The Shrieking Shack
Alicia Spinnet's Impediment Jinx sent Severus tumbling head over heels into the thick undergrowth of the Forbidden Forest. She was closing the distance between them; he rolled to his feet and hid himself in the darkness of the trees; it would be unsafe to run until his pursuer was incapacitated. He heard a sudden crashing, and knew that the girl had entered the forest. She was obviously looking for him, aware that she had made too much noise upon entering, and was now treading very softly. He chanced a glimpse around his tree, and saw that she was turned the wrong way, looking for him on the ground; he knew that allowing her to chase him into the forest would lead only to her peril, and according to Lucius, he did not have much time left to dispose of her. Swallowing hard, Severus made his move. He stepped out from behind the tree.
Spinnet whirled around, raising her wand, but he was too quick—a silent Stunning Spell, and it was over. She lay unconscious on the ground. Severus knelt beside her, checking her pulse; she was perfectly fine, and would wake within a few minutes. Still…he did not like the idea of anyone, particularly Greyback, should he come around, stumbling across her when she could not protect herself. With a flick of his wand, Severus levitated Alicia into a tiny clearing of trees farther off the path, so densely grown together that she would be unnoticeable to anyone who wasn't looking properly. Satisfied, Severus hurried on through the forest, ducking branches and weaving around shrubs. He was, essentially, following the path of the Whomping Willow passage straight through the forest and into Hogsmeade. He crested the hill in record time, his heart hammering painfully, partly from exertion, but partly from what he knew was coming, what he knew would happen…
Suddenly, he remembered a particularly strange thought that had occurred to him, nearly a year ago, when he had been forcibly hidden in the Malfoys' attic. He had started the war. He had seen the final battle begun. Potter had returned, having hacked away sufficiently at the bits and pieces of material that roped him to life, and he, Severus, had done the same. Only he had reached the end of his chain just a bit sooner than Potter. He had severed the last link by sparking the conflict in the castle. He stopped at the top of the hill, where he could see all of Hogsmeade, lit up and active. He wondered for a moment if the villagers were going to try and help, to break through what remained of the barriers on the castle grounds and join in the war. Or, perhaps, they were still evacuating students. He pushed that thought from his mind. It would do no good for Voldemort to see it there.
But Severus had failed in one task, which was why he hoped—hoped against hope, really—that he was wrong about what was about why the Dark Lord had demanded to see him. He had not gotten the final message to Potter, and now, there was every chance that his cover had been blown away. Voldemort could certainly have found out that Severus was not on his side, if even one Death Eater had reported that he had been Stunning, instead of aiming to kill…jinxing, instead of slaughtering…
Severus leaned against a tree. Where would Potter be, right now? Could he still have enough time to try and find him? No, the castle was crumbling, Potter would be impossible to locate, and even if Severus could see him, how would he convince the idiotic, arrogant boy who believed him guilty of murder to listen? Furthermore, how would he justify allowing Potter to escape, in the heat of battle? No, Severus knew what his best choice was, but that did not solve the problem of delivering Potter's final link to life and the final cut he had to make. It had been too long since the Dark Lord had sent Lucius after him. Severus could feel it, as though he, just like Potter, was connected to Voldemort's mind. He drew a breath. The Shrieking Shack was very close.
And as Severus walked, memories, thoughts that hadn't visited him in years, began to wash over him. He and Lily daring each other to get closest to the haunted building, or sneaking out of the castle at night to hear the noises made by the ghosts within. Anger bubbled up, and he remembered Sirius Black and James Potter, trying to kill him and then failing because they were too scared of the consequences. Sometimes, he wondered what it would have been like if they had succeeded. Perhaps it was best that Severus was reliving these things now. He had had to make the decision long ago of what precisely he would have to tell Potter to win his trust, particularly if he died before he could properly explain. He knew that he would have to give up everything—Lily, Dumbledore, the prophecy—everything. Potter knew that he was a good Occlumens, after all, and had at least enough sense to doubt a memory that could have been modified. Severus knew that he would have to tell the truth.
He had reached the door of the Shrieking Shack; he slipped inside, his eyes flickering over the ruined furniture. He walked across the deserted entryway, following the faintly glowing bluish-silver light that emanated from a back parlor. He passed the staircase, sparing a glance for the upper room where Potter had once attacked him, where Peter Pettigrew had come back from the dead. Severus bit back a surge of anger at the thought of Pettigrew. The rat could be dead a thousand years, and Severus would hate him still. But he forced his mind to go blank. He felt his pulse quicken, heard his blood pound in his ears, but that was nothing. It was more important that he be ready to face Legilimency, as he always was.
He pushed the creaking door wide and entered the room where the secret passage was hidden. The damaged furniture was worst in here; possibly because this was the room where Lupin had spent most of the nights he transformed. Voldemort sat behind a table, and behind his left shoulder was Nagini, the snake, coiling and uncoiling in a silvery cage that kept her suspended in midair. Severus felt a sudden desire to kill the beast and make Potter's task easier, but he knew that he mustn't. Voldemort's red eyes were focused on Dumbledore's wand—the Elder Wand, Severus had come to realize. He twirled the long wand between his pale white fingers. Severus blinked.
