My thanks go to JK Rowling for providing such inspiring characters and themes. Said characters and themes remain hers at all times.
Authors Note: There are times in every writer's life when they find themselves writing a story they don't want to write. I guess this is one of mine. And yet, here it is.
Thanks, as always, to my Beta, who is absolutely wonderful!
When All Seems Lost
by J Forias
I was haunted by that flash of green light.
Not the one that mattered. That curse had been cast by my master, and had the whole Wizarding World to mourn it. It didn’t need one more.
For Potter’s death had always been on the cards. A coin toss: win or lose. I had never had any illusions about that. I had merely chosen to play a hand.
What haunted me was the choice I had made when everything was already lost. When nothing had mattered anyway...
I had killed a man, in those final moments. A friend of sorts. And there had been no good reason for it.
Albus Dumbledore had claimed that choices define a person. That a choice made in a crucial moment would follow a man onwards, as a constant whisper, riding on his shoulder.
My whisper condemned me to a living hell.
Perfectly on cue, the Dark Mark burnt itself to life on the skin of my arm, searing into more than just my flesh.
For my master was calling, pulling on the strings of his loyal puppet.
“Why am I still hearing that name?” hissed the monster.
He had converted the Minister of Magic’s office into a small throne room, with a plush, gilded chair resting majestically behind the mahogany desk. The creature rested on the edge, leaning over the desk to glare down at me.
I fought the urge to sigh, choosing instead to bow my head subserviently.
“We are pooling all our assets into finding the Longbottom boy.”
It had been like this for so long. Once upon a time, I had dreamed that Dumbledore would succeed and that this would be ended. I had sacrificed so much for it, even killing Dumbledore himself, just for the chance to strike at the snake that had been Voldemort’s most closely guarded Horcrux. I had even succeeded, rendering Voldemort mortal, for all the good it had done...
“We had finished it!” Voldemort snarled. “Potter was dead. The prophecy finished. All hope gone. The Order of the Phoenix was completely destroyed!”
And then another had risen up in its place, within weeks. Certain details of the prophecy had been leaked to the public, carefully revealing how references to the Chosen One might apply to someone other than Harry Potter.
“Neville Longbottom is no threat, My Lord,” I insisted.
And I had no trouble believing it. The boy was an incompetent fool. Only one step up from a Squib.
“If he were no threat then this would be finished, wouldn’t it?”
My master’s snarl sent shivers racing down my spine.
“My apologies,” I whispered.
I waited for the inevitable Cruciatus Curse, but it never came. Instead, the Dark Lord settled back slightly and gazed thoughtfully at me.
“Hogwarts will open again, in the fall,” he began, his voice quiet. “I shall require a Headmaster. One who will champion the ideals shared by both myself and my ancestor.”
“Yes, Severus, you would be ideal,” Lord Voldemort confirmed. “It has occurred to me that you, my most loyal servant, have received little reward for your efforts. The rest are happy with the pillages of war, with the trophies and playthings that I allot them. But you, Severus... you have higher tastes.”
Headmaster of Hogwarts...
“It would be a great honour,” I whispered.
And one I could never live with. I would be sitting in Dumbledore’s office, slowly unbuilding everything that had ever mattered to him.
“But you must prove yourself one final time,” Voldemort hissed. “I want this new Order destroyed and I want Longbottom’s head. Do you understand me?”
The response leapt automatically to my lips.
“Of course, My Lord.”
Voldemort nodded his approval and then looked down at some paperwork.
“There is a prisoner in the dungeons,” he informed me. “A Mister Finnigan. He was brought in a few hours ago. He will make a useful place for you to start.”
“I am your loyal servant.”
I bowed low and then hurried out of the room.
A few yards down the corridor, I passed the offices that had been assigned to my department. Along the walls stretched black and white “wanted” pictures...
Neville Longbottom, Fred Weasley, Ernie McMillan, Luna Lovegood...
