The Forest of Dean
Severus shared a drink of Firewhisky with Contessa before she made her excuses and left for the Marchbanks’ family home for the remainder of the Christmas holidays.
With his boots and frock coat thrown across the living room floor, Severus spent the rest of the evening lying on the sofa in front of the fire, reading a book in an attempt to lull himself to sleep.
The Tiger’s Eye ring tingled occasionally against his chest and he wondered if Contessa were fiddling with her ring; he had often observed her fidgeting with the silver band when she was daydreaming. He imagined her looking bored during an evening of wearisome drunken ramblings and games of charades.
The erratic tingling of the ring was undoubtedly exacerbating his insomnia, but Severus found its presence reassuring and he decided to keep it on the chain around his neck, regardless of the interruption to his solitude.
During the early hours of Boxing Day morning, the cold tickle of the ring against his skin awoke him from a light sleep and, with a low growl, Severus arose to retrieve his frock coat and boots from the floor. Dressing quickly, he descended the stairs to the Headmaster’s office, intending to awaken Magda McDougall and question her further on the history of the rings.
However, when he arrived in the circular office, he was surprised to see a number of the portraits were wide awake and muttering to each other.
Severus turned to face Dumbledore’s portrait.
“What’s going on?” he asked gruffly.
“Harry and Hermione have been packing up their tent again. We’re waiting for Phineas to return with news.”
Severus was hit by an instant wave of alertness.
“Headmaster!” cried Phineas Nigellus Black as he rushed into his frame, slightly out of breath. “They are camping in the Forest of Dean! The Mudblood –”
A sickening surge of bile struck Severus’s throat. As he turned to face the Slytherin Headmaster’s portrait, a rush of blood to his head caused his ear drums to prickle at the sound of the hated slur. “Do not use that word!”
“– the Granger girl, then, mentioned the place as she opened her bag and I heard her!”
Lightness descended to Severus’s stomach. The Forest of Dean would be a large area to search, but he was confident he could find Potter.
“Good. Very good!” Dumbledore said excitedly. “Now, Severus, the sword! Do not forget that it must be taken under the conditions of need and valour – and he must not know that you give it! If Voldemort should read Harry’s mind and see you acting for him –”
“I know,” Severus cut him off. He had spent plenty of time preparing for this mission and his heart quickened now the chance had arrived.
He reached inside the compartment behind Dumbledore’s portrait and removed the gleaming sword of Gryffindor. Severus fastened a sword belt around his hips and sheathed the weapon inside the protective scabbard. Hurriedly, he moved behind the desk and collected his heavy travelling cloak.
“And you still aren’t going to tell me why it’s so important to give Potter the sword?” Severus asked Dumbledore. He knew this would be the last opportunity to extract an answer from the former Headmaster.
“No, I don’t think so,” Dumbledore replied contemplatively. “He will know what to do with it.”
Severus accepted the reply with resignation; it was no more than he had expected. He turned and headed for the door.
“And Severus, be very careful, they may not take kindly to your appearance after George Weasley’s mishap –”
With his fingers on the door handle, Severus looked back at Dumbledore once more.
“Don’t worry, Dumbledore,” he reassured him. “I have a plan…”
He left the office and Summoned his broomstick, and within a few minutes Severus had passed unseen out of the castle and Disapparated.
He arrived in the Forest of Dean in pitch blackness and knew it was not the ideal time to begin the search. Moonlight reflected from the snow-covered tops of trees as he flew above, surveying the area and planning the practicalities of finding Potter and Miss Granger.
Severus had charmed his cloak to protect against the biting cold wind of the mid-winter night and, whilst he didn’t need a broomstick to enable him to fly, he felt it prudent to concentrate his efforts on locating Lily’s son and not divert unnecessary energy elsewhere.
When night became day, Severus sought refuge in a small Muggle village where he procured some food. The Tiger’s Eye ring around his neck started to tingle again and it occurred to him that the Marchbanks family resided not too far away.
