A/N: Here's my take on book 7. But tread lightly friends – there might be OCC-ness that will reach up and grab you. But hey, it's my story and my Severus…er, I mean…our Severus. So if you'd rather not read, then don't. Now, on with the introduction of our hero and heroine…no, not that hero…

Chapter 1- The Shadow with an Explanation

The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.- Pearl S. Buck

He stood in the shadows, watching the funeral from the eaves of the Forbidden Forest. His face was heavily lined with grief and horror at what he had done that night. All for the sake of a young man who had never wanted to become attached to the evil villain of his nightmares. Again, he cursed Narcissa for making him swear that Vow. The damnable Vow that had destroyed everything, including his beloved mentor who trusted him implicitly, who trusted him to make the sacrifice.

Was it worth it, Albus? thought Severus as he watched the many witches and wizards sitting in the chairs, some weeping, some staring blankly in front of them. He saw Scrimgeour sitting next to McGonagall, glancing at his pocket watch. McGonagall was sitting silently, her head bowed. His eyes roved over the crowd and spotted other members of the Order - the werewolf and his beloved Tonks, Moody, Shacklebolt, bushes of red hair that could only be members of the Weasley clan. The students were all seated on the side closest to him. He saw the Golden Trio at the end of one row, along with the Weasley girl. Lovegood and Longbottom were sitting in the row behind them. He saw very few of his Slytherins - Zabini was in the very last row next to some younger kids who looked like first or second years.

He shook his head. My Slytherins, he thought morosely. He leaned against the tree next to him, crossing his arms over the black robes he wore. Eventually, the wizard standing before the crowd stopped talking and people rose to leave. Severus stood silently, watching the crowd break off into smaller groups. One group in particular caught his attention.

A dark-haired woman was talking to Lupin and Tonks. Lupin seemed to be saying something of great importance, his hands making slashing motions in the air. The woman was shaking her head. Tonks placed a hand on her shoulder, which the woman shrugged off. She turned and stalked away from the couple. Lupin made to follow her, but was restrained by Tonks's hand and a shake of her head. The dark woman pulled a hood over her head, and continued walking towards the edge of the forest.

Severus pulled out his wand and cast a hasty Disillusionment charm on himself as the woman walked straight towards where he was standing. The woman came close enough for Severus to see the glistening of tears on her face. She walked into the forest, directly past where Severus was hiding. She stopped suddenly, lifting her head and turning around. She smiled sadly.

"I know you're here," she said. "Disillusioned would be my guess. You always hated Invisibility Cloaks for some reason. I need to talk to you."

She stood still for a few seconds. She didn't flinch at all when Severus reappeared suddenly, his face impassive. He looked back at the crowd, eyes darting back and forth.

"I see your charm work is still a little splotchy," said the woman. "Your shoes were still slightly visible. Not that most people would have noticed today. You always did have problems with Disillusionment."

"Is that how you knew I was here, Samantha? My shoes?" sneered Severus as he turned to look at her, anger in his eyes.

"No," she smirked. "You're the only man I've ever met who smells like sandalwood. Besides, who else would hide in the forest at Albus Dumbledore's funeral?"

"I wasn't exactly invited to this little event," said Severus. He turned to stare at the crowd. "What is it that you wanted to speak to me about?"

"I want the truth about what happened," said Samantha. She took a step towards him. "I want to know how you of all people A.K.ed the most powerful wizard of our age after spying for the man for almost 17 years."

"Yes, you and everyone else in the Wizarding world," sneered Severus. "Why don't you go and get Potter and we'll make a Daily Prophet event of it."

"Severus -"

"You know what, Samantha, even if I told you, I highly doubt you would believe me. Why don't you go back before the werewolf comes hunting you down?"

Samantha crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. "I've known you since we were first years, Severus. Try me."

Severus stared at her for a moment. He checked the crowd over his shoulder and began to pace back and forth, a trembling hand held up to his thin, pale lips.

"How much do you know?" he asked, not stopping to look at her.

"Not much," admitted Samantha. "Just what Remus told me. Something about the Dark Mark being shot above the Astronomy Tower, your godson letting Death Eaters into Hogwarts through Vanishing cabinets, and Harry Potter seeing everything and being out for your blood. Although he also mentioned that Albus had been gone from Hogwarts until right before the Mark appeared, which I thought was strange."

"Yes, he and Potter were Horcrux hunting out in a cave somewhere," sneered Severus. He didn't bother elaborating any further, his anger at Albus threatening to choke him.

"They were what?" gasped Samantha. Her arms dropped to her side. "Well, I suppose the Dark Lord has had enough victims to make himself one."

