Date/Challenge: 16 - "We've Got to Live, No Matter How"
Character/Pairing: Snape, Minerva, Harry/Ron/Hermione (no pairings)
Word Count: 874
Genre/Warnings (if applicable): Character death mentioned
Hope this is ok - this is my first post here >_<
"We've Got to Live, No Matter How"
Lupin looked emaciated and bone-weary; Tonk's vivid and unaturally colored hair was dull and subdued. Even Minerva looked to be on her last legs. Severus hid his fear and concern behind a sneer. He, too, wanted to lay down and dream of happier times where war and secrecy and betrayal didn't exist. He longed to dump this whole mess in someone else's lap, only there was no one else to pass the torch to –-
–-except the children had already shouldered more than even children half-grown should ever have to.
Merlin, he needed space; needed distance from people pushed beyond their limits and fraying at the edges. Even a class of irritating, obliviously arrogant students would be preferable to his war-weary collegues. He had to fight to keep his feelings from betraying his thoughts, and sighed silently in relief when Minerva stood and dismissed them. Like school children, he thought with irritation, biting his cheek.
He lagged behind Lupin, letting Tonks and the werewolf precede him out the door. Minerva was gathering up the scraps of parchment with a half-hearted tap of her wand; she looked older than he'd ever seen her. "You're too old for this, Minerva," he said brusquely. He wondered again why Albus saw fit to be gone so often, leaving such an impossible burden on the Gryffindor Head-of-House.
She lifted her head to meet his challenge, and her grey eyes sharpened into steel. Briefly he thought, she must have been a terror when she was young. He blinked, several times, and the look was gone, her eyes again weary and faded. "We all do what we must, Severus; each of us has our own role and burden in this war."
He stared out the window to her left. He carefully hid his own weariness and fatigue, but he hated this; the constant battle, and so few wins, so many losses. Years of life lost to The Cause, and still so little ground gained. We do what we must. To what avail? "And what if we fail again, Minerva?" He said it coldly, sneeringly, as if he truly didn't care who won. "What if we all succeed in getting ourselves killed? Are we to hope mere children -– "
Minerva's shoulders snapped back and her spine went rigid; she looked like a cat whose kittens had just been tangled with. Her eyes glittered oddly; Severus had a cold, terrible feeling that he had revealed more than he intended as her eyes held his. He barely suppressed a shiver and reinforced his Occlumency.
"Death," she said, with absolute certainty, "is not an option; no matter how tired we may be or how much we might suffer, we are too badly needed now to allow death to interfere." She forced a smile; it looked to him altogether much like the expression she used at the closing of a lecture delivered to an errant student.
He forced his face neutral as she left the room; but he stood there long after she left, thinking. Not an option? How little she knew of real warfare; unfortunately, death was always an option. Sometimes the weaker died that the strong might survive; sometimes the strong died protecting the weak. Always the role of honour and sacrifice and love in war – followed by regret, and sorrow, and empty arms. In a war, death was necessary; war was a diseased limb that must be excised. Always some healthy flesh was cut off with it – but it left the people crippled, but alive.
Jealousy, power, greed. The roots of war that spawned secrets, which in turn bred and spread like rats, spreading their own disease. Whisper, whisper.
With his hands clenched into fists, he spun and left the room in a billow of black robes.
* * * * *
"I can't believe it, Harry! It's too awful to be true!" Hermione cried, tears streaming down her face. "It can't be true; I mean, how can Dumbledore possibly be – " her throat stuck on the word dead, and she squeezed Harry's shoulders instead.
Ron stared morosely at the floor, muttering, "Bloody hell, I can't believe the greasy bastard – bloody hell," over and over. His eyes were red-rimmed and he was paler than usual; his freckles stood out starkly.
Only Harry hid his grief, burying his tears under his rage and feeding his anger. I'll kill Snape for killing Dumbledore, he swore silently. No matter how long it takes, I'll do it.
Hermione tried to make Harry look at her; her eyes were still full of tears, but also full of worry. "You've got to be especially careful now, Harry! You already know Voldemort wants you dead, and without – without Dumbledore – " she sniffled, and threw her arms around Harry. "If we had to lose you, too - !"
"Let him try," he said rudely. "I plan to kill him first. And Snape, too," he added, glaring at Hermione and at Ron, who was staring at him like he'd lost his last marble. "Someday I'll catch him too, and he'll pay the price." His voice was cold and he didn't seem to see his friends exchanging fearful looks. "No matter what it takes."
Behind him on the dresser, Hedwig hooted forlornly.
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