For this reason, Snape had no qualms about leaving his sixth-year Potions class to prepare their ingredients for the morning's lesson by themselves. He knew there would be no horsing around in the laboratory while he was at the library. He went straight to the archives of the Daily Prophet, miniaturized and tucked into rows of tidy drawers in the periodicals section. He pulled out the three drawers representing the last fifteen years and brought them back to the classroom.
He found no articles describing the Black Lightning or Atra Fulminis curse until an issue from ten years earlier. Naturally, it contained nothing useful, only that the new Charms professor at Hogwarts was afflicted by the curse once thought to be only legend. This led to a series of rather predictable letters to the editor, decrying the institution for subjecting children to the unknown risks of exposure to the vestiges of the curse, followed by high-handed moralizing about the zealotry of fear. Not one of the bloody idiots bothered to comment about the curse itself, how it had been cast or how Pendragon managed to both survive and contain it. Snape Reduced the newspapers and shoved them back in the drawers; they would sort themselves into order eventually, and he was too fed up to be bothered.
By then the third-year students had arrived, and although he knew they would behave themselves, he didn't trust them alone with their ingredients. Thus Snape was unable to return to the library until nearly lunchtime, and hauled his box of Charms and DADA journals right to the Great Hall. Pendragon had already dined and departed per her usual routine, and Potter eyed his selection of journals with a budding sneer.
"You know, you might try speaking to her sometime, Snape. All you have to do is ask her politely, and she'll tell you about it. You don't have to research her like some sort of specimen."
"I have a better idea, Potter. Why don't you enlighten me instead, since you seem to know so much about her?"
Potter drew his brows together until they nearly met. "I can't believe you would rather talk to me than... anyone else, as a matter of fact."
"Spare the dramatics, Potter. I've said barely twenty words to the woman since I arrived; I can hardly expect her confidence." Particularly since all of those words were unkind, he thought, then grimaced inwardly for being so maudlin twice in one day.
Potter's eyes narrowed. "Why are you suddenly so interested, anyway?"
Snape closed his eyes and drew a deep breath before replying. "Professional curiosity, Potter. A mythical curse has become real. The last time I checked, this institution supported study and research."
Laying both hands flat upon the table, Potter quietly said, "And last time I checked, Black Lightning was considered Dark magic." He leaned forward, keeping his hands in full view, projecting the obvious message that he needed no wand to enforce his point. "That, Professor Snape, is my field."
"Has it occurred to you, Professor Potter, that I might try to develop a cure for Pendragon's affliction?"
Potter's green eyes grew colder still. "Not even for a minute."
Snape smiled bitterly. "So cynical. You've practically snatched the pebble from my hand."
They finished their lunch in silence, and Snape retired with his stacks of journals to the relative peace of his classroom.
By the last day of the fall term at Hogwarts, Snape had read every credible article about the Atra Fulminis curse. There weren't many, and it took him considerable time to locate them. Pendragon had been in Peru when she was struck down twelve years ago, and the story was kept largely under wraps by more than one news agency.
Severus Snape, however, was nothing if not meticulous, and he had uncovered the pieces slowly. She was a citizen of Hong Kong, an Auror of some kind, in pursuit of a stolen artifact. She had trailed the unknown offender to the opposite side of the world and cornered him in the Andes mountains. By that time, he had found the keystone to the Atra curse within some Incan ruins, and was eager to test it out. A bit too eager, as the act of casting it made him explode into many, many small pieces, most of which were recovered by the Peruvian magical authorities.
Apparently the act of disintegrating threw off his aim, and the curse barely grazed her right shoulder. It melted a tunnel into the mountain behind her that extended some thirty meters deep, and left behind no trace of her arm. She was lucky, however, because either the heat of the curse or the vestiges of it that sunk into her flesh somehow cauterized the wound. She not only survived the amputation of her arm, but was able to stumble her way down the mountain to the Urubamba River, where she flagged down a boat full of Wizard tourists heading to Machu Picchu.
Both the Peruvian and Hong Kong governments were hardly eager to release details of either the criminal or the Atra curse, and in fact most of the information on the incident had been penned by the tourists. The last of their personal accounts had arrived by owl that morning, and had added very little to the picture.
But Snape was not seeking the name of the culprit, nor the secrets of constructing the curse. He already had that information. He knew it was Peter Pettigrew, since Snape himself had been in Azkaban when his research with Wormtail was finally completed, and only that imbecile would take forty years to solve the puzzle.
