The Beginning of the End

By Phantom (phantom1313 at tfrid dot com)

“I'm so tired of being here.
Suppressed by all my childhood fears….
These wounds won't seem to heal,
this pain is just too real,
there's just too much that time cannot erase.”
My Immortal- Evanescence
 

“It’s funny that way
You can get used to the tears and the pain
What a child will believe
You never loved me”
Oh Father- Madonna
 

The young, lanky boy lay in the corner of the room, his sobs muffled by his head pressed against his knees. His shoulders shook with released emotion, and his entire body trembled as his dreams crumbled to dust.

A strong, firm hand fell on his shoulder. The boy’s frame became instantly immobile, frozen in shock. With a shuddering sigh, the youth lifted up his face, blotchy and streaked with tears. Confusion was written all over his face. This was a private place; nobody at all should know about it, much less… a perfect stranger?

No, not quite a stranger. Although he had certainly never seen him before in his life, the boy felt a sort of kinship with the dark, silent stranger standing before him. “Who… who are you?” he asked, hating the tremble in his voice.

The man blinked slowly, and the youth was captivated by his eyes. Midnight black, as deep as the darkest night – just like the ones who stared back at him every day in the mirror. A corner of the stranger’s mouth lifted in just the slightest hint of an ironic smile. “Why, you of all people should know. I’m you.”

Young Severus scowled at the figure before him, hastily dashing the tears from his eyes with the sleeve of his school robe. The man certainly looked like an older version of him… he was tall, lean, and imposing (all the things he’d always wanted to be), yet he still had the hated beaky nose, the eternally greasy-looking hair, and the fathomless eyes. “Why should I believe you?” he said crossly.

This time the man’s smile spread to his entire face. It was an expression of bitter mockery, and the boy recoiled from it. “Oh, I don’t expect you to take my word for it,” he said smoothly, and the boy couldn’t suppress a twinge of awe at the man’s incredible voice. “If our roles were reversed, I certainly wouldn’t believe it if some random bloke walked up to me and introduced himself as a future incarnation of me. No, it’s going to take a lot more convincing than that.” With that, the man turned his back and began disrobing. Severus watched as the man cast aside a set of formal black robes, then made swift work of a form-fitting black waistcoat and an underlying white shirt, finally bearing a broad back, crisscrossed by raised red welts. The boy clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle the gasp of horror, the stripes on his own back burning in recognition.

The man spun around to face him, his expression carefully shuttered. “I still have them. They have never fully faded. Oh yes, sometimes at night I can still feel Father bending me over a chair, whipping me raw with his belt.” A slight tremor shook him, and pressed his lips together until they turned white. “But that alone will surely not convince you. Very well then. There are things that you have never told anybody that I know… the time Father pushed you off a broom when you were five, the time Uncle told you what an ugly whore you were as he forced himself upon you when you were twelve, the time you nicked yourself with the paring knife and just wished you could let it bleed until there was nothing left….”

“Stop! Gods, please stop!” the youth begged him, hands clasped over his ears. The elder Snape took a deep breath, relieved as well to stop reliving the painful memories that threatened to batter down his defenses and overwhelm him. His younger self looked up with a mixed expression of curiosity and wariness. “Okay… I believe you. But how did you get here? Why are you speaking to me? Couldn’t this cause a giant paradox?”

Severus senior chuckled bitterly as he gestured to a long-chained necklace draped around his neck. “This is a Time-Turner. Let’s just say that I ‘borrowed’ it from the Headmaster, who seemed to have it on permanent loan from the Ministry. And yes, I know that I am expressly breaking Wizarding laws by coming back in time to speak to you. I wish to change the course of the future for the better. And that cannot be accomplished without you.” A long-fingered hand gestured to a glass vial lying before the boy.

“So let me guess,” young Severus said bitterly. “You’ve come back to save me from the awful decision to commit suicide and thus preserve your glorious future. Spare me.”

