A Second Chance
Part VI – The Other Side of Hope
This is the last chapter of this story.
The conference seemed to be running perfectly. The closest thing there was to a security problem on the first day was when an elderly witch lost her handbag and reported it stolen. She later found it under her bed. For Snape, this was just the calm before the storm.
He was not finding the conference very enjoyable. So far he had sat in on two lectures, and in both he had been shown image after image of the devastation his colleagues had wrought, heard story upon appalling story about the troubles Voldemort was causing. The Ministry, he was pleased to see, was completely ineffective against them.
Dumbledore's lecture was the last and most interesting of the first day. Snape was supposed to be watching the doors and windows, keeping an eye on the security, but he found himself being drawn into the arguments Dumbledore was putting forwards.
'What we cannot do,' Dumbledore was saying at the close of his speech, 'is rely on other people to solve these problems. We cannot sit back and say that it's the Ministry's responsibility, or the job of the Hit Wizards to catch Death Eaters, whilst we simply hope the problem will vanish. It won't. Every time one of us, by remaining silent, by keeping a secret not meant to be kept, by lying low out of fear, gives tacit approval to his cause, Voldemort gains in strength. It is not up to someone else to solve these problems, to protect our families and our friends. It is up to us.'
There was a burst of applause, and Dumbledore smiled broadly at the audience before stepping off the podium. For a second there was silence, and then people began to talk. Snape looked away from the stage, realising that he had been paying absolutely no attention to anything other than the lecture.
'I don't know why he thinks that the Ministry won't do a good job,' the man sitting near him was saying. 'We don't want people interfering in the way we run things, after all.'
'No,' the woman with him agreed. 'We are the experts in this, after all.'
Snape bristled. How could they be so stupid? That was obviously not what Professor Dumbledore had been saying. Anyone knew that the Ministry people were incompetent.
'Professor Dumbledore's right,' he said, interrupting the couple. 'The Ministry isn't getting anywhere.'
They both looked up at him as if he had just Apparated into the room and landed on their toes. Security guards, Snape could see, were not supposed to have opinions or speak to delegates. Snape looked at them with equal hostility.
'The figures show,' the man said, taking a deep breath, 'that we are making progress. There have been three convictions of suspected Death Eaters in the past year, and the number of incidents reported is on the decline. No evidence to suggest the contrary has been brought to light.'
Snape almost laughed. From what Malfoy had told him, the convictions of 'suspected Death Eaters' had almost all been framings. Only a very few Death Eaters had ever been caught, and it was often the case that a Death Eater would kill himself (or be murdered by another Death Eater) before facing trial.
'Your figures don't mean a thing,' he said pugnaciously, mentally censoring the other phrases he wanted to use. 'What do you know? Have you ever seen the Death Eaters in action? What good's a statistic to anything? It won't solve any problems.'
'To a layman,' the woman said with a supercilious look on her face, 'things might well appear that way. But if you examine the situation closely, you will see that the problem is diminishing. All these suggestions that every Tom, Dick and Harry should get involved in trying to catch He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named are so much foolishness.'
'I'm sorry to hear that you disagree with what I said,' another voice said, interrupting. All three people turned around to see Professor Dumbledore standing there. He was looking at the couple from the Ministry with a completely open expression on his face. The woman gawped at him for a moment before recovering herself.
'I didn't mean to imply that I found your lecture without merit,' she began in a patronising tone of voice that was clearly intended to be diplomatic. Snape could hear the lie. Unable to speak his mind in Dumbledore's presence, he turned and walked deliberately away. He didn't want to hear Dumbledore's persuasion.
He went to stand by the door and glared suspiciously at the delegates coming out. He didn't really have much faith in the security system – after all, he had been able to get in – but he wanted to seem to be doing something. He knew he had to stay here at least till Friday, and so he had to work and not make too many enemies. There was nobody here he wanted as his friend, really, but he had deliberately forced himself to curb his sharp tongue to keep from antagonising people. He didn't want people to think of him unfavourably after Dumbledore's death, nothing that would throw suspicion upon him.
After a few moments, he saw the Ministry man and woman go past, and then Dumbledore, who stopped.
