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People of the Goddess by Meadowsweet

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Chapter Notes: Quotes from the canon are bracketed. Cited in order of appearance, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007, Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic. p. 372, p 374, p.689. None of this belongs to me, all is J.K. Rowling's. Except Theophany Knapp.

After spending two days in the headmaster’s office Snape was out of paperwork. It was a phenomenon. He hadn’t believed it possible. The only option left to him now was to pace in front of Phineas’s portrait.

Snape was terrified of not being in the office when and if Phineas had news. By the time Snape received any message, Potter could have moved on. At first Snape considered using his health as an excuse for his confinement, but he realized no one would even care. When he didn’t show up for meals, they were more likely to be relieved than concerned. Fortunately, it was the holiday, the school was nearly empty, and the demands on him were few.

That didn’t stop Alecto from knocking on his office door. After pretending to be out the first few times he’d started just ignoring her, not caring if she knew he was there or not. Surely she had better things to do?

“Severus?”

“Not now, Albus.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were busy.”

Snape was currently slumped in an armchair staring at the ceiling.

“This is what it looks like when I’m working.”

“Maybe you could try eating or sleeping for a change.”

“My health seems a popular concern, despite my being universally despised. Pomona, Alecto, Knapp–”

“Knapp? Isn’t that the young lady whose memories you wiped? Why would she be concerned for the health of someone about to take her memory?”

“No, this was after.”

The portrait’s eyebrows kept climbing higher.

After Obliviation?

Snape sighed.

“It’s complicated, Albus. I told you she’s not a concern–”

An owl swooped through the open window and circled the room.

“Do you intend to stay in your office until Phineas has news? That could take days, weeks, avoiding your staff, not speaking to anyone–”

Snape watched the owl.

“Seems pleasant enough, Albus.”

Perching on the chair opposite Snape, the owl regarded him with suspicious eyes before fluttering to his armrest. More Ministry business. Anything to occupy his mind and time was welcome. He slipped the rolled parchment from the pouch and unrolled it. It was blank. Snape stood slowly. It hadn’t responded to his touch. He turned it over. Nothing. There were many spells to secure a letter. Who would be writing to him at the school? The address, written hurried and round, read simply, Severus Snape, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

“Be careful, Severus.” Albus leaned forward in his frame.

Snape nodded absently and tried a reversal charm. Nothing, so not an invisibility spell. It was a long shot but he raised the parchment to his chin and breathed on it. The parchment crackled and a brief spider web of ink showed for a moment. So breath wasn’t enough; he needed a specific word.

“I haven’t seen that in years,” Albus mused. “It was very popular with the students at one time. I remember there was a Valentine’s Day when everything was spelled to open at the whispered name of the sender, but everyone kept guessing the wrong person, the person they hoped had sent it, and everything ended in tears. Rather arcane magic.”

Snape squinted at the paper. Maybe because it was arcane, maybe because they had just been speaking of her, but it seemed a growing possibility.

“Theophany Knapp,” He breathed. Again only the crackle. “Theophany?”

The parchment flattened out and writing appeared to race across it with an invisible hand. Ink splotches appeared and the occasional drip.

Severus Snape,

I keep a promise. This isn’t interfering but simply passing information. Tonight in Godric’s Hollow there was an attack. It’s hard to explain what I saw, as I don’t understand it myself, but I will try and just give the facts in chronological order.
A pair of Muggles, middle-aged caucasian man and woman, disappeared before my eyes. It wasn’t Disapparation, or a disillusionment charm. It was exactly as if something swallowed them up or passed over them. I have never seen anything like it.
Only minutes after they disappeared an elderly woman the neighbors tell me is Bathilda Bagshot left her house, went for a meaningless stroll of about twenty yards, and then held the door open for an unusually long time on her return. There was an inordinate amount of footprints in the snow outside her door for one person to have made. The only voice I heard within the house was of a young man.
Some sort of struggle took place, the young man shouted someone was coming, and I hid. Please believe me, what happens next is the truth. I swear to you, You-Know-Who Apparated in the street. I hid as best I could, but I believe the only reason I’m alive is because he was intent on whoever was in that house. They must have Disapparated, though, because I could hear him shrieking something; he was angry. He killed the three Death Eaters that arrived to attend him, and lit the house with Fiendfyre.
When I went inside, there was no trace of the Muggles I had seen disappear, only the corpses of the Death Eaters and one other. I hesitate to call it a corpse. It was like someone had been skinned, only there appeared to be no damage to the skin at all. Hair, teeth, features, eyes, were all intact. I discovered nothing else in the time I had before the house was consumed.
I’ve thought for some time You-Know-Who is after something or someone. His forces are distracted, scattered, focused on something other than enforcing this new regime. Whoever was in that house is important, but I don’t know why. I can only hope you may do something about it.
I know I promised, but if there’s something I can do, please let me help. I have a feeling I’ll have some free time in the future.

