Author's Note: When I read The Lightning-Struck Tower in Half-Blood Prince, I was immensely grieved, unwilling to believe that good ol' Dumby is gone for good. After reading what's on the site I became a bit more hopeful for what part Dumbledore may have to play in the seventh book. I believe that Snape did kill Dumbledore, but on Dumbledore's own orders, for reasons that will only be completely revealed in the seventh book. In light of these thoughts, I wrote this one-shot. I may be proven wrong when the seventh book comes out, but I still like this XP

Severus Snape waited silently for the reply to come. Dumbledore stared intently at the tips of his long fingers, interlocked on top of his desk in a pool of light cast by a candle. Impatient, Severus began to pace back and forth before the desk, pummeling his own brain for a solution to this conundrum with which they were faced. He had formed answers to many such questions before, but now his mind was horribly blank. He could only see two possibilities, and neither one was very appealing to him.

'Well,' Dumbledore said at last, looking up. 'Our course of action seems quite obvious.'

'What?' Severus asked sharply, coming to a halt and staring at the old man.

Dumbledore smiled sadly. 'Surely you have come to this conclusion by now?'

Severus looked right into Dumbledore's light blue eyes and saw the terrible answer to his problem. Even as he saw it, as he held onto the connection between their minds, he thought of the only other way his problem could be solved. Before it was even a complete thought, however, Dumbledore was on his feet and the connection was broken.

'No, Severus,' the Headmaster said softly. 'I cannot allow you to do that.'

Severus pressed his lips together to keep back a protest. Why was this such a hard thing to face? Surely this was the time he had long awaited, the task he had always hoped would be his? And so it had been, at one time, but he had changed since then. Had he truly changed so much? Had his involvement with Dumbledore altered him so drastically?

'I am a terrible man, Severus,' Dumbledore said suddenly, clenching a fist on the desk before him.

'What?' Severus asked a second time.

If Dumbledore had looked sad before, it was nothing compared to the expression on his face as he gazed at Severus now. 'I am making you a murderer.'

Severus turned his face away, hiding the ugly expression written all over it. 'I am already a murderer.'

He turned on his heel and marched out the door, making his way through the deserted corridors to his office in the dungeons. When he had slammed the door behind him, he discovered he was breathing hard and that his hands were shaking ever so slightly. Severus angrily tried to master himself. Why was he falling to pieces like this? He had killed before, several times in fact. Yet each time, he had felt something inside him harden and become cold, as though his insides were turning into stone. Each time had been worse than the time before, and he knew he was destroying himself with every murder he committed. When he had joined the Order of the Phoenix, he had imagined that he would never have to kill again. Yet here he was, facing the prospect of murder once more, murder ordered by the last man he had expected to order it. Scowling bitterly, he threw himself into a chair to mull over his new task.

Severus pushed open the creaky door that opened out onto the Astronomy Tower. The moon was high and full this night, turning the stone of the battlements to sparkling silver. Severus leaned on them with a sigh, staring out into the dark grounds. The one time he could be completely alone was the dead of night. He sometimes wondered how Dumbledore could be available at all times – Severus had never known him to have to be woken from his sleep, no matter the lateness of the hour. And though Severus hated to be bested by a man at least thrice his age, he found it impossible to be awake and alert at all times. Sometimes he wondered if one day he would crack under the pressure, spoil his secrets, and get himself killed.

That was his problem: he kept too many secrets; too many lives were resting on his silent tongue. What if he told someone? He had lost track of how many people depended on him, even if they didn't realize it. Like that Potter, he snarled to himself. Potter never realized the lengths his teacher had to go to keep him alive. Always running off into trouble, that Potter was. Sticking his nose where it didn't belong, just like his conceited father and Muggleborn brat of a mother. Severus ground his teeth in frustration. Five years ago, he had been compelled to threaten a servant of the Dark Lord, fight enchantments, and run risks of all sorts to keep Potter - that abysmal failure - from death. Humiliation had been his countless times since then, as he strove to carry out orders without arousing suspicion.