'It was good of you to defend my opinions like that,' he said quietly to Snape. 'Though you could have been a bit more tactful about it.' He smiled broadly behind his beard. 'But I shan't tell you off for being vehement in your arguments. It's good to know my speeches are convincing to some people.'
Snape gave him a sour look and nodded curtly. He hadn't been defending Dumbledore, he had been attacking the Ministry. There didn't seem to be anything to be gained by telling Dumbledore that, not even the satisfaction of seeing him flinch, because Dumbledore never flinched at anything.
When he was finally alone that evening, Snape tried to work out a method which would be failure-proof. Everyone knew that Dumbledore was the most powerful wizard in the world, it would not be simple to kill him. He wondered how the Death Eaters were planning to do it. Force of numbers, perhaps. Unless there was someone other than Tom here working for them, but that seemed unlikely.
No, there would be several Death Eaters attacking, and if they came upon him unawares, while he was asleep perhaps, they would not have any difficulty. After all, Dumbledore was human, wasn't he? Snape pondered that for a moment, before finally deciding that his doubt was born of years at Hogwarts, where the headmaster had a godlike status. Dumbledore was definitely human.
But he was still a powerful wizard. What other means would there be of killing him, save by catching him unawares? But it would be very risky to try to sneak in whilst he slept. If anything disturbed him, he would wake and all Snape's hopes would be gone.
There was only one thing to do, Snape realised after a while. He left his room and went down to the cellar where there were all sorts of magical items and ingredients stored away for the use of the delegates and staff. Everything he needed was there. He bolted the door behind him and set to work.
On Friday evening, Snape took the letters up to Professor Dumbledore. He built up a routine of doing this every evening, so that Dumbledore would expect him and nobody would think it odd that Snape had gone up to see him before his death. Tonight the letters consisted of three Howlers, which Snape deactivated and threw away, the Journal for Studies to Counter the Dark Arts, a letter from Professor McGonagall and a magazine called Charmed Chamber Music. Snape sneered slightly at the last one. It was common knowledge that Dumbledore was fascinated by music, he was forever humming under his breath as he walked around the conference centre.
Just before Snape left the Owl Desk where post was delivered, a big screech owl came in the window and made straight for Snape's head. Snape ducked, and the owl deposited a letter which fluttered down to his feet, hooted and flew away quickly. Snape bent down to pick up the letter. It was from the Ministry of Magic, and Snape realised that it had been sealed by the Minister himself with regal purple wax. It was addressed to Dumbledore, and marked 'urgent.'
Snape looked at it carefully for a moment or two. Certainly it seemed genuine, but it was surprising all the same. Perhaps it was some sort of trap for him that it had arrived at this moment? He shook off those thoughts quickly. There was no reason to become paranoid. What sort of trap could this letter possibly be? It was only a coincidence. He took it and the others, and went upstairs. The lights were on in Dumbledore's room, and Snape knocked at the door.
'Come in,' called the headmaster. Snape shook off the feeling of being a student due to be punished and went into the room. Professor Dumbledore was writing at his desk, but he smiled up at Snape. 'The post?'
'Yes, sir.' Snape brought the letters over to him, and offered the one from the Minister. 'This says it's urgent, sir.'
'Thank you.' Dumbledore took all the letters and glanced through them. He ignored the urgent one and took the music magazine instead. 'Could you do me a favour, Severus?'
'Certainly,' said Snape automatically.
'Do you think you could fetch me a cup of tea? They haven't left a kettle here, and I don't want to set off your security alarms by conjuring things.'
Snape's heart began to pound. It was as easy as this. In asking that question, Dumbledore had signed his own death warrant. He only nodded, not trusting his voice to remain steady, and went to the door. Quickly, he went through the corridor to the cupboard where Tom Unwin kept his cleaning things, knowing there was a kettle on the shelf inside. He set it to boil, and reached into his pocket. Carefully, he pulled out the phial of clear fluid. It was labelled 'Hartlepool's Headache Healer.' Snape smiled a little, knowing that the liquid would not cure any headaches.
