An Exercise in Pointlessness
Severus Snape paced back and forth alone in a cramped, windowless cell, waiting for his execution. Not for many long years had a wizard found himself in such a position. Snape could only congratulate himself for being thought so reprehensible, so universally loathed that the Ministry had reinstated a punishment that in almost all other cases was considered inhumane and utterly unacceptable.
With him they wanted to take no chances.
Still, without the Dementors, Azkaban wasn’t the place of utter horror that his nemesis Sirius Black had experienced. It was unpleasant, to be sure, and bone-torturingly cold, of course. However, to assuage their guilt over his sentence, his jailors had provided him with several comforts hitherto unheard of in the infamous prison, including extra blankets, a couple of candles, parchment, ink, and a quill. They had also allowed him the dignity of clean robes. No, all things considered, he felt himself quite lucky; if nothing else, at least he knew it would be over soon.
One thing he did miss was his books. Having always been a studious man, he really didn’t know what to do with these hours of waiting. He had no urge to sleep or to compose any last words of contrition (as they'd probably hoped he would when they left the writing materials), but the time weighed heavily upon him.
Finally, exasperated by his mind’s inability to occupy itself, he took the four steps needed to cross the room to the small table opposite his cell door and sat down. He dipped quill into ink, leaned forward, and then hesitated, letting his hand hover over the parchment indecisively.
‘This is ridiculous,’ he thought, but his quill drifted closer to the page. ‘Oh, what the hell….’ And he began:
Writing to a dead man is a pointless exercise, but as my entire life has dissolved into pointlessness perhaps it is fitting that I sit here composing this epistle. If nothing else, it will pass the time, though that is, I know, something of which little enough remains. Since I obviously have no loved ones to share my last bitter hours, this letter will have to suffice.
When I threw my lot in with yours, I did not anticipate such an outcome for our alliance. I shall endeavor to avoid recrimination and declarations of sorrow. This exercise is ridiculous enough without dramatics. You are well aware of your part in my complete and irrevocable demonization, even if no one else will ever know. And, while I can take little comfort in your knowledge, as you can hardly share it with those who would persecute me, I accepted the task you forced upon me—unwillingly but not unwittingly. I knew what my fate would be.
Still, although I have often valued your regard and felt gratified by your trust, I think that at times, and now may be one of them, you expected too much of me. For all my accomplishments on your behalf, I am still only a man, after all, and one perhaps more flawed than most. I have often let my baser nature get the best of me, and people have suffered and even died for it.
All those years ago, you promised me redemption if I would only choose to be redeemed, and I accepted that promise in good faith. I did not expect this new path to be an easy one, but I did nurture the hope that I would one day find absolution.
Absolution, however, never came. Instead, crime piled on top of crime until you asked me to perform the worst crime of all. Better that I had died myself than do what you bid me.
Dropping his quill into the inkwell, Snape abruptly rose and stalked around his cell, feeling like a wolf caught in a steel-toothed trap, ready to chew off its own leg to escape.
‘Damn that man! How does he still have the power to affect me?’
Several moments passed before the former Potions professor had calmed enough to return to his task. Then, seating himself, he again took up his quill.
Granted, I eventually found acceptance in your world, even if it was grudging at times (and even if that, too, would be stolen away by the last act you demanded of me). One thing I could never find was forgetfulness. If any have hated me—and I know they have—their hate cannot compare to my own. I loathe the weakness I allowed to corrupt me and to undermine my sense of self. As a Death Eater, I relinquished that which I held most dear: self-determination.
I do not excuse myself for this, nor do I ask for pity and understanding. I had free will at one time. The choices I made were initially my own. They were mine again when I chose to join you. In joining you, however, I once again confined myself. You did not brand me as a sign of ownership, but you ruled my life just the same.
And what did I receive as compensation for my allegiance? Certainly not escape from my former master. Certainly not safety and protection from those who would harm me. Again and again, you sent me into the midst of mine enemies. Again and again, you asked me to risk my life, my sanity for your cause. And in return? I had only your faith in me. For the most part, that satisfied. Despite my much celebrated misanthropy, I cared about your good opinion, and I endeavored to earn the trust that you always so freely bestowed.
Other times, though, it failed to compensate for the unwavering suspicion I received from almost all others. Have you any idea how vexing it was to continuously put my life on the line and earn only distrust and dislike for my pains?
No, you wouldn’t, would you?
Once again, Snape paused, wondering why he was wasting his last moments like this. And again he remembered the isolation he’d endured since he’d started spying for Dumbledore. Even his fellow professors, as much as they'd tried, could not give him the companionship and shared sense of purpose he’d had with his fellow Death Eaters…before he’d betrayed them to join the Order of the Phoenix.
And his students…well, that was another grief altogether.
In the beginning, I did not so much mind the loathing of the greater world, especially once the Dark Lord fell; I was content to have escaped the fate that ironically, two decades later, has ended up mine anyway. I saw your intervention as salvation and your offer of a position at Hogwarts as a new opportunity.
Little did I know how tedious or how burdensome those years of teaching would be. I cannot begin to recount the wasted days and nights I spent hunched over barely legible essays hoping to find even a single coherent thought.
As for my students, I don’t deny that I often enjoyed the power I had over them. I bullied them shamelessly as I myself had been bullied so that they might come away from my cruel tutelage stronger…or completely broken. It is true that I have no patience for weakness. But do remember that it was you who placed me above them, you who asked me to shape those worthless little minds. Perhaps you also expected that they would gain strength from the challenge of dealing with me.
Hopefully, I did make some small difference without scarring them all for life.
In any case, I don’t have to worry about either them or you anymore. Or much of anything else, for that matter. You signed my death warrant when you demanded I throw that Unforgivable Curse at you. I don’t regret saving Draco, but I do wish that you hadn’t required me to sacrifice my own soul in the process.
Snape’s hand hovered over his paper for a moment after writing these words. How odd, he thought, that he should be thinking of his soul right now. Until he gave substance to the idea by putting it on parchment, he had honestly believed that he had no soul left to lose—just as he knew he had no heart.
Before he could ponder the matter any further, however, he heard a flurry of activity outside his cell. It seemed that it was finally time for them to carry out his sentence. Swiftly, he rolled up the parchment on which he’d written his letter and shoved it down his shirt. As the heavy iron door creaked opened, he stood and waited. Then, seeing the looks of fear and anticipation his jailors gave him, Severus Snape straightened his shoulders and stepped forward resolutely to meet his doom.
Author's Note: As always, I do not own anything related to Harry Potter. JK Rowling has that pleasure all to herself.