True, Severus had grown rather used to playing a double role (he had done so even before the Dark Lord had fallen), but that didn't make it any easier to do. Every time anyone asked him a question, it seemed, he had to run over everything in his mind with lightning speed and answer immediately. And it was growing steadily more difficult to do so.

Take this summer for instance. Bellatrix's questioning had come neither as a surprise nor unprepared for. He had been able to formulate answers to every question he could think of once he had discovered the Dark Lord was gaining strength. But he had been forced to promise that Vow! How could he not have, and still keep out of suspicion? He had never done a more dangerous thing, not even when he stayed away from the Dark Lord on the night of his return. And as usual, Dumbledore had come up with a counter-plan for what Severus had been forced to do.

Severus began to pace the tower anxiously. He had been living two lives for so long that he barely knew whom he believed in anymore. That might have helped in his task, as both lies he sustained were partially true. He surprised himself sometimes, when he thought of how he could hoodwink the two most powerful wizards of all time. But this time they had both gone too far. And ordering Draco to do it as well! Oh, the injustice of it all! Justice? Ha! Dumbledore sees justice on a different level than any other man in creation, and the Dark Lord hardly even knows the meaning of the word. Of course it isn't just!

Severus feared that, when the time came, he would lose his nerve and become as weak as Draco was bound to be. The spell would only work if he forced all his will into it, if he wanted more than anything for it to happen. He had a terrible feeling that neither of these was true of him. Snow stung his cheeks, and Severus looked up in surprise. He had been so absorbed by his own thoughts that he had not even noticed the great, dark clouds billowing in over the mountains and blocking out the moon. And then he remembered what day this was: the 1st of January. New Year's Day (or night, rather). He was due in Dumbledore's office. Severus gave the sky one last dark look and swept back down the stairs.

'Enter,' came Dumbledore's calm voice when Severus knocked on his door. Severus pushed it open and swept into the room.

'I have come, Headmaster, at your bidding,' Severus announced with the slightest of bows.

'Ah, Severus,' Dumbledore said, setting down a quill with which he had been writing what looked like a letter to the Minister. He wore a rich purple dressing-gown with golden tassels hanging from the shoulders, and a matching nightcap. 'Have you anything to report?'

'No, sir.' Severus frowned, his mind still on his doubts. 'He still refuses to tell me anything of his plans.'

Dumbledore seemed to note his frown. 'Ah, well. Judging by his attempts so far, I should be more concerned for the safety of those around me than my own. And that hardly even matters in the end, does it?' he added softly, gazing at his long fingers laced comfortably in his lap.

Severus felt ire rising inside him. 'On that subject, Headmaster, I feel I must protest.'

Dumbledore gave him one of his piercing looks over his half-moon glasses. 'We've been over this before, Severus.'

Severus clenched his teeth and turned away to gaze out the window at the snow falling thickly outside. 'You are a great wizard, Dumbledore. Even the Dark Lord will admit to that. But sometimes, I feel…that your ideas are foolish.' He spun around to face Dumbledore again. 'Why do you want me to kill you?'

Dumbledore watched him for several more minutes, and then slowly rose from his chair. He crossed over to stand before Severus. For a dreadful moment, Severus was afraid he would pat his shoulder reassuringly or something of the sort, but Dumbledore merely gazed at him with his wise, blue eyes. 'Many reasons, Severus. But I would rather not divulge them to you; I am afraid that Lord Voldemort could use them against you. For now, let it rest with this: I have no desire to see you die through neglecting your Vow. By killing me, it will be appeased.'

Severus let out a small sigh and turned back away from Dumbledore. After struggling with himself for several moments, he blurted out, 'I cannot, Headmaster. I cannot.' He was half surprised at himself for saying this aloud, but it was truer than many things he told Dumbledore.