It was not poison, of course. Poison would have given everything away, it would incriminate him instead of the Death Eaters. Instead, it was a very strong Drowsiness Potion. Only a few drops would make Dumbledore extremely tired, and he would fall asleep very deeply in a matter of minutes. Nothing would wake him for ten hours afterwards. If he had not been offered this chance, Snape would have put some on Dumbledore's toothbrush or in the glass of water beside the bed. But now as he poured the boiling water into the teacup and dropped the teabag in, he added five drops of the Drowsiness Potion. Dumbledore would be completely at his mercy in a very short time.
When the tea had steeped, Snape brought the steaming mug back along the corridor. His nervousness was almost gone now. In a moment everything would be done, and there would be no going back, no more worrying, nothing. He did not knock at the door, but went straight in.
His eyes went straight to the desk. Professor Dumbledore was sitting motionless at the desk, the letter lying on the table before him, his head resting in his hands. Snape felt a moment of sheer panic. Had someone beaten him to it? Was he already dead? Slowly, Snape crossed the room, and saw with relief that Dumbledore was still alive.
'Er – Professor?' Snape began hesitantly, wondering what was happening. 'Here's your tea.'
Dumbledore still did not move. It was as if he had already drunk the tainted tea.
'I'm sorry … thank you, Severus,' said Dumbledore. His voice was full of some strange pain, and it made Snape feel very uncomfortable.
'What?' he demanded with a rough edge to his tone to hide his confusion. In answer Dumbledore picked up the letter and handed it to Snape. He glanced at it, wondering how anything from the Ministry could bother Dumbledore in the slightest, and then began to read.
I am extremely sorry to announce the news of a tragedy which has occurred in Hogsmeade just hours ago. Nine young children were playing a mock Quidditch match on the town pitch when a Death Eater blew up the pitch. There are two survivors, both seriously injured. One of the children who was killed was Sarah Branstone, who had previously survived an attack on her parents' house by concealing herself in a closet. The families of the dead have been notified.
The Death Eater responsible, Hippolyte Blackwood, was tracked down and captured by your man Arion. She is currently being held in the Ministry.
Minister of Magic.
Snape held the letter for a long time after he had finished reading it, pretending to be reading slowly. His breath was coming sharply in his chest, and his mind was full of turmoil. Hippolyte had killed seven children. She had killed the girl whose life he had saved. Was it his fault? He momentarily forgot about the tea and the murder he was going to commit himself. Had Hippolyte killed the girl because she had escaped, and taken the other children for the sake of killing? A mental image of Hippolyte as she calmly killed the Ministry worker and his wife, her beautiful face wearing a thin smile, rose up in his mind and made him feel physically sick.
A second thought struck him in sheer panic. Hippolyte knew he was a Death Eater, she knew his name. If she said anything … he had to finish this job as quickly as he could and get away. The children were dead, there was nothing he could do about it now. He could only save his own skin.
He looked back at the tea and at Dumbledore. The wizard looked very old and very tired. Easy to kill, Snape thought, and felt oddly ashamed for thinking it. He scowled.
'I don't know what I should have done, Severus,' Dumbledore said in a soft, almost defeated tone. 'I don't know how I could have prevented this.' His voice made Snape shiver. This was not how it was supposed to go. Dumbledore was not supposed to talk to him as if to an equal, a friend. He was not supposed to show weakness either. Snape didn't know how to react. He wanted to say something harsh, something to remind Professor Dumbledore that he was talking to the evil Slytherin boy, not to James Potter, but he couldn't think of any suitable words.
Dumbledore continued to speak. 'Perhaps I should have accepted when they wanted me to be Minister. Perhaps there would have been something I could have done, instead of trying to work behind the scenes with the League. You've seen how they think at the Ministry, Severus. Only a few brave souls acknowledge the truths before their eyes. And so things like this happen. It gets worse every day, and I can't see any way to stop it. We don't know a thing about the Death Eaters. Why on earth would anyone do such a thing as this, why would Hippolyte Blackwood, whoever she is, do this? Are they all just dancing to Voldemort's tune, because they're afraid of him? Are they really evil people? I can't believe there is anyone who is completely evil, Severus, and I don't know why the Death Eaters act like this.'
Snape was staring at Dumbledore open-mouthed.
'I don't know,' he said, in a very faint voice. And it was true. He didn't know. He didn't know why he followed Voldemort who wanted these children dead. He didn't know why he was doing anything. This realisation winded him, and he stared blindly into the wall of the room, his mind in chaos. Then Dumbledore seemed to see him properly.
