Chapter 11 - The Decision

Severus desperately tried to resist the Dark tendrils that had nearly sapped him of his will. His fragile body, however, was beginning to die from the combined effects of extreme cold and severe altitude sickness.

Odd, how freezing to death under a Dark spell was so like being in a Dementor's grasp. Severus wished that he had been strong enough to resist the exodus of the few pleasant memories he possessed. The ones that remained in his consciousness were brittle and mean; full of self-doubt and self-hatred.

Unloved, abused, humiliated. That had been his rotten little life all along.

All alone in his crib, crying for hours with no one to comfort him.

Watching his mother trying to get away from his father by pushing him in front of her – as if a tiny child could shield her from a Dark wizard's blows!

Being abused even before he knew the right words for it.

Having no friends, no celebrations, no toys, no life.

Not knowing what to do when he was suddenly shoved into the world.

The name-calling, the jeers, the snickers, the shoves, the punches, the kicks.

Humiliations at school and knowing he'd have been better off dead.

Having Martis Vox torn away from him, leaving a gaping wound that never healed.

Feeling his inner self shatter to pieces.

Severus Snape's last thoughts were of Dumbledore and his life at Hogwarts, where it was warm and the sun shone and his mentor loved him as his own.

O
Father
Help
Me
Please

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Suddenly there was warmth; there was comfort; there was Light. The tendrils insinuating their way into his soul broke apart and dissipated like snowmelt.

The boy knew Dumbledore was nearby. Dumbledore would help him. He smiled, feeling the wizard's familiar healing warmth spread calm and safety through his freezing body.

"Father!" Severus cried out in his mind, unaware that he was now encased in a shining sphere of light. "Please! Help the others! They – "

"It is all right, my son," Albus Dumbledore answered with his own thoughts. "They are safe. And so are you."

Sev reached over and put his arms around the old wizard, amazed and delighted that they were both corporeal. He even opened his eyes and looked at him. He could see again!

"Hello, child."

"How did you find us?" the boy gasped.

"Mrs. Potter is a very wise witch, Severus. She wove her own magic into the sweater you wear. When you began to slip into hypoxia, it lit up like a beacon. Since Professor Azaki had made it back to the Castle safely, I already knew that you three had been stolen from the side of Mt. Muldoon. It was just a question of finding you, and Mrs. Potter's enchanted sweater provided the missing piece of the puzzle."

Sev clung to the old wizard, who smoothed his frozen hair and kissed his head. "Where are we, then?" he asked, still shivering from hypothermia.

The Headmaster took both his hands in his own to warm them. "We are on the summit of Mt. Cotopaxi," Dumbledore said. "You are where you'd dreamt of being, back in the library when you and Lily Evans read about it. We will be here for a while, cocooned in this little bubble of ground-level atmosphere. I wanted to talk to you and this seems as good a place as any."

The jet stream to their right screamed across the summit of Mt. Cotopaxi at better than two hundred miles an hour, sending a vast plume of snow whipping into the atmosphere like an animate banner. All Severus felt, however, was warmth, kindness, and the inner peace that love brings to all those who long for it.

Dumbledore finally spoke. "Please realize that I have no right to speak about these things with you. Your life's path is not mine to influence."

Sev shook his head. "But it is, you see. If it hadn't been for you, I would be dead. You protected me from being killed by my father, time and again. You also saved me from myself not once, but twice."

"Severus. Listen carefully to me. If you accept the truth of what I tell you and decide to act upon it, today will be the last day of your childhood; the last day of your innocence."

Silence.

"I never was really a child," Sev mused. "My father never permitted it. My innocence was torn from me a long time ago. Talk to me about what you came to tell me. I can bear it. You know I can."

Albus looked at him, his face drawn and weary. "Do you trust me, my boy?"

"I trust you."

"The Wizarding World is approaching a terrible crisis – a battle between Tom Riddle, now known to his followers as Lord Voldemort, and those on the side of the Light. He is actively recruiting members to join the ranks of his Death Eaters – his wizard footsoldiers, as it were, in his battle to take over Wizardkind by foul means."

"I had heard my father speak of him," Severus said solemnly. "They also call him the Dark Lord. Father told me that I had been born to become his acolyte."

"His power has grown considerably since your father first went to Azkaban. Riddle means to corrupt or kill every witch and wizard who will not join him. This means the entire student population of Hogwarts is in desperate peril – except for those who are willing to become Death Eaters. He also means to murder all the teachers and staff -- save one."

"Professor Sartoris," Sev breathed. "You knew!"

"I did indeed, thanks to Shonsey LaChance. By the way, she is also one of the Ministry's aurors and I trust her completely. Hopefully, she will avoid the fate of her colleagues."

