Prologue: The Magnificent Mind of Severus Snape
Severus was freezing to death.
No. Not possibly. Absolutely literally.
He had as many layers accumulated on his sinewy body as he could manage while still maintaining the ability to walk. Stacks of thick wool and fleece upon his back, scarves (which covered his entire face, save for his eyes) and hats and several pairs of socks underneath his heavy, leather boots (but only one pair of dense gloves, as his nimble fingers were still required, his wand held steadfastly in his hand)…countless layers. So many that he felt as though he was closer to being an animate, disgruntled pile of live clothing than a powerful, capable wizard.
Which was all well and good. Snape had been forced to resort to piling on copious amounts of loose-fitting garments in order to keep warm. He could not use magic… He did not dare… At least, not yet. Not until absolutely necessary. His own aura, even, was suppressed to a most minimal level. He would not risk triggering any kind of alarm, he would avoid that for as long as physically possible… Snape bemoaned the inability to instantly conjure up a steady stream of hot air or bluebell flames around his body to keep him warm. But all magic leaves traces, all spells give off a certain amount of energy—and Severus was certain that the Dark Lord would have enchantments in place to detect even the most minimal spell cast anywhere in the vicinity of his…his… In the hiding place. Even knowing that his former master was going to be asleep for at least another hour (though on any normal man the potion would last much longer…but the Dark Lord was no normal man), Snape would put off casting spells until he had to.
Alas, the layers. They were highly inconvenient. In fact, it had taken him nearly twenty minutes to get properly dressed before his excursion.
This was his second time in Antarctica.
The first time… Ah, well. It had been a…short trip. Severus had apparated in what he thought was appropriately warm attire. After all, he was only going to be there for a moment. It was a preliminary journey, just to look, just to investigate briefly and see if his suspicions held any weight…
What a rude awakening that had been.
There is no proper way to describe the cold that is Antarctica in July.
There is no proper way to describe what -75 degrees Celsius feels like, other than to say that it feels very much like -103 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is cold.
It is very, very cold.
Imagine the coldest you have ever felt in your entire existence. Now imagine that exact moment, and multiply it by precisely one hundred times. Now imagine that exact moment, except that now you are naked and your lungs are filled with solid ice. In addition to this, imagine that you have lost the ability to breathe.
Because that is how Severus Snape would describe that cold, and even that does not begin to do it justice. The cold was all consuming, paralyzing and horrific. He lasted approximately thirteen seconds before he apparated away, shaking violently, simultaneously frigid and feverish.
Fortunately (or, truly, not fortunately at all, because it had very little to do with luck and everything to do with his own foresight and superior intellect), Severus had several batches of pepper-up potion awaiting him, as well as a roaring fire blazing merrily in the fireplace of his quarters. Never had there been a more welcome sight than those dancing flames in his entire life.
The pepper-up potion was gone within minutes. All of it. It was the school's entire stock.
His ears were billowing clouds of steam for nearly an entire day afterwards. He'd had to tell the Dark Lord himself that it was because he was suffering from a cold and took, unwisely, too much of his own potion. He'd even gone into details about how very much he detested head colds. It had been most embarrassing. But, for whatever reason, the Dark Lord had found the continual jets of steam more amusing than annoying, and he'd believed him.
Severus truly was an excellent Occlumens. And, contrary to popular belief, the Dark Lord actually does have a sense of humor, even if he chooses to only express such sentiments with his closest followers. A very morbid, dry, and, admittedly, rather witty sense of humor. He had taken in the sight of Snape's steaming ears and actually laughed.
"I think you are lying to me, Severus," he'd chastised (and Snape had nearly suffered a stream of mild heart attacks, though his face did not show it), but his thin lips had curled into a sinister grin, his scarlet eyes gleaming. "I believe your tale about having a cold is a clever ruse, and the truth is that you are hot and bothered by my very presence."
