This is dedicated to my great beta, subversa -- even though this is no Snily.
‘… an’ if there’s any trouble, you’ll le’ me know,’ the old man growled at his brother. Over the years, Aberforth had adopted the slurred speech of the locals. He gave Albus and his guest another scrutinizing look before he closed the door behind him.
‘Shall we?’ Albus Dumbledore indicated at the two wing chairs in front of the fireplace. ‘Do sit down, Mr Snape. You gave the impression this might turn out to be a rather long interview. Why not make it as comfortable as possible for both of us.’ Albus looked sternly at the man in the black cloak. There was none of his trademark twinkle. ‘It is most unusual,’ he sighed, sitting down, ‘that you asked me to meet you here, of all places.’
Snape shifted his weight and threw one last awkward glance at the door through which the inn-keeper of the Hog’s Head left just a moment ago. Finally, he slouched over to the chair and sat down.
Not for the first time tonight, the Headmaster of Hogwarts noticed Snape’s haunted look; it unsettled him. Albus had known Severus Snape as a proud young man with a bright mind, but with much darkness in his heart. Quite recently, something must have gone horribly wrong and seriously affected Albus' former student. He remembered Snape as a rather pale and stringy-looking youth. The man, here in front of him, was as white as a corpse. He probably had neither slept nor rested for days and he appeared distinctly underfed. Involuntarily, Albus shuddered when his guest began to speak. Even his voice had changed dramatically.
‘I have made a horrible mistake, Professor Dumbledore,’ Snape said hoarsely. This announcement was followed by a hacking cough. ‘Excuse me, sir.’ He stopped and looked into the fire, clearly wishing to avoid meeting Albus' eyes. Snape’s long black hair fell over his shoulders and hid most of his face. He wrung his trembling hands. There were several cuts along his long, delicate fingers and dirt beneath his nails. He coughed again, but other than that, he remained silent.
Albus bent towards him and caught hold of his hands. ‘What is it, son? What is troubling your mind?’ A sob, caught up in the young man’s throat, caused tears to well up in Albus’ eyes. What had happened?
Eventually, Snape looked up. ‘I have sold Lily to certain death. And Potter. And their child.’
Albus went as pale as Snape and let go of his hands. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked sharply.
Snape’s chin trembled, but he swallowed down another sob. ‘Two years ago, the night I eavesdropped on you and that woman, I went to the Dark Lord and told him everything I knew about the prophecy.’ Snape looked up to the ceiling and drew a shaky breath. ‘I only found out a week ago that he plans to attack Lily and her family. Professor Dumbledore, had I known any of this …’ His voice broke only to be replaced by that horrid cough once again.
Albus could not believe what he was hearing. Was Snape telling the truth? After all, he was a known Death Eater. ‘Let me assure you, the Potters are in hiding. They are protected and safe for the time being.’
‘No, they are ruddy well not,’ Snape barked. He looked up at Albus with an infernal fire blazing in his dark eyes. Silent tears ran down his hollow cheeks; with his sleeve, he wiped them off hastily. ‘You have a traitor among your Order! Someone, I do not know who it is, someone has been passing secret information to the Dark Lord for nearly a year!’
The last words triggered a sharp intake of breath from Albus. The man was telling the truth! For quite some time now, strange coincidences had occurred, too mysterious to be explained away easily. The tragic murder of the Prewett brothers was one instance; while out on a secret mission, they had been cornered by no fewer than five Death Eaters. Obviously, the Death Eaters had been tipped off. Marlene McKinnon, along with her entire family, had been killed just one day before Albus planned to cast the Fidelius Charm on them. Just like the Bones family. One by one, the members of the Order of the Phoenix were picked off as if their names had appeared on a death list.
Snape frowned. ‘From what I heard, you still have that werewolf, Lupin, around.’
‘Surely you’re not suggesting that one of James Potter’s closest friends is a secret ally of Tom Riddle,’ Albus protested.
‘I suggest nothing, but I am sure you have heard of a certain Fenrir Greyback.’
‘Do you know what you are saying? Do you know what this means?’ The question was idiotic -- of course Snape knew -- but Albus was shocked beyond words. For the first time, his fear of having a traitor among his Order was confirmed. Oddly enough, it was confirmed by a man from the other side of the battleground.
‘Just do everything to make sure Lily … and Potter and the child are safe,’ Snape whispered. ‘Please, sir, please make sure to have her out of harm’s way!’
‘Of course, Mr Snape. Be assured that a Fidelius Charm will be cast at the next new moon.’
‘A Fidelius? Is that all you can come up with?’ Snape sounded desperate. ‘There is a traitor among your group. What makes you think that you will not choose the wrong person as their Secret-Keeper? Come on, Professor Dumbledore. There must be something better than a Fidelius.’
‘I am afraid there is not.’ Albus slumped forward and rested an elbow on his knees, rubbing his tired eyes behind the half-moon spectacles. ‘And we just don’t have enough support outside of Britain to hide them abroad either.’ He turned his intense stare back on Snape. ‘What about you?’
‘What do you mean?’ Snape brushed a strand of greasy hair from his face. ‘I am a Death Eater. Do you honestly think I could walk up to the Dark Lord and hand in my resignation?’ He pulled up the sleeve on his left arm. A black mark of a snake protruding from a skull was burned into his pale skin. ‘See that? All of us have it. The Dark Lord only needs to touch one of these to summon us. The charm upon it allows us to Apparate to his location at that very moment. Of course, the tracking spell works in reverse, too. A Death Eater who fails to respond to the call has forfeited his life, but the Dark Lord rarely bothers to mete out the punishment himself. Trust me. I do not care what becomes of me anymore. It does not matter whether I live or die. If I did die, at least then I would have paid for my crimes.’ A short, desperate laugh escaped Snape. ‘My death for Lily’s life, what irony.’
Albus did not know what to make of that, but he felt he had to help the young man.
Certainly, Snape had risked his life in coming to the Hog’s Head tonight. ‘I will think of something to help you, be assured of that. The Potters will be put under the Fidelius Charm.’ He held up a hand to stop the young man from a reply. ‘Yes, Mr Snape, the Fidelius Charm with all its shortcomings. It is the best we have, and that throws a dark light on the Order’s future. But for the time being, it will have to suffice.’
The old man rose from the chair. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, I have to find a Secret-Keeper,’ he said, with an out-of-place smile on his lips. He laid a reassuring hand on Snape’s shoulder. ‘Be my guest here tonight. It appears you could use a good night’s rest. Quite frankly, you look terrible. I’ll have Aberforth bring up something for you to eat.’ He walked to the door, but turned around once more. ‘We’ll find a solution for you, too.’
A/N: If you like to, you can read the entire story, A Winter's Tale, on Ashwinder.