A rusty laugh came from the man, the sound frightening the younger boy with its creepiness. “Oh yes, I can see how you would believe that. No, rather the opposite, actually. I have come to persuade you to drink that concoction and put an end to both of our lives”. He held up a hand as his younger self tried to protest in shock. “Please, let me explain. I suppose I owe it to you. Again, I know what I am doing is expressly forbidden by Wizarding law, but I just can’t be bothered to care right now. With luck, neither of us will be around to experience the repercussions.

“I know what has just happened for you tonight, about the Shack and Lupin’s true nature. How the Headmaster made you feel about two inches tall, how he may have well just come out and told you that your life is worth nothing. How he rewarded James Bloody Potter and refused to properly punish any of the others, but he couldn’t be bothered with actually protecting you. The werewolf’s reputation was more important than your life.

“I remember this day as if it were yesterday. How badly I wanted to take my life that meant nothing to anyone. But I didn’t, because I foolishly believed that things might get better. I still hoped to graduate and become a world-famous Potions Master. And that happened. Oh yes, but not in the way I expected. Tonight you will leave this room, go up to your dorm, and earn the support of Lucius Malfoy. He will become your best friend, introduce you to influential people, and arrange a place for you in an elite group of Wizards. Your work will be admired and respected.”

Young Severus looked at him in confusion. “That’s everything I’ve ever wanted! But then why…?”

Elder Snape waved his hand in a silencing motion. “It is, in fact, the worst mistake you will ever make in your life.” He gestured to his arm, where the Dark Mark pulsed ominously. “The Death Eaters are not merely a cadre of successful and upwardly mobile pureblood Wizards. They are a group of murderous zealots, lead by a madman with delusions of grandeur. You will end up making potions to kill, maim or torture, and be tortured yourself for the privilege. Your conscience rather belatedly makes an appearance, so you turn yourself in to Dumbledore, who instead spares you and turns you into a spy for his Order of the Phoenix. Even after the Dark Lord is presumably dead, you will have no peace. Nobody wants anything to do with you, so you spend your remaining years teaching dunderheaded children about the subtle art of Potion-making and trying to prepare for the day when the Lord will resurrect himself, for it was surely inevitable.

“The only bright spot has been as Head of Slytherin, where I try to protect my charges from the blatant favoritism of the other professors, and I get to watch as my influence fails and they too take the Dark Mark.” The boy blinked in surprise at the change from ‘you’ to ‘I’, but it really made no difference, since they were one and the same. “I am stuck playing nursemaid to James Bloody Potter’s son, who has a penchant for danger and deadly situations, while the Dark Lord continues to torture me for my lack of information. The best I can hope for is that my heart will fail and I will die.”

The boy wrinkled his nose. “That’s morbid. But since it’s me, that’s hardly a surprise.” Severus thought over what his older self had said. “If things are really so bad, then why don’t you just commit suicide yourself? That would have been so much easier than coming to see me.”

Snape sank to the floor, looking weary and much older than his years. “I’ve been wanting to take my life for the past fifteen years. I cannot. I owe both James and Dumbledore a Life Debt. I’ve been trying my damnedest to pay it off, and you’d think that my daily suffering would be sufficient, but I’ve committed too many horrible crimes, and continue to do so in the name of the Death Eaters, that my debt will never be truly paid. If I were to commit suicide now, I would exist as a tormented spirit. That’s why I came to see you, while my soul was less tainted.”

Severus-the-boy reached for the bottle of poison and cradled it in his hands. It was a fine concoction, truly his best so far. It would be an honor to die by it. He had been so tempted to drink it earlier, but something had held him back. The promise of a better future, a chance to show those hateful Gryffindors a thing or two. But, as a part of him had always suspected, it was not to be.

Snape cupped his hands around the boy’s, holding the potion between them reverently. “You will never know love, or happiness, or true success and recognition. Even now, people mock you and despise you. We are nothing but a joke to the world, Severus Snape, and there is absolutely nothing that you or I can do to change that. We are ugly, greasy Slytherin gits that the world would be more than happy to get rid of. The Headmaster pretends to care about us, but it is a lie. Time and again he places the value of his golden Gryffindors above our own.” His hands squeezed tight, and the boy looked into the eyes of the man, whose gaze was now unguarded and shining with tears. “Please, please do it. Set us both free.”