Snape had exhaled. And then he'd been dismissed. Apparently, the steam was distracting.
Yes, it had been a very short trip indeed, the first time he'd come to Antarctica. But it had been enough. Even within such a small time frame, Snape had been able to deduce that it must be where The Undesirable was being kept.
The Undesirable. Snape scowled to himself as he trudged along the icy terrain under his many, suffocating layers. He had gotten very used to referring to the boy that way, and, he had to admit, the Taboo had a rather powerful impact on the wizarding world.
Fear of the name certainly does increase fear of the individual. Hardly anyone dared discuss the boy, but even when they did use the 'correct' term, it was always whispered, hushed. Harry Potter was no longer thought of as 'The Chosen One'… He was thought of now more as a ghost; his name, a curse…
And what a complicated bit of magic, that Taboo! When it had first been instilled, people could utter his first name alone—simply 'Harry' was impossible to put a rudimentary blanket hex on, it was far too common, snatchers would be chasing their tails all day long—but the Dark Lord, in all his ire, found even that unacceptable. It had taken some time to iron out the spell work, but in the end it was he, Severus Snape, who had managed it.
Originally it was a task set to Yaxley and Dolohov. But the blundering dolts were…well, blundering dolts. They had been floundering, and so, the moment that Severus was moderately healed and able to leave St. Mungo's, he had been asked to assist. The fools had been taking the Taboo hex far too literally. They were focusing on the actual words for tracking purposes as opposed to the intended, translatable thoughts. Language was simply a tool to express ideas, he'd explained to his supposed colleagues as if they were two of his less capable first year students. It was necessary, therefore, to connect the spoken words ('Harry', 'Harry Potter', or 'Harry James Potter') with the intended, intangible thought of that specific individual. It had been grueling, such complex and sophisticated mental magic. Dolohov and Yaxley would never have been able to manage it. But Severus was, if he did say so himself, rather smart, and the Mind Arts were his specialty (as was brewing Potions. And the Dark Arts. And Defensive Spells. And cooking, though he tended to keep this to himself… He had a lot of specialties).
'Harry', and even 'Harry Potter' could now be spoken while referencing another person, but when it was The Undesirable in your thoughtful intentions when you spoke the words, the Taboo was triggered.
Very intricate magic, indeed. And thus far it was quite effective. Though Snape hardly doubted that any witch or wizard in all of Britain would ever name their child 'Harry' again.
Severus outdid himself on a regular basis. Really. The Dark Lord had been most pleased when he had accomplished this task of the Taboo within two days, when both Dolohov and Yaxley combined had been failing for over a week. He was invaluable to his former master, even still.
That was very likely to come to an end today.
It had not been easy, solving the riddle of where Harry Potter was being held. For so long, he had, like many others, dreaded the worst. He had feared that the boy was dead and gone. But that did not prevent him and the Headmaster from searching, even despite the fact that Dumbledore was sporting a rather nasty curse upon his left hand (reckless, idiotic, foolish old man)… Albus had been quite certain in his belief that Harry was alive, so hopeful, and so he, Severus, had been hopeful, too.
It wasn't until his encounter with a certain Divination Professor that he finally found out why Dumbledore was so certain that Harry Potter was alive. The moment Sibyl had come back to herself, Snape had dropped her to the floor of the darkened hallway like a ton of bricks (it was one of his less chivalrous moments, he would later admit), marching right back up to the Headmaster's office, his breathing labored as though he'd just run a marathon.
He'd extracted the memory. Motioned for Albus to watch it in its entirety in the pensieve. The Headmaster, looking rather taken aback bu Snape's rapid return and distressed demeanor, had complied without question.
Once he'd fully, physically returned back to his office, Snape had expected him to look as panicked as he'd felt. But this…was not the case.
Dumbledore had actually sighed.
