Chapter 1 : What you believe in
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The great secret of power is never to will to do more than you can accomplish ─Henrik Ibsen
Severus Snape sat upright in his bed as suddenly as if someone had dropped a bucket of icy water over his head. The air was thick and damp, full of humidity; the sure signs that a thunderstorm was coming.
Uncertainly Severus got up to look outside through his Hogwarts bedroom window. The night had long since fallen; but given the fact that he didn’t feel rested at all he assumed it was approximately two or three in the morning. He didn’t bother to check his watch─ what use was it anyway? There was no light on the grounds and in the distance, the edge of the Forbidden Forest stood out as a darker line than the rest of the horizon, daunting and menacing.
As he realized he was shaking slightly Severus took a deep breath. He knew what was to come─ and yet he feared it. It wasn’t that thunder scared him; what scared him was remembering what had happened after it, more than twenty years before, after a particularly awful one. That was right; he, Severus Snape, was pursued by an enemy he knew he would never defeat─ for the reason that no one could dismiss memories with a simple wave of the hand.
Unable to bear remaining motionless any longer, Severus dressed in his black cloak and walked out of his room. Everything was dark, the corridors lit only by the chandeliers that projected indistinct shadows of the sleeping portraits on the wall, making it seem like he was a ghost passing through the dead. Clutching the heavy key he was holding in his right hand, Severus managed to get through the castle unnoticed, meeting nothing but thin air. Filch was clever when it came to finding students on night errands─ he, Severus, was smarter: he took ways known of few students and taken by no one, until he found himself in the Entrance Hall of Hogwarts.
As he stood in front of the huge oak door he was glad each Head of House possessed the key, which was impossible to duplicate. Using precautions, he opened the Hogwarts main door noiselessly, closing it back without even a cringe at the hinges once he was outside, inhaling the fresh air of the autumn night with relief that he was only too well accustomed to.
For longs minutes he stared at the faraway bolts of lighting that illuminated the sky. It seemed that the thunderstorm was in the distance but slowly approaching Hogwarts, circling the surroundings of the castle, the sound of thunder tearing the air from time to time as a display of its magnificent but devastating beauty.
Nature was angry. But not nearly as much as he was.
Severus sat down on the highest step of the castle. Now drops of water were beginning to fall and the last stars were progressively disappearing, hidden behind dark threatening clouds. Oblivious to the world outside, Severus registered only the fact that there was thunder. He hated thunder so deeply, with an aversion so great that he would have fought it with all his might had it not been so out of his reach.
He didn’t move for what appeared to be forever, until eventually he couldn’t control whatever forced him to put a hand inside one of his pockets. When he brought it out it was shaking, his fist clenched around a small ring. It lay there in his palm, as a terrible remembrance of times that no longer were.
His wedding ring.
It was made of simple gold, thin but plain, with no decoration or ornament, just the way he had liked it.
Just the way she had liked it.
It was incredible how such a small object had the power to bring so many things out to the surface; to immerse him in a bottomless sea of memories so profound he could not free himself from them. What had happened came back in a rush, mixed feelings, sounds and images, all as clear as the one before─ and as terrible as the one that followed.
He had finally, after years of loneliness, found someone who had cared for him in a way nobody ever had; someone he could care for in return. She had loved him for who he was, without questions. Nothing more, nothing less, and he had done the same. They had wed in secret, young and full of passion, wanting to believe anything and everything was possible, just because their love for each other ran so deeply and was so strong─ so eternally strong.
They had been wrong.
Times had been dark then, and he was very interested in the Dark Arts. She had been as scared and hesitant as he, but because of their equal thirst for power they had joined Voldemort. More than love, they had discovered what unlimited powers Death Eaters possessed.
But with it had come something they hadn’t thought much about, something they were totally unprepared to. For the first time in their lives they had started to feel shame and remorse. Remorse because they had taken lives, remorse because they had been active participants in Voldemort’s scheme, in that quest that had never been theirs. The problem was, remorse was not a quality Death Eaters were supposed to acquire. They were cold-blooded fearless assassins; whereas he and his wife would be haunted by their memories for the rest of their lives─ therefore Severus hated all of them because he was weaker than they were.