'I'm sorry, Severus,' he said sadly. 'It's unfair of me to go on at you like this, it's not going to accomplish anything. You're young to have to bear all this.' He reached out and took the letter back. Snape noticed his hand as if he had never seen it before, the skin slightly mottled and loose with age, the thin fingers closing over the parchment and the fine lines of veins and tendons. Dumbledore looked small and frail and old, and Snape felt angry again. Angry at Dumbledore for showing him things he didn't want to see, both that he had no reason to follow Voldemort, and that Dumbledore himself was human and got upset and was old. Angry because he didn't know what he should do now. And angry because he couldn't blame Dumbledore for any of it.
Snape sat motionless on the edge of the bed. He did not try to make sense of this thoughts, he did not try to analyse anything. He watched wordlessly as Dumbledore reached for the tea, nursed it between his hands for the warmth, holding the seeds of his own death. And Snape knew in that instant that he would be as unable to kill Dumbledore as he had been unable to kill the children. Perhaps he should just let the plot go ahead without him, stop being a Death Eater and vanish from everything. Perhaps he should leave it all up to chance.
Still Dumbledore did not drink the tea as he sat equally motionless, his anguish only in his eyes now. Dumbledore may not know what to do, Snape thought suddenly, but he knows more than any other person alive. Except that he's so stupid that he has a Death Eater sitting with him right now and he doesn't know it. But what is there without him?
Dumbledore must not die. The thought rose in his mind as Dumbledore finally lifted the tea to drink. Everything moved into slow motion then. Snape leaned forwards, sprang towards him and flung out his hands.
'Don't drink that!'
Snape snatched the mug away. He did not fling it on the floor as he wanted to; even now his training in Potions told him that the stuff would soak into the carpet and the potion would set off an alarm. He crossed the room to the basin and poured it away mechanically. Then he reached into his pocket and tipped the contents of the phial down as well. He felt eyes on his back and knew that Dumbledore was watching him.
'What is it, Severus?' the calm voice asked.
'Drowsiness Potion,' Snape replied automatically. He let the mug fall into the sink. It shattered in a smash that was very satisfying to Snape. But he could not shatter this frail man. Then he turned around.
Dumbledore looked completely composed. Snape felt frustrated. Why couldn't he react? Why wouldn't he show anger and pain and grief as he had done for the children?
'I'm a Death Eater.' The words were oddly easy to say. 'I was going to kill you.' That was harder, but harder still was the next sentence. 'I'm not going to do anything now.'
He watched Dumbledore fiercely. The old wizard was following his movements carefully, but if he was shocked, he showed no sign of it. Snape reached for his wand. Dumbledore did hold himself a little more upright, a little more stiffly, when he saw this. Carefully, Snape walked towards Dumbledore, turning his wand so that the tip was pointed towards himself. He held it out to Dumbledore. As Dumbledore made no response, Snape gave him a dark frown.
'You've just said you're not going to do anything,' Dumbledore responded. 'You can keep your wand.'
With a vicious movement of his hand, Snape flung the wand away. It struck the carpet, bounced and skidded up against the wall, where it lay motionless.
'Why are you telling me this?' Dumbledore asked quietly, ignoring the wand completely. Snape didn't know how to answer. He didn't really know why, not the full reason.
'Because I couldn't kill you,' he said at last in a flat tone. It was the truth, he knew, but it was not all the truth. Dumbledore still showed no emotion other than calm interest.
'Were you really going to kill me? How?'
'Once that stuff in the tea put you to sleep,' Snape began, speaking mechanically, 'I was going to come here and curse you and then let everyone think the other Death Eaters had done it.' He looked at the clock suddenly. 'They'll be here in fifteen minutes.'
'The other Death Eaters.' Snape sat down on the side of the bed again. 'I don't want to see them. Will you send me to Azkaban before they get here?'
'Why should I send you to Azkaban?' Dumbledore asked quickly, and his voice was a little more tense. 'What have you done?'
'I'm a bloody Death Eater,' Snape said in frustration, 'and you shouldn't even be listening to me talk. You should have Stunned me or something. If you had any sense at all, you'd have brought me to the Ministry by now and I'd be on my way to Azkaban. I tried to kill you, I've lied to you, cheated you and been working for your enemy.'
