Disclaimer: All characters from the Harry Potter universe belong to J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury Publishing, Scholastic Inc., AOL/Time Warner and associated companies. No offence, legal or otherwise, is intended by the online publication of this story. Neither is profit. Make love, not lawsuits!
Notes: A game of manipulation, loyalty and possibility played out in Dumbledore's office, just after the MWPP-era incident at the Shrieking Shack.
Dumbledore measures trust in sips of tea. He can add a little something to it to encourage honesty, a little dash of truth that tastes like lemon--or he can relax a nervous student with a hint of cinnamon, perching on the edge of her chair and about to make a dire confession. If that fails, he always has Legilimency--a quiet rifle through an unsuspecting child's mind when necessary, brushing young thoughts aside like torn pages. Many adults, too, have succumbed--Professors, parents, visitors. Dumbledore has mysterious, glittering things all over his office--toys to enchant the eye, baubles to trick the mind--and he himself, in splendid scarlet robes and an outdated hat, appears a genial monarch in the midst of play.
Severus Snape, however, proves something of a challenge to him. A young Slytherin with a talent for Potions so acute that he will detect any nuance of interference in the beverages he drinks--and perhaps it is some scent he senses in the air, when he is called in just after the nasty incident in the Shrieking Shack, that makes him narrow his eyes and decline Dumbledore's offer of tea.
No student declines Dumbledore's offers.
The boy's mind is similarly guarded--an ill-refined and primitive telepathic talent that could, with proper nurturing, achieve full-fledged Occlumency. A rare gift. The boy is, in fact, all rarity--from his prodigious skill at Potions to a similarly sinister skill at picking apart his enemies with the most cruel of words. And the mind-gift, of course, which convinces Dumbledore to change his tack with Snape--he cajoles instead of scolds, flatters instead of berates--but Snape only recoils further at every offer of friendship, resembling nothing more than a tightening coil of a snake with black, glittering eyes--and where did such suspicion come from in one so young? Such an expectation of pain?
But Snape says nothing more when Dumbledore, finally tired of plying this stone wall of a child with his charm, dismisses him. It is only when he smiles in farewell that Snape turns, suddenly, a flicker in his eyes that betrays a hint of hope.
'I have only one question for you,' Snape says quietly, in a voice too careful for his age. 'Will you expel Sirius Black?'
Dumbledore realizes that he is being handed an olive branch--some chance to redeem himself despite what Snape sees as his endless deceptions; to earn Snape's loyalty.
But this boy asks a price too high for his worth. Young Sirius is a gifted student of Gryffindor House, and the Blacks have provided generations of students to the school, as opposed to Snape's poverty-ridden family. A misbegotten prank gone wrong signifies nothing--although it is interesting to note that Snape doesn't demand the expulsion of Remus Lupin as well.
'No,' Dumbledore says gently, 'I'm afraid not.'
Snape's mouth curls in an expression dangerously close to contempt--and before Dumbledore can say his practiced lines, before he can explain, justify, embellish, Snape has already turned and stalked out of the door, without a backward glance, and Dumbledore knows that he has lost this battle.
But he remembers that spark of hope in the boy's eyes, a pale crack of weakness in fathomless black--the need to be listened to, the need to be accepted, protected. Snape's urge to harm comes out of a nature so fiercely defensive that most mistake it as being aggressive, but Snape is not aggressive, no, and Dumbledore knows that he has found new quarry.
Perhaps it is better to let the boy stray for a while. Better to let him learn the mistake of turning away Albus Dumbledore--and when he comes back, injured, broken, sullied, Dumbledore will be there with gentle words, words that will finally be believed, because the boy will need to believe--and Dumbledore might have lost this battle, but he knows that he hasn't lost the war.