Theophany Knapp



“It seems Potter went to Godric’s Hollow,” Snape said quietly, “and I had assumed he would have gone already and missed my chance to intercept him.”

He stared at the letter, then kicked the desk. The inkwell tipped over in a puddle and papers scattered. A water glass rolled off and shattered on the floor with a satisfying smash. He pressed his palms against the cool wood, head bowed.

“Are you sure?”

“It’s all here, Albus! Obviously, it’s the Invisibility Cloak at work Knapp describes, though she couldn’t know that. It must be Potter. It would seem Miss Granger is with him, which is the only reason he made it out alive, I’m sure, before the Dark Lord turned up. In person!”

Snape wiped his mouth; he was spitting with rage.

“If I hadn’t been so complacent, I would have been there waiting!”

Two more glasses shattered and the candles on the desk jumped as he pounded it with his fist.

“You made a logical assumption, Severus.”

“Yes, but I assumed. That was my mistake. I should have taken nothing, nothing, for granted.”

He flung himself into the chair.

“The Dark Lord must have had this trap in place for some time, on the off chance,” Snape continued. “Now that he’s come so close, he will redouble his efforts to find Potter and the Elder Wand. In the meantime,” Snape was on his feet again, “what have I accomplished? I can only hope my petty false trail will delay him long enough!”

“Don’t get overwrought, Severus. Think! You have done–”

What have I done?” Snape shouted. “For what reason am I rotting away in this office under false pretences instead of bringing about the end of this war?”

Dumbledore’s portrait pressed its lips together in a frown.

“You have protected and continue to protect the students I’ve placed in your care. Don’t discount their lives and safety so lightly by deeming your work useless.”

Snape turned away.

“But it’s not enough. It’s never enough to finish it.”

He stepped over the broken glass and collapsed into the fireside chair, turning over the contents of Knapp’s letter. He couldn’t explain everything she’d seen or heard either.

Bathilda Bagshot? Why would Potter seek her out? How had she been used by the Dark Lord? “...before the house was consumed.” Had Knapp actually entered the house despite the Fiendfyre? There would be nothing left to see for himself then.

When he found himself thinking in circles, he emptied his mind and tried to breathe regularly, listening to the ticking of the Arithmancy clock. Resting. The office grew lighter; he heard the sounds of the school waking up. It was Christmas. Even over the holidays enough students and staff were present to shake the castle awake. Sometime after dawn he must have slept, for he woke to a tapping at the door.

“Headmaster? Headmaster? Are you there?”

Flitwick? Snape raised his head, mostly in surprise it wasn’t Alecto.

“Alecto says you’ve been ill? I thought maybe…”

That maybe he was just hiding from the Carrows and would respond to someone else. It seemed his dislike was obvious. Bless Filius for being concerned. Footsteps were heard on the stairs and he heard Flitwick depart hurriedly.

“Headmaster?” Alecto once again. “I’ve brought you a tray from breakfast.”

Snape’s stomach turned and he clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle the retch.

“I’ll leave it here for now. If you don’t take care of yourself, I’ll have to take steps.”

Was she being friendly or threatening? He knew which he found more frightening. The Carrows had always been brown-nosers, but ever since his promotion to headmaster Alecto had been insufferable. What was her purpose? Was it general ambition, or did she want something specifically? He waited for Alecto’s footsteps to recede before daring to move about.