Young Severus allowed the hands to retreat, as his own uncorked the vial and raised it to his lips. “Here’s to us,” he said with an odd sort of lightheartedness and downed its contents in one gulp. His older self smiled tremulously and felt a single tear trickle down his face in sheer relief. At last, after so long, he was free. Severus watched the man fade into nothingness as he slumped over onto his side, overcome with a wave of vertigo. Of course his older self was no longer here. He had faded into nonexistence. Soon he would be free too. At that thought, his spirit slipped away, and he died with a tiny, satisfied smile on his face.

* * * * *

Headmaster Dumbledore returned to his office, a customary twinkle in his eye. He had been called upon by Filch to chastise the Weasley twins, who had been visiting Hogwarts to promote their products and had allowed some of their demonstrations to get out of hand. Personally, Albus had been hard-pressed not to laugh outright. It was good for them all to experience a bit of lighthearted happiness in these dark days. It was such a pity that not all of them could relax and let go of their worries, not even for a moment.

His hand caressed the side of his desk, and a hidden drawer obligingly appeared. Inside were kept several trivial-looking yet very sentimental items. He drew out a picture and smiled. The young man inside scowled and turned his back. It was a photograph of Severus, taken shortly after assuming his teaching post at Hogwarts. He could tell that the young man was secretly discomfited and more than a little frightened, but he had adapted quickly enough. Albus knew that life had always been too harsh to Severus, and he tried (usually unsuccessfully) to lift the dour man’s mood. Lately he had been very worried about Severus. The young man didn’t seem to realize how valuable he was, and not only because of his spying duties.

The Headmaster’s brow crinkled in puzzlement as the young professor’s picture began to fade and eventually disappeared entirely. Pictures could be as temperamental as their real-life counterparts, and they could hide or turn away at will, but they could certainly not disappear into thin air. Something was happening here. He stood and walked over to a portrait that was charmed only to be visible to professors – it was a photograph of the entire staff that magically changed from year to year, as the professors aged and faculty members were added or had departed. Hagrid waved a bit over-enthusiastically, and Snape swatted away his arm crossly. The gameskeeper-turned-professor turned to apologize, and then gaped in astonishment as the Potions Master faded away entirely. After a moment, McGonagall stepped over to fill the empty space.

Dumbledore rubbed his temples. What had he been looking at again? Snape… oh, yes, that poor boy that had commit suicide in his Sixth year. So sad, really; the boy had had so much potential. “No!” he roared out loud. “That is NOT how it happened!”

He leaped up and dashed to his filing cabinet, pawing through it frantically. “Aha!” he declared in triumph as he held aloft Severus’ teaching certificate, attached to his employment contract. The blue eyes ceased to twinkle as, before his horrified gaze, the teaching credentials changed into a death certificate. This was wrong, he knew it in his heart. Why could this be happening?

“The Time-Turner!” he exclaimed, running over to the velvet box where it had been kept. As he had expected, it was empty. He slumped into his chair, eyes welling up with tears. “Oh, Severus, what have you done?” he murmured sadly. “What hope do any of us have without you, my friend?”

He leapt to his feet. He hadn’t had this sort of energy in years, but he was desperate. Something had to be done! The first thing to be done was to ascertain if any changes had occurred since time had been rewritten. He hastened out of his office, moving much quicker than should be possible for a man his age. Fortunately, the castle sensed his need for haste and obligingly arranged its staircases and corridors for the quickest possible route.

He reached the dungeons in record time, and was pounding on the door to Snape’s quarters before he had fully recovered his breath. The door was flung open, and Dumbledore could not keep his jaw from dropping as a total stranger emerged. From his robes, Albus surmised that he was a professor, though he was at a loss for who the man was and what he taught.

The man looked at him expectantly. “What’s wrong, Albus?”

Albus found his voice. “Oh, sorry to disturb you, Professor. It was really nothing important.”

