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People of the Goddess by Meadowsweet

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Snape kept his wand trained on her. He knew he was taking too long to answer, but he couldn’t formulate a response.

“You may remember me, Theophany Knapp,” the girl continued, politely.

He eyed her.

“Who are you?” he asked quietly.

“I just said“”

“Theophany Knapp has no memories of me, so who are you?”

She smiled again.

“I’m Theophany Knapp and I owe you a bottle of dittany.”

Snape didn’t lower his wand. It was possible, just possible, that Knapp had been captured and tortured. Such a detail could be used by anyone trying to impersonate her.

Knapp sighed, “Long story short, I don't have my memories back nor do I remember losing them. But I have a – a record of certain events I thought best not to forget. There are people who depend on me.”

Snape lowered his wand. She’d said that before, and no one else could know. Moreover she couldn’t remember she had said so before, could she? She wasn’t manipulating this conversation. Their duel on the hill left no time for her to even write herself a note. How had she preserved her memories?

“How much do you know?” he managed to ask.

Knapp pursed her lips thoughtfully.

“Well, you’re Severus Snape, supposed Death Eater.”

Her voice, so obviously Cornish, shortened his name to an accented cadence, Sev ’rus Snape.

“Then there’s the sword. Gringotts. Knockturn Alley, and, of course, Spinner’s End.”

“You were never to know where I had taken you,” Snape growled. “You’re forcing my hand.”

“Please, I have a failsafe in place. Wiping my memory again wouldn’t help, and it’s not an experience I care to repeat. Besides, it’s not just my knowing about the sword or Spinner’s End you should be worried about.”

Snape stepped closer, lowering his voice.

“Would you care to elaborate, Miss Knapp?”

“Werewolves,” she whispered softly. “You are feeding sensitive information regarding Death Eater movement and attacks to underground contacts. We call ourselves the Dagda, and we know we aren’t the only organized resistance, but it seems some of our channels of communication have crossed with yours. That is, werewolves. Names on the Muggle-born Registration list, when the Ministry fell, these have all been reported by werewolves. I bet you informed someone that Reading would be attacked.”

Snape’s fingers bit into her arm.

Shut up.

Theophany nodded.

“I understand you might not want to talk about this here, but I can’t leave my brother too long.”

Snape hesitated, and glanced back and the forms of Dolohov and Korrapati.

“Let me get both of them safe, then we’ll talk.”

“There’s no time–”

“Again, you seem to be in a hurry and with no reinforcements to take care of a troublesome witch.” Theophany put her head to one side. “Was I right? I think you really are working alone, Professor.”

How could she know so much, far too much? Wand still in hand, Snape let his gaze bore into hers. She seemed unaware of any Legilimency and looked curiously back. She was either innocent or practised Occlumency on a level near his own. He found it hard to believe either.

“Where’s your brother?” he asked at last. Time was against him.

“Unconscious. Oh, by the cottage. I can’t leave him too long, the fight might leave Little High Wood or that blond boy could return–”

What?”

Snape swore. If Draco was here, he must avoid being seen. Dolohov must have informed Draco after his owl had reached Snape.

“Let me help,” Theophany said.

Snape looked at her. She was serious.

“What?” he said again.

“Let me check on my brother; then I’ll help you do whatever it is you’re trying to do behind the Eaters' backs.”

Legilimency showed nothing. Snape could feel the seconds ticking by. He had to make a decision. An image of Theophany, sliced and bleeding, came to mind.

They can only kill this body.”

She had borne his trust once before. Severus Snape pocketed his wand.

“Do you even really have a brother?” he asked dispiritedly.

Knapp smiled; she seemed relieved.

“Five, actually. This way.”

She led him through the forest back to the south road. When they reached the wall, she dropped low and crept forward cautiously. There was a young wizard lying beneath a tree. His hair was silver blond, almost Veela pale. Snape glanced at the witch next to him, her dark hair dragging in the leaves as she bent forward. There was no resemblance he could see. She glanced up,

“I’d introduce you but as you can see, he’s in no state. You’re here about Professor Oglethorpe? The house is 103. I’ll meet you there.”

“While I walk into a trap laid by your friends?” Snape hissed sharply. “You’re coming with me, now.”

Knapp seemed about to protest, but she bit it back. With a quick Disillusionment Charm Silyn was hidden from view, and they moved past the wall into the side yard of the row house.