Snape’s morning routine was mechanical now, simpler than ever before. His spare robes hung in a cabinet, cleaned overnight, everything else he owned was at Spinner’s End, and he was beginning to think he would never need any of it again. He drew back the curtains and saw it had snowed again.

“Merry Christmas, Severus,” whispered Albus.


The holiday passed like any other day secluded in his office. It was so quiet, in fact, that Snape was relieved to see the parliament of owls that gathered the following morning. The usual Ministry correspondence and propaganda twaddle had piled up over the holiday, but it was something to do.

The first owl dropped the Daily Prophet on his ink-splattered desk. Snape picked it up by a corner, read its screaming headline MOST WANTED WIZARD AT LARGE, and dropped it into the wastebin. The search for Potter had already begun anew. The Dark Lord must be frustrated after Potter’s escape from Godric’s Hollow. But there had been no summons, no meeting. The Dark Lord didn’t want his servants to know his failure or how desperate he was becoming.

Snape cleaned up the spilt ink and broken glass, then dealt with school business until breakfast when, taking advantage of the quietness of the castle, he summoned a kitchen elf to bring tea. Dumbledore would frown on it, but the perils of leaving the office were too great. The elf was cheerful, probably the only inhabitant of the castle who was, and the office felt particularly bare and silent after it departed. Snape discarded the sandwich after a taste and found the tea also unpalatable after a few sips. His stomach burned rebelliously, and he replaced the cup with regret.

“Severus?”

“What is it, Albus?”

“Read me the letter again.”

With a sigh Snape picked up Knapp’s letter. The portrait hadn’t gleaned any more from it than himself. He obligingly read it through again. Albus’s painted eyes closed as he listened; the painter had given such detail to the painting Snape could swear the eyelids flickered.

“Someone, or something, was wearing that skin,” Albus said calmly.

Snape’s chin jerked up so fast his teeth clicked.

What?

“I thought about it through the night, and I’m now certain of it. Miss Knapp never saw Bathilda Bagshot go for a walk. That was only all that remained of the poor woman.”

“I’ve never heard of such a spell…” Snape’s stomach clenched a little, making him glad it was empty.

Albus closed his eyes again, smiling softly.

“Despite your certainty that you are the chief of sinners, Severus, there are depths to the Dark Arts even you haven’t plumbed.”

“I shall rejoice in my relative innocence –”

“Headmaster!”

Phineas. The letter fell from Snape’s hand. His heart sped up even as his hearing and vision seemed to dull. He blinked, and it seemed to take an entire minute, and suddenly Phineas was shouting at him.

[“Headmaster! They are camping in the Forest of Dean! The Mudblood – ”]

Phineas was only a painting, a copy of a few character ticks and expressions. It was pointless to be angry. Maybe it was too much exposure to Alecto and Amycus Carrow, maybe it was the pain in his chest. Without thinking he cried out, far louder than he intended, [“Do not use that word!”]

Phineas stammered, [“–The Granger girl, then, mentioned the place as she opened her bag and I heard her!”]

[“Good! Very Good!” Albus’ portrait cried.]

Time sped up again for Snape. The fog cleared from his mind, though there was a tremor in his hands he didn’t like. Albus was babbling at him as he walked towards it. It couldn’t know he’d lived this moment hundreds of times over. Prepared for it every day. He snapped at the portrait to stop Albus’s enthusiastic flow. He needed a clear head. Snape grabbed his cloak and flung open the door. Move quickly, there’s no way of knowing when they would leave again. If something went wrong, if he missed them…

Severus turned back into the room.

“And you’re still not going to tell me why it’s so important to give Potter the sword?”

The portrait squinted at him thoughtfully.

“No, I don’t think so. He will know what to do with it.”

So much faith placed in Potter and yet he still knew nothing. There was no failsafe for the boy’s mission. After the sword was handed over, there was nothing he could do to help.

Albus was still talking, as flustered as a mother hen.

“Don’t worry, Dumbledore, I have a plan…”

Snape hesitated at the door. The letter from Knapp was still on the ground. Stooping, he snatched it up and pocketed it before locking the headmaster’s office behind him.

