The Sugar Quill
Author: Robin (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Death Before Dishonor  Chapter: Chapter 1: Light In Darkness
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DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR

Death Before Dishonor

 

 

 

August 22nd

Dear Sirius,

I didn’t want to tell you this, because I was afraid that you’d come here and get caught by the Ministry of Magic or by the Muggle police, but I think I have to. 

It all started about a month ago when Aunt Petunia met some man at the library.  I don’t know why she was there, really, but she made friends with the guy.  She introduced him to Uncle Vernon, and they’ve all gotten along fabulously.  I guess it took a few weeks before she mentioned me by accident.  And then, Aunt Petunia said to Dudley (when she told him, and I overheard), a wonderful thing happened.

The man says he knows me, Sirius.  Says he’s some friend of my parents’ from school, and offered to take me in when Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley go on vacation in a few weeks.  Of course I’m not invited, but who wants to visit some theme park anyway?  But I’m getting off topic.  He said that he’d take care of me for the two weeks they are gone.  It wouldn’t be a problem, and he’d love to take me in; he said that it would be wonderful to see James’ son again since they were such great friends at school.

Now, I don’t know how many “great” friends you guys had at school, but unless this was you or Professor Lupin, there is something wrong.  And I don’t think it’s anyone from Hogwarts, because Professor Dumbledore would have let me know.  And even then, the only other person I can think of from your year is Snape, and he certainly wouldn’t call himself my dad’s friend!  Besides, Aunt Petunia would hate him.  She’d say he’s greasy.

I think it’s Wormtail.

I don’t know who else it could be, Sirius, and I’m scared.  I don’t know what to do.  They told me that I’ll be staying with a “friend,” and I heard Uncle Vernon say under his breath that he hopes the guy will keep me.  I asked if I couldn’t go to Ron’s house instead, but they said no.  That would be ungrateful.

So now I have to go to his house tomorrow.  They just told me this morning; this was the first chance I got to write.  I don’t know what to do, Sirius.  If I run, Voldemort will certainly find me, but what if it is Wormtail?  What do I do?  I hope you get this fast.

Harry.

 

Chapter One:  Light In Darkness

            The door to the Headmaster’s office burst open, making Arthur Weasley twist in his chair.  He hadn’t even heard the gargoyle move, which was strange enough in itself, but he’d thought that the entire faculty and staff of Hogwarts had enough respect for the Headmaster that they wouldn’t simply rush into his office without an invitation or at least a word of warning.  Upon seeing that it was only Professor Snape, he immediately relaxed, although an uncontrollable frown creased his features. 

            Arthur sat back, and forced himself to appear calm.  Inside, though, he was fuming.  The last thing the Order of the Phoenix needed was interruptions during the few meetings their members had—and especially interruptions by Severus Snape!  Sometimes I wonder why Dumbledore keeps him here.  He’s positively horrid to any students who aren’t his own House—I might not have believed Fred, George, or Ron about him, but I certainly believe Ginny and Percy!  Not only that, but rumors say that the man is a Death Eater—

            Then Dumbledore moved with a kind of speed that Arthur never thought he possessed, rising, darting around his desk, and catching Snape as the Potions professor collapsed. 

            “Severus?” The other’s body convulsed, and Arthur winched to see the pain on his abnormally pale face.

            Dumbledore gestured quickly with his wand—Weasley hadn’t even seen him take it to hand—and a nearby couch slid over to where the Headmaster supported Snape.  Gently, Dumbledore lowered both himself and the Potions Master to the couch, using another flick of his wand to levitate Snape’s legs, black boots and all, onto the couch.  Holding Snape’s head in his lap, the Headmaster asked gently:

            “Cruciatus?”

            Snape nodded, coughed.  His body seemed to jerk in pain.  Dumbledore laid a gentle hand on his forehead, and, watching speechlessly, Arthur noticed that the other professor was shaking.

            “How many times?”

            Snape shuddered.  “Lost count.”

            “I’m sorry.”  Concern made the Headmaster seem even older than Arthur Weasley knew he was.  But Snape grimaced at the regret in Dumbledore’s voice.

