(A/N - Chapter 83 - Now with functional font! Sorry about that guys!)
Looking over the massive piles of junk Snape realised one thing rather quickly … he had no idea where to start. Perhaps he should have let Potter join him. He sighed as he pulled a galleon out of his pocket and pressed it.
James was almost back to the common room when he felt his coin heat up and he had half a mind to ignore it after what Snape just pulled. Still … He knew he wouldn't call him if it wasn't important. With a sigh he turned around and walked back to the room of requirement, being stopped once by Filch and having to explain that he'd left his textbook in the hall on the sixth-floor window ledge.
A few moments later, the door of the Room of Requirement swung open, and James stepped in, looking highly annoyed and still very damp. "This had better be good," he said, looking around at the difference in the room before spotting Snape by a stack of chairs.
"You want to help, then you can help. We need to find something in here." He said.
"Now you want my help?" James shook his head. "For all you know, I just came back because I forgot my Invisibility Cloak," he grumbled, but he neared the pile of junk anyway.
"Let's get started, the faster we do this the faster we can destroy it."
"What exactly are we looking for, oh cryptic one?" James asked, his eyes scanning the mountainous terrain of junk.
"I don't know," he said, going over to a different pile and starting to look through the items.
James stared at him, his shoulders slumping in exasperation. "If you're going to keep playing games like this, I can't help you."
"I'm serious, I don't know what we're looking for. It would have been something that would have been important or meant something to the dark lord." He said. "Perhaps something to do with the Hogwarts founders."
"Oh, that narrows it down," James said testily, looking through the mess. "Something old, creepy, and possibly Hogwarts-associated. Got it."
"Yes, smart ass. Something old, and possibly Hogwarts related. It doesn't have to be creepy. I know one of them was a diary, the other was a ring. It could be anything really." He said, starting to climb up one of the towers and picking some things out.
"If that's really all we have to go off of," James said. "Then we should bring in more people. We're going to be at it for eternity with just the two of us."
"And who do you suppose we get?" Severus asked. "No one knows I'm here."
"Evans does, unless you've obliviated her," James pointed out. "And you know Remus can be trusted with a secret."
"How would I have obliviated her?" Severus asked sounding quite annoyed as he tossed a book into another pile of junk. "Think before you speak, Potter." He said, shaking his head. "Who else can you think of to help?"
"I was being sarcastic, you condescending ass," James said. "Anyway, there's Evans, Remus, and … I don't know, McFagan?"
"McFagan can be trusted, yes. Anyone else?" He asked, tossing out another book.
"No one comes to mind," James said, thinking it over. "At least no one we could be completely sure of."
"Get Black as well. He already knows I'm here. Plus I feel like this is a task he'd absolutely hate, so anything to get on his nerves." He said, throwing a wadded up piece of paper he'd found at James.
The wad of paper caught on James' shoulder, and he brushed it off. "Yes," James said, a little shocked that Snape had even suggested it, and not at all in the mood to deal with Sirius right now. Dealing with Severus was irritating enough. "But then we'd both have to be around him. And he'd likely slow things down anyway."
"Just get them," Snape said, climbing further up the pile with some difficulty.
"Fine," James said, not wanting to argue about it any further. He made his exit, going to notify each of them.
Lily and Remus were easy enough. Sirius … well, finding him was easy. Avoiding any signals that could be misconstrued as a renewal of friendship, or a desire to hang out, in the face of Sirius' stupid hopeful eyes was another matter. As a dog animagus, he'd had far too much practise honing "the eyes," and it didn't help that, lately, he gave off kind of a kicked puppy vibe either. Fortunately, James was still pissed off enough from dealing with Severus that it took a little less effort.
McFagan, unfortunately, was in the Slytherin common room. Just hanging outside that place gave him the creeps. He waited until a girl he was fairly certain didn't have any rumoured Death Eater affiliations came by, and requested that she get McFagan for him, under the guise of needing a Charms tutorial.
Finally, he made it back to the Room of Requirement alongside McFagan, to find that Snape had already put Lily, Remus, and Sirius to work on his vague scavenger hunt.
