Disclaimer ~ I don’t own any of it and I won’t make any money from it. Created strictly for entertainment.
The tall, thin form of a man plunged deep into the obsidian shadows of the Forbidden Forest, which seemed to welcome it into its fold as one of its own. Rage emanated off of the man in waves, but his location in the enshrouding darkness was given away only by the green and silver sparks that shot sporadically from the tip of the wand clutched tightly in his fist.
“Potter!” He spat out the name, as if it left a bitter taste on his tongue. Oh, how he despised the name and everything associated with it—most especially its current bearer. The living, breathing reminder of the injustice of his life, the very bane of his existence, had the unimaginable gall to accuse him of cowardice! If that imbecilic, hateful, insolent, spoiled, arrogant, insufferable brat had even a vague notion of—
Severus Snape stopped abruptly, and worked hard to master his spiking anger. Several deep inhalations and slow exhalations, followed with a snap of his head to either side—resulting in a sharp, but satisfying crack—and he felt in control once more. He cast a quick Scourgify over himself and his billowing black robes. Within seconds, the blood drawn by that demon bird (and the thorns from the brambles he’d ploughed through to escape it) vanished. It wouldn’t do to attract some of the more bloodthirsty inhabitants of the forest. His purpose there required shadow and stealth; certainly unattainable whilst emitting sparks, or with Thestrals in tow.
Much calmer, he moved forward once again, and listened carefully for any telltale signs of company. He’d traveled well past his destination, deeper into the shadows than was necessary, but he needed to be certain he hadn’t been followed when he’d left the brat at the edge of the forest. Satisfied that he was alone, he backtracked toward the castle, to observe the havoc he’d wrought just moments ago. From his position in the shadows, he could see a small crowd in the distance, gathering around the Headmaster’s body, which was lying prone at the foot of the tower.
The evening’s events had transpired too quickly for any contemplation, but Snape thought he should feel something more than just disdain for the people currently gathered around Dumbledore. The fools! The only other emotion he could conjure was simple regret for the meager possessions he’d been forced to leave behind—his favorite scales, and an unopened bottle of fifteen-year-old Scotch among them—in his haste to get to the Astronomy Tower before his careful plans had all gone pear-shaped. He gave no thought whatsoever to the co-worker he’d had to Stupefy and leave immobile on his office floor.
The castle had been his home for sixteen years; twenty-three if one were to include his time there as a student. Snape allowed himself a derisive snort. He certainly wasn’t feeling nostalgic; his days as a student were exactly why he was in this treacherous situation. In fact, a single incident had set the course for the entire train wreck that was his life.
Black! Another name to be spat at the dirt.
Contrary to his long-standing attitude, and his continued antipathy for the dead man (and oh, how he wished he’d been there for that happy event), he hadn’t hated Black immediately. Snape had, in fact, paid scant attention to the non-Slytherin students at his very first Welcoming Feast. It wasn’t until later that night, in Slytherin’s dungeon common room, that he’d heard the name Sirius Black, and about the scandal of the boy who should have been among them. Lucius Malfoy had been particularly disgusted. The Blacks and the Malfoys had been closely associated for centuries perhaps and, as a sixth-year, Lucius had been charged with taking young Black under his wing.
No, Snape’s hatred for Black had slowly simmered into a seething boil. He’d resented Black at the beginning for simply being and having everything that Snape himself had ever wanted: an actual pureblood family, a place in the impenetrable circle of the elite, seemingly unlimited wealth and for rejecting it all.
The resentment had grown as the years progressed until it had become a living, breathing thing inside of him. During that time, Black and Potter, along with their two sycophants, had become increasingly more intolerable. Snape had become their favorite target—unprovoked more often than not—and had got away with it time and again. Ever the small-minded Gryffindors, they’d most frequently mocked his appearance, which Snape could hardly help. One’s nose was simply one’s nose. Certainly there were glamours, charms that one could use, however Severus knew that changing what had already been attacked would be tantamount to announcing he’d been affected by their cruelty. Apart from that, he’d found his considerable nose beneficial in the brewing of delicate potions. He’d eventually grown a callus over that sore spot, so that he’d no longer cared what others thought of him. They’d even somehow found out about the hexes of Snape’s own creation, and had had the nerve to use them against him. However, the more serious bone of contention had been their idiotic lack of respect for the Dark Arts.
When he was nine years old, Severus had come across some very old books on the subject in his maternal grandfather’s collection. Grandfather had fallen ill, and Severus’ mother, ever the dutiful daughter, had insisted on the weekly visits. Like everyone else in his world, Grandfather Prince had not been a warm man, but Snape had never learned to expect warmth and kindness, nor would he ever think to offer them. He’d looked forward to the visits simply to immerse himself in the books that had fascinated him. There was beauty there, a vein of exquisiteness in the pain most of the curses would cause. The Dark Arts had given him an escape from the wretchedness that was his life with his contemptible Muggle father and weak-willed witch mother.