The Headmaster had slowly removed his glasses and rubbed his temples, suddenly looking very much the part of sad, withering old man. He did not looked shocked. He did not look disgusted or aghast. Once he'd placed his spectacles back on his crooked nose, he'd looked back up at Severus with no characteristic twinkle in those piercing, blue eyes.
What followed was perhaps the most uncomfortable conversation that he and the Headmaster had ever had. Which was really saying something, as he and Albus Dumbledore had shared a number of terribly disquieting exchanges. It had led to an even more painful discussion the very next morning, consisting of some of his least favorite students, about what lay ahead…
"It is up to you, now… Find Harry James Potter, at all costs…"
The Headmaster's voice haunted him on a daily basis. It was, perhaps, the last time he had heard someone say the boy's full name out loud. Until the Dark Lord had ordered the Taboo on it, at least.
A world of white. Asleep, safe and sound… A world of white… The Dark Lord holds him… A world of white… A world of white…
It was very little to go off of.
So over the course of the next month and a half, Severus had dedicated himself to finding out exactly where this mysterious location may be.
It was, naturally, exceptionally confusing and difficult. Especially considering that only days later Hogwarts was infiltrated (Draco, idiotic boy, refusing his help and not informing him of when, precisely, this attack was going to happen), Death Eaters were roaming the castle, and Albus Dumbledore, by his very unwilling hand, was dead.
The astronomy tower. The Headmaster returned from wherever it was he'd gone (infuriatingly having taken those insipid students with him, no less, but having insisted that Severus stay behind to guard the school), Draco had disarmed him, and Snape had, as expected, as anticipated, finished the job…
It was most dramatic. The torrid memory still woke him from his troubled sleep regularly.
Then, as if that traumatic experience hadn't been enough…the meeting happened.
That cursed, foul snake.
It had gone insane! Severus had not—would never, ever do—anything to provoke such a creature, and yet it had lunged at him as though possessed. If he had not managed to move in that moment, if it would have pierced his throat, as it had seemed so violently intent on doing… He shuddered, repressing that particular memory. It would not do to dwell on it, though his aching shoulder throbbed at the mere thought. It would never be the same again, he was certain of that.
For nearly a week, he'd been unconscious in St. Mungo's. Luckily, however, he was able to leave only a few days after that… They had, ostensibly, already created an anti-venom for this particular poison just a year earlier. Apparently a man named Arthur Weasley came into contact with the same kind of venom, a medi-witch had muttered thoughtfully, her brows furrowed… Such a strange, rare poison… Snape had murmured something very non-committal in response… Mmm, yes, very odd, indeed…
And so, for the most part, he was recovered. The Healers had wanted him to stay longer to recuperate, to monitor him; but Snape did not have time to linger on hospital beds and do crosswords while the Boy Who Lived was missing in some elusive 'world of white'. Grudgingly, the Healers had discharged him, and at once he was put to the task of perfecting the Taboo… The Dark Lord had sounded so very tired when he'd made the request, so very distraught, so stressed…
A Sleeping Draught, my Lord, I would advise… I, your humble servant, would be happy to make for you any potion at all, should you request it…
He, Severus, had been praised, been called his most loyal, his most capable… The Dark Lord had even repeated his statement of Lucius's incompetency, made a reference to, perhaps, setting the task to Snape, should Lucius become…unable…
Oh, I shall begin at once, Severus had thought vindictively behind impenetrable mental barriers.
A Sleeping Draught was provided.
The hunt began.
Snape dug through his many memories of the Dark Lord in a near frenzy during those few scattered, precious hours in which he knew the Dark Lord to be asleep. A world of white… Presumably, that more than likely referred to a mental state…but there had to be something, anything that could give him some kind of clue, some direction in which to focus… A world of white…
He'd relived memory after memory in which the Dark Lord would monologue theatrically (it was an interesting habit that his former master had. He loved to talk about his own prowess, especially to a fearful, subservient, and, in a sense, captive audience), searching for anything at all that could assist him in his task… A world of white… Asleep, safe and sound… A world of white… A world of white…
And one day, he finally found something.