These were the high profile figures; the ones who delighted in appearing on our scopes, just to vanish again and thwart our efforts. They achieved little, other than to drive my master into fits of pique.
A figure with bright red hair hurried towards me.
“Mister Snape,” he called, tucking a clipboard of papers under his arm. “We’ve apprehended Seamus Finnigan. MLES brought him in just a few hours ago.”
“I am aware of that, Mister Weasley,” I replied. “You will join me for the questioning.”
Percy Weasley nodded his acceptance and slipped into step behind me.
We continued, wordlessly, to the nearest lift. The golden grills opened and we stepped in.
“Level Eleven. The Detention Cells,” Weasley ordered.
A small amount of bile leapt into my mouth. Some tiny part of me rebelled at the cool tone he had used to refer to our torture chambers. I swallowed it back down.
Percy Weasley was the epitome of the Dark Lord’s triumph. A mid-level employee under the old Ministry, he had been allowed to stay employed and serve the newly enrolled Minister for Magic.
Originally demoted into Muggle Relations, a department kept alive mostly for amusement value, Weasley had managed to prove himself useful. His ruthless efficiency and doubtless talent had seen him rise in stature, until he had been assigned to my own... unique department.
The grills slipped open soundlessly, revealing the stone-walled complex that I had had a firm hand in establishing.
Death and decay rode on the back of the stale air.
And there was sound, too - little gasping noises from the surrounding cells.
“Ah, Snape!” a voice boomed. “And the blood traitor. Excellent, excellent.”
“McNair,” I greeted.
Weasley nodded primly and looked unfazed by the insult.
“We’ve got that Irish kid back here. He’s a mouthy little brat, I’ll warn you.”
“He’s cleared up to B level torture,” Weasley informed McNair, un-tucking his clipboard and gesturing the Death Eater towards it. “If you can sign here.”
McNair shot me a glance. “Paperwork, eh? Not like the good old days.”
“Just sign it,” I ordered.
He shrugged, took an offered quill, and scrawled his surname messily over the parchment.
“So, you think he’s an Order member?” McNair asked.
“It’s a... possibility,” I allowed.
Weasley looked up. “Our intelligence report surmised a fifty-four per cent probability.”
McNair rolled his eyes.
“Show us to him,” I instructed.
We were led past several occupied cells, until we reached the sight of a young sandy-haired man, standing near the bars of his cage. An ankle manacle and chain locked his left leg to within a few feet of the far wall.
“Snape!” he spat, as soon as seeing me.
I sighed, bored by his animosity. “Mister Finnigan.”
Weasley stepped forward. “Seamus Finnigan, born 1980, you have been arrested under suspicion of aiding dissident elements. Should you give a full and honest account to questions given, and assuming you have committed no offence, then you will receive no undue discomfort.”
The boy laughed. “You’ll just let me go, will ya?”
“That is the law.”
“Law?” Finnigan laughed. “That it may be. But you’ll bend it to your ends. Who gets to decide whether I’m being honest? Answer me that, traitor.”
Beside me, McNair smiled cynically. He knew he’d be occupied, whatever transpired here.
“Enough,” I intervened. “I can assure you that failure to comply will be more painful for you than the alternative.”
Finnigan’s jaw set. “What are your questions?”
I nodded to Percy Weasley.
“Have you at any time been a member of the Order of the Phoenix, in either of its incarnations?”
The prisoner shook his head. “No.”
Weasley made a note.
“Have you at any time aided an active member of the Order in the course of their criminal endeavours?”
“I have not,” Finnigan answered.
“You expect me to believe that?” I hissed. “I do remember you, Finnigan. You were extremely close to Potter.”
“Sometimes,” Finnigan replied, moving backwards to sit against a cold stone bench, at the back of the cell. “But that’s got very little to do with it. I have a wife, don’t you know?”
I narrowed my eyes. “So you took the coward’s route out?”
“You are calling me a coward?” Finnigan roared, leaping back to his feet. “You murdered Dumbledore!”
