Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer applies, I do not own Harry Potter and I fully respect everyone else's ownership of said product.
A/N: This is a one-shot featuring Snape' s decision to betray the Death Eaters. Being a dyed-in-the-wool Granger-Snape fan myself, I was highly displeased when it turned out Snape was working for the Light because he was in love with Lily. I am also definitely tired of love scorned or love returned being the reason for EVERYTHING in fiction (for further stories that this concept ruined, see the terrible movies that George Lucas passed off for his STAR WARS prequels.) But enough ranting. My sister and I discussed this idea when we were halfway through Book Seven for the first time, in which JKR says that a Horcrux can be healed by genuine remorse. The following was the result. Please enjoy!
The wind that ripped through Dumbledore's hair and beard were the first greeting he had as he Apparated onto the mountain top, the stones around him crackling with the after-sound of his appearance, and their own power.
He had found the spot decades ago as a young man while seeking magic of new and strange kinds, hoping to discover a cure for his sister's powerful and unpredictable talents, before his fight with Gellert Grindelwald had eradicated his sister, and the need to find a solution to her growing problems caused by the wild power.
But he had warded the spot, a reminder of who he had been and what he had lost as a youth, and it had become his touchstone for all the many remaining years of his life, a place to plan, to think, to grieve. The innate magic of the place had always made it impassable for Muggles, and Dumbledore's wards had ensured that the few wizards who might find and recognize it would never know it was there. For the magic that loaded the air was the remnant of a vanished Kingdom of Old, powers and peoples that had disappeared as magic was harnessed to wands and placed in the hands of men. Nothing but the gateway to the ancient city still marked the hostile physical world that it had dominated thousands of years before, but the massive stones in a carefully constructed ring around him were enough to tell their original purpose and makers.
He paced impatiently, waiting for the crack that would mean the arrival of a man he had not thought to see again. The stones that had weathered millenia seemed to ooze an admonishment of patience to the old wizard. He had often come here to bide his time, to soak in the ageless quality of the black granite, but it was the first time that he would meet someone inside, the first time his wards had been reset to admit another. His dearest friends knew nothing of the place, and he was opening it to an almost-stranger who was likely one of his most powerful enemies.
His solitary reflection was interrupted by the ringing dissonance of Apparition, and Dumbledore found himself looking into a face that had finished maturity in an unforgiving environment, cheekbones, brow and chin all sharply angled, as if he had been made by a sculptor of skill and knowledge, but without a tool to round the marble and lend softness to the features. But it was the eyes that completed the impression of a life regretted. And in space of no more than one inhale, the Headmaster knew he had nothing to fear from this man.
To his surprise, his former student stepped forward, and offered his hand. Dumbledore's aged one met it, noting the stains from powerful herbs that were used in many Dark magics, from Potions to Charms, and he knew, too, that his former suspicions regarding the young man's occupation had been correct.
'I believe I forgot to do that at graduation,' Severus Snape said quietly as their fingers squeezed and released. 'I would like to offer it to you now, with a sincere apology and a request.'
Dumbledore watched the young man in front of him impassively as he allowed his arm to fall to his side. Snape was twenty years old, still practically a child. Two years ago, he had walked out of the Great Hall, all fury and desire for revenge. Had the candle burned so quickly, that Dumbledore was seeing him again now?
The grave head tilted in a gesture of deference, and Dumbledore knew that for Snape's lack of years, he was not looking at a child, or even at a teen erupting into furious adulthood. In spite of his unlined face and hair as black as his raven familiar, he carried the air of one nearly as old as his one-time headmaster, who had more than six times his years. What had happened to him, this eighteen-year-old turned eighty in the span of twenty-four months?
'I am grateful that you consented to see me. I do not expect you to remember all of your students, and I did not know if I could count myself among the faces you recalled.'
'Most of my students do not spit on my office carpets, Mr. Snape,' Dumbledore countered neutrally. In spite of his instinctive feeling that the young wizard intended him no harm, the Headmaster was ill-inclined to give him an easy opening. 'Do not seek to flatter me the way you are taught to by your master. Obeisance does not suit you.'
Black eyes flashed, not with surprise but with genuine anger and more than a hint of digusted pain, and Snape's tone turned colder. 'I did not seek to flatter, sir. How many students do you see pass through your halls every decade? For how many decades? Could you honestly name all of us? I feared that you would deny my request for this meeting if you did not remember me.'
It was Dumbledore's turn to nod, in partial apology and part simple acknowledgement. He could not, of course, name the more than ten thousands students he had sent through Hogwarts in the half-century he had been teaching there.