Severus was quiet for a while before he spoke. "I want to avenge Sib and Aloysius. I want to make sure this – Riddle person – doesn't wreck the lives of any more Wizarding children. My father abused me because he was evil, and I know that a lot of that evil came directly from the Dark Lord's influence. Headmaster -- I sense that you can tell me how I can do these things. Am I correct?"

Dumbledore nodded. "I am aware of a prophecy that alludes to a Child of Light – and we have no idea who this child is or will be – who will be helped by a Dark Child. The prophecy also states that this Dark Child will make his or her life miserable when he or she attends Hogwarts."

"Sounds like a nasty git to me."

"Such harshness will be for a good reason. This Child of Light must grow strong in heart and mind because he or she is destined to fight Voldemort. The prophecy does not foretell who wins the final battle, but if the Light prevails, it will only be with the help of the Dark Child."

Severus remained quiet, listening intently.

"I've wondered for some time if you might possibly be that Dark Child, Severus."

Sev said nothing. A full minute of silence passed before the Headmaster spoke again.

"I am allied with others who mean to fight for our lives rather than giving them away to such an evil man. We intend to fight to protect our families and our charges. We know the bare outlines of his plots, but there is no one to fill in the details."

Sev wove his slender fingers through the old man's beard for comfort, clenching them tightly. "It – sounds like you need someone who can do that -- someone who can learn of such plots and head them off before anyone is harmed."

"Unfortunately, such a spy would live what would amount to a cursed life," Dumbledore went on, unable to look into the boy's wide dark eyes. "Such a spy would have to abandon his friends on the side of the Light – to become fully immersed in utter evil – and to participate in rituals so foul they turn my stomach. He would need to join Voldemort's Dark army of killers."

Sev blinked hard. "To become a Death Eater?"

"Yes," the Headmaster continued. "Such a spy would need to pledge his allegiance to Voldemort and subject himself to that monster's whims and appetites. Terrible things could happen to such a person, Severus. He would learn to expect torture rather than praise. He would learn that every day of the rest of his life might be the day when he was captured or killed by either side. In other words, precious child, his life might prove to be short, ugly, and brutish."

Sev sat silent and lost in thought. Dumbledore waited and let the boy have time to ponder.

"I can do those things, Father. Is this something you want for me?"

Albus shook his head. "No. No, Severus, I do not. My instinct is to protect you from all of it."

"If I am the Dark Child in the prophecy – and I don't help the Child of Light defeat Voldemort – then Voldemort will win."

Albus hung his head. "Yes. You – you see how it is, Severus," he said in a cracked voice. "Our friends are dying, one by one. If Voldemort wins this battle, we will all be doomed. His evil will triumph."

"I've been familiar with that type of evil all my life. I reject it, but I also understand it. I would be the logical choice to become your spy, Headmaster. There is no other student at Hogwarts who knows the Dark Arts as well as I do. I am Slytherin. I am a loner who is unhappy with his life. My family is Dark."

Dumbledore hugged the boy tightly, wanting to protect him from harm and knowing he could not.

Severus continued. "I am being courted by the Malfoys. They would consider my recruitment into the Death Eaters as a great prize because I am so good at Dark potionmaking."

"Yes, child. You have something Voldemort wants, and badly."

"I would have to -- give up James and Lily, wouldn't I?" Severus ducked his head, letting wet strings of hair cover his face. He felt that same ache he experienced when he lost Martis; knowing that his Darkness would not permit him to have friends in his life.

"Yes, dear child. You would need to find a reason to hate me and to hate them as well. You would want to curry favor with Sartoris and Malfoy and all the others who believe that you have turned to the Darkness out of resentment and anger at me."

Severus gave a wry grimace. "I've already been spending my evenings in the Restricted Section of the library. I've already spent time at Professor Sartoris' home and the Malfoy Manor to advance my skills. It fits."

"Please believe me, Severus, when I say that you are free to choose. I will love you no matter which path you follow." As if his very words choked him, the greatest White wizard on Earth began to weep unashamedly.

Severus felt hot tears run down his cold face. Perhaps he was free to choose and nothing would happen if he refused to be Dumbledore's spy. But – what if something did? The boy knew that he would not be able to cope with the loss of the Headmaster's love. He was also sick to his stomach that his potion may have contributed to the deaths of the two young men who were instrumental in bringing Severus back from his latest suicide attempt.

"I will do it."

Albus moaned. "I have no right to expect – "

"Headmaster. This is my decision. No one has been as kind to me as you. No one has helped me as much as you. No one has wanted to see my ugly face, or has seen any good in me like you have. I love you, and there is nothing that I won't do to help you."

Dumbledore was struck silent by the boy's words.

"I won't do it for the Ministry. But I will do it for you, Father."

