“Nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.” Mark 14:36
“Headmaster.” The spy stood calmly enough before Dumbledore’s desk, but his hands were clenched. Dumbledore’s eyes narrowed, observing this. He’d start pacing next. Dumbledore set aside his papers as a gesture of courtesy. Not but what this man had his full attention without the gesture.
“He had a meeting with another of his spies before he saw me—I believe the traitor from the Order, whose identity I still have not been able to ascertain. I was held aside while they conferred, debriefing with Karkaroff, who himself projects unsatisfied curiosity as to this particular spy’s identity. When I saw the Dark Lord, he ordered me to cease my current undertakings to focus on a new project.”
Black eyes fixed on Dumbledore’s.
“He wants me to use my access to the Hogwarts library to research ways of breaking the Fidelius Charm.”
Dumbledore reflexively broke the eye contact, and Snape froze.
Snape whispered, “I thought so. Did you suggest it for both couples?”
Dumbledore looked back at him grimly. “The Longbottom ancestral home is so well warded, I did not yet think it necessary for them.”
Snape had started his pacing. His face was completely without expression, but his stride was jerky, not the smooth prowl he used when conferring with an ally or contemplating a plan. And he was whispering still, almost voiceless. “Who knew?”
“Whoever they told in the last… twenty-seven hours, Severus.”
“Twenty-three, more like. It takes time to arrange so private a meeting. This should help us to identify who’s betraying the Order, in any event.” The lips quirked. The black eyes were lit with something perilously close to amusement. Dumbledore didn’t make the mistake of accepting that reading. Despair, more like. Which Dumbledore was perilously close to seconding.
Snape strode into the Headmaster’s office, his robes billowing. He halted in front of the desk, saying nothing. He didn’t need to say anything; Dumbledore knew what he wanted to hear—and had summoned him to report the opposite. The black eyes burned.
Dumbledore met them unflinchingly. “They declined my services, Severus. James says he trusts his friends.”
Snape’s voice was as harsh as a jaybird’s scream. “Trust? What arrogance is this? Dumbledore, you told them? You told them the Dark Lord knew about the Fidelius the very evening they told the, ah, other Marauders?”
“I told them, Severus. You may be assured that I did my utmost to persuade them. James regards it as a betrayal of his friends to doubt them, and Lily has chosen to back him.”
Snape had turned hastily away at the name. He stayed so a moment, silent; Dumbledore could see that his hands were shaking. He swung back around and spat, “So. One chance in three they’ll be dead within a week or two. Or is it two chances in three? And you’re content to leave it so?”
“Hardly, Severus. But short of using the Imperius on them, I couldn’t persuade them today. Lily did betray some reservations. Frankly, so did James—but he was unwilling to be moved by them. He regards it as a point of honor to trust his friends. I will try talking to each of them separately, represent that they’re risking their child’s life, not just their own. It was probably a mistake speaking with them together; they reinforced each other’s stands. Severus, I’ll continue to try.”
Normally the coolness of the dungeons is a comfort to Snape, but now he is cold, cold, despite his frenzied pacing.
It’s not too late. He still has another means of protecting her. He could betray the Dark Lord one more time: sell him on the plan he had developed last year, and trust Dumbledore to save her from Snape’s having to deliver.
Can he still make it work?
Can he persuade the Dark Lord? With Dumbledore apparently trusting him, granting him a position at Hogwarts, his first argument is gone, and so is much of the savor to the Dark Lord’s taste. Still, most of the Order still suspects Snape, and marrying a Muggle-born would quiet that residual suspicion. And making a Mudblood victim into a Death Eater tool will still appeal to the Dark Lord’s humor. He’ll appreciate the idea of an enthralled enemy happily marrying her husband’s murderer and working towards her own destruction.
Snape’s own motives, of course, will perhaps be too transparent. He’s been careful always to ask about the Potters in terms of revenge on James, but bringing forward this plan now might make plain … his other preoccupation. Well, that would just add another layer to the Dark Lord’s enjoyment: to give her to Snape for a time, expecting shortly to force him to relinquish her again. For Snape senses the time will be short, once both the prophesied one and Dumbledore are gone.
The Dark Lord might demand to hear his plan in detail; could he manage to recite it with appropriate relish? The potions he would craft, his kisses dosing her, his hands along her body? The reactions he would force from her, each in its turn, to bring about her enslavement? Snape’s eyes shut in revulsion.
He can do what he must.
He can probably make it work.
(Last year—even a few months ago—it would have been a certainty. He chewed that bitter morsel.)
Can he be sure Dumbledore can keep her safe from him? How could he explain to the Dark Lord Dumbledore’s trusting him to teach, but not trusting him near her? Well, she could be sequestered away from everyone for a time. Or he could commit suicide; that should effectually protect her from his influence. Though the Dark Lord might guess his motives and pursue her in revenge. If he died accidentally, however… that should be safe enough. Leaving her to Dumbledore’s sole protection, which has already—betrayed its inadequacy. Or he could give the Dark Lord a fake potion, though there’d be the risk of his having it analyzed and figuring out Snape’s double-cross.
But this problem is susceptible of solution, at least. He can make this part work.
Which leaves the crux of the problem. Her. What she would choose.
Lily has chosen to back him.
He can still make it work. He’s reasonably certain of it. Trade her life for her husband’s and child’s.
