“Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is heaven’s part; our part
Is to murmur name upon name,”
W.B. Yeats, Easter 1916
Crimson and gold were the colors of betrayal.
“Appropriate,” the young man thought numbly, “since it’s my betrayal of a Gryffindor that has brought me to this.”
The young man stripped off his robes and mask with hands that, in his home’s privacy, he didn’t hinder from shaking slightly. He made sure all his wards were up and then Disillusioned the room for good measure; no one looking from outside could now see anything. He secured his robes, mask, and second wand with icy hands. So far this was no different from his usual routine on returning from such evenings.
What followed was. He scratched a few words on a scrap of parchment: “Travers and Avery confirmed. Muggle raid suggested for Brighton, this Tuesday. Not confirmed.”
The ink vanished as he wrote. Exactly one other person could recreate it.
This would be the young man’s first report to his newest master. He raised his other wand in the spell he’d been shown to summon the phoenix.
Crimson and gold flashed; no one understood how phoenixes Apparated—or not—but no ward could bar them. The bird perched on the back of his chair, looking inquisitively at him. “For Dumbledore’s eyes only,” the young man croaked. A phoenix wasn’t to be treated like a post owl; he handed the scrap to the bird rather than attaching it to a leg. With another flash, the bird was gone, and the young man ended the room’s Disillusionment.
He was shaking. This reaction was illogical; he was no more committed than he’d been last week when he’d stammered out Lucius and Karkaroff’s names to Dumbledore’s glacial, heavy silence. He was no more a traitor, really.
It hadn’t been the Dark Lord and his tortures he’d feared most to face tonight: it had been his fellows.
He hadn’t anticipated, he should have anticipated…. He’d been a fool, again. He’d noticed Travers fidgeting tonight, his foot tapping during the general reports as it always had during a boring lecture. He’d spotted Avery by his graceful hands. (He himself would wear gloves after this—others might catch him the same way.)
Of course he’d more than half expected the two of them to be there; that expectation was part of what persuaded him when Lucius had first seriously approached him. But when he joined, he was ordered not to try to ascertain the identities of any of his fellows; he was told that he should know only who he needed to work with—and he worked with few. He was further ordered to drop the acquaintance of most of his old Slytherin friends: orders he understood better when he was sent to apply for the Hogwarts position. He had obeyed those orders; he had worked hard not to guess the identities of his fellows— until tonight.
But he should have anticipated that he couldn’t identify near-strangers through Glamoured cloak, mask, and voice-altering spell. Those he would be able to turn over to Dumbledore would be his allies, his housemates, those he had known so well that the slightest shift of their weight betrayed them to him. Those from other houses, those from other generations, only chance could betray to him.
He should have anticipated that it would be his friends he could betray to his enemies.
“Anything,” he had said.
The old man had taken him at his word.
He was doing it for her, for her. To protect her. His comrades would kill her with her child if they found her. They would kill her if they won.
For her. He kept hugging it, thin justification, to his thin chest.
The young man advanced upon the prisoner confidently. Black robes swirled as he raised his wand. The watching circle murmured in appreciation when the victim started screaming.
When he had developed this curse, he’d dwelt upon Potter’s sneering face dissolving into screams.
But this subject was a Muggle, a dark-skinned middle-aged man dressed—while he was dressed—in conservative middle-class clothes. His clothes reminded the young man of Mr. Evans, that rarely-glimpsed oasis of quiet among the Evans females. Once when Lily and Petunia had been shrilly arguing in the kitchen, each fiercely appealing to their mum for support, Mr. Evans had looked up from his placid contemplation of the evening paper and caught the eyes of a boy trying to back unobtrusively away from the spat—and winked.
Later that night, at dinner, Mr. Evans had smiled at the visiting boy and made a casual remark to him in a voice deep among the three sopranos.
The young man couldn’t for the life of him remember what Mr. Evans had actually said.
The young man’s sense of showmanship made him strip the man’s shirt and coat off, to show what the curse was doing to the victim’s abdomen.
It worked exactly as he had hoped.
The Muggle’s palms shone pink while he was pinned spread-eagled in the air, red when he clawed at his stomach.