Yes, in his nightmares, thunder wasn’t only linked to joy; thunder was linked to so many other things. To that night with the thunderstorm, to the quiet and peaceful morning that had followed─ and to the peace that had been disturbed by someone who still haunted him in his sleep.
It was always the same thing. There was thunder. There was the sun.
And there was Lord Voldemort.
This time Severus plunged more into his memories, prisoner of his own thoughts.
“Severus,” a voice was whispering to his ears in the night. “Where do you think he is right now?”
Lying in the hay in a barn close to a house they were to keep on eye on, he was awake, unable to sleep because of the thunder. “I don’t know,” he replied truthfully to his wife. “Few know where the Dark Lord is, that’s how he keeps himself safe.” He raised his eyes to her. She was lying close to him, her wand carelessly put aside─ with him, there was no danger. “Why do you ask that?” he then said questioningly. There was something in the tone of her voice that, after thinking about it, was unusual.
She tensed slightly. “I was just wondering, that’s all.”
Severus frowned, raising himself on his elbows as a bolt of lighting lit the inside of the hangar they were in. Lines of concern edged her face, making her look unnaturally disturbed. “What’s wrong?” he now felt something odd in the pit of his stomach, as though she was about to reveal something to him that would change his life forever.
She stared at him with embarrassment mixed with apprehension.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked gently. Why couldn’t she just tell him?
She shook her head quietly. “Have you never wondered whether we’d made the right choice?”
He froze. It wasn’t that the question was particularly taking him by surprise─ he’d often thought about it too─ it was more the idea that one of them could be formulating it aloud. Should another Death Eater hear it, they would not live to see another day. Voldemort could not risk having witches and wizards who questioned their choices in his ranks.
Yet the idea of telling the Dark Lord his wife was one of them was absurd to Severus. Furthermore, he was in the same situation as her, asking himself the same questions. They both loved each other; they were both Death Eaters─ and they were both, unlike the others, unsure of what they had got themselves into.
“Was there another way?” he whispered slowly.
She turned to him and said briskly, “you know there was one.”
He sighed. They could have fought harder, of course, and never joined Voldemort’s ranks.
“I’m tired of killing,” she muttered. “What we have to do to these people─” her voice broke. “It isn’t right.”
He didn’t answer. He knew it, he knew guilt would pursue him until the end of his life, just because he had chosen the Dark Arts. Maybe he was weak; maybe he wanted power so badly that it had made him a terrible person.
Neither of them spoke any more and Severus held her close, thinking that as long as she was here, it didn’t matter if he killed, it didn’t matter if he had chosen harm’s way. When it would be over the world would have changed, but they’d still have each other.
The next morning they woke up before the sun had risen. The thunder was gone; all that remained was a cooling breeze. He got up smoothly and joined his wife under the dispersed trees.
“They’re still asleep,” she muttered. The Kadricks lived in a house surrounded by flowers and bushes, with a single road that led to a dirt path. From the outside they were a lovely, couple with no trouble, but Severus knew better. With their hoods on, they were no more merciful than any other man or woman carrying on missions for Voldemort.
“Have they really betrayed him?” Severus whispered to himself.
“Maybe…” his wife replied. It was hard to tell whether the idea displeased her or not. “But we’re here to keep an eye on them.”
“They won’t be up for a while; let’s go and walk a bit,” Severus suggested.
Both of them quietly walked into the forest, chatting about anything and everything. They were together, the thunder and the worries of the previous night were forgotten; and that morning it felt like nothing would ever part them.
After a while it became more than time for them to turn back and to go check on the Kadricks’ activities.
When he glimpsed the house Severus knew at once that something wasn’t right. Cold ran down his spine as his joyfulness evaporated like a drop of water in the burning desert. His wife gasped, her eyes wide with shock, and instinctively he took a step to get closer to her.
She had asked if he knew where Lord Voldemort was. Now he could give her an answer─ he was in the Kadricks’ garden.
A man and the woman─ unmistakably the Kadricks─ were on the grass in the middle of their own flowerbeds, still in their nightgowns, he, trying to protect her from Voldemort’s raised wand. The Dark Lord stood over them, covered in black from the boots to the hood, frightening, tall, powerful, and deadly.
