Summary: Dumbledore has a feeling that private Occlumency lessons might benefit Snape.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Original Fic: All School Days' Innocence by aris_writing
The door to Dumbledore's office was ajar, casting a patch of light on the floor of the dark hallway; the professor's light humming could be heard from within. Severus Snape stopped several feet before the doorway, hesitating. He transferred the book he'd been carrying from one arm to another. After a moment he took few steps forward and then stopped again, hovering in the doorway. Dumbledore sat at his desk, hunched over a large stack of parchment rolls.
Snape cleared his throat.
At that, Dumbledore looked up and smiled. "Ah, Severus. Come in, come in," he pushed aside the pile of parchment in front of him with one arm, beckoning his student forward with the other. "Help yourself to a lemon drop."
Snape glanced at the jar of yellow candies and shook his head, stringy dark hair swinging in his face. He took a seat in front of the professor's desk, where he placed his book, Occlumency: The Art of Mind Concealment. "Professor. I've been thinking about... the offer you made," said Snape, voice low. "At the end of last year. I did some reading on it over the summer."
"Yes, I'd noticed that book had gone missing," said Dumbledore. Snape opened his mouth to defend himself, but Dumbledore continued; his smile was barely there, but his eyes were twinkling. "I took the liberty of renewing it for you. Though, if you plan on truly pursuing this, you might want to invest in a copy of your own."
"Wouldn't that seem suspicious?" Snape asked. "Isn't being an Occlumens really only useful if no one knows that you are one?"
Dumbledore's eyes ceased their laughing and peered at Snape over half-moon rims. "That depends. Who is it you're planning on hiding from, Severus?"
Snape scowled indignantly. "I don't know. Who do you think I'll need to hide from? Why did you decide to teach me this?"
"I told you," said Dumbledore. "While there are dozens upon dozens of obscure and difficult magical arts which you might master, but you will find no textbook on kindness."
Snape squinted, guarded, confused. "Kindness," he said flatly. He glanced out the door into the hallway to make sure no one was near and then looked back at his teacher. "So, what is that -- you're taking pity on me? You think that if you give me private lessons, I'll be so grateful that I'll follow your advice about giving up looking into Dark Arts once and for all?"
"Tell me again why you wish to pursue the Dark Arts."
Snape fumed but kept himself contained, answering slowly. "I just want to learn. So many wizards are experts at this or that, but completely ignorant of other things. I don't want that. I want to be prepared for anything."
"To protect yourself."
Snape said nothing. He did not meet Dumbledore's eyes.
Dumbledore nodded. "You have been reading, I see." He smiled, but Snape still did not look up. "There is nothing wrong with a thirst for knowledge, Severus, but magic involves practice, not merely abstract knowledge, and the practice of certain arts may draw you by necessity toward people and places that you might not have truly intended or anticipated getting involved with... If this occurs, it may be that you will find Occlumency, and whatever else I manage to teach you," he added significantly, "to be of immense value." He paused, considering the boy in front of him. "In any case," he continued, "one cannot master anything by learning in isolation. If it is neglected, but nonetheless fascinating and useful realms of magic that interest you -- and I assure you, there are many of these beyond those of the Dark Arts -- I am willing to offer you an opportunity to explore them." He paused again and smiled lightly. "Occlumency in particular is best learned from someone you can trust."
Snape stared thoughtfully at legs of Dumbledore's desk, saying nothing.
"What are you thinking, Severus?"
A slight smile formed at the corners of Snape's mouth.
"You tell me."
And he raised his dark eyes to meet Dumbledore's blue ones, challenging them to read what they could.
Years later, Snape did not ask himself if this was what he had intended or anticipated. He did not wonder if he believed in the hope and hatred he chanted night after night, in all the darkest of places, shoulder to shoulder with faceless men and women. His forearm would burn but the rest of him was numb. Studied neutrality and emptiness had become habitual. His mind was darker and blanker than the mask he wore now. All memory and thought, all desire and passion. was under constant surveillance. Anything he did not field himself would fly free and alight his mind, and then the Dark Lord would see, and, if he did not approve, would strike, with reptilian abruptness and accuracy.