He had dreamed again, last night…. And the night before, and the night before that. It would beome tedious, could he feel tedium on the subject.
A green flash. Her face, lit in terror.
And the night before that. And the week before that. For… ten months, is it, now? Something like that.
He could stop it.
If he chose.
The Dark Lord doesn’t deal much in rewards. But he loves torture.
It would divert him to harrow a mother with an impossible choice: stand aside, save her own life, while he kills her child. Her self-hatred and her projected fate at Snape’s hands would amuse him if she accepted; Snape’s disappointment would amuse him if she refused. Mental anguish either way, with a side serving of death. He couldn’t lose, really, by honoring Snape’s request in that fashion. From his point of view.
Except she will refuse. Making her death a self-sacrifice. The oldest, wildest death magic, dating back before the sacred kings. Dark Art of a sort the Dark Lord could never envisage or comprehend. Maternal self-sacrifice, no less. With unpredictable consequences.
It might even work.
“You disgust me,” had said Dumbledore. “You do not care, then, about the deaths of her husband and child? They can die, as long as you have what you want?”
Snape had never heard such contempt in a voice. Never even in his own.
But—truth? No. He doesn’t care. Not in the slightest.
But she does.
He could stop it.
If he chose.
He drew his arms against his body, curled himself, tightened; held his fingers away from the Mark that would summon his Master’s attention.
Endured a dream of green light, destroying the one thing he values.
And finds himself at the gates of Hogwarts, his finger hovering above his Mark.
He touched it.
“My Lord,” he scraped. “Thank you for consenting to see me at such an advanced hour.”
Snape advanced on his knees and kissed the hem fervently.
“I have come to report on the research you gave me to do; I understood it to have been pressing. My report must be negative; as to breaking the Fidelius charm, my research thus far indicates the easiest course is to find and break the Secret-Keeper. And I should doubt my Lord requires my input as to means of—breaking loyalty. Though if your stocks should be low on any requisite potion, I can of course brew more.”
The Dark Lord laughed, lounging back in his chair. Snape allowed his back to tighten, allowed his hidden fear to swell.
“To find… and break… the Secret-Keeper.” He laughed again. Snape stayed silent, holding his heartbeat steady.
“Yes, my little Snake, I think I’ll try that first. In this case.”
He waved his hand carelessly; Snape knew himself dismissed. Instead, he said boldly, “My Lord. Does this—have to do with—the matter of James Potter?”
He held Potter firmly at the top of his mind, hatred waving like a banner.
The Dark Lord smiled indulgently. “Possibly, Severus. What, are you thinking of your reward?”
“I would never so presume, my Lord. My Lord knows the satisfaction of serving him well is all a loyal servant could desire.”
The Dark Lord’s smile sharpened. “And—should a loyal servant—be ordered to presume?”
“Never to presume, my Lord. But—one might point out: the Dark Lord this year has a faithful servant at Hogwarts. Which he has been seeking—so he has said—for over twenty years. Were someone ordered to presume—one might presume that merits something. Something slight, easily granted. Something that my Lord has already said he might consider. If convenient.”
“And you think this hypothetical—something—would be convenient for me, Severus?”
Snape shrugged. “If my Lord so chooses. The girl, like her husband, is a Gryffindor; my Lord knows well they are given to tedious and pointless displays of valor. Were my Lord to give her an option, she’d doubtless fling her naked body before her child’s. No. Better to stun her straight off; give her no chance to indulge in histrionics. I can handle her later, when her will has died in grief. Her, ah, naked body will serve a better purpose then.”
Snape’s smile at the thought was caressing and malicious. His tongue touched his lips briefly.
The Dark Lord met the smile with one of his own. Snape stirred uneasily under the blazing regard and tried desperately to collect himself. Red eyes smashed down on black. Red eyes ripped across his mind and slashed his strongest barriers. Red eyes tore aside Snape’s hatred of Potter and found memories buried beneath: a boy wanking, eyes closed, lips shaping a name. A boy and girl arguing about Mulciber and Potter. A girl in a dressing gown, saying coldly, “I’m not interested.” A Prophet, whiskey-splashed, blurred, folded to an announcement; a voice exploding finally, “Potter?” as an arm swept a glass and a nearly-empty bottle off a kitchen table.
Glass shards and firewhiskey on a floor. Blood, red, where someone had cut himself on them. Wetness on a face. It might have been tears, by the stinging. Or maybe more firewhiskey. Hard to say.
Emotions, buried beneath the much-bannered hate, torn loose and exposed: an old, helpless, foolish longing, mingled with fury and humiliation. Desire for vengeance at rejection. Desire. Overlaid with new fury. And dread that her bloody foolish courage will destroy her. Before he has another chance to.
Snape felt his eyes released; a laugh met him as the room returned. “Why, Severus, how touching. It seems revenge against Mr. Potter is not your sole motivation. Be sure I shall remember your… desires.”
And he would.
“My Lord, thank you.” Snape bowed deeply, face still white, and took his leave.
Yet still he could stop it. He could still Apparate back there, offering the Dark Lord a slave. He might still make it work. He might still. Snape clung to the gates a moment to stop himself from spinning on his heel.
He returned to his dungeon to endure another dream.
Just once, to give in?
Another dream. Another.
Let me stop it? Please?
Another dream. Another.
And it was done. What she would choose.