As appealing as the idea might be, he quickly dismissed the notion of turning up on Contessa’s doorstep for a cooked breakfast. He was the enemy, as far as her family were concerned, and his sudden appearance at their home would seem outrageous. In fact he couldn’t quite believe the absurd thought had even crossed his mind.
And so he spent the day circling the forest under a Disillusionment Charm, batting snowflakes away from his eyes as flurries of snow sprinkled the trees below him. As the sun set behind heavy clouds on the horizon, Severus finally found what he was looking for.
Despite an impressive array of protective enchantments, a light dusting of snow had found its way through the canopy of trees and had settled on the magical tent housing Potter and Miss Granger, making its extent visible to the naked eye.
Severus didn’t want to risk Potter catching sight of him as he laid the sword within spitting distance of the campsite, and so he waited for darkness to descend. During his second sweep of the area, invisible under his Disillusionment Charm, Severus spotted a red-headed male wandering the forest alone. Upon further investigation, he identified the boy as none other than Ronald Weasley.
With a flash of inspiration, Severus knew the ideal opportunity had arisen. Not only could he pass the sword of Gryffindor onto Lily’s son, but he could also reunite Potter with his sidekick. Killing two birds with one stone would ultimately do everyone a favour; it would minimise the risk of the Weasley boy being captured by a Death Eater and tortured for information on Potter’s whereabouts.
In the fading twilight Severus made his way back to the campsite and located a frozen pool within a short walking distance from the tent. After judiciously casting a Silencing Charm, Severus used magic to melt and refreeze the ice, placing the sword underneath the icy surface of the pond without making a sound. The only noise came from his cloak as it dragged across the frozen leaves as he made his way to a secluded spot behind two oak trees. A gap between the trunks provided an eye-level peep-hole, perfect for monitoring Potter’s movements.
Sitting propped up against a sheltered tree trunk and wrapped in his warm, enchanted cloak, Severus waited for Weasley to find his way inside the visual range of the pool. He hadn’t slept much in the last two days and Severus started to doze, losing track of time, listening to the scurrying sounds of forest creatures rummaging through the frozen leaves on the ground.
He was awoken by the distant sound of a young man calling out Harry Potter’s name. Severus dusted off lingering snowflakes from his cloak and mounted his broomstick. A swift search of the area revealed the presence of Ronald Weasley staggering around in the dark, tripping up over tree roots, and clutching Dumbledore’s old Deluminator.
The red-headed teenager called out, “Harry!” and, “Hermione!” into the night air, with an increasing degree of exasperation.
Severus returned to his viewpoint by the pool and stood quietly in the velvet blackness of the forest for what felt like an eternity, waiting for Weasley to wander close enough to the campsite.
When the time arrived, Severus closed his eyes and unlocked the part of his mind which housed his happiest memories. For one long, blissful moment, Severus recalled Lily, aged eleven, sitting under the dappled shade of a willow tree by the river near her home. She was lying, stretched out like a cat, with Severus sitting by her side, listening to her quiet voice singing an unfamiliar Muggle tune. Her green eyes sparkled like emeralds in the flickering light of the riverbank.
Severus raised his wand and his Patronus sprang to life. The brightness of the silver doe burned into Severus’s retinas, momentarily dazzling him as she stared wide-eyed at her creator. Her beautiful eyes were framed with long lashes, and her snout trembled as her cloven feet shifted on the frozen forest floor.
Recovering himself quickly, Severus directed his Patronus towards the campsite, hoping it would act as a shining beacon for the Weasley boy. He watched the deer glide effortlessly across the ground, picking its way slowly towards the tent, and awaited the outcome with bated breath.
His Patronus came to a halt outside Potter’s tent. With an exhalation of relief, Severus saw the boy emerging with his wand at the ready as he stepped outside the confines of the camp’s enchantments.
Severus Summoned the doe Patronus back, in the direction of the pool, and hoped that Potter would follow, curious and unafraid. Potter would know a Patronus could not be conjured by Dark Magic, and Severus hoped that the familiar corporeal form of the Patronus would reassure the boy.
