Characters: Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape
Category: Gen, approximately 4300 words
Summary: Albus Dumbledore sets three requirements for Severus Snape's entry into the Order of the Phoenix.
A/N: Minor spoilers for HBP. Cross-posted to my LJ and to hp_genfics
"No, no, Severus, I agree with you," said Dumbledore. "You were quite right to give Brendan O'Leary a month of detentions."
Snape sat across from the headmaster's desk, his back straight, his hands folded in his lap. He clasped his hands together harder. "But his parents--"
"Have owled us both in high dudgeon, yes." Dumbledore smiled, as if the thought of the O'Learys' ire amused him. "I'll sort it out. That's my job."
"I haven't called you here to talk about Brendan. This is about our other business." Dumbledore looked at him in silence for a moment. "You promised that you would do anything I asked in order to atone for your crimes."
Snape said nothing.
"Your words, Severus. Do you remember?" Dumbledore asked.
Snape unclenched his hands and rested them on his knees. "Yes," he answered.
"Good! I have decided what you can do for me. Or, rather, we have decided."
"The Order of the Phoenix." Dumbledore paused, and when he resumed, his voice was not quite as bright as it had been. "Lord Voldemort has told you about the Order, I presume?"
Snape quelled a shudder at the sound of the Dark Lord's name. "Yes."
"Yes," Dumbledore repeated. "He has told you many things." He gave Snape a look with which Snape had grown familiar: it was as though he thought Snape were a rare and precious potion herb or a new species of magical creature.
"You, your revelations and your promise to me were the topics of the Order's last meeting," Dumbledore went on. "I do not believe I need to go over all of the details with you, but I can give you the upshot of our discussion. We took a vote, and it was decided the Order should take my recommendation and invite you to join."
Snape made no attempt to hide his utter astonishment.
"I am sure that is something which would please your former master," Dumbledore said with an ironic smile. "And think of the disinformation we could feed him."
"I--I should like to think about it," Snape said.
"Oh, certainly; no need to hurry your decision. There are some requirements you would have to fulfil first."
"Yes. Firstly, you must prove to me you can conjure a Patronus." Dumbledore stopped, as if he had thought of something. "Some old schoolfellows of yours are members of the Order. A couple of them insist that you will not be able to satisfy that prerequisite."
Dumbledore did not mention their names. But Snape knew exactly who of his old schoolfellows would tell Dumbledore he was incompetent.
"I can do it," Snape said, rising to his feet.
Dumbledore looked at him in surprise. Then, with a gentle wave of his hand, he indicated that Snape should proceed.
Snape raised his wand. It took only a moment for him to call up his happiest thought, for his mind was already clear. The fox shot from his wand, its fur glistening brightly with the strength of his Patronus Charm like snow reflecting sunlight. It leaped over an astrolabe spinning on the corner of Dumbledore's desk. Its feet touched the desk for a moment and then it leaped again, to the top of a wide bookcase. There it stood, its tail switching, looking over its shoulder at Dumbledore and Snape. Finally, the shining silver fox made one more leap, straight toward Dumbledore's office window. Just before it struck the glass, Snape's Patronus disappeared.
Dumbledore was on his feet, staring at the window. He looked astounded. Slowly he turned to Snape.
"That was magnificent, Severus," he said softly.
Snape nodded jerkily, in acknowledgement of the compliment, then looked away from Dumbledore's face.
"Well!" said Dumbledore. Snape looked back at the headmaster, who seemed to give himself a little shake before sitting back down. "You passed the first test with flying colours. By the way," he added, "did you know beforehand that the ability to conjure a Patronus is required of every member of the Order?"
"No," Snape answered. "I didn't know there was any requirement but your invitation."
"Ah, I'm glad to hear that," said Dumbledore. "I insist upon the capacity for two reasons. You will recall, from the study of Magical Theory in your seventh-year Defence Against the Dark Arts class, that the essence of the Patronus is purest Light magic?"
"Yes, sir," said Snape, falling immediately into the role of a pupil.
"Excellent. Then you understand why, in the first place, the Patronus would make the perfect courier."
"Yes. I've devised a bit of a spell that permits the Patronus to carry messages." Dumbledore smiled as he said it, evidently pleased with himself.
"Oh, I see!" said Snape, fascinated in spite of himself. "The Patronus is particular to each individual who conjures it, and, since it is Light through and through, no Dark magic can tamper with it or waylay it. Meaning that, if your spell works, sir, the sender can always be sure that a perfectly accurate message will reach the recipient as quickly as possible."