“Please…” the woman begged. “Please forgive us, my lord.”
“We didn’t─” the man stammered. “We didn’t mean to ─”
“I do not forgive, I never forget.” Voldemort’s voice was a hiss. “You betrayed me, both of you. You’re going to learn what it takes to deceive me. Other Death Eaters will understand the Kadricks were no more than a family of traitors.” A hollow and evil laugh echoed in the morning breeze. It was a high, cold, mirthless laugh. Voldemort’s skeleton-like hand gripped his wand. “Crucio!”
The beam of green light hit them both at the same time. Their bodies began to shake horribly while they let out an agonizing scream, as though every nerve of their bodies were being burned one by one.
Severus swallowed hard; it wasn’t the first time he witnessed such a scene, but this time it was Voldemort himself that had cast the Cruciatus curse, thus making it unbearable to watch because of the power that had come out of his wand.
“Don’t.” He grabbed his wife’s arm as he saw her take a step forward. He held her back hoping against all hope that the Kadricks would be all right. “There’s too much at stake here if you get between him and his prey.”
She looked at him in the eyes, every part of herself revolted. For her, this was one time too much. “How can you stand this!” she said forcefully through gritted teeth, fighting against his grip.
He didn’t answer, looking away from the garden and averting his gaze. When she seemed to calm down he let go of her arm, praying that she stayed there quietly until it was over. If they didn’t show themselves, Voldemort might never know they had seen it all. True, they were supposed to be spying on the Kadricks, but forgetting to watch them could possibly go unpunished─ interrupting the Dark Lord in his actions, never.
“And now, you’re going to die.” The evil that ran in Lord Voldemort’s voice was distressing beyond anything imaginable.
As the skeleton-like arm rose, the woman beside Severus jolted forward, and he wasn’t quick enough to hold her back. He understood too late that letting go of her arm had been a great mistake, one he would never forgive himself of having made.
“NO!” His wife raced in the open, taking out her own wand in the process.
Severus’s heart missed a beat. It was madness to be willing to stop the murder, sheer madness, but he couldn’t leave her alone either, could he? He had to catch her. Before it was too late.
Voldemort’s red eyes darted momentarily upon her, gleaming brightly in the sunlight, and the spell that was first meant for the man and the woman lying down was deflected and hit her squarely in the chest.
It took ages for her to fall down.
Severus’s world shattered and he fell to his knees less than two feet behind his wife, his hands outstretched in a silent supplication. Then he shut his eyes, horrified, praying wordlessly for the world to concede it wasn’t real.
She wasn’t dead; she couldn’t be dead. Please let her still be alive.
Yet he was familiar─ too awfully familiar─ with the Avada Kedavra curse; he knew with unspeakable certainty that there was nothing around it, and he knew that no one could ever bring back to life the inert body that lay in front of him.
“Snape,” Voldemort said at once. There was no regret in his voice, just cold indifference. “My old friend. I now call you back to my service. Your mission here is over.”
Snape didn’t move… maybe it was all a mistake, she would get up soon, she was simply in a state of shock… yes, that was it, if he waited just a bit she would get up.
He waited a few seconds but nothing happened. Nothing.
The scene gave the impression of being suspended in mid-action, the area quiet. Even the wind seemed to have stopped because the sound of the leaves had disappeared.
Now Severus was feeling a wave of fury rise through him, a fury he had never before experienced. Why wasn’t she getting up? WHY?
Then comprehension started to sink into his mind.
Voldemort had killed his wife. He had killed her.
The word echoed in his head as he stared at his dead wife─ she had been so full of life barely a second before...
“Nott and Avery are waiting for us. Come.” The voice was still unconcerned. Either the Dark Lord hadn’t yet understood he had killed the wrong person─ or either he was merely entertained?
Severus was shaking now, shaking because he was astounded, shaking because he was in shock, and shaking because he was angry.
He wavered on his legs; from now on he would never, ever follow Voldemort again. Suddenly he raised his head and stared with his piercing dark eyes at the slits visible through the Dark Lord’s hood. “I won’t!”
Voldemort’s red eyes narrowed to barely slits. “You won’t?”