The southern road was empty, but the pavement was cracked and scorched. There was no telling which direction they’d gone, north further up the road or down. The fight had moved through the wood. She listened, but wizards’ battles were much less noisy than Muggles’. She crept forward slowly, Snape following and feeling foolish. How was he reduced to trusting a stranger? The whole situation was ridiculous.

Knapp paused, then put a hand behind her and caught hold of Snape’s sleeve. Just when he thought it couldn’t be more ridiculous. He tried to pull away, but she clung tight and led him around the back of the house, carefully pulling him around possible pitfalls and the sprawled body of a masked Death Eater.

At the backdoor she did a quick check for security spells before easing it open. It had been left unlocked when the premises were evacuated, presumably. The front hall was really a landing; one could go upstairs to the upper flat or enter the lower directly.

“Upstairs, I think. His room is blue,” she whispered.

At least she had let him reclaim his arm. Knapp climbed the stairs ahead of him, wand ready. The flat at the top wasn’t blue but covered in old wallpaper. They passed through the tiny front room and even smaller kitchen. A door beyond opened into a study and that was indeed blue. Walls, furniture, even the lamp shade. The carpet may once have been similarly colored but was so worn down and faded it was impossible to be sure. The room was tidy. They could safely assume the Death Eaters hadn’t found it yet. Knapp looked around.

“Probably used to be owned by the college. Student digs, or for visiting faculty originally. Got the air of something institutional and neglected about it, don’t you think?”

Snape didn’t bother answering. From beneath his cloak he produced a satchel. It wasn’t very large, but it contained all of his research and more. He started pulling books from the bag.

“How long was he kept here?”

“A little over a week.”

“Place the books I’ve brought about the room like they’ve been used.”

Knapp obediently picked up a stack of books. She placed Hubbart’s The 19th Century in Wizarding Britain, Free or Feudal? and The Art of Aristocracy: Public Lives Post Secrecy Act authored by Whisplet, Dredger, and Trent together by the reading lamp. She left some books open at pages Snape had dogeared; others she bookmarked at random with bits of parchment.

Snape trusted he could leave her to finish while he worked at the desk. According to the professor’s dull and convoluted notes, Oglethorpe had been recreating the Goblin rebellion of 1643. Snape swept Oglethorpe's books and parchment out of sight into the satchel. He staged the desk with a scroll he’d brought with him, smaller pieces of parchment he pinned to the corkboard by the desk, and some scribbled notes in the right hand drawer.

Placing his wand tip on a bit of Oglethorpe’s writing he murmured, “Transcribi Specei.

He lifted the wand and moved it to his own writing. A trail of shadow letters clung to the wand tip, trailing like a smokey comet. Snape swept his wand across the page and the letters scurried across, fitting themselves over his own. For a moment one was atop the other and their differences clear, then Snape’s swift, spiked, writing began to stretch and wriggle to fit Oglethorpe's round hand.

“Neat.” Knapp was at his elbow. “But illegal.”

“Legality didn’t seem to concern you when you offered to help a Death Eater tonight.”

Knapp grinned again.

“True. From henceforth I’m forever disqualified as a role model.” She held up a book. “Do you want Tufter’s heretical claims concerning the Pendragon myth and Pureblood genealogy in the place of honor?”

Tufter was a crackpot, but a respected one, of the late 1750’s who had tried to claim all pure bloodlines traced back to the original Pendragon. His research had been the basis for founding many of the Sacred Twenty Eight. It would also, Snape hoped, be the book that sparked the theory. The theory that Arcus, possible master of the Elder Wand, was ancestor to the Archers, a formidable pureblood family long since thought extinct.

“You already have it marked and everything,” Theophany added.

Snape accepted the book from her and placed it on the desk, underneath a pile of notes. There were multiple references in the bogus notes he had compiled. It would have been kept close as a main reference.

Knapp was at the window.

“There are lights in the woods, but there’s no telling if the main force has been scattered or not. We could be found any minute.”

Snape slung the satchel over his shoulder and glanced around the room. The job was thorough, but discreet. Knapp joined him at the door, but he descended first. He no longer expected a trap from these so called Dagda. Death Eaters were the real threat now.