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Time slipped by as they clung to one another, gazing at the roaring hurricane-force winds that shrieked by them. When the slipstream parted for a few seconds, Severus could actually see the curvature of the Earth.

"My child," Albus sighed, holding him tight on the ceiling of the world. "You need not do this! You need not accept these terrible burdens!"

"It's all right, Father," Sev replied, his head resting against the old wizard's chest. "I've always felt useless and worthless. If I were your spy, I would feel neither. I'm also quite good at hiding my true feelings – you learn to do that when your father tortures you a lot."

"I love you, my dear boy."

"And I love you, my father."

"No one can hear us right now, Severus, but we cannot stay here much longer. If this is the path you wish to pursue, you need to stay your present course. Keep meeting with the Malfoys. Continue your perusal of the books in the Restricted Section. Indicate to Sartoris that you want to continue your father's work. We will await an opportunity when you can turn on me and Gryffindors in general, and in a very convincing way."

"But – when I treat you with such disrespect, will you still love me?" The boy's expression tore at the Headmaster's heart.

"Yes, Severus. I won't give up my precious Dark child, not for anything. Ever."

Sev began to cry again. "Sorry I'm such a baby," he moaned.

"You have every reason to cry," Dumbledore sighed.

"I can do everything you ask, knowing that you love me. That will keep me safe."

"But there will be no safety for you, child," Albus whispered.

"I meant my heart, Father. No matter how hard Voldemort tries, he will never have that."

The Headmaster took him by the shoulders and looked into his eyes.

"I will protect you as best I can, my Severus. If your enemies wish to kill you, I will keep you safe behind the Castle wards. If you are lonely, I will keep you company. If depression should overcome you, I will keep you sheltered until you feel better. If you are hurt, I will take care of you. I will do all this and more, and it still won't be enough recompense for what you will risk as my spy."

"It is enough," Severus Snape replied. "I never thought anyone valued me. I never dreamed that I had a purpose in life, let alone a noble one. I will spy for you and I will die for you as well, my father, if need be – for you and for this Child of Light."

Severus was lost in a hug while Dumbledore regained his composure.

"I will get you some training to keep your mind clear of all intrusions. You will also learn how to read others' thoughts – not always a welcome pastime, believe me. We shall tell no one of this plan except for Shonsey, who will teach you these skills. When the time has come for you to break with me and your Gryffindor friends, you can indicate to Malfoy and Sartoris that you wish to join the ranks of the Death Eaters."

"I can do that."

"When the time is right, and after you have left Hogwarts, I will inform the Ministry of your mission. Mind you, child, the Minister might not appreciate your efforts, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it. Of course, I will arrange a place where you and I can meet – a place totally impervious to detection."

"Please, Headmaster. I – don't want to be in a position where I will never see you again," Severus said, the worry evident on his young face. "I would miss you so much!"

"I will not leave you out there alone, Son. You will have my protection and help as long as I am alive. And even after – if I can manage it!"

Both Severus and Albus smiled at one another as their minds struggled with the enormity of the boy's decision.

Smoothly and calmly, the pinnacle view faded. The world's greatest White wizard eased the shining orb to the Castle's front lawn as gently as he would settle a soap bubble on a mirror.

Severus rested in the old wizard's arms, a smile on his thin face.

"You are my home," he told Albus Dumbledore.

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A few moments passed before Sev realized that the Headmaster was no longer with him. Two amorphous shapes moving next to him resolved into James Potter and Lily Evans. To the boy's great relief, both were fine – no trace of frostbite or damaged internal organs. They were, in fact, laughing.

All three students were inside the gossamer sphere together, and it was snowing. James tried to catch the flakes on his tongue. His aim wasn't all that good; his glasses along with his hat had been blasted off him by the summit winds.

Severus grinned when he saw their Hogwarts classmates standing around the sphere looking in at them. No snow fell outside the tiny bubble of atmosphere. In fact, the local weather was sunny and unusually warm for early autumn in Scotland.

Sev, James, and Lily laughed and played in the snow while their friends stood on bare grass, enjoying the balmy breezes.

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It wasn't until Severus had settled into his bed that night when the magnitude of what he'd promised the Headmaster finally hit him.

He was scared down to the marrow of his bones, but glad to do his part to avenge his dead friends. He was also anxious to repay a small part of his debt to Dumbledore for his kindness and concern.

If it was necessary for him to hand his young life over to Albus Dumbledore, he would.

If it was necessary to turn against his friends, he would.

If it was necessary to live life going forward as a sham, he would.

Such things were easy if you were the Best Actor in the World.

THE END

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This story may be over, but the angst lives on! "Dumbledore's Dark Child" will begin soon!

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Atana