Chapter One: A Dark Corner of the Past
‘Run, Draco!’ Severus Snape snapped as he pulled the younger boy along with him.
‘Professor… I can’t…’ Draco Malfoy coughed, trying to catch his breath. The front gates of Hogwarts were so close, but he felt his body starting to drag him down.
Draco stumbled on a stone, tumbling to the ground. Snape leaned down, deflecting the spells Harry Potter, who was chasing them, was sending their way. ‘Come on! Get up!’ Snape snarled, hauling the blonde Slytherin to his feet.
Draco forced himself to run next to Snape, and eventually, the two caught a break as another Death Eater attacked Potter. ‘Stop! He belongs to the Dark Lord! We are not to touch him,' Snape instructed him, pulling Draco out the gates. ‘Come, now!’ he commanded, and with that, the Death Eaters Disapparated away from Hogwarts.
Draco gawked around the forest Snape had taken them to in uncertainty. ‘This is not-’ he started, but Snape cut him off.
‘I’m well aware, Draco,’ Snape snapped, shaking his head and sitting down wearily on the ground.
‘Sir, why did you do it?’ Draco asked Snape, wondering what was making the older man so distressed. Snape had his head in his hands, and Draco was stunned to see tears rolling down his face.
Snape didn’t answer, he barely even perceived what Draco was saying. His mind was plaguing him with images of Dumbledore’s face before he said those words. Snape knew it would haunt him forever. Eventually, he looked at Draco. ‘Whatever happens, you will be protected, Draco. For now, we must submit to the Dark Lord and do anything he asks,’ Snape told him seriously, lowering his hands.
‘The Dark Lord will likely kill me,’ Draco countered, shaking his head as the dread of what he would have to face overwhelmed him. ‘I failed,’ he whispered, annoyed at himself for not being able to kill the old man.
‘You are not a killer,’ Snape alleged, causing Draco to look up at him in anger. It was almost an echo of what Dumbledore believed.
‘I have to be!’ Draco roared, standing up and clenching his fists. ‘I have to be, or the Dark Lord will kill my mother! I can’t allow that to happen!’ he cried, glaring at Snape heatedly. Draco felt the blame would be on Snape if anything happened to his mother.
‘Your mother will be fine,’ Snape replied, shaking his head and standing. ‘Come, we must return and report back to the Dark Lord,’ he ordered, placing his hand on Draco’s shoulder.
Terror filled Draco’s eyes at the mere notion of facing the Dark Lord after failing his task. Snape sympathised with him. It was expected Draco would be facing the Cruciatus Curse upon his arrival, but he would survive.
Just like Dumbledore said he would.
Severus Snape awoke with a sharp intake of breath. He scanned the area in a daze, grasping he was not on top of the Astronomy Tower with his wand pointed at Albus Dumbledore. Snape sat up, taking a deep breath to calm his nerves.
A year had passed since that night, but Snape recalled it as if it transpired only yesterday. Unyielding nightmares tormented him as his mind forced him to relive the memory every time he closed his eyes. Snape had even thought about removing the memory and storing it in a Pensieve, but that was the easy way out, and he felt he warranted the suffering which had come with his transgression.
Snape murdered Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard and man he had ever known.
Snape cursed under his breath, still unable to believe he had agreed to follow through with it. Dumbledore had been his friend, perhaps even the closest thing he had to a father, and he had saved him from a fate worse than death on many occasions.
Stupid Albus and his plans! Snape thought crossly, thumping his hand onto the ground. He hadn’t wanted to do it.
Snape stood and lit the fire which had long gone out, before glancing over at his charge, Draco Malfoy, who was fast asleep on the frosty ground within the Forbidden Forest. Snape sighed, turning his gaze back to the fire as he recollected how they came to be here; hiding away like fugitives.
