Length: 1770 words
Summary: Just yesterday, his life had been going so well. He'd finally found people who treated him as an equal and didn't cast him out.
Author's note/Disclaimer: Originally written for hogsmeade_elite. The prompt asked to write about a canon betrayal, from the traitor's POV. First place winner. Many thanks to oddnari for the beta. // JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...
The daft bint's voice grew faint. Snape leant closer to the door, fearing that she'd begun to whisper and he wouldn't be able to hear the rest.
"What's this, then?" came a gruff voice from behind him.
Snape whirled around, reaching for his wand, but he was too late.
The tall, thin barman shouted, "Expelliarmus!" and Snape's wand clattered uselessly to the floor by his feet. The barman seized Snape by the back of his robes and forced him through the now-open door.
"Found this fellow skulking by the door, Albus," said the barman.
Snape struggled, but to no avail. The fortune-teller -- Trelawney -- sat on a stool, her expression dreamy. She was looking at Snape with a wistful, almost gentle, smile. Dumbledore's gaze was penetrating and Snape flinched, wishing for his wand. He didn't think Dumbledore was using Legilimency, but he couldn't be certain.
"Thank you, Aberforth," said Dumbledore finally. "I think you can give this gentleman his wand back and escort him off the premises. It was a pleasure to see you, Severus, but I'm afraid I will not be able to discuss your Transfiguration NEWT results just now."
How had Dumbledore known that Snape didn't have his wand? He must have used Legilimency. What else had old man found out? All the way down to the ground floor, Snape felt dazed. He had heard enough, surely. That had been a real prophecy; there was no mistaking the otherworldly, sinister tone of Trelawney's voice. And she had seen Snape, she'd noticed him. That had to mean that the telling of the prophecy had been finished by then.
The barman pushed Snape out into the cold and threw his wand after him. "You're not welcome here," he wheezed, and shut the door. Snape groped in the wet, fluffy snow until his fingers grasped his wand. He Disapparated, making a mental note to kill the insolent barman personally when the war was won.
"So the brat will be born in July. Rookwood, have you got anything for me?" The Dark Lord sat reclining in a tall-backed armchair, a glass of amber liquid in his left hand.
Rookwood stepped forward noiselessly and cast his eyes down. "There are six families expecting children in July, my Lord. The Parkinsons, the Cadwalladers, the Longbottoms, the Bulstrodes, the Potters and the Goldsteins."
"Parkinson, Cadwallader, Bulstrode and Goldstein are out of the question," said the Dark Lord after a thoughtful sip of his drink. "Two of those families support me, and the others have certainly never defied me." He chuckled, as though the very thought was ridiculous.
Snape's stomach had turned hollow at the mention of the Potters. If the Dark Lord targeted them specifically, Snape would have to-- no. No, he wouldn't think about that. Not yet.
The Dark Lord set his glass down on an ornate side table and balances his elbows on the arms of his chair, steepling his fingers. "The Potters and the Longbottoms, however. How curious. Both of them have put spokes in my wheels more than once. Three times, to be exact. One of their whelps is supposed to grow up to be my downfall."
"Kill them all," said Bellatrix Lestrange, rising from her own seat by the fireplace. "Surely that would take care of it, my Lord."
The Dark Lord's smile was thin. "I like the way your mind works, Bella. But you shouldn't interrupt."
She promptly sat back down, murmuring, "Apologies, my Lord."
"Rookwood, have you got dates for me?"
"Yes, my Lord. Alice Longbottom is due to give birth on the thirtieth of July. The Potter woman, on the thirty-first."
"Born as the seventh month dies. So close together. Curious." The Dark Lord picked his glass back up and drained it. "But I think a literal interpretation will work best. The thirty-first is closer to the metaphorical death of July than the thirtieth. We will go after the Potters first."
Snape didn't know how he managed to walk towards the door and leave the room after they were dismissed. His legs felt like blocks of wood and there was a great churning in the hollow where his stomach had once been.
"Sit down, Severus."
Snape did, bristling as always at Dumbledore's familiarity. He was a grown man now, not a boy to be ordered around, but Albus Dumbledore didn't seem to notice any difference between Snape today and the gawky teenager he had once been.
"Would you like something to drink?" Dumbledore asked, blue eyes alert above his half-moon spectacles.
"I'm assuming you aren't here to talk about your Transfiguration NEWT results."
Snape shook his head, trying to gather his thoughts. He'd rehearsed what he was going to say several times prior to his arrival, but Dumbledore's greeting song and dance had thrown him off.
