Chapter 15: On the Darkest of Nights~~~
There was darkness all around him. An impenetrable, solid blackness that made Snape fear for a moment that all the light had gone from the world. For surely, he should at least be able to see the moon and the stars in the sky. But he could see nothing, not even the Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky.
He pulled his thick cloak tighter around himself and shivered as he remembered an old tale his mother had told him once, a tale of the land of the fairies. Time ran differently there, and a single night could last for several lifetimes. The light of the moon and the stars never reached the forest ground, and whoever had the misfortune to stumble into that world would get lost forever. They would try to find their way home for a while, but eventually, they would forget who they were and where they had come from. They would forget their loved ones and even the place where they had been born.
Would it be such a bad thing if he had ended up in the land of the fairies, Snape wondered silently. There was little he cared for in the world of men, and every now and then he wished that he could indeed forget all about the life he was leading there. For he was tired. Tired of the war, tired of spying, lying and deceiving, tired of being loathed and mistrusted. If he had ended up in the land of the fairies, he would soon forget who he was. He would forget about Albus Dumbledore and the Dark Lord, Hogwarts and Spinner’s End, and Severus Snape and all he had ever been, would cease to exist. Such bliss! But then again, there were some things, some very precious things, that Snape would never want to forget. The feeling of the first rays of the morning sun tickling his skin as he emerged from the shadows of the Forbidden Forest, the smell of bubbling potion, a timid smile that had been carefully hidden away in two emerald green eyes…
Snape blinked, shifting his focus to his surroundings where the vague outlines of the trees were slowly but surely growing more solid and real. He hadn’t stumbled into the land of the fairies, of course. The forest around him was tangible, and the reason for him neither seeing moon nor stars was the fact that the heavenly bodies were shrouded in thick grey clouds. It must have been snowing during the day, Snape thought, walking through the fresh dusting of powdery snow. Yet neither his boots nor his cloak left any kind of trace on the ground. For he had been careful and taken measures. There were spells that ensured that no one would know that he had ever been there.
‘Severus, the sword! Do not forget that the sword must be taken under conditions of need and valour.’
The grave words of Albus Dumbledore were ringing in Snape’s ears as he made his way through the undergrowth. Where should he hide the sword, he wondered. There were no dangerous animals roaming about against which the Potter boy would need to defend himself, and hanging the sword in a tall tree was far too easy. All Potter would have to do was to shout Accio. It wouldn’t do. Not at all. What should he do? Conjure up a dragon and a fair maiden whom Potter could rescue?
When he came upon a tiny forest pool, Snape gave a sigh of relief. This was exactly what he needed! The pool was deep enough for Potter having to submerge himself completely in order to reach the sword, and as the water was freezing, it would require a great deal of daring and nerve from the boy to actually do so. Good thing he knew how to swim, Snape thought, and hoped that Potter’s lung capacity had improved since the Triwizard Tournament. For this time, he wouldn’t have any Gillyweed to help him breathe.
Snape produced the Sword of Gryffindor from under his cloak and levitated it towards the middle of the pool where he dropped it. The sharp blade cut through the ice covering the pool as if it were soft butter, and while the sword sank into the depths of the water, Snape cast a spell that sealed the crack in the ice.
‘Lumos,’ he muttered afterwards, and as he held his wand aloft, he could make out the outlines of the sword below the ice, a silver cross waiting to be lifted from the depths by the Chosen One. All the boy needed to do was look.
Now to call him…
Snape extinguished the light of his wand. Dumbledore had kindly reminded him that the Potter boy mustn’t see him. Not that Snape had needed to be reminded. He knew very well that Potter wished to see him dead. And didn’t the boy have every reason for it? For as much as he knew, Snape was a coldblooded murderer. He had killed Albus Dumbledore. Surely, for such a deed, one deserved to die. But the boy knew nothing of Snape’s other crimes. If he did, he would not only want to kill Snape himself but also make sure that he suffered. Potter could not even imagine, of course, how much Snape suffered during every moment of his life.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Snape took a deep breath and slowly exhaled through his nose. He mustn’t think of those things now, mustn’t think of his sins and wrongdoings, of agony and grief. For if he did, he would fall into darkness and his carefully crafted plan would fail. He needed happy thoughts now, a memory so cheerful that it could brighten up even the darkest of nights.
The doe sprung from his wand in a fluid motion, landed soundlessly on her feet and pranced once around the pool, leaving no hoof prints in the fine powdering of snow. And Snape looked at her, mesmerised by her moon-bright beauty.