The man snorted. “There’s really no need to bother with that title, Albus. We both know that there haven’t been any classes here for years. Well, except the crash courses in Defense. Tell me,” he leaned forward in concern, “has there been another attack?”

“Attack?” Dumbledore repeated in confusion, but the loud rumbling sound outside answered for him. Ah yes, an attack indeed.

The stranger pushed his way past Albus, wand drawn. “I’ll take the Astronomy Tower. See if you can get Flitwick and Longbottom to gather the others and defend the main door. I don’t know why the Death Eaters are so stupid to continually concentrate their attack there, though I suppose we should be thankful for small blessings.”

Albus turned to go and bumped straight into a warm, unyielding object. “Hagrid!” he exclaimed in relieved delight, but his smile faded as he beheld the bedraggled half-giant. Hagrid had a gigantic scar that had sealed shut one eye, and he appeared to be missing two fingers on his left hand. “Hagrid, there’s been another attack. Have you seen Minerva?”

Hagrid’s great face crumpled. “Yer a great man, Dumbledore, but have ya forgotten? Perfessor McGonagall is dead! That bastard Malfoy got ‘er. I wuz hopin the boy would turn out good, but I suppose there was just no one who understood ‘im enough. Bloody hell!” he cursed as the wall trembled. “Best get out there and do mah part without cryin’ over the past, I suppose. I’ll see you out there soon.” Hagrid hefted his pink umbrella grimly and headed after the still-unknown professor.

“Hagrid, wait!” Dumbledore exclaimed. He knew that it would seem as if he’d gone ’round the twist, but he just had to know. “What do you remember of Severus Snape?”

A tear ran down the half-giant’s face. “Ah, that poor boy. Never seemed to have any friends, he did. He came to visit me sometimes. Was sharp-tongued and mean sometimes, an’ ‘e pretended not to care about what people said about ‘im, but I could tell it hurt just the same. Poor blighter musta been in a real bad way t’take his own life. Ya gave the most beautiful speech for him.”

Dumbledore’s mind flashed back to that day. It had been incongruently sunny and bright, as if mocking the young, tormented life that had been lost to them. The students had been obligated to attend, but few had lingered, and even fewer had shown true sorrow. Potter, Black, Lupin and Pettigrew had looked horrorstruck, and James had even lingered near the coffin but turned away before saying what had been on his mind. Albus himself had spoken of a young man with true potential, and how Snape’s memory would live on. He preached about solidarity and about putting aside hostilities in the wake of this terrible tragedy. The mourners had left feeling uplifted by Dumbledore’s inspirational speech, making Dumbledore feel like the worst hypocrite. He had failed the boy; they all had. Albus had defended Remus Lupin and pressed Severus into silence, ultimately at the cost of the young Slytherin’s life. There was a tickle in the back of his mind, a voice whispering that this wasn’t the way that it went, but it was easily squelched.

The castle trembled, and Hagrid dashed off toward the side entrance, with a quick glance of concern for the Headmaster. Dumbledore pushed all thoughts of the past aside as he headed after the half-giant. Outside was a melee, with spells zinging left and right. Hefting his wand, he joined the fray. He usually stayed out of the way of the fighting, leaving that to those younger and more agile than he, but he knew that tonight was different. Tonight it was rumored that Lord Voldemort himself was heading the attack.

Sure enough, Albus caught a glimpse of the bone-white body towards the back of the crowd of black-robed Death Eaters. Typical of him to let the others do the majority of the dirty work for him. Still, the mere presence of the Dark Lord was enough to quell the strongest of spirits, and the combined Order and Hogwarts defense force began to falter.

“Fall back!” Dumbledore shorted. “Regroup at the main doors! We must not let them pass!” Kingsley and Tonks stepped in front of him, shielding him as he worked his way back towards the front of the castle. Alastor limped behind him, trying to set up a defense perimeter, with his false leg splintered and cracked. His magical eye had been lost in a previous battle, and there had never been a chance to replace it.