It wasn’t exactly like they were on the run from the Dark Lord. On the contrary, they were supposed to be on a reconnaissance mission to watch Hogwarts and report back anything suspicious. However, Snape had elected to camp for a few days instead. Draco had objected, not wanting to be on the receiving end of the Dark Lord’s Cruciatus Curse ever again, but the ex-Potions Professor had told him not to worry. Snape would take all responsibility and penalty, and this seemed to comfort Draco, but not entirely.
Snape looked back over at Draco as he stirred and rolled over without waking. Snape frowned at him, loathing the fact that Draco had been mixed up in everything that had happened. How could the Dark Lord have expected Draco to murder Dumbledore? Even with the threat against his mother and himself, Draco was no killer. Even to this day, Draco had still not killed a single person, and Snape knew the Dark Lord was becoming impatient.
Snape had agreed to the oath with Narcissa because he wanted to protect his Godson. Now, the Dark Lord purposefully sent Draco on missions which endangered his life so he could murder an innocent and become a “real Death Eater”. Snape would need to be cautious. The Dark Lord's plan was getting close to fruition, and he had overheard him telling Lucius to kill Draco if he didn't step up soon. Snape was furious with Lucius, knowing full well he would proudly eradicate his own son for his beloved Lord.
Lucius had been disappointed in Draco, and he remembered the night he told the boy of the assignment set to him by the Dark Lord. Draco had scoffed in front of his father, assenting eagerly at the chance to prove himself and feel he was imperative to Lucius and the Dark Lord. However, once alone with time to take in the information, Snape saw the dread and fear in his eyes.
Snape observed him from afar so he could assist him if needed. Draco never requested support, and the burden on him became so much Snape speculated if he actually lost his mind by the end. Particularly when his task was upon him, and Dumbledore smiled even though he knew he was about to die. Snape saw it in his eyes, before saying the words himself, he knew Dumbledore was grateful. Snape wanted to hate the man for being so pleased to die. However, Draco could never have understood it, and Snape had never explained it.
Not yet, Snape would tell himself, knowing he would have to confront Dumbledore’s plan soon and get the wheels in motion.
When Snape had found out about the mission Draco had, he had gone straight to Dumbledore and told him everything he knew and had overheard. Dumbledore was troubled, that much was obvious, but Snape was also kept in the dark about a lot of things he disclosed to him. What was the old man hiding? What if it was something that could help us now? These were questions Snape knew he would never get an answer to.
Snape shook his head as he tried not to question Dumbledore’s motives. Dumbledore assured him this plan would work, and he had to trust him. Snape closed his eyes, recalling the reason why he ended up killing his old friend and mentor.
Snape settled into the seat Dumbledore conjured for him appreciatively. He pondered what Dumbledore had summoned him here for at such a late hour, but he came to the conclusion it was either about Draco or the Horcruxes, so he didn’t protest.
‘You called me, Headmaster?’ Snape questioned, observing the old man who was looking through an ancient, tattered scroll.
‘I wanted to ask how you are progressing in your search for the Horcruxes,’ Dumbledore enquired, picking up a quill and making a note on a piece of parchment in reference to something he regarded in the scroll.
Snape leaned forward in his seat. ‘Not very well, although I believe we may have miscounted how many there are,’ he replied, shaking his head apprehensively.
Dumbledore paused midway to his parchment, ink from his quill dripping onto the page. ‘What would give you that notion?’ he queried, waving his hand at the parchment to clear the ink blots. He put his quill into the inkwell and looked at Snape expectantly, giving him his full attention.
‘Well, the Dark Lord has this ring, he's obsessed with it, and it seems he also talks to it. Sometimes he just gazes at it fixated when he thinks no one's watching. His eyes are always wide, and he has a gleeful expression on his face,’ Snape responded reflectively, looking down at his hands, so he missed the flash of concern in Dumbledore's eyes. Snape looked back up at him. ‘I believe it might be another Horcrux. He constantly wears it though, so I wouldn't even know how to retrieve it from him,' Snape divulged, shaking his head again.