"Precisely!" Dumbledore beamed. "And, of course, my spell does work."
Snape smiled tentatively in return.
"My second reason is based on a little-known fact about the ability to conjure a Patronus," Dumbledore continued. "Perhaps you know that fact, Severus. Or perhaps you can deduce it."
Snape thought carefully for a few moments, but fruitlessly. "I don't know," he admitted.
"Don't you?" Dumbledore asked. "It's simple, when you think about it. Quite elegant, really. To conjure a Patronus is the perfect test for admission to the Order of the Phoenix because no one who can conjure a Patronus is thoroughly evil."
Dumbledore's statement lay in silence between them for a long moment.
"Do you see the logic of it, Severus?" Dumbledore said, his voice quieter. "How can one who has given himself over completely to the Dark perform a charm producing a magic the essence of which is pure Light?"
"I don't know," Snape answered.
"Well, I do!" Dumbledore said confidently. "It can't be done!"
Yet the Dark Lord knew it could be done. Snape had shown him soon after the Lord had taken him in. Though he, like Dumbledore, had noted its Light essence, the Lord had raised no objections in Snape's hearing to the Patronus Charm. On the contrary, he had been as astonished and pleased as Dumbledore (though in his own very different way) to discover Snape could conjure a Patronus.
"You are the only one of my Death Eaters who can do that," the Lord had said, his eyes glowing in a rare expression of wonder. "I have yet to Mark another who has the sufficient integrity of soul.... Can you imagine how valuable you have made yourself to me?"
Snape nodded his assent to Dumbledore's cheerful assertion.
"Very good, then! Shall we proceed to the second requirement for membership in the Order?" Dumbledore pulled something out of the pocket of his robe. He opened his hand to show Snape a crystal phial resting on his palm. Sunlight streaming through the window touched the phial, making it look as though Dumbledore held a star.
Snape saw that it was an empty memory phial.
Dumbledore placed the memory phial on his desk, out of the sunlight. He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his abdomen. "Now, then, Severus. Let us proceed to the happy thought which inspired your Patronus, a conjuring, I must say, of remarkable clarity and strength. I must ask you: is that thought a memory? A hope? An imagining? Or something else entirely?"
"It's--a memory." Snape found his breath coming a little short.
"Ah, that makes it easier," Dumbledore said. "Hopes and imaginings are a bit more difficult to deal with." He unstopped the phial. "Might I ask you to please place the memory here?"
"Why?" asked Snape.
"I wish to keep it."
"Keep it? Why? It's just something from my boyhood; it can mean nothing to you!"
Dumbledore seemed taken aback by Snape's vehemence. "You don't have to give me the memory," he said. "You don't have to join the Order if you don't want to."
"No, Headmaster, I didn't mean that--"
"Do you wish to join the Order?"
Snape hesitated, then made his decision. "Yes, I do."
Dumbledore looked at him intently. "Then I must have the memory," he said. "The memory which can conjure a Patronus is the marker of its owner's true identity. Therefore, it is quite valuable to an organisation which I am sure your former master would like to infiltrate. Suppose, for instance, that I feared you were a Polyjuiced Severus? Or what if I suspected your mind had been altered through magic?" He picked up the phial and showed it to Snape. "All I'd need to do is take this unique and potent memory you have given me and try to put it back into your mind. If you are not the true Severus Snape, or, if you are Severus, but not in your right mind, your brain will reject the memory."
Snape stared at the empty phial. "What if the thought you use to conjure a Patronus changes?" he asked suddenly, recalling how his own thoughts had mutated in the past year.
"Then your Patronus will change, and I shall ask you to allow me to acquire the new thought which drove the change," Dumbledore said. "But your Patronus is very strong, Severus, very detailed and exact. The memory you use to help you conjure it has never changed, has it?"
"No." Snape looked from the phial into Dumbledore's steady blue eyes. "So you collect something--a hope, a desire, a memory--from each member of the Order of the Phoenix."
"I know what it is that gives each member of my Order the power to conjure a Patronus." Dumbledore smiled, as though he had suddenly realised what Snape was thinking. "No, Severus. In this you would not be alone." He rose to his feet. "Come. Let me show you something."
