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Summary: Following a run-in with Sirius Black, Severus Snape reckons with his conscience, reliving the fatal moments that caused him to turn to Dumbledore fifteen years ago.

Rating: PG-13 for subject matter, violence, and brief sexual interlude

Main Characters: Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Lord Voldemort, OC

Spoilers: All

By Daphne Dunham

Whatever a man says, promises, or resolves in passion
he must stick to later on when he is cold and sober -
this demand is among the heaviest burdens that weigh on humankind.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

"I've warned you, Snivellus," Sirius Black had hissed. "I don't care if Dumbledore thinks you've reformed, I know better."

Motivated by lingering feelings of childhood animosity, Severus Snape had retorted something particularly scathing, implying that Black was a coward in his hidey-hole, to which the latter responded with the expected animosity. Wands were raised and that meddlesome Potter boy - ever the Gryffindor - tried to save the day. Nonetheless, Severus accomplished what he'd been sent to do: inform Potter that he'd commence Occlumency lessons this term - a task which, for reasons of his enmity for the boy's late father, Severus was not particularly looking forward to.

Severus hadn't lingered a moment longer than he had to at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. Unlike Black, he had engagements to attend - dinner with Albus Dumbledore to discuss the details of his morning meeting with Lucius Malfoy, to be precise. The headmaster had detained the Potions master as long as possible, for he knew that despite his reluctance to admit it, Severus had been deeply affected by Sirius Black's accusations regarding his loyalties earlier that day. At such times, Dumbledore usually tried to comfort Severus by offering him a sherbet lemon or a pithy phrase of reassurance.

"When life hands you pumpkins, make pumpkin juice," he'd tell the younger wizard, his soft eyes glittering warmly behind his half-moon spectacles.

Thankfully, there were no such attempts at sympathy today, as Dumbledore knew that Severus' melancholy ran deeper than the taunting of his childhood enemy. Indeed, it could not be mended by the simple offer of candy and consolation, and so he had sense enough not to try to comfort Severus by such means. It had been fifteen years to the day, after all, that Severus Snape had - as Sirius Black called it - reformed, and Black's cruel doubts regarding the events which altered the Potions master's life had only served to fuel the pain of the memories.

Although the headmaster hadn't liked to leave Severus alone this time of the year, he acquiesced when the younger wizard excused himself and departed to his chambers in the dungeons. Dumbledore understood that Severus preferred Firewhisky to Fizzing Whizbees, much as he preferred solitude to socialization, and the headmaster did not see fit to deprive his Potions master of either tonight.

Indeed, Severus spent his night staring sourly into the fire which illuminated his chambers, his unexpressive black eyes glazed with Firewhisky-induced numbness. He'd cry, but to be honest, he couldn't remember how to. He hadn't done so in fifteen years, after all. He hadn't done so since the night Jane died, and so Severus Snape just stared, and he remembered.

Severus remembered he'd been an awkward youth, the product of a broken home whose problems followed him to Hogwarts. It was hard to tell where, exactly, he'd gone wrong, but he knew it happened somewhere in between his father's abuse and the constant taunting of his peers. He quickly decided that there was no sense in pretending he was someone he wasn't in order to gain their approval, and so he didn't, which is what made it even more remarkable that Jane Swizzle had willingly chosen to befriend him.

She wasn't like the others - not like those vacant dolts in Hufflepuff, the ever-arrogant Gryffindors, his ankle-biting Slytherins, or even her own pseudo-intellectual Ravenclaws. But it wasn't Jane's shining, dark hair and her violet eyes and the way her round face looked illuminated over the wispy fumes of her cauldron that captivated him. It was the way she didn't prattle on about inane things - things like the Weird Sisters' recent hit or the latest robes fashions - like the other insipid, self-centered Hogwarts girls did. Instead, she talked about relevant things, about things that mattered - things like politics and academics and literature. It was also the way she said his name - soft and delicate, as though it was the antithesis of its actual meaning, and indeed, when it came from her lips, it was. But it was especially the fact that Jane Swizzle was one of the few Hogwarts students whose marks rivaled his own.

"You just like her because her bubbies are bigger than anyone else's in our year," Evan Rosier had taunted Severus one night in the Slytherin common room.

"I hadn't noticed," Severus had grumbled. It was a lie, of course, but being that he considered himself above the crudeness of carnal lust, he was loath to admit it. "And if you weren't such a dunderhead," he continued to protest through gritted teeth, "you might - believe it or not - realise that there are other qualities that make a girl attractive beside her breasts."