Dumbledore stood unexpectedly, startling Snape, and he moved towards the window, leaning on the windowsill. ‘This ring… what does it look like?’ Dumbledore enquired, reaching up and rubbing his bearded chin broodingly.
Snape frowned as he thought of the mysterious ring. ‘I managed to get a look at it when I saw him last. He requested me to apply some potion to his hand, and-’
‘Just tell me about the ring!’ Dumbledore snapped abruptly, making Snape jump and grimace at his tone.
‘It was a typical gold band, but he just gazed at it the whole time mumbling things under his breath. It was like I wasn’t there,’ Snape replied quickly, wondering why Dumbledore was suddenly so irritable.
For several moments, Dumbledore stared out the window and tension draped the room like a blanket. Finally, Dumbledore shook his head. ‘So, that was the reason, Tom. I did wonder,’ Dumbledore mumbled, lowering his head forlornly.
‘Sir? Is it a Horcrux?' Snape questioned, making Dumbledore look up as if he just remembered Snape was in the room.
‘No, Severus,’ he responded, turning to look at Snape with a sigh.
Snape frowned as he took in the grimace his old friend wore. Dumbledore looked more his age now than he ever had. ‘What is it?’ he probed, wondering if Dumbledore would tell him.
‘Some things are better left unknown, Severus,’ Dumbledore countered, eying him meaningfully.
‘You don’t trust me?’ Snape asked in astonishment.
‘I trust you implicitly, but if my suspicions are right, and things go wrong…’ Dumbledore trailed off, shaking his head at the train of his thoughts. Whatever happens, Tom must never know, he thought, closing his eyes for a moment.
Snape nodded, understanding what Dumbledore meant by that although he thought he had proven himself by now. ‘So, what does this mean? Is it going to be a problem?’ Snape questioned, thinking Dumbledore could at least answer those queries.
Dumbledore nodded to himself, a sudden melancholy in his eyes. ‘One thing I am certain of…’ he trailed off, turning to look out the window again. ‘I have to die,’ he revealed, making Snape look at him in disbelief.
‘What!?’ Snape cried, standing up and gaping at Dumbledore in alarm.
‘Yes, it’s the only way,’ Dumbledore whispered, speaking more to himself than Snape.
‘You’re going to have to enlighten me as to how you came to that conclusion,’ Snape snapped, crossing his arms and eyeing Dumbledore in incredulity.
Dumbledore moved back to his desk, picking up a gold necklace from his desk. He studied it for a moment, weaving it in his hands while being cautious not to touch the individual sections. Snape examined it for a moment, grasping it looked like a Time Turner. ‘Yes, this should work,’ Dumbledore mumbled, sitting down behind his desk.
Snape glared at him in impatience and slammed his hand on Dumbledore’s desk. ‘Headmaster!’ he barked, making the old man look up at him in surprise.
‘I apologise, Severus. My thoughts were running away with me there,’ Dumbledore explained, setting the necklace aside and looking at Snape. ‘Please take a seat,' he said, and Snape sat back down in the seat in front of the desk. ‘It's a long story, so allow me to describe the main points,' he said, receiving a nod from Snape, so he plunged on with his story. ‘I am not who you think I am,' he started, and Snape raised an eyebrow at that, but he didn’t interrupt. ‘I do not belong here. I should never have come to this time,’ Dumbledore clarified, but Snape was only more mystified at these words.
‘“This time”?’ Snape repeated, frowning at Dumbledore like he was crazy. ‘What are you talking about, Headmaster?’ Snape asked, leaning forward in his seat and regarding Dumbledore with frustration. He wished Dumbledore wasn’t so cryptic with his words.
Dumbledore exhaled loudly, and Snape sensed what the Headmaster was about to tell him was not going to be pleasant. ‘I am a Time Traveller, and with that comes the responsibility of not being seen. To meddle with time can be dangerous, and now I am faced with the consequences of a decision I made in 1899 after experimenting with this power,' Dumbledore elucidated, steeping his fingers and eyeing Snape seriously.