‘I need your help tonight,’ he whispered as the doe returned to him. ‘I need your light. Harry needs your light in order to find his way. Go find him and bring him here.’
The doe looked up at the dark wizard, a shadow of doubt in her long-lashed eyes.
‘The boy will trust you,’ Snape assured her and then watched her turn and pick her way into the depths of the forest. Her light vanished, and Snape stepped behind the twin oaks, becoming one with the shadows. He didn’t dare leave. He had to see with his own eyes that the boy managed to retrieve the sword, no matter how long it took, no matter how cold he grew while waiting. Yet when the doe returned with the boy in tow, Snape felt his heart sink. He knew that he should be triumphant that his plan had worked and that Harry Potter had followed and trusted the silvery doe. But all he could think about was why the boy had trusted her. He must have felt an instant bond, a familiarity. For the boy’s Patronus was a stag, just like his father’s had been, and Lily’s, the doe, had been the stags soul mate.
Snape stayed put, watching the Potter boy dive into the icy water of the pool. He saw Ron Weasley arrive and dive in as well. But as the two boys emerged from the water with the Sword of Gryffindor, Snape felt much colder than any of them ever would. For he had realised that his Patronus, his light in the dark, belonged much more to Harry Potter than it had ever belonged to him.
The snow was falling heavily as Snape walked down the empty main street of the quiet Muggle village. It was long past midnight, and his footprints were the only ones in the fresh powdery snow. The lights were still on in one or two of the houses that he passed, but Snape didn’t see any of them. For his dark eyes were firmly fixed on one specific light further down the road, a warm, soft glow coming from one of the windows above the village pub. It was a faint light, most probably produced by candles rather than electricity, but in Snape’s mind, the light was brighter than the sun. It called for him, beckoned him to come inside, into the warmth where he could take off his wet, heavy cloak and rest. There would be no need for him to be vigilant, no need to watch neither his own back nor somebody else’s. He would be able to simply close his eyes and sleep, giving his body and mind the repose that he so desperately needed.
Hope didn’t seem surprised to see him as Snape appeared in her living room door. She was sitting in an armchair by the window and most probably, she had seen him walking down the road. That or she had heard him coming up the stairs.
‘There’s tea,’ she said softly, placing her hand on the light blue tea pot that was standing on the table beside her.‘It’s still hot. Let me get you a cup.’
She rose and walked towards the cabinet in the corner, and Snape stepped inside the room, unaware that there was water dripping from the hem of his cloak onto the carpet.
‘You should take that off,’ Hope suggested. ‘It’s soaking wet.’
She put the cup on the table and moved towards Snape, unbuttoned his cloak with nimble fingers and pulled it off his shoulders.
‘I’ll hang this up to dry,’ she said. ‘And you sit down and have some tea. It will do you good.’
The cup was green. Heavy stoneware, slightly chipped at the edge. The saucer was blue and didn’t fit the cup at all, but Snape didn’t care as he poured himself some tea. Its scent was sweet, and he identified elderflower and violets and a slight hint of honey.
Wrapping both his hands around it, Snape brought the cup close to his chest. He doubted that he would drink the tea as he wasn’t feeling thirsty, but its scent was comforting and it was providing some warmth. Not that it was enough. For the chill that had entered his body in the forest refused to release its grip around him, and it was only with great effort that Snape managed to keep his limbs from shaking and his teeth from chattering.
‘I almost suspected that the tea would be too sweet for you,’ Hope commented as she returned. ‘Can I get you something else?’
Wordlessly, Snape shook his head. Being served another beverage would mean that he had to let go of his cup. And if he let go, he’d freeze to death.
‘Are you going to say anything tonight?’ Hope enquired.
She sat down on her chair opposite Snape, but leaped up again almost immediately.
‘Your lips are blue!’ she exclaimed.
She grabbed the shawl that had been hanging over the armrest of her chair and wrapped it around Snape’s shoulders.
‘Goodness, you’re freezing cold.’
She took the cup from his hands and started rubbing his arms and back, and Snape stared blankly up at her, feeling his heart hammering in his chest. He was shaking now, from cold or exhaustion, he did not know.
‘What have you done to yourself?’
There was a note of anxiety in Hope’s voice, but as much as Snape wanted to tell her that he’d be alright, that he needed nothing more than a warm bed and a good night’s sleep, he was unable to find the words. Instead he reached out for her, wrapped his arms around her hips and pulled her towards him, resting his head against her chest, and Hope in turn held him close, moving her little hands up and down his back to warm him.