But he had no trouble recalling this face and name. After Tom Riddle, Severus Snape had been Albus Dumbledore's biggest failure.
Their similarities had alarmed the Headmaster of Hogwarts within an exceedingly short time after Snape's arrival at age eleven. Outstripping his classmates in all of his subjects, seemingly without effort and with a knack especially for Herbology, Potions and Defense, the staff had argued repeatedly in his first two months at the school whether to simply raise him a grade and place him with the second years. The only other student in living memory for whom they had debated this same question was the future Lord Voldemort.
And as with Riddle, the staff vote had decided against accelerating the boy's magical education, so the brilliant mind began to warp under his House mates' pressure, and the ever-inventive war he engaged in with the Gryffindor quad Minerva had fondly dubbed, "The Marauders."
But unlike Riddle, who had always set Dumbledore on edge - even sitting in a filthy orphanage with no more magical knowledge than a gnat - the older wizard felt that he could pinpoint the precise moment that Severus Snape had shifted from a curious, intelligent child with a penchant for herbs and a fondness for mild curses, into the the dangerous, callous and Dark man he had become.
It had been at the beginning of the boy's sixth year, when he had discovered - through his own nosiness and Sirius Black's thoughtlessness (in spite of the older son's many differences from his parents, he seemed to have inherited some part of their cruelty) - that Remus Lupin was a werewolf. The younger Snape's fury at the headmaster's command that he never speak of the other boy's condition had been nothing to the disillusionment and loathing that had poured almost tangibly from him when he learned that Sirius Black had received a merely a month's worth of detention as punishment for his crime.
His office door thrust back with such violent power that Dumbledore was on his feet, wand in hand before he had registered the boy in front of his eyes, the desperation shining there, swimming in disappointment.
'Black has a month's worth of detentions?' Snape whispered hoarsely. 'That's all?'
'That is his punishment, yes,' the headmaster replied stiffly. The accusation in Snape's voice had never been leveled at him by a student before, and he bristled instinctively.
'I should have died. He meant for me to die.' The incredulity in the younger wizard's voice made Dumbledore wince, especially as the voice switched to sound deceptively casual. 'Last I heard, attempted murder is worth six months in Azkaban's juvenile facility.'
The headmaster sighed, dropping his already-lowered wand with an audible thunk to his desk and barely restraining himself from closing his hands over his face, keeping his control and his calm in the face of Snape's powerful distress.
'I do not believe that Sirius intended your death, Severus,' he began gently. 'He was thoughtless, to be sure-'
The laugh that issued from Snape's mouth was the oldest, most tortured sound the headmaster had ever heard, and it froze his blood, not only because of the clear pain in it, but also what it foretold.
'Thoughtless?' He laughed again. 'Sirius Black has hated me for more than five years. He has been best friends with a werewolf for that same amount of time. Do not ask me to believe that he did not know exactly what he was doing, or what would come of it. Without Potter, I would be a corpse and Lupin would be in chains. Sixteen is old enough for someone who grew up in wizard society to know all of that.'
'Be that as it may, he would never have intentionally hurt a friend,' the headmaster tried a new tack. 'I believe Sirius feels genuine remorse for what he has done.'
'Why are you determined to think the best of him? What has he ever done to deserve your favor?' Snape demanded. And Dumbledore hesitated, unable to tell him the truth, not knowing what kind of lie could possibly pacify the justifiable anger seething from the boy in front of him. The Marauders were being groomed for the Order of the Phoenix. Two of the three of them were amongst Hogwarts' best students, three of them would make excellent defenders and soldiers in the war that was gradually gathering momementum. Sirius' face when Remus and Dumbledore had unstintingly laid out the truth of what he could have done had convinced the older man that he had not thought of the consequences to his friend...
...but it had also equally enforced what Dumbledore had suspected. Remus was the one that Sirius cared about. The sparkling black eyes had not glimmered with the faintest remorse when Dumbledore had spoken about the potential fate of Severus Snape.
He opened his mouth to speak, only to have Snape's harsh voice cut him off. 'Do not open your mouth to lie to me, Headmaster. I can see easily that what Avery and Lucius say is true. Black is, after all, a Gryffindor. Favored house of Hogwarts.' Without requesting or voicing dismissal, he turned to go. When he paused again, black on black, his robes and hair framed by the darkness of the stairwell behind him, Dumbledore felt a pain lodge just below his heart and twist, robbing him of breath.