Dumbledore's brilliant scarlet and gold phoenix shifted comfortably on its perch as Dumbledore led Snape to a back corner of his office. They stopped before a rather dusty, neglected-looking bookshelf, which held as many odd knick knacks as it did books with worn bindings and faded lettering. Dumbledore tapped the second shelf of the bookcase with his wand. The bookcase seemed to sink backward into the wall and disappear. It left a recess in the wall of exactly its own size and shape, about eighteen inches deep.
Snape looked into the recess. There he saw a different cabinet, one of polished mahogany with glass-fronted doors. Neatly-arranged rows of memory phials filled the four shelves of this cabinet. None of the phials were empty. Each one held a swirling, pearl-white mist of memory, and each one had a tiny label affixed to the bottom of the phial, lettered in a thin, slanting hand.
Snape peered closer.
"You should be able to read the names, Severus, even though they're written in my handwriting." Dumbledore sounded amused.
Snape read one on the top shelf: A.P.W.B. Dumbledore. "You have one here, Headmaster?" he asked.
"Of course. Though it is unlikely, it is not impossible that I should be impersonated or that someone should manipulate my mind. And I do not ask anything of any member of the Order that I am not willing to do myself."
Snape returned to his perusal of the memory phials. Some of the names on the labels--Caradoc Dearborn, Benjamin Fenwick, Elphias Doge--were only names to him. To some of the names he could attach faces, but nothing more: Alastor Moody, Frank and Alice Longbottom. And some of the names belonged to people whom he knew very well.
Peter Pettigrew. Snape looked at the memory twisting sinuously inside the phial labelled with that name. What could be Pettigrew's happiest memory? The occasional pat on the head he'd received from James Potter in return for his craven worship?
Remus Lupin. Nothing could bring greater joy to a werewolf than to give in to his true nature once a month, to howl at the moon, to bite. Was that the memory Snape saw drifting lazily in Lupin's phial?
Sirius Black. Could Black have any memories better than those of the days he'd spent at Hogwarts as Potter's right-hand bully?
Snape's eyes moved on. Almost unwillingly, he was looking for another name. There it was: James Potter.
Snape looked at the memory inside Potter's phial, at a white smoke curling, winding, ever-moving, never still. He knew what this memory must be. He could imagine it. He could see Potter taking Lily's hand, leading her from their wedding reception into a night full of the makings of his happiest memory.
And Lily? Her phial was next to Potter's, of course. Lily Potter. Snape could not picture Lily's happiest memory. When he tried, his mind gave him nothing but the emptiness he associated with Occlumency.
Dumbledore broke in on that emptiness. "You see, Severus? Others have given me the memories which have enabled them to conjure their Patronuses. You would not be alone."
"Very well," said Snape after a moment, for he had no doubt the Lord wanted him to infiltrate the Order of the Phoenix. "I will give you my memory."
Dumbledore's eyes lit up, though his face retained the same calmly benevolent expression. "Here you are, then, Severus," he said, handing Snape the phial. "Go ahead."
Snape took his wand from his robes--ebony, with a hair from the tail of a unicorn at its core--put the tip to his temple and drew out a long, shimmering silver string of memory. He decanted the memory into the phial, stoppered the phial and gave it to Dumbledore.
"Thank you," said the headmaster. He set Snape's memory on his desk. Then he rose and went to a black cabinet opposite the dusty bookcase (which, Snape saw, had returned to its proper place against the wall), drew out a Pensieve and returned with it to his desk. He opened the phial and tipped Snape's memory into the Pensieve.
Snape watched in fascination as the silvery mist of memory flowed around the bottom of the Pensieve and billowed up the sides, until it filled the stone basin nearly to the brim.
Dumbledore gazed at the memory for a moment. It moved in the Pensieve like a potion on the verge of simmering. Then he looked up at Snape.
"Now we are ready to satisfy the third and final requirement for your entry into the Order of the Phoenix," said Dumbledore. "If you will be so good, Severus, as to come round to this side of my desk, we shall enter your memory together."
Snape did not move.
"Severus?" Dumbledore prodded softly.
The Dark Lord longed to place one of his own inside Dumbledore's Order. How many times had he said it? "I will raise that Death Eater above all the rest who can win Dumbledore's trust, who can place himself at Dumbledore's side. I will reward him beyond the dreams of any of you. He shall sit at my right hand; I will embrace him to my heart."
Snape believed it. They all did.
"It is a requirement, Severus. The last one," Dumbledore said very gently.
Snape rose. "Yes, Headmaster." He went round the desk to stand at Dumbledore's side.
"After you," said Dumbledore, gesturing at the writhing mass of memory inside the Pensieve.
