beak. Amused, the wizard unroled the little piece of parchment.
I need to talk to you. Now.
He didn’t recognize the handwriting, but he knew who had sent it anyway. He took a quill and wrote, on the other side of the sheet: Our Keeper of the Keys will be waiting for you at the gates.
He gave the message to the owl and sent it back. Then he wrote another one: A visitor is at the gates. Please, escort him to my office.
Dumbledore gave it to Fawkes, who flew out of the open window. And he waited.
Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock at the door.
"Come on in!" he called.
The tall and large silhouette of Rubeus Hagrid appeared in the doorframe.
"Yer visitor’s ’ere, Headmaster," he said with a disapproving look.
"Thank you, Hagrid," Dumbledore answered.
The giant man shook his shaggy head and left, muttering under his breath. Dumbledore waited till he had close the door behind him, then he turned to Severus Snape, who still hadn’t said a word.
"Please, have a seat."
The young man sat, and their eyes met for the second time that night.
"The Dark Lord sent me to the Hog’s Head to kill you," said Snape without preamble.
Slightly raising his eyebrows, Dumbledore observed : "I’m still alive."
"Obviously, I failed."
"You are still alive – I thought no one failed Voldemort and survived to tell the tale."
The sallow face tensed under the longish greasy black hair. Severus Snape swallowed, hard, and said :
"The Dark Lord punished me. Then he accepted to hear me out…"
"No doubt he was very interested by the news you had for him," Dumbledore cut him short.
If you’re talking about the prophecy, I didn’t say a word." A slow smile stretched Snape’s thin lips. "I’m here because I know there is a way, now, to stop him. I know you will do your best to ensure the victory of the child. I want to help."
Dumbledore joined his hands and studied his visitor. Severus Snape didn’t fidgeted under his gaze. He remained perfectly still. And he looked him squarely in the eyes.
"I can pride myself on being very good at Legillimency and Occlumency," Dumbledore said.
It could be interpreted as a disguised threat. He wanted to analyse Snape’s reaction.
"You are probably the most skilled wizard at both," the young man said. "The Dark Lord is good, but not as good as you are. And I am quite skilled myself – but you won’t need either. There is something I want to show you… May I?" he asked, pointing at the Pensieve.
Dumbledore nodded. Snape pull a silvery strand out of his head, placed it in the Pensieve and invited the Headmaster to follow him.
A few minutes later, both seemed come out of a trance.
"I still have a question," Dumbledore said. "Why?"
"He’s not a leader, the kind of man you’d die for. He’s just an egomaniac who dreams of power and of immortality. When I was younger, I was blinded by the desire to learn. Unfortunately I soon discovered that he doesn’t share his knowledge – except when he needs something to be done and he can’t do it himself. We have to obey him, he gives us no choice."
"And yet, here you are…"
"As soon as I heard the beginning of the prophecy, I knew what I’d have to do. I was a puppet, Headmaster, but tonight I chose to cut my strings. I can’t get rid of them, though, especially as they can be useful."
"You want me to trust you…" Dumbledore began.
"No. I have done wrongs, and I’ll probably do some more. But I could do some good, too. You don’t have a spy among the Dark Lord’s men, do you?"
As much for people who don’t believe in second chance, the old wizard told himself.
"No, I don’t," answered Dumbledore, his mind racing. "Here is what we’re going to do…"
A/N: This chapter was quite difficult to write, even though I had it planned. I had to be true to my opinion. Do I think Snape has always been Voldemort's man? No, I don't. I think Snape is mostly... his own man. He joined forces with Dumbledore because they had the same objective - to defeat Voldemort -, and then he came to truly respect him. Snape's not evil, but he's not good either. So I had to write him that way. And I had to write a both suspicious and trustful Dumbledore, because we know he trusted Snape.
Thanks to J.K. Rowling for having created the Potterverse for us to play in - and mess things up.