Chapter 18: All Men Must Die~~~
Looking up at the portrait of Albus Dumbledore, Snape did his best to look indifferent.
‘Your tomb has been raided,’ he informed his predecessor, his voice cold and detached.
‘By your master, I presume?’ Dumbledore asked.
‘By the Dark Lord, yes,’ Snape confirmed.
‘What has been taken?’
‘Nothing but your wand.’
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, stroking his long white beard. He seemed neither upset nor surprised. In fact, he looked almost satisfied, as if a carefully crafted plan had finally born fruit. Snape, however, did not yet understand.
‘May I ask why the Dark Lord has need of your wand?’
Dumbledore smiled benignly.
‘What is Voldemort’s greatest desire, Severus? What is it he longs for the most?’
‘Immortality,’ Snape answered quickly. Most witches and wizards would have said that Lord Voldemort’s ultimate goal was to take over the Wizarding world, but Snape knew better. Becoming the greatest wizard in the world was a mere bonus. What the Dark Lord really desired was to live forever.
‘And what, Severus, stands between him and his ultimate goal?’
‘Harry Potter,’ Snape answered, parts of Sybill Trelawney’s first prophecy ringing in his ears.
… neither can live while the other survives…
Once more, Dumbledore nodded.
‘And he himself must be the one to kill the boy,’ he said.
‘I am very much aware of that already,’ Snape interrupted. He did not need to be reminded of the fact that he had protected the boy, Lily’s son, for all those years just to see him being led to slaughter like a lamb.
‘I am also aware that the Dark Lord has failed to kill the boy on several occasions,’ he carried on. ‘Are you implying that he intends to use your wand now? That he thinks that your wand will do the trick?’
Dumbledore nodded a third time.
‘He is quite convinced of it, for a matter of fact.’
‘Why?’ Snape asked, his tone a tad sharper than he had intended for it to be. Dumbledore was once more driving him insane. The old man knew all the answers but insisted on beating about the bush.
Obviously sensing the dark wizard’s impatience, Dumbledore leaned slightly forwards in his chair, gazing down at Snape.
‘The wand I carried, Severus, was not just any wand. It is the Elder Wand.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Snape narrowed his eyes. ‘The Elder Wand? The Unbeatable Wand? That is an old wife’s tale. Such a wand never existed.’
‘Has it not?’ Dumbledore asked, his blue eyes twinkling behind his spectacles. ‘Can you be sure?’
Snape drew breath as if to speak but thought better of it. There were many mysteries in the Wizarding world he did not understand, many myths that had turned out to be true. Who was he to deny the existence of the Deathly Hallows?
‘The Elder Wand is the most powerful wand known to wizardkind,’ Dumbledore continued, ‘Voldemort believes that it will make him undefeatable. He believes that the Elder Wand will enable him to finally kill Harry Potter and that he, consequently, will become the Master of Death.’
‘But he will fail,’ Snape pointed out. ‘When he kills the boy…’
‘… he will destroy the part of his own soul that lives inside Harry,’ Dumbledore finished Snape’s sentence. ‘It will be the end of him.’
‘Then there is nothing to worry about, is there?’ Snape exclaimed sardonically.
‘Voldemort will vanish, and the Wizarding world will be saved,’ Dumbledore continued calmly. ‘But I am afraid, Severus, that I have put you in grave danger.’
‘Me?’ Snape asked.
‘Yes, my boy. You see, according to legend, to gain the allegiance of the Elder Wand, a wizard must defeat its previous owner. But as I was ready to be defeated, according to our plan, I assumed the powers of the Elder Wand would be nullified.’
‘And you were wrong?’ Snape wondered.
‘Partly,’ Dumbledore started to explain. ‘You see, technically you did not defeat me. I was, prior to your arrival, disarmed by Draco Malfoy.’
‘So now Draco is the master of the Elder Wand?’
‘Most probably, yes,’ Dumbledore replied. ‘But Voldemort must never know. The boy is still innocent, his soul untarnished. We must protect him. For as soon as Voldemort suspects that the Elder Wand’s loyalty does not lie with him, he will set out to kill its true master. Will he not, Severus?’
Any other man would have paled or at least gasped in terror. After all, the portrait of Albus Dumbledore had just read out his death sentence. But Severus Snape stood tall, seemingly unmoved.
‘He will indeed,’ he concurred, his voice impassive.
