Chapter 7: Shelter from the Storm~~~
Snape moaned and squeezed his eyes shut. Only moments ago, he had not felt any pain, and now he could not even remember the Hippogriff’s razor-sharp claws severing his flesh from the bone. There had been too much adrenaline pumping through his body for him to be able to think about anything else than getting the boy out of harm’s way. But now he was safe, for the time being at least, and Snape was able to briefly put his responsibilities aside. All he wanted now, all he needed, was to rest.
‘I know this hurts, Severus. I’m so sorry. But those wounds need to be cleaned. Hold still.’
Snape gritted his teeth as a new wave of pain washed over him, followed by a wave of nausea. Narcissa’s touch was gentle, but the wounds on his shoulder were deep and the pain excruciating, and it took Snape all his willpower to not simply give in and pass out.
‘This will sting a bit. Sorry, Severus.’
He heard himself scream. It felt as if Narcissa were pouring acid into his wounds. His head began to spin, and he felt himself shaking. There was cold sweat running down his back and the taste of vomit in his mouth. But just when he thought that he could not take any more, that he would lose consciousness, the pain stopped. He sank back onto a soft pillow, feeling as if he were being wrapped into warm, fluffy towels. His breathing became slow and regular, and he knew he was about to fall asleep.
‘Don’t fight it, Severus,’ Narcissa whispered, brushing a strand of black hair away from his sweaty forehead. ‘Just sleep. You deserve it. Sleep, my friend. Sleep.’
He wanted to. By the gods, he did. He wouldn’t even mind if he never woke up again. It didn’t matter. Nothing seemed to matter right now. He was too exhausted to care. But a searing pain in his left forearm made him shoot up from the pillow, and he looked around the room, blinking furiously in order to clear his vision.
‘My shirt,’ he croaked, surprised at the sound of his own voice. He had screamed himself hoarse.
‘Severus, no! You are in no condition to Apparate. The Dark Lord will understand.’
‘The Dark Lord never understands,’ Snape growled, getting up from the bed upon catching sight of his shirt and robes on a chair on the other side of the room. But said room quickly started to spin, and Snape had to hold on to the bedpost in order to stay upright.
‘See? You can’t go. You’ll splinch yourself.’
The tone in Narcissa’s voice was pleading, but Snape knew he had no choice. Either he heeded the Dark Lord’s call now or would suffer the consequences later, consequences that were far worse than splinching.
Narcissa whirled around, and Snape, too, turned his head towards the door where Draco suddenly had appeared. The boy was pale and clutching his left forearm.
‘I don’t want to go,’ he said in a feeble voice.
Narcissa rushed over to wrap her trembling son into her arms.
‘I know, darling. I know,’ she whispered and then gazed back at Snape, who had managed to get across the room. He was now struggling to put on his shirt using only his right hand.
‘What can he want now?’ Narcissa asked. ‘Dumbledore is dead. Can’t he leave us alone now?’
He will never leave you alone. Especially not now after Draco failed to carry out his task, Snape thought but held his peace. Narcissa was desperate enough as it was. But he knew that the Dark Lord had never expected Draco to succeed. He had expected the boy to fail and had enjoyed every tear Narcissa had shed. For the boy’s father, Narcissa’s husband, had failed him, and the Dark Lord wanted all the Malfoys to pay for Lucius’ shortcomings.
He winced as he pulled on his cloak and bit back a curse that would have made a sailor blush. Then he beckoned Draco to approach him.
‘I will need your assistance,’ he explained. ‘As your mother pointed out, I am in no condition to Apparate, so we will have to use Side-Along Apparition. Now go, fetch your cloak and meet me outside.’
When Draco hurried off, Narcissa burst into tears.
‘Severus, no! He can’t do it. It’s too dangerous!’
‘Calm yourself, Narcissa. I do, of course, not require Draco’s help to Apparate. He, on the other hand, is so flustered that it is a miracle he didn’t get splinched on his way here. I will be the one guiding him, but he does not need to know that.’
‘Oh, Severus!’ Narcissa exclaimed. ‘You’re still looking out for him. What would we do without you?’
‘What Slytherins do best, Narcissa,’ Snape replied. ‘Survive. At any cost.’
He would have to try, too.
Apparating was harder than Snape had anticipated. The pain in his left shoulder was distracting him and so was the shaking boy whose arm he was holding on to with his right hand. Hence, Snape was glad that he did not need to concentrate on their destination. The Dark Mark was steering their course, leading them right into Voldemort’s open arms.
‘Ah, the hero of the hour,’ the Dark Lord exclaimed. ‘And yet another failed Malfoy. Welcome, both of you.’
