These characters and their setting are the property J. Rowling and her associates and affiliates. I'm just having one heck of a good time playing with them.
The Minister shifted a stack of parchments on his desk. He removed one on which he had just set his seal and transferred it to the towering pile to his right before picking up another.
"Next prisoner, please," he intoned, and then leaned over to the portly wizard seated on his right. "Thank goodness this is almost over. I can't wait to get home to dinner."
The door to the Sentencing Room opened, as it had countless times that day, and a fussy looking young man wearing horned-rimmed glasses stepped in. He led in a manacled figure-- a tall, dark-robed man with long, greasy black hair and a prominent hooked nose. There was a hushed murmur from some of the attending officials at the sight of this prisoner. The young man in specs came to stiff attention.
"Prisoner number one-fifty-eight. Severus Snape," he said in an important and pompous manner.
"Yes, Percy. Thank you," the Minister said in faint tone of boredom. "You may leave now." He turned his attention to the chained individual who stood before him. "The prisoner will approach the bench!"
The manacled man seemed to glide gracefully as he moved up to the Minister's desk. His bearing was straight and dignified, his pale, sallow face impassive.
The clerks of the court, as well as the attending members of the Wizengamot, had seen all sorts of prisoners that day, and the reactions of those felons had been varied. Some had begged and pleaded for mercy while others had heard their sentences in a dull state of demoralized or guilty shock. Still other malefactors-- the worst of the lot-- had remained defiant to the end. They shook their fists in impotent rage, cursing the Ministry, and all life in general, as they were sentenced to execution.
This prisoner's face had a closed expression. It was the face of a man who has accepted his fate, who expects the worst and will meet it head-on. He was a man who seemed to understand his guilt, and would do nothing to fight the inevitability of his just reward because knew it was entirely just. His was a resigned face, an impassive, resolute visage-- the face of a statue.
"Severus Antonius Snape, you stand accused of crimes against the Wizarding Community and against all humanity. You have been convicted of collaboration with the forces of Darkness, of supporting He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and of being a known Deatheater and participating in numerous Deatheater activities. You are also charged with the use of an Unforgivable curse in the death of Albus Dumbledore, former Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." The Minister's voice was stiff with righteous reproval and he sought to meet the eyes of the rock-faced prisoner who stood aloof and impassive before him.
"Each one of these crimes," he continued sternly, "carries a possible sentence of life imprisonment. All these crimes together carry the maximum sentence of death."
The prisoner's face remained immobile, his head slightly bowed. His dark eyes, vaguely focused to a remote point beyond his accusers, had a bleak look. The death sentence was obviously what he expected. He seemed to understand the inherent rightness of it even as he inwardly mourned its necessity.
There was a slight pause as the Sentencing Committee and all others present surveyed the sorry piece of flawed humanity that stood before them-- the miserable wretch waiting in sad, resigned dignity for the worst to befall him. The Minister cleared his throat and shuffled the parchment slightly before continuing the passing of the sentence. When he spoke again, his tone was oddly less harsh.
"But... bearing this in mind... the Court has also taken into consideration the various mitigating circumstances that have recently come to light concerning your case."
Snape's eyes met those of the Minister, and for the first time their gaze was not unfocussed. There was a dawning look of incredulous shock, as well as guarded wariness on his somber face.
"Evidence has been presented to us that your involvement with the Deatheaters and their activities was a deliberate ploy, engineered by Albus Dumbledore himself, to acquire information concerning the actions of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and to gain the trust of the before mentioned Dark lord, in order to help bring down his organization from within."
The prisoner continued to stare at the Minister as he intoned these words, reluctant hope battling with despair in the eyes that looked out from his frozen face.
"Many witnesses, including Harry Potter-- the Chosen One himself-- have come forward to give testimony that you fought on our side during the last battle. Miss Hermione Granger, and Mr. Ronald Weasley have both asserted that you deliberately saved their lives. Other witnesses present at that battle have stated that they saw you personally attack He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in order to weaken him enough for Harry Potter to affect the final victory. There has also been evidence produced from a Penseive that indicates that Albus Dumbledore ordered and approved your killing of him as sort of a planned sacrifice."