The Forest of Dean. Snape couldn’t remember visiting it before. Surely it too had changed. It was suffering from the same malady as London, Malfoy Manor, even Hogwarts. Enemy occupation.

Once pleasant paths were overgrown, others trampled wider, showing the passage of large parties. Snatchers, perhaps. There had been a camp near here, though he wasn’t sure if it was still in use. Of course the presence of Dark magic lent its own particular ambience. Would there be a corner of England left without it?

The winter light, already weak, barely struggled through the tree canopy. It was a forest of grey. Snow and shadow. Potter wouldn’t be moving during the daylight, if he had any intelligence at all. Snape had only until dark to search for their location. It would be heavily warded, but with logic, process of elimination, and if necessary some less than legal spellwork, he could get close.

There were campgrounds, though probably not in use presently. Would Potter — or, that is to say, Granger — count on it being deserted and risk it for convenience? First place to check. Secondly, locate the previous Snatchers’ camp. Whether or not it was active, Potter and company would be at the furthest point from it. It was roughly over one hundred square kilometers of woodland he had to search but, he was positive, they wouldn’t be found too near the edges, where Muggles and Snatchers alike were plentiful.

Snape strode forward, through the overgrown path that led to the Muggle campgrounds. Last point, they would need to be near water. He raised his head and sniffed. The air was heavy with snow, no woodsmoke. Snape smiled. He was feeling quite energized again.

By late afternoon he was leaving the Snatchers’ camp. The Muggle campgrounds had seemed truly abandoned, and his spells had revealed nothing. They weren’t foolproof; nothing could detect a wizard properly warded. But he could detect other magic being used and had so far found none.

The Snatchers had proved to be in residence, but it was only a skeleton crew. After over an hour of surveillance while under the Disillusionment Charm, Snape was certain that Potter was not already a prisoner before continuing the search.

Snape’s legs were cramped, his feet frozen. If he had kept moving, some of his excited energy might have stayed, but now, after sitting so long in the cold, he was slow and aching. Even at his worst, Snape doubted the Snatchers were any threat to him. He thought the rank and file Death Eaters were knuckle draggers, but these wizards were in a class of their own. Somewhere below the missing link, he imagined. Where was the Ministry even finding them? They made Goyle bright and charming by comparison.

Striking east, moving parallel to the river, he was in an area with no paths. Only the occasional forester’s road would snake through the trees. No Muggle forester had been here for a while, though, and other inhabitants had moved in. They were attracted no doubt by the Dark magic and, Snape reflected as he stepped around a web with threads as thick as his arm, food. He would have to check with Hagrid whether all the Acromantulas in the Forbidden Forest were accounted for.

Hagrid, who could barely stand to be in the same room with him. Best not ask, probably. Snape couldn’t afford to be broken in half prematurely. Loyal Hagrid perhaps suffered the most under Headmaster Snape. The thought of Dumbledore’s murderer residing at Hogwarts was slowly killing the groundskeeper. To be as simple as Hagrid, Snape mused. He paused, surprised that he hadn’t meant anything derogatory by the thought. With a smile that wasn’t exactly amused he stepped carefully over a cocoon the size of an Airedale terrier. It seemed he even envied Hagrid now.

Camping near an Acromantula nest, relying on the insanity of it, seemed much more Potter’s style. Snape’s progress was slow. He was forced to alter his course around the webs, avoiding setting off any vibration that would alert a hungry spider. It was a halting but elegant dance through the forest. Sidestep, sidestep, slither, slide. One Acromantula wouldn’t be the end of him. But two or three would easily corner him and Snape wasn’t sure, in his current condition, if he could sustain flight.

Once he had reached the northeast edge without spotting anything, he assumed that Potter was camped in the interior, an area of a few square kilometers. Easy enough to flush him out.

A snap and crack came from overhead. Snape threw himself to the forest floor, a Disillusionment Charm already in place. By the time one heard an Acromantula it was close, close enough to leave its silent web and hook its clawed feet into the supporting trees.