Snape fell to his knees to kiss the hem of Voldemort’s robes, pulling Draco down along with him. The last thing they needed was Draco acting like a petulant teenager and talking back to the Dark Lord now, even if it was in order to defend his father’s honour. The boy would not survive the night if he did, and his death would drive Narcissa over the edge. But thankfully, Draco was quiet, taking all the Dark Lord’s verbal abuse without even batting an eyelash. Maybe, Snape thought, the boy wasn’t listening. Maybe he was too weary to care.
‘Run along home to Mommy now,’ Voldemort commanded after a few minutes. ‘Tell her that neither of you are to leave the manor and that I will send Bellatrix along in a couple of days with further instructions. Off you go now! And you, Severus, get up. I don’t have any use for you crawling in the dust before me.’
Snape rose, venturing a glance over his shoulder. Draco had gone. Hopefully, he’d find his way home.
‘You have been injured?’ the Dark Lord inquired, pointing at Snape’s torn and blood stained robes. ‘An Auror?’
‘No, my Lord. A Hippogriff.’
‘Hagrid’s beast, I assume?’
‘Did you kill it?’
‘No, my Lord.’
‘Did you kill the half-breed?’
Snape frowned, but the Dark Lord didn’t give him any time to answer.
‘Of course, you didn’t. You kill only if you have to, don’t you, Severus.’
To that, Snape simply bowed his head. He did not know what Voldemort was on about, and he was too tired to come up with a witty answer. He only wished to be dismissed as Draco had been.
‘As of tonight, you are the most hated and the most hunted man in the Wizarding world, Severus. In fact, I think they might hate you more tonight than they have ever hated me,’ Voldemort announced, sounding as if this was something Snape should be proud of.
‘In a couple of weeks, the Ministry will have fallen and I will rule,’ he continued. ‘And on the first of September, you will be the new Headmaster of Hogwarts, but until then, I will not be able to reach out a helping hand should an angry mob turn on you to avenge the death of their beloved Albus Dumbledore. Therefore, I advise you to hide, Severus. Do you have anywhere to go?’
‘Yes, my Lord,’ Snape replied. Any other wizard might have been fooled into believing that the Dark Lord was asking out of concern for his wellbeing. But Snape knew that Voldemort only wanted to ensure that his most loyal servant, his most valued pawn in this giant game of Wizard’s chess, would be safely hidden away until he had need of him again.
‘Not that shabby place that belonged to your father, I hope,’ Voldemort said, shuddering theatrically. ‘They will look for you there.’
‘I am quite aware of that, my Lord. I can assure you that no witch or wizard alive will ever think of looking for me in the place I have in mind.’
The Dark Lord fixed him with a cold stare, and Snape fortified his mental walls. Voldemort couldn’t know where he was planning to hide. He of all people mustn’t know! But the Dark Lord didn’t probe, and as he turned away, Snape gave an inaudible sigh of relief.
‘You’re a clever man, Severus. Maybe too clever for your own good at times. But it is all right. I do not need to know where you are hiding. For when I am in need of you, all I need to do is call, and you will come to me.’
Morning was dawning when Snape landed on his feet at the edge of the forest, but the night didn’t seem to want to loosen its grip around the world. The sky remained dark with storm clouds, and Snape couldn’t help but think it fitting. For there was a storm to break loose the likes of which the Wizarding world had not yet seen.
For a couple of moments, he leaned with his back against a tree, allowing himself too feel for the first time since he had raised his wand on top of the Astronomy Tower. He had hated Albus Dumbledore during the last moments of the old man’s life, hated him for what he forced him to do. And he hated himself, for more reasons than he cared to admit. But in the very moment when he had cast the Killing Curse, he had felt nothing at all, and for a second, he had been terrified. Was it to be like this for ever now? He had killed, and his soul had been split in two. Could damaged souls not feel, he had wondered. Would he be forced to live the rest of his life feeling nothing? But then he had come face to face with Potter once more, the boy who resembled his father so much that Snape could barely stand the sight of him. But he also had his mother’s eyes.
A sob escaped from Snape’s lips. It was when he had looked into Harry Potter’s green eyes that he had understood that his marred soul was still able to feel. The green eyes had made him long for forgiveness, for peace and salvation, the very things he knew that he would never achieve in life. First when he was dead, Harry Potter would understand. With any luck, the boy would be able to forgive him. But until then… Until then, the boy’s hatred would grow, many more would have to die, and no one could guarantee that he would succeed in the end. And if he failed, everything Dumbledore had worked for, everything that had been sacrificed would have been in vain.