Severus stopped pacing and looked at Samantha in shock. He had never even heard of Horcruxes before Albus explained this hair-brained idea. However, he wasn't about to tell her that. He continued pacing.

"Oh, no," said Severus softly, "not one. Seven. Seven Horcruxes, Sam."

Samantha's eyes widened. Seven horcruxes? It was absolutely unheard of.

"Yes, the Dark Lord never likes to be unprepared for anything," said Severus. "Potter unknowingly destroyed one four years ago, and Albus nearly died destroying another last summer. One piece resides within the Dark Lord's mutilated body, one in a locket belonging to Salazar Slytherin -"

"THE Salazar Slytherin," cried Samantha. "As in founder of our House, Salazar Slytherin?"

"Are you familiar with any other Salazar Slytherins, Samantha?" asked Severus. He shook his head. "Now, as I was saying... the locket, a cup bearing the crest of Helga Hufflepuff, another in some other school relic - something belonging to Ravenclaw or Gryffindor. Although my personal leaning is towards Ravenclaw due to the fact that the only known relics of Gryffindor are sitting pretty in Albus's office."

"Bloody hell," whispered Samantha. "That's six. Where's the other?"

"Oh, yes," said Severus with a sarcastic smile. "The Dark Lord has a familiar, a large grotesque snake. Albus thinks - thought -- the Dark Lord has hidden a chunk of his essence inside his beloved Nagini."

"And Albus told you all this?" asked Samantha skeptically. "He just explained this whole theory to you?"

"Well, the Dark Lord wasn't about to expound on this to me, of all people, now was he?" hissed Severus.

"Severus, your sarcasm is unappreciated at the moment," said Samantha. She raised a hand to her temple and closed her eyes. "And you say that Potter was with Albus, looking for this one in the cave, correct?"

"Yes," said Severus, "So it's safe to assume that Albus told Potter of the others as well. He's been having private lessons with Albus all year long. The History of the Dark Lord, from what I gather - childhood, coming to Hogwarts, the after-graduation job - whatever memories Albus could find of Tom Marvolo Riddle."

"Okay," said Samantha slowly, "So that explains why Albus was out of the school when the Mark was shot off. What does dear Draco have to do with any of this?"

"Oh, this is a good story," said Severus. He chuckled as he thought about how screwed up his life had become after that day last summer. "As you know, Lucius got into a bit of trouble last year at the Department of Mysteries."

"Yes, something about a Prophecy that doesn't exist," said Samantha.

"Oh, I assure you, that prophecy does indeed exist," said Severus. "The Dark Lord only knew the first half of it thanks to yours truly. This was all before I started spying for Albus. The loyal sycophant that I was, I reported as much as I had heard. Well, the Dark Lord goes to murder the Potter boy in the hopes of outmaneuvering this Prophecy. You know that story, I'm sure, as well as my turning before Potter and Lily were killed. Well, fast forward to two years ago. A young Gryffindor finds himself in the company of a rat and a dead Hufflepuff at the end of the Triwizard Tournament. A little bone from Riddle Sr., a hand from Pettigrew and Potter's blood, and we have ourselves a resurrected Dark Lord who starts to regroup his followers. Albus sends me back to my job as a spy.

"The Dark Lord spends the entirety of the next year in the pursuit of this damn prophecy in order to hear the entire thing. He plants dreams in Potter's head via that lovely scar about the Prophecy Room. Eventually, he stumbles across the brilliant idea to lure Potter to the room by making him think he's got that mutt Sirius Black captured. Well, needless to say, it was a trap. Lucius was waiting with Bellatrix and others. Potter had brought some friends with him, and they outran and surprisingly outdueled about a dozen of the Dark Lord's finest. I had seen Potter before he left and guessed that he would run to the rescue, so I alerted Albus and some Order members. They arrived and captured some of the Death Eaters. Black was sent through the Veil by Bellatrix. Potter, in his typical cavalier fashion, chased her into the Atrium, where the Dark Lord showed up and learned that the Prophecy was gone. Albus dueled with him for a bit, but he disapparated with Bella. Lucius was sent to Azkaban, the Dark Lord was furious, and I became the Dark Lord's second-in-command." He paused, his mind sifting through various memories of the day in Umbridge's office, frantically searching the forest for Potter and the meeting with Albus after the battle.

"But why didn't Albus tell us this story? All he told us was that Guard duty was unnecessary from now on and that Sirius had been murdered in the Death Chamber at the Ministry! He never said a word about all this fighting and about Potter being involved! I thought the papers were making stuff up!"

