Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters and events that you recognize belong to J.K. Rowling. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is being made from this story.
The mark on his arm burned black, and a searing pain shot through him. He clutched his forearm for a moment before Disapparating to his master.
The cloaked figures moved into a circle around their master: the Dark Lord, Lord Voldemort. Their lord was tall and thin, with long, pale, skeletal fingers. His face was flat and white, and his eyes were red, with slits for pupils. The Dark Lord looked distinctly snake-like, and although the man was quite used to his master’s appearance, the sight of him invoked an unprecedented wave of fear. He shivered involuntarily.
The Dark Lord walked once slowly around the circle of his Death Eaters, surveying each of them for signs of weakness. The man clasped his hands behind his back as the Dark Lord passed him, trying to keep them from shaking. The Dark Lord did not notice, and proceeded around the circle. Then he spoke in a high, cold voice that made the hair on the man’s neck prickle uncomfortably.
“You are all doubtlessly wondering why I have called you here tonight,” he breathed. “I have news for you. Our young friend has discovered something most interesting, haven’t you?” He nodded slightly, almost imperceptibly, completely aware of why the Death Eaters were gathered there that night. “Yes, indeed,” the Dark Lord continued. “He tells us that he heard a most interesting revelation in a bar last night. Not just any bar – it is owned by none other than the Muggle-loving fool Albus Dumbledore’s brother. A highly interesting coincidence, wouldn’t you say? Now, our friend here says that the Muggle protector was speaking to one Sibyll Trelawney, who made a quite remarkable prophecy. According to our friend, the prophecy said that a boy, born at the end of this coming July, will be the only person who is able to defeat me.” Around the circle, the Death Eaters exchanged nervous glances. “Clearly, the child has not been born yet, but when July closes, I wish to have a list of all wizard boys born at the end of the month. If you fail in this task, you will face Lord Voldemort’s wrath. Do you all understand?” There was no response. The Dark Lord vanished with a swish of his cloak. Taking their cue from him, the Death Eaters Disapparated away from the circle.
* * *
July ended, and August flew by so quickly that he didn’t realize it had passed until September had dawned. The Dark Lord had not yet called them to his side. He had been participating in the search for a child born at the end of July; however, he had not found anything. Even if the Dark Lord, a skilled Legilimens, were to search his mind nothing would be revealed.
On a cold night in late September, he was finally called back to his master’s side. He knew what this meeting was for, and he hoped that someone else had found something with which to appease the Dark Lord.
He was one of the first Death Eaters to enter the dark room, and he took the time before the others arrived to take in his surroundings. He could not tell where he was; only that it seemed to be one of the Dark Lord’s numerous havens. There was a palpable feeling of magic in the air, and he was sure that numerous enchantments had been placed on the room to make sure that only one branded with the Dark Mark could enter its walls.
“Well?” the Dark Lord said coldly as soon as the circle had formed around him. A Death Eater stepped forward.
“My Lord, I know of a child who fits the Prophecy.” The Dark Lord turned to face the speaker.
“And? Who is this child?”
“Harry Potter, my Lord. Son of Lily and James Potter.”
Lily and James Potter. The names stirred many memories from his school days. They were not pleasant memories: he could hear James’s taunts ringing in his ears, and Lily’s hurt face as he hurled insults at her danced before his eyes. James had been particularly cruel to him, but Lily had not been unkind – and now, his information about the Prophecy would lead to her death: a death he was not completely sure the Potters deserved.
“Indeed?” The Dark Lord’s mouth was curving upward into an unpleasant smile. “How very interesting. I will look forward to killing the Potters. I have wanted to for a very long time now, and I know that they will be more vulnerable with such a young son.” Still smiling in a way that sent chills through the man’s body, the Dark Lord Disapparated.
The other Death Eaters left the room moments later, but he stayed. They will be more vulnerable with such a young son. Their son did not deserve to die. He was too young, too innocent, to meet such a fate. Yet, he asked himself harshly, where do your loyalties lie? He could not afford to become sympathetic to Harry Potter, a boy who he had never seen, whose parents he had despised, and who would likely be the cause of much discord in the wizarding world for many years, whether he lived or died.
* * *
The street was dark and quiet. The woman leading the group had just pocketed the silver instrument that was imprisoning the beads of light from the street lamps. It was the dead of night, and there were no squares of light on the sidewalk from the windows of houses lining the street. The only sound was the soft swishing of their robes as they made their way towards the house at the end of the row. The house of the next victims.