It was a memory from years and years ago, when Severus himself had only just recently taken on the Dark Mark. He remembered this particular meeting quite well. The brand was still fresh, the pain still lingering…and he had been so young, so eager to prove himself. The Dark Lord's words had mesmerized him at this point, he was absolutely enthralled by the captivating entity that was the Lord Voldemort…how sickeningly nostalgic, he'd thought bitterly as he'd watched his former Lord pacing before his Death Eaters, vehemently giving an inspiring, passionate speech, his black cloak swishing about him in a most impressive and imposing way (Severus had decided to master that particular motion at once, he would use it on students all the time)…
"…I, who have explored the densest, wildest jungles and most barren, desolate deserts, I, who have ventured for prolonged, unheard of periods of time to the very top and to the very bottom of this planet, to those landscapes of crashing, arctic waves and blinding white, of howling winds and endless ice, and have discovered and manipulated the unique magical energies there—"
Blinding white. Howling winds and endless ice. The top and bottom of the world.
Could Trelawney's prophetic message of 'world of white'… Could it actually have been literal?
It was a bit far-fetched, but it was something.
The north pole, the 'top of the world', seemed unlikely. It was, after all, in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, and while there were decently sized masses of floating ice there, Severus did not think that it qualified as a 'world of white'. Besides, he thought shrewdly, the 'bottom on the world' seemed a better fit for the poetic tastes of his former master. It made sense. Harry Potter, the Chosen One… Where better for his prison then the very end of the Earth? He quite literally could not go any lower than that. Unless, of course, he was below sea level… Under the water, perhaps in the ocean, submerged to impossible depths—
Snape shuddered, but it had nothing to do with the overwhelming cold of the terrain. He did not want to think about that. Yet, on some level, he had managed to impress himself. Should he ever need to desperately hide a human hostage from the rest of the world for an indefinite period of time, he would put them in an enchanted, oxygen-replenishing prison in the vast depths of the ocean.
But that would be a 'world of black', not a 'world of white', and besides, he already knew that Harry Potter was here. Or, at least, he thought. He hoped.
Severus continued to trudge along towards where he could feel the undeniable traces of magic. Minimal, hardly tangible at all, but resolutely present. An ordinary wizard would be completely unable to even feel it, but Snape was no ordinary wizard. He knew dark magic, he knew the signs, and, most importantly, he knew the Dark Lord.
Lord Voldemort had a certain style to his magic. Snape recognized it like a signature.
He paused. He scanned the seemingly empty landscape intently, gripping his wand a bit tighter in his frigid palm. Blessedly, thankfully, the winds were minimal this day. But their distant howling filled his ears, a continuous, nearly vocal sound…
He was close.
Snape hesitantly lifted his leg to take another cautious, tentative step—
The ground exploded at his feet.
He barely dodged them in time—colossal shards of pointed ice erupted form the ground, pointed tips which attempted to slice him in half as they flew violently upwards—they broke free from the white earth at a rapid pace, one after another after another, and Snape dove forward, certain, now, that he was heading in the right direction—he was on the run, clumsily sprinting as best he could, yet with each step he took, another deathly-sharp ice fragment sprung forth from the ground at his feet, like infinite, endless land mines, and he knew he could avoid it no longer—he needed to use magic, it was the only way—
'Pacem Omnino!' Snape thought vehemently as he ran, brandishing his wand like a baton above his head. It was the most powerful anti-hex he knew of—
The explosions stopped.
Snape continued to run for a few short moments in case it was a trick, but the ground had ceased attempting to skewer him. He looked behind him, panting. It was almost comical, the way that the little mountains of ice remained there, a perfect indication of the path he had run on. He'd apparently been sprinting in a bit of a zig-zag.
Well, he thought sourly as his breathing slowed, there was no point in being subtle, now. If Lord Voldemort had been awake, he surely would have felt that.
