And once again I take forever to update this story. Almost a year this time. I am so, so sorry to anyone who's still following this. And I apologize for what seems like a rushed chapter. I really want to get this story finished, but it's like pulling teeth getting it on paper.

As usual, please forgive any spelling/grammatical errors unless they are egregious, and in that case, please point them on. I would really appreciate some feedback on this to get me motivated to finish. Thanks and enjoy.

Chapter 45

It had taken years, years of careful planning and patience. Bellatrix was not an entirely unreasonable woman. She knew that she had a violent temper and a questionably precarious grasp on it. She knew that she was not patient, that she sometimes unrealistically expected results immediately. But in this instance, this plot, Bella had shown the patience of a saint.

For years Bella had been telling anyone who would listen that she believed Severus Snape's truest loyalties lay with the Order of the Phoenix. No one had listened. No one had been willing to see what she had seen.

Bella would admit, Snape had played his part well for so many years. Nearly the whole of their world was convinced that he was a Death Eater, despite that there was no concrete proof. It seemed that those in charge of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement—namely James Potter and the late Mad-Eye Moody—were particularly talented at losing evidence.

Snape's performance was flawless. Bella really couldn't give a concrete answer as to why she didn't trust him. It was a feeling, deep and instinctual. If she considered it logically, her wariness made no sense. If the Dark Lord trusted him, then who was Bella to go against her master? He had killed loyal servants for less.

But none of it mattered anymore. Bella had finally found the evidence, the incontrovertible evidence that would damn the traitor.

Bella's request for a private audience with the Dark Lord was granted quickly enough. It was not an unusual occurrence, after all. And she was among his most trusted, one with whom he shared his greatest secrets.

The Dark Lord had constructed a fantastic palace on Azkaban, one worthy of his majesty. Bella was nearly always on the island. The Dark Lord had given it to her, and it was a grand and wonderful token of his great affection for her. It was her domain. She was able to do as she pleased here. All of the prisoners were hers, to be played with at her leisure. The Dark Lord let her have free reign, and with no one to stop her fun—no Aurors or Order members knocking on her door—it was a truly horrific nightmare for those who had ever dared to deny her master.

And so, when she received word that the Dark Lord would admit her, she was only a brisk walk across the island from him.

Bella breezed into his throne room with all the grace that her esteemed upbringing and heritage bestowed upon her. She shut the great wooden doors behind her with a sharp snap. The room was dark, as it always was, illuminated only with torches that lined the walls. It was the perfect ambiance, the darkness providing the mystery and subtly illuminating the great power that her master wielded.

Bella bowed low before the throne on which the Dark Lord sat, her eyes downcast. She would not look at him until he allowed her that honor. It seemed an eternity that she was left waiting before his beautiful voice said, "Rise, Bella."

As always, a shiver of delight went up her back at the sound of that nickname. Oh, of course, others—dear and not so dear members of her family—used that name, but it was different when the Dark Lord said it. She was the only one that he bestowed such an honor upon. She was the only one he referred to so familiarly. There was a touch of formality with all the others, but never with her.

Bella stood, her back tall and straight, as she looked to her master. Coupled with that shiver of delight were the skip of her heart and the quickening of her breath. In any other, this might have been a sign of fear, but not with her. Never with her. Bella loved her master, loved him so dearly that even on the rare occasion that he turned his wand on her, Bella could not feel even the slightest animosity. She was not perfect, after all, not like her master was, and if he saw fit to correct her behaviors with pain, then who was she to judge? If he decided to punish her, it was with good reason. It would help her to become a better servant to him. That was all that she wanted, to be the best that she could be for him, to help him to achieve the greatness that he so deserved.

"To what do I owe the pleasure of your company," he asked, and Bella—despite her mature age—could have squealed with all the delight of a schoolgirl. But she pushed down the temptation, schooling her expression to remain calm. It would not do to get over excited and annoy her master before she spoke her piece.

"I come to speak to you about Severus Snape, my lord," she said, ducking her head when her master's lips twisted into an irritated frown. "Please, my lord, just let me say this one last time, and never again will I bring it up."

"You've been harping on this matter for years, Bellatrix," he snapped, fingers tightening over his wand. "Never has Severus given any indication that his greatest loyalties lie elsewhere."

"Proof," she said hurriedly. "This time I have proof!"

"Now, Bellatrix—"

"A patronus," she cried, and immediately she was hit with the Cruciatus Curse. Falling to the floor, Bella screamed in agony. The Cruciatus was her favorite of the Unforgivables to dish out upon her victims, but she herself was no stranger to it being cast upon her. She had felt its searing pain many times, but it was the Dark Lord's curse that was the most horrific. It was only when the curse rained from his wand that she ever considered that death would be better than those moments of hell.

The curse was suddenly lifted, leaving Bella twitching on the floor, desperately trying to pull herself to her feet, that she might prove her strength to her master.

"Patronus, you say," the Dark Lord asked curiously. It was not exactly a common spell on a Death Eater's most-used list. It was an advanced piece of magic, the embodiment of light magic, used for fending off Dementors. But the Dementors were under the control of the Dark Lord, and he did not want his followers shielded from the effects of the dark creatures. He wanted them to feel the cold grip on their souls, a very pungent reminder of the hell that would await them should they disappoint him.