He hung near the back of the group, as he had for the past few excursions. Perhaps he was becoming ill; usually, he was at the front, beside the woman who always led them. His cold, black eyes had always glinted when he thought of his position in society. He had felt a sense of pride at being among those who were the most feared, the ones who wielded power because of the terror they invoked in the innocent, unsuspecting masses. He had always been proud of the skull and serpent burned onto his left forearm; proud to be one of the select few, to be a member of the inner circle; proud of the mask and long robes he wore; proud to serve his master. He was a Death Eater.
A sneer slowly spread across his pale face, and he walked faster, suddenly eager to join the woman at the front of the group. The thrill of foreboding rushed through his veins, and the sneer became more pronounced. He knew his place: this was where he belonged. He was meant to be in this group, with his footsteps joining the sound of the others’. Calmly and steadily, he drew his wand and pointed it towards the house at the end.
They reached the door, and, as though their minds were somehow connected, spread to from an arc around the front of the house. The woman stood facing the door almost royally. Her arm was outstretched, and the long, thin wand was aimed directly at the center of the door. The mask covered her face, but he knew that an evil smile was spreading across her face beneath it. Her long black hair billowed out in sheets behind her. She carelessly flicked her wand, and the door swung open. “Enter,” she hissed.
As they silently filed into the dark house, he felt his blood chill. Behind the mask, his eyes gleamed. He moved almost automatically towards the stairs. His feet carried him to the bedroom where the two sleeping Muggles lay. They were so innocent, he thought, and the sneer returned to his face.
The women entered the room just behind him. He could almost feel the yearning to torture emanating from her. The rest of the cloaked figures were crossing the threshold into the bedroom. They surrounded the bed, leaving no means of escape for the two sleeping Muggles. A man on the opposite side of the room raised his wand, and the room suddenly felt several degrees cooler. The Muggles woke up.
The Muggle man sat up first, slightly disoriented. He looked around at the cloaked figures and uttered a small gasp of surprise and fear. His wife opened her eyes and sat up too, letting out a soft scream. The cloaked women grinned.
“Crucio!” she hissed, pointing her wand at the Muggle woman’s heart. The woman’s knees were drawn to her chest, and her shrieks of pain broke the silence of the night as she rolled onto her side, twitching. Her husband leapt up and tried to defend her, but it was no use. At his first movement, another Death Eater placed him under the same curse, and his cries mingled with his wife’s as he too lay, shaking uncontrollably, on the floor. The other Death Eaters watched, their insane laughter mixing with the yells of pain.
He did not laugh. He knew what it felt like to be under that curse. He knew the feeling of having white-hot knives rip through his skin, feeling as though death would be welcome. He had felt the pain that made him wish for death, as though his very heart were being ripped from his chest. It had felt as though each of his bones were on fire, incinerating him from the inside. Then, when he had thought the pain couldn’t have been any worse, he felt an invisible hand tighten around his ribs, cracking his bones and piercing his lungs. He hadn’t been able to breathe; he had thought that surely he would die. And then the pain had stopped, and he had lain panting at his master’s feet.
This was what these Muggles were experiencing. For the first time, it hit them that they had not done anything to deserve the torture that was being inflicted on them. They were not wizards; they had no knowledge of the magical world, but did that make it legitimate to torture them? He knew what was coming; the Death Eaters would kill them and fire the skull and serpent into the sky. Then, suddenly, he heard the horrible words.
The Muggles were motionless. Their eyes were wide open and glassy, and their faces were contorted into identical expressions of pain. The woman stepped towards them, her eyes shining with satisfaction. She uttered a simple charm to levitate them back into the bed, and drew the cover back over them. Raising her wand once more, she said a final spell.
Though he couldn’t see it, he knew that the shape of a serpent protruding from the mouth of a skull was shining fluorescent green above the house, bathing the street below in faint green light. Surveying the scene once more, the woman vanished silently, and the other cloaked figures followed.
Before disappearing like the others, his eyes flicked over the dead Muggles for the last time. His heart beat faster, and he felt slightly nauseous at the thought of what he had done. But, knowing his place in society, he was aware that he would go on with his normal life, and, when he felt the Dark Mark burn on his arm again, he would return to his master’s side. He realized that he felt differently about the Muggle killings than he ever had before, but he assumed that the next time the Death Eaters planned a torture, he would feel the familiar thrill of excitement and join in their activities. Surely he was just a bit ill, and he would be ready next time to participate in the fun.