            “Not your fault.”  He coughed again and blinked once in obvious pain.  “My choice.”

            Dumbledore sighed softly.  “I suppose now is not the time to argue that point.  Accio Potion.”  A small silver vial landed in the old wizard’s hand immediately.  The Headmaster raised Snape’s head carefully.  “Drink this.”

            Snape scowled.  “I didn’t make that.”

            “No,” Dumbledore replied softly.  “I did.”

            Arthur’s eyebrows rose.  He’d never known Albus Dumbledore to be much of a potions maker.  Of course, the man was an extremely powerful wizard, able to do just about whatever he pleased—but everything Arthur had ever heard about him said that he hated potions work.  Yet here he was, offering a hurt—tortured—Severus Snape a potion he had made.

            “What for?”  There was much pain in Snape’s voice, but he peered at Dumbledore with something akin to his old cynicism and suspicion.

            “I had a feeling you would need it.  Drink.”

            Like an obedient student, Snape drank, and Arthur had to remind himself that Snape had once been one of Dumbledore’s students.  For that matter, so had he.  Listening to Albus Dumbledore came as naturally as breathing.  It just seemed so strange to see Snape give into anyone.  But the Headmaster was still speaking.

            “Now rest.  It will be a few minutes before the potion takes affect.”

            “No.”  Snape shook his head, and then seemed to regret it as he winced in pain.  His next words came out in a gasp.  “No time.”  Suddenly, his head turned and his eyes focused on Arthur with all of their old coldness and mistrust.

            “Arthur can be trusted,” Dumbledore said softly, but Snape’s icy gaze still made Arthur bristle.  At least he wasn’t rumored to be a Death Eater!  The nerve…!

            But Dumbledore’s calm eyes kept him from saying a word in response, even when the Potions master mumbled, “You’re sure…?”

            “Positive.  Arthur has been working for the Order of the Phoenix in the Ministry for some time now.”  The Headmaster studied Snape’s face.  “You are worried, Severus.”

            “Voldemort…” Snape closed his eyes briefly, and his voice seemed to be getting weaker.  “He’s found a way to get Potter.”

            “What!” Arthur was on his feet.  He couldn’t help it.  Harry was Ron’s best friend; besides, he cared for the poor boy.  Harry didn’t deserve to be made the Dark Lord’s victim again.  He didn’t deserve any of this.

            Both professors ignored him.  Dumbledore asked, “How?”

            “Wormtail,” Snape snarled.  But even this had little of its usual potency.  He was definitely in pain.  The Potions Master shuddered again. 

            “Severus…”

            “No time.  Important,” Snape wheezed, then coughed.  For a moment, Arthur was afraid that the man would actually throw up, but Snape seemed to gain control of himself before continuing.  “Wormtail made friends with Potter’s infernal…relatives.  Said he was an old friend of Harry’s father…the bastard.”  Neither Arthur or Dumbledore was willing to ask if the last remark was aimed at Wormtail or at James Potter; both merely waited as Snape coughed, convulsed, and then continued.  “Going to take…Potter…when the idiots go on vacation.”

            “What?” Dumbledore’s eyes flashed a split second, and Arthur saw a frightening kind of anger in them—and incredible power.  As soon as both had appeared, though, they were gone, and the Headmaster was his normal, mild-mannered, self.

            Snape finally seemed to suck in a deep breath.  “They leave tomorrow.”

            “How do you know this?” Arthur demanded.  How could anyone know The Dark Lord’s plans?  And how could Dumbledore trust anyone who did?  The Headmaster opened his mouth to reply, but Snape’s irritated snarl cut him off.

            “Fool,” the Potions Master cursed.  Then, without even bothering to look at Arthur, he pulled back the left sleeve of his robes with a shaking hand.  “You know this?”

            Arthur’s jaw dropped, and a cold ball of ice formed in his stomach.  Oh, he knew that… “The Dark Mark.”  It was a long moment before he trusted himself to speak through his shock.  He had just been shown the Dark Lord’s mark by a Hogwarts professor… “You’re a Death Eater!”