He needed to hurry.
Snape turned his attention at once toward that dim, magnetic pull. Wards. An infinite array of them, masterfully interwoven so as to create one, nearly impenetrable barrier.
Severus set to work at once. Dismantling wards had been another one of his many specialties, a technique which he had honed during his years of service to the Dark Lord. As a matter of fact, it had been he, Lord Voldemort himself, who had taught the young, eager Half-Blood Prince how to do it. The Dark Lord was an excellent teacher, and Severus an excellent pupil.
Snape was, perhaps, the only wizard left alive who could penetrate and shatter these wards as quickly as he did. It was very possible that no one else would have even been capable at all, actually. The Dark Lord had an intricate, clever way of spell-casting that was very unique, very misleading… But Snape knew it, had studied it, had admired it… Even now, as he deftly and swiftly manipulated the interlocked frequencies of the wards, which fit into each other like an abstract, mis-matched puzzle, he appreciated just how ingenious it was, how cunningly deceptive… If some auror were to go about attempting to dismantle this barrier in the typical manner of breaking wards, they would immediately trigger a curse… Snape could feel it, the powerful hex that was waiting there, but he could not decipher what, precisely, it was without setting it off… Lethal, certainly; horrific and dramatic, probably… He did not intend to find out…
He felt a slight burning sensation in his forearm. That was…foreboding.
Finally, he had it. The wards fell gently apart, like unraveling fabric, and then were gone. Snape congratulated himself. He deserved far more praise in his life than he received, really.
Here. He had to be here.
"Aparecium." Severus cast a wide-reaching revealing charm, hoping that he was merely disillusioned…and, ah, yes, he had been, Snape felt the connection with something— something had been affected by his spell…but nothing appeared…
Frowning, wand still held high in anticipation, Severus began walking, wary—
Severus was generally not one for cursing. He found the practice rather distasteful, truly, an abysmal, dirty habit. Unsophisticated. But the pain which shot up his leg was just cause for such a profane exclamation, because even with his many (one would think 'cushioning') layers, whatever dark magic had speared his shin was rather unexpectedly painful—Snape instantly feared the worst, some terrible hex he had not foreseen, and he envisioned his leg becoming black and deadened and withered like the Headmaster's hand—
But then he saw it.
He could only see it now because he had disturbed it, making its silvery edges partially visible when it moved. Potter's Invisibility cloak. And it was resting on something, some surface that was just a few feet from the ground…and he had run into it, that was all—the throbbing pain in his shin was not the work of dark magic, it was the merely the repercussion of having collided with something solid (which, now that the terror had ebbed away slightly, he realized was not so debilitating and agonizing—though it did still hurt).
With a slightly trembling hand, he reached out, pulling the cloak towards him—his heart was hammering like wild, frenzied—he held his breath—
It was, perhaps, the most awkward moment in Snape's life.
In hindsight, he would not be sure why he had been so shocked.
Harry James Potter.
Severus had found him, all right.
Well, really, what had he expected to find? The boy sleeping comfortably on his bed from the Gryffindor common room? Lying curled up in a sleeping bag on the icy ground, perhaps?
He had, evidently, not expected to find Harry Potter lying in what appeared to be a transparent, glass coffin, hovering just below his waist. His body covered in countless, nearly invisible, glistening threads that connected with the clear walls…Like filaments made of diamonds, reflecting the light in a rather bizarre yet oddly beautiful way…
'…Safe and sound… He sleeps…'
Hadn't that been what the foul woman had said? Wasn't he supposed to be asleep? He clearly wasn't. His eyes were open, wide and staring right at him, though as he stared back into them he noticed that they were…unfocused…
The glasses were gone. The startling eyes were unobscured, and the familiar green irises struck him like lightning. His heart gave a horrible, wrenching throb. He felt bile rising in the back of his throat.