‘And when that time comes, Severus, you will have to be ready. You will need to make sure that Harry learns everything he needs to know.’
‘I will be ready.’
Snape’s face was an inscrutable mask. There was no way of telling what he was feeling. In fact, he did not allow himself to feel anything for the time being. It wasn’t until later, in the privacy of his study, that he drew in a deep, shuddering breath. His shoulders slumped, and as he held on to the back of his chair, his knuckles turned pure white. So this was it then. He was to be sacrificed for the greater good. He could understand Dumbledore’s reasoning, of course. As the old man had said, Draco was still innocent and his soul not yet damaged. He could still be saved. Severus Snape, on the other hand, the Dark Lord’s most trusted servant, a liar, a spy, a murderer... He was beyond salvation. Certainly, he had been innocent once as well, and his soul had been pure. But all this was so long ago that Snape could not remember how it had felt.
Maybe death would be a relief, he mused. To slip away, to be freed of all the pain and be absolved of all sins. But what would come afterwards? Snape believed neither in heaven nor hell, and purgatory was a concept he was unable to grasp. Would there be anything at all, he wondered. Or would there be nothing, just vast, eternal blackness with neither beginning nor end? The mere thought made Snape whimper. He had been alone for most of his life, and at times this had been so painful that he had wished to die. Was he now destined to spend eternity in the same miserable state without any hope of ever escaping it?
‘Please, no,’ he whispered into the darkness, acutely aware that no one would hear him. There had to be something! Some light, some hope, a tiny flame that burned in the depths of darkness, not unlike the one that was burning in the worn wooden frame above the fireplace.
Snape looked at it now, mesmerised. Hope had lit the candle in her room every night since he had left on New Year’s Eve, and while Snape had been worried for her at first, while he had feared that she had once more grown afraid of the dark, he had soon understood that Hope wasn’t lighting the candle for her own sake alone. For she rarely seemed fearful when he watched her in the flame. Instead he often saw her standing by the window, longingly looking out over the lake. And on some nights, when the darkness seemed impenetrable, Snape dared believe that she was waiting for his return.
He longed to go to her now. He longed to lie beside her, to listen to her breathing and feel the warmth of her body. He longed to feel her comforting touch, to see the precious glimmer in her emerald green eyes, a rare smile dedicated only to him. But he dared not go. He dared not look at her and tell her that all hope was lost. And so he settled on the chair in front of the empty grate, his eyes firmly locked on the tiny flickering flame, hoping that it would give him peace once again.
How many nights had he spent sitting there, Snape wondered as he stood in front of the fireplace, ready to leave his study for the very last time. How many nights had he wished he were able to Apparate right into the wooden frame, into Hope’s comforting embrace? How many nights had he dreamed about escaping the Wizarding world, the war and his certain death? Too many to count, most probably, Snape concluded, but it did not matter now. For he knew that tonight he would be gazing into the candle light for the very last time. Harry Potter had returned to Hogwarts, and the Dark Lord was approaching, called by Alecto Carrow. By the time the sun rose in the morning, everything would be over. Either the Light would have triumphed or Darkness would have started its everlasting reign. And he, Severus Snape, would be dead.
Should he be afraid, he mused. Should he be angry or sad? Disappointed? A bit of each, maybe, and he had gone through all of these stages over the last weeks, but now he felt nothing. Nothing at all. For emotions were a luxury he could not allow himself that night. He had to stay focused. He had one more task to fulfil, one more message to convey. If he failed, Potter would fail. And if Potter failed... No! He mustn’t even consider that possibility! Dumbledore had believed in the boy. Dumbledore had believed in him, Snape. He still did! It could work. It just might. It had to.
Now to get close to the boy...
One last time, Snape checked his pockets. In his right, he carried three phials: Blood-Replenishing Potion, Essence of Dittany and Phoenix Tears. In his left, he carried a Bezoar and the key to a shabby little pub in a tiny Muggle village. Just when he would use any of those items, he did not know. Surely, when the Dark Lord decided to kill him, he would use the Killing Curse. Swift and merciless. No potion would save him then, Snape was aware of that, but maybe he would be able to save someone else. For the Bezoar, he would most probably not have any use. It was highly improbable that someone would get poisoned during the battle. But he would keep it in his pocket for good luck, for the same reason that he carried the key Hope had given him last summer. For luck, he would need. He would need plenty of it.