"None that matter, mate," Rosier replied with his trademark sarcastic smirk.

It wasn't until Severus' little-talked-about near-death experience with one werewolf called Remus Lupin that he realised he fancied Jane Swizzle. It had been an unpleasant epiphany for him, as he had forged his cold and immutable reputation at Hogwarts well. Needless to say, it hadn't been easy for him to confess his affections for her, and he only did so after she had made the proclamation first.

"The fact of the matter is, Severus," she'd told him, "you're not the easiest person in the world to like. You're arrogant, elitist, and proud. You have no social skills whatsoever, and your hair is always in need of a good washing. And those are just some of your better qualities." She'd paused and smiled then - that smile that never failed to unnerve him. "But. I love you."

His confession had been made with decidedly much less finesse, of course, but Jane didn't seem to mind.

Severus had never expected to actually marry her: he was decidedly not, after all, the romantic sort. All growing up, he had vehemently detested the idea of marriage. He'd viewed love as an exceedingly cruel means by which nature duped the emotionally frail into procreating, and marriage was simply a way of legitimizing the whole process, a justification for the basest of human instincts. Consequentially, Severus was loath to succumb to it; he refused to be weak, to willingly give himself over to what Darius and Circe Snape had become. And yet, suddenly Severus found himself wanting nothing more than to protect Jane, to spend each moment with her, to wipe her tears from her cheeks and share in the smiles on her lips. He wanted to hold her, to feel himself move inside her, and before he knew it, he found himself awkwardly mumbling a proposal one summer afternoon.

"Severus Snape, are you trying to ask me to marry you?" she'd asked him with an amused giggle, entertained by how his usually sallow skin had become flushed as he'd fumbled for the right words. "Because if you are, I think you should know that I would be honoured to become the next Mrs. Snape."

He didn't believe she'd said yes, of course; in fact, he still scarcely believed that she dared to love him. Not since his mother had anyone shown him the slightest affection. Indeed, Severus Snape had never had anything pure before, and now that he finally had been offered such a thing - the goodness of Jane's love - he didn't know quite how to react.

As if reading his mind, Jane had promptly whispered, "You never seem to believe me when I say the words, Severus, so let me show you how much I love you instead."

And show him, she did - as did he show her how genuine his feelings were. It had been Severus' first time with a woman, and he was most pleased to hear the soft moans of pleasure that emanated from the back of Jane's throat as he brought his hands and lips to explore the more delicate regions of her body. She had returned each of his favours with the same tenderness and affectionate curiosity, but Severus noticed that she winced and stifled a small gasp as their bodies met. Seeing that she was in pain, he paused.

"Are you all right?" he had asked her quietly, his deep voice reverberating softly in her ear.

Jane gave a nervous half-nod before breathily murmuring that she was; even if she hadn't been, it would have been worth the lie and a few moments' discomfort until her body adjusted to the feel of him inside her. Afterward, she curled against him and played with the little, black hairs on his chest.

"Would you still love me if I was a Mudblood?" she'd asked him softly.

Severus declined to answer and laughed darkly at the thought instead. She didn't seem amused, though, and it occurred to him that she wasn't joking; in fact, her probing eyes indicated that she was actually quite serious.

"Jane, this is totally irrelevant," he had scoffed. "I cannot speak to something that never was and never will be."

They both knew the answer, though: he would be incapable of loving her if she was a Mudblood because he never would have bothered to get to know her in the first place. Regardless, Severus could make her one promise.

"I will never love anyone but you, Jane," he whispered, affectionately tracing the outline of her cheek with his fingertips.

The hand-fasting ceremony took place within the month. Darius Snape had approved, of course: despite being a Ravenclaw, Jane Swizzle was a Pureblood, and that was good enough testimony of her worthiness for him.

Almost immediately, it seemed, Jane was pregnant. Severus still remembered how he'd felt suddenly dizzy and had to steady himself against a chair from the shock when she'd told him. He knew he should have held her, told her he loved her, and welcomed the idea of being a father, but he'd been too young and selfish and immature to think of anyone but himself. He would give anything now to retract the terrible things he'd said that evening.

"You're. what?" he'd gasped, unable to mask the horror in his voice.

"Pregnant, Severus," Jane replied curtly. "You're an intelligent man; I assumed you knew what that meant."