He hadn’t realized how stuffy it had been inside until he opened the back door. A cold wind had picked up; it would probably snow again before dawn. Snape heard only the creaking of the wood around them. The night was startlingly clear and quiet.

Knapp slipped out and stood next to him, listening. She cocked her head and smiled a little, a quick signal of confidence, and moved back towards the treeline. Snape considered Disapparating then and there. But no, he had to clean this up as best he could. Knapp was bent over her brother, looking, for the first time he’d seen, worried.

“He should have woken up by now. I’ve never seen it take this long before.”

Snape hesitated. So he hadn’t been simply knocked unconscious?

“Could it be...he’s in a trance?” he couldn’t help but ask.

Knapp was pulling the slumbering wizard into a seated position. Snape got an arm behind and helped prop him up.

“More like recovering from one. I’ve got to Disapparate and get him to safety but,” she glanced up at Snape, “I’ve a feeling you’re not going to let me go.”

“Go,” Snape said simply. “You have to come back for your friend you so casually Stunned earlier. I’ll wait for you there. After he’s safe, we will have to discuss your inconvenient interference.”

Knapp got her brother under the arms and heaved.

“Fair enough,” she gasped. “Could you–”

Snape got the pale-haired boy upright while his sister got her arms around him. He was of a height with Snape and her head was just level with his shoulder.

“Ta,” she said breathlessly, and they Disapparated.

Snape looked towards the wood. What was its name? Little High Wood. Draco would be in the thick of it, redeeming himself from last week’s ignominious attack and failure. If he spotted Snape, there was always the excuse of coming to check on him, but it was thin. Snape turned away and headed deeper into the trees. Best he stay out of sight and figure out what in hell to do with Theophany Knapp.

Amongst the frozen remains of Maevan’s garden again, Theophany tottered dangerously. Straining against Silly’s weight, she managed to stagger a few steps before falling heavily. Keeping her grip on Silyn, she managed let him tumble backwards on top of her. Not the best solution perhaps, she thought, pinned to the hard ground. At least he hadn't hit his head.

Theophany lay still for a minute to catch her breath. Everything had happened so fast. Four uneventful nights of mind-numbing patrol, and now this. Bloody Severus Snape walking right into their operation. Theophany grinned swiftly but sobered. It’s terribly exciting, but don’t let it go to your head.

“Maevan?” she called. He probably wasn’t back if the fight was still on. “Lolli?”

A door creaked.

“Tiff?”

She pulled herself up onto one elbow, Silyn lying crosswise over her.

“Boniface? Why are you here?”

Frozen twigs snapped as her younger brother came hurrying through the garden.

“Taking attendance. Maeven’s not back yet, but most of our people are. I’m to check roll call.”

The fight was winding down. Maevan must have led the main force of Death Eaters away from Oglethorpe to buy Korrapati time.

Boniface helped roll Silyn off their sister.

“Blimey, haven’t seen him like this in a while.” He conjured a stretcher and Levitated the now snoring Silyn onto it. “You look like you’ve been in the wars too. Oh, I suppose I should ask you the security question and make sure you’re not a Death Eater masquerading as my sister.”

Theophany paused in exploring the burnt tear in her robes and picked a leaf out of her hair.

“The answer’s Peachy-kins.”

Boniface nodded solemnly.

“And a fine rabbit he was too.”

“Listen, I have to go back. Korrapati is still missing.”

“Just come back here before you go home. Maevan wants everyone’s report tonight.”

Theophany Disapparated. She had a feeling her report would be much expurgated, which was a pity, as it had been a most interesting night.

She Apparated in the treeline, just below the outcropping where she’d revealed herself to Severus Snape. To Theophany’s relief Korrapati hadn't regained consciousness. However, her absence seemed to have wrought a change in Snape. He’d had time to plan, and the element of surprise was lost to her. He was standing, arms folded, deep in thought. She knew he’d seen her, but he didn’t acknowledge her until she spoke.

“Where are Dolohov and the other one?”

He looked up, scowl in place.

“You know Dolohov?”

“Fortunately, no. But I heard someone call him that.”

“Thank God for that, at least, something you don’t know.”

Theophany knelt and checked Korrapati’s pulse.

“He’s breathing. Why did you decide to Stun him?” Snape asked.

Was he playing for time? Or was there an ulterior motive to the question? Theophany thought it best not to spar with him.