"McFagan?" Sirius asked. "What the bloody hell do you think you're doing here?" He asked, jumping off the pile he was on and tossing a muggle torch into another pile with a clatter as he came over. Snape looked over at the advancing Gryffindor but didn't interfere.
McFagan stiffened, but before he could respond, James stepped in. "He's been a reliable member of the resistance group for some time now," he said, glaring back at Sirius. "So I trust you'll be able to work with him."
Sirius stood where he was, glaring at McFagan. "But he's …" He stopped, glancing back at Snape a moment before looking at James. It would be just as easy for them to obliviate him and kick his ass back out as it was for them to bring him into it. "Okay …" Sirius said, walking away from them and going back to where he was. "Snape, you're going to fall on your ass with that bum leg of yours." Sirius snapped, digging into his pile again.
"He's fine," Lily said, her hand brushing briefly over Sev's shoulder before she went back to searching through the pile. "And I've got him if he does."
Severus smiled slightly at Lily and went back to what he was looking through.
"Oh, gross … You two are a thing?" Sirius asked, "Isn't that against school rules or something?" He asked, leaning against a pile of a chairs his arms crossed over his chest before the whole thing came topping over, Sirius sprawling backwards.
"If Sev were still doing the teaching apprenticeship, maybe," Lily said, with a glance back down at Sirius, before she picked up what appeared to be an antique clock, then set it aside, shaking her head.
"Great, we're all on the same page," James said, tossing aside a map of 18th century Cornwall. "Can you all stop talking about it now?"
"Someone's a bit sour," Snape said, climbing a bit closer to Lily and looking through more junk. "Is something bothering you?" He asked making McFagan laugh slightly.
"Will you two both stop trying to goad each other into a fight and keep looking?" Remus asked, slipping off his pile and landing hard on the floor, though he got up a little sore but fine.
James looked down at Remus but saw that he was fine. "I'm not trying to goad anyone into anything," he snapped. "I just want to find the Dark Lord's mystery item and be done with it."
"I'm assuming he never had a stamp-collecting phase?" Lily sighed, picking up an album with a meticulous curation of postage stamps.
"What are stamps?" McFagan asked, looking up curiously.
"It's a Muggle thing," Lily said, tossing the album over her shoulder.
"We should have some music playing or something. This is boring." Sirius said, using his wand to fix the pile of chairs.
"Just keep looking, Black," Snape said.
"We don't even know what we're looking for! How do we know this isn't it? Huh?" He asked, picking up a random red and blue plastic box.
"Because somehow I don't think the dark lord was all that interested in Perfection, especially with the yellow pieces missing," Snape said as Sirius looked down at the strange box and tossed it across the floor, a chunk of plastic flying off of it.
"Is there really any way to know for sure if he used to own something, just by looking at it?" Lily asked. "I mean, there's plenty of things we can rule out here, but even if we do find something, how will we know?"
"Try to break it," Severus said. "If it breaks, it's not it."
There was an immediate crash from Sirius' direction, a shattered globe on the floor at the bottom of his mountain of detritus. "What?" he said with a shrug as James glared at him. "He said to break things."
"You think that was the Dark Lord's globe?" James said testily.
"Well, not now, no," Sirius said, rolling his eyes as he went back to digging. Severus sighed as he continued looking. McFagan walked through the aisles of items looking them over, a few items catching his eye, but a quick bend showed they were easily broken. He kept moving, the sound of chatter and arguing fading out as he moved to the other side of the room of requirement.
Lily stayed close to Severus as she searched, mostly finding and tossing aside junk as they worked through the pile. James, meanwhile, wandered off as far out of sight from either Severus or Sirius as possible, which made it difficult not to roll her eyes. Potter may have come a long way in maturity, but he seemed to have taken a jump backward today.
It was five hours of constant searching, Sirius having started complaining three hours ago. It was nearing one am, and Snape wouldn't be surprised if there was a full search team looking for them. If anyone even noticed that was, or even cared.
"This is useless Sniv- …. Snape," Sirius said, breaking another lamp by tossing it off the pile with a flick of his finger. "Why don't we just incinerate the entire room and whatever's left is you know who's thing?"
