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Someone leaves a copy of Grindelwald's book in the little parlor of the Dark Lord's house, and Lucius steals it. He reads it aloud to them, in a ridiculous Teutonic accent. He memorizes the worst bits, and recites them at the least appropriate times.

Snape has read it before-- but the original English edition, translated by Abraxas Malfoy. This is a cheap paperback, mass-produced in the years between the wars, and translated using magic. It is sometimes ungrammatical, always awkward, and Lucius makes it worse. He declaims grandly, “For the greater good is only a doorway in a hall of doorways, for a wizard choosing once to open a door, and choosing to open it again and again.” They are meant to be sorting spell ingredients, and Regulus laughs so hard he falls out of his chair and spills the eels' fangs on the rug.

Snape grits his teeth, and does not say anything. Lucius does not believe-- Lucius has never believed-- he doesn't even know any Muggles, and he doesn't understand. Lucius joined the Death Eaters to spite his father, and still the Dark Lord loves him best of all. Snape has never been anyone's favorite, and never will be, and if Hogwarts taught him nothing else it is that there is no advantage in carrying tales.

“A wizard needs only love. For with love there is nothing you can know that isn't known, with love there is nothing you can see that isn't shown, and with love there is nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.”

Lucius doesn't see that Bellatrix is awake. Snape waits, tense, for her to start screaming. Bellatrix is the most faithful of the faithful, the one who crosses the street when she sees a Mudblood on the sidewalk. She's been pretending for over a year that she can't remember Snape's name. If she explodes now they're going to be caught--.

Bellatrix nods gravely. She doesn't recognize the words. Of course she doesn't; Snape doubts she's ever heard of The Beatles. But she doesn't recognize that they aren't Grindelwald's words, either. She hasn't read the damned book.

After that he watches. “All wizardkind is a spellbook, having only one author, and being of one volume, and each page torn from that volume a spell forever lost,” makes Rodolphus blink. But is it because he's read For the Greater Good or because he's read Donne?

They are all purebloods, the children of the greatest houses in Britain and Europe, raised to believe they are beautiful, special, invincible. But they don't really care about anything but themselves. They don't care what the Dark Lord stands for. They don't even know what he stands for.

Snape knows. Snape believes. But his blood is not pure enough, his magic tainted by the stain of his father's heritage. The Dark Lord tolerates him because he is useful, but he loves the others, the heirs of the wizards who scorned Lord Voldemort when he was only Tom Riddle-- with blood no purer than Snape's own.

Into this house a wizard is born, in to this world he's thrown, like a dog without a bone, an actor all unknown--. Snape doesn't smile because it isn't funny. He brings the Dark Lord's cup, and as he bends his head he feels the Dark Lord's mind brush his. “You are thinking very hard about something,” Lord Voldemort says, and Snape lets the walls that shield his thoughts fall away so that the Dark Lord can see.

“Oh, Severus,” Lord Voldemort says afterward, and his blue eyes are kind but his mouth twitches. “Albus Dumbledore would tell you that a wizard's worth is determined by his choices, perhaps.”

“But--.”

“But you are an idealist, I know. And Lord Grindelwald, I think, would tell you that it isn't an individual's choices but the results of those choices that matters. That in the end, all things must serve the Greater Good.”

Snape waits, the golden cup heavy in his hand. The flagged stone floor is hard under his knees; the smell of wine strong in the air. He will remember this, afterward, because the Dark Lord does not keep the others kneeling. In twenty years time it will be this moment that loses Lord Voldemort the war.

Snape has done terrible things in the Dark Lord's service, done them willingly and gladly. He wants more for his trouble than this gentle condescension. “What is it that you think, my lord?”

Lord Voldemort takes the cup at last. “Do you know, Severus,” he says, looking into the blood- dark wine, “I believe you are the only one of my Death Eaters who would dare to ask that.”