A little ahead of him a leg, the thickness of a sapling tree, descended from the canopy. It waved gently, joined by a second leg. Together they moved in a slow search, scenting, tasting the air. After a moment they were withdrawn before the full Acromantula became visible, leaping briefly into sight as it crossed between trees.

Snape lay on the frozen ground a little longer, feeling the snow melt into his robes and chill his skin. He had the patience to survive, but would he start coughing from the cold? He focused on breathing lightly, eyes fixed on the trees around him. Minutes passed. Each agonizing minute he promised himself to wait one more, and then one more again.

By the time he dared stand, the light had changed. Afternoon was going to shortly change to dusk. Snape drew his wand and cleaned his robes, briefly. He dared not conjure any fire for warmth, being dry again would have to be enough. Snape resumed his careful progress through the spiders’ domain, this time moving inwards. He would trust his instinct they had camped in the interior.

A half hour later he had left the last of the webs behind him, and an hour after that he’d found the perfect place. It was almost centered in the forest, a frozen pool of water. It was the largest he had seen; similar smaller pools were scattered nearby. The perfect area to camp. But what if Potter had already left?

Snape studied his blurred reflection in the ice. He’d have to take the chance that Potter was still here and lure him out. If he wasn't, then Severus was risking announcing his presence to somebody, or something, else.

When he’d told Dumbledore he had a plan, in fact he had several. Each depended on the environment and situation in which he discovered Potter. The sword had to appear to have been waiting for the boy. Specifically for him. A message from Albus from beyond the grave. Severus had considered guarding the sword with a riddle, similar to what Albus had used on the Mirror of Erised to hide the Philosopher’s Stone. But no, that was more Granger’s forte. If the boy was to believe the sword had been left for him alone to find, then the situation must speak to Potter’s strengths. A task of some difficulty but not necessarily clever. Foolhardy and brave.

For a moment Snape was standing on the shores of the Great Lake at Hogwarts, watching Albus’s sad smile as Potter struggled ashore dragging two hostages. The feat worthy of a Gryffindor. He needed a task for a Gryffindor.

Snape tested the ice with a foot. It groaned but didn’t crack. Thick, and solid, the water below would have been undisturbed for weeks, freezing. Perfect. Would it work? It was a gamble. The boy would remember the lake. Of course, compared to the Black Lake, the pond was laughable, but it had its own particular hardship. Snape pointed his wand.

Diffendo.”

The ice snapped and water sloshed across its grey surface. It could be magically refrozen in a moment but, if he changed the temperature of the water too much, refreezing would take longer. It was nearly dark, Potter could be planing to move again, and Snape didn’t have that much time. Besides, a test of courage had to be set up properly. Any spellwork from the shore would be insufficient, suspiciously sloppy.

He’d chosen Glaedwyn’s Canticle for Binding and a basic Sealing Spell. They should prevent all forms of magical retrieval. However they were useless if not cast directly on the object. Snape shuddered once in dread before removing his boots.

The behaviour of magic under the elements was something not studied enough. Few students realized that air, water, fire, and earth, all had an inherent power of their own and could limit, warp, or otherwise influence spellcasting.

Snape left his cloak on the ground, methodically folding his robes on top to keep them dry. The sword he kept in his hand, his wand he put into his trousers pocket.

Elemental effects were a primitive study of magic long since out of fashion and practice. The first step into the water bit his bare foot and sent a dull shock up his leg.

....it was a shame that the older forms of magic were only referenced in the most theoretical fashion…

He waded further in, and thought became impossible.

The sword was suddenly incredibly heavy. Mind numbed with cold, he expected it to grow in weight, intent to drown him. Despite his being a Slytherin and a Death Eater, maybe it would make an exception and not drag him to his death. The water was now past his waist. There was no help for it but to dive.

Snape had learned to swim only through necessity. His parents weren’t the type to take him to the community center for the youth program. The Great Lake at Hogwarts had been his pool and his lessons were held whenever Potter and Black had thrown him into it. Eventually he learned to sink while holding his breath, struggling a little for show. No wonder he’d never enjoyed swimming. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears now, sinking deep into the murky water and duckweed.