His first attempt to get to Potter had failed. He had hoped to get the boy on his own, up in Ravenclaw Tower, where Alecto had apprehended him. But unfortunately, Minerva McGonagall had gotten to him faster and – as could be expected of the Head of Gryffindor House – she had protected her student. Fiercely, like the lioness she was! Then Flitwick and Sprout had appeared, followed by Slughorn, and Snape had realised that they would not let him anywhere near Potter. In fact, had he even made the tiniest of moves towards the boy, they would have torn him to pieces and Potter would have gladly joined in. For the boy hated him, so passionately that the air around him seemed to vibrate. And so Snape had been forced to make a run for it, hoping against hope that he would get a second chance to encounter Potter on his own. But now he did not even know where the boy was.
The battle was in full rage: giants and Acromantula had joined in, spells and curses were cast and found there mark, followers of Potter and the Dark Lord alike were injured, maimed and slain. The walls of Hogwarts were crumbling, and the ground was turning red with blood.
Concealed by a Disillusionment Charm, Snape moved carefully across the battlefield. He helped where he could, stunning Death Eaters and shielding students whenever possible, but his main goal was to find Potter. The boy needed to know! He needed to understand before he came face to face with the Dark Lord. He needed to know that he had to die.
‘Lucius! Lucius! Have you found him? Have you found Draco?’
Snape came to a halt. Some feet to his left, protected by the shadows of a crumbling wall, stood Narcissa Malfoy, reaching out for her husband, who was hurrying towards her.
‘I haven’t,’ Lucius replied, panting. ‘The Dark Lord, he doesn’t want me to... He sent me to find Severus.’
‘I don’t care what the Dark Lord wants,’ Narcissa cried. ‘We need to find our son. We need to bring him home.’
‘I can’t, Cissy,’ Lucius replied, his voice breaking. ‘The Dark Lord… I have orders… I must find Severus.’
‘You have found me.’
Against his better judgement, Snape cast off the charm that had been veiling him and joined the Malfoys in the shadows.
‘Severus!’ Narcissa exclaimed, sinking to her knees and clasping his hand. ‘Have you seen Draco? Have you seen my boy?’
‘I have not,’ Snape replied, pulling Narcissa up onto her feet. ‘Where is the Dark Lord?’ he enquired, turning towards Lucius.
‘The Shrieking Shack,’ Lucius replied. ‘He wants you.’
It’s over, Snape thought, his heart sinking. Voldemort had connected the dots. He thought that he had understood the secrets of the Elder Wand and had therefore called for its master, the master he would have to slay in order to gain the wand’s allegiance. Severus Snape would die without having fulfilled his last task. He had not found Potter, and the boy would be unprepared when he met his nemesis. The Dark Lord would be victorious.
‘Find Draco,’ Snape told the Malfoys. ‘Find him and get as far away from here as you can. Lucius, you have kin in France. Go there. Disappear.’
‘He will find us,’ Lucius replied, desperation ringing in his voice as he held out his left arm. ‘No matter where we go.’
‘You have to try,’ Snape insisted. ‘Now go. Find your son. Save him.’
They ran right out into the battle. Blinded by fear, neither Lucius nor Narcissa knew where they were heading, and Snape understood that they would never succeed. In fact, they might die before they even came close to finding their son. They needed protection. They needed guidance.
Snape looked down at his wand. It might be useless to even try, he thought. Darkness and desperation was spreading inside his heart, and he doubted that he would be able to cast the spell. And even if he did, he did neither know if the Malfoys would follow his Patronus nor where it would lead them. But they were his friends. He had promised Narcissa to help protect her son. He had to try.
At first, nothing happened, but still Snape kept his wand aloft. He wasn’t about to accept defeat just yet. It might be too late for him to help Potter, but he would at least try to save Draco, one last innocent life.
His wand arm started to tremble, but Snape stood tall, searching deep in his mind for a happy memory. He saw a candle flicker, heard the sound of slow, regular breathing. He looked down and saw a little hand lying in his, fingers entwined. Then the candle went out, and Snape feared that he had failed. But instead of darkness, there suddenly was a light, a bright silvery light. A swan shot from the tip of Snape’s wand, spread its wings and rose into the air. It dived down over the Malfoys, flew ahead of them, leaving a silvery trail for them to follow, and Snape stared after the majestic bird, his mouth open. Was he dreaming, he wondered. This couldn’t be. His Patronus had always been a doe. Always. His blessing and his curse. But now it had changed form, and as Snape watched the swan glide through the open gates of Hogwarts castle, he felt his heart grow warm. There was still hope, he thought. There would always be hope.
