A/N:

In the famous 'Spinner's End' chapter, Snape makes one remark that I find even harder to explain away than the whole Murder-of-Dumbledore-complex – after all, we all know that he did it on Albus's orders, right?

But what about Snape's claim to Bellatrix? (HBP p. 35)

"The Dark Lord is satisfied with the information I have passed him on the Order. It led, as perhaps you have guessed, to the recent capture and murder of Emmeline Vance (…)"

Could he risk claiming that if it was not true? Is it true, and Snape IS evil after all? Or is Emmeline still alive? Here's my take on what might have been before 'Spinner's End' takes place...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It had been a glorious summer day. The rays of golden sunlight had warmed the houses in the run-down neighbourhood of the small town, and all day the children of the area had played by the small muddy river nearby.

The beautiful day had by now turned into a no less beautiful night. Bright stars shone on the velvet blue sky above, and fireflies were dancing joyfully over the river. It still was pleasantly warm. Most of the houses had all of their windows wide open. Laughter and music carried on the evening breeze.

Only two houses appeared different. They were the old abandoned mill at the end of a narrow little street called 'Spinner's End', and the brick house nearest to it. No light or sound came from either of them. They did not seem to belong to the rest of the neighbourhood.

A woman now had entered the street and passed the joyful houses resolutely. Her destination was the seemingly abandoned house at the end of the street.

She kept in the shadows, but a keen observer could have noticed her unusual attire. Had she been any younger and this area been one of the more interesting London districts, no one might have wondered about her choice of garments. But in this working class area, nobody would have expected a stately, middle-aged woman to wear dark green robes instead of an overcoat.

The woman tripped over a ball that one of the children had forgotten in the street. She steadied herself by gripping the fence next to her and stopped for a moment. Slowly, she looked around. No one had heard or seen her.

With a graceful movement, the woman lowered the hood which had covered her head. She surveyed the area once more, then she looked down at the ball that she had tripped over. With a sad smile, she picked the bright red ball up and let it drop into the garden behind the fence.

A child's laughter could be heard through the windows of the house closest to her. Seconds later, a young woman's voice joined in the laughter.

"This is fun, isn't it?" the woman exclaimed happily.

The child squeaked with mirth, and there was the sound of splashing water.

"Never," the green-clad woman in the street whispered in the voice of one reciting a mantra. "I shall never have a child of my own; I shall never bathe my daughter before tucking her into her bed…"

She lingered for another moment, then she suddenly snapped out of her sad thoughts. Straightening her shoulders, she walked on. Her face now bore an expression of determination and stubbornness.

There was no light in the garden of the little brick house at the end of 'Spinner's End'. The stately woman opened the gate in the fence nevertheless and approached the house vigorously. She knocked on the door.

Nothing happened for a few seconds. Then she heard steps inside the house, and the curtains of the nearest window moved as if a person had passed them hurriedly. For an instant, dim light could be seen shining through.

The door was opened just a crack. A male face with black eyes appeared.

"Emmeline?" the man asked, clearly surprised. "I noticed someone approaching the house, but – you?"

"Yes," the woman answered. "Severus, I need to talk to you. Please forgive me for calling on you in your home."

The man hesitated for only a second, then he opened the door for her.

"Do come in. I apologise I have not much I could offer to you. I usually do not have visitors."

"I did not mean to intrude on you. But I have to ask you something, and I did not think the headquarters a safe place for that. I do not wish to be overheard."

"You are lucky Pettigrew is not here tonight."

"He's still with you?"

"And quite an annoyance he is. This may not be the best of homes, but I still do not appreciate having to share it with human vermin. But the Dark Lord wants him out of his way, and trusts me to watch over him in the meantime."

"Then where is he tonight?"

"I sent him to spy on Hagrid. An unnecessary task, but it makes him feel needed and one more rat does not get noticed close to Hagrid's hut. With some luck, that black dog of his might even catch Pettigrew."

Severus's thin mouth twisted into a nasty smile. He had closed the door during their short conversation and gestured for Emmeline to sit down in an armchair in his living room.

Emmeline looked around in the small room. The front door opened right into this tiny sitting room. The chamber was lit dimly by a few flickering candles, except for a pool of light from an old-fashioned gas lamp close to an ancient-looking sofa. A book bound in dark brown leather lay face-down on the sofa. Obviously, Severus had been reading before she had knocked on the door.

She sat down in the armchair and opened her green cloak. Severus picked the book on the sofa up and put it back onto the shelf. Emmeline followed him with her eyes. The walls of the room seemed made of countless tomes.

"How many books have you got here?" she wondered aloud.

"Some three-thousand," he answered. "I haven't counted them for years."

He turned around and looked at the sitting woman. In spite of her dignified appearance, she now seemed a bit intimidated.

"Would you like something to drink?" he asked in an effort to lighten the mood. "You do look as though you could use some tea, or something stronger than that."

"Yes.. no.. I don't really care," she replied distractedly.

