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For hp_art_tales. If you like angsty!Snape, look no further for you have found him!

Title: Promise Keeper
Author: delphipsmith
Summary: Snape reflects on promises made over the course of a difficult life
Rating: PG
Warnings: Er...angst?
Featured Characters/Pairings: Snape, Dumbledore
Word Count: 2189
Inspiration Art: Promise Keeper, by droxy
Author's Notes: This pretty much wrote itself once I saw Droxy's lovely artwork -- don't forget to visit her page and give her pats on the back! Many thanks to my two eagle-eyed betas, nursedarry and noeon, for disempurpling my prose; any remaining tinge of lavender is entirely my own fault.

Promise Keeper

The day they buried Dumbledore, I waited on the hilltop through that endless afternoon; I watched the crowd gather and weep, listened as the phoenix’s song pierced the heavens, tasted the bitterness of a promise kept with no joy in the keeping. I waited until they were all gone: my students, my colleagues, but none of them my friend. Except the one they left behind in the tomb.


My life, perhaps surprisingly for one widely believed to be a traitor thrice over, has been shaped irrevocably by the promises I have made and kept. As a child, I watched my mother, bruised and beaten during my father’s drunken rages, accept his penitent snuffling apologies again and again and again. Even when he turned his fists on me, she did nothing to stop him. I can still hear her voice, barely audible, as she stroked my hair while I shook with sobs in my narrow bed after the violence of those episodes. Severus, please, she whispered. Please don’t make him angry. Please don’t talk back to him. Please try to understand. I swore then that I would not be a weakling like her. I would seek out power, conquer it, twist it to my will. Though I could not know it then, that promise – the vow of a hurt and angry child – opened the door for the Dark Lord years later. He offered me power beyond anything I could have imagined and I was still broken enough to want it.


At Hogwarts, free of my father’s abuse and my mother’s pathetic subservience, I began to sense my own strength. I excelled at Potions, one of the most difficult branches of magic, and found that I had a knack for altering the recipes to enhance their effectiveness. I studied the Dark Arts, an obscure branch but one with, I sensed, great potential. After all, I told myself, there is always evil in the world, and those capable of controlling it would command great respect.

Or so I thought, in my innocence.

There were indeed some who respected me; as my magic grew stronger and my studies more perilous, there were also some who feared me. But there were others, like the insufferable Potter and his gang of mangy hangers-on, who delighted in taunting me and making me look ridiculous. They called me names; I told myself they were beneath my notice. They mocked me; I ignored them. I laughed inwardly when I heard Potter was pursuing Lily, and laughed out loud when I heard her dress him down as an arrogant prat one afternoon. And then a month later, I stumbled across them on the shore of the lake, his hands on her skin, her lips on his, red hair and black tangled together, both of them so lost in each other they were incapable of seeing anything else.

An iron band locked itself around my ribs; barely able to breathe I crept away – and I promised myself then that I would have vengeance. On them both.

There is a purity to the anger of youth; things are black and white, one loves and hates with equal fire. Clinging to this simplicity overlong, one becomes either a fanatic or a martyr. I am not the stuff of which such melodrama is made, but I was young then and things seemed very simple. When the Dark Lord called my name two years later and offered me the power and revenge I craved, I accepted his offer as the swiftest path to keeping the promises I had made to myself.

I do not deny it. I do not apologise for it. Like Lucius, I chose my path freely. Unlike Lucius, I will in the end have achieved all that I set out to do. I hope.


For two years I waited, watched, and learned. As much as possible, I avoided the Dark Lord’s obsession with Muggles, which held little interest for me (and of course I could not share the other Death Eaters' belief in the innate superiority of Pureblood heritage), but I eagerly anticipated the day I would openly and utterly humiliate Potter and his ilk. Forgetting that she had been a childhood friend, that she had defended me until my interest in the Dark Arts had frightened her away, I toyed with thoughts of using the Imperius curse on Lily. Immersed in my pursuit of the power and revenge I had promised myself, I excused as necessary evils the fear and threats the Dark Lord employed, and closed my eyes and ears to the stench of death that hung over us like a shroud.

