Dumbledore's Choice

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Disclaimers: All characters within belong to JKR. I, personally, am not JKR. You can't prove I am.

Author's Notes: I got the idea for this fic from "Batman's Choice", a wonderful fic by Syl over in the comics section, and in turn, she got it from "Sophie's Choice". So, not entirely original, but I have tired. Warning, character death, pull out your hankies.

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It was a difficult choice. Maybe not for some, but for Albus Dumbledore it was.

It was a testament to the cruelty of Lord Voldemort. A fine example of his debilitating mind games.

Since his return and rebirth, the Dark Lord had been growing in strength. Fear of him had spread, reaching wizards and witches all over the world. His power base had grown, leading him to now try this.

Albus sat in his armchair, staring at the scene before him. The 'screen' had just appeared before him, stretching from wall to wall, and ceiling to floor. It showed a dungeon, with its dark stone walls lit only by flickering torches. The effect was unnerving, giving the headmaster the uneasy feeling that he could just walk through to this place or, worse still, that someone could walk through into Hogwarts. A black-dressed figure stepped out of the shadow.

"Good evening, Dumbledore," he said, both politely and malevolently.

"Voldemort," the headmaster muttered, shifting forwards in his armchair and pushing his half-moon glasses up his long nose.

"Oh, don't worry yourself, Professor," the Dark Lord continued, "you're quite safe in your little room in your precious school."

"What do you want?" Dumbledore asked warily. His hand slid into his robe pocket for his wand.

"Don't bother going for your wand. You can't affect anything here." Voldemort walked forward until he was standing almost directly in front of Dumbledore. "I've got a little choice for you, headmaster."

He turned and clicked his long, pale fingers once. Torches ignited themselves to his right, illuminating the wall. Hung by chains against it was a man, his lanky frame dressed in tattered grey robes. Dumbledore restrained a gasp as he recognised Sirius Black. Voldemort smiled and clicked his fingers again. Flames flickered on his left, allowing Dumbledore to see another man in a similar position. The long black hair and hooked nose identified him as Severus Snape, though bruises and blood obscured the rest of his face. Both Sirius and Severus were unconscious, heads hanging in a grotesque mirror image of each other.

"We found out your little spy," Voldemort hissed, "I was rather disappointed to learn that Severus had sided with you. He's always had such promise. Not that I was entirely surprised though. After all, he's betrayed me before.

"And then you sent your pet convict to find him. We found him when he was trying to unlock Severus' door, so we just threw him in there as well. So sweet. They hate each other so much, but they obviously trust you that they'll work together. They probably trust you to get them out of this. It's a pity you can't."

The Dark Lord chuckled nastily. Dumbledore's eyes narrowed, becoming thin slits of white, blue and black.

"I say that of course," Voldemort continued, "but I really mean that you can't save one of them. I'm giving you the chance, headmaster, to save one of these miserable excuses for wizards. But only one. Decide which one you'll save quickly, or I'll kill them both anyway."

"You'll let the other go free?" Dumbledore questioned, making sure he had heard right.

"In my immense generosity, yes." Voldemort flashed a cruel smile. "Now choose, and fast. Will it be this snivelling Gryffindor, or this treacherous Slytherin? I want an answer now, old man."

It was a cruel choice. Dumbledore could think of reasons for saving both, and inwardly he cursed Voldemort for forcing him to make this decision. Thoughts flowed across his mind as he fought to decide.

They both trusted him implicitly. Sirius knew that Dumbledore would never betray him to the Dementors, never allow them to perform their fatal Kiss on him. Severus relied on him for protection, from the Death Eaters and the rest of wizarding society, who shunned him for having been of Voldemort's circle. Dumbledore knew that he had partially broken that trust when he asked the Potions Master to become a spy again, exposing him to just this sort of happening.

"You're running out of time," the voice of Voldemort sneered, invading his thoughts.

But Severus had actually taken up the task again, showing more courage than most would have thought a Slytherin capable of. This alone could have could have made Dumbledore cry out to save him, were it not that Sirius had also risked life and limb for the cause. He could have been found and captured anytime when out running various important errands. Trying to think coldly and rationally, Dumbledore forced himself to decide who would be the most useful if they were saved.

Severus would no longer be able to spy on the Death Eaters. They now knew of his betrayal, not once but twice. But Sirius, they didn't seem to know about his Animagus form, which could be an asset. Dumbledore hated himself for thinking like this, trying to decide the worth of one human being over another.

"Hurry up, Dumbledore, you old fool. You have until the count of five when they both die. One."

Sirius had woken, his eyes staring out from his shadowed face. He seemed confused, unsure of what was happening. The look on his face pulled at Dumbledore's heart. A memory of that face in its younger days, laughing and carefree, surfaced in his mind.

"Two."

Severus remained unconscious, dangling limply like a broken marionette. The head master prayed for him to keep his eyes shut, not let him face two pairs of accusing eyes. The nose of the professor was even larger than normal, swollen and bleeding.