Severus opened a door she had not noticed before, it was covered with bookshelves like the wall around it. He disappeared into the room behind it and she heard him opening cupboards and the clinking of porcelain. When he came back, he placed a mug filled with dark, steaming liquid on the small table in front of her.

"What's this?"

"A weak potion or a strong herbal tea, depending on how you choose to look at it. It's mostly damiana and valerian roots; tastes a little bitter, but the effect is soothing. Poppy Pomfrey often gives it to the students before they have exams. It will... lighten your spirits somewhat."

"Thank you."

Emmeline tried the tea and found that although she did not like the taste much, it gave her a little more confidence. Maybe she was just imagining the effect, or maybe it was simply the fact that of all persons Severus Snape had done something to make her feel better - but it did help her.

Meanwhile Severus had sat down on the sofa opposite her and watched her intensely. His black eyes glittered like beads. Emmeline wondered if anyone had ever felt truly comfortable in this man's presence.

"Why don't you tell me what you want from me?" he finally said.

His voice was calm, but decided. Emmeline looked up in surprise.

"How do you know I want something from you?"

He shrugged, a trace of irritation showing in his face.

"Easy. You come here, unannounced, in the middle of the night. You want this conversation to be private. So it is some important matter."

She nodded.

"Now that you're here, you hesitate speaking up. So it's about something unpleasant. It is unlikely you are delivering bad news to me - if that was the case, the Headmaster would have contacted me personally."

He paused and waited for her to reply, but she did not quite know what to say.

"So this is about you," he continued. "We have never been friends, or even close acquaintances. You would only come to see me if you wanted something from me that only I could give you."

Emmeline sat up straight. She had never much liked or disliked Severus, but what she did appreciate was his intelligence.

"Yes, almost," she said. "I have come here to ask you something I could ask few others. But I have also come to offer you something you might want."

She took another sip of the tea. She knew a little about herbs, and what he had given her was basically just a placebo. Nevertheless, sipping that concoction made Emmeline feel more confident. He had shown that he did, sometimes, care to make other people feel better. She would not loose any more time by hesitating.

"Severus, I have come here to ask you a big favour. I want you to murder me."

His expression had not changed. He still sat looking at her, his eyes cold as ever. But she had noticed him taking in one sharp breath.

"Say that again."

"I want you to murder me."

"I am afraid you will have to explain that a bit more thoroughly."

Severus sat back on the sofa. Emmeline watched him curiously.

"You're not saying no?"

"I said," he demanded a little louder, "You will have to explain this outrageous demand."

"I am aware that this is nothing I could demand of you just like that. I will try to explain," she replied.

Now that she had finally said it, she felt a lot calmer. She had rehearsed this speech dozens of times.

"I know we hardly know each other. Our only connection is Dumbledore, and the Order of the Phoenix. What do you know about my private life?"

"Next to nothing. You're married, I think."

"I was married. I divorced my husband two years ago."

She sighed softly.

"Severus, do you know what Huntington's disease is?"

"A Muggle disease. A particularly nasty one."

"Not quite. This fact is known to few people only, but it also runs in wizard families – those that have intermarried with Muggles."

"Do you mean to say that you have it?"

His face was still blank, but Emmeline thought that his voice sounded a little softer. She nodded bravely.

"Yes, I have it. My mother died of it seven years ago. Then I found out I had inherited it. The chance is seventy-five percent, you know."

"I know. You don't have any children, do you?"

"Thank goodness, no. That was the reason for my divorce. We had always planned to have children. I wanted my husband to be free for that."

She tried to keep her voice even and not betray any of the pain that this decision had caused her. It had been the hardest choice she had ever had to make, harder even than the one to end her life soon.

Severus watched her intensely. His expression was sombre. Emmeline was glad that he did not offer her any sympathies; dealing with this in an unemotional way made it easier for her.

"Severus, I saw my mother die. I know what an end it is. I do not want this for me."

"I can understand that," he replied. "From what I know, the symptoms are very… unpleasant."

"Yes. Random, incontrollable movements. Inability to walk any more, to speak, or to eat without slobbering the food all over. Mind changes – dementia, depression, at the same time one gets impulsive and argumentative. These patients need full-time care, and they are a burden for friends and family. This can go on for ten or fifteen years."

Emmeline shuddered. She remembered her mother in the full-time care wing of St Mungo's, and her endless suffering. She remembered how she had in the last months waited, in fact hoped that her mother would eventually die. This was not how she wanted her own life to end. In an effort to control herself, Emmeline took another sip of the tea.

Severus did not reply for a few minutes. He stared at his hands, lost in thought. Finally, he addressed her again without looking up.

"I have read that many people do commit suicide after being diagnosed with that. From what you have explained, I can see their reasoning. But what does this have to do with me? Do you want me to give you a special poison? – And why now? To me you look as healthy as ever, are you even sure with this diagnosis?"

"I am sure," she replied calmly. "I know that the diagnosis is correct."

"So?" He looked up again.

"Seven years back, when I finally learned that I am to die like this, I promised myself I would end this on my terms. I promised myself a death in dignity after the first time I experienced unmistakable symptoms. – This happened four weeks ago."