"Because that would take a tremendous amount of magic, and a make a lot of mess that we'd still have to look through to find what isn't fully broken." Snape said.
"We need some kind of system to do this more efficiently," Remus suggested, sorting listlessly through a collection of Muggle comic books.
"More efficient than 'burn everything to the ground,' or 'just keep looking forever,' you mean?" James said.
"Or maybe stop wasting time looking through things like muggle comics," Severus said annoyed as McFagan started climbing a large pile somewhere in the centre of the room.
"There were other things in that box," Remus said, less than thrilled at the criticism. "There still has to be a better way to go about this."
McFagan pulled over a piece of plastic that looked already broken before he saw something slide on the pile and still again, settled in place. It was a plain dark blue box, flat and square, but it looked old and tattered. Snape had said something about the founding fathers, and blue was Ravenclaw's colour. It could be nothing, but something seemed to draw him to it.
He climbed sideways on the pile, nearly slipping, a glass falling and shattering on the floor and he realised now how high he'd climbed. He swallowed nervously as he picked up the box and opened it, his eyes widening with shock. He couldn't believe it. If he guessed right, it was the lost diadem of Ravenclaw! It was something to do with the Hogwarts founders.
He picked it up out of the box and almost instantly felt his mood drop significantly, though that did nothing to quell his excitement as he shoved it into the box and into his coat and started climbing down.
"I FOUND IT!" McFagan yelled. "I FOUND IT!" He yelled again, reaching the bottom and running over to where the rest of the group was looking. He pulled it out of his jacket and opened the box to show them.
"Did you try to break it?" Sirius asked, getting to the bottom of his pile and going over.
"Well no, but-" Sirius didn't let him finish as he took it from him and threw it into the floor as hard as he could. The diadem remained in one piece but Sirius wasn't convinced and stomped on it as hard as he could.
"Black …" Snape said, reaching the bottom of his and Lily's pile. "It's glass, you would think it would have broken from the throw." He said, sounding almost bored as he stared down at the diadem. It was it … Even the feel of it … It felt wrong even just to be around it. He had an unnatural crawling sensation under his skin. "Put it back in the box."
"Sure," Sirius said, picking up the diadem, his expression abruptly changing as he did, as if he'd just heard about some terrible tragedy. He quickly shoved it in the box and closed it.
As soon as it closed Severus brought it over to the table where the Basilisk venom and the sorting hat sat. He could already see a piece of shining silver inside. "Potter, get the Sorting Hat. It's going to have to be you to face it."
Lily glanced over questioningly at Severus but waited to see what happened.
"Face what, exactly?" James said, going over to the hat.
"I don't know." He said, pulling the lid off the basilisk venom. "I do know it will try to defend itself … Try to make you feel weak. It will verbally attack you. Try to make you believe things that aren't true …" He said. "At least … From what I heard."
"You-Know-Who enchanted a tiara to verbally attack people?" Sirius said with an incredulous look. "Seems a bit girly, as sinister plans go."
"Oh, shut up, Padfoot," James sighed. He would rather just get today over with. Looking down, he saw the glittering pommel already there in the hat, as if it had been somehow waiting for it. Tentatively, he drew it out, undeniably in awe of the way it glittered in the light, it's history an almost tangible weight in his hand.
"Okay," he said. "I admit this is cool."
"Is that the bloody sword of Gryffindor?" Sirius asked, shocked. "How the hell did you get that?"
"He pulled it out of the hat, obviously," said McFagan, though his eyes were wide too. "Like King Arthur."
"Still," said Remus. "Strange hats lying about the castle distributing swords …"
"Is no basis for a system of government," Lily finished the quip, before adding, "Especially where Potter is concerned."
"Thanks for the confidence," James said, shaking his head, before taking it over to Snape.
"Hey!" Sirius said as Snape took the sword carefully from James, even looking at it you could tell it was still insanely sharp, but that was Goblin steel for you. "Why are you giving it to him?! It's the sword of Gryffindor!"
"Do you want the thing destroyed or not?" Severus asked.