'But you have returned to me.' There was a very serious expression on Dumbledore's face. 'You have told me the truth, of your own accord. You have acted tonight with a greater courage than I have seen in many wizards who have fought alongside me.'
Snape refused to acknowledge this, though the words sent an unfamiliar warmth into him. This wasn't how it was supposed to go.
'You should really have killed me,' he retorted. 'That's what Voldemort would have done.'
'Do you think I am Voldemort?' Dumbledore asked. His eyes were narrowed, and he seemed slightly less composed.
'You're stupider than Voldemort. He never trusted me with anything. I'd never have had a chance to kill him.' Snape spoke viciously now, wanting to hurt this man, the cause of all his own pain, and even angrier because he knew it wasn't Dumbledore's fault.
'It does not seem to be stupidity to trust you,' Dumbledore said, not seeming in the least bit hurt. 'You have shown yourself to be trustworthy. But you must tell me now, what have you done that I should send you to Azkaban?' Snape glared at him, but he persisted. 'Have you used the Unforgivable Curses? Have you killed anyone? Were you involved in – in that?' He glanced at the letter as he spoke, and he seemed very worried.
'No,' Snape said slowly, understanding what Dumbledore was asking. 'No, I wasn't, and I haven't.'
'Thank heavens for that,' said Dumbledore, more to himself. 'Did you know about this in advance?' he continued. Snape shook his head. He wished Dumbledore would stop these questions.
'What have you done, then, as a Death Eater?'
'Why should I tell you?' Snape asked, the last embers of his defiance showing. He tried to sneer, but couldn't quite manage it as he looked into Dumbledore's stern, gentle face.
'You don't have to tell me. Do you want to tell me?'
Snape was silent. At last he said, 'I've been studying the Dark Arts with – with my teacher – since the Easter holidays. I'm a spy in the League to help Voldemort break it open. I went with Hippolyte to kill the Branstones, and I helped her do it.' He spoke emotionlessly, his eyes unmoving, held in Dumbledore's gaze.
'The Branstones?' Dumbledore looked at him piercingly. 'Those two children survived – I always thought that was unusual.'
'Hippolyte wanted me to kill them,' Snape said, feeling no pride in what he had done, 'but I didn't do it.'
'Why not?' asked Dumbledore. Snape only shrugged, and Dumbledore continued. 'You know this woman, Hippolyte Blackwood?'
'Why did she do this?' The words escaped Dumbledore like a cry, and Snape realised abruptly that he was not as calm as he seemed.
'I don't know,' Snape said again. Dumbledore nodded slowly in acquiescence. He got to his feet stiffly and went to retrieve Snape's wand.
Snape watched him. He felt as though he had taken a step over the edge of a cliff; what happened to him now would be inevitable. Dumbledore returned with the wand, and set it at Snape's side when he refused to take it.
'I want to know if you will continue to work for the League,' Dumbledore said slowly. Snape could almost see him thinking. 'If you will, there is something I am going to ask you to do.'
Work for the League, Snape thought. He looked at the expression on Dumbledore's face, and nodded before he had time to consider anything. For the first time that evening, Dumbledore smiled.
'Excellent. Now, please remember that what I'm going to ask you to do is something which is purely your choice. Obviously, you are in a remarkable position as possibly the only Death Eater to have ever left Voldemort.'
His words made Snape shiver suddenly. It was true that nobody had ever betrayed Voldemort before, and Snape was quite certain that the punishment, should it reach him, would be terrible. His only hope was that Dumbledore could protect him, and he had seen for himself how weak Dumbledore was. It was all completely hopeless.
'But I am going to ask you to do something even harder than staying here and taking shelter from him. I am going to ask you to go back.'
'Back?' Snape repeated stupidly.
'Yes. There is only one way I can see which will help us to understand what Voldemort is doing and why, and that is if we have a person who is working for us as a Death Eater.' Dumbledore's blue eyes seemed to be burning into Snape's skull, but he did not flinch. 'It will be extremely dangerous and completely without any reward save your own assessment of what you are doing. You don't have to do it. I would never force or coerce you to do something like this against your will. But I shall ask you to consider it.'