Percy Weasley continued to scrawl notes on his clipboard at a frantic rate, showing no other reaction to the scene before him.
“Sit down, Finnigan,” I ordered. “I am merely trying to appreciate your story.”
After a moment, the Gryffindor settled back down.
“I thought it was over, you know,” Finnigan continued, a haunted expression on his face. “Harry was dead. I’m not saying I didn’t have the chance to join and I’m not saying I did... but...”
I stared at his eyes, catching glimmers of the thoughts within.
“You couldn’t bear to risk any more,” I mocked.
The young man’s teeth gritted. “Of course, reading my mind, aren’t you, Mister Snape.”
“Legilimency is one of my skills.”
“And don’t we all know it,” Finnigan snarled. “Severus Snape, reader of minds, king of his own secret police. Your legend keeps the peace for you.”
This time, I laughed, taking all my bitterness and turning it back on him.
“You regret it, don’t you?” I asked snidely. “You’d join the Order, now, given half a chance. You’ve tried to live in our world and it kills you a little, every day.”
Finnigan swore at me, red colour flooding his face. It felt good to lash out at such weakness, for I hated that part of myself, too. The little voice on my shoulder that refused to let me be at peace here.
“Why do you even have this torture, then? You know I’m innocent.”
“Legilimency is not a perfect art, Mister Finnigan. I know that better than anyone.” I nodded at Percy Weasley, indicating that we would be leaving soon. “My master prefers us to be absolutely certain of a witness’s knowledge.”
“By torture?” Finnigan jeered.
“Of course,” McNair said, stepping forward, his wand clenched in his right hand.
The Gryffindor turned to Weasley, who was finishing up his notes.
“See, Weasley, I tell the truth and get tortured anyway. Where’s your law now?”
The tall, red-headed boy peered down at Finnigan.
“Where it always has been, Mister Finnigan,” Weasley responded, his tone prim and academic. “You have just voiced destabilising opinions on the elected regime and we have strong evidence that you would join a dissident organisation, were you given the opportunity. These are serious offences, which justify the use of torture, under the articles of the 1998 Memorandum.”
I nodded. “Good day, Finnigan.”
McNair turned to me. “Am I cleared to begin, then?”
“Best to allow the proper allotted contemplation period,” Weasley replied. “According to Ministry guidelines, two hour is the recommended minimum.”
The Death Eater wandered off, muttering angrily about Ministry interference.
“No closer to the blasted Order than we were before,” I muttered, getting into the lift.
Weasley followed behind. “Oh, I think you’re getting pretty close, sir.”
“You do, Weasley?”
“Ground Floor, back exit,” the red-head ordered, before turning back to me. “Finnigan may well have some information about the leaders of the organisation, gathered when they tried to recruit him, as I’m assuming they did.”
I frowned. “But we know who the leader is. Longbottom and his lieutenants.”
Percy Weasley shook his head.
“Has it not occurred to you, sir, that the Order might be slightly more complex than that?”
Truth be told, it hadn’t.
“I have very little trust in the competence of the Order whatsoever,” I answered. “It is a simple truth, Weasley, that the dark powers we hold are stronger than the weak tactics of the Order and its like.”
“Oh, certainly, sir,” Weasley replied. “In that what one man can destroy, it may take fifty to rebuild. But the Order relies on other tactics than destruction. Maybe ones that, forgive me for saying, you are not so familiar with...”
The lift jerked to a stop and opened out onto a small hallway with a few Ministry employees bustling through it. There was a standing Portkey at one end that led directly to Diagon Alley.
Many of the workers shot us nervous looks, as they passed. It reminded me very much of Hogwarts, where nervous students used to hurry out from under my gaze.
“What are you talking about, Weasley?”
“They rely on creating hope, sir,” he explained. “For the Dark Lord is a pinned target, now. He’s relying on an infrastructure. Imagine, for a moment, that every person in this building rose up and attacked him in his office, right now.”
I blinked. The idea was unthinkable, and yet, not even he could cope with such numbers.