“The battle goes well, I gather,” said Voldemort coolly.
“Well enough, my Lord,” Severus answered. “They are losing fighters at every turn, and there were only a hundred or so to begin with. The giants have proved invaluable, and the acromantulae, though they have no cause, really, have joined the fighting.”
“Good,” Voldemort murmured, still not looking up from his wand. “Very good.”
“My Lord,” Severus said. “If that is all—”
“That is not all, Severus,” he interrupted, looking up at last. He laid the wand flat on the table, covering it with his long, thin fingers.
The silence stretched on for a moment. What was going on? Severus had expected fury, anger—not this strange inactivity. He took a restless step backward. Then he heard the oddest noise, emanating from the exit point of the secret tunnel. His heart clenched, and he stole a glance down round his knee. A crate blocked the tunnel. Voldemort did not seem to have heard anything, but Severus was sure he knew what it meant. Potter, via the infernal connection of their minds, had found Voldemort's hiding place, and was eavesdropping. The snake hissed angrily, and the Dark Lord answered her softly, soothingly, in Parseltongue.
“My Lord, their resistance is crumbling,” Severus insisted. If he could get out now, Potter would, perhaps, follow him rather than try to go after the snake, if that was his plan, as Dumbledore had believed.
“—And it is doing so without your help,” Voldemort answered coldly. “Skilled wizard though you are, Severus, I do not think you will make much difference now. We are almost there…almost.”
Severus felt a chill creep over his neck. “Let me find the boy. Let me bring you Potter. I know I can find him, my Lord. Please.” He heard a shifting movement in the tunnel, and quickly strode forward, closer to the table, to cover the noise.
At that precise moment, Voldemort stood, facing Severus with those merciless red eyes. “I have…a problem, Severus,” he said.
Severus frowned. “My Lord?”
He held Dumbledore's wand aloft, studying it in the dim light of the room. “Why doesn't it work for me, Severus?”
Severus stared at him. “My—my Lord? I do not understand. You—you have performed extraordinary magic with that wand.”
“No,” Voldemort said lightly. “I have performed my usual magic. I am extraordinary, but this wand…no.” Severus was having a very difficult time following this conversation. He had, honestly, not expected to walk out of the Shrieking Shack simply because Voldemort would have found out his endeavors to help Potter, yet here the Dark Lord stood, talking about wands and asking for advice.
“It has not revealed the wonders it has promised. I feel no difference between this wand and the one I procured from Ollivander all those years ago…no difference.” Severus opened his mouth, ready to speak, but closed it again, unsure of what to say. Voldemort began to pace in a slow, deliberate circle around the room; the snake hissed, suspended stationary in midair. “I have thought long and hard, Severus….Do you know why I have called you back from the battle?”
Severus couldn't remove his eyes from the snake, which fluttered its tongue at him. “No, my Lord,” he answered. “But—I beg you will let me return. Let me find Potter.”
Voldemort gave a derisive laugh. “You sound like Lucius,” he said. “Neither of you understands Potter as I do. He does not need finding.” Severus shifted his weight nervously, moving to block the tunnel ever so slightly. “Potter will come to me,” Voldemort continued. “I know his weakness, you see, his one great flaw. He will hate watching the others struck down around him, knowing that it is for him that it happens. He will wand to stop it at any cost. He will come.”
Severus couldn't help agreeing, in the back of his mind, that Voldemort was right. “But my Lord,” he reasoned, “he might be killed accidentally by one other than yourself—”
“My instructions to my Death Eaters have been perfectly clear,” Voldemort snapped, and for the first time, Severus heard the real fury that lay beneath his genteel tones, the fury that meant precisely what Snape had feared all along. He would die before he spoke to Potter again. Voldemort was still talking. “Capture Potter. Kill his friends—the more, the better—but do not kill him.” He seemed to draw a breath, a soothing moment of relief; the slit nostrils flared slightly, and the red eyes opened to gaze at Severus. “But it is of you that I wished to speak, Severus, not Harry Potter. You have been valuable to me. Very valuable.”
“My Lord knows I seek only to serve him,” Severus replied. This was going to sound foolish and desperate, but if he was close to being given away, he had no choice. He cleared his throat and continued, “But—let me go and find the boy, my Lord. Let me bring him to you. I know I can—”
“I have told you, no!” Voldemort spat, sweeping away from him. “My concern at the moment, Severus, is what will happen when I finally meet the boy!”
“My Lord,” Severus said calmly, though he could feel his heartbeat in his throat, “there is no question, surely—?”
“—But there is a question, Severus. There is.” He stopped pacing, and Snape felt a chill slide down his spine. “Why did both the wands I have used fail when directed at Harry Potter?” asked Voldemort, almost nonchalantly.
“I—I cannot answer that, my Lord.”
“Can't you?” His voice hardened as he looked upon Severus. “My wand of yew did everything of which I asked it, Severus, except to kill Harry Potter. Twice it failed. Ollivander told me under torture of the twin cores, told me to take another's wand. I did so, but Lucius's wand shattered upon meeting Potter's.”