"Three."

Dumbledore forced himself to think of other people who would miss either. This was the only way he could decide on this impossible choice. The one name that ran through his head was Harry Potter. The boy who had lost so much, whose only family was his godfather, Sirius Black. The boy could be the deciding factor in the battle against Voldemort. It would be cruelty to take his godfather away too, at least in Dumbledore's opinion.

"Four. Come on old man, tell me who you want to save before I kill them both."

Try as he might, Dumbledore couldn't think of anyone who would particularly mourn Severus Snape. Apart from himself, but that was a thought he immediately quashed. Severus always made himself disagreeable as some sort of protection. Steeling himself away from feeling sympathy for the professor, he made up his mind. I'm doing this for Harry, he decided.

"Fi-," Voldemort began.

"Sirius!" Dumbledore interrupted him, hating himself as he did so. "Save Sirius!"

The Dark Lord looked at him disdainfully, mouth quirking slightly into a smile. "So predictable. Protecting your precious Gryffindor."

The headmaster gritted his teeth, refusing to be baited. Please Severus, he pleaded silently, don't open your eyes. Voldemort walked over to the limp form, wand held up in his hand.

"Enervate," he whispered. Snape's black eyes fluttered open and a small groan came form his mouth.

"Good evening, Severus," Voldemort said in a pseudo-pleasant tone. "Glad you could join us in time for your death. Your dear headmaster, who you respect so much, has decided that you should die. Given the choice of you and Sirius Black, he chose you to die."

Dumbledore clenched his hands into fists, wishing he could block out those snide words. He couldn't look at Severus' face, couldn't bear to see the accusation that he was sure would be there. But the comments continued.

"How does that feel, Severus? To know that this man, the man you betrayed me for, has sentenced you to death?" Voldemort raised his wand, pointing it directly at Snape's face. "Goodbye, Severus.

"Avada Kedavre!"

The bright flash of green light seared the image of Snape's convulsing face on Dumbledore's memory. He wanted to scream and cry out, in shame at what he had done. Then it was over, and the lifeless body hung from the chains, swinging gently. Sirius' face was blank, as if shutters had been pulled down. He could have been feeling anything, from utter horror to fierce joy, but he kept his face a mask. Voldemort looked triumphant.

"I'll send this body back with your Gryffindor," he said, "I hope you feel proud of your choice."

He flicked his wand, and the entire scene vanished, leaving a broken old man alone in his armchair.

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Epilogue

There were few people at the funeral. Professor Severus Snape was buried in a secluded corner of the Hogwarts grounds at three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. There was nowhere else he could have been buried, and no family to bury him. It was raining, with the sort of rain that lands gently but very wetly. The towers of the school were invisible, suitably shrouded in dark funereal grey. The wind whipped the rain under the hoods and cloaks of the mourners. Those with umbrellas had already given up trying to use them. It was a depressing day, and one that Severus would have probably found morbidly appropriate. Albus Dumbledore reflected on this as he stood near the graveside. Grateful that he had remembered to use the Impervio charm on his glasses, he glanced around at the other attendees.

A few of the teachers were there, some looking less upset than others. Minerva McGonagall seemed to be the most affected. Despite their long rivalry between houses, the two teachers had the greatest respect for one another. Minerva had known Severus for years, from when he had been a first year in her Transformations class. Professor Flitwick was doing his best to console her, though his height only enabled him to just about put his arm round her waist. Professor Binns, the ghostly history teacher, was floating beside them, the rain falling straight through him. And, of course, Professor Trelawny couldn't have missed any funeral, particularly one so full of miserable omens. Some of the other teachers stood around, muffled in their warmest black cloaks.

A few Slytherin students were also present, paying their respects to their late housemaster. Dumbledore noted with disappointment that less than quarter of the house were there. Conspicuous by their absence were such as Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle; whose parents were Death Eaters. The circumstances of the Potion Master's death would be spreading around the school, earning Snape the contempt of all Voldemort's supporters.

Crouched some way off and only just visible was the great black dog. Sirius Black stared at the dripping coffin, occasionally shaking water from his fur. Dumbledore wasn't sure how Sirius had taken Severus' death. The fugitive had said nothing, staying aloof from expression.

The coffin was lowered into the grave by the six Slytherin sixth -formers who were acting as pallbearers. There was a moment of silence. All present stared at the coffin lid as the rain started to slam down, creating percussion of the hollow wood. Then, at a signal from the headmaster, Hagrid began shovelling the earth into the grave with dull thuds. The mourners drifted away, heading for warm fires and dry robes. Most soon forgot the cold body that had just been consigned to the wet, unforgiving earth.

Only Dumbledore stayed to see the hole completely filled. The brown earth formed a slight hump among the sodden green grass. Water ran down his lined face as he read the graven inscription.

"Severus Snape.

"His stopper on death was pulled out."

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End.