“Exactly,” Weasley continued. “And what is stopping that from happening?”
I hesitated for a moment.
“Fear,” I replied, finally.
“And you, sir, are a big part of that. Our department keeps order. People are too afraid to even consider a rebellion. They know that we would be on them in a moment.”
I nodded. “And that’s why the Dark Lord fears the Order so much.”
How could I have been so foolish? I should have seen the threat!
“They create hope,” Weasley finished, peering at me over his horn-rimmed glasses. “And hope is the one thing that must be stamped out. People can not be allowed to realise the power that they truly hold.”
“Yes...” I whispered, but something was stirring in my chest.
The image of this whole building rising against Voldemort filled me with a strange sort of joy.
“Are you alright?” Weasley asked.
Wait one moment...
Percy Weasley was watching me with a most uncharacteristic shrewdness.
I lanced quickly into his mind, catching just the merest echo of something, before a vast array of Occlumency barriers came crashing down around me.
A moment later, and all I saw in his mind was the same Weasley I had known for the last six months... ambitious, driven and completely motivated by his own desires.
“Would you like to go have a coffee, sir?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“There’s someone I think you should meet,” Weasley revealed, facing me across the small cafe table.
A small, slight-looking girl, with red hair, took the third seat at the table. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest. I recognised her. Images of the final battle tugged at my mind, but I pushed them back.
“Ginny Weasley,” I muttered. “I should arrest you now.”
“That wouldn’t really be worth the effort, would it?” she asked, settling back in her chair. “I’m probably not even in the top one hundred of your wanted list.”
I nodded. “You’ve certainly been out of sight. We assumed you were in mourning somewhere.”
“No real threat, in any case,” the girl concluded, smiling gently.
Percy Weasley rose to his feet.
“I will leave the two of you to your conversation,” he said. “I’ll be back at the Ministry.”
I shot him a dangerous glance.
“If you intend to flee, Weasley...”
His mouth drew out in a thin-lipped smile.
“Believe me, sir, I have no intention of doing that.”
Ginny Weasley intervened.
“Either arrest us both now, or let him go. Those are your only two choices.”
I sighed and did nothing, as my assistant left the small cafe.
“I take it you are both agents of the Order of the Phoenix.”
“Oh, yes,” Miss Weasley replied, picking up her brother’s abandoned coffee and taking a sip.
Anger welled up inside.
“And you are so stupid as to admit this to me?”
“It does seem rather stupid, doesn’t it,” she replied. “But you see, Professor, I trust you.”
I stared at her wide-eyed. “Then you’re even stupider than I thought.”
She shook her head.
“I haven’t forgotten what happened, Severus,” she whispered. “I remember what you did, two years ago.”
I closed my eyes against the memory.
“Everything was lost and still you did it. When your only hope for life was by Voldemort’s good graces, you still risked your cover...”
The girl was running; dirt and tears mingling on her face... spell fire dancing around her as she leapt over the bodies of her friends...
I watched her, sympathy rushing out to her, as she ran... for some part of me knew that she, of everyone, had lost the most here...
“It was a mistake, Miss Weasley, as simple as that. The battlefield is a confusing place.”
She smiled with the same gentleness as before.
“It was a choice, Professor. We both know that.”
And then the girl was stopped; Lucius Malfoy, my friend, stalking out before her. She tried to twist and turn away, but only succeeded in falling to the ground, into the mud.
“You will make a fine trophy, my dear,” he whispered. “I will enjoy breaking you...”
Something inside me snapped, rebelling furiously against the world where darkness won and people like Malfoy could destroy the good.
The memory faded and I was back, once more, staring into the brown eyes of the young woman before me.
“Do you really regret saving me?”
A dark fury rose up in me. I wanted to say “yes” and have her arrested this very moment. To have her executed for the sheer idiocy of trusting me. Of expecting to find some goodness in me, after all this time.
But she was alive and fighting and she was reminding me of someone.
“No, Miss Weasley, I don’t.”