A wave of self-hatred flashed over the prisoner's remote face at the mention of Albus Dumbledore, and regret flickered momentarily in his eyes before his expression hardened into marble resolution again. "How would that actually matter?" he whispered harshly.
The Minister peered at him over a pair of square-rimmed reading glasses. "It obviously does make a difference. An ordered execution cannot be considered in the same light as a cold-blooded murder. And it does seem the sort of crazy ideathat Dumbledore would come up with." He shook his head and added in an aside to the Council Members next to him, "I always thought that old man was a bit unstable. Brilliant indeed he was, but more than a little daft..."
He turned his attention back to Snape and cleared his throat again. "So. In light of these findings, we of the Sentencing Board, and of the Wizengamot, do not find that the sentence of death, or even of Life Imprisonment, would be judicious in your case."
There was a pregnant pause. The prisoner's eyes gave a brief wary flick around the assembly.
"However we do feel that some sentence needs to be given. The public expects an accounting for wrongdoing no matter how many mitigating circumstances are present. And while we do not feel your actions warrant death or perpetual loss of liberty, we do agree that to sentence you to a term of hard physical labor would be meritorious."
The prisoner's expression didn't change, but he seemed to relax imperceptibly, the soldier-like stance of his body releasing some of it's stiffness. He appeared to believe that the worst had actually been avoided. His eyes seemed to glitter a little as he regarded his judge.
"The trouble seems to be in finding the right arena for you to best affect your labors," the Minister went on, shuffling his parchments and settling his glasses more comfortably on his nose. "My first choice would have been to send you to process dragon dung in Romania, but all the positions there have been filled. We thought next to have you take part in the Thames River Cleanup, but alas, there are no vacancies there either. The underground Antarctic Herb Lab had an opening, but it was feared by many that you would find it too enjoyable..."
The Minister shook his head. "We can't even send you to Siberia-- which would have been ideal in your case-- because the Russian government is being most uncooperative at this time. They simply refuse all importation of foreign prisoners. Indeed," he said, eyeing Snape darkly, "you have been causing us more than a little trouble!"
"But, thankfully," he went on, "members of the American Magical Consulate have graciously come forward to offer us their invaluable assistance." He inclined his head slightly to a wizard sitting at the end of the Council Table, a youngish clean-cut man with a face that glowed with vitality. The man rose and bowed slightly as he was acknowledged, and the Minister continued his address to the prisoner.
"The Americans have a very interesting approach to the concept of corrections and punishment. Their idea is that a prison sentence shouldn't be merely punitive, but that it should be educational as well. The work you will do will have the capacity to be redemptive and life-changing as well as being proper chastisement for the error of your ways. They call this Rehabilitation." He nodded his head at the American wizard, and the man stepped forward and began to speak
"We have reviewed your case completely, prisoner Snape, and we feel confident that we have found the perfect solution for your individual needs. We feel that the root cause of most of your errors seems to grounded in the negative atmosphere you have been surrounded with much of your life and the negativity that you continue to operate under in your everyday affairs. You are too accustomed to darkness, my friend. We feel a positive environment would be of inestimable benefit to you, and we, in America, have an institution that embodies all that is positive and uplifting in American values."
The prisoner, for the first time, broke from his expression of impassive calm. His face lost all semblance of noble indifference. Raw emotion began pour into his countenance. It was a look of alarm, of pure unadulterated horror.
"Yes," the young man continued, "we have an institution that follows, as it's core beliefs, the three principles of Respect for the Individual, Community Service, and the continual striving for the Pursuit of Excellence. It is a positive environment, a family oriented place, a bright atmosphere of cooperation and fun---"
"No! No, please..," interrupted the prisoner in a sudden wild, desperate frenzy, his voice a harsh, rasping croak. "Please! Anything but that! I'll shovel dragon dung! I'll mine salt! I'll muck out the Thames with a teaspoon! But not... not..," his words sank to a whisper as he struggled to continue, "not... Oh, mercy! Please not DISNEY!"