Snape stared at him in disbelief. Go back to what he had decided to leave? The thing he had wanted most of all out of this was an end to the lying and the constant fear of being found out, and now Dumbledore was asking him to take it up again. He knew he could not refuse. He had seen death, he knew what the Death Eaters were doing and he had decided it was wrong, how could he now say he wouldn't do anything to stop it?
'I'll do it.' He spoke heavily. 'I'll go back.'
Dumbledore was still standing before him. Now he extended a hand to Snape.
'Thank you,' he said. Snape hesitated for a long time, and then he took Dumbledore's hand and shook it gently.
Then he glanced up at the clock.
'They'll be here in a moment,' he said. 'The Death Eaters. Tom Unwin will let them in. I told him to, don't blame him, he thinks I'm going to catch them all with the other security guards.' He bit his lip, forcing himself to think clearly. If he was meant to act as a Death Eater, what should he do? He looked at Dumbledore, hoping to see an answer there. 'I'd better go and join them,' he said after a pause. 'Can you rouse the security?'
Dumbledore nodded. 'Go quickly.' As Snape turned to the door, Professor Dumbledore added, 'Good luck, Severus.'
With those words in his ears, Snape went down to a back door. Now that things were happening, he felt more clear. He knew what he had to do. All that mattered was that he did it well. As he slipped out into the night to join the other Death Eaters meeting outside, he went over the information the Death Eaters had to know. They did not know he was with the conference security staff, he must know no more about the centre than any of the others, and he must do nothing to give away his feelings. Luckily, this was something he was skilled at.
He spotted the shadowy figures standing closely in the area outside the derelict farm buildings which were disguising the conference centre.
'You're late,' said Oscar Nott in a soft voice as he walked up as quietly as he could. 'We're leaving now. Follow us.' Snape looked around. There were four other Death Eaters. He wondered whether Dumbledore would be able to collect help to ward them off.
'If anything goes wrong, scatter,' one of the other Death Eaters, a person Snape didn't know, told him as they moved towards the farm shed. Snape nodded curtly. 'We won't meet up again, it would be too risky. Wait till his lordship summons us.'
This was perfect, Snape thought. Something was bound to go wrong, and he would be able to get clear. It was obvious to him that he must not be caught, for if he were, there would be many questions and he would have to explain to other people what he was doing. The last thing he wanted was for the Ministry to have control of his secrets. That would be suicide.
They reached the door of the conference centre, moving silently in the absolute darkness, and Oscar Nott peered in. Snape could see the tow-headed Tom Unwin coming to open the door, cringing away from the Death Eaters as they slowly filed into the entrance hall.
Suddenly, lights flashed down upon them. Snape who had been ready for this, sprang out of the way, out of sight. The other Death Eaters moved a bit more slowly, and one was stunned by the spell. Everything rapidly dissolved into chaos, of wizards duelling, many-coloured lights flashing around the room, voices shouting spells, more people appearing to find out what was going on. Snape was not attacked, for the other Death Eaters knew him as one of their own, and so did the security guards, and he did not attack anyone, save for shooting a malicious spell at one of the security guards who had devoted the week to making him feel small and unwanted. As it happened, that spell freed Oscar Nott to get away, and Snape felt no contrition for doing it.
By the lights of the spells he saw Professor Dumbledore in the thick of things, no longer seeming in the slightest bit frail or old. It was all over in a few minutes, for the Death Eaters were hopelessly outnumbered. Oscar Nott and one of the others got away, leaving two behind unconscious, and Tom Unwin cowering beneath the wands of two delegates in their pyjamas.
'He said it would be okay!' he cried as Snape emerged from the shadows. Snape's first glance was at the two Death Eaters, but both were definitely not aware of what was happening around them. 'He tole me to let 'em in!' As all eyes turned towards Snape, Dumbledore approached.
'If I might suggest that we remove this debate to somewhere more congenial,' he said gently, glancing meaningfully at the Death Eaters and the security guards who had been unlucky in the fighting, 'I am sure everything can be explained.'
The delegates, who had been about to raise their wands at Snape, both looked a little sheepish. They followed Dumbledore into a small conference room, leaving the Death Eaters heavily guarded until the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol arrived.