'I know you dislike killing.' Dumbledore's voice was calm and soothing. 'Indeed, I am almost surprised at myself for encouraging this. But you must, Severus. You will know why before the end. This is the hardest thing I have ever asked you to do, but it is the last. Once you kill me, I shall be done with my "foolish ideas."' And then, Dumbledore did what Severus had been praying he wouldn't: he laid his black, mutilated hand on Severus's shoulder. 'You do not need to fear,' he continued in even softer tones. 'You are a good man, Severus, no matter what you think or other people say. And that goodness will make itself clear before the end.'

Severus conjured up an impatient sigh. 'Good night, Headmaster.' Pulling away from Dumbledore's hand, he swished over to the door.

'Happy New Year, Severus,' Dumbledore sighed as the door slammed shut behind the Potions Master.

Severus raced up the stairs to the Astronomy Tower, blood pounding through his temples. This was it. It was happening. Too soon! his heart cried out. The dreaded day had come too soon! He wasn't ready...couldn't do it... They'd see right through him... He burst out onto the top of the Tower, pausing a moment to take in the bizarre situation. It looked so different from that night when he had paced about in the snow; now the Tower basked in the warm June air and greenish light cast by the Dark Mark. A small group of Death Eaters had made it here – Alecto and Greyback and a couple others, besides Draco. Dumbledore was slumped down almost to the floor before them, leaning up against the battlements and looking every bit as battered as the night he had lost the use of his right hand. His face was ashen and weary, and his wand had gone missing.

Severus stepped swiftly forward, pushing Draco out of the way. He didn't care how many times Dumbledore had urged him not to do this; he had never seen much sense in the plan and he was not about to go along with it now. But the old man on the floor suddenly murmured in a weak voice, 'Severus...'

Severus came to an abrupt halt and stared down at the Headmaster.


Severus heard Dumbledore's voice speaking clearly in his mind: Please, Severus. You know what you promised me, and what you Vowed Narcissa you would do. Kill me. You must. Their eyes were once again locked together, connected, and Severus saw in those piercing blue eyes the horrible truth he had seen in them before, the truth that had been nagging at Severus ever since Dumbledore had shown up wearing an ugly ring on a dead finger. And this time, there was no escaping the truth.

Severus clenched his teeth angrily, his face distorting in disgust at what he had to do and hatred at the inevitability of it all. All at once, he saw the deaths and pain he had inflicted, the lies he had spun, and hated his hypocritical heart. If only he could settle with being on one side! Even if he was as entranced by the Dark Lord as Bellatrix, at least he could be consistent! But instead he had to deny loyalty to both Dumbledore and the Dark Lord, backing it up with plausible evidence, while all the time he felt some amount of loyalty to both men. He could hardly blame the Dark Lord for wanting immortality and a pure breed of wizards; he had similar dreams at the edges of his imagination. But killing masses of people to do it... Somehow, genocide seemed counter-productive, and it was here that he felt inclined to Dumbledore's views. After all, this bearded antique had trusted him when no one else did. He wasn't sure whether this demonstrated a great strength or a great weakness.

Frustration welled up inside him. Why did he have to be a double agent? How could two men, who were as different as night and day, trust him in the midst of their ongoing war against each other? Why him?

You are indeed a foolish old man, he silently told Dumbledore. A sudden surge of hatred rushed through him, striking at both Dumbledore and himself. This was the man who forced him to live in such confusion and hypocrisy! Severus raised his wand to Dumbledore's chest and snarled through twisted lips, 'Avada Kedavra!' For a split second before the jet of green light hit Dumbledore's wasted body, the old man's light blue eyes looked into his with an expression that made Severus' heart burn inside him. The next thing he knew, Dumbledore was thrown into the air by the force of the spell, arms spread like a bird taking flight, and pitched over the side of the tower.

Severus turned and raced back down the stairs and through the corridor, shouting something to his fellow Death Eaters. He ran and ran, picking up speed as he went, dragging a pale-faced Draco with him. He had done it. He had done it! A feeling of disgust washed over him; he wanted to slink back to his dungeon and pretend this was all a dream, but he knew such a thing was absurd. So instead he ran as if all his contradicting actions were chasing after him.

