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What Must Be Done
"You must find someone else, Albus."
"I'm not sure I follow."
Severus Snape glared at the old man walking serenely beside him. Albus Dumbledore had suggested this stroll on the grounds but had said barely a word so far. How very like him to realize that this conversation needed to be had and then to somehow convince Snape that it was his responsibility to direct it. "You know precisely what I'm talking about."
"Your Unbreakable Vow is troubling you?"
"As perhaps the most powerful wizard the world has ever known, I can only assume that you're aware of what happens when such a vow goes unfulfilled," Snape said waspishly, prompting only an amused smile from Dumbledore. "I will obviously be of no more use to the Order, so I suggest you find another to take my place."
Dumbledore shook his head. "No, Severus, I won't need to replace you."
"You can't seriously still be suggesting--"
"But I am," Dumbledore cut in smoothly. When Snape fell silent, he went on, "Of course, in the end the choice is yours alone, but it would be best if you simply fulfill the Vow."
"I can't," Snape said in a low tone. "Do you realize what you're asking?"
"You must do the right thing."
"Yes, I know. Not the easy thing." His tone was bitterly sarcastic. "You've still given me no indication that you understand the magnitude of this task. Of what you're requiring."
"Severus, I'm simply asking you to kill me." The cheerful tone he said it in was enough to make Snape want to curse him. "Don't tell me the urge has never crossed your mind."
"It has, often, and maybe it bothers me that the possibility has never once seemed to you to be a cause for concern!" he snapped, realizing how petulant he sounded even as the words left his mouth. In a more controlled tone, Snape said, "You're far more important to the Order than I am, Albus."
"Are you certain?"
He didn't reply and the two of them stopped walking. The lights from Hogwarts twinkled in the inky night. They almost gave Snape a sense of security, foolish as he knew that was. He hesitated for a moment and then said, "I don't want to do what you're asking."
"I know." Dumbledore smiled at him and gently patted his shoulder. "But I would much rather meet death at the hands of a friend than an enemy. You must know that it will come to that, Severus. If Draco cannot complete his task, someone else will for him. Then the Order will not only have lost me, but you as well, and an innocent child will either become a murderer or be murdered in turn."
For a long time, Snape was silent. Finally, though, he said, "You have assigned me the most difficult task in this whole…affair."
"You take too much for granted, Albus. This is far beyond what I ever agreed to do for you."
For the first time in the conversation, Dumbledore's eyes flashed with something more than kindness. "But you did agree to it, Severus. You must complete it." His tone lost its edge then, and he said, almost as an afterthought, "You've made the proper investigations into your House?"
"Of course," Snape replied tersely.
Another lull in the conversation followed. "Severus."
"Will you give me your word that you'll do what you must?"
Snape found himself unable to meet Dumbledore's eyes. Not only that, but unable to refuse. How could he refuse a request from Albus Dumbledore? He owed him far too much. The older man had saved not only his life, but what little was left of his soul. He supposed, in a way, that this would finally be his chance to repay him.
Quietly, Snape said, "I'll do what I must. You have my word."