"Albus decided that the less people who knew all the details, the better," spat Severus. "I told him that was a bad idea. I thought all the Order members should know what had happened. Turns out, no one questioned the story that Albus told. He told me not to say a word, and I assume the same went for those who actually showed up at the Ministry that night."

Samantha shook her head in exasperation at Albus's decision. If they had known all this before…

"So," continued Severus, "a month later I'm at a meeting and the Dark Lord speaks of a plan to kill Dumbledore. He tells me that he doesn't want me to do it, says my position is too valuable to be involved directly. He says he's got a younger initiate he wants to complete the task. A chance for the recruit to prove himself worthy of the Mark."

"Draco," said Samantha, the pieces falling into place a bit.

"Yes," said Severus as he continued to dig a ditch in the ground with his pacing. "I didn't know it was Draco until Narcissa shows up at my door in tears, Bellatrix in tow, and begs me to watch out for Draco and this 'task' that he had been given by the Dark Lord. She - she made me swear an Unbreakable Vow to complete the job if Draco failed."

"Oh my God," breathed Samantha, "and you took it? Knowing what would happen, you took the damn Vow, Severus?"

"What choice did I have, Sam?" shouted Severus. "Bella has never believed I returned to the Dark side completely. If I refused to take the Vow, she would have known that I wasn't loyal to the Dark Lord and would have reported me. I'd have been dead before the next morning. So I took it. I took the Vow, promising to watch out for Draco, and if he failed in his task -"

"- that you would do it," finished Samantha. "That if Draco couldn't kill Albus that you would do it for him."

"Yes," whispered Severus. "I knew Draco would fail. He doesn't have the stomach for being a Death Eater. And while he may be brilliant in Potions, he has no brains when it comes to strategy. He was bullied into it with threats against Narcissa. The boy's nothing if not loyal to his family." Severus's cloak whipped violently as he spun on his heel to change directions in pacing. "While Albus and Potter were taking trips down Memory Lane, I was trying to get Draco to tell me what he was planning. I had already told Albus about the Vow. He didn't bat an eyelid. Told me I had done the right thing in securing my position in the Inner Circle. Said he knew I would do the right thing when the time came. Sam, I spent the whole year trying to get Draco to let me help him. I thought that maybe I could somehow find a loophole in this Vow that would not end up with Albus dead. Now that I think back on it, Albus dying was unavoidable. He had suffered a Dark curse when he destroyed one of the Horcruxes. I helped to stop it from spreading entirely, but the curse was slowly and painfully killing him from the inside out. Then he went to find the locket." Here, Severus ran a shaking hand through his lank hair and exhaled loudly.

"We had had an argument earlier in the month. I told him I couldn't spy any more. Draco was barely speaking to me at all. I had no clue as to what he was planning. Several students had already been nearly killed in his half-assed attempts to kill Albus, one of them a Weasley, for Merlin's sake. Albus said that I had agreed to do this, and that I would have to keep playing the role of the Dark Lord's most trusted advisor to the very end, even if that meant killing him so that Draco wouldn't have to. He was adamant about protecting Draco… you would have thought Draco was his grandson. I was horrified. There was no way out of it, except by my dying, which Albus expressly forbade me to do. Then Albus leaves to go get the locket in the cave. All hell breaks loose. Flitwick comes running into my office screaming about Death Eaters in the castle and the Dark Mark hanging over the Tower. I couldn't disclose my true loyalties due to the fact that we needed someone to keep an eye on the Dark Lord to make sure he remained ignorant of our crusade to kill him. I stunned Flitwick and told the Granger and Lovegood girls to help him to keep them out of the way. I ran up to the Tower and saw the Order fighting off other Death Eaters along with several of Potter's friends. But Sam, when I opened that door at the top of the Tower, the man I saw was literally dying before my eyes. Draco was standing there, his wand half-raised along with Greyback and some other idiots. With Legilimency, Albus told me he had drank Dementor Essence in order to get the locket. That potion's nearly fatal in minute amounts. Albus had drunk enough to kill him on the spot. Amazingly he was still alive. If he hadn't taken Potter, he would have never made it back to the castle."

Severus took several deep breaths, trying to ease the constriction in his chest at recounting that night's events. "I knew Potter was somewhere on the Tower. He must have been under his Cloak and immobilized in some way or he would have had Draco disarmed by the time I arrived. I raised my wand and cast it. I hated Albus right then. He knew that I would have had to do it in the end. He knew! And the damn Potter brat!" Severus scoffed harshly. "The idiot came running after Draco and I, heedless of any curses that could have killed him in an instant. I stopped some of the other idiots from killing him or capturing him, but do you know how the boy repaid me? He called me a coward. Me, the man who had to betray his own soul to murder the man who I loved more than my own father, a coward."