"Remember when you told me that should I ever find myself in a position from which I can't see an escape, the wise thing to do would be to seek advice?" he asked. His voice was grim, raspy and he dimly regretted refusing the drink offer. His throat felt like sandpaper and his palms were beginning to sweat against the armrests of his chair.
"Yes. It was right after that unfortunate incident with Remus Lupin, wasn't it?"
"Go on." Dumbledore leant back in his chair and folded his arms in his lap; his face was a study in serenity.
"I'm here for your advice."
"I had gathered as much, thank you. Unfortunately, accomplished Legilimens or not, I am not in a position to read your mind, Severus. You will have to enlighten me about your situation before I can offer any advice."
"That time with the werewolf. James Potter saved my life."
"Indeed, he did."
"You told me then that I owed him a life debt. Even despite the fact that it was Potter's friend, Black, who put me in harm's way."
"That's right; that's how these things work. James and Sirius are not the same person."
"They might as well be," muttered Snape.
Dumbledore smiled. "Go on."
"My side of the debt. It means I can't allow him to come to harm, can I? Potter, I mean."
"Not knowingly, no."
"What happens if I do?"
"You will die."
Snape hadn't wanted to hear this. He had avoided researching life debts precisely because this was not what he wanted to know. He would die. If he stood by and did nothing, he would die. But if he pressed on, if he told Dumbledore what this was about, he'd be a traitor. That was punishable by death, too. What had he done? Why did he have to listen at that wretched door? Why him? Why hadn't the Dark Lord sent Avery, or Bellatrix, or anyone else?
"Severus?" Dumbledore's blue gaze was clear and steady. "Is there something you wish to tell me?"
Snape gripped the armrests more tightly -- his hands were slippery now, and he felt nauseated. Trying not to shake, he told Dumbledore everything. The overheard prophecy, the Department of Mysteries birth prognosis information (he didn't name Rookwood, at least), the Dark Lord's plans for the Potters.
The possibility of death was better than its certainty.
After Snape had finished talking, Dumbledore sat quietly, eyes half-closed, for a good twenty minutes. Snape's stomach had settled somewhat and the trembling in his limbs had subsided; he was able to breathe normally and he was no longer nauseous. Was this what they meant when they said that the truth would set you free?
"You do realise that you have just committed an act of betrayal against Tom -- I mean, your self-styled Dark Lord?"
Snape drew a noisy breath, then nodded. He didn't trust himself to speak. Just yesterday, his life had been going so well. He'd finally found people who treated him as an equal and didn't cast him out. True, they believed him to be a pure-blood, but what they didn't know...
Dumbledore straightened up sharply and leant over his desk. "And you do realise that if you let James Potter come to harm, through action or inaction, then you will die?"
Snape nodded again. "I don't want it to happen, Professor," he said miserably. "I don't want to die because of him."
"There's only one thing you can do, then," Dumbledore said quietly.
Snape hadn't realised there was anything he could do at all, and his heart gave a hopeful leap. "There is? What is it?"
"Renounce your Dark Lord and come over to the light side."
Snape goggled at him. "What? I can't! You don't understand, he'll kill me, I--"
Dumbledore held up a hand. "I'm not saying you should walk into Tom's hiding place and announce your resignation from his merry band of... gentlemen. I am saying that you should help our side in the war, unbeknownst to your master."
A spy? The mad old codger wanted Snape to spy? On the Dark Lord? "You're mad."
"I daresay I am, a little. I am, after all, quite old. But you said you wanted my advice. I have given it. If your remorse for having told Tom about the prophecy is genuine, you will accept my offer. Then you can live even if James dies."
Snape frowned. "I can?"
"If you do everything in your power to stop his death -- and at this point, nothing is in your power but your chosen allegiance -- that's all that can be asked of you."
James Potter was dead. James's son, Harry, had destroyed the Dark Lord -- without a wand, no less. It made no sense, but things had stopped making sense ever since Snape had begun to serve a man whose cause he did not share and whose ideas he did not believe in.
Snape sat motionlessly in his office and stared at the array of books he'd begun to compile since becoming the Hogwarts Potions Master. He was alive, but had he fulfilled his debt to James Potter? Not with his son alive, he hadn't. A life debt, Dumbledore had told him, could be passed on through generations.
Snape had escaped a certain death by betraying everything he stood for, but at the end of all things, he still was left with a life debt to Potter's whelp. He clenched his fists and tried to keep himself from shaking, feeling his face twist into a tight grimace.
If this was what it would take for Snape to stay alive, he would do it. But he would forever hate Harry James Potter, wherever he happened to be.