"We don't even know what it is!" Sirius said as Snape ignored him, lifting the sword up carefully so that it was tip down. He lowered the tip of the sword into the jar of bright yellow venom, the liquid slowly rising up into the blade, absorbing into the metal until the jar was empty. He pulled the sword out, the metal leaving a strange yellow hue before that disappeared and it was back to its regular colour. "We still have a backup if this doesn't work, but it should." He said, carefully handing it back to James.
"Hey, that's not going to … You know … Venomize him if he cuts himself with it?" Sirius asked cautiously, nervous about James handling the thing.
"He'll be fine unless he cuts himself so bad he bleeds to death. Potter, as much as that would remove a thorn from my side, I would appreciate it if you didn't do that." He said stepping beside the box.
"I wasn't exactly planning on it," James said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. Barely.
"Everyone else back off, we don't want it latching onto the wrong person," Snape said as James stood in front of the box.
"Anything else I should know before we do this?" he said, with a sharp glance over at Snape, a nonverbal invitation to make things right from earlier this evening. To be forthcoming with him, just once.
"Destroy it quickly," Snape said. "Are you ready?"
James' eyes narrowed slightly, but he nodded, turning away from Snape to keep his eyes on the box. "Ready," he said.
Snape flipped the lid open and jumped back the Horcrux seeming to jump alive at the nearness to the sword of Gryffindor and the basilisk venom, one of the only things that could destroy it and it was as if it knew.
After just a second's hesitation, James advanced on it, holding the sword ready to attack. If the diadem had nothing else up its sleeve, he didn't see why he should have any trouble destroying it. As James lifted the sword to strike the diadem seemed to explode upwards in a cloud of black billowing smoke knocking all of them a couple of feet back, Snape's cane clattering across the floor and hitting the base of the wall on the other side of the room.
"I have seen your dreams James Potter, and I have seen your fears." They all watched with wide terrified eyes, hearing Voldemort's hissing voice emit from the cloud, small formations coming out of the cloud forming into several dark cloud-like rats that skittered across the floor towards James' feet.
James hissed out a curse under his breath as he jumped back, freezing up as the rats skittered forward. "Is that all you've got?" he demanded, forcing himself to continue forward, back toward the cursed diadem, though every nerve was tense, his eyes on the darting rats.
"Living a life diverged from its original course. Your greatest love taken from you by enemy turned ally." Severus sat up and from where he sat he saw an image of Lily appear in the smoke.
"POTTER, DESTROY IT!" Snape yelled as a smokey image of himself appeared, much older as if from his previous life, his teaching robes billowing around him in smoky wisps. The smoke form of Lily shifted, her belly protruding, her hands rubbing over her belly, but he knew that couldn't be possible. Not from him, and James knew that. "IT'S LYING!"
"You know she should be yours!" Voldemort's voice hissed. "You know her child should be yours! Yet you stand and do nothing. Turn to your enemy James Potter. Stop him, before he can take more from you. You've seen what he's done!"
"POTTER DESTROY IT!" Snape yelled again.
"You know the misery he put your son through. He was only a child. Your child." The voice was eerie, wispy, almost snake-like and everyone stepped back, Snape's eyes wide with fear. It was saying too much … "The people he's tortured … For me … How many would have lived if not for him?"
"POTTER NOW!" He yelled angrily.
"Kill him." Voldemort's voice whispered.
"Shut up," James hissed, trying to block it all out. "Both of you!" He knew none of this was real, he knew that, but the feeling of despair and anger pulsing through him with every heartbeat was impossible to deny.
He looked away from the illusion of Lily, pregnant … Even knowing it was impossible, it was just too painful. It hurt more than he could have imagined, to be reminded of the future they could have had together … But no. He reminded himself that Lily had made her own choice, that she had never been his to lose, that there was nothing waiting for them in that future anyway, nothing but death. He was over it, or he'd thought he was, anyway. But seeing her pregnant tipped the scale back. He'd been so proud hearing about the son he would have had, the kind of person Harry became in that other life, and this … this was just a slap in the face.