‘I don’t understand,’ Snape whispered, trying to recount what occurred in 1899 which involved Dumbledore. Snape thought he knew everything about everyone he had ever met, but this information about Dumbledore was new. Snape narrowed his eyes suspiciously, wondering if someone was somehow impersonating the old man.
Snape was surprised when Dumbledore chuckled darkly. ‘I am not under an Imperious Curse, Severus. I’m just an old man who was selfish. Selfish and romanced by idealistic dreams of greatness,’ Dumbledore said, tears forming in his eyes.
Snape took a deep breath. ‘Tell me, I want to know what happened,’ Snape requested, sitting back in his chair and wondering what consequences Dumbledore had caused.
‘As I mentioned I made a decision in 1899 which I now understand may have irreversible consequences to this present and my past. I was ambitious and idealistic, I was astonished I didn't end up in Slytherin,' Dumbledore paused, chuckling to himself at those words before continuing, ‘I ended up meeting a young man whom I became enamoured with. Everything about him drew me in, and I decided to stay,' Dumbledore paused again, letting his words sink in.
‘Grindelwald,’ Snape said, understanding now what Dumbledore was talking about.
‘Yes, Gellert was the reason I decided to stay in the future. I…' Dumbledore stopped himself and took a deep breath. ‘I did something terrible back then. I forced myself to fit into that time,' Dumbledore told him, and Snape could see the guilt the old man concealed.
‘What do you mean?’
Dumbledore looked out the window, refusing to meet the eyes of his Potions Professor. ‘I meddled in things I should never have and cost the life of someone who became very dear to me,’ he explained, tears appearing in his eyes again.
Snape frowned. ‘I don’t understand. What did you do, Headmaster?’ Snape asked, and part of him wished Dumbledore would just get to the point.
‘I forced myself into the Dumbledore family by placing fake memories into their minds. They considered me as part of their family, Ariana and Aberforth believed I was their brother. It’s one of the biggest deceits I have ever concocted!’ Dumbledore growled, angry at himself for the gruelling implications he forced on that family.
Snape was stunned, and he gaped at Dumbledore. Snape didn’t even know what to say to that. He couldn’t believe Dumbledore was so ruthless in his youth.
‘After Ariana died, I attempted to go back in time and prevent it from happening, but I couldn’t. Some force stopped me, and I realised it was because of the consequences of meddling with time. It was a punishment, a curse. I could no longer travel through time at will. The only way for me to go back now is if I die,’ Dumbledore clarified, his voice thick with emotion and Snape thought he might break down.
‘So, let me get this straight…’ Snape said after a moment of silence. ‘If you die, you would go back to the past? Where you came from originally?’ he asked, trying to understand what Dumbledore was trying to tell him.
‘Yes,’ Dumbledore replied, looking at Snape. ‘I am from the Third Age, and I need to return to my time, Severus,’ Dumbledore enlightened, hoping Snape would understand.
Snape took a moment to process that information which was not easy. ‘So, you want to die?’ he finally asked, looking at Dumbledore in bewilderment.
‘Yes and no,’ Dumbledore replied with a chuckle, and Snape wondered how the old man could laugh at something like that.
‘Please elaborate,’ Snape whispered, pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation.
‘I cannot tell you any more than is necessary,’ Dumbledore replied, leaning back in his seat.
‘So, the point of your story was?’ Snape said snidely, glaring at Dumbledore.
‘To let you know why I have to die,’ Dumbledore answered, his lips curling into a smile. Dumbledore stood then and walked to the window, peering out through the glass at the dark grounds of Hogwarts. ‘Young Draco has a task to kill me,’ Dumbledore said abruptly, and the comment surprised Snape.
‘Yes, he does,’ Snape countered hesitantly, wondering what that had to do with anything.
‘You can’t allow him to commit the act, Severus. Young Mr Malfoy is not a killer nor should he be forced to become one,’ Dumbledore said stonily, and Snape knew his anger was directed at the Dark Lord.