Between the turns of his body, twisting away from and back towards the Headmaster, Dumbledore had seen a decision take shape, and though a boy torqued away from him, a new-minted man faced him from the arch of the doorway, the stamp of hard reality etched onto the sallow features. His eyes isolently met the bright blue, and he spat deliberately on the Persian-woven rug just inside the door.
'You are lauded as the greatest wizard of our age.' He spat again, black gaze cold and diamond-hard with contempt. 'So much for Gryffindor justice.'
Snape had refused Dumbledore's hand at gradutaion as a gesture of loathing, and the older man had not forced the issue then, though it seemed likely Snape had already been wearing the Mark that delineated the side he had chosen. The rug in the headmaster's office retained the slight discoloration caused by Snape's spittle - two identical marks close enough to be from a snake's fangs - a reminder, like the stones that now surrounded them, that justice could not be served if power always favored one side of the balance.
'An apology?' Dumbledore repeated, pulling himself back to the present time, the memory of the enraged boy fading into the reality of the exhausted man standing before him. 'And a request.' A short pause, and then, his tone kept carefully impersonal, 'Make it.'
'When I last spoke to you, I spat at you,' the voice carried no hint of apology, but was as neutral as Dumbledore's. 'You were supposed to be above House politics, offering fairness to all, even the dregs of our society. You were the wizard even the Minister asked for advice, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, and I don't think you truly understand how many of us worshipped you as first and second years. You were our hero, and if we grew up to have half your power, your popularity and your wisdom, we would consider our lives perfection indeed.'
Snape's mouth twisted in what could not be called a smile, though the headmaster supposed that was what the dark-eyed man was attempting. 'At sixteen, I was no longer awed by your seeming omnipotence, but I still turned to you as a stablizer of my world, the foundation upon which the house of my existence had been built. Another student nearly killed me. I believe that Black made the attempt on purpose - we always despised each other. While I will confess my lack of blamelessness in the affair, my curiosity was not a crime for which I deserved to die.
'I expected you to do what the larger whole of society had agreed should be done. I expected Black to be expelled. He was given detention instead, a slap on the wrist instead of the punishment that fit the crime. With the whispers of Lucius Malfoy, Mulciber and Avery already undermining my faith in you, that decision was enough. The construction of my boyhood shattered, and I think you knew that at the time. I decided to go elsewhere to seek justice, for if you could not render it, who would?'
He yanked up his sleeve, and, writhing over the tendons there, Dumbledore saw the livid red outline of the skull with a protruding serpent tongue that defined the followers of the Dark Lord. That he had expected to see it did not tamp his revulsion, and he recoiled involuntarily at the hideous scar.
'Your greatest enemy seemed a likely, logical option to a seventeen-year-old seething with his own self-righteousness. For my haste, I have been disfigured by more than just the Dark Mark and the discoloration of my hands.'
The black eyes became empty tunnels, windows to a past that Dumbledore could not look through. 'I am not here to apologize for judging you harshly. I still cannot fathom your reasons for excusing a behavior that indicated a complete lack of care for my life – and by extension, a reason to believe that he would care little for others he did not specifically value. But I am here to beg my forgiveness from society, which has suffered more than enough at the hands of the Death Eaters bearing my potions and invented curses than it deserves to for the crimes of Sirius Black.'
His left hand had been buried in his pocket through this explanation, and now he withdrew his arm. Dumbledore tensed automatically, his wand loosening from the sheath strapped to his forearm in expectation. But what came out of the black robe was an equally obsidian lock of hair, almost the exact shade of his Snape's own, though Dumbledore could see it was much coarser than the fine, oily hair hanging around the young man's face.
'I told you I also had a request,' Snape continued quietly, shaking the curtains back from his eyes. 'I no longer wish to serve the Dark Lord. But unlike many mistakes made by the young, this one is neither easily repaired nor repented. One cannot hand in one's resignation to my master, service or death are the only options once the Mark is on your skin.' He shifted his stance slighly, becoming a supplicant instead of a soliloquist. 'I have finished serving.'
Silence. The honest statement hurt the older man more than he would ever tell the broken wizard in front of him. It had seemed, in many ways, to be so small a thing when he had allowed Minerva her way instead of allowing Slughorn to insist on Sirius' expulsion...
But the repercussions were greater than even he could have guessed...
'Death, Severus? You have effectively turned yourself in. A trial and imprisonment in Azkaban will also put a sufficient end to your tenure as Tom Riddle's lackey if that is what you truly wish.'
