Smoke rose from an immense chimney. Rows and rows of dilapidated brick houses lined the street, their windows dull and blind. At the very last house a dim light glimmered through the curtains in a downstairs room. A man with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin was pacing nervously in the tiny sitting room. Little patches of dust rose at his feet. Lights were fading away with the early July sunset.
The events of the past few hours had clearly upset Severus Snape. He was not new to spying on the Dark Lord. Yet he knew that every time he was running the risk of exposing himself. One wrong movement, a little twitch in the face, and his cover was blown. Today’s meeting was hard to bear. Death Eaters gathered at the Malfoy manor as usual. The Dark Lord was furious. Losing the prophecy at the Department of Mysteries was unforgivable. Lucius Malfoy had to be punished. It was his second mistake already. He probably never even fully realized what he had done on the first place.
Snape could not get it out of his mind, the pale face of Draco, the trembling of his mouth, the horror in his eyes. When Fenrir Greyback entered the room, everyone looked at the werewolf with disgust. Draco was in shock from the fear. They all waited silently for the full moon to rise.
Draco’s face distorted with pain as he was bitten. He fell on the floor, silently screaming while grasping his left forearm. Curses were fired to stupefy Greyback. Everyone left the room without a word. No one even dared to look at Draco. Snape casually bumped into him as he passed by. He passed on a little vial that contained a potion with faint blue smoke. Draco instantly recognised the Wolfsbane. His eyes lit with a confused expression and asked in a whisper, “You knew this would happen?”
Snape’s response was barely audible. “I did.” There were still a few weeks until the next full moon. This was all he could do for him.
Snape stopped pacing the room, only centimetres away from one of the walls, completely covered in books. He picked one bound in old black leather and opened it. There was a letter inside, with neat handwriting and tiny letters. It was dated from two weeks ago. He took it and sat in an old armchair next to a rickety table in the pool of dim light cast by a candle-filled lamp hanging from the ceiling. He knew that his mother was at a safe place, yet he was worried. Eileen had brave moments in her past, but she was no longer up for war. And he did not want any harm to come to her. The letter was in code. She said she was reading Quidditch Through the Ages. That was a good sign. He had been postponing the reply for weeks. Now he needed to let her know that he was fine. He took a piece of parchment from the table. He rolled up the sleeves of his robe and dipped his quill in ink. The tattooed shape of a skull with a snake crawling out of its mouth became visible on his left forearm. The Dark Mark was still burning on his skin.
Hundreds of chattering students were marching through the giant oak doors into the cavernous entrance hall, which was lit with flaming torches and housed a magnificent marble staircase that led to the upper floors. They all went straight to the Great Hall, which looked its usual splendid self, decorated for the start-of-term feast. The floating candles made the golden plates and goblets below glitter and glow. At the top of the Hall, most of staff was already seated along one side of a long table, facing the four long House tables. The air was full of positive excitement, all waiting for the Sorting ceremony to begin. Nobody noticed Professor Snape as he stood in a dark corner of the entrance hall, scanning the crowd of newly arriving students.
Snape instantly spotted the white-blond hair and the pale, pointed face as Draco Malfoy entered. He looked even paler than usual, dark circles under his eyes. He also might have lost some weight, although it was hard to tell as he was wearing his loose school robes. Snape silently approached the boy and grabbed his arm. His protests were engulfed by the cheerful noise that filled the entrance hall.
“Draco, a word with you,” Snape snapped. He grabbed the boy’s left arm firmly and examined the scars on his forearm. “It’s still suppurating. Come to my office after the feast so that I can give you something for it.”
“Leave me alone.” Draco’s hostile answer sounded like that of a sulky child.
Snape bit his upper lip, but did not say a word. It was on the tip of his tongue to make a witty remark about paying respect and wolfsbane, but he decided it was for the best not to say anything. From the corner of his eye he saw as a silvery-white conjured canine appeared in the entrance hall.
“We are not done yet, Draco,” he hissed. “Now go about your business.” As the boy disappeared with a last hatred look sparkling in his gray eyes, Snape approached the Patronus to take the message. His mouth curved into an evil smile as he heard Tonks’ voice, now plain and without emotions.
“Got Harry out of trouble, coming up to the castle now, come get us.” He felt an urge to take any opportunity for a revenge on Sirius, even now that he was merely a memory. This combined with humiliating Potter seemed like the ideal way to derive tension. He grabbed a lantern and headed towards the gates. The smile still on his face, his uneven, yellowish teeth only hidden by the darkness outside. Even in his evil pleasure he was deeply irritated by the constantly burning Dark Mark in his left forearm, but tried not to pay attention.