“He would have seen you. You don’t want anyone to know about you, that’s clear.”

“But you know, it seems.”

Theophany stood up and faced him squarely.

“I have guesses.”

“You guess far more than anyone is supposed to know. Your behaviour has been foolhardy at best, but for the most part stupid.”

He pinched his nose for a moment, glanced at her and then away. So much for winning his confidence. The very sight of her annoyed him. Theophany felt like she was twelve years old again, being reprimanded by the Dean of the charter school. That was exactly it, she realized. He was treating her like a student. He was a teacher, after all. It was suddenly so obvious the thought made her smile.

“I don’t see what you’re so pleased about. Your position is dangerous, to say the least.”

Theophany smiled wider. It seemed to annoy him.

“You’re not going to hurt me.”

In a twitch his wand was out and inches from her chin.

“Don’t forget,” his voice was chilling, “don’t forget what I am. Not for a moment.”

Theophany didn’t move, but she let go of her smile.

“That’s exactly what makes me so pleased,” she spoke earnestly, trying to make him understand. “You’re a Death Eater, yes, but on our side. I know your information is good; we aren’t walking into a trap. Do you have any idea how terrified I was that my brothers’ marching orders were coming from an anonymous source? But if it’s you–”

“No one can know that!”

“Does it look like I’ve told anyone?” She gestured at Korrapati. “I’m very good at keeping secrets.” Technically, it was her vocation. “I’ve been tortured for a fake sword and never said a word. What else can I do to have you trust me?”

Snape leaned closer. He had this trick of looking into her face like he was boring into her mind through her eyes. Was he? Could he? Precious little she could do about it.

“Understand this,” he hissed. "I have trusted no one for nearly twenty years. I have sacrificed everything to put myself in this position, even those who trusted me, and I will not have my mission jeopardized because a young idiot wants some nice warm feelings of reassurance!”

“I want to help.”

That seemed to freeze him up again.

“I want to help,” Theophany repeated. “Like tonight, you couldn’t have found the right house without me –”

“Maybe because a certain young witch delayed me.”

Theophany sighed and flicked the wand out of her face with the back of her hand. She was done trying to reason with him.

“Right, firstly, I’m getting tired of your attitude. How old do you think I am? I’m not one of your students.”

If he was angry before, he was livid now. Theophany held up a another finger.

“Secondly, when I first met you, you were short on time then, too, with no assistance or hope. You were frantic for help. So don’t pretend I’m the reason it went belly up tonight. Third and lastly, I’m not going to try and convince you to trust me anymore. I’m simply going to trust you. So go ahead.”

Theophany put her wand in her pocket and spread her arms.

“Do your worst, Severus Snape. Because you’ve already done it.”

He wouldn’t hurt her or kill her. Couldn’t wipe her memories.

“I could put you in a coma for the next six months,” he said quietly.

“It’s impossible to work a Stunning Spell that strong without risking killing me.”

“And you’re so sure I won’t risk it?”

“Positive. You don’t do collateral damage, you like to save whoever possible. Can’t lie about that, not after you patched me up so carefully and gently at Spinner’s End.” Theophany smiled again. “Haven’t changed my mind. You should have been a Healer.”

His wand was at his side. After a moment Snape pocketed it in his robes.

“Others might dispute my bedside manner.”

What bedside manner?” Theophany chortled.

Korrapati groaned softly. Theophany glanced down and back at Snape.

“We shouldn’t be here when he wakes up. I’ll be 'looking' for him in Little High Wood when he comes to. Are you coming?”

Snape shook his head.

“I shouldn’t be seen. Listen.” He was still watching her like she was an unpredictable animal. “I can’t fix this or prevent it, but I will keep you from knowing more. Do not seek me out, do not meddle in any way. This is the only way we win this war.”

Theophany moved closer. If only she could read his mind.

“That’s why I meddled, why I had to know who you were. You talk like what you’re doing is so important it’s – as if it’s the only thing that’s important.”

Snape didn’t blink. His eyes had gone curiously flat again.

“I have a mission. You can help it succeed by staying out of it.”

Theophany tried to smile.

“Not what I hoped to hear. No less than what I expected. Alright then,” she offered her hand, “I promise.”

“You give promises too easily.”

“I haven’t broken one yet.” She sounded defensive even to herself. “Even post Obliviation I knew there was a reason I shouldn’t fly.”