            “Yes.”

            Snape seemed to slump in exhaustion, compelling Dumbledore to gently pull the sleeve of his robe back forward, covering the burning black mark on the other professor’s forearm.  Only after he had finished rearranging Snape’s robes did the Headmaster look up at Arthur.  Their gazes met, and again, Weasley was astonished by the power radiating from the old man.

            “Severus was a Death Eater.  He still is one of Voldemort’s most trusted Lieutenants,” Dumbledore said levelly.  “But he has been working for me since before Voldemort’s first fall.”

            Arthur felt his eyebrows rise skeptically.  He could not help it.  He did not want to doubt Dumbledore’s word, but he knew, he knew, those that went over to the Dark Side did not come back.  And Snape…Snape’s personality fit the Death Eater mold perfectly: cold and cruel, unfair and unkind… Seeing his look, Dumbledore continued, his voice softening slightly with compassion that Arthur knew was not intended for him.

            “Severus also knows more about the inner workings of the Order of the Phoenix than you do, Arthur.  If he wished to betray us, many people, including myself and your wife, would be dead by now.  He has undertaken this role at great personal risk.  I trust him.  As should you.”

            “Then how did this happen?” Arthur demanded, gesturing at the Death Eater’s still shaking form.

            Snape’s growl forestalled any answer from Dumbledore.  “Fun,” he snarled.  “For the sheer and utter enjoyment of it.  I like getting nailed by a dozen or so Cruciatus curses.  It keeps me on my toes.”

            “Severus…” Dumbledore looked back down at him with disappointment on his face, and Snape winched.

            “Sorry, Albus.”

            Arthur gaped.  He had never, ever, heard Professor Severus Snape apologize to anyone for anything.  He hadn’t thought it possible—but now Dumbledore’s suddenly cold eyes were focused on him again.

            “Severus walks a very fine line as a double agent,” the Headmaster said softly.  “As such, he cannot succeed in every task Voldemort gives him…and failing the Dark Lord demands a high price.  Too high.”

            At Dumbledore’s words, Snape closed his eyes, and Arthur heard him mumble something, but was certain he had heard wrongly.  It had sounded like Snape said Not for me, under his breath; whatever it was, Dumbledore looked at him sharply.

            “Can I get up now?” Snape asked suddenly, seemingly realizing for the first time that he laid on his back upon the Headmaster’s couch, with his head in Dumbledore’s lap.  In any other circumstances, Arthur would have found it highly amusing.  Snape was helpless.  At the moment, though, it was merely saddening.  Especially if Dumbledore was telling the truth.

            And in his heart, he knew that Dumbledore had to be, else he’d not be holding a Death Eater in his arms as the man shook off—dozens?—of the Cruciatus curse.  Surely he’d been exaggerating.

            “No,” the Headmaster replied softly in response to Snape’s question.

            “Albus…” Some of the old tenacity was back in the Potions Master’s voice, and Arthur did not know why that made him smile.

            “Do you feel like you can stand without falling yet?” Dumbledore countered.

            “No.”

            There was silence.  Finally, Snape’s shaking finally seemed to abate slightly, but he did not argue, and his admission of his own weakness seemed to take all other strength out of him.  The other professor simply lay still, breathing slowly, and obviously waiting until the potion Dumbledore had given him could take affect.  The quietness continued for several long minutes, and Arthur felt uncomfortable breaking it, but he had to as a horrible thought occurred to him.  “Uh…I don’t mean to interrupt, Professor, but what about Harry?”

            Dumbledore looked up.  “I will deal with that.”

            “I could—”

            “No, Arthur.”  But the Headmaster softened his refusal with a slight smile.  “I do not doubt your ability to aid Harry, but I need to send those whom Voldemort is already certain are on my side.  And it is best that you do not know who,” he added, forestalling Arthur’s next question.

            The other wizard nodded, but before he could say anything more, Snape spoke softly from behind closed eyes.

“Albus…”

“Yes?”

            “Tomorrow… I am to go with those who retrieve Potter from Wormtail,” he said quietly.  “Myself, Malfoy, and others…Voldemort does not trust Wormtail to complete his mission alone.”