Their holding action was brief but fierce. They were in the open with little defense, but the Death Eaters would have to come to them if they wished to take the castle. Tonks screamed as a red beam of energy struck her in the chest, knocking her flat. Mundungus sprang to take her place, a snarl of fury on his face. He wasn’t much of a fighter, but he had liked Tonks’ fiery spirit very much and wished to avenge her. If he had to die, he wanted it to be on his feet, fighting every step of the way.

Albus lifted his wand and cast the strongest defensive spell he knew, but the Death Eaters’ spells continued to hammer against the shield that he had erected at the main doors. Suddenly, all spells ceased. There was a moment of breathless anticipation, then as one, Voldemort’s minions cast their spells at the side of the castle, tearing a massive hole in the Great Hall itself. The breech was then filled with masked figures seeking to gain entrance.

Dumbledore quickly removed the spell on the doors and flung them open. They had to hold the castle at all costs! “Go!” Moody screamed, pushing Albus out of the way as McNair cast the Killing Curse. The bolt of green struck him in the back, and Alastor crumpled to the ground. Dumbledore bowed his head in recognition for his friend’s sacrifice. How many more would have to give their lives for the cause?

There was no time to linger. If he were killed, Moody’s sacrifice would have been for nothing. Albus dashed for the Great Hall as fast as his legs would take him. He took up a defensive position next to an overturned table just as the doors burst open. At the head of the crowd stood the Dark Lord himself. Typical of him to want to make an entrance – why step through the convenient hole in the wall when there were grand doors to be flung open? This was it, then. Voldemort’s presence at the head of the crowd indicated that he was ready to push for a final battle.

“Hello, Tom,” Dumbledore said casually, as if the reptilian creature before him had wandered in for tea. “You could have simply knocked.”

Voldemort hesitated, looking uncertain for the briefest of moments. “Dumbledore, you blithering old fool! Why won’t you just die?”

Dumbledore folded his arms. “I will accept my fate when the time comes, unlike you, Tom. Hopefully this situation will be resolved tonight, once and for all.”

“Of that you can be certain!”

Hands reached out and yanked him behind the table just as a hex splintered the corner edge. He didn’t even notice this time who had saved him. His blue eyes darted around the room, looking for a mop of untidy black hair. “Harry!” he yelled. “It’s time now. I know it’s difficult, but it’s what you’ve been training for. It’s time to face your destiny.”

There was a shocked silence on both sides. Then a rusty, hissing sort of laugh echoed against the ancient walls. “Harry? Do you mean the little Potter brat? I killed the mewling little creature with no trouble at all. Pity, Dumbledore. If only you had had a way to warn his parents that they were in danger, they might have had a chance to save him. You must be getting senile in your old age.”

Dumbledore bowed his head. How could he have possibly forgotten? The prophesized so-called savior of the Wizarding world had died just after his first birthday. The Death Eaters had struck out of the blue, and Voldemort himself had cast the fatal curse. That had been the end of any true hope that they had had of winning the war. The sixteen-odd years since then had just been marking time as they lost ground, bit by bit. Hogwarts was the last stronghold, and now that too was on the brink of falling.

In the far corner he could see Hagrid lying very still, blood tricking from a lethal head wound. Hagrid’s large heart and sturdy spirit had kept them going when things were at their worst. His loss was a massive blow. The Potions master was dueling three masked Death Eaters at once. His leg was obviously broken, and he would be overwhelmed at any moment. Professor Lazarus, he recalled suddenly, that was the man’s name, and how could he have ever forgotten it? He had joined the Hogwarts staff just days after getting his Masters certification; he was a wicked card shark and had a taste for scotch and marmalade scones. Great Merlin, his mind was really slipping lately. People were dying all around him, and here he was thinking about a boy who had passed away years ago. It surely had been tragic, but there was nothing that could be done now. No matter what his straying mind fancied, Severus was dead.

With a sense of finality, Albus rose and hefted his wand. He cast curse after hex after jinx, felling Death Eaters with impressive accuracy. The kid gloves were off now. With satisfaction he saw the enemies backing off slightly, but then Voldemort stepped to the fore. “Time to meet your maker, old man,” he sneered. “Tell me now that Death is nothing to be feared.”