Snape smiled bitterly. Abandoning the research on Black Lightning had been part of Albus's plan. Dumbledore obviously did not predict that Wormtail would actually manage to work out the rest of the spell on his own, nor have the requisite power to cast it.
Snape was cleaning his laboratory for the last time that term when he knocked a knife from the granite countertop. Foolishly, he tried to catch it and closed his hand on the blade. He was unable to Heal the laceration himself as it was on his wand hand, so he had to visit the Hospital Wing. He had not ascended above the main floor since his interview with McGonagall, but, unable to even wrap a decent bandage left-handed, he had little choice in the matter.
The infirmary was empty, and the ligation spells took only a few moments before Snape was on his way back to the dungeons. As he passed the Charms classroom, however, he heard something both unusual and beautiful. Music of some sort, something he was certain he had heard a very long time ago. Furrowing his brow with curiosity, Snape stepped into the empty classroom to investigate.
He knew of the hidden staircase at the back of the room, having served several detentions in the Charms professor's office back in his own school days. As he climbed the narrow stairs, the music grew louder. The door at the upper landing was closed, however, and though he longed to open it, he dared not disrupt the flow of the music.
The memory poured through him all of a sudden. The house in which he grew up shared a wall with a church--his bedroom wall, in fact. He had heard this melody many times. It was impossibly high for his vocal range, not that he wanted to hear himself sing, but the compulsion to accompany the solo piano was too strong. Closing his eyes, he let only a hint of breath through his throat, barely making enough sound to carry to his own ears.
Ave Maria gratia plena
Dominus tecum benedicta tu
Snape had loved to listen to the Muggle music through the wall of his room and he recognized the language of magic in the lyrics. For years he had suspected there were spells woven through the music, but he'd never been able to uncover one that he could recognize.
The music came to an abrupt and discordant halt, which was followed by a bit of vehement swearing, then the piece began anew. It was being performed live on a real Muggle piano, as far as he could tell. Snape rested his forehead against the door, mouthing the words and feeling the basso vibrate the wood. This time the pianist completed the piece, but apparently was still not satisfied. Snape jumped back as a loud clunk and the scraping of a chair on the stone floor hinted that the recital had ended.
He should have bolted down the stairs immediately, but he was still a bit overcome by the intensity of his reverie. He stood there, undoubtedly gaping like a cow in a pasture, when the door flew open to reveal Professor Pendragon. She leapt backwards and had her wand in hand before Snape had grasped the handle of his own wand in his pocket.
"What are you doing here?" she spat, pressing the tip of it into the hollow of his throat.
"I heard... something." He hated being caught off guard, and he hated saying foolish things even more, but there was nothing for it. Sentimentality had foiled him once again.
She pulled her wand back a hand's breadth, but her eyes burned into him angrily. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
What do you mean, 'what does that mean?' "It means nothing. I heard music and I... was curious." He berated himself internally for the weakness in his voice, but perhaps it was all for the best, as she seemed to accept that he meant no harm. She scrutinized him a moment longer, then lowered her wand.
"The music's over," she said coldly. "Now get away from my door."
Snape was not one to give in to such demands, but he took a step back before he even realized what he was doing. "But..."
"But what?" Her impatience drove the words through him like a nail, and yet he couldn't think of anything to say.
Mother of Merlin, you're making a fool of yourself! "I wanted to inquire... that is, your scars. Are they painful?" Snape would have gladly ripped his own tongue from its moorings to take back the entire conversation. He could normally improvise very well, but the circumstances had apparently drained his intellect.
She studied him warily, raising her wand again. "Constantly."
"Perhaps there is something I can brew that would help you."
"I would drink nothing offered from your hand, Snape. Get out of my way."
As he watched, blue threads spread over her skin like a drop of heavy tincture through water, widening and branching with alarming speed to her forehead and her left collarbone. A tendril appeared on the left side of her throat, and Snape realized with a sickening lurch in his abdomen that it had come from behind her neck, wrapping around her like a vine. "Very good, Professor," he said, and darted down the stairs, not caring that he looked and acted like a terrified child, for that was precisely how he felt.
He charged down the marble stairs to the first floor and burst into Potter's classroom. The first-years were having their last lesson of the term, but Snape ignored them completely, bellowing to Potter as though the room were empty.
"You must look in on Professor Pendragon. She is... worse today."