‘Let me find the boy. Let me bring you Potter. I know I can find him, my Lord. Please.’
Snape refused to give up. There was still hope. There bloody well must be! He would be given another chance to approach Potter. Even better, if he were to bring Harry Potter into Voldemort’s presence now, the boy armed with knowledge the Dark Lord had not, they might be able to bring the monster down together. It could work. It could! If only Voldemort let him go. But the Dark Lord seemed – for the time being – not interested in Potter. Instead, his eyes and his mind were on his wand. The Elder Wand. The Death Stick. He was concerned that once he met Potter, the wand would fail him, just like his old wand had failed him, just like Lucius’ wand had.
‘My Lord, let me get the boy,’ Snape pleaded once again, trying to win time. But Voldemort would have none of it.
‘The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its last owner,’ he explained. ‘You killed Albus Dumbledore. While you live, Severus, the Elder Wand cannot be truly mine.’
No! NO! It mustn’t be this way, Snape thought, gritting his teeth. He wasn’t ready. Potter wasn’t ready! He must get to the boy! He must tell him! He could not die now. He mustn’t! But the Dark Lord swiped the air with the Elder Wand, and seconds later, Snape screamed as Nagini’s fangs pierced his neck. But he didn’t scream from pain. He was screaming out his desperation, his hopelessness. He had failed after all.
His knees gave way, and he fell to the floor. Desperately he tried to staunch the wound in his neck with his right hand while trying to get his left hand into his pocket. He mustn’t die. Not now. He wasn’t ready. The boy was not yet prepared. He had to try the potions. He must at least try. The Phoenix tears, they would help. They would keep him alive. But when he thrust his hand into his pocket, all he could feel was a cold stone and realised that his phials, the vessels that held his salvation, were in his other pocket. He coughed and spluttered and tried to move his hand. But his arm was heavy as led, and he understood that it was too late. The blood loss and Nagini’s poison had weakened him. It would only be a matter of minutes until his organs would stop functioning, only a matter of minutes until he perished.
Then he heard footsteps. Out of nowhere, the Potter boy appeared. He was approaching him, bending over him, and Snape’s heart once more filled with hope. It could still work. There could still be time.
‘Take it,’ he managed to bring forth, seizing the boy by his robes. ‘Take it.’
He could feel the memories leave his mind. Those memories which he had harboured so carefully and protected from the Dark Lord for so many years. They left him and left behind a coldness that chilled Snape to the bones.
‘Look at me,’ he whispered, pulling the boy close. He wanted to tell him what to do with the memories he had just been given, wanted to tell him how to use them. But he felt his mouth fill with blood, his throat, his nose. He was drowning, unable to utter one single more sound.
Staring into the boy’s emerald green eyes, Snape let go off Harry, and his hand thudded to the floor, limp and lifeless. He had nothing more to give, was empty even of emotions. He was tired now and wanted to sleep, slip into well-deserved rest. From far away, he heard the Dark Lord’s voice. It reverberated from the walls and the floor, and as Harry Potter jumped to his feet, Snape felt an urge to once more grab the boy by his robes. But he was unable to. He could neither move his hand nor speak, and as he heard the boy leave the room with his companions, he felt the coldness devour his heart. He should have known, he thought, blankly staring into the darkness. He should have foreseen that he would die like he had lived. Alone. All alone.
A spasm went through his body, made him convulse and involuntarily close his hands to fists, and in his left pocket, his fingers closed around a little piece of metal.
‘Hope!’ he croaked as his eyes suddenly locked onto a pair of green emeralds.
He was delirious now, Snape was sure of it. He couldn’t be looking into Hope’s eyes. He was lying on the dusty floor of the Shrieking Shack, and his dying mind was playing tricks on him. He had looked into Potter’s eyes before everything had become dark. Lily’s eyes, almond shaped and emerald green. Hope’s eyes, framed with dark lashes, holding the promise of a smile that was destined for nobody but him. What he was seeing now was but a memory, the last he’d ever have. His last and his most precious.
One last time, he tried to draw breath but found that he could not. There were iron bands tightening around his chest, pressing the last air out of his lungs. The green eyes vanished from his sight, and as darkness drew in over him, becoming denser by the moment, Severus Snape felt himself fall into nothingness.