A/N - Yipee, it's finally up! I have been sooo busy lately (hey, it's Christmas; give me a break!) and my Internet hasn't been cooperating very well for the last few days. Anyway, I'm assuming you didn't click on this to hear my abject apologies, so read on!
* * *
"They caught Snape?" Minerva repeated.
"Yes," Albus said tersely. "Get your robes on; I'll explain on the way."
Five minutes later they were walking briskly up the Hogwarts driveway under the pre-dawn sky. The gravel crunched crisply under their feet, and Minerva pulled her cloak tighter against the chill morning air.
"The Aurors are rounding up the remains of the Death Eaters," Albus was explaining. "And Snape was found with a group of them. The Dark Mark remains on his arm, of course. It will always be there. Well, the Ministry found it, so they think he is just trying to worm his way out of Azkaban by saying he was spying for me. He cannot have been caught more then twenty-four hours ago, but the Ministry has been wasting no time. We can only hope that they haven't yet thrown Severus into Azkaban."
"You they might have?" Minerva asked. "They would put him in there before they know he's guilty?"
"In their eyes, Minerva, he is guilty. But yes, they would put him in Azkaban before the trial."
"If there is a trial," Minerva said darkly. "Barty Crouch is likely to just throw him into prison because of the Dark Mark on his arm and not listen to what anyone else says."
"Then I shall have to insist on a trial," said Albus calmly. Though his voice was steady, his eyes blazed, and Minerva knew what he must be thinking; he abhorred the way Barty Crouch fought violence with violence and couldn't understand how their side could condone the use of the Unforgivable Curses on fellow human beings. It was a debate that often engaged him in a heated discussion with Mad-Eye Moody.
Just then they passed the boundaries of the Hogwarts anti-Apparition wards.
"Are you ready?" Albus asked.
"The Ministry offices in London?" Minerva double-checked.
"Right outside," he confirmed. Minerva nodded and the two of them promptly disappeared. A moment later they reappeared on a street corner in wizarding London.
* * *
Severus Snape fought to keep from cowering as a dementor shoved stale bread and stagnant water into his cell. He succeeded in only drawing back slightly, but even that was a blow to his pride. He ignored the bread and water and concentrated on remembering the ingredients to the Stunning potion. Mental exercises were all that were keeping him sane, and he hadn't been in Azkaban long. He knew he would go mad if he stayed much longer, but he told himself to just hold on until the trial, and then he would be free.
The prisoner in the cell next to him screamed, and Severus gasped in reflex, cold filling him from the inside out. Mist began to fill his vision, but he could dimly see six dementors leading two new prisoners into a cell two spaces down. He coughed, choking on his own saliva, and swallowed quickly. The dementors began to file by one by one, and he cast around for something to occupy his mind. It fell on times tables.
"Six times four is twenty-four," he gasped. "Six times five is thirty." He collapsed on his hands and knees, panting, "Six times six is thirty-six." The last dementor filed by, and Severus' vision cleared somewhat. Sick with relief, he sat back and took a gulp of the stale water they had left him. Then he returned to mathematics in an attempt to protect his intelligence, for it was the most important thing to him, more important even than his life.
* * *
"No one should be put into Azkaban without a trial," Albus insisted. "Least of all Severus, who is innocent."
"Albus, I have told you before," Crouch snapped. "We have no place else to put possibly dangerous allies of the Dark Lord. All suspected Death Eaters have been put directly into Azkaban pending their trials as a precaution for public safety."
"But Severus is not a danger to the public, Barty! That is what I am trying to tell you! As much as I disagree with the practice of putting untried suspects into Azkaban, I do see where you are coming from. But Severus is innocent. I will vouch for him, and I ask only that you release him to my care."
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Albus. The Ministry requires - "
There was a series of swift sounds as Minerva rose from where she was seated, crossed the room in two sweeping strides, and slammed a fist onto Barty Crouch's desk.
"For God's sake Barty!" she protested angrily. "He's Albus Dumbledore! Surely you can bend an insignificant rule to - "
"The rule is not insignificant, Minerva," Crouch said icily. "And the Ministry makes no exceptions for anyone."
Albus sighed sadly, controlling his anger. "That," he said tiredly, "Is the base of so many problems in our society. Such rigidity leaves little room for compassion."
Crouch bristled angrily. "It is also the only fair and unbiased way of doing things!" he barked.
Minerva leaned down so that her eyes were level with his. "Are you releasing Snape into Dumbledore's care or not?" she asked in a level voice of forced calm.
Crouch pushed his chair back to get away from Minerva's uncomfortable proximity. "I am not," he said shortly. "Snape will be tried for his alliance with the Dark Lord one week from today." He glared at the two professors. "And that," he said, "Is my final answer."
* * *
One week later, almost two hundred witches and wizards sat on benches all around a bleak, dimly lit, yet highly official room. All of them were silent, watching an empty chair in the middle of the room. There were chains wrapped around the arms of the chair.
Minerva shifted uncomfortably on the hard bench. Next to her Albus was attentively watching a door in the corner of the room. On Albus' other side, Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody was scanning the crowd.
Then the door in the corner opened, and Minerva started slightly, though she was expecting it. Severus Snape entered the room, flanked by two dementors. They led him to the chair with the chains on its arms. He sat, and the chains glowed suddenly gold and began to bind him to the chair. Albus stood up.