Snape bent his head to the basin. A sensation of cold gripped him as he slid downward into the vestibule of his happiest memory.
Snape landed on the cobbles of Spinner's End, outside his family's house. In the next moment, Dumbledore materialised beside him. They stood several feet away from a pale woman with thick eyebrows and lank black hair. Beside her, clutching her hand, stood a little boy who, except for his sharper features and thinner brows, looked much like her.
Both the woman and the boy held small, battered suitcases. Both of them had black eyes, which glittered in the light of the single working streetlamp with anger and unshed tears. The woman's face was bruised, but the boy looked unharmed.
"Who are they, Severus?" Dumbledore asked.
"My mother and I," Snape said curtly.
"Ah, yes. You looked very like that when you first came to Hogwarts. Except larger. How old are you here?"
The young Severus was staring at the front door of the house. "You did magic, Mother," he said, in a voice that trembled with fear and wonder.
Snape's mother jerked her head around to look at the door too. "He shan't hurt you," she hissed through clenched teeth. "I won't let him hurt you."
Severus seemed unable to drag his eyes away from the door. "Is Father dead?" he asked.
"No, he's not dead, more's the pity," said Mrs. Snape. "He's unconscious. Asleep."
Severus looked frightened. "What if he wakes up?"
"We'll be long gone before your father wakes up," said Mrs. Snape, looking down the dark street.
"Stu-pe-fy," Severus muttered intently, as if he was committing it to memory. He looked up at his mother. "Are we going to Gran's again?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Snape. She tugged Severus's hand gently, and they walked out of the pool of light cast by the streetlamp.
Snape and Dumbledore followed. A breeze sprang up, fresh and cool, but tainted with the dank smell of polluted water.
"May we stay with Gran this time, Mother?" asked Severus.
"Yes," she said, her voice thick with tears. "We're never going back."
There was a silence. Though he and Dumbledore were walking at the pace of an eight-year-old, Snape's breath came fast and short. Beside him, Dumbledore was perfectly quiet.
"I hate Father," Severus whispered.
"So do I!" cried Snape's mother. "It's enough, what he does to me, but how could he hurt you--!"
"But he didn't, Mother," Severus said quickly. "You did Stupefy."
Mrs. Snape took a couple of deep, hiccoughing breaths. When she answered, her voice was tearless. "Yes, Severus. I Stunned him into next week. And this time, we're not crawling back to him. We're staying with Gran until I find a job and we find a flat of our own."
Another silence passed. "Truly, Mother?" asked Severus.
So many of the streetlamps were broken, so many of the boarded-up houses were dark, that little could be seen of Mrs. Snape and her son but the dark outlines of their figures against the night. Mrs. Snape stopped and drew a wand from the pocket of her mackintosh.
"Wait, Mother, wait!" Severus whispered excitedly. "Let me say the words too!"
"All right, Severus," said Snape's mother, and there was a smile in her voice. "The Light word, remember."
"Yes," said Severus, his voice tense with anticipation.
Mrs. Snape turned to face Severus, holding the wand between them. Mother and son spoke in unison: "One...two...three...Lumos!"
The wand flared to show a pair of eager, smiling faces and the bruise spreading on Mrs. Snape's cheekbone.
"It's magic!" Severus and Snape's mother sang out together. Then they laughed.
After their laughter had died down, Mrs. Snape took Severus's arm. "We'd better get to Gran's the quick way," she said. "Apparition."
Severus screwed up his face in distaste. "I don't like that. It squeezes me. Can't we run to Gran's?"
"But, Severus, Gran lives in London!"
"We'll run part way, then," Severus said, pulling his arm from his mother's grip.
Mrs. Snape sighed distractedly. "All right. We'll run till you're tired and then we'll Apparate. Here, hold my hand."
Severus and his mother joined hands. Mrs. Snape held her lit wand aloft, like a torch, and they began to run.
Snape and Dumbledore watched Mrs. Snape and her son run. The little boy's legs pumped so fast, they were a blur. The wind lifted his hair. Suddenly, he let go his mother's hand, raised both hands into the air and threw his head back. If any starlight trickled through the smoky haze that covered the sky, he must have seen it.
Putting on a burst of speed, Severus outran his mother. He escaped the circle of light cast by her Lumos Charm and raced into the darkness.
"Severus!" Mrs. Snape called, half-laughing, half-annoyed. "Severus, wait!" But, looking as though she was perfectly sure he wouldn't wait, Mrs. Snape sprinted after Severus.