“You… you killed her! I’ll tell the world what you’ve truly been doing. What you−”
Snape stood up trembling. He couldn’t defeat Voldemort, but he could die trying to avenge her. His wife hadn’t fallen for nothing; the world would know, and the world would fight as it had never before done.
“No…” Voldemort said, his red eyes glittering. “No you won’t tell anyone anything…” His raised his arm menacingly.
Snape stared at the wand as though inside a foggy room. Was this the end? Was he going to die?
In a way he no longer cared. What good would more fighting do? She had died, and his heart had died with her. The rest didn’t matter.
Voldemort opened his mouth but there were some movements behind Severus, and someone stood from the bushes.
“Dumbledore,” Voldemort recoiled.
“That’s right, Tom.” Dumbledore’s aura of magic glowed. When he raised his wand, Voldemort lowered his own.
“You thought you could do this alone,” Dumbledore said in a surprisingly calm tone given the situation. “Where is your escort, Tom? Your fellow Death Eaters?”
There was no more than a short pause. “Avada Kedavra!” Voldemort yelled toward the woman Kadrick, who was still kneeling on the ground in a nightgown, not knowing what to wait for. A second yell echoed through the morning at the same instant and her husband fell down. In the same second, Voldemort Disapparated, leaving a dismayed silence in his wake.
Dumbledore got up slowly, as though he carried the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. Severus was kneeling alongside the woman, holding her hand− and sobbing.
Dumbledore came forward to him, ignoring the bodies of the two Death Eaters on the grass but Severus didn’t realize it immediately. It wasn’t until he was beside him that he took it all in.
“Severus,” Dumbledore’s voice was unusually quiet. “There is nothing left for you here. Come with me.”
“I’m not─ leaving her.” The words had difficulty coming out.
Dumbledore didn’t answer and lowered his wand. Why was he jeopardizing his safety like that? He, Severus, could try to harm him anytime.
Then Dumbledore extended a hand; but as far as Severus knew, it might just be a trick; he’d end up as Dumbledore’s slave the same way he had been Voldemort’s.
“Why would you do that? I’m a Death Eater.”
Dumbledore didn’t hesitate. “You’re a good man.”
Severus sniggered. A good man. There were very few people he knew he could have called good men, but he wasn’t one himself. In all this troubled world, that was at least for sure.
Dumbledore’s eyes lingered on the body of his wife. “I trust you.” More quietly, the Headmaster added with something in his voice Severus had never heard before: “Now, more than ever.”
Snape turned back to his wife, placed a hand on her forehead, feeling her black hair in his palm, not knowing how precious time was─ other Death Eaters would show up soon.
“What would she want you to do, Severus?”
His brain felt like it had been annihilated, as though it had been totally and thoroughly blown up to smithereens. What would she have wanted me to do? Remain faithful to Voldemort.
That was a lie. He recalled what she had wondered the night before, during the thunderstorm.
She would have wanted me to stop these murders.
“Why would I believe you’d give me another chance?” he said, his jaw clenched.
“You have to believe in something,” Dumbledore answered cautiously.
“And what do you believe in?”
Dumbledore remained quiet for a few seconds. “I believe that a man can have a second chance,” he said softly. “I believe that you can accomplish great things, whoever you are and wherever you come from, if you settle to good. And I think it is a man’s own choice to believe in destiny─ or to live every second of his life using his strength of character wanting to make a difference.”
There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Severus stared at the offered hand for a long time until, eventually, he started to comprehend that only Dumbledore could give him the opportunity for a new life. The question that remained was whether he wanted it or not.
“Do you believe in destiny?” There was now a more urgent note in Dumbledore’s voice.
Severus inhaled deeply, desperate. Then wordlessly he reached for the hand, not believing he was accepting an enemy’s deal, but nonetheless grabbing Dumbledore’s wrist to pull himself up.
It had been enough. He had stopped working as a Death Eater, he had hidden from Voldemort, he had become a member of the Order of the Phoenix, fighting with the others tirelessly against the ones who had been his associates for months; fighting against Voldemort, the one he had sworn allegiance to.
But no one had trusted him except Dumbledore. They had all hated Severus Snape, whoever they were. Death Eaters, because he had become an enemy, and because of his unpunished betrayal. Order members, because he had been a Death Eater, and because they didn’t know why he had repented.