‘No, he shouldn’t have to do it. I plan to put him and his mother into hiding before that,’ Snape answered, enlightening Dumbledore to his plan now they were on the subject.
‘Tom will find them,’ Dumbledore said, turning to look at him with raised eyebrows.
Snape sighed explosively and leaned back in his chair knowing Dumbledore was right. Hiding from the Dark Lord was futile. They would be found and slaughtered. Snape looked over at him. ‘What do you suggest we do?' Snape asked him.
‘You kill me.’
Snape stared at him in shock. ‘Me!?’ he exploded, standing up and clenching his fists.
‘It's the only way,' Dumbledore reasoned, shaking his head. ‘Draco will remain innocent as he should, and I return to my own time as I should. Things will be exactly as they were meant to be,' Dumbledore explained, but his response only fuelled Snape's anger.
‘What about the Order!? We need you now, most of all!’ Snape shouted, walking towards Dumbledore. ‘Why ask me to do it!?’ he added.
Dumbledore sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He turned back to the window and rested his hands on the windowsill. ‘I do not want to leave things the way they are, but the Order will go on without me. There are plenty of good wizards and witches who can keep things going,’ Dumbledore explicated, turning to look at Snape who was glaring at him. ‘I have to go back, but I need your help,’ he added, shaking his head.
Dumbledore turned towards him fully. ‘I ask you to do this because I trust you more than most, and you're still an acting Death Eater. If I were to ask someone else in the Order to do it, it would ensue chaos, and everything would be lost. The Order members would bicker and fight amongst themselves, the trust would die, and Voldemort will win,' Dumbledore explained, sighing as he looked at Fawkes who cowled softly as he looked at his master forlornly.
Snape shook his head. ‘There has to be another way! Surely, there’s a spell or some other way which could take you back. Do you have to die?’ Snape questioned, trying to think of anything that could get him out of this position.
‘Oh, there is, but it would be rather heartless of me to just disappear. No, the Wizarding World needs to know I am dead,’ Dumbledore retorted adamantly, crossing his arms. ‘I do not intend to return or meddle with Time Travel ever again. I have caused much chaos in my time by leaving and hurt too many people in this era,’ Dumbledore added sadly, looking out the window towards Gryffindor Tower. Snape realised he was including Potter as well in his last comment and actually agreed Dumbledore had made some questionable decisions concerning the boy.
Too many, in fact.
‘I… understand,’ Snape replied, defeated. He knew there was no way to talk Dumbledore out of his decision.
‘As it stands,' Dumbledore whispered, making Snape look back at him. ‘We will not win this war,' he stated, and Snape frowned at him, waiting for Dumbledore to explain. ‘Voldemort's army is increasing rapidly, and we have already lost so many to this cause. More are dying as we speak, and if we were to attack him it would be suicide,' he explained, pacing in front of the window. ‘We don't have a large enough force to fend him off, and Harry is not ready to fight him. So far, only two of the seven Horcruxes have been destroyed, and until they are all found, Voldemort cannot be killed,' Dumbledore told him to which Snape nodded broodingly.
‘Have you discovered any more?’ Snape asked curiously, wanting to get away from the morbid task he had been given and get back to the original reason why he was summoned here.
‘I have an idea as to where one of them is. I plan to take Harry along with me to get it,’ Dumbledore told him, receiving an absent nod. Dumbledore observed the strain on Snape’s face and took hold of his shoulders, making the Potions Master look up at him. ‘You should feel no guilt, Severus. Do not think of it as killing me, but doing me a favour,’ Dumbledore told him, hoping to ease the worry in Snape’s mind.
‘Do you really think we can’t win? You would leave us to that fate?’ Snape asked him, shaking his head.
Dumbledore sighed and moved away from Snape to sit behind his desk. He gestured to the chair, and Snape sat down. ‘No, I have a plan,' he replied, pulling a fresh roll of parchment towards him. Snape watched him write out a lengthy letter, sanding it, and placing it in an envelope. He picked up the necklace and put it in the envelope, before closing it with the Hogwarts seal firmly in place. Dumbledore pushed the letter towards him.