Severus swallowed, hard. He was fighting to keep his mind blank, but Voldemort did not seem interested in probing his mind at the moment; just the same, he directed his gaze away from the red eyes, at the coiling snake in its spherical cage. “I—I have no explanation, my Lord.”
“I sought a third wand, Severus,” Voldemort continued. His voice was barely a whisper. “The Elder Wand, the Wand of Destiny, the Deathstick. I took it from its previous master. I took it from the grave of Albus Dumbledore.”
Severus felt cold and clammy; he knew precisely what was going to happen now, and he had failed in the one promise he had not been able to keep to Dumbledore. “My Lord,” he murmured, “Let me go to the boy—”
“All this long night, when I am on the brink of victory, I have sat here,” Voldemort whispered, examining the wand he held, “wondering, wondering, why the Elder Wand refuses to be what it ought to be, refuses to perform as legend says it must perform for its rightful owner…and I think I have the answer.” He cocked his head to one side, his expression slightly curious.
And all at once, as though he’d been struck by lightning, Severus had the answer, too. He felt momentarily dizzy. Yes, Voldemort was going to kill him for the wand, and yet he would still have it wrong, because of the one flaw that had ruined all of Dumbledore's plans that night, a year ago, on top of the Astronomy Tower…
“Perhaps you already know it?” Voldemort asked, misreading his features. “You are a clever man, after all, Severus. You have been a good and faithful servant, and I regret what must happen.”
“My Lord,” Snape whispered.
“The Elder Wand cannot serve me properly, Severus, because I am not its true master. The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its last owner,” Voldemort said smoothly.
And Severus was seized by a mad desire to shout that he was wildly wrong, that he couldn’t have been further from understanding anything, but he kept silent; this was his penance for all he had done, and he would pay it in front of the one to whom he owed it the most. Potter was surely watching him, even now, hidden in the tunnel…
“You killed Albus Dumbledore,” Voldemort said, and his red eyes flashed furiously. “While you live, Severus, the Elder Wand cannot be truly mine.”
“My Lord!” Severus said, louder, with more strength. He raised his wand. If Voldemort used a Killing Curse, he would never have the time to see Potter. He needed to get away, just long enough to speak to him.
“It cannot be any other way,” Voldemort replied, his gaze lingering for a moment on Severus's wand. “I must master the wand, Severus. “Master the wand, and I master Potter at last.” He made a sudden, vicious, slashing movement, and Severus braced himself, but no spell came. He stared at Voldemort, confused.
And then in the corner of his eye, he saw the snake in its cage, approaching him. He gave a yell of shock, but it was too late. The starry cage had covered his head and shoulders, and the snake's fangs were inches from his neck, oozing venom. Voldemort made a strangled hissing noise, and Nagini sunk her teeth deep into Severus's throat. He tried to scream but choked on his own blood, and tried to shove the cage off of himself as he collapsed on the dusty floor. The pain was agonizing. He wanted it to stop, more than anything in his life, he wanted the pain to end.
“I regret it,” Voldemort said pitilessly. He flicked his wand lazily, and the snake was lifted off of Severus.
His vision was flickering, darkening, as he clapped a hand over the gushing wound on his neck; he fell over sideways. He had failed…and the entire world was appearing to him in blinking images, rather than consecutive movements…
Voldemort left the room, the snake in its cage floating alongside him. Severus felt himself slide onto the floor, his fingers still at his throat. Perhaps the wound was not so bad…perhaps he could get up…
And quite suddenly, he was detached from the pain, not a part of it, though he was aware of its existence. He was dying. He dimly heard a soft thud, and a moment later, Potter's face appeared over him, dirty, bloody, and burned. The boy was ashen. He knelt down next to Severus, who seized him by the collar. This was his very last chance, his one opportunity. He knew the trick, he could do it with or without a wand.
“Take…it….Take it…” His voice was useless. It gurgled and bubbled with blood, but he had strength enough for this. He felt the memories coming free…everything that he had ever defended from Potter in Occlumency…everything he needed to know to trust him…
And then, another image—Granger, pale, thin, and covered with burns just like his, appeared over Potter's shoulder. Of course, he would go nowhere without her, or Weasley, who had to be nearby as well. She forced a flask into Potter’s hand, and the boy began to collect the memories. Severus's vision was darkening. The blackness was becoming more solid, weighing down on his chest. He couldn't breathe, couldn't see, couldn't hear… The room swam into view one final time, and Severus released his grip on Potter's—Harry's—collar. Harry…Harry…Lily's son…
“Look…at…me,” he hissed through his teeth, and the boy, more because he was startled than anything else, did so. And Severus was not looking at Potter, or even his father, whom he so strongly resembled. It was Lily. They were Lily's green eyes, her dazzling smile…
Severus blinked, and he saw the eyes again, the glittering green eyes under thick lashes, and the long auburn hair, tickling his face as she whirled around to face him, and the beautiful, laughing voice that greeted him in the warm, late summer air as the sun set over their favorite park…their home.