The water around him seemed to flicker between the grey water of the forest pond and the cool green of the Great Lake. His heartbeat sounded too loudly. The Sword of Gryffindor seemed to drag him faster and faster towards the bottom. The cold didn’t cease to be shocking, but it no longer bit but rather pulsed through him.

At last he felt sand and small stones scraping his outstretched hand, his frozen feet, and he let the sword settle flat on its side. In this dim underworld it was almost too bright to look at. His chest was tight. Better hold on a little longer...make sure Potter and Black had grown bored and left...what was he doing with his wand out?

The sword.

Snape focused his thoughts. Running his wand along the edge of the sword, he cast the Sealing Spell. Releasing it, he then traced the Canticle over the sword, his wand leaving a flickering thread of light that wove a cage over it, settling tighter and growing dimmer until it disappeared entirely.

Snape pocketed his wand. His eyes were burning and his lungs were empty. He tried to focus on what seemed the glimmer of the surface and kicked off from the bottom. His legs were weak and his hands seemed to scrabble rather than push through the water, but he was rising. So dulled were his senses, he was surprised when he broke the surface. Splashing ashore, he struggled with his clothes, using them first to dry himself. His skin was frozen past sensation, yet the cloth scraped his skin like sandpaper. Again he couldn't risk even a smokeless fire.

T-t-tergeo,” Snape chattered.

Robes again dry, he hurriedly dressed himself and scrambled to his feet. It was full dark. Dimly below the black water he could see the sword gleam.

Congelo.

The water rippled and cracked, freezing over in glassy thickness, ripples caught in former motion. Snape retreated from the water’s edge and found an outcropping between two trees that was sheltered. Slumping against the nearest trunk, he took a minute to catch his breath. The water still roared in his ears, and he couldn’t stop shivering. He was dry, his own body heat would return shortly, he just had to be patient. Snape leaned his head back. He could remember a time when he’d waded ashore from the lake, hair streaming and books ruined yet again. Lily had been seated on the shore waiting for him.

“A minute and forty-seven seconds,” she had told him wryly. “Are you in training for a world record?”

“Houdini could hold his breath for three and a half minutes,” was his retort. “I’m nowhere close. Fortunately, Potter is part troll, so his attention span is roughly twenty seconds, and it’s easy to outwait him.”

She’d laughed, and it was more welcome than the towel she had ready. She must have seen Black and Potter drag him to the lake. Always watching for him, noticing what was invisible to anyone else. Lily insisted on towelling his hair for him and he’d had to bend over, already taller than her, face mercifully hidden. Lily folded the towel neatly and dried his books magically, not allowing him to help. They wouldn’t agree on what to do about James Potter, so she didn’t say anything, but she held his hand all the way back to the castle.

Snape blinked and pulled out his wand. He couldn’t rest yet, he had to execute the last part of his plan. Death Eaters wouldn’t summon a Patronus, no need. So even this had to be hidden. Nothing was safe. Everything was secret. Snape raised his wand and wondered if this would be the last time he ever needed to summon it.

The doe lit up the forest around her so brilliantly that at first she was only a blur to him. Gradually his eyes adjusted and he could see her, waiting patiently. The soft reassurance that Patronuses radiated was better than any fire he could have lit. Potter couldn’t be too far, and he’d spot her easily enough, but sending her away was hard. How pathetic was he to feel so comforted by a figment of mist? There was greater need than his.

“Go,” he snapped.

Quicker than any live deer, but still more graceful, the silver doe flew through the forest and the darkness closed around Snape once again.

Snape wrapped his arms around his chest, letting his traveling cloak cover him like a tent. He muttered a Warming Charm. It helped, but an enchanted fire would have been better. It didn’t take away the tightness in his chest.

Feeling guilty about snarling at the Patronus was even more pathetic. The shivering stopped, but his fingers were still clumsy. Was this a sign of improvement? He let his chin fall on his chest. Drowsy, but mustn’t sleep. Time was sluggish and hard to track as his eyes fluttered open and closed. When the doe returned, he wasn’t sure if it was a dream or reality until he saw who followed.

The boy came running, regardless of safety. His eyes were fixed on the doe with an expression of...recognition? Snape didn’t move as Potter lit his wand, searching the area around him. The boy was taller, warier. Still only a boy. He had spotted the sword.