* * *
He was not ill. The next time the Death Eaters killed a Muggle family, the gnawing feeling in his stomach only intensified. He didn’t know why he felt this way; he only knew that he was no longer satisfied by the screams of innocent Muggles and the blank look in their eyes after they were killed. And suddenly, he realized where these new feelings were from.
He hadn’t realized that when he told his master about the prophecy, he would, in effect, be sentencing two of his former classmates to death. He tried to convince himself that the Dark Lord’s newest targets were more of the countless nameless, faceless murders that had taken place. It was easy for him to assure himself that he hadn’t seen them in over four years, and they had almost the same element of anonymity that the Muggles had. Yet it was hard for him to believe these half-hearted assurances: the Potters were horribly different from the Muggles.
His original thoughts from the night the Dark Lord told the Death Eaters about his plans to kill the Potters had returned: Lily and James simply were not nameless, faceless Muggles. He had known Lily and James Potter; he had been at Hogwarts with them. True, he had been a Slytherin, and rarely associated with members of other Houses, but he had been in classes with them; Lily and James Potter just weren’t the same as unknown Muggles. It was an undeniable fact.
He hadn’t felt a particular attachment to either of the Potters; in fact, he had despised them while at school. The hatred only intensified when he joined the Dark Lord’s ranks: the Potters were vehemently opposed to his master. They were on opposite sides of the battle. He tried to tell himself that this was enough, that they had chosen the wrong side and would pay the consequences. Yet a small part of his mind wondered if there was a wrong side of the battle. If people were willing to fight for what they believed in, weren’t they always right? The fact that Lily and James Potter did not support his cause did not mean that their beliefs were invalid.
And then there was the matter of their son. Harry Potter was, supposedly, the only person with the capability of defeating the Dark Lord. He knew that he didn’t want his master to be defeated – or at least he thought he knew. He was held captive by the brand on his left arm; the Dark Lord could force him to do anything. Harry Potter, he thought, must be an exceptional child to be able to defeat his master. He shook his head, of course he didn’t want the Dark Lord to be conquered. Even so, did the child deserve to die just because there was the possibility that he was that powerful?
He wasn’t sure when he reached the decision; he only knew that, several weeks after the Dark Lord had announced his plan to kill the Potters, he had decided eventually that the Potters did not deserve their imminent deaths. Almost unconsciously, he drew out a sheet of parchment and a quill and began to write.
Upon completing the letter, he sealed it with a tap of his wand. Before he could have any second thoughts, he tied the scroll to his owl’s leg and released the bird through his open window. There was no turning back.
* * *
I am writing to inform you of a certain event which I believe you should be aware of. I cannot tell you my name, as I am sure you would not trust me if you knew my identity. I was a student at Hogwarts several years ago, and, given what I am about to divulge, knowing who I am would surely lessen my credibility. However, you must believe me. I assure you that I am not writing on anyone’s orders but my own, and that I am writing with no intent for personal gain. I am writing because one’s side in this war does not matter, and I hope that, knowing that I am not among your followers, you can still believe what I must tell you.
As you know, a prophecy was recently made predicting the birth of a boy who could potentially be the Dark Lord’s downfall. Although I am sure this information was never supposed to reach the Dark Lord’s ears, he discovered this prophecy and declared that he would kill the boy, along with his parents. This boy is none other than Harry Potter, the son of Lily and James Potter. I am well aware that the Potters are some of your closest followers, so I am sure that you are familiar with their son. The boy must be protected. The Dark Lord has resolved to destroy this family, and, unless the appropriate measures are taken immediately, I am afraid he will succeed.
Please destroy this letter once you have finished reading it; I have no wish to be discovered. I feel certain that someday, you will know my identity. Until then,
A/N: Although I tried not to reveal it during the actual story, I think it’s pretty clear that Snape is the narrator. The first draft of this was written pre-HBP, and I was trying to capture Snape’s thoughts at the time he became a traitor to Voldemort. After reading HBP, I think that Dumbledore’s reasons for trusting Snape are pretty weak (in Snape’s words, “a tale of deepest remorse”) and incomplete, so I think, after some editing and reworking, this fic still fits with canon (if you’re with the “Snape is good” side of that debate, that is).
Many thanks to my beta, alli_lynn, and please review!