Severus glared at her. "I know what it means," he snarled. "It's just. it's impossible, isn't it? I mean, you've been taking the Draught, haven't you?" He added the last bit accusatorily, as if it had been her alone who was responsible for the conception of the child in her womb.

"The Draught is not always completely effective, Severus," she reminded him patiently. "Even when made by the most competent of potions-makers."

"That's nonsense, Jane," he had scoffed. "Who made the potion?"

"You did, Severus," she replied softly.

Severus was stunned into silence, a rarity for the man whose scathing diatribes would someday become a constant source of consternation for the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He was allegedly one of the brightest minds in the field of Potions in the century; he couldn't have made a mistake in mixing the draught. could he have?

"Well, I-I'll make another potion," he faltered at last. "One that can get rid of it - rid of the baby, I mean."

Naturally, Jane was appalled at his suggestion. "I hope you don't mean that, Severus," she whispered, recoiling and bringing her hand to her womb protectively.

He didn't mean it, of course, and he was instantly remorseful at having thought it, much less said it. Pride, however, prevented him from making his apology.

"What about your career, Jane?" he barked instead. Jane had been different from the other silly girls Severus had met - the ones who would do nothing with their lives except marry and have children. Jane was too intelligent and too independent for that, and he'd loved her for it, respected her for it. But she wouldn't have her career, her success, her independence with a baby. "You've always wanted to be a Healer. You can't be serious about giving that up."

"I'm almost done my apprenticeship," Jane replied simply. "And we can get a nanny."

A nanny. Her answer had been so calculated, so automatic, and it quickly became apparent to Severus that Jane had thought of every possible caveat her husband would present in his argument not to have this child. Consequentially, Jane was successful in extracting a promise from him at last: Severus swore he'd father the child, care for the child, love the child. Their child.

"But you don't understand, Jane. I. can't. do this," he had whispered weakly. "I can't be a father. I don't know how."

Severus was alluding, of course, to the fact that he had not had a particularly exemplary father figure in his own life, and consequentially, he was most concerned that he would prove a similar failure.

"Severus Snape, you have never failed at anything in your life," Jane had told him softly, slipping her hand reassuringly into his.

But Severus would fail: he'd fail her, and he'd fail the daughter he'd reluctantly agreed to father. He'd failed because his childhood obsession with Dark Arts refused to die despite the affections of a good woman. Severus still remembered the night he'd taken his Mark. The Dark Lord's serpentine eyes had narrowed into wickedly amused slits, and his lips had curved into a venomous grin as he beheld Severus.

"I've rarely seen such anger. such hatred. Reminds me of. myself, actually," the Dark Lord had sneered as he pressed the tip of his wand against Severus' pale, left forearm. "Morsmorde," he murmured in a low and unearthly tone.

Instantly, the tip of the Dark Lord's wand grew white hot and emitted a grotesquely green light. Severus's arm began to burn where the wand touched him, and he bit down on his lip to help block the pain, but he refused to cry out: Slytherins weren't accustomed to revealing weakness, after all. Instead, a warm, salty sweetness slowly filled his mouth; it took Severus a moment to realise that he had bitten his lip so hard he'd made himself bleed.

Severus had known Jane wouldn't approve - wouldn't understand, and he doubted she'd love him for it, but there were debts and deals which bound him to his father, to the Malfoys, to the Dark Lord, and so he'd hidden it from her.

She had found out, of course. Fifteen years ago. Today.

Jane had stumbled back from him, appalled, and beholding him as if he was a monster rather than her husband. "Severus, you can't do this!" she gasped. "I won't let you! I won't let you serve him!"

It was the first time Jane had ever looked at Severus like that, with that gaze of disdain and loathing he'd received so many times as a child. He couldn't bear it to have her stare at him so, to look at him like the subhuman he'd always feared he was. It was a moment of epiphany for Severus, and he trembled with sudden detestation for himself, instantly ashamed and realising only too late what he had allowed himself to become.

"Her blood is on your hands, Snape," the Dark Lord had sneered when he'd found her.

In retrospect, Severus was glad it had been the Killing Curse. He came to consider it quite an act of mercy, actually, that he hadn't been forced to endure watching his pregnant wife suffer a prolonged and agonising death. But just before the Dark Lord managed to utter "avada kedavra," there had been just enough time for Jane to extract a promise from her husband - the vow that changed his life forever.

"You're better than this, Severus," Jane had implored him. "Promise me you'll change."