Seated on the steps in front of Hogwarts, Severus contemplated what his life had become. Still, today, students wanted to know why he was so dark and mysterious. He saw them everyday, those questions in their eyes. Who are you, Snape?. That’s what they wanted to know because from the outside, they felt no confidence or trust in their Potions teacher.
He wanted to answer them, I am no one but a cursed man. I belong nowhere.
Sometimes he came to wondering whether he had really been married. Maybe it was all an illusion, maybe she had never existed, maybe he had never been a Death Eater.
Convulsively, Severus pulled up his sleeve. It was there on his forearm, reminding him that it had all been real, that she had been real. It seemed to be shinning through the night, unreal, the Dark Mark, an old scar that would never disappear. The black burn and the wedding ring he still held were enough proof of what he had been.
The rain started to fall harder, drenching his hair and cloak, but he didn’t care, still seated on the frozen stones, unmoving, with no barrier between him and his thoughts. Despite the rain infiltrating his cloak and making it more and more uncomfortable as the seconds passed he remained immobile, thinking, as the thunder roared, about all he had lost and that he would never get back. Streams of water rolled down his face, the tears indistinguishable from the heavy rain that kept pouring in cascades of water as though not a soul on earth could escape it.
The thunder was deafening now, each detonation followed by a deep, unbearable silence.
Only when pressure was applied to his shoulder did Severus realize that he was no longer alone. There was no need for him to look at the man standing beside the door to know who he was. Getting up on unsteady legs, Severus gave one last look at the flashes of light not far away. In background the trees glowed with light, blinding him, and, at last, he turned to Dumbledore.
The headmaster squeezed his shoulder slightly to reassure him, as a father wishing his children good night before shutting off the light. For a fleeting instant Severus wondered why Dumbledore was always there for him without wanting anything in return. There was no way Severus could ever repay him, not with everything Albus had done.
Dumbledore was an exceptional man and there were too few in the world, a man who had had the good idea to have been spying on a couple of Death Eaters named Kadrick that day.
Severus knew Dumbledore had never even known her first name. She had been at Durmstrang and never at Hogwarts, then a Death Eater among others. But the man with the greying beard and the half-moon spectacles had trusted him─ and for that, Severus would be forever grateful.
Wordlessly Severus put the wedding ring away, the feeling of loss and solitude heavier than ever. The ring fell to the bottom of his pocket. It was time for him to finish something that he had started twenty years before. Telling Dumbledore this now would feel like abandoning her; as though he was no longer keeping her secret and betraying who she had been. On the other hand─ Dumbledore had the right to know.
“Valeria,” Severus muttered, swallowing hard when he heard himself pronounce her name. He had never done so, never, ever, in more than twenty years. “Valeria… it was her name─” his voice caught, the immense effort of speaking of her threatening to overwhelm him.
Dumbledore nodded sadly, acknowledging his declaration with unusually rare gravity.
Severus faced the great wooden door for the second time that night. It was there as a guarantee that no evil would ever enter the castle; it was there, thick and imposing, an assured protection that no one could pass through without clearance. Unfortunately, it was useless to shut away the memories; and for the one of that bright Saturday morning, Severus knew it always would be. Despite himself he had no doubt that the next morning, the sun would be shinning, high in the sky, and that the clouds would be gone. The sun, after the thunderstorm.
Finally the door of Hogwarts closed behind the two men, shutting the way to thunder, shutting the path that lay to the hatred of the world outside.
Severus breathed in deeply. He had, at least, found an answer he had sought for so long. It was there, so simple, so evident─ and so terribly complicated.
“I never believed in destiny,” Severus declared. The words reverberated on the walls, magnified in the silence of the night.
Dumbledore stopped in the middle of the Great Hall, his eyes twinkling with something new, a mixture of melancholy and promise; as an announcement of a dawning peace each could find inside himself. Carefully he patted Severus on the shoulder, nodding in acknowledgment of his statement, as though, at last, after having patiently waited for so long, he had won something infinitely more valuable than a war that would have been fought for a thousand years.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed reading this one-shot! Of course feedback is always appreciated, so feel free to post any comments you have!