'He said it would all be fine,' Tom Unwin was still protesting wildly, on the verge of hysteria. 'He told me – he said…'
'Everything is fine,' Dumbledore said calmly. 'Severus, can you explain yourself?' There was nothing in his expression or tone that indicated that he was at all worried about what Snape was going to say.
'I told Unwin to let them in,' Snape said quietly, glaring around the room in his normal fashion, 'because I knew that we would stand a much better chance of capturing them if they were in an enclosed area. And we have caught two.' He paused for a moment.
'Severus informed me of this,' Dumbledore said to fill the gap, 'and you have seen that we alerted the security guards at the appropriate moment. It did not seem wise to inform the Ministry or any other outside bodies lest the Death Eaters be frightened away. And as you see, it has been a success. Severus is deserving of our thanks, and this gentleman should not be punished for his part in their capture.'
There was a lot more conversation after that, but Snape or Dumbledore had an answer to anything. Then the Ministry people arrived, putting an end to the debates, and Tom Unwin was sent home. Finally, by three in the morning, everything was quiet. All the delegates had gone back to bed, the security guards were in other places, and only Snape and Dumbledore remained in the conference room.
'Funny, isn't it?' Snape said bitterly. 'They're all running around like mad frogs, and I'm the only one who knows half of what's going on, and I can't tell anyone or it'll be clear who I am.' He glanced at the departing Patrol with a sneer.
'It will always be a thankless task,' Dumbledore said gently. 'If you still wish, you may change your mind. If you ever want to change your mind, you must come to me and I will do everything within my power to help you.'
Snape shrugged, his face stony. 'Why should I change my mind? It's hardly any different to usual, is it?' He heard Dumbledore sigh quietly, and knew that what he was saying was unhelpful, but he didn't really care. He was exhausted.
'As long as you are content with it,' Dumbledore said, stifling a yawn, 'then that's okay.'
'Content with it?' Snape persisted with deep sarcasm. 'Of course, I'm just thrilled with the idea that I'll either be sent to Azkaban or tortured and killed by Voldemort if I or anyone else makes a tiny mistake.'
'But you don't want to back out?'
'I've said I'll do it, haven't I?'
'Okay.' Dumbledore yawned again. 'I think I shall be off to bed now, Severus.' He paused. 'Thank you,' he repeated. 'I have absolute trust in you. I know you'll do your best for us all.'
Before Snape could think of any sort of retort to that, Dumbledore had turned and was walking up the marble staircase. Snape watched him leave, forcing down every emotion he might be feeling. He crossed to the door and barred it firmly. Then he went to the window and pushed back the purple velvet curtains. The night was still cloudy, and he could see nothing of the stars. He didn't know why this disappointed him.
I must be a complete fool, he thought, leaving the side that's bound to win and where I could still find some glory, for the hopeless case. He pushed open the window, wanting some cool air. He took slow deep breaths as the night wind blew on his face. A moth fluttered up to him, drawn by the dim light from within, and flapped feebly against his arm. Snape raised a hand to squish it, but held back and simply brushed it aside.
He tried to piece together why he was acting as he was. The only thing he was sure of was that he now knew where his loyalties lay. There would be no doubt of whom it was that he would work for. And although it seemed foolish, although it was perilous and even stupid to work as a spy, he knew that he would not turn back. He did not acknowledge the reason for this even to himself, but he knew why it was. He shook the thought away. He didn't care about anyone, nobody's good opinion mattered to him, certainly not that blindly trusting old man. But he would still put all his effort into this job. For what? He didn't let himself answer that question, and he glared out at the night. There was no hope in this, but there was no greater hope in anything else.
Snape let the curtains fall behind him, closing him off from the faintly lit room behind him. Ahead of him was the black night. Snape stood in between, looking into the darkness and seeing nothing. He would do this job, he thought, and he would do it well. It was the only thing he could do. He did not think in terms of right and wrong, he did not think it was a second chance for him, but he knew what he had to do.
I hope this story made sense to you. Please give me your criticisms, your thoughts and your opinions. There may be a sequel, but I'm starting university soon and will be writing less fanfic. Thank you to everyone who's read this and given me their comments and encouragement, you're all marvellous!
14th September 2000 (my birthday! J )