He only stopped running when he saw a jet of red light soar right past his head. He saw in the moonlight that it was - of all people - Potter, standing next to Hagrid's hut in the grounds. 'Run, Draco!' Severus shouted, turning to face Potter.

'Cruc-' Potter began, but Severus had been expecting this and deflected it back.

Hagrid's hut burst into flame by a Death Eater's spell, and Severus saw Potter's enraged face in its dancing light. 'Cruc-' the boy yelled again, but once more was blocked.

'No Unforgivable Curses from you, Potter!' Severus shouted, hatred pounding through him. 'You haven't got the nerve or the ability-'

Potter attempted another spell, but Severus easily swatted it away. 'Fight back!' the boy practically screamed. 'Fight back, you cowardly-'

Hatred exploded in Severus's chest. Potter was just like his father, in word, in deed, in looks... 'Coward, did you call me, Potter? Your father would never attack me unless it was four on one, what would you call him, I wonder?'

He saw Potter's face clench in fury. 'Stupe-'

Why couldn't Potter see that every time he yelled a spell, he was giving himself away? But no, the boy had always been incurably dense. 'Blocked again, and again, and again until you learn to keep your mouth shut and your mind closed, Potter!' He glanced over at the hesitating Death Eater silhouetted against the roaring flames. 'Now come!' he yelled. 'It is time to be gone, before the Ministry turns up-'

Potter opened his mouth to utter another useless spell; Severus lifted his wand slightly to block it once more, but the Death Eater had lowered his wand on the boy from behind. Potter fell to the grass, writhing and screaming in utmost agony. For a moment, Severus enjoyed his screams, as payment for all these years. But he knew he could not simply stand by; if there was one thing Dumbledore and the Dark Lord agreed upon, it was that no Death Eater should kill that Potter boy. So Severus was forced to yell, 'No!' and deflect the spell.

Potter's screams instantly died away and he lay panting at their feet, a threat to no one. 'Have you forgotten our orders?' Severus cried. 'Potter belongs to the Dark Lord – we are to leave him! Go! Go!'

The remaining few Death Eaters thundered past their fellow as Potter staggered to his feet with a yell. 'Sectum-' he cried.

Severus blocked his spell yet again, incensed that Potter would use that spell against him, as he had done to Draco. He felt a stirring in the boy's mind and knew what he was about to do. Once more he caught a glimpse of the humiliation he had undergone, the terrible feeling of betrayal when his own spells were used against him. Blinded by rage, he screamed, 'No, Potter!' He blasted the boy off his feet, sending Potter's wand skittering out of his grip, and stepped over his enemy. Breathing heavily, he growled, 'You dare use my own spells against me, Potter? It was I who invented them – I, the Half-Blood Prince! And you'd turn my inventions on me, like your filthy father, would you? I don't think so...'

Potter dove for his wand, but Severus hexed it out of the way, yelling, 'No!'

'Kill me then,' Potter taunted from his helpless position on the ground. 'Kill me like you killed him, you coward-'

'DON'T CALL ME COWARD!' Severus screamed, seeing as in a vision Dumbledore falling over the his hands... He slashed the air angrily with his wand; Potter had no dare he...presume to know?!

But suddenly a Hippogriff reared up with an ear-shattering shriek. Severus leapt back, throwing up his arm to shield his face. The Hippogriff's talons ripped his flesh, and Severus hastily retreated, clutching his bloody arm and running with all his might. I have done murder, he thought bitterly as he fled the Hippogriff's wrath. Again. Why did that foolish man ever trust me? I have done nothing but bring trouble to him. And then Dumbledore's words came back to him: You are a good man, Severus, no matter what you think or other people say. Severus let out a snort of disbelief. At least he only had one master now. But somehow, as he stepped beyond the great iron gates and turned to Apparate, he felt a yawning despair as he began a future without foolish, trusting Dumbledore.