Disclaimer: Severus Snape and his magical world are not mine but J.K. Rowling's, so all the credit and thanks goes to her.The Lady of the Lake
27 December, 1997
He Apparated back into the Hogwarts grounds in the early hours of the morning.
The air was frigid. Severus glided silently through the snow-lit woods by the lake. Not only was he silent, he was invisible, having cast a Disillusionment charm over himself.
He glanced up through the naked trees towards the castle. His eyes narrowed. The school was almost in total darkness, apart from the torchlight in the corridors. The lack of lights elsewhere was not surprising; the few staff members who had stayed on for the holidays had probably gone to bed early. The Christmas spirit at Hogwarts this year had been decidedly lacking.
Soon the spring term would be in session and he would have to watch out for signs of rebellion, not least from the members of Dumbledore’s Army, who had become particularly insubordinate in the weeks leading up to the Christmas break.
He didn’t blame them. Of course the children were cracking under the pressure. But in his official capacity as Voldemort’s right hand man, with the authority of the Ministry of Magic behind him, he had to be seen to crack down on any signs of an underground resistance, whilst at the same time trying to hold off the Carrows from excessively cruel punishments. It was not an easy task, as he often waspishly reminded the portrait of Albus Dumbledore.
He could sense the growing mutiny among his fellow colleagues, too. But he had to contain the dam as much as he could, before it burst. Surely it would only be a matter of weeks now before the Potter boy – Lily’s son – made his move and the final pieces of the game were set in place.
Because tonight Severus had been able to deliver a crucial weapon to him.
With that thought, Severus paused for a moment beneath a pine tree. Its resinous fragrance felt like a blessing. He stared out over the frozen lake, as smooth as steel beneath the star-sequinned sky.
The shimmering expanse reminded him of a smaller lake … the deep pool he himself had created, earlier that night, in the depths of the Forest of Dean. It had frozen over almost as soon as he had conjured it and commanded the sword to slip beneath its surface.
Watching from the shadows of the trees, he had wondered whether he’d done the right thing when Lily’s son had appeared and then virtually stripped off to immerse himself in the pool. Great Merlin, Severus had thought, aghast, the child will freeze to death … What had he been thinking? He had thought it out as well as he could … of course the pool would freeze, on such a cold night, but the sword could only be claimed under conditions of need and valour … if the task had been made too easy, the boy would be suspicious, think this was a ploy from the Dark Side, a trap …
But had his plan been as carefully executed as it should have been? Was he about to witness Lily’s son drowning?
Full of angry concern, Severus had been about to emerge from the trees to effect some kind of rescue – under a Disillusionment charm, of course, to prevent detection – when the Weasley boy had appeared, dived into the frozen pool and emerged, spluttering, with a shivering and shaking Potter in his arms.
Thank Odin for that.
He had been able to linger no longer. He could not afford to be missed at the school – there was no telling when the Carrows might dare to disturb the Headmaster’s slumber with gleeful tales of some seditious remark made at a staff party. He’d already spent too long in the Forest, silently tracking the likely location of the place where Potter was camped and carefully casting his Patronus charm from a safe distance.
Even as he spun round to Apparate, he thought he caught, on the edge of his vision, a sharp blade of white light slicing through a gap in the dark trees … the sword of Godric Gryffindor being put to use, either by Potter or his friend.
Well, that was a good sign. He’d done what he had come to do, and the boys were employing the sword. Mission accomplished.
Now, standing by the frozen lake, he took out his wand and thoughtfully ran his fingers over it.
Of course there could be no question of casting the charm. But it afforded Severus some small solace to at least imagine the silver doe stepping delicately over the frosted surface. How he longed to cry ‘Expecto Patronum!’ and set her free, watch his beautiful doe dance over the ice, a symbol of hope and defiance.
Because that was everything Lily Potter had ever been: she’d been like a dancing doe, all fire and defiance and warmth, living and dying for the things she believed in. She had died defying Voldemort. She had died for her son.
And he’d lost her. She had never been his. And she could have been his, if only he’d not been so blinded by the Dark.
He closed his eyes, feeling the old familiar pain squeeze his heart.
But there was no use indulging that ancient agony.
He opened his eyes and gazed steadily at the lake, once more seeing in his mind’s eye the radiant doe cantering over the shining mirror of ice.
The deed was done. Lily’s boy had claimed the sword. Second by second, hour by hour, day by day, the clock was ticking forward to the time of Tom Riddle’s demise.
None of them could fail. Not he, not the boy. Not anyone. Too much was at stake.
He let out a soft sigh.
“For you, Lily,” he whispered under his breath. “Always, for you.”
Turning his back on the ice-encrusted lake, Severus wound his thick winter cloak tightly round his lean form and floated, bat-like, up the snow-shrouded slopes to Hogwarts.