Harry slowly blinked. It was only then that Severus realized that his gaze was absolutely vacant. Hollow. When he shifted slightly to one side, those deadened eyes did not follow him. They continued to stare into empty space, as though fixated on something far in the distance which only he could see. Snape felt as though the very air had been stolen from his lungs.
How long had he been awake?
The mark on his arm gave a sudden, painful throb.
"Shit." Two swear words in such quick succession, this truly was a monumental day. Severus shoved the invisibility cloak into an interior pocket in one of his many layers. The adrenaline continued to rush through his entire body. If the pain on his forearm was any indication, the Dark Lord was on to him. Perhaps he had felt the wards being dismantled, even while asleep…
Would he deduce with certainty that it was, he, Severus, who had done the dismantling?
Snape dearly hoped not.
But he pushed the thought of that very unwelcome, very likely outcome aside, focusing instead on the broken boy before him and his terrible containment. He ran his fingers along the surface. It was surprisingly warm. Based on the many enchantments that he could feel embedded within the vessel, it was clear that this—this box—was never meant to be opened. It was intended to be permanent enclosure.
Severus wet his lips. This was going to be…this was going to be difficult.
He conjured up several balls of bluebell flames to surround him. There was no point in being miserably cold while he worked, at least, not anymore. He then placed both of his hands on the top of the coffin, his wand still intertwined between his fingers, closed his eyes, and began to pull at the enchantments, prying them apart…
The mark on his arm was burning lightly, a continuous, though still slight, pain…
After a few tortuously long minutes, he had removed all of protective spells which prevented the case from being unbreakable. There were other curses present there, too, but nothing damning…
His arm gave a particularly painful throb, and Snape grit his teeth. There was no time to go about this gently. He looked down at the vacant gaze of Harry Potter, feeling almost guilty for what he was about to do. He pulled the topmost layer of his monumental ensemble off of his back.
The container was obviously filled with warm, comfortable air. But even with the bluebell flames dancing around them, which made the immediate area at least somewhat tolerable, nothing, nothing would be able to prepare the boy for this cold.
Another painful rush from his mark. Snape quit deliberating. He raised his wand, pointing it directly at the coffin—
The effect was immediate.
Harry was instantly snapped out of whatever trance-like state he had been in. He inhaled a sharp, audibly painful breath, he body instantly convulsing, going into shock—
Snape descended on him at once, wrapping his naked body in the heavy black cloak. The boy trembled violently as the dazzling, magical threads that had been attached to him vanished. His whole body was shaking, and, as Snape gathered him up, he clung to his chest fiercely, desperately, as though his very life depended on it.
Which it did, of course.
Severus wasted no time.
He held the quaking boy in his arms like a (very distraught, very unhappy) bride, and took to the air. The bluebell flames followed suit, encircling them like a glowing, fiery guard.
Flying. Another skill taught to him by the Dark Lord himself. An ability which he really underutilized, he realized suddenly.
Once he was a sufficient distance up in the sky, high above the white, barren landscape, Snape pointed his wand towards the ground. Directly at the newly shattered, glass coffin.
The jet of flames which erupted was spectacular.
It was small, at first. But fiendfyre takes very little time to get out of hand, especially with sufficient fuel—which Severus provided in earnest, as he conjured up various, random objects (mostly furniture—his creativity was lacking at the moment), and sent them crashing down into the abyss. Fiery beasts began to take form, snatching viciously at the fodder he provided them… Flames became serpents and dragons and all sorts of other monstrosities, and an untamable sea of flames was rapidly consuming a vast stretch of land. The heat rose up to meet them, and though the air around them was now rather warm, Harry continued to shake in his grasp…
Snape gave the tumultuous flames one last scrutinizing examination. He congratulated himself again. Honestly, from a strictly professional and critical standpoint, this was a deeply impressive firestorm he had created. And it was still growing.
Feeling satisfied with his handiwork, Severus gripped the traumatized boy more tightly to his chest, and disapparated.