When the young man got home that night, he vomited between caching the robes and summoning the red and gold flash. Not that he had anything really useful to report, but he had promised.
“No new identities confirmed. New curse released: doubles the size of viscera while arresting function. Best shield a standard Protego, best cure to date the standard counter-Engorgio plus treatment for shock. Sends victim immediately into shock from pain; shielding strongly recommended. Raid leaders met aside; no news released to circle.”
He was nearly fucking useless to protect her.
He told himself that was the only reason he was perturbed.
He had business in the Ministry. What would he tell his two masters, if they asked why he slipped in to watch the sham trial…? That sometimes re-hearing something in a new context shifted one’s understanding, rather, he understood, like using a Pensieve. So though none of the testimony could be news to him, he still thought it might be valuable.
He had known about Dementors for more than a decade. He had heard, had read, descriptions of their effects. Though they were focused on the prisoner they were guarding, their nimbus affected him. He felt cold, blank, and hopeless; he felt drained, not just of happiness and satisfaction, but of their possibility. A Muggle poem slipped into his mind: “… neither joy, nor love, nor life, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help from pain…”
He had admired that when he had first read it, the measured way the lines fell back from one aspiration to a lesser one to a lesser one—and denied them all. Lowered expectations, it was called.
One could anticipate not even the slightest help from pain.
This was undoubtedly accurate enough in his case.
Loath though he was to admit it, the Muggles had better literature than did Wizards. And loath though he was to admit it, their justice system made the Wizengamot look pathetic as well as corrupt. Muggles at least made some attempt to consider both evidence and law. This …travesty of a trial… considered nothing but the will of those in power. He knew personally of two cases where the Statute now being cited had been disregarded because the perpetrator was well-connected. The “evidence” presented today amounted to little more than the Ministry’s say-so. Only if a member of the Wizengamot intervened would the accused have any opportunity to try to defend himself; in this case, none did.
And the punishments meted out, when they were meted…. Few people were Kissed, and the mindless masses claimed to count this as mercy. The mindless masses chose not to acknowledge that no one had ever returned fully sane from a stay of more than three months in Azkaban. Most didn’t last a month. Many lasted no more than a day or two.
Feeling his own mind being eaten away by the Dementors, the young man could understand this. He felt crushed even behind his best Occlumentic shields. A month of this torture (“…nor help from pain…”) was considered a just punishment for comparatively minor offenses?
He was betraying his oath-brothers to this. Accused Death Eaters were Kissed or given life sentences of torture that would render them insane. That, apparently, was Forgivable, as a clean quick killing was not.
He remembered the whisperings in the Slytherin common room, that someone, finally, had stepped forth with the power to shake the Ministry’s tyranny.
Cold and shaking, he slipped out of the room again, remembering the end of that Muggle poem:
“… where ignorant armies clash by night.”
He woke that night from a dream of her swinging in the playground, red hair drifting in golden sunlight.
“… for the world, which seems
to lie before us like a land of dreams,
so various, so beautiful, so new…”
He shocked himself; it had been nearly a decade since he had wept.
Mindful of his orders, this time the young man straggled in close enough to listen in on his compatriots’ conversations.
One was laughing coarsely. “Split it in two, I nearly did! Blood everywhere. So I finished off by splitting it open the rest of the way.”
The young man recognized that laugh.
“It was a laugh, Lily,” he had said, placating, years ago. Four years and five months, to be precise.
“Meat,” the voice continued. “Just meat. There’s nothing more to them; it’s more satisfying to go for Mudbloods, at least you know they’re something close to human, however filthy.”
He was talking about Muggles, just Muggles. Who cared what happened to them?
The other Death Eater sniggered. “Was yours at least human-looking? The last one I took looked more like a horse or a Centaur, with that long face and coarse hair. I like mine human-looking, at least, when I’m doing it.”
Horsey-looking. Like Petunia, whom he had detested, as she had despised him. But Lily had taken Petunia’s side against him even when the sisters weren’t talking.
Family feeling had always been a bit of a mystery to him, as he had been without siblings or cousins and not always… close… to his parents, but Lily’s reactions had been mirrored by his Slytherin friends. “If you mess with my family, you mess with me,” seemed to sum it up: an arbitrary, involuntary loyalty.