“Ah, Professor Snape. Here is the newspaper you requested.”
“Thank you, Madam Pince.”
“It’s fresh from a Muggle newsstand, December 19 issue, from this morning.”
“Thank you.” Snape took the newspaper from the thin, vulture-like librarian. Their eyes locked for a moment. The cover featured an article about Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Maleki, who had stated during a press conference the day before that Iran would support the free flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, but reserved the option of closing off the shipping route if it was threatened. Snape retreated to a remote corner of the library and started leafing through the newspaper.
Madam Pince picked up a few books from her counter and headed towards the bookshelves to put them back in their place. On her way, she heard students talking their usual nonsense. “He’s at perfect liberty to kiss whomever he likes. I really couldn’t care less.”
Madam Pince prowled the shelves looking for any disorderly conduct. She then made her way to the remote corner where Snape was seated. She approached him while he was pretending to read an article about Russian physicist Yulii Borisovich Khariton, who happened to pass away on the previous day. She sat down, in total confidence that no one was watching them hidden by the large bookshelves. “It’s been a while,” she said. “I got your Muggle newspaper every day, but you did not turn up in weeks.”
“I’m sorry.” He didn’t say more. He was still staring at his newspaper, not looking at her.
“You had business, I suppose.”
“And you cannot tell me what it is about.”
They sat there in silence for a while. He turned the newspaper to the next page.
“Anything interesting in there?” she asked.
“The first Test Cricket match started between Zimbabwe and England.” A weak smile crossed his face as he looked at her. “Are you sure you are safe? You didn’t notice anything extraordinary lately, did you?”
“No, son, no. I’m safe” A faint smile appeared on her face too. “I’m quite sure no one will ever suspect, that Irma Pince is anagram for I am Prince.”
“There is no way to change it now, Mum. But I still think it would have been better to use a name that cannot be tied to me.”
“I’m running out of Sleeping Draught, did you bring some more?”
“You have been taking it for too long.” Silence fell on them.
Madam Pince looked at Snape. No, it was not Madam Pince this time. For a moment she was Eileen Prince again, looking at her son, Severus. She would get what she wanted. He was not her equal, he was not allowed to disagree with her. “You know I was having terrible nightmares. Tobias… Your father returned every night to torture me.” She looked him in the eyes. With her sunken cheeks, her skin like parchment, it was not hard to believe that she was suffering.
Snape put a bottle on the table, a purple potion in it. “Maybe he would not return anymore. You should try. I was unable to find anything on how long the Sleeping Draught could be taken without adverse effects.”
“Thank you.” They locked eyes again.
“You should get going, Mum.”
Madam Pince hid the potion in her robe, then picked up a lamp from the table and got up to head back to the main section of the library. She approached a couple sitting at one of the tables. “The library is now closed,” she said. “Mind you return anything you have borrowed.”
Snape was looking after her until she disappeared behind a bookshelf, her long hooked nose illuminated unflatteringly by the lamp she was carrying. He closed the Muggle newspaper and stood up while fighting a strong urge to scratch his left forearm. The Dark Mark was uncomfortably burning on it.
Snape was running up on the steep spiral staircase, gasping for air, but he wouldn’t stop for his life. He might already be too late. He gripped his wand firmly and ran as fast as he could. He finally reached the door with the iron ring handle. He heard a woman screech as he pushed open the door to the ramparts, “Draco, do it or stand aside so one of us –”
Snape swept the scene, from Dumbledore slumped against the wall, to the four Death Eaters, including an enraged werewolf, and Malfoy.
Time seemed to pause. Snape could hear his heart beating loud and fast. Dumbledore was calm, talking to everyone as if he was trying to buy some time for himself. But Snape knew that Dumbledore was buying time for him. He had to do it. It was only a matter of minutes. He had to do it. Everything was blurry. Snape heard a man talking, but he wasn’t sure whom he was talking to. It was a miracle that his trembling knees could hold the weight of his body. He had never prepared for this moment, he was not able accept that this would happen. The beautiful face of Lily invaded his mind, but her image was also blurry. Then he was again in Dumbledore’s office, his silver doe Patronus bounding across the office before it soared out of the window.
“Severus…” Snape heard Dumbledore speak his name. He wasn’t sure if this was real or if it was all in his memories. He saw Dumbledore’s lips moving. He really did say his name. It was time. Snape said nothing, but walked forward and pushed Malfoy roughly out of the way. His movements were automatic, everything was still blurry, he was unable to process what was happening around him. He gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, the sparkling blue eyes filled him with some strength even now. He hated himself for what he was doing. He felt that all the cells constituting his body were trembling; he could faint any second. Even in that moment he wasn’t sure he could do it.