Snape was not worried: he had nothing to hide.
He had nothing.
Dumbledore had thought long ago that Occlumency might give him an escape, might teach him trust. It had given him only the opposite: a place to hole himself away, somewhere dark and quiet and secret. Somewhere he could hide even from himself.
It was not until one cool October night that something inside him began to fight its way out from beneath layers of snow. Lord Voldemort, hissing and purring, announced his intention -- and therefore, the intention of all of them -- to destroy the Potters. The victory of the Death Eaters seemed emminent and inevitable. The only pesky loose end was this prophecy, mangled and incomplete in its retelling. Voldemort was sure that it referred to the son of Lily and James Potter, and once they were gone, there would be no stopping him.
Something seemed to flicker and flutter deep within Snape: persistent, pesky. Irresistible.
"My lord," he said, eager to distract them both. "Might it not also refer to the Longbottom child? After all, he was born on the same day, and is also the son of your enemies."
"Our enemies," amended Voldemort. "And no. It is not Longbottom. But it would be convenient if our enemies believed it to be him... And if they believe that we believe so, all the better." He smiled, coldly, the expression alarming on his now inhuman face. "You can use your connection to Hogwarts to urge their attention away from Potter." Slitted eyes gleamed from under Voldemort's hood as he leaned in closer.
Snape met them boldly, expressionless. He did not think of Dumbledore's words from a decade ago; he had internalized them now and followed their instructions without revealing them at all.
"Clear your mind entirely. Focus on your breathing, on your senses. Look at my eyes. There is nothing to fear there. And nothing to gain. Stasis. Peace. No one can penetrate your mind when you feel this."
Snape had tried, but he could not help the feeling of being manipulated. Dumbledore's early insistence that he would be teaching him kindness felt too much like pity and condescension. He figured out a better way to guard his mind. When he focused on Dumbledore's eyes, he imagined that no one looked out. He looked at them like he might look at a couple of rocks, or stars. He felt himself close off, like a locked vault, a wall.
Now, though, he could not keep his mind blank. Something in him was screaming, and it was all he could do to clamp down on it and hope it did not burst too soon. Something would come through, and though no one else present would see, for Snape and for Voldemort it would ring loudly like an echo in an empty cave -- unless Snape did something to stop it.
"Now your mind is calm, everything kept quiet, far back. But say a Legilimens is looking for some particular answer from you, that you cannot afford to reveal. It is possible to give away enough but not all. You must learn to carefully control what thoughts you let surface. Present one thing as you bury deep another."
Voldemort's eyes bore into him.
"Yes, my lord," Snape answered aloud. Silently, he yielded to Voldemort as much as he dared, letting loose a thousand images and bitter mutterings of hatred for James Potter. James on the first train ride to Hogwarts, James doing laps around the quidditch field to the sound of wild cheers, James strutting and laughing, James pushing Snape out of the way of a werewolf only to save his own skin, James and Sirius and a crowd shouting "Snivellus!" Each memory hardly lasted a second, all playing over each other, building to a crescendo of buzzing anger, and then finally the thing that Snape was trying desperately to avoid thinking of surfaced: red hair, green eyes and a gentle, teasing smile. And then: "Mudblood!" Young Snape was sneering and fuming and the red-haired girl was not smiling anymore. She was glaring, turning, walking away.
"Leave it to me."
Voldemort smiled again and turned away, satisfied.
Despite this small victory, Snape felt a cold, hollow feeling wash over him, filling him. Some distant and practical side of him was grateful.
When the meeting adjourned minutes later, he would make his way immediately to Hogwarts, to Dumbledore, just as he had promised the Dark Lord. But Snape knew, once there, he would hide nothing. Not tonight.