Be warned: Here be Spoilers for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!
I got HBP Saturday afternoon (when it was delivered), and finished reading it Sunday morning. This morning, I woke up at 2:30am with Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape whispering in my ears, and this was the result. As it’s the first time since December that I’ve been able to get anything from the HP characters, I was more than happy to indulge them right then and there.
Author’s Note: Yes, there may easily be a sequel to this, dealing with Harry and Snape. Any interest?
Minerva McGonagall took a deep breath as she sat down behind the Headmast– behind her desk, and leaned forward to bury her head in her hands. So much had happened over the past week; she could hardly believe Albus had gone, much less how he had gone. Even knowing that Harry had told the truth, she could still scarce credit it.
Yes, she knew about Severus’s past; she was a member of the Order of the Phoenix, after all, as well as having been one of the younger man’s teachers. But even though she knew that at one point, Severus had joined Voldemort’s Death Eaters, even though she was perfectly aware that he still resented what he had gone through when he was a student here, she had believed that his loyalty to Albus had been genuine.
How could Severus have killed him?
Taking another deep breath, she sat back up. There was no real time to dwell on the issue, not right now; she had a meeting with the Board of Governors in a little over half an hour, and she needed to find Albus’s contingency plans. She knew he had some drawn up; he’d made a point of mentioning that to her at the beginning of the last school year, and then again at the beginning of this one…
Placing both hands on… the desk, she started to stand up…
…And then froze, as there was a flurry of sparks, and a glamour faded away from the top of the desk, revealing an envelope sitting there, her name on the front in a vivid purple ink, in Albus’s writing.
Sitting back down, she carefully picked the envelope up, opened it, and began to read.
I realize that what has happened must have come as quite the shock to you, but I have one very important request to make of you: Do not believe that the appearance of the events surrounding my death are the reality.
Yes, Minerva, I am fully aware as I write this letter to you that I will be dying a scant few hours from now. I am not certain of the exact method, but I know that everyone will believe that it was with malice aforethought, by Severus’s hand.
It is not.
Yes, it is Severus who will deliver what appears to be the killing blow, either by the potion he prepared last week that seems to be a healing potion, but is in fact a very fast-acting poison, or by some other method, perhaps even the killing curse.
What you need to know, however, is that Severus does this only under extreme protest, at my orders.
Yes, Minerva, it is at my orders. Not request; Severus would never have agreed to that. His loyalty, like yours, and like young Mr. Potter’s, is true to me; truer, in fact, than I deserve sometimes.
This past summer, young Mr. Malfoy was ordered to arrange my death before the end of this school year. His mother Narcissa, who in some ways has more sense than either her husband or her sister, does not want her son to become a murderer, and is fully aware that Mr. Malfoy is incapable of overcoming my defenses unless I am already incapacitated. He has already made two attempts: the cursed necklace that resulted in Miss Bell’s stay at St. Mungo’s, and the poisoned mead that nearly killed young Mr. Weasley.
Before the beginning of the school year, Narcissa went to Severus, and pleaded with him to do something about the orders Voldemort gave Mr. Malfoy. Severus’s solution – partially due to the fact that Bellatrix Lestrange had accompanied her sister, I believe, and partially due to the fact that he felt the need to convince Voldemort of his sincerity – was to take an Unbreakable Vow to fulfill Mr. Malfoy’s orders in case he was unable to.
Minerva gasped in shock as she read that last. An Unbreakable Vow? What had Severus been thinking?!
I have, of course, been aware of Mr. Malfoy’s orders since the start of the school year; Severus informed me of them when he stayed to speak with me after the staff meeting before the children’s arrival. (Unfortunately, I had not anticipated that Mr. Malfoy might have arranged for an unwitting accomplice; in case no one has done so already, it may be wise to have Madam Rosmerta at the Three Broomsticks checked for the Imperius Curse. It has only recently occurred to me that Mr. Malfoy’s two attempts thus far have involved the Three Broomsticks in one way or another.) I was not aware that Severus had taken an Unbreakable Vow until Mr. Potter told me of a conversation he overheard just before Christmas, and from what Severus told me when I spoke to him about it, I have reason to believe that he intended to obtain all the information he could through Voldemort’s increased confidence in him… and then let the Vow kill him when he prevented Mr. Malfoy from killing me.
I know you will not like this fact, Minerva, but it is nonetheless true: my only role in this second war against Voldemort, the only true importance I have, is to protect Mr. Potter and teach him as much as I can about both Voldemort and his own power. Severus’s role is more important than mine; he has not only protected Mr. Potter from Voldemort’s attempts numerous times (and has done so yet again, I suspect), but with my death, will be trusted even further by Voldemort, which gives him not only access to additional information about Voldemort’s plans, but also the potential ability to weaken Voldemort’s power from within.
All this means that the lives of both Mr. Potter and Severus are more valuable to our world than my own, and I could not allow Severus to die for me.
Moreover, I also have reason to believe that any death I may receive at Severus’s hands in the next few hours will be a relief for me. I have just summoned Mr. Potter to accompany me on a task that I suspect will result in a slow, painful death for me. I cannot tell you what we go to do, I fear – that must remain between Mr. Potter and myself, unless he chooses to tell you – but it will quite likely prove to be a turning point in this war, and my death will have been worth it. And truthfully, I would prefer the quick death Severus will give me, rather than the one I face otherwise.
Now, to return to the point of this letter…
I ask that you do you best to ensure that Severus is protected to the best of your ability. I know that he will have fled Hogwarts – not only has Mr. Potter undoubtedly seen him kill me, but the curse that Voldemort placed on the Defense position still holds – but there are ways (other than those used by the Order) that you can use to remain in contact. (They are detailed in my contingency plans, spelled to be visible only to you or Mr. Potter.)