Shaking his head at himself, Snape tried to straighten up. He couldn’t think like this. He mustn’t! He had to believe in the Chosen One! Dumbledore had believed in the boy. The Order believed in him. Snape, too, had to believe. If he lost faith, he’d crumble. But at the moment, he lacked the strength.
The way to the village seemed endlessly long, and when Snape closed in on the pub, he asked himself what the hell he had been thinking. It was barely morning. No one would be awake. It would be hours until the pub opened and he could get inside to warm himself. He should just leave, Apparate to Spinner’s End or wherever his tired mind would lead him. He had no business being here. How could he even expect that Hope would take him in? He couldn’t tell her why he had to hide, why he had been forced to flee the Wizarding world. Why would she let him stay? But when the door of the pub flew open and he saw Hope hurrying towards him, barefoot and with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing nothing more than her dressing-gown, Snape knew that she would not ask him any questions. He knew she would give him shelter, no matter why he needed it. And when she reached him, he thankfully sank into her arms.
‘You’re bleeding,’ he heard her whisper but didn’t have the strength to tell her that his wounds had been taken care off already. He felt too weak to even shake his head.
‘And you’re freezing. Christ, your lips are turning blue! Come, we need to get you inside where it’s warm.’
She took a firm hold around his waist, and Snape laid his right arm on her shoulders, resisting the urge to put his full weight on her. It was only a couple of steps, he told himself, only a few more. But as soon as they had entered the pub, his knees gave way and Hope just barely managed to shove him towards a chair so he wouldn’t collapse on the floor.
‘What on earth happened to you?’ she asked, her hands already busy at his robes, which made Snape remember that she still didn’t know that he was in no need of medical attention.
‘The wounds have been mended,’ he managed to bring forth, taking hold of Hope’s wrist with his right hand.
‘But you’re in pain,’ she pointed out.
‘And I will be for quite some time,’ Snape admitted. ‘Dittany may speed up the healing process, but it doesn’t take away the pain.’
He gingerly pulled her hand away from his shoulder, and as it came to lay in his, Hope crouched down beside him, gazing up at him. She looked anxious, and Snape couldn’t help but wonder why he had ever doubted that she would not take him in. Hope cared for his wellbeing just as much as he cared for hers.
‘Why are you up at this hour?’ he asked.
‘I was hoping you would come,’ Hope answered. ‘I’ve been on the lookout for you ever since… since…’
She fell silent and swallowed, and as her lower lip started to tremble, she sank her teeth into it to make it stop.
‘I know Dumbledore’s dead,’ she said in the end, her voice trembling.
‘How could you know that?’
Snape felt panic rise in his chest. What if Hope knew? What if she knew that he had been the one who had murdered Albus Dumbledore?
Hope closed her eyes for a moment, and a single tear rolled down her pale cheek.
‘Last night… The candle went out. Dumbledore’s candle. And I… I just knew.’
Snape nodded, tightening his grip around Hope’s tiny hand. So she didn’t know anything.
‘A couple of Death Eaters made their way into the castle,’ he told her, carefully weighing every word that came over his lips. ‘Draco let them in. He had been forced to do so by the Dark Lord. Dumbledore was cornered and slain on top of the Astronomy Tower.’
It wasn’t the whole truth, of course, and if Hope now asked him who had killed Dumbledore, Snape wouldn’t know what to tell her. He didn’t want to lie to her, but at the same time, he could not tell her the truth. But to his utter relief, Hope did not ask anything.
‘You need to rest,’ she established instead. ‘You need a hot shower to warm up, and I’ll get you something clean to wear. Then you need to sleep. Do you think you can get upstairs?’
Snape nodded. With Hope by his side, he would manage. With her by his side, he would even manage to survive.
She once more slid her arm around his waist and helped him climb the stairs. She showed him the bathroom but Snape turned down her offer for him to take a shower. He doubted that he would be able to stand upright for the time it took for the water to warm him. But he gladly accepted the pyjamas she provided him with and didn’t struggle as she helped him get changed.
‘Those are Edmunds’ pyjamas. Not the latest fashion, I’m afraid,’ Hope apologised as she tucked him in in her own bed a few minutes later, but Snape did not care. All he cared about was the look in her eyes, the look in those otherwise so cold, green gems. The look in them had softened, and gazing into them now was almost as soothing as the touch of her hand when she brushed a strand of his hair away from his forehead.
‘Sleep now,’ she whispered. ‘Just sleep.’
‘Will you stay with me?’ Snape slurred, too tired to make proper use of his tongue.
‘For as long as you need me. I promise.’
Unable to fight his weariness anymore, Snape let his eyes flutter shut and sank into a deep and healing slumber. And Hope stayed by his side, every now and then wiping off the tears that escaped from underneath his dark lashes.