He took her hand, a single clasp. His fingers were cold, his face sharp in the moonlight. He didn’t look well.

“Good luck, Severus Snape. I wish you success.”

Theophany turned away. It was hard to leave like this, after working so hard to find him. She was surprised at her own disappointment. It wasn’t just not knowing, or not being trusted. Theophany felt oddly dejected and worried. She paused and turned back, she had to say something.

“Please–”

She was surprised at the wobble in her voice. Snape didn’t look up.

“Take care of yourself.”

He didn’t answer. The pause was so terribly cold, Theophany just walked away. There was no coming back from that. She’d done all she could, offered all she had. She could only hope Severus Snape was right to refuse it.



When the dawn came, it felt stale and anticlimactic. Nothing urgent required Theophany’s attention. The Poindexters had settled in nicely. Mr. Poindexter, in place of Lavinia Honeysett, had been moved to the Hughes and was currently employed at the Tea Room. Lavinia, too, seemed content judging from her recent letter, though Jacka seemed to think it unfair Theophany had encouraged her to camp in the Dagda forest.

Theophany pulled her knees up to her chest, her hair fanning out in the water around her. The bath water was cooling, but she was reluctant to climb out. She’d had little sleep after she and Boniface had returned to The Mill at three a.m., but mostly her mood was the cause of Severus Snape.

Would she spend the rest of the war knowing that one wizard was responsible for victory? That’s what he had seemed to suggest. And one mistake, one failure, and it was over for Snape. Who could replace him? Was there even someone else responsible?

She got out of the water and squeezed her streaming hair, causing a rivulet to run to the floor. Impatiently she pulled on her robe and dug for her wand. With a wave the floor was dry, the mirror unfogged, and she got a good look at herself. Forehead creased, hair in a damp twist to her waist, eyes preoccupied. This wouldn’t do; anyone could tell she was worried. All this hiding of secrets.

The rest of the Knapps had been patient with her lack of explanations, even after she’d been to the Pensieve. Merryn had expected more than the vague story she’d told about getting too close to an intelligence source. In deference to her memory trauma they were prone to treat her gently, even agreeing to not fly any longer based on a “hunch” of Theophany’s that it could be detrimental. Their concern was almost palpable. Theophany knew they were thinking, poor thing is so rattled, just humor her.

Maevan was upset with her too. She had been the last to report in, Korrapati having recovered and Disapparated some twenty minutes after she and Snape had left him. Theophany had given it a good hour before returning to Maevan's cottage, wandering in the wood “looking” for Korrapati.

“So you just wandered about?” Maevan had been skeptical.

“After I got Silyn back safe, yes. I didn’t know where everyone else was, and Korrapati had been separated from the main force just like me“”

“Yes, yes, I know, so you’ve said. So after Isha got the professor out, you were attacked, Isha led some of the Eaters off, and you took on the leader.”

“Well, I don’t know for certain, but he seemed to be in charge.”

“And after he lost, you went back. So how did you miss Isha if he was lying about unconscious?”

“There were two others, you see, and I had to move cautiously; also I couldn’t lead them back to SIlyn.”

And so it had gone. Maevan had reprimanded her for being too focused on her brother and said that clearly her account was jumbled because she wasn’t combat-ready. War, he said, wasn’t something you could prepare for, but he had hoped Theophany would be more level headed. In the meantime she was removed from combat service.

It seemed the only people not mad at her were Silyn and her father. Mr. Knapp treated her like an invalid still, but, aside from that one outburst when she’d returned from the Pensieve, Silyn’s behavior was unchanged.

“I for one am extremely glad you stuck close to me,” he had told her lightly, finally regaining consciousness in the wee hours. Theophany had muttered something noncommittal.

“No, really. You did fine. What was it, three? four Death Eaters? Maevan just has to be organized, everything has got to be accounted for, and you’re a bit of a loose cannon. You forgot to control your breathing, right?”

“I – I tried, really! But then they threatened to hurt you and–”

“No, no! It’s all good. It was just a mechanism to keep you focused. You obviously don’t need it anymore. You’ve outgrown it.”

Silyn’s smile was a special thing, Theophany reflected. Not that it was rare, but so sincere. Maybe it was just because he looked most like Mum.