That rainy night at the Hog’s Head when I heard Sybill Trelawney’s prophecy, I did not immediately see what use I could make of it and so kept the knowledge to myself. When I learned that Lily was pregnant, I realised that I held the key to my victory in my hands. I took the prophecy to the Dark Lord, hoping he would interpret it as a remote yet plausible threat and turn both the Potters over to me. I told him what I had heard and asked that he allow me to deal with them, but I had underestimated both his power and his insanity. He erupted with a cold fury such as I had never seen, and, for the first time, I saw him for the madman he truly was.

I was terrified at the vision of what I had dedicated myself to. I had wanted power, yes, and revenge – but not this, not this blackness, this endless night of the soul. Not their deaths. And so I came to you. You said you would protect them if I would be your eyes and ears in the Death Eaters’ camp, and I agreed, hoping for a miracle. I feared his strength would be greater than yours, but I should have known it would be not your skill but Pettigrew’s cowardice that proved the weak link in the chain. I don’t know what I would have done if I had reached them in time, what I would have said; given our history, Potter wouldn’t have listened anyway. But Lily might have. That thought still eats at my heart. She might have listened. She might have run. She might have lived.

But I was too late. As I apparated in the lane I saw the green flash from the windows, and by the time the confusion cleared and the Death Eaters were gone, it was far too late to do anything. Nevertheless, I crept into the house and picked my way up the shattered stairs to find her lying there, red hair fanned out on the floor beneath her, wide green eyes empty…so empty. I knelt beside her, my heart a stone, unable to believe she was gone. I reached out my hand and gently brushed her cheek, careless of the ruins around us, but just as my fingertips touched her, I heard a quiet whimper and lifted my head to see her eyes gazing at me from the face of her infant son. James’ son. Is there any pain as deep as that? Seeing what should have been yours, could have been yours, but never will be?

For the tiniest moment, I almost thought to finish the job the Dark Lord had begun. And then I heard it. Severus, please... I lowered my wand and stared at the child, who stuck his fist in his mouth and began to suck on it. Severus, promise me…don’t hurt my son. Oh, I know it to be impossible, but I swear by all the gods it was her voice, a last faint ghost of the woman I had loved for so long. So small and defenseless – and those eyes. No, I could not harm him. I could not bear to touch him, would do nothing to save him, but I would not kill him. I would allow the prophecy to run its course. So I left him there, to whatever fate awaited him.

At that point, it did not seem a hopeful one.


As the years passed I gave little thought to the child. Even when I knew he had been accepted to Hogwarts, it did not occur to me that my promise to a dead woman would come back to haunt me. With the Dark Lord gone, perhaps dead, the prophecy was irrelevant and any threat to him seemed remote. But I found that I could not be indifferent to him; the knowledge that he was in the castle was a constant source of irritation, and his presence in my class was a torment. I hated everything he represented – Lily’s eyes in James’ face – but most of all I hated the constant reminder that he was an orphan through my actions. Oh, it was Pettigrew who blurted out the information, so eager to talk that the words practically overran each other on the way out of his mouth, but had I not revealed the prophecy to the Dark Lord, he would never have turned his attention in that direction. I got a painful gratification – like picking at a scab – out of watching out for him, countering Quirrel’s ineffectual curse and keeping an eye on the childish enmity between him and young Malfoy, but there seemed little real danger.

And then the unthinkable happened. Quirrel, apparently nothing more than a marginally unbalanced Dark Arts professor, proved to be the vessel by which the Dark Lord initiated his return, and you called on me to fulfill my commitment to you. Maintaining my pose as a Death Eater while gathering what information I could to thwart them – and of course the more effective I was at that, the more danger I was in from well-meaning idiots like Black, who, despite my membership in the Order of the Phoenix, never trusted me – consumed whatever of my time was not occupied by teaching. But I knew the boy was in safe hands. After all, as Miss Granger is so fond of saying, you are “the only person You-Know-Who was ever afraid of.”