The American wizard seemed startled for a moment as he digested the prisoner's words, then he smiled broadly in good natured reassurance.
"Oh, no. No, no, no! Rest assured, prisoner Snape, we have no intention of sending you to Disney! We planned nothing for you quite so drastic as that! But we will keep in mind that you, yourself, indicated it as the most dire of punishments-- in case normal methods prove ineffective..." The prisoner's sallow face was now a pasty shade of gray. "But not to worry, the arrangements we have made for you are far more humane-- very humane, actually." The wide, toothy smile on the American's healthy, boyish face had a disturbingly feral quality. "Think of it as Purgatory instead of Hell..."
Mrs. Larsen carefully adjusted the straps on the Child Safety Restraint in the cart, making doubly sure baby Nicole was protected from escape, before getting three-year-old Jason out of the car.
"Come, Jay-Jay, hold Mamma's hand. Remember to watch out for cars," she admonished.
"I want a toy!" he announced, tugging on his mother's hand and moving in a hop-jump kicking fashion.
"Ticker!" piped up baby Nicole, "Ticker, ticker, ticker!"
"Only if you're good. Stop that, Jason! I said you had to be good! Walk nicely, or no toy!"
"I want a Power Ranger!" said the boy stoutly.
"Well, we'll see, dear. We're only here to get a few things. Remember what I said about being good!"
"Ticker!" Nicole sang as they crossed the parking lot, "Ticker! TICKER!"
"Yes, sweetie! And you know, if you two are really, really good, we'll get something at McDonald's!"
"I want fries!" shouted Jason with exuberant gusto.
"Fries!" Nicole chortled. "Fries! Fries! Fries!"
Mrs. Larsen pushed her cart across the right-of-way, watching carefully for reckless drivers and holding tightly to her son's hand. The toddler was starting to kick and jump again."
"Stop that, Jason! I said be good!"
"Fries! Fries!" sang the baby, "ticker- ticker-fries!"
They finished crossing the yellow-striped safety zone and neared the front of the building. Automatic doors whooshed open for them and Mrs. Larsen and her children entered a carnival world of fluorescent brightness and cacophonous sound. Vending machines jangled to the right of them, suspended televisions blared ahead of them, bright colored posters hung from every angle of the high vaulted ceiling, and the beeps and chirps from the row of cash registers was muted by the cheery announcements sounding from the public address system. A soft surging roar of distant music, voices, and screaming babies wafted through the air. Both the Larsen children looked about them in joyful appreciation.
An employee stood not far from the entrance. He carried a fat roll of some sort of paper in his hands. The words printed above the large, yellow smiley-face on the front of his royal blue vest asked: "How may I help you?" and the name badge dangling on a ribbon from his neck read: "Sev." He was a homely man, gaunt and sallow, with a large beak of a nose, greasy black hair pulled back into a ponytail, and a look of abject misery in his long, bony face. As he stepped toward them, both Larsen children looked up expectantly.
"Ticker!" shouted the baby, and she waved her little hands and kicked her little feet joyfully.
He approached slowly, as if the effort was possibly painful, raised one eyebrow over an ironic dark eye, and addressed them sourly in a surprisingly cultured British accent.
"Good afternoon, madam, and welcome to Wal-Mart. Would you, perhaps, care for a sticker?"
Author's note: I had a lot of fun writing this story. It IS a one-shot, but I do have some ideas floating about in my mind for a possible sequel-- a continuation of poor Snape's Wal-Mart saga. If you send a review--and I hope that you do--please let me know if you are interested in reading a sequel to this story. I have many stories that I want to write. So far, this sequel is not high on the list, but if the response is strong, perhaps that will change.
Read and have fun,
Mother of Tears