‘It’s alright,’ she breathed, her lips brushing his brow ever so softly. ‘I’ll take care of you, I promise.’
‘I am sorry,’ Snape whispered, tightening his grip around her. She was so warm, so soft. If it were up to him, he would never let go off her.
‘What are you sorry for this time?’ Hope wondered, sounding slightly bewildered.
Snape took a deep breath, inhaling her scent.
‘You must think that I only come here on those nights when my world is falling to pieces,’ he replied slowly.
There was a moment of silence, and Snape bit his lip. Why had he opened his mouth? Why could he not just keep his peace? Did he really have to make it so plain that he was using her yet again? But as he loosened his embrace, ready to stand and leave, Hope didn’t step away from him. Instead she looked down at him, the look in her eyes softer than her touch when she brushed his cheek with her fingers.
‘That thought has never occurred to me,’ she said honestly. ‘And even if it had, it wouldn’t matter. I am glad that you come here. I am honoured to be given your trust. And if I can’t handle your darkest moments, then what right do I have to share your brightest ones?’
Her fingers didn’t linger on his cheek for much more than the duration of a heartbeat, but when she withdrew her hand, Snape promised himself to remember her touch for as long as he lived. Her touch and the look in her emerald green eyes.
‘You need to rest,’ she now pointed out. ‘I didn’t dare hope that you’d be coming, so there is no heat on in your room. You will have to settle for mine.’
‘No,’ Snape replied, shaking his head. ‘You shouldn’t be giving up your bed for me.’
‘I don’t mind,’ Hope replied. ‘I really don’t.’
She provided him with a pair of dove grey pyjamas, and once he had crept under the covers, she sat down beside him on the edge of the bed. The room was dark, but the little candle on the nightstand provided just enough light for Snape to see her eyes and how fiercely she was blinking in order to keep them from falling shut.
‘You are just as tired as I am,’ he noted. ‘There is no need for you to stay awake and watch over me. Besides, your bed is wide enough for the both of us. Please, lay down.’
Hope opened her mouth as if to speak, but instead she shook her head and averted her gaze.
‘What is it?’ Snape asked, fearing that he had been too bold.
‘Nothing,’ Hope claimed. ‘It’s just… I, um, … It’s been a while since I shared a bed with someone.’
Had the room been brighter, Snape would have seen a blush creep over Hope’s pale cheeks. But it was too dark for him to see it, and luckily, she didn’t see his cheeks turn slightly pink either. For whilst it had been a while for her, Severus Snape had never known the pleasure of sharing his bed with anyone, not even for a single night.
‘You gave me two blankets,’ he tried to persuade her, already pulling one of the covers from his body and holding it up towards her. ‘I promise to stay under mine. I won’t touch you.’
Hope gave a short laugh.
‘That’s the last thing I’m afraid of.’
‘Then lie down,’ Snape insisted. ‘Sleep.’
Even with more than three inches of air between them, Snape could tell that Hope was lying beside him as stiff as a board, and the unnatural rhythm of her breathing made him think that she was trying to breathe without making any sound. She didn’t want him to hear her.
‘How long has it been then?’ he asked, quietly enough for Hope to be able to pretend that she hadn’t heard him. And for a couple of moments, he thought that she had chosen to do just that, for she had all but stopped breathing and lay so still that Snape almost started to wonder if she had disappeared. He was therefore quite surprised when she answered him with a low yet steady voice.
‘Charles,’ she said. ‘The last time I shared a bed with someone was when I stayed with Charles in his great-aunt’s cottage.’
Half a lifetime ago, Snape thought sadly, his heart aching for the woman beside him. He knew how long and cold a night could seem when one yearned for a tender embrace, for the warmth of another body. He had never experienced it himself, yet he longed to fall asleep in someone else’s arms far more often than he cared to admit. He could not even imagine how much Hope must miss the feeling of having someone close by at night.
‘Has there been no one else since?’ he asked.
‘Not once,’ Hope replied quietly. ‘I never wanted to explain to anyone why I am afraid of the dark.’
‘Are you still afraid?’ Snape asked.
‘No. Tonight I am not.’
He felt her shift her weight and heard her blow out the candle on the night stand, and as she lay back down, she seemed more comfortable. Her breathing relaxed, and within minutes, she was fast asleep.