Snape fumbled with his own wand. Had he cast a Disillusionment Spell earlier? His fogged brain couldn’t remember. Hurriedly casting the spell, he was just in time as Potter directed the beam of his wand through the trees around the pond. Snape watched Potter try to Summon the sword, an obvious move. The boy paced the edge of the pond. Snape’s fingers ached, but he didn’t dare move, even to rub them.

A test of courage. Of determination. Only a true Gryffindor, he thought, as if he could reach Potter through pure concentration.

The boy stopped walking.

Only a true Gryffindor.

Potter sighed, but not in frustration. He cast around again, checking the area.

Only a true…

Potter smiled ruefully and shook his head. He knelt down and started unlacing his shoes. This was it. Everything would go as planned. Snape let out his breath. He was relieved Potter hadn’t wasted time with more silly spellwork, trying to outwit the sword’s protection. Snape almost smiled. For once the Gryffindor mind was working in his favour.

He couldn’t help but wince when Potter plunged into the water; the memories of his own recent submersion were still cutting. Snape rose with caution. He had to be ready to leave but couldn’t until he saw the sword safely in hand.

The chunks of ice were still bobbing in the wake of Potter’s dive. He should be back momentarily, it wasn’t deep. Snape, unknowingly, took a step forward. His own time underwater had felt interminable, but surely it could only have been a minute, not even two...a ripple whirled across the surface of the pond, and the water turned but Potter didn’t surface. Something was wrong.

Snape ran from his hiding place, adrenaline coursing through his numb legs. He splashed into the water, hands instantly frozen as he swept them through the dark water, trying to grasp something. He was still charmed with Disillusionment; Potter wouldn’t see the hands reaching for him. Would he even reach out for help, had he been able to see who was trying to save him? Snape submerged himself, but the water was murky with turned-up mud and sand, and he couldn’t see anything. He came up gasping for breath.

Damn it, why wasn’t the boy coming up?

Something hurtled past Snape and splashed into the water.

Weasley.

Of course, Weasley would never be far away. Snape waded from the shallows and collapsed on the pebbled shore just as they both broke surface. Snape was trapped now until they were gone. He didn’t dare make a move to the cover of the trees; couldn't make a sound. He repressed his shivers, dripping silently, as Potter and Weasley sputtered and stammered at each other.

Fortunately the pond divided them, so he wasn’t in immediate danger of being trampled as Potter hopped around with one pant leg on. Weasley had the sword. That was all that mattered. Snape supposed that jumping without hesitation into potentially dangerous water to rescue your idiot friend must also count as the deed of a true Gryffindor.

[“You didn’t see anyone else?”] Potter’s words were clear enough to bounce across the water to him.

Snape froze. Weasley was pointing back towards Snape’s former hiding place. Probably a good thing he hadn’t regained it, he thought, as he watched Potter beat through the bracken and examine the area.

His position was most uncomfortable, and his breath was hot in his icy chest. He’d been doubly exposed to freezing temperatures and now couldn't even dry off. He wished the idiots would stop their poor detective work and leave. Snape shivered and caught his breath. They didn’t seem to hear, they seemed to be arguing about something.

[“You can do it! You can!”]

Do what? Get rid of what? The Weasley boy was clutching the sword like he expected the Dark Lord to appear then and there. Potter was bent over something on a rock.

What…

There was a hiss.

They were no longer alone. Malignant and cloying, something spoke. It turned Snape’s stomach. Then his vision went black. A black whirlwind buffeted him, sucked away his thoughts. It was cold. A storm. A storm on a bare hill. Snape knew this storm. He’d first come to Dumbledore, begging, in this storm.

“You disgust me.”

Snape tried to open his mouth to deny it. Albus’s voice continued, hard and distant.

“You would sacrifice an infant boy to spare her.”

A weight was on his chest, preventing him from speaking.

“You wanted James Potter dead.”

Albus’s voice was changing. Becoming higher and even colder still. The stern blue glare turned red, and the Dark Lord’s eyes bored into his own, no Occlumency could save him, no barrier existed that could stop this attack.