He'd made the promise, of course, and consequentially, he turned to the only person a failed and repentant Death Eater could turn to: Albus Dumbledore, leader of the opposition to the Dark Lord and headmaster of his alma mater.

Severus had been nearly hysterical as he made his appeal to the headmaster. "I cannot just sit here idly by, watching as you all struggle against him," he had seethed. "I can name names; I can name places; I can lead you to countless Death Eaters."

The headmaster had leaned back pensively in his chair. "Espionage," he mused as he pressed together the tips of his long fingers in cogitation. "I cannot deny that our cause could benefit greatly from information such as you could provide us. Having someone close to Voldemort but loyal to the Order could prove invaluable. But what you're suggesting will be highly dangerous, Severus. What do you have to gain by this? Are you seeking redemption?"

"No," Severus said in his lowest and most dangerous of voices. "That's too lofty an ideal for me. The Dark Lord has murdered my wife and unborn child. He has taken from me everything I once held precious. Because of him, I have nothing - no cause, no purpose, no hope. none except to help destroy him, to take away from him as he has taken away from me. What I want is simple. I want revenge."

"Your bloodlust won't bring Jane back, Severus," Dumbledore replied calmly.

"I know," Severus had insisted. "But it can justify her death."

Albus Dumbledore was loath to a send a man to certain doom, but perhaps such was not the case with Severus Snape. Indeed, if anyone could be a successful spy, it was a wizard whose cunning and resourcefulness matched that of the Dark Lord himself - it was a Slytherin - a quintessential Slytherin, at that - one not unlike the young man before him. Indeed, Severus had this shrewdness in his favour as well as personal motivation for his choices that few others possessed: he had given his wife his word that he'd change - he'd made a death-bed pact, sworn an irrevocable oath. Such a vow was bound by an old and powerful magic; such a promise was immutable.

"Very well then, Severus," Dumbledore said softly. He remembered all too well Severus' disposition from his days as a student, and consequentially, he knew that the young wizard before him was quite obstinate. It would be futile to try to dissuade him.

It had been Lily Potter who led Severus to the quiet chamber in Slytherin House that Dumbledore had designated for his own that night. Lily tried to be kind to him as she showed him down the dark corridors, up stairs, and around corners, but he didn't thank her, and Lily didn't expect him to: such a gesture would be out of character for the Severus Snape she knew.

Alastor Moody had been mutinous, of course, when he learned Dumbledore had granted Severus, a Death Eater, not only mercy but a role in the Order of the Phoenix. And he wasn't the only one: Sirius Black had always been less- than-convinced of Severus' altered loyalties as well - a position he maintained even as he was locked in Azkaban himself.

"Reprieve?! So-so that's it, is it?!" Sirius had stammered in shock and disbelief when he found out what had transpired. "B-but he's a bloody Death Eater! Are there no consequences for his actions?! No price to be paid for his reckless disregard for human life?!"

But their approval mattered little to Severus Snape as long as he was able to maintain the trust of the revered headmaster. He couldn't say he'd always seen eye-to-eye with Albus Dumbledore - especially in his politics - but he had to admit he respected the man, and he was grateful for the second chance at life that Albus had granted him.

Dumbledore had defended Severus against such attacks immediately. "I think that in the days and weeks and years to come, Severus will punish himself enough with his own guilt," he would say evenly, clearly. "And that is far worse than any retribution we could seek for him."

Indeed, Severus Snape had punished himself most adeptly with his remorse. He'd done such an expert job of it, in fact, that once, in a fleeting moment of weakness, he'd even begged Dumbledore to perform a Memory Charm on him to ease his torment. But the headmaster had refused. Severus didn't blame him: it would have been too easy, too merciful to Obliviate his memories, and he knew he wasn't worthy such kindness. He deserved to hear Jane's last words over and over again in his mind, to relive his wrongs that had lead to her death, and to remind himself of the vow she'd extracted from him - the promise he'd made her that lead to his salvation.

You're better than this, Severus, Jane had pleaded. Promise me you'll change.

Severus eased back in his chair by the fire. Fifteen years had passed, and he wasn't sure that he was a better man, as Jane had so adamantly believed, but he had kept the only three promises he'd ever made to her: he hadn't loved again, he'd come to regret the loss of their daughter, and he had changed.

The End

A/N: "I've warned you" etc. is a direct quote from OotP 24. in fact, whole establishing scene is.