Theophany, hair dry and wearing an old house robe, descended to the kitchen. Ike already had the kettle on, and she decided to treat herself to sitting at the kitchen table, with father’s ticking banana, to enjoy a cup of tea. For the next few days she would be returning to her own duties as potions purveyor, Secret-Keeper, older sister, and refugee smuggler. Easy job, she thought, in comparison to some.


Reginald Cattermole was dead. The Ministry owl had obligingly informed the Headmaster, with assurances such a breach of security in the Ministry would never happen again. The penalty was unsurprising, given the break-in and subsequent escape of Muggle-borns. It was unfair, given Cattermole had only been impersonated and wasn’t an active participant. Still, Cattermole had time to get his family out before his arrest and that should have been some comfort, in the end. It would would have been enough for Severus Snape.

He wondered what it would be like, to fight with everyone you cared for safely away, not having to worry for them. What would he have for comfort when ‘in the end’ came for him?

Snape looked up from his tea. He’d stopped pretending to eat breakfast. Showing up was hard enough. After a few initial words at the beginning of the year Minerva had remained silent. Most of the staff managed to speak infrequently to him, but to Minerva he was invisible, already dead. Counter to the largely silent staff table, the Carrows were exalting over Cattermole’s death with disgusting false regret. They were delighted that the regime was willing to make examples of the most innocent of bystanders.

“It’s regrettable. Especially as we want people to see that the Ministry has only the best interests of wizardkind at heart.” Alecto’s voice was sweet as treacle and sticky with empathy.

“Some will never see, Alecto. That’s why we must train them while young,” Amycus growled. No pretence of squeamishness. “Wouldn’t you agree, Headmaster?”

Snape slowly focused on Amycus Carrow. He didn’t ask him to repeat the question but just looked at him blankly.

“Our hopes, Headmaster,” Alecto purred, “rely on the next generation, yes?”

This generation?” Snape asked doubtfully.

“You think it’s too late for these students? Raised by their traitor parents?”

“Everything...takes time.”

Snape was getting a headache. He pushed his chair back. It was a little early to leave yet but he had no stomach for the Carrows today. When he stood up, he found he had no stomach for anything. The room spun for a moment and he grabbed his chair to steady himself. Bile rose in his throat. Concerned murmurs came from the blurred faces around him. He doubted Minerva’s was one of them.

“Severus, Severus, are you alright?”

Snape stepped back from the table before either Carrow could touch him. He was weak-kneed, but his vision was clearing.

“Fine,” he snapped irately.

“Please look after yourself.”

Knapp had said something similar, but Alecto’s simper made him itch to seize the jam spoon and carve the placid expression from her face.

“I repeat,” he said slowly, “it’s...fine…”

With all his pent-up frustration and rage he seared the table with a glance, and even Madam Pince had to drop her eyes. Minerva looked through him. Snape strode from the Great Hall in fine form but had to lean against the wall outside to catch his breath.

This wasn’t good. Even if he couldn’t sleep, he would have to rest. If only he could Apparate to his quarters. Instead he was forced to make slow progress up the main stair, feeling like a victim of the Jelly-Leg Jinx. Snape flattered himself he knew most of the castle’s shortcuts, but there was only one stair into the headmaster's office. He didn’t sleep in the headmaster’s quarters, in a murdered man’s bed.

Taking a respite by the bust of Balfour the Bane, he heard approaching footsteps. Rather than try and act like he wasn’t breathless, he stepped into the alcove behind the bust and cast a quick Disillusionment Charm. He didn’t want the Carrows’ company, and Poppy Pomfrey would probably try to poison him under pretence of helping.

“...really sickening for something.” It was Professor Sprout. “He’s been looking worse recently, but that turn at breakfast looked serious. Gesticulating Ginger would probably clear that right up, provided it’s nothing chronic.”

“Oh, I’m hoping for a not so simple solution.” Minerva’s voice was hard and bright. “I hope it’s really very serious and eats at him. Maybe Alecto’s poisoning him so she can become headmistress. I hope she’s using something agonizing.”

Snape tasted bile again. He let them move past and crept on without dismissing his camouflage. When he was at last installed in his office armchair, he explored his symptoms cautiously. Dizziness, lack of appetite, general weakness were all indicative of chronic sleep deprivation. The nausea? The labored breathing? He’d taken precautions against poisoning when he first took the post. Either side would be happy to see him die, it seemed.