“I saw what you were when you first knelt to me! You wanted them all dead. All the people who had ever exulted over you and looked down on you. Including her and her family. Your grief means nothing! You would rather she were dead than belong to anyone else!”

Snape stopped trying to throw up a wall against the onslaught, to clear his brain and hide his thoughts. He reached out for something to throw back, a weapon of some kind. Someone yelled. Was it him? There was no one to help him. Snape’s mind grasped a single thought. He was here to prevent someone else from dying. What was it Albus had said?

“Don’t discount their lives and safety so lightly by deeming your work useless.”

The Dark Lord was quick to respond.

“So still you work to earn your redemption? You think you can earn forgiveness?”

“No,” Snape was able to respond clearly, “I can never earn that.”

“Then you are without hope. You can only destroy and envy. You are without love–”

Snape’s hand clawed the darkness. Enough of this taunting in the dark, he would grasp hold of this voice and silence it. Despite the weight holding him down he struggled towards the voice and lashed out.

“Who are you to tell me I have not loved!”

There was a terrible scream. Was it the shriek of metal or human agony? Snape opened his eyes before he’d realized they were closed. He was on his back. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move. Where had the voice gone? Had it truly been the Dark Lord?

Jagged rocks dug into his back. He must have fallen backwards and knocked the air from his lungs. Snape sucked in a breath and then another. Painfully, spots dancing before his eyes, he turned his head. Potter and Weasley had gone, taking the sword with them. Snape’s sigh of relief became a fit of coughing.

As Snape regained his breath, other sensations made themselves felt. He was still wet from the pond, and colder than he’d ever felt. But he wasn’t shivering. He tried sitting up but found all he could do was roll onto his side. That was enough effort. His eyes drifted shut for a moment.

Snape thought it was a moment. Longer maybe. Not that it mattered. He thought a fire would be nice but couldn’t find the pocket of his robes for his wand. His fingers felt like rubber gloves. A piece of parchment in his cloak pocket crackled at his touch and fluttered to the ground beside him where he regarded it for a moment in puzzlement and then alarm.

He should be able to remember what it was, or what it was doing in his pocket. A still slightly rational part of his mind started screaming at him that he was in trouble, wasn’t thinking clearly, that he was too cold and wet. He wished it would shut up. His head hurt.

Get up.

Can’t. Too tired.

Get help…!

Who? There’s no one anymore. The Order is gone. Finished. Snape’s eyes fell on the piece of parchment paper. His mind came together for a moment. Snape managed to draw his wand. He raised it to the few stars still visible through the branches overhead. The Patronus blossomed from the wand tip, twitching her ears and tilting her head. Her presence eased the sharp worry gnawing at him.

“Heus...”

The incantation was slurred. His face felt like a mask. Working his mouth, he tried again.

“Heus!”

The doe lowered her head and pushed her ears forward to listen. Snape tried to collect his thoughts but could only mumble, “...The Forest of Dean.”

The incantation complete, the doe ran, gaining speed until it was a shooting star of mist. The Order had been able to send messages anywhere via Patronus, no matter how protected. He could only hope it reached her, wherever she was. It might take some time so he had better try and pull himself together.

With more than a little effort he pulled himself towards the trees. A little shelter meant he could perhaps conjure a fire without being seen. His hands kept slipping on the stones and he was surprised to find they were cut and bleeding when he hadn’t felt a thing.

He gained his former hiding place with many pauses of immeasurable length. With each rest his eyes fluttered shut. He had no sense of time. To shelter against the cold, and effectively block his fire from being seen, he’d have to sit up. Raising his head made it spin. He tried a little at a time until he had a shoulder against the trunk of a tree, one elbow trembling under his weight.

He was resting his pounding head against the trunk when a light shone on him. The doe came running back, dematerializing just before she ran through him. Eyes dazzled, Snape tried to blink away the bursting sparks and lost his balance. As his arm buckled beneath him, a hand caught him under his shoulder, preventing him from hitting his head.

A voice with a Cornwall slant said, “Well, shit Severus Snape.”
Chapter Endnotes:

Thank you for reading! I have more done, promise to submit soon!
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