Snape laughed, the same, hard sound that had haunted the Headmaster coming from a boy of sixteen sounded eerily natural echoing off the stones, bouncing back towards the prematurely aged man uttering it. 'Trial? Azkaban? I will never make it to trial - I know too much. Their Ministry infiltrators will return me to my master, or ensure I am dead before the Wizengamot can record my testimony. And believe me, I have no wish to die at the hands of my comrades. Walden Macnair is neither kind nor swift when it comes to execution.' His lips deformed with some sickening memory, his skin paling as his vision played a film that Dumbledore was not privy to before his eyes.
'You wish to die here and now.' The sky-colored eyes searched the black. 'By my hand.'
'It is my belief that you will be more merciful than the Dark Lord and those I once counted my friends.'
'Merciful? It is not justice you seek now, Severus?' There was no mockery in the old wizard's quiet, steady voice.
'I have discovered there is no such thing. The perfect balance does not exist. But at least you do not kill children for no other crime than their bloodlines.' Snape extended the lock of hair, which dangled from a green satin ribbon that still shone brightly, obviously well cared for in spite of his own haggard, gaunt appearance. 'This is the half of my soul not contained by my body. You will need to eliminate both to successfully kill me.'
Dumbledore's eyes widened in horror behind their spectacles, and he backed away from the man, his stomach writhing with shock. Severus Snape was farther gone than he had thought if he had made a Horcrux...and where had he learned how?
'How did you make that?' Dumbledore croaked as his back found one of the large stones. The granite at his back braced him as his wrinkled skin grazed the rough stone, grounding him, bringing the sudden nausea under control. A wizard who had sundered his soul...the old look in Snape's eyes was explained.
'The Dark Lord has spent many years gathering the information. After I killed my father, I went looking in his library, hoping he would have what I was seeking. He did.'
'You split your soul...' Dumbledore breathed.
Snape's mouth distorted again, his expression comprised of self-loathing, an ugly, despairing self-deprecation and emptiness. 'Like a pendulum, I swung the opposite way as far as I could. I once wanted to be your spitting image - now I became his. Through conversational hints and deduction, I knew he had split his soul in his quest for immortality. I decided immediately I had to do the same.' He indicated the lock of hair with a jerk of his hand, causing it to sway hypnotically in Dumbledore's vision.
'Who's is that?' Dumbledore asked, not sure he wanted to know, but the magic and stability of a Horcrux often depended on the material it was made from, and the soul's attachment to the material.
'My mother's. The only thing I still possess that belonged to her.'
Silence stretched between them, and Snape dropped to his knees, robes pooling in the dirt and the grass that covered the top of the mountain. Arm still outstretched, offering the half of his life force that no longer resided within him, he rasped, 'Headmaster, I beg of you...please...set me free.'
Dumbledore considered him for a long time, a picture of desolation, pale skin and dusty, midnight robes, kneeling amidst the huge stones on a mountaintop kissed only by wind, snow and weeds, shoulders rounded and head bowed so that his long black hair completely obscured his face, hand extended in entreaty, a serf waiting for the granting of a wish. Snape remained completely still as the seconds stretched to minutes, with his statement finished and his request made, there was nothing left for him to say.
'Why? Why do you wish to quit Riddle's service?' Dumbledore finally asked. 'What changed your mind?'
Without looking up, Snape answered, his voice carrying the strength of a tolling bell. 'Because I do not hold with a group that murders and tortures children, especially not for fun and sport. Lucius kills them at random as they wait for their Muggle buses, as they play their games in the street, as the queue for school. I have heard too many siblings who are too young to be cursed with thestral-sight screaming in misery over the abrupt departure of their best friend and playmate. I have witnessed too many mothers bending over their sons and daughters, frantically checking pulses and breaths and pleading for them to wake while tears carve tracks in their faces.' His head finally rose, and Dumbledore saw burning in the glossed orbs of black what he needed to see, even as the Horcrux in Snape's hand began to glow with the hellish green light of the Avada Kedavra curse. 'I have seen too many fathers stunned with grief, frozen, immovable, the light extinguished from their eyes as their child is lowered into the ground and covered over with dirt. Be you Muggle, wizard or half-breed, no parent should have to bury their child.'
As he finished speaking, the Horcrux flared, the green light spiraling in thin strands around a beam of brilliant, pure white that poured back towards its source. Snape's mouth opened in a soundless scream as his ruptured soul streamed back together through his mouth, nose and ears, pouring into the orifices of his face and suffusing his body from crown to feet, still folded under him in the dust, in an unearthly light.