Snape looked at it interestedly but made no move to pick it up. He glanced up at Dumbledore with raised eyebrows. ‘A letter will save us?’ he asked, his lips curling slightly at his poor attempt at humour.
Dumbledore chuckled. ‘No, Severus, but there are instructions within this letter. I need you to deliver it,’ he told him, steeping his fingers.
‘When? And to whom?’ Snape asked, picking up the letter and wondering what was written on the sheets within.
‘Mr Draco Malfoy and Miss Hermione Granger,’ Dumbledore answered, his eyes twinkling as he looked at Snape over his half-moon spectacles.
Snape actually laughed out loud. ‘Those are names I never expected to hear in the same sentence,' he said, shaking his head in amusement. Snape sobered up after a moment, remembering the gravity of the situation. ‘What about Potter and Weasley?' he enquired, realising Dumbledore had failed to mention them.
‘They each have their own parts to play,’ Dumbledore said cryptically, and Snape doubted if he would ever find out what those parts were.
‘Yes, sir,’ Snape mumbled, stowing the letter in his cloak for safe-keeping.
‘That letter will explain everything to them. Make sure they get it,' Dumbledore requested, and Snape nodded.
‘Is there anything I need to know about this letter? After I… well, I doubt Miss Granger will appreciate the delivery from me,’ Snape supposed miserably, lowering his eyes to the ground.
‘She will if you show her your memory of this conversation,’ Dumbledore told him, and Snape nodded.
‘And when should I-’ Snape cut himself off, not wanting to say the words.
‘When Mr Malfoy puts his plan into motion,’ Dumbledore told him, and Snape nodded.
‘Yes, sir,’ he answered miserably, slumping in his chair as he tried not to think about his impending task.
‘Now, I need you to follow my instructions exactly as I tell you to. Do not waver or make any alterations. Do not question them,’ Dumbledore warned him, looking at him seriously over his half-moon spectacles. ‘If you do, I do not want to fathom the result as it may not be favourable,’ he explained, exhaling loudly.
Snape frowned in worry, hoping he was up to the task. With each word Dumbledore told him, his eyes widened in disbelief, but he took it all in and vowed to follow the commands to the letter…
Snape opened his eyes and sighed, the memory was still so fresh. He had gone through so many scenarios of how he would get Granger to listen to him. He hadn’t even given the letter to Draco knowing it was addressed to him as well. Snape deduced that whatever Dumbledore had written was for both of them to read and understand together.
Snape shook his head, wondering what on earth could have happened to throw Granger and Draco together, but he didn’t want to question Dumbledore. The old man may have been missing a screw or two, but he wasn’t stupid.
Snape reached into his pocket, pulling out the crumpled letter he had held for over a year now. He had always assumed only Granger and Draco could open it, so he never bothered to try in case Dumbledore placed a nasty jinx on it to ward off prying eyes.
Snape heard an explosion off in the distance and jumped to his feet. Draco stirred and sat up in panic. ‘What was that!?’ Draco yelled, getting to his feet.
‘It’s begun,’ Snape countered, grabbing Draco’s shoulder. ‘We need to move,’ he said, and Draco started gathering his things hastily, shoving them into his satchel.
The two ran towards Hogwarts hoping no one would spot them making their way to the front gates. As they reached the treeline, Snape looked up at the sky towards Hogsmeade Village where smoke could be seen covering the area.
Hogsmeade was burning.
Snape pulled Draco along behind him as they skirted Hagrid’s hut and used the sparse trees by the Black Lake as cover. They made it to the front gate and escaped quickly. From this vantage, Snape could see the entire village was engulfed in flames, and he swallowed thickly.
The war had begun, and Snape knew this was the prelude to the final battle. Voldemort was ready to take his fight to Hogwarts.
A single tear rolled down his cheek, falling to the ground.