This is something I cannot order you to do; it is completely up to you. No matter what you decide, Severus will find some way to continue to weaken Voldemort’s forces; it will simply be easier for both him and the Order (and Mr. Potter) if he has some way to communicate both information he gains and his own plans.
Please do your best to take care of the school, and know that I cared for you all, Minerva.
— Albus Dumbledore
P.S. You may need to show this letter to Mr. Potter to convince him that Severus is truly still loyal to me. If so, please inform him that what Severus did before he returned to me – which was, in truth, but one of the things that convinced me that he was truly repentant for what he did in joining Voldemort – was what sowed the seeds that will be Voldemort’s defeat.
Minerva took a third deep breath as she finished reading the letter. She was in shock at the revelations within… but she could not help but be relieved as well. Albus had trusted Severus, and the thought that he had betrayed that trust had hurt almost as much as Albus’s death. To know that he hadn’t, that he was still loyal… while it didn’t reduce the grief and pain that came with Albus’s death, it at least dealt with that pain of betrayal.
A glance up at the clock showed her that she had little time left to search for the contingency plans before the meeting. Folding the letter up, she slipped it into a hidden pocket inside her robes – she suspected that she would have to show it to young Mr. Potter, all things considered – and stood up to begin her search.
Severus Snape leaned against the doorframe of the small hut and looked up at the night sky.
He was numb. He had been for a long time; ever since Dumbledore had confronted him about the Unbreakable Vow he had given Narcissa in order to protect Draco.
He’d been fully aware, from the moment Narcissa had made her request, that there were only two choices: either Dumbledore would die, or he would. He had planned everything carefully, to ensure that both Dumbledore and Draco lived: he would wait until Draco had come up with a plan that would stand a reasonable chance of succeeding – if necessary, he would help Draco do so – and then he would interfere at the last minute. Breaking the Vow would kill him, but Dumbledore would still be alive, and Voldemort’s displeasure would focus on him, rather than the Malfoy heir.
Despite Dumbledore’s orders, he had still been prepared to do that the moment he’d come out on the roof of the tower to find the confrontation he’d feared in progress. He knew that Dumbledore had left the school on a dangerous mission, and he had noticed that the Headmaster was clearly unwell, but he was certain that he could have taken care of that.
Only Dumbledore had looked at him, and had asked him, pleaded with him, to fulfill the Vow.
Knowing that Draco was still asleep – the boy was miserable at faking it – Severus buried his head in his hands. He almost wished he hadn’t protected himself from Potter’s spells; it was only the fact that he needed to protect both boys, Draco and Potter, which had kept him from letting his defenses drop.
Well, that, and the rage he’d felt even through the numbness at how Potter had used his book, and his spells. That hadn’t changed. He might have to protect the Potter boy, but that didn’t mean that he despised the brat any less. So like his father, always looking for the easy way, using other people’s work to support and bolster up his own…
Enough. Potter’s alive, and not captured by Voldemort. Draco’s alive, and still as safe as he can be. You’ve done your job for now.
For now. But what about the future? With… Albus dead, he had no way to communicate with the Order – and even if he did, there was no way they would trust him. He had little doubt that Potter had been only too happy to relate the events that had taken place on the tower top…
Well, perhaps not happy, Severus admitted to himself. Despise Potter as he did, he couldn’t deny the fact that the brat was loyal to Dumbledore. But he’s undoubtedly feeling all-too-justified in his hatred of me now…
Abruptly, a flicker of warmth ran across his ribs, and Severus started. It was a familiar sensation, but one he’d never expected to feel again…
Reaching into his inner pocket – the spell always placed whatever item was used in the pocket closest to his skin – Severus felt the distinctive texture of parchment. Drawing it out, he was vaguely surprised to see his name on the front of the folded sheet in Minerva McGonagall’s flowing script.
How did Minerva know this spell? And why would she be writing to me using it…?
Unfolding the sheet, Severus started to read through the letter.
I imagine you are at least somewhat surprised to receive a letter from me, much less in this fashion, considering all that has happened over the past week and a half…
I know what happened, Severus. Albus left me a letter of his own, detailing Mr. Malfoy’s situation and your own, as well as the fact that you were obeying his orders that night.
I must admit that it hurts that you were able to do what you did; but knowing you as I do (and it was quite the relief to find out that I do know you, that Mr. Potter was wrong about you returning to Voldemort’s service), I suspect that you are equally hurt at having been forced into that situation in the first place.
At present, I have chosen not to tell anyone else the truth. If you wish me to, please let me know who you trust enough to be told. Albus’s letter suggested that I inform Mr. Potter, but while I would like to do that – it is hard to see what the past week and a half has done to him – I will do so not without your permission.
Albus has left me details on the various methods you used to communicate with him when it was unsafe for you to deal directly with the old crowd, as you have no doubt guessed from the method of delivery of this letter. Please feel free to communicate whatever you feel necessary to me using those methods. And should you feel the need, I would not object to receiving the occasional letter-chat; I will miss our debates terribly until it is safe for you to return.
Slughorn is currently Acting Head of Slytherin, and has agreed to continue teaching Potions next year – assuming the Board agrees to let us remain open. That is still something they are debating, and it is irritating me to no end. Any information you can give me about the safety of the school would be more than appreciated.
Until our next communiqué,
Severus stared at the letter for a long moment, shocked, before he returned his gaze to the stars. This was something that would require a great deal of thought.
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