Severus stopped pacing, his eyes closed, trying to keep from seeing Albus's body fly over the wall of the Tower, from seeing that sickening green light dim those sparkling blue eyes that held such hope and love - hope and love for the most undeserving person on the face of the earth. He felt a pair of arms wrap themselves around his waist.

"I'm so sorry, Severus," whispered Samantha. Her eyes welled up at the sight of tears streaming down his gaunt face. She held him as he put his arms around her and started to shake with silent sobs of grief.

"What am I supposed to do now, Sam," whispered Severus. "I can't do this without him. I can't, Sam. I can't."

"Severus Snape, you listen to me," said Samantha sternly. "You have to keep going." She placed both hands on the side of his face and forced him to look at her. "You have to keep doing what Albus wanted you to do. You can still spy for us even though he's gone. You can still get us information -"

"Samantha! No one in the Order is going to believe that any information I give them is worth believing!" said Severus, exasperated. "Every single one of them believe that I killed Albus in cold blood, that I'm a true Death Eater and betrayed them all. You should have heard them after Emmeline was killed! If Albus hadn't convinced them that I knew nothing of that attack, they would have crucified me on the spot! No one will believe me now!"

"I believe you, Severus," said Samantha quietly. Her chocolate brown eyes bore into ones of obsidian black. "I trust you, love. I have faith that you can do this."

"Samantha, I'm not going to put you in this position. You're already in danger for being an Order member. They've hunted you since graduation. Being my contact will only make matters worse." He bent his head to touch hers with his forehead. "I can't lose you, Sam."

"You're not going to lose me, Severus," said Samantha softly. "You didn't put me in this position. I chose this, just like I chose you all those years ago when we were still in school and ignorant of life outside the castle walls, before the deaths and murders and Dark Marks. And I still choose you, no matter what anyone else says. You can't keep pushing me away in the hopes that I will suddenly be free from danger. The last time you tried to do that, my parents ended up dead."

Severus smiled sadly as he pressed his lips to her forehead. "That's the most annoying habit of you ladies in Slytherin House. You will do anything for the ones you love." He looked behind him and saw Lupin walking towards where they were standing. "I've got to go. If your werewolf of a cousin finds me, I won't make it to dinner alive. I'll contact you if I come across any information. Au revior, mon amour." He ran farther into the forest. Samantha heard a faint pop as Remus reached the edge of the forest.

"Sami? Sami, you in there?" called Remus, as he pushed aside some low branches.

"You know I hate it when you call me that, Remus," said Samantha as she walked forward to meet her cousin. Remus gave her a slight bow.

"What kind of cousin would I be if I didn't know that, my dear Miss Ives," said Remus. He straightened his thin frame and gave her an intense look. "Are you okay? You ran off and then you were gone for a long time."

"Yeah, I'm okay," lied Samantha, "I just needed to be by myself for a while. I didn't want to argue anymore. Not today, not here."

Remus pressed his lips together in a thin line. "Well, Nymphadora and I are going to my place for dinner. You're welcome to join us if you want."

"Umm, no thanks, Remus," answered Samantha. "I'm pretty tired from today. I think I'll just go home." She followed him past the white marble tomb and the rows and rows of empty chairs. "Did the students already catch the train?"

"Yeah, they left about 20 minutes ago," said Remus. "Harry's going to his relative's for a while, I think. Then he'll be at the Weasley's for the wedding. He was very vague about after that. Said something about going on a trip with Ron and Hermione."

Samantha's steps faltered ever so slightly. Potter was going after the Horcruxes. Did he already destroy the locket?

"Oh, I see," said Samantha, thinking quickly. "You know, I've never been properly introduced to young Mr. Potter. I would love to meet him sometime."

"I think we can arrange that," said Remus with a wink. "I'll try and get him to visit and have you both over for dinner or something, what do you say?"

"Sounds wonderful. Oh, looks like your beloved is waiting for you by the gates, Lover Boy," teased Samantha, pointing to the pink-haired woman by the gilded gate.

"Then what am I doing here talking to you?" said Remus with a cheeky grin. He gave her a kiss on the cheek. "See you, Sami. I'll owl you about dinner with Harry."

"Goodbye, Remus. Say hello to Tonks for me."

"Will do. Be careful going home."

"I am always careful, dear cousin," smirked Samantha. With a flick of her cloak, she turned and disapparated.