“... hope it eats at him.”

McGonagall's hatred echoed in his head. What was eating at him?

“Severus?”

Albus’s portrait had noticed him. Snape didn’t bother responding, preferring to follow his train of thought. Obviously he had many things to eat at him: the sword of Gryffindor still on his hands, and Potter still did not possess that last vital piece of information. Maybe he could do both in one blow? That would be a relief.

Potter, here’s the sword which is needed for purposes Albus wouldn’t explain to me but presumably you know and, also, you have to let the Dark Lord kill you because you’re a – you have a piece of his…

Then what? Return to Hogwarts and keep up the loyal Death Eater farce to protect the students? For how long? Until the end? His heart, or whatever was still left to beat in its place, sank. Snape glanced back at the portrait. Albus was waiting, looking a little concerned. It was just a painting, but somehow he could never treat it wholly as such.

“It seems it’s not just the mission, Albus,” Snape sighed. “I was prepared for that. I just didn’t expect – it seems I wasn’t ready to be seen as a traitor. I didn’t fully realize…”

“‘Has it crossed your brilliant mind that I don’t want to do this anymore?’” Albus quoted.

Snape inhaled sharply. The portrait gazed thoughtfully over his head.

“You did realize, at that time. For a moment. It, truthfully, it hadn’t crossed my mind you would until you asked me. Then I worried you wouldn’t go through with it. So I distracted you. Is it worse than you thought?”

Snape turned away from the painting.

“Things so often are.”

He closed his eyes. Tried to empty his mind. But the moment he became conscious of his own breathing, it grew labored and panicked. Last time he’d had trouble emptying his mind, Theophany Knapp was snoring on his sofa, upsetting his concentration.

Snape summoned an image of Spinner’s End to mind. Not usually a soothing place but if he remembered that specific night, he might regain control. He had listened to Knapp’s breathing, ignoring his own. That is what sleep sounds like, he told himself. Try and remember. Her breaths had been deep and steady. This is feeling relaxed and safe. Snape slowly matched his breathing to the memory. This is rest. This is peace.

He slept lightly, feeling the passing of time, but he was still surprised to find it dark when he woke. The timepiece in the corner, Snape hesitated to call it a clock, had three hands that indicated astrological signs, moon phases, and certain gems placed around the clock face. Two smaller hands pointed to numerals that made no sequential sense and had to be read using some form of Arithmancy. Snape had no idea why Dumbledore had it, other than his love of the arcane and rare. He smothered a yawn and scrubbed his hands over his face. His mouth was fuzzy and his body ached, but he felt significantly revived. How had he managed so long without sleep?

“Feeling better, Headmaster?” Phineas Black had returned to his portrait.

Snape was suddenly wide awake.

“Anything to report?”

“No – the young larvae seem more concerned about what’s happening here than doing anything themselves. Got all excited when I told them someone had tried to nick the sword–”

Excited?” Snape bore down on the portrait. “Did they say why they were so interested in the sword?”

“Well, they were more worried about their little friends, but they got interested in the sword when I said Dumbledore had taken it out of its case to–”

“Phineas,” Dumbledore’s portrait said gently.

Phineas Black stopped, torn between headmasters living and dead. Snape put him out of his misery.

“Return to your other portrait and don’t move. I’m going to try and anticipate their next location.”

Relieved, the portrait nodded and hurried away.

“There was no need, Albus. I’m well aware you used the sword to destroy the ring. I put you back together after all. What I’m interested in is what Potter needs it for.”

“I know that, but I want to keep Phineas from speculating. Neither he, you, or anyone else can know too much.”

Theophany Knapp knew an awful lot. Snape felt a small twinge of guilt and stilled it with a scowl.

“And I know precious little,” he snapped to cover his embarrassment.

“How do you intend to anticipate their location?”

“Grimmauld.” Snape shook his head. “I feel clear headed for the first time in days. They had to abandon Grimmauld quickly after Yaxley found them. He said there was no clue where they had come from or were headed, but he may have missed it.”

“In your current state of mind, Severus, is it wise to return there?”

Snape smiled.

“You think I’m going to have some emotional breakdown? Pining for the good old days of the Order? You forget I was hardly welcome there. Tolerated from necessity only.”