Dumbledore waited, the agony in front of him continuing. Snape buckled, his spine snapping and twisting as white and green together soaked through him, into him. He was on all fours, and then his elbows gave and he was lying fully in the grass, gasping as if he were dying, jerking spasmadically like a fish being reeled to land by a cruel hook.
His torment found voice at the last moment in one tremendous shout that rebounded from the stones around them and then silence, his body stilling completely in contrast to the furious writhing of his limbs a moment before.
At first afraid that the re-unification had killed him, Dumbledore knelt next to the underfed form, noting the irony of how much more peaceful and younger he looked while unconscious, his long eyelashes softening the severity of his cheekbones.
Both pulse and breath met his check, and when Snape stirred five minutes later, Dumbledore was seated on a magenta chintz armchair he had conjured from nowhere, studying the young man.
Disorientation struck first, dizziness and unsurety on his feet. He threw his hands out to catch himself as he staggered, off-balance, Snape barely registered the soft material that broke his fall as a second armchair, this one in bright, sunshine yellow.
'Well done, Severus.' Dumbledore said softly, and he knew that his disbelief and relief both colored his voice. 'What was broken has been restored. Genuine remorse. I believe you.'
'Then you'll do it?' Snape pressed, gasping. Though control of his limbs was rapidly returning, and he no longer felt as though he had three Cruciatus Curses trained on him, pain still sparked at the ends of his nerves, making moving, speech and even breathing an ordeal.
'No. I do not kill upon request. You apologized to me, one man, for the debt you owe many people. Do you not think it better to remedy the situation? Death is the coward's way out, Severus.'
A hint of contempt colored that voice, and the younger man glowered at him. 'You...' he struggled to breathe, 'you dare-'
'It is only the truth, a truth that you know. I will not kill you, no matter what you wish. You may die at the hands of Mr. Macnair for all I care, or spend a decade or two in Azkaban if you want.' The cruelness of his voice was in its complete casuality, projecting a total lack of caring. It was a deliberately false front. Severus Snape would be a delicate catch, but Dumbledore had little doubt that pressure in the right places would place the younger wizard in his camp.
He leaned foward, his blue eyes glittering with determination, and it was the first time that Snape looked at the aging wizard and saw not the Headmaster of Europe's finest school of witchcraft and wizardry, but the general who summoned troops to war. 'Or you can work to truly make amends. You just healed a soul torn in half, Severus Snape, and you have survived. Few make Horcruxes, but even fewer unmake them.'
Dumbledore rose, and a sense of indefinable power swirled around him, growing from and feeding the power of the circle and the wards that enclosed them. 'Work for me. Find me the Horcruxes made by Voldemort. Your potions poisoned the innocent, now they can save them. Come to Hogwarts, Severus. Horace Slughorn is retiring, and I'm sure we can find a place for your talents among the staff.'
'Work for you?' he repeated, staring up at the man. 'Return to them? Betray my master and my fellows?'
'You already have, and will continue to do so, regardless of setting, in my office or under the influence of the Dementors and Veritiserum. The difference is that I have the ability to keep you free and employed when Voldemort is defeated, where the Ministry will clap you in irons and your significant power and formidable mind will waste away in Azkaban.'
The coward's way out. The words burned in his mind. How did Dumbledore know? For the first time as an adult instead of as a student under his care, Snape had cause to admire and despise the skill with which the headmaster got what he wanted. The right touch here, the correct line there, a virtuoso conducting the orchestra of people he needed to perfection.
The coward's way out. He hated being called a coward. James Potter and Sirius Black had used the word against him for seven long years.
He rose in a single, violent motion, his figure a narrow slash of black too dark to be natural against the light grey stones weathered with age. Ignoring his continued state of pain as his soul continued to stitch itself back together, he nodded shortly. 'I will Apparate into the Forbidden Forest in two days.'
The crack of his traveling rang around the older wizard as Snape disappeared.
Dumbledore bent over, wand waving almost as an afterthought to rid the ring of armchairs as he spied a glimmer of green in the grass and stooped to lift it..
The lock of hair that had held a portion of Snape's soul was faintly charred and still smoking, verdant ribbon mostly flamed to a crinkled brown. Dumbledore opened his fingers, allowing the final remnant of Severus Snape's life as a child to fall into the grass. He smiled the grim smile of unpleasant accomplishment as he straightened, re-set the wards to admit only himself, and Disapparated, leaving only the stones to bounce the sound of his departure between themselves until it dissipated into the cold mountain air.