Once at school, he’d been stunned to learn that study of such magic was forbidden. By then, Severus had got a taste of it, his appetite for it insatiable, so he’d continued his study privately. The thought of being without his beloved books had already driven the boy to systematically relieve his grandfather’s collection of the ancient tomes over the course of the last few visits, during the man’s final days, and he’d found it to be a rather exciting endeavor. Smuggling the purloined texts in his school trunk had also been an adventure of its own, as his mother had insisted on taking a thorough inventory before he’d departed for school. She’d never even looked twice at the books. With his brand new wand, and with the aid of his schoolbooks, he had managed to charm the covers to indicate more innocuous subjects, in the event she might recognize them. To this day, the reasoning behind Dark Magic’s prohibition remained unreasonable to Snape’s way of thinking. Magic was magic—it was intent that made the difference. Studying the Dark Arts could only help one prepare to defend oneself. Not every wizard would abide by the Ministry’s rules, nor could they be expected to always play fair; it was simply human nature.
Severus had found that Potions had come very easily to him. He’d used his mother’s textbook, of course, and her notes; however, he had adapted them too, further improving the results. Although the Dark Arts were his true passion, he loved brewing potions nearly as much as it was possible for him to love anything. He’d found the same dark beauty in brewing that he had in the Dark Arts and had been eager to combine the two with some of the potions he’d come across in his studies. Much to his disappointment and endless frustration, a good many of the key ingredients were either illegal, or unobtainable without proper Ministry involvement.
By the end of his first year at Hogwarts, his clandestine study of the Dark Arts had caught Lucius Malfoy’s keen eye, and he’d taken an interest in Severus that had left the solitary boy reeling from the unaccustomed attention and the prestige that went along with it. It’d been very gratifying for Snape to take Sirius Black’s place, but he’d learned over time that Malfoy had considered him a poor substitute. Snape had ignored the digs at his parentage and his social status, or lack thereof, to remain in Malfoy’s good graces. As the sentiments mirrored Snape’s own anyway, he’d just let them roll off his back.
His doggedness had paid off when Malfoy had finally trusted him enough to introduce him to the Dark Lord himself. The man whose power had so enthralled Lucius Malfoy and had even driven the older boy to refer to the him as “Master”, a man that had the entire Wizarding world fearing to speak his very name aloud—was a man that Severus Snape had been only too eager to meet.
In reality, Severus had walked away from that first meeting feeling somewhat disillusioned. Malfoy’s hype and – admittedly – his own idealized vision of the man, had raised his expectations far too high it’d seemed. Snape was familiar with bullies, had dealt with them both at home and at school, and had found the enthroned, and warped looking man to be no different. Although Snape had been impressed and very interested in whatever the Dark Lord possessed that had caused the grown men around him to fall prostrate at his feet, he’d resisted Malfoy’s pressure to join them, finding the subservience distasteful—until that single, life-altering incident had changed his mind.
Thinking of that fateful night never failed to send icy spikes of fury coursing through his being to the very core of him. They’d fancied themselves marauders because of a few successful childish pranks. Though he’d made efforts to avoid any interactions with them, Snape had continued to be watchful of the idiotic Gryffindor quartet, and his diligence had been rewarded. They’d definitely been up to something. What it was he hadn’t known, other than it’d had something to do with Lupin. If he could catch them at it, he could take the shine off of the Headmaster’s “Golden Boys”.
Snape’s obsession with them, and his goal to take them down a notch, had become such that he’d ignored his very Slytherin instincts for self-preservation, and had instead succumbed to a taunt that had questioned his fortitude. Black had told him he had only to follow a tunnel that was under the Whomping Willow if he wanted to find out what they’d been up to. Of course, he hadn’t trusted Black, hadn’t assumed it would be that easy; however he’d underestimated the boy, thinking him to be a noble Gryffindor through and through. It’d never occurred to Snape that Black had had some sneaky Slytherin blood in him after all, or that Black would even have had murderous intentions to begin with.
The noises that had reached his ears from a point ahead in the damp tunnel had been feral and ghastly. It was only determination and curiosity that had spurred his progress toward it. So certain was he that the “Golden Boys” had been torturing animals, or something that would have been equally disturbing news to the Headmaster, he’d pressed on, ignoring the niggling sense of foreboding that had raised the hairs on the back of his neck. He’d reached out to push the trap door upward and had caught a glimpse of the horror that had awaited him. Snape’s recollection of the events became fuzzy at that point. He could recall—never without a shudder—yellow eyes bearing down at him from the face of a hideous snarling beast. He remembered being thrown or pulled backward, and then nothing more until he’d regained consciousness as he’d been dragged out of the tunnel by none other than James Potter.