The walls reverberated with one single united scream of horror as Voldemort raised his wand high. Albus watched calmly. This was it, then. This was his time. And then he felt the ring on his finger heat to a blistering temperature. He looked at it curiously. And. Then. He. Knew. It had been a gift from Severus several years ago for one of his many birthdays. He remembered the occasion very clearly now. Typically, the lanky man had lurked in the shadows, scowling at the rest of the staff swarming here and there, although Albus had noticed that he had eaten more than his share of biscuits. Finally, towards the end of the party, Severus had shoved the box at him, muttering something about “finding it laying about” as he scuffed the floor with the toe of his boot. The ring was a coiled serpent with ruby eyes, and Albus had treasured it, because it reminded him of the merits of Slytherin House. Its coils spoke of hidden power and courage, traits that also could be found in its proud Head of House. He ran a finger across the snake’s head and felt a tendril of power.

It was all so clear now. Severus was the missing piece of the puzzle in this world-gone-wrong: he had warned the Potters of the threat against their lives, allowing James and Lilly to go into hiding while casting protective charms on their infant son; he had watched over his brood of baby Slytherin snakes, subtly steering Draco and his cronies away from the path that their parents had trod; he had saved Harry’s life time and again in spite of the boy’s inbred talent for danger; he had risked his own life to bring them priceless scraps of information. Severus needed to live. The missing piece needed to be restored.

Albus held his hand aloft, the ring blazing with a powerful white light. The castle was lending him its power, coming to the aid of the Headmaster when all seemed lost. “I call upon the names of the four Founders: Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, Godric Gryffindor, and Salazar Slytherin! Let their ancient power imbedded in these very stones come to me now! Send me back in time and right the wrongs! Help me to save a young boy and the fine man he will become!”

For a moment, Voldemort looked taken aback. “Bah, nothing but a light show!” he spat, trying to hide the growing sensation of fear. “Posturing won’t save you now, Dumbledore! Go and join your comrades-in-arms. Avada Kedavra!”

As the green light streak toward him, a golden halo surrounded the old wizard. The onlookers couldn’t say exactly where it had come from or what it meant, but Albus Dumbledore faded from sight, and the fatal curse harmlessly struck a chair.

Albus watched the green light fade away without ever striking his body. Streaks of colors flew past, and he heard mutters and snatches of conversation, but it was all going by far too fast for him to follow. Finally the world righted itself, and he was once again standing in the great hall. It was dark, and there was no one else but him. Somehow he instinctively knew that his gambit had worked. He had gone back in time to fix whatever had gone wrong.

A part of him was half-tempted to go visit his younger self, but he brushed the feeling aside as pure whimsy. He knew full well how dangerous it was for the same person to cross paths in time, and time was of the essence for his own mission.

Severus, he mused. Severus was the key to this whole situation. Best to find him first off. Whether man or boy, he was always skulking about the dungeons. Albus set off at a fast trot, hoping that he would not have come this far only to be too late.

He wasn’t in the Potions laboratory, or anywhere else in the dungeons. Fighting down a sense of desperation, Albus then felt the ring on his finger heat once more. He allowed it to lead him on to one of the caste’s secret passageways, which emptied into a private room. Interesting. He hadn’t realized that anyone else had known about this place. Sure enough, he heard voices on the other side of the door . “We are ugly, greasy Slytherin gits that the world would be more than happy to get rid of. The Headmaster pretends to care about us, but it is a lie. Time and again he places the value of his golden Gryffindors above our own.” A small pause. “Please, please do it. Set us both free.”

“You are wrong, Severus. I have come back for you because you are needed, and I care for you very much.”

The boy gasped as Dumbledore stepped through the door. He looked very much the same, but he was sure that the twenty years between this time and his own would have made some sort of change. “You’re… you’re not from my time, are you?”

Albus smiled at him kindly. “No, Severus, I am not, though I remember you very well. I’m from Professor Snape’s time, and I have come to take him home.”