Snape raised his wand and pointed it directly at Dumbledore. He heard his own voice, distant, a stranger. “Avada Kedavra!” A jet of green light shot from the end of his wand and hit Dumbledore squarely in the chest. It was only a split second until all the noises invaded Snape’s mind. He had no time to think, his actions were all an instinct.
“Out of here, quickly,” said Snape. He seized Malfoy by the scruff of the neck and forced him through the door ahead of the rest. They were running for their lives. The burning on his left forearm was almost unbearable.
There was no sound apart from the whisper of the dirty water wound between overgrown, rubbish-strewn banks. A dark figure emerged from the deserted labyrinth of brick houses and headed towards the river. Once seated on the muddy ground, Severus Snape opened his hand to reveal a photograph torn into half. Or rather it was half of a photograph, creased and wet with tears. On it a young red-haired woman was smiling, little wrinkles in the corner of her green almond-shaped eyes. Snape took his time to immerse in his memories. This was a perfect place to mourn, dark and deserted. He sat there for minutes, maybe hours, it might have even been an entire day of gloom, he took no notice of time. Hunger tore his bowels and he embraced the racking sensation.
As dusk faded away to dawn, Snape took out of his pocket a piece of parchment and an old edition of Quidditch Through the Ages. His mother hadn’t returned his last letter. But he knew this meant nothing. Dumbledore gave shelter to her, he protected her under the false identity of Irma Pince. He protected her both from Death Eaters and from her own Muggle husband. It was only natural for her to show immense respect for the headmaster. A respect that would not allow her to forgive her only son. That made her break off all communication with him. Snape knew this would happen. He couldn’t tell his mother about what he was doing for Dumbledore. She wouldn’t be safe knowing so much. But he must write to her now. And he would need to find a way to supply her with Sleeping Draught. She might have run out of it already. He must let her know he is all right. He wasn’t sure if she would understand eventually. Truth might as well just die with him. He wished he died. He wished the burning of the Dark Mark to be over.
Chapter Endnotes: This story involves two fan theories that are not my own inventions. I’ve used the “Irma Pince = Eileen Prince” theory as presented in the HP lexicon webpage. I’ve read “Draco Malfoy is a Werewolf” by Brittany & Nick. (While this latter theory was dismissed by JKR on twitter, I still think it is a powerful idea.) Make sure you check out the whole argument if you’d like.
A huge thanks to Liz (HPFT WindingArrow) for beta reading!
All you recognize is from JKR. The following lines were used as source to direct quote from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
(1) Side by side they stood looking across the road at the rows and rows of dilapidated brick houses, their windows dull and blind in the darkness. (Chapter two)
(2) Her footsteps echoed on the cobbles as she passed boarded and broken windows, until she reached the very last house, where a dim light glimmered through the curtains in a downstairs room. (Chapter two)
(3) The walls were completely covered in books, most of them bound in old black or brown leather; a threadbare sofa, an old armchair, and a rickety table stood grouped together in a pool of dim light cast by a candle-filled lamp hung from the ceiling. (Chapter two)
(4) “He’s at perfect liberty to kiss whomever he likes,” said Hermione, while the librarian, Madam Pince, prowled the shelves behind them. “I really couldn’t care less.” (Chapter fifteen)
(5) “The library is now closed,” she said. “Mind you return anything you have borrowed to the correct –” what have you been doing to that book, you depraved boy?” (Chapter fifteen)
(6) “Draco, do it or stand aside so one of us –”” screeched the woman, but at that precise moment, the door to the ramparts burst open once more and there stood Snape, his wand clutched in his hand as his black eyes swept the scene, from Dumbledore slumped against the wall, to the four Death Eaters, including the enraged werewolf, and Malfoy. (Chapter twenty-seven)
(7) “Severus . . . please . . .” Snape raised his wand and pointed it directly at Dumbledore. “Avada Kedavra!” A jet of green light shot from the end of Snape’s wand and hit Dumbledore squarely in the chest. (Chapter twenty-seven)
(8) “Out of here, quickly,” said Snape. He seized Malfoy by the scruff of the neck and forced him through the door ahead of the rest; Greyback and the squat brother and sister followed, the latter both panting excitedly. (Chapter twenty-eight)
(9) Many miles away the chilly mist that had pressed against the Prime Minister's windows drifted over a dirty river that wound between overgrown, rubbish-strewn banks. There was no sound apart from the whisper of the black water and no sign of life apart from a scrawny fox that had slunk down the bank to nose hopefully at some old fish-and-chips wrappings in the tall grass. (Chapter two)