"Emmeline, I am sorry for you. You face a horrible situation. But I do still not understand what this has to do with me, if you do not want any potion supplies. If you need friends to be there with you, don't you think that other people are better suited for this?"

"I don't need poison from you, I could get that by myself. No, this is about what I have to offer you."

He leaned forward, but did not say a word.

"Severus, you've said it yourself that still there are many on You-Know-Who's side who do consider you loyal to Dumbledore only. In order to be a good spy for us, you need to convince them that you are truly a Death Eater. – Don't you think that murdering a member of the Order of the Phoenix would shatter their doubts in you?"

"I couldn't possibly do that to you!" he exclaimed sharply.

"Why not? Severus, I will die soon. I have made up my mind; I will go through with this. But my death could help you."

"You don't know what it means to be a victim of the Dark Lord."

"I do know," she said sadly. "As you might remember, I do work for the Ministry. I have found many of his victims, and documented their injuries in the hope that Fudge would then admit those were deeds of You-Know-Who's followers."

"But you have not seen them die."

Severus's face was ashen now.

"Emmeline, you do not want this. I appreciate your offer to help me, but days of torture are too high a price for this."

"You would not have to do it yourself. You could just… you know, betray me. Give them some information where to find me."

"I will not do this. This is too much of a sacrifice for the good cause."

"It is my death – I think I have the right to decide how I wish to die. There is nothing I can do for the Order any more. Let me be useful one last time."

"But this is madness! You don't know what you're up against – and I bet you have not even told Dumbledore of this plan."

"No. I wanted to speak to you first. He would not understand."

"Don't be so sure of that," Severus said slowly.

"Dumbledore understands self-sacrifice. Last year, he allowed that Umbridge woman to ban him from the school so that precious Potter boy could remain there."

"But he did not allow Minerva to accompany him. He might be willing to sacrifice himself, should the need arise. But I don't think he would allow me to die, or allow you to cause my death."

"Possibly," Severus pondered. "But there is no need to discuss this anyway, because I will not murder or betray you. Never."

"Severus – " Emmeline stood up and walked closer to the pale-faced man, finally placing her hand on his shoulder.

She felt him stiffen and draw back, but held on to him. He irritably glanced up to her face. When had he last been touched by anyone?

She knew that he did not allow anyone close to him, partly because of his position as a spy. But Emmeline suspected that Severus had other reasons to be such a recluse. He must have suffered at least one great loss in his life.

"Please, Severus," she said softly. "Please do this for me – as a friend. Knowing that my death would help the Order, that it would help you – it'd mean so much to me."

He shook her hand off and got up from his seat. Silently, they stared at each other. There was no trace left of the hesitating woman Emmeline had been at the beginning of their discussion. Now she looked at him with an expression of calm determination on her face.

He broke the gaze first and turned away.

"I will have to think about this," he said tensely. "I will have to think about it, and I shall speak to the Headmaster. This cannot be my decision alone."

"It is not," she replied quietly. "It is mine. If you sell me to the Death Eaters, remember – my death will not be your fault."

She closed her cloak and moved to the door. Severus watched her, his arms crossed in front of his chest. He barely nodded when she again thanked him for the tea.

"Goodbye, Severus."

"Goodbye, Emmeline."

They exchanged another long look. Finally he came closer and opened the door for her.

"I shall contact you when I have made up my mind."

"I shall look forward to it."

She smiled at him. With a feeling of relief, as if a big weight had been lifted from her shoulders, she stepped out into the beautiful summer night.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Epilogue

Emmeline Vance was murdered in London, close to NumberTen, Downing Street, almost three weeks later. A team of three Death Eaters cruelly slaughtered her after she had put up a short fight and injured two of them.

Later that day, Severus Snape stepped into the Hogwarts Headmaster's office. Albus Dumbledore sat at his desk, laying out timetables for the school-year to come.

"It has happened," Snape said darkly. "This morning."

Dumbledore put his quill aside and looked up at the younger wizard.

"She was a brave fighter," he said sadly.

Then he got up from his chair and stepped forward. He put his right hand on Snape's shoulder.

"And so are you," he continued sincerely. "Going through with her plan demanded so much of both of you. I am proud of you."

"Proud," Snape sneered. "How could one be proud of that? My position may be stronger now, but the price she paid was too high."

"It was her wish to do this for you – as a friend. Severus, please don't feel guilty."

Snape turned away from him and looked out of the window into the bright July afternoon.

"I made this decision, I will learn to live with it," he said harshly.

Dumbledore left him alone for a few moments and remained quiet.

"I just hope I will never have to do something like it again," Snape snarled after a while.

His aggressive tone barely managed to mask his guilt and desperation. The Headmaster shook his head sadly. He would have done anything to help his former student, but knew better than to offer sympathy.

"Yes," Dumbledore said while watching the young man's back. "I can understand that. I sincerely hope no one will ever demand anything similar from you. It would be too much…"