"Y-yes, my—my lord," she stammered, her knees shaking under the folds of her dress. She clenched her hands into tight fists in attempts to hide the way they twitched.

"We know well that the Order has great use for the Patronus Charm," the Dark Lord said. "Had it not occurred to you, dear Bellatrix, that Severus made it a point to learn this spell so as to secure his position within the Order?"

"It is a doe, my lord," she said, bracing herself for the inevitable onslaught of the curse.

But the pain did not come. Bella stared wide-eyed at her master and was shocked to see that he seemed to be contemplating her words. This was it, she nearly cried in relief. She was finally being taken seriously.

"A doe," the Dark Lord repeated faintly.

"The same as Lily Potter," Bella continued. "Lily Potter, who Snape was most friendly with during school."

The Dark Lord's blazing eyes were narrowed. His great snake slithered around his feet, tongue flickering out. The snake seemed to have a special connection to its master, more so than what could be expected of a common animal. It seemed to reflect upon the Dark Lord's moods, and at that moment, it seemed most agitated.

"Call him to me, Bella," the Dark Lord said. "Immediately."

Bella did not hide her elation as she bowed, hurrying from the room to collect the traitor and bring him to his final punishment. Finally. Finally!

A doe, Voldemort considered as Bellatrix slipped from the room. A doe.

He had seen the Patronus of Lily Potter many times throughout the course of this war. He was no stranger to the sight of that silver doe. Nor was he a stranger to the sight of that very doe running alongside a silver stag, the Patronus of her husband.

Lord Voldemort did not care to perform the Patronus spell. Oh, he was sure that he could produce a most magnificent Patronus if he so chose, but what point would it serve? It was a waste of energy. The sole purpose of the Patronus was to protect the witch or wizard casting the spell from the effects of the Dementors. Dementors did not affect Voldemort as they did other lesser beings.

Lord Voldemort did not cast Patronus Charms, no did he expect his followers to. But Snape, there was a benefit to him using the charm. Voldemort could clearly see that. It would further ingrain him into the Order. It would show that he was one of them, to use it as they did. Yes, Voldemort could overlook that, but a doe?

He did not cast the charm, but he knew things about it. He knew that a Patronus took on the form of an animal, an animal that was significant to the caster in some way. Thus, this animal could change forms. Lily Potter's was a doe because her husband's was a stag.

And Snape's Patronus matched Lily Potter's.

Severus Snape had once professed great affection and longing for Lily Potter. He wanted the woman for himself. He had gone so far as to beg his master to spare her life after bringing news of the prophesy to Voldemort. Kill the man and kill the baby, but spare her life. As a reward, Voldemort had though to grant the young man his request, had his plans not changed with the capture of Sirius Black.

Severus Snape still loved Lily Potter.

Love, that ridiculous emotion, that foolish notion that Dumbledore so often preached the merits of. Lord Voldemort did not understand it. He did not see its purpose. What could love possibly do? What could it possibly accomplish that power could not? What chance did it have to stand up against strength and might? It was moronic to put hope and trust in love.

He knew that. But did Snape? How much did Snape love Lily Potter? Did he love her enough to betray his master? Did he love her so much that he had never fully been on Voldemort's side to begin with?

These were chances that Lord Voldemort would not take. The war had gone on for too long already. He had been resisted for far too long. All because of Snape.

No more.

The news came from the guards at the gates to the school. There was a body, and the headmaster should come immediately. Dumbledore had been with some of the top members of his Inner Circle, James, Lily, Remus, and Sirius. They followed down.

There was a body, sent no doubt by the Death Eaters. Sirius imagined they would have dumped it right in the school courtyard had there been a way to get through the wards. The walk—or near light jog—down to the gates seemed to take forever. A body. Whose? What friend had been taken this time? They had no received any word of a kidnapping, not one so significant that the body would be deposited on their doorstep.

There was a group of Aurors standing guard, more than was usual at the gates. They had obviously come to see what the commotion was. Dumbledore's voice was soft, but commanding, telling them to step aside. And what they saw burned into their memories.

Lily's eyes stared in absolute horror for an instant before she spun around, burying her face into James's chest as she shook with silent sobs. James's arms came up to embrace her automatically, but his attentions were focused solely on the mangled corpse before them. Remus's face was drawn and green, his body convulsing just a little as he fought back the impulse to vomit. Even Dumbledore was staring with an appearance of blatant, repulsed astonishment. While the part of him that was Gryffindor gaped in horror at the sight before him, the expression playing on Sirius's face was merely one of minimal curiosity and interest.

Severus Snape.

They had left his face mostly intact, or, at least, intact enough for them to identify the body immediately. But no other part of him had been spared. Bruised and cut and mangled and hacked. Bella's handiwork, no doubt, from deep in her playpen in Azkaban. He could see that his cousin had had a great deal of fun before the final blow was delivered. She had hated Snape, never trusted him and his commitment to the cause. She would have poured out all of her vengeance into his torture and killing.

Although that Light part of him was withering, not with mourning, he would say, but with disgust, he noted silently that he had seen worse. He had done worse. A small, strangled and grief-stricken noise escaped from Lily, and James drew in a sharp and shaking breath, drawing Sirius from his thoughts. With an almost casual wave of his wand, a sheet appeared and draped over the body. Sirius knew that the image would never leave Lily's mind, but at least