The elder Severus was turning brick red in anger. He opened his mouth, and Dumbledore held up a hand. “There is much that I must tell you both. Please, I ask that of you sit and hear me out. Afterward you may be as angry as you like.” He bent a bit awkwardly, his old bones protesting as he lowered himself into a seating position on the floor. Snape gave him a dirty look and settled himself a respectable distance away, gathering his black robes around him, looking like an angry gargoyle. Severus-the-student also sat down where he was, a safe distance away. Although he tried to hide it behind a defiant glare, his hurt and betrayal was plain. How could Albus have missed it all those years ago?

He addressed the younger Snape first. “I must first apologize for how I handled the Shrieking Shack incident. For you it has only just happened, but for me it was over two decades ago. I thought that I was acting in everyone’s best interest. It was not until many years later that I realized the damage had been done. Please realize that I do care for each and every child under my care, you included. Your well-being is very important to me, and I’m sorry if I ever made you feel otherwise.” The boy gazed at him skeptically from under his lashes. “Come here.” He approached slowly, stopping just out of reach. Albus put his hand on the lad’s shoulder, who flinched as if he had been burned. The Headmaster was filled with sympathy for the child who could not bear the caring touch of another. “I wish I could promise that things will get better, but I do not want to lie to you. The future will indeed be very difficult and filled with obstacles. But always remember that you will never be alone. In your darkest hour, I will be there for you.”

He pulled his wand from his robe. The student looked saddened. “You’re going to Obliviate me, aren’t you?”

“I’m afraid so. You can well imagine the dangers of time travel, and your very memory of us could alter the path of events. You must be free to make your own choices, be they good or ill.” Severus stood still as Dumbledore spoke the Memory charm. Afterward, the young Slytherin wandered out the door with a vacant-eyed expression, absentmindedly pocketing the vial of poison. He wouldn’t be needing it tonight. Maybe he could see it in Hogsmeade for some pocket money. And while he still felt wretched, he held a glimmer of hope. Perhaps he still had a chance to turn things around. He had heard rumors that Lucius Malfoy was gathering smart young wizards to his side in some sort of secret society. Perhaps someone with Severus’ skills would be wanted. He couldn’t help but think that his life stretched out before him, full of possibilities. And though he banished it to the back of his thoughts, a voice whispered in his mind, “In your darkest hour, I will be there for you.”

Back in the Potions laboratory, Professor Snape was glaring daggers at his employer and second master. “How… how dare you?!” he choked in fury. “What right do you have to interfere? You could have changed things, kept me from the wrong path at the very least, and what did you do? You sent me out to make the very same mistakes! I guess watching me suffer in the present wasn’t good enough. You had to come here and watch me stumble over and over again!”

Albus turned to him, and Snape could see tears gathering in the somber blue eyes, usually twinkling and full of life. “Severus, I would give anything to change the events of this night. With a few gentle, well-placed words, I know that things could have turned out much better for you. And yet this is already in our past, and I can take it back just as easily as trapping the wind. Your younger self must be free to make his own mistakes. In the end this is how we learn, and while you certainly made larger mistakes than most, eventually you did return to us to make amends. It would not be right for me to make those choices for you. You had to experience the darkness to appreciate the light.” He dabbed at his eyes with a hideous yellow and purple handkerchief. “You do mean very much to me, Severus. Not just as a colleague or an Order member or a spy, but as a person. I have thought of you as a son, and it grieves me that you are unable to find the happiness that you deserve. Tell me now, Severus. What would make you happy? To quit teaching? To stop spying? I have no doubt that things would be easier for you without these burdens, but they would not bring you true happiness.”

Severus stared at the floor. “The only thing that would make me happy would be to die. Why can’t you grant me at least that much? You can’t deny that the world would be a better place without me.”