Potter had, of course, tried to explain it away, had tried to apologize, had tried to convince him that safeguards had kept Lupin harmless. He’d even tried to tell him that Black had acted alone. Snape had not been so gullible; did they take him for a fool? He couldn’t have very well gone to the Headmaster either, could he? No, the old man clearly had had knowledge of Lupin’s condition since the blasted tree had been planted and a tunnel had been created for the boy’s use. So Snape had silently seethed; his outrage and indignation feeding his hatred, which had grown exponentially with each passing month in the presence of those he’d considered his sworn enemies.
Lucius Malfoy, even after leaving school, had continued to exert pressure upon Snape to take The Mark, to become one of the Dark Lord’s followers, and it had suddenly seemed like salvation. He’d decided he was ready to learn from the Master himself, ready to put his hatred to good use. The Dark Lord had, in return, offered to teach Severus things he’d never imagined possible, and had allowed him to experiment with the potions he so desperately desired to brew, procuring the ingredients that Severus himself would never have been able obtain otherwise. Bowing to the man in return had seemed a pittance.
Hindsight had proved him wrong in that respect, as the Dark Lord had become more and more twisted and – to Snape’s disenchanted mind – less awe inspiring and more pathetic, in his all-consuming search for immortality.
The true consequences of being saved by Potter had eluded Snape for several years. Had he known what that walk down the tunnel would eventually cost him, he’d have hexed Black before the taunt was fully formed on his lips. Had he known, he might have willingly offered his throat to the beast.
Better to have died than to have been saved by James Potter.
It wasn’t until he’d inexplicably felt compelled to find the Potters and their spawn that he’d realized something was amiss. Snape fought the odd, unfamiliar urges to protect, to save and to intervene, with every fiber of his being. When he’d experienced excruciating pain, on the very night that Potter and his Mudblood wife had been killed, he’d finally made the connection.
The Potter brat had somehow managed to take the Dark Lord out of the picture, but Snape felt certain the new development was not something that would have been wise to share with his Master at any rate. Having been cut adrift by the Dark Lord’s disappearance, he’d had nothing to lose by turning to the one man whom might have answers. He’d only recently acquired the position of Potions Master—by order of the Dark Lord—and had become ensconced within the school. So he’d gone to Dumbledore, for explanation, perhaps for absolution. What he’d discovered was so much worse than he’d ever imagined.
The Headmaster had listened patiently, his blue eyes bereft of their damnable twinkle. Snape had always suspected that Dumbledore had studied the Dark Arts, and had confirmed this suspicion when he’d felt the man probing at his Occlumens shields. As Dumbledore could not have possibly been that inept at the task, Snape had correctly interpreted it as a request for access. Taking a leap of faith, he’d let his shields down completely, exposing the full catalogue of his sins to the man.
Dumbledore had known, of course, that it was Snape who’d betrayed the Potters to the Dark Lord. Snape hadn’t known, at the time, to whom the prophecy had referred—not that it would have made a difference if he’d known it was Potter. He’d had a Master to please and a lifetime of contempt for Potter. Why should he care if they’d become targets?
Certainly Snape had heard about Life Debts, purely in a mythical sense. It was ancient magic, and since the average wizard didn’t find himself in such dire straits as to require life saving on the scale that would invoke the Life Debt bond, it had fallen out of general knowledge. How could he possibly have known that he, Severus Snape, had been bound to Potter, of all people? And worse, he’d failed to act when called upon to fulfill that bond. He had, in fact, indirectly created the circumstance that had killed the man—failure on a grand scale. The old man had speculated that since the child had survived, the bond would be passed on to him.
In exchange for the protection that the walls and wards of Hogwarts could provide a ‘reformed’ Death Eater, the Headmaster had requested an Unbreakable Vow. A vow so carefully worded that Snape could not betray Dumbledore in any way. Not that Snape had ever felt inclined to do so. Serving the Dark Lord had long ago lost its appeal, and agreeing to the vow had been beneficial to Snape as well—it’d garnered Dumbledore’s supportive testimony, which had saved him from wasting away in Azkaban. That cagey old man had had foresight too, had known, without reservation, that the Dark Lord had not been vanquished as the rest of the Wizarding world had assumed, and had seen to it that Snape would be able to operate undercover for him, within the Dark Lord’s ranks, should the need arise again.
Snape, bound to the shadow of a Dark Lord, to a mad old man, and to the son of his worst enemy, had found a modicum of comfort in the notion that very likely one, or all of them, would kill him, and end his misery.