Taking a shuddering breath, trying to focus back on the task at hand, he looked up again, only to look directly at that older version of Snape. Cold. Distant. Sneering, condescending, disdainful, looking more aloof, more superior than ever. James' anger doubled. He looked past the apparition, straight at the real Snape.
Severus stood up slowly, staring up at the thing that was still goading James into killing him. He wondered if this was too much for the boy to handle … "James … You know it's lying! It's toying with your emotions, it's using your own negative thoughts against you! You have to destroy it!"
"I know what it's doing!" James shouted back at him, the anger and hurt reaching a boiling point, as several more spectral rats ran by, mocking him. "It's not even doing a good job! It doesn't even understand why I'm pissed at you in the first place … But you still don't trust me to handle it, do you?"
Before anything else could happen, Lily stepped in front of Severus, blocking him from view. "James," she said quietly, meeting his eyes. "Just finish this."
James' throat tightened. Lily was determined, but she looked pale and scared … of him. He nodded, and advanced on the diadem, bringing the sword up to slice through the illusions, disbursing them like black smoke, before he swept the blade down hard, smashing the diadem against the floor.
Black smoke billowed up violently as the object screamed, the smoke separating from the diadem and shooting out straight towards Snape. Before he had a chance to react the smoke shot straight through him, knocking him back, the air rushing out of his lungs, his entire body becoming cold and numb, all so quickly that he didn't even feel his back hitting the floor.
"Severus!" Lily yelled, finding him on the ground before she could turn. She crouched down next to him, her hand going to his shoulder, alarmed at how cold he felt. "Are you alright?"
James ran over, the sword clattering to the ground behind him, Remus drawing in close, looking for any sign of what effect the clearly dark magic might have had on Severus as it dissipated.
"Maybe you should give him some air," McFagan suggested uncertainly, eliciting a quiet nod from Sirius, who hung back, looking stunned.
Severus gasped like a drowning man finally reaching air and shot into a sitting position, panting heavily as he finally managed to breathe again. His eyes were eerily white before it faded back to its regular black as he laid back down again on the floor still panting for air.
"Severus?" Lily asked again, her hands on his shoulders as she looked down at him, his face stark white, eyes wide as if in shock. "Are you okay?"
Severus nodded as he lay on the floor. He felt like an electrical current was shooting through his chest, stuttering like a taser in his heart.
"Yeah." He said as the feeling started to fade, leaving his chest with a dull ache. "My chest hurts … But I'm fine." He said sitting up and looking at the diadem which now had a large crack through the middle, looking a lot duller than it had moments ago.
"Is … is it over?" James asked, following Severus' gaze back to the remains of the diadem. It certainly looked destroyed enough, but that hadn't stopped whatever had just happened to Snape in the process.
"Yes …" Severus said, hesitantly picking up the diadem before struggling to his feet. "It's over … For now. There's four more. This is one of five."
"Five what, exactly?" James said uneasily. He didn't exactly look forward to facing more apparitions like that again.
"I'll tell you in private." He said. "Stay here … Everyone else get back to bed. It's late." He said before heading towards the door of the room of requirement.
"Are you sure?" Lily asked, not wanting to leave him so soon after what had just happened. He may have said he was fine, but she had no way of knowing what kind of lasting effects dark magic like that could have on him. "I could come back after you're done talking."
"You can stay." He said, "I'll talk to you both."
"Oh, and we don't get to know what the bloody hell that was?" Sirius asked.
"If James decides to tell you, he can." He said.
"James now is it? Since when have you two been buddy-buddy. And what the hell was all that about." Sirius asked turning to James. "What did it mean Snape took everything from you? 'Living a life diverged from its original path?" He asked James.
"It's … complicated," James said, shaking his head, too exhausted to get into this now. And anyway, it wasn't his secret to tell, particularly to Sirius of all people. "I don't want to talk about it right now."
"What do you mean you don't want to talk about it now? After all that?" Sirius asked.
"You two can argue about it tomorrow, Black. Go to bed, get some sleep. You still have training tomorrow morning." He said, putting his hand on Lily's arm a moment before he left the room listening to Sirius try to argue with James who was surprisingly remaining calm.