Back at Hogwarts, Dumbledore sat at his desk, deep in thought. Professor Snape’s attempts to teach Occlumency to Harry had certainly been rather odd – his methods certainly didn’t match the way that Dumbledore would have taught the skill himself, nor were they similar to the methods he had used when he had been instructed. The confrontational and invasive approach that Snape had taken with Harry might well have weakened his mental defences rather than strengthening them. His mind would have been very much laid open by the experience, perhaps actually facilitating Voldemort’s planting of visions.
Without the opportunity to hone his defences against a more subtle probing, the likelihood was that Snape had actually made it easier for Voldemort to gain access to Harry’s mind, since the forceful attacks that he would have become used to would have only trained his mind to recognise attacks of that intensity.
He decided he needed to talk to his Potions master to discern why he had chosen this particular manner of tutoring Harry in Occlumency, and idly wondered whether the antagonism that had existed between the two for the past five years had moulded Snape’s approach.
He activated his Floo and made the connection to Snape’s private quarters adjacent to the Slytherin common room.
“Severus,” he called.
Snape’s head appeared in the fire, looking questioningly at the Headmaster.
“Would you come up to my office, please, there are a few things that I need to discuss with you.”
Snape assented quickly and had reached the Headmaster’s office some few minutes later in response to the summons.
“Please, Severus, take a seat,” Dumbledore suggested, offering him a lemon drop, which was duly declined. “I’ve been talking to Mister Potter about the Occlumency lessons that he took with you earlier this year.”
Snape’s expression turned cynical at the mention of Harry’s name, and he responded with the usual invective in his voice when it came to dealing with the black-haired Gryffindor. “What’s Potter been telling you now, Headmaster? I realise that he’s one of the ’golden boys’ here, but I’m not used to students being given the opportunity to comment on their lessons to the Headmaster of the school.”
Dumbledore related the conversation he’d had with Harry about the Occlumency lessons, and Harry’s concern about continuing the lessons, without expressing his feelings about the teaching methods.
Snape looked on with a mixture of antipathy and annoyance.
“I can hardly understand why a boy of such limited ability as an Occlumens would wish to consider continuing the lessons – he showed very little aptitude, and more or less refused to practice outside of the scheduled lessons,” he snarled under his breath, almost forgetting who it was he was talking to. “I suppose you are taking his word over mine in this matter?”
Dumbledore looked sternly at his Potions teacher. “I’m sure you’re quite aware, Severus, that any suggestion of direct or deliberate abuse of a student by one of the teachers needs me to investigate the situation fully, regardless of which student it might be.
“Anyway, I think you underestimate him,” Dumbledore replied calmly. “Harry has had a great deal of responsibility thrust upon him at a young age, which he has not asked for.”
Snape continued to look annoyed at Dumbledore, but maintained a stoic silence at this description of Harry.
“Now then, Severus, we both know that teaching Occlumency in the manner that you did Harry, a complete novice in the field, must have been totally counterproductive. Why did you choose to pursue those particular methods, normally used only once a student has a firm grasp of the subject, and when they have already conditioned their mind to detect more subtle intrusions?”
“My understanding, when you gave me this particular task, was that Potter needed to learn fast,” Snape replied, pausing for a moment for Dumbledore’s acknowledgement of that instruction, then continuing at the Headmaster’s nod. “I proceeded to test his defences, which were more or less non-existent, and to push the limits of his mind in order to get him to at least try and work up some form of shield.”
“By overpowering whatever defences he might be able to construct?” queried Dumbledore.
“By forcing him to confront the realities of what a skilled Legilimens, such as the Dark Lord, would likely subject him to, given the opportunity,” Snape insisted.
Dumbledore sighed. “I can tell you aren’t giving me the whole truth here, Severus. You know that the attacks on Harry’s mind are subtle ones, not the overwhelmingly powerful blasts that Voldemort subjects you to. What made you do this?”
“What do you mean, Headmaster?”
Dumbledore removed his spectacles and wiped a hand across his weary eyes. “I had initially though that perhaps you were using the lessons as an excuse to torment Harry, but now I see that was merely an added bonus.” He replaced the glasses on the bridge of his nose and looked up at Snape once more, the characteristic grandfatherly twinkle replaced by a steely gaze that made the Potions teacher cringe.
Snape sighed heavily and calmed his thoughts before replying more honestly. “I was instructed to,” he admitted.
“Once the Dark Lord found out that I had been appointed to instruct Potter in the art of Occlumency, he gave me specific instructions as to how I should proceed. I was to attack his mind and leave him as open as possible to outside influences.”
“Why did you do this, Severus? I appointed you to protect Harry’s mind, not to make him more vulnerable.” The disappointment was evident in Dumbledore’s voice as he looked dejectedly at the man opposite him.
“I had to,” Snape responded. “He knows that I am acting as a spy on him for you. He knew years ago, if I understand things correctly. Potter told you what happened in the graveyard at Little Hangleton when the Dark Lord was reborn and the Death Eaters were summoned to him. He must have told you what he said to them?”
“What Voldemort said to the Death Eaters?”
“Yes. Pettigrew, among others, has alluded obliquely on occasion to some form of mistrust towards me, which I took merely to be them playing favourites against me with the Dark Lord’s confidences. Unfortunately, when I saw it in Potter’s mind, I realised what his meaning was, and finally understood my predicament.
“When the Dark Lord was re-born there were three Death Eaters missing, neither dead nor imprisoned in Azkaban. He described them as: one who had fled, one who was at Hogwarts faithfully serving the Dark Lord, and one that had betrayed him.”
“Ah!” Dumbledore exclaimed softly. “I understand the reference now. You don’t believe that he meant you to be the faithful Death Eater at Hogwarts?”
“No, it is clear now that he was referring to Crouch there. I’m afraid I may have given myself away when I prevented Quirinius Quirrell from accessing the Philosopher’s Stone at Hallowe’en five years ago.”
“So he already knew that you had betrayed him and would not return?”
Snape nodded “I had to agree to what he commanded in the first place, obviously, but once I realised that my cover had been blown I had no option than to continue, but to try and find an excuse to discontinue the lessons. It was unknown to me at the time, but he could have decided to have me killed at any time for my desertion.”
Snape deflated at this acknowledgement, and slumped back into his seat, and the two men sat in silence for a few moments as Dumbledore considered his next words.
Having made his decision, he looked over the top of his half-moon spectacles at the Potions master. “I must ask you to make a choice, Severus,” Dumbledore said, a look of sad concern in his eyes. “Either you must leave Hogwarts – immediately and permanently – so that you are no longer a threat to any of the students, or you may not return to Voldemort when he calls you – whatever the consequences of ignoring the Dark Mark burning in your arm might be.”
Snape realised that Dumbledore was offering him the only two options that he was realistically able to, and sighed wearily, knowing that whichever option he elected to take he would face unbearable pain.
“I understand, Headmaster. I have no choice. I have no wish to return to the ranks of the Death Eaters on an official basis. I imagine that my usefulness to the Dark Lord would be severely limited without being in a position to affect Potter, anyway, especially once he realises I know my cover is gone. He would consider it far too great a risk to allow me to live.”
“Not to mention that Minister Fudge knows that you have the Dark Mark, and you would immediately go on the Aurors’ hit list, were you to turn away from Hogwarts and return to his ranks,” chuckled Dumbledore darkly.
Snape had obviously forgotten about presenting his Dar