            “Can you sabotage them, then?” Arthur asked hopefully.  But it was Dumbledore who answered.

            “No.”  Snape looked at him, and one black eyebrow rose.  “No, Severus,” the Headmaster repeated.  “You and I both know that would place you in too much danger, especially after your failure to accomplish your last mission for him.  I will not have you killed needlessly.”

            “I can delay them.”  Snape sighed.  “Maybe.”

            “Carefully,” Dumbledore added.

            “Whoever you send had best be able to think quickly, then,” Snape replied.  “And they had better be very powerful.”

            “I have just the person in mind.”  Arthur could have sworn Dumbledore smiled for a moment, and it was something he had never seen from the kind old wizard before.  It certainly wasn’t a nice smile.  “When are you to retrieve Harry from Wormtail?”

            “After dark.  I don’t know when Wormtail is going to get Potter.”

             “You ought to get some rest, then.”

            “I know.”  Snape sat up gingerly, and this time Dumbledore did not stop him.  Rather, he rose and helped the younger man to his feet.

            “Can you make it to your chambers alone?” he asked.

            “I’ll survive,” Snape replied, and suddenly, his eyes looked haunted.  “I always do.”

            Without a further word, the Potions Master made his way to the door and exited the Headmaster’s office, moving stiffly, but otherwise normally.  Dumbledore watched him as he left, his eyes dark with worry.  The professor remained still for several moments after the door slid shut, then finally tore his gaze away from it and moved back around his desk.  Silently, he took a piece of parchment from a drawer and began to write.  His hand moved quickly, and the letter must have been relatively short, because within thirty seconds he had finished, rolled up the parchment, and sealed it.  He then turned to the scarlet and gold phoenix who had watched all from his perch. 

            “I need you to take this to Padfoot, Fawkes,” Dumbledore said, offering the scroll to the phoenix, who took it immediately.  “Quickly.”

            After a soft noise of acquiesce, the phoenix was gone.  For a moment, Arthur watched the scarlet and gold figure as it disappeared out the window and over the horizon, flying more gracefully than anything he had ever seen before.  Finally, he spoke.

            “I wasn’t aware that phoenixes delivered mail.”  It was so irrelevant, but he had to say something.

            “Most do not,” Dumbledore replied lightly.  “But Fawkes understands, and he can move much faster than any owl.”

            “Right,” Arthur breathed, feeling slightly queasy.  The lump of ice in the pit of his stomach still had not melted.  He was worried about Harry, worried that Wormtail—whoever he really was; no one ever seemed to speak his real name when Arthur was around—would get to Harry before Dumbledore’s people.  He couldn’t bear the thought of that innocent boy used as the Dark Lord’s pawn again.  Harry didn’t deserve it.  He just didn’t deserve it.  “Uh…Professor, are you sure that you can trust Snape?”

            “Certainly.”  Dumbledore looked at him strangely.

            “But he’s a Death Eater,” Arthur objected, and then as one silver eyebrow rose expectantly, he corrected himself.  “Was a Death Eater.”

            “And no one is more aware of that than Severus Snape,” the Headmaster replied softly.  “He has spent years trying to atone for crimes that he feels can never be paid for.  And he has taken great risks to help us.”

            “But what if…?”
            “What if he’s working for Voldemort?” Dumbledore finished for him.  “He is not.  Were he, this school would have been laid open to Voldemort a long time ago, and I, at least, would most certainly be dead.  I trust Severus, Arthur, and so must you.  And I must ask you not to tell anyone of this.  His life depends upon it.”

            Arthur nodded.  He might not trust Snape, but Dumbledore did, and that was enough.  “Are you sure that you do not need anyone else to go get Harry?”

            “You cannot go,” Dumbledore told him once more.  “Nor can I.  We both have business at the Ministry, and—” he smiled, but Arthur felt he was anything but happy “—speaking of which, we must be going.”

            “Right.”

            But the chunk of ice still resided in Arthur’s stomach.  And it was getting colder.

//
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