Snape does not need to be able to read the Dark Lord's mind to know the truth. He can see it plainly written on Voldemort's face. The answer is, Voldemort doesn't care one way or the other what they believe, or whether they believe in anything at all. He wants obedience; his crusade isn't about the Greater Good or the future of wizardkind. Voldemort wants vengeance for the things done to him when he was a child, and Grindelwald's pretty words are a charm like any other.

And Snape can follow him, or he can forge his own path-- he can have vengeance, or he can make possible the things Grindelwald wrote about, put an end to the world which created the Dark Lord. “Imagine,” Lucius would probably say, “there's no hunger, no thirst, imagine a brotherhood of wizards--.” Despite himself, Snape nearly laughs.

“I am sorry, my lord,” he says, and drops his eyes. “I know it is not my place to question you.”

“No,” Voldemort agrees. “It is not. And yet--”, he takes a sip of wine and Severus can see he is thinking about it, perhaps for the first time. “I was very young when Grindelwald's war was fought, and lost,” he says at last. “Too young to fight for him. Dumbledore's victory was heralded as the triumph of the individual will, but very little changed, and nothing for those who needed change most.”

Snape knows he is thinking of Merope Gaunt, bleeding to death in the snow. Voldemort is immensely powerful, and immensely angry; the thoughts he projects are as clear, clearer, than the images of a television programme. Merope begging before the heads of the great families-- Albus Dumbledore, Abraxas Malfoy, Evelyn Lestrange, Cygnus Black, Alaric Crabbe, Patrick Prince, Sarah Rosier-- and always being turned away.

There is nothing they are fighting for today that would change the way she died. Her blood was pure, her child's was not, but this war is not about justice, equality, common ground. It is about privilege, destiny: it is about a small group of wizards born to power who will do anything to preserve that power, and it is about the man who is determined to use them and then to destroy them. Merope Gaunt would have gotten nothing from the Dark Lord but a slower death.

Snape takes Lord Voldemort's cup and backs away, trying to concentrate very hard indeed on dinner. A wizard may wonder, he thinks, is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide--. Christ, it's contagious. And dangerous. More dangerous than Lucius-- careless, sunny, spoiled Lucius-- can understand.

It comes to him, then, how little it matters what he believes-- whether it his choices that matter or the things that come of them, nothing he does on Voldemort's orders will serve the Greater Good.

He has tried to do the right thing, and he has failed again and again. Snape drinks the dregs of the wine and pours more. He wants to set Grindelwald's book on fire. He wants to set Lord Voldemort on fire.

Instead he waits for his chance. He is not a fool, though he keeps company with fools. He reads Dumbledore's book in secret, and finds that it is not so sanctimonious as he expected-- nor so wise as he feared-- it is, like Grindelwald's, full of noble ideals and sweeping statements. He leaves his copy for Lucius, and he laughs as hard as the others when Lucius quotes it as they kneel in the damp darkness, fumbling with lock, “Ask yourself, each moment, why am I here? What choice did I make that brought me to this place? Am I content in my choice or do I wish I had chosen otherwise?”.

He writes to the head of the Order of the Phoenix, and he opens the letter that comes in answer with shaking fingers. It reads, “Severus, I will meet with you in any place at any time you name. Only send word and I will come. Lily.”

He makes a choice, and he lives with it.

Imagine a great hallway, its sides lined with doors, and only one of those doors opens to a world in which you want to live. You must choose that one door, every time you make a choice, and only that one door. You must choose what end you will serve, every day, every hour, every minute-- always knowing that the door you choose might be the wrong one.

No, friend, it is simpler and more difficult than that. It is not the door you choose that matters, for all doors can be made to open where you want them to go. It is what you do on the other side of that door. Any choice you make can be shaped to serve the Greater Good, for a wizard forges his own destiny.


--Gellert Grindelwald, Die Zukunft prophezeiend
(Abraxas Malfoy and Juniper Greengrass, trans. 1916)

With apologies to The Beatles/ John Lennon/ Queen/ The Doors/ John Donne.
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