Severus caught a glimpse of Lily’s son as he approached the pool and he looked dreadful; black rings underneath his eyes and overgrown, untidy hair. He was a mere shadow of his father, illuminated by the white glare of the doe. The boy came alone, having chosen not to awaken Miss Granger, and Severus fought the urge to roll his eyes. Potter was a typical Gryffindor – swayed by fame and glory. Yet again he had failed to apply logic and neglected to ensure his safety by keeping his allies close at hand.
Potter was lucky that Severus had had the foresight to wait for Weasley’s arrival in the vicinity; otherwise he would have had to save the blundering idiot from certain death once more.
The doe reached the frozen pool and Severus commanded it to hold position, waiting for Potter to make a final approach. As the boy came within a hair’s breadth of the shining corporeal Patronus, Severus cancelled the charm with a flick of his wand, plunging himself and Potter into total darkness.
Severus’s eyes adapted quickly, not having spent too long looking directly at the Patronus, and a moment later the newly-ignited light from Potter’s wand provided a focal point.
The boy stood motionless for a few long moments, listening to the sounds of the forest. Potter’s wand-light lifted higher, searching the trees for the wizard who had conjured the Patronus, but Severus’s vantage point behind the oak trees provided him with ample cover.
Finally, Potter noticed the frozen pool at his feet and he circled it before dropping to his knees at the edge of the icy surface.
Severus stopped himself from exhaling audibly. It was about time.
The light flickered as the boy raised his wand again and searched the nearby area cautiously. Even though the extent of the illumination could not reach him, Severus didn’t move a muscle and felt some relief that Potter was at least thinking things through before acting.
The boy’s first attempt was to magically Summon the sword from the icy depths of the pool. Severus stifled a groan of derision. Potter’s mediocrity came as no surprise to him, but he was irritated by the distinct lack of intelligence. Had the boy inherited nothing from his mother?
Potter stood up and headed off to walk around the pool and murmured, “Help.”
Severus smirked. The boy was perhaps getting warmer, and Severus smiled at the unintentional pun.
Eventually Potter stopped, tilted his head backwards and sighed. His hot breath froze in spirals in the night air. He glanced around one more time, searching for onlookers, and then began to peel off his many layers of clothing.
Severus grunted inwardly. One thing the boy had inherited was his father’s tendency towards unnecessary and conspicuous heroics. Potter was a stranger to discretion; even when he thought nobody was looking, his behaviour cried out for attention. A tawny owl hooted somewhere in the distance and Severus shook his head disdainfully. As if the boy needed encouraging.
Potter stood barefoot, wearing only his underwear, and pointed his wand at the frozen surface of the water.
The ice cracked with a thundering clap which reverberated through the trees. Although Severus cringed inwardly at the boy drawing unnecessary attention to himself, he also realised the sound would act as a signal flare for Weasley, whose presence was long overdue.
He watched disbelievingly as Potter placed his wand on the ground beside the pool. How could the boy be such a dunderhead?
Before Severus knew it, Potter had jumped feet first into the pool and immersed himself up to his shoulders. After a brief moment’s pause, he disappeared under the chunks of ice floating on the surface of the water.
The boy was underwater for an unbearably long time and Severus watched with a tight knot twisting in his gut, grateful for the small mercy of the wand-light which would act like a talisman for Weasley. If the witless wonder didn’t make an appearance in the next few seconds, Severus was going to have to rescue Potter himself and risk exposing his cover.
Then, as if on cue, Ronald Weasley tripped forwards through the trees, a mere matter of feet away from Severus’s hidey-hole, and dived fully clothed into the pool of water.
After a few seconds of frantic splashing and gasping, Weasley pulled Potter and the sword of Gryffindor simultaneously out of the forest pool.
Severus heaved a sigh of relief as he watched Potter clumsily pulling on his clothes, shaking with shock.
The deed was done.
Severus mounted his broomstick and flew silently away from the poolside scene.
He had reunited the golden trio and bequeathed the sword of Gryffindor to The Boy Who Lived.
Now all Potter had to do was save the world.