Yes, better to have died, than to have been saved by James Potter.
Severus had fully expected to loathe the Potter boy, and he hadn’t been disappointed. It’d been torturous to see him every day, a doppelganger of his foe, and a painful reminder of the ruin of his life. He’d tried on many occasions to get the boy out of his sight; to relieve the constant, agonizing pressure and restraint required to achieve even the slightest civility. Over the years, several incidents had occurred that should have resulted in the boy’s expulsion and he’d suggested the appropriate action in each case. His efforts were wasted, of course. Dumbledore had a blind spot when it came to the brat As a result, this evening had not been the first time Snape had desperately wanted to kill the boy, to deliver the blow that would release – or condemn – him to a new fate, but the bond would not allow it. He’d even found himself giving the imbecile dueling pointers against his will. The ignorant whelp had never taken the studies seriously; how could he expect to fight the Dark Lord if he was an open book, and a weak dueler? That pathetic excuse for a wizard was the person that the Light was pinning its hopes to. Fools!
A keening howl brought him back to his current situation. Snape couldn’t tell if it was that oaf Hagrid, or his mangy mutt that was making the racket until a second howl joined the first and it ceased to matter. A look that would have likely stopped the hearts of his—now former—students crossed Snape’s face. A person unfamiliar with the man might even have called it an attempt at a smile; though, what he’d achieved was more a pained smirk. He wondered idly if the half-giant’s heart was up to another shock. The one that he would receive upon the arrival of a time enchanted missive, in Dumbledore’s own hand, directing him to the hidden antidote, and the tomb in which Dumbledore’s body would be laid to rest.
The illusion had been a success as far as Snape was concerned. Whether or not the old man, in his weakened condition, had had enough in him to cushion the fall, take the Draught of the Living Death and vanish the phial that he’d carried on his person for months, was of no consequence to Snape. He’d become an enemy of the Ministry the moment he’d agreed (and he had been given a choice in the matter) to Dumbledore’s charade, and then had put it into practice.
The old man had adjusted the plan and had conveyed his intentions through Snape’s Legilimency, to accommodate the location, but the result had been as intended. Just as Snape had suspected, the Dark Lord had sent reinforcements—some of the least skilled and least intelligent in the ranks (and in Greyback’s case, the most repulsive)—and the normally sharp Draco Malfoy had been terrified enough that he wouldn’t have noticed anything awry. The execution had been flawless in any case. The fact that Potter had been an immobilized, invisible witness to the event had just cemented Snape’s contentment with the results.
The Draught of the Living Death was just as the name suggested. It was close enough to real death that it could fool magic itself. Once Dumbledore had ingested the potion that Snape had personally brewed, or (if the old man had not made it that far) he’d hit the ground and truly expired, the Unbreakable Vow that had bound Snape to Dumbledore had dissolved. As he’d had a hand in either would-be manner of Dumbledore’s death—faux or otherwise—he’d also fulfilled the Vow that had bound him to Narcissa Malfoy. This was the closest thing to freedom that he’d experienced in his entire miserable existence. It was nearly intoxicating.
Snape turned his back on the grieving tableau and moved, once again, deep into the Forbidden Forest. He would report to the Dark Lord, and would allow his now sole “Master” to have this little souvenir to gloat over. Snape was uncertain whether or not he would be punished for stepping in front of Malfoy the younger, or if he would be lauded as a hero by the Dark Lord. It made no difference, really. He would take his lumps or his rewards; he would bow and kowtow to that warped and hated visage. And he would wait patiently to fulfill his final bond requirement, which Snape assumed would be his life for Potter’s, eagerly welcoming his own death—and the coveted release it would bring—with open arms.
A/N ~ Okay, before y’all get your knickers in a twist, this is purely speculation on my part, in an effort to explain Snape’s behavior throughout the series, and then his actions at the end of HBP. Whether or not Dumbledore is still alive, I don’t know. It’s unlikely, but I’d like to think so.
I based the theory on several things: Dumbledore’s assertion early on that he would trust Hagrid with his life, the repeated mention of the Draught of the Living Death in HBP, Dumbledore’s implicit trust of Snape and his knowledge of Malfoy’s plans, among them. Dumbledore’s appeal to Draco that [they can’t kill you if you’re already dead] and his assertion that they could hide him so thoroughly that Draco wouldn’t believe it. I also had a problem with the AK throwing Dumbledore over a parapet like that, as I could not recall it ever having that effect before. Thanks for reading!
I need to thank Tracy and Sparky for filling in for Casey on the read-over and encouragement duties while he was incommunicado (damn cable company!).
A big “Thank you!” to Musings for, once again, helping to make the story better.