Lily’s family was entirely Muggle.
If you messed with them, you messed with her.
His hand was steady as he tipped the potion down the scream-roughened throat. His voice was steady as he chanted the standard counter-curse.
'In another universe,' he thought distantly, 'I might have liked to work at St. Mungo’s, though perhaps more on the research side.'
The man’s companion stripped off his mask and swiped his hair from his face with the back of his hand. It left a bloody streak. His eyes, grieving and hard, were on his companion. He held his friend’s head steady as the younger man worked. “How did the freaking Aurors get hold of one of our own spells so soon?”
The younger man shrugged. “We’ve been using it on raids for two months now. It’s really just a variant of Engorgio—couldn’t have been too hard for one of their researchers to figure it out.”
He resealed the abdomen and Summoned a new vial. “You got him here in time. He’ll live. When he wakes he’ll be in quite a bit of pain. This should get him through the worst of it.”
There was enough there to keep the poor sod out of pain until the Aurors came. Two more names, he had, to send in a flash of red and gold.
There was no friendship he couldn’t betray, to save her.
It had been easier before, when the other side, the victims, had been Marauders, Muggles, Ministry stooges, something, anything, that made their pain not matter.
Somehow all the justifications were evading him now.
It had been so much easier to act when the victims didn’t count… well, and when he usually didn’t see them.
He should pretend in turn that his Slytherin friends didn’t count. That would work too. Just reverse it.
There were spells that worked that way, just reversing effects at a wand-flick. Why wouldn’t this?
Just wall off a part of humanity, some part, any part, and accept that anything done to the walled-off group was justified.
That’s all he had to do, and he was failing at it now.
Wasn’t he committed enough to the cause?
The young man looked at the smallest body. Avada Kedavra did not distort the features; the toddler looked like he was sleeping.
Whatever one said—justly—about the Ministry, they didn’t murder children. Not so far, at least.
At least not deliberately.
It seemed that the lines each side drew between permissible and intolerable behavior were slipping in this war.
But so far they—that side, that one—weren’t killing babies. Weren’t torturing those they actually admitted to be innocent.
And so far when the Ministry did kill, it wasn’t because of some accident of birth. They at least claimed that someone had done something wrong before they destroyed the soul or sanity.
Was that a strong enough reason to choose a side?
Mazed by his sleepless nights, he was not entirely sure whether he was half-dreaming or just remembering. He couldn’t have reached the point of hallucination, surely.
Red hair shone in golden sunlight. A girl laughed in delight as she raised her first wand.
A silver-haired boy, assured and handsome, patted a thin back in welcome. Someone who’d never been made welcome felt the warmth with wonder.
Two dark-haired boys raised their wands simultaneously, their faces twisted in sneers, while the sodding prefect and the sycophant stood lookout—and then their faces changed as Mulciber and Avery slid out from their concealment and stood at his back. Three against four wasn’t the kind of odds the brave Gryffindors favored. He had laughed as their faces fell.
He had given Mulciber and Avery to those same brave Gryffindors, the very same.
The Draught of Living Death would solve his immediate problem. He still had enough concentration to brew it; it was quite a simple formulation.
He should have opted for Dreamless Sleep. He dreamt the phoenix sang to him and wept, its tears flashing crimson and gold. They fell on his Mark and sizzled, and he couldn’t manage to wake up to escape.
Anyone he grew close enough to, to recognize, he would betray.
He would report in a flash of crimson and gold.
This was now a given—though he wasn’t sure that he could say why.
The other side would kill her with her child if they found her. They would kill her if they won.
Thin justification for so much betrayal. Snape hugged it to his thin chest.
A/N: None of this is mine; I think I wouldn’t have wanted it to be. I’ve somewhat misused the Yeats poem: W.B. is talking about the listing of names of heroes who died opposing a corrupt, incompetent, and murderous Ministry. Those heroes were called, by the other side, terrorists.
The names listed here could also, in one interpretation, be taken to be that of people opposing a corrupt Ministry. This listing of names, however, is for a very different purpose—and that purpose is assumed, without reservation, to be heroic in canon.
Canon is not very nuanced.
The other poem Snape remembers is “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold. For those who don’t remember it, it’s about the loss of faith.