Although the promises I have made have brought me – brought both of us – here, and will likely lead me to my death, each one seemed at the time oddly easy to make. Last summer, when Narcissa and Bellatrix appeared at my door in Spinner’s Lane, was the easiest one of all.

Bellatrix, clearly mad as a badger, thought she was setting a trap for me by forcing me into an Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco, and guaranteeing that if he could not accomplish your murder, I would. Had she given the matter the slightest coherent thought, she would have recognised that I would not hesitate to protect him. Draco is, in many ways, the son I never had; I empathise with the brutality he receives from his father, though his scarring is mental rather than physical, and I identify with his ambition, his pride, his desire to excel. And I envy him his mother. It may have been Bellatrix who suggested it, but it was Narcissa who took my hand in hers to beg for the life of her son. Severus, please, she said, tears in her eyes. I was shaken, though I hid it; she had always been the proudest of us all, more so even than Lucius. Proud of her family, her courage, her self-possession, her refusal to regret her choices. To see such a woman willing to do anything – even beg – to protect her son roused unpleasant echoes of my own mother, who had been willing to do…nothing.

Did I say that was the easiest? Perhaps it only seemed so at the time because it followed so closely upon the hardest. When you returned from Little Hangleton after destroying Marvolo Gaunt’s ring, your hand a blackened claw, I was able to slow the poison but not remove it. We were both fully aware of what lay in store for you, but you know how long I struggled before I was able to give the promise you demanded. And last night, facing you on the parapet, desperate to find a way out of the trap in which we found ourselves and knowing there was none, I heard those words again. Severus, please. Please don’t make young Draco a murderer. Please don’t let the Dark Lord learn the extent of our plans. Please don’t let them find the boy hiding under the Invisibility Cloak...


I am, as I said, believed by many to be a traitor thrice over: I served the Dark Lord, I turned from him, then went back. That is the popular perception. The truth, as only you and I know, is that I have kept every promise I made. And each one, no matter how easily given, has broken my heart.



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Mar. 30th, 2010 03:01 am (UTC)
It's not easy to write with a first person POV.

Love the angst and the regret. =)

YAY for angst!
Mar. 30th, 2010 11:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks -- glad it met with your approval!
Mar. 30th, 2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
LOL at your icon.
Mar. 30th, 2010 07:46 am (UTC)
Absolutely stunning - works with the art so well. I just wanted to cry at the end of this and I don't even like the man, much! Only you could do that to me!
Mar. 30th, 2010 11:06 pm (UTC)
Aww. That's the nicest thing you ever said ;)
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 18th, 2010 03:06 am (UTC)
What can I say, I have a soft spot for the Bad Boys. At least Snape turns out to have been a Good Guy all along -- I have no such excuse for my Lucius lust. Well, I'll just have to bear the shame of it somehow ;)
Apr. 29th, 2010 03:40 am (UTC)
Man, this is very saddening. ;( But beautifully written, you captured the essence of the sophistication that Severus speaks with.
Jul. 31st, 2010 02:29 am (UTC)
Thanks - I specifically worked hard to retain his "voice" - nice to know I hit the mark!

Oh, and ♥ the icon :)
Sep. 18th, 2012 03:05 pm (UTC)

"There is a purity to the anger of youth; things are black and white, one loves and hates with equal fire." This is my favorite line. I always thought that Severus is painfully self-aware, and you've portrayed that beautifully. You've hit that perfect balance between angst and anger, without dwelling too long on the maudlin. God, I love this, thanks for sharing :)
Sep. 18th, 2012 09:02 pm (UTC)
You picked out one of my favorite lines! Thanks for the kind words :)
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