After a few moments, Spinner's End was empty and silent. Snape's parents' house was dark. The single streetlamp opposite the house burned on, shedding tired yellow light.
Dumbledore looked questioningly at Snape.
"It's over," Snape said.
"Then let us return to my office," said Dumbledore. He reached out his hand. Snape took it and was pulled out of his memory.
A few minutes later, they were seated as they had been before, Dumbledore behind his desk and Snape before him with his hands folded in his lap.
When Snape did not answer at once, Dumbledore conjured two cups of the sparkling, light-gold beverage and handed one to Snape. "Drink it. I always find it refreshing."
Dumbledore held Snape in a steady blue gaze as they drank their mead. After both wizards had set down their cups, Dumbledore said, "Thank you, Severus, for doing me that very great honour."
"Honour? What honour?"
"The honour of permitting me to accompany you into your memory."
"It was nothing," Snape said. "We were just running away from him again."
"Again?" Dumbledore asked quietly. "You had fled your father's cruelty before?"
"Of course we had!"
"Did you go back?"
"Of course we did! We went back every time! She went back every time, until the day he died!"
"Ah, yes," said Dumbledore. "Your records at Hogwarts always showed your home address as Spinner's End." He paused before continuing softly, as if to himself. "And from that memory you conjure your Patronus."
"I told you it could mean nothing to you! Why did you bother--!"
Dumbledore held up a hand to stop him. "No, Severus, you were wrong. That was one of the most beautiful memories I have ever been privileged to witness. I shall not soon forget it. I don't wonder that you have one of the most powerful and best-integrated Patronuses I have ever seen."
Snape said nothing, and the two wizards fixed their eyes on each other for a good thirty seconds. Dumbledore's air was one of kindly fascination. Snape's face was expressionless.
"You have met all three of my requirements for admission to the Order of the Phoenix," said Dumbledore. "Do you still wish to join us?"
Snape looked away from Dumbledore's eyes.
"If you do not, then of course you may take your memory back."
"No, no, keep it if you need it. I still want to join." After he had said it, Snape looked up to see Dumbledore break into a beaming smile of pleasure. The headmaster stood up and strode around his desk, extending his hand to Snape. "Thank you, Severus, thank you! And welcome!"
Snape rose and shook Dumbledore's hand. It was warm and dry, and Dumbledore's long fingers enclosed Snape's hand in a strong grip.
"Well!" Dumbledore said, still smiling after he had released Snape's hand. "I shan't keep you, Severus. I know you're busy."
Snape pulled his watch out of his pocket and looked surprised to see the time. "It's nearly eight o'clock, Headmaster. Time for O'Leary's detention."
"Ah, yes, mustn't be late for that. Till tomorrow, then. If you'll come to my office after supper tomorrow night, I'll tell you more about the Order."
"Yes, Headmaster." With a polite inclination of his head, Snape left.
After his Potions Master was gone, Headmaster Dumbledore took out his wand and held it over his Pensieve. Severus Snape's happiest memory rose to the wand in a thin silver line. Once his wand had drawn in Snape's memory, Professor Dumbledore placed its tip on the lip of the memory phial he held in his hand. The memory flowed into the phial, and Dumbledore closed it.
He held the phial in his palm and passed his wand over it three times. At the bottom of the phial appeared a label lettered in his hand: Severus Snape. With another flick of the wand, label and lettering alike were sealed with Immutability Charms.
Professor Dumbledore went to the dusty bookshelf at the back of his office and, tapping it with his wand, revealed the mahogany, glass-fronted cabinet full of memories. He peered at the memories, scanning the shelves for two minutes, with an expression of deepest thought on his face. Then he opened the doors and, stroking his beard, stared again for another full minute at a memory on the third shelf.
Finally, with a determined pursing of his lips, he seemed to make up his mind. He moved the memories around a bit on the third shelf, to make room. Then he placed Severus Snape's memory next to that of Peter Pettigrew.
Professor Dumbledore gazed for several more seconds at the happiest memories of Peter Pettigrew and Severus Snape. Then, with a sigh and a brisk nod of his head, he closed the doors of his memory cabinet. The slightest gesture of his right hand returned the old bookcase, with its scattering of knick knacks and dog-eared books, back to its accustomed spot.
With yet another sigh, Professor Dumbledore returned his Pensieve to its proper place inside the black cabinet and went back to the pile of parchments that waited for him on his desk.