"Please," he said, and the chains fell limply back to the arms of the chair. Snape relaxed slightly, but Minerva could see a vein flickering in his temple. She sought his eyes with her own, but he did not look at her.
A few yards away from them, Bartemius Crouch stood up.
"Severus Snape, " he said. "You have been brought in front of this court today to present evidence to the Ministry of Magic. You say that you have been a spy for our side. There is no record of your intelligence coming into the Ministry offices."
Albus stood up. "Severus was my spy, Barty," he said. "The information he gave me which I thought the Ministry could use I gave to you; the rest I used myself."
Barty Crouch looked peeved. "Dumbledore," he said. "Such disrespect for the Ministry is almost enough to earn you a trial of your own. Please, sit down and let Mr. Snape tell his story. I will ask you to verify details if I or the jury deems it necessary. Until then, there will be silence in the court. Continue, Mr. Snape."
Albus sat down heavily next to Minerva, who instantly leaned over and whispered, "Watch yourself, Albus; Barty's not been reasonable lately, not after they brought his son in. He's not likely to - "
"Professor McGonagall," Crouch barked. "Please! There will be silence in this court!"
Minerva's nostrils flared, but she followed her own advice and kept quiet. All eyes returned to the man in the chair. He looked around at everyone, his Scorpio self-control marred only by the pulsing of the vein in his temple, then fixed his eerie black eyes on Crouch.
"I was a Slytherin at Hogwarts," he began in his soft voice. "When I was in my seventh year all my friends were making their plans to join the Dark Lord when they graduated. I wanted power. They were assured of it. They all came from prominent Dark Arts families and so were sure of a place among the Death Eaters. They told me that if I wanted to join I would have to pass certain tests. But I had a better mind than any of them, and I knew how to use it. Potions were my specialty, and I knew more curses than almost any student at Hogwarts. So I offered myself to Voldemort." A series of gasps went up around the room, and Snape's voice hardened, his eyes gleaming maniacally. "Yes, I said Voldemort," he spat. "It is pathetic that you, the common public, are afraid of saying his name. You think you know the cruelty that is the Dark Lord, but you know nothing. Nothing!" He stared around the room, and those sitting closest to him drew back in fear.
"Continue with your story, Snape!" said Crouch curtly. Snape gave him a fathomless stare, then began to speak again; his voice had dropped back down to its customary soft, dangerous pitch.
"I made potions for Voldemort," he said. "And eventually, once I had proved myself, I, assisted by several other Death Eaters, developed curses and untraceable poisons. I was considered one of the greatest minds of Voldemort's organization." His pride rang out unmistakably through the still room. "Though I was not a member of the Inner Circle at that time, my position among the Death Eaters was one that many envied. I was prominent among his intellectuals."
"Yet you say you left the Dark Lord," said Crouch. "Tell us of that. As yet you have done nothing but strengthen the case against yourself."
"I left Voldemort," Snape said softly, "When I became aware of the levels to which he had stooped. Nothing was too squalid for the Dark Lord anymore. Not mass murder, not the torture of innocent people, nothing. He had been reduced to pure force with no thought behind it. In the beginning it was political murders and torture was something used only when absolutely necessary to gain information. In the beginning Voldemort was rallying the power and intelligence to coax the world over to his side. But he let himself get caught up in the euphoria of power. He let himself be swept away in the tide of utter control that leads only to destruction - destruction of the world and ultimately, destruction of himself. All intelligent thought was lost; his organization was deteriorating into one that would do anything for a bit of power without considering the risks or possible consequences. It was dangerous. And so I left."
Snape's cool assessment of the feared Dark Lord had shaken many in the courtroom. Minerva was impressed with the aplomb of the greasy young man, and, looking at Albus, she could tell he felt the same way.
"So you left," Crouch repeated. There was silence for a moment, then he turned to Albus and said, "Dumbledore, if you would like to give your statement now."
Albus stood and stepped out away from the benches. "Severus Snape came to me when he left the Dark Lord's service," he said. "He came to me because he knew I would listen to his story. He did not come to the Ministry because he knew that the Ministry would lock him in Azkaban on the evidence of the Dark Mark on his arm. He knew that in Azkaban his considerable intellect would be put to no use. At the time he came to me, Voldemort did not know of his conversion. I saw an excellent opportunity to gain inside information from Voldemort's Inner Circle, which Severus had just recently been admitted to." There was a slight pause. Minerva wondered if her name would be brought up at all.
"I took it," Albus went on. "It was what I had been hoping for for years - a spy who was trusted by Voldemort, yet could be trusted by myself, and was placed in such an advantageous position as to be able to gain the most secret information from the Dark Lord. Severus was perfect for my purposes."
"And you never saw any sign of dishonesty in him?" Crouch asked sharply.
"There was none," Albus said calmly.
"So you say he is innocent."
Penetrating blue eyes met fathomless black, and Albus spoke, his gaze locked on Snape's.
"I never said he was innocent," he said gently. "After a time of such utter darkness, I am not sure if anyone is completely innocent. But Severus deserves no punishment for what he has done. In my eyes he has exonerated himself completely." Albus broke the connection with Snape, looking over at Crouch and the jury. "But I have no power here," he said. "I can only hope that you agree with me."