“Good,” she said. “You can’t live like this. Your choices won’t let you.”
I raised a sardonic eyebrow. “Is that so?”
The girl said nothing. She just looked at me, as if she saw right through me.
“So...” I muttered, gritting my teeth. “What does Longbottom wish me to do?”
“Neville?” she asked. “Neville is a brave, wonderful man. But he does not lead the Order. And as for what we wish you to do, it is, in fact, very little.”
“I expect it’s the usual,” I sneered. “Risk my neck giving you intelligence.”
Ginny Weasley shook her head.
“No.” She took another sip of her coffee. “Right now, we have operatives in place preparing a major breakout from the Ministry detention cells. My brother has done an excellent job spreading our influence there.”
I sighed bitterly. “I can’t believe I never suspected him.”
“My brother received some of the best results in the history of Hogwarts,” Miss Weasley revealed, her tone a little smug. “Occlumency is just one of his talents.”
“But we were so sure of his loyalties... even allowing for his ability to fool me; we did a thorough background check...”
Ginny Weasley’s features hardened.
“Lord Voldemort killed half our family,” she whispered. “And you expected him to serve you loyally?”
“You were estranged,” I shot back. “Every indication said that he hated you, wanted nothing to do with you and despised everything you represented.”
Sadness fell over her eyes.
“Family is family,” she said, finally.
I shook my head, not understanding at all.
“So, this breakout, how does it relate to me?”
The girl laughed. “It relates because you are the one orchestrating it. For it has been you, working tirelessly for months, that has undermined Voldemort and declared open war against him.”
“I don’t understand.”
She ran a hand idly through her hair.
“This has become a war of ideals and of hope. People have come to fear you more than Voldemort. Your department of secret police is all that stands between us and an open uprising. If you join our side, and show the people that they never really had anything to fear... and if we open the prisons at the same time...”
I nodded, trying to hide the hope from sounding in my voice.
“Then you shall have your uprising.”
“And Voldemort will die,” she finished.
Silence fell upon us. A waitress came over and took Miss Weasley’s empty mug, but mine still rested untouched.
“What is Mister Weasley doing now?”
The girl met my eye.
“In audience with Lord Voldemort, reporting suspicions concerning your loyalty. We need someone highly placed to instigate matters, after all.”
An uncharacteristic smile pulled across my face. If I took the credit for the breakout, Percy Weasley would receive credit for being the only one to suspect me. He might even be promoted into my place.
“Clever,” I said. “And the breakout will begin when?”
She glanced at the pink watch on her left wrist. “Approximately two minutes.”
“Then tell me, Miss Weasley, who really leads the Order?”
Warm sunlight was glinting in through the cafe windows, setting our table in pleasant brightness.
“You’ve already guessed that it’s me,” she replied.
She was right. I had.
“But it was Harry who started it,” she whispered, her voice carrying a great depth of sadness. “The Horcruxes were gone, yet he knew it was still him versus Voldemort. Just the toss of a coin: win or lose. He never had any illusions about that.”
My eyes fell down to the table, while she continued.
“So he wanted us to keep fighting, even if he lost. He told us about Neville. He wanted us to have hope, no matter what.”
I sighed heavily.
“It would appear I misjudged him.”
“Yes,” she replied. “You did.”
My body tensed. I knew that we only had a matter of moments.
“I am surprised you trusted me,” I said, my voice cold. “Given what I have been doing for the past two years.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a huge body of people running out of the Portkey position that was used by the Ministry. A figure I recognised as Neville Longbottom was running at the fore, right next to Seamus Finnigan.
“You just needed the same thing we all needed,” Ginny Weasley said, rising to her feet.
I snorted. “Yes, hope... I get the picture.”
A large assortment of pops signalled the arrival of cloaked Death Eaters and several members of what, only this morning, had been my very own department.
I gripped my wand firmly and strode to the exit, my robes billowing behind me.
“Come on, Weasley,” I ordered, flinging the door open. “We’ve got a war to win.”