Islington was dark. Wherever Snape Apparated these days, it was always eerily silent. Reading burning. What did the Muggles see? What explanation of strange events kept them inside their houses after dusk? During the first war, as a child, he’d seen the concerned citizenry of Cokeworth mobilizing against “gang violence”, the school drills, the confused newspaper headlines. He’d been too experienced to ask what his father thought was happening. It was smarter to keep one’s mouth shut and pray Tobias Snape didn’t notice you.

Grimmauld Place looked much the same from the outside, though he was sure Yaxley would have torn apart the interior. No one had bothered to lock up. The door fell open under his hand. It was darker in here than the street outside. A rustling could be heard. Rats?
A dim light was growing further down the hall. Snape drew his wand. Perhaps Yaxley hadn’t disarmed all the security charms. A specter was forming, but only partially. The spell must have been damaged when the Death Eaters searched the house. The glowing figure drew closer and Snape held his breath. Half-formed as it was, he could recognize it. The shape fixed empty eye sockets on him. Its forward motion was halting, and it continuously faded in and out of focus.

“...Sev...s-Snape?” the flickering corpse of Albus Dumbledore asked.

Moody’s voice. It had his touch. Efficient and merciless. Snape lowered his wand. Antagonizing the spectre would probably trigger the spell. If he was expected to attack, then the best thing to do was the opposite.

“I’m sorry, Albus,” he whispered.

“You k-killed...you k-killed…” The spell was wearing off.

“I didn’t kill you,” Snape said firmly.

The spectre disappeared. Of course. Simple but ingenious. They had assumed him a murderer, incapable of denying Dumbledore’s murder.

Shaking off the slight chill that had run down his spine, Snape stepped into the silent house. It had been stripped.The portraits on the wall had been torn down, the wallpaper peeled off in places. Even the portrait of Walburga Black was silent. Yaxley had done a thorough job.

He started in the front rooms. Every drawer was opened, every surface examined. He tried to picture it clearly in his mind as it had been. Was anything changed, or moved? Plenty. It seemed Potter and his friends had done a little housekeeping. More than Black had attempted.

Black. Why, out of all possible substitute father figures, had Potter chosen Black? Especially with mild, reasonable Lupin at hand. The last thing he had needed was someone encouraging him to be even more bullheaded and rash. Sirius Black. Forever stuck in adolescent rage and grief. Azkaban had frozen time for Black, prevented his grief from maturing, fading.

Snape paused. Was it petty to think ill of the dead? He rather thought that, wherever he was, Black would be horrified if Snape had been less contemptuous of him. Not that Snape would be high on Black’s list of concerns.

How informed were the dead? Did they know what happened to those still living? God, I hope not. Snape would rather Lily didn’t know just how much he’d ruined his life. He shook his head. Can’t keep wandering like this. His thoughts were everywhere tonight. Perhaps his focus was impaired by his overly long nap. What was he doing here? Looking through the debris for a clue was fruitless.

Snape climbed the stairs one last time. Impossible though the task, he had to do something. In the last room he paused. He knew what was in here, and what wasn’t, but he was unable to prevent himself from looking. It was her handwriting after all.
He walked to the chest of drawers and knelt down. There was nothing underneath. Snape slowly sat down on the slashed bed. The letter and photograph, what remained of them, were gone. Why? There was nothing important. Yaxley would have overlooked it surely?

Potter must have it. Or course he would have taken it. But did that tell him anything? Could it help him anticipate where Potter would be? What was in the letter? Snape pressed his fingers to his temples.

Remember the details. She had sounded so happy. Lily. In hiding with her one-year-old son and sounding so happy. A birthday party. That was it. And who was the guest? Something about Grindelwald. Bagshot. Bathilda Bagshot was there.

Snape opened his eyes and sighed. No clues there. If Potter had the letter and wanted a trip down memory lane, he would have visited Bathilda already. Snape swore. If he had realized this earlier, he might have intercepted Potter at Godric’s Hollow. Oversights like this could lose the war.

I’m sorry, Lily. I keep making these mistakes. He locked the house up carefully, averting his eyes from the vicious slashes in the furniture, the gutted walls, and the flooded kitchen Molly had kept so immaculate. Barely tolerated, he had said. But still here he had been, in a way, welcome.
Chapter Endnotes:

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