“Now you are very wrong there!” Dumbledore grasped Snape’s chin and forced him to meet his gaze. Severus was taken aback by the angry tone. “I have just come from a world with no Severus Snape. It was a very dreary world, lacking hope, in which Voldemort –” Snape flinched at the name, and Albus repeated firmly, “—Voldemort took Hogwarts. I mourned the loss of Harry Potter, of Minerva McGonagall, of Rubeus Hagrid. I saw Draco Malfoy take the Mark and doom himself to a life of Darkness. Severus, without you we lost. Your smallest actions have a big impact, and we need you now more than ever.”

Severus jerked out of his grasp, and Albus allowed him to retreat. “Do you see now that I had to let events unfold? Your mistakes are what have forged you into who you are today. Letting your younger self walk out of this room was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. Knowing what lies ahead for that poor young man is enough to break my heart, but only he has the power to control his own destiny. And I know he will come out of it all right.”

“Do you now?” Severus sneered, his defensive shield in full force. “I should have known. You came to protect the future. You came to ensure that your spy didn’t wander away. Merlin forbid that I might have taken away your future servant. You don’t give a damn about me, other than I bring you scraps of information in exchange for the occasional pat on the head. The only reason you even pretend to care about me is because you need my services. You always knew how to make pretty speeches, but this time it is nothing but hot air.” Tears were now running freely down the old man’s face, and Snape felt his heart twist. He shoved the feeling aside. He wasn’t about to let this charlatan fool him!

Albus held out his hand with the serpent ring still glowing slightly. “It’s one of my prized possessions, you know,” he said softly. “This gift involved thoughtfulness and caring, and it wasn’t something that you just picked up in a cheap trinket shop. When you are away on a mission, I find that I cannot sleep and I rub the ring, as if it is a talisman that would somehow keep you safe. I cannot find peace until you return and I see with my own eyes that you are safe. You try to hide it when you are injured or upset, and you will not allow me to help, which hurts me even more. Your burdens are too much to shoulder alone. I am so, so sorry that I did not let you see how much I cared about you. I like everything about you you, the faults included, because they make you what you are. No one can go through life alone. Please let me be there for you.”

Without warning, Snape was seized in a crushing bear hug. He cursed and pushed against Dumbledore ineffectually. “You’re barmy! Let me go!”

“No,” Albus said calmly. “This is what you needed all along. Everyone needs a hug once in a while.”

“You’ve had you’re little joke, now let me go!”

“I’m not ready to let go just yet.”

“You aggravating, self-confident, irritating, manipulative bastard! Of all the nerve! I – let go this instant!”

“You’re trembling. Really, there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a hug.”

“Why can’t you just leave me alone?! Why must you always be smiling and twinkling at me when all I want to do is crawl into a hole and die? I hate what my life has become, and I hate you! I hate you! I HATE YOU!” And to his utter horror, Severus burst into tears. He ducked his head and turned his face away, hiding behind a curtain of greasy hair. Albus gently turned Snape’s around until it was resting on his shoulder. The young man’s thin shoulders shook violently as a lifetime of pent-up emotion came pouring out.

Dumbledore stroked his hair as soothingly as he could, seemingly unconcerned with its dubious hygiene. “I know that I ask much of you, Severus, but I would never desert you if you needed help. I am proud to consider you one of my friends, and I would be honored if you thought the same of me. I will do everything in my power to lighten your burden. Never, ever think that you are unappreciated.”

“Oh, God, it hurts so much!” Severus whimpered, burying his face in Albus’ chest. “Please, I can’t… it’s too much!” Dumbledore patted his back and waited for the outburst to subside.

Finally the sobs trailed off into a few hiccups, and Snape pulled away abruptly. Albus offered the hideous handkerchief, which Severus disdained with a watery glare. He finally found his own handkerchief (black, of course), and busied himself with wiping his eyes, blowing his nose, and otherwise putting himself back in order.

“Better?” he asked softly, and Snape nodded. Albus smiled. “Let’s go home.” Severus reluctantly threw the chain around both of their necks and activated the Time Turner mechanism. Dumbledore held him close as the years flew by, taking them back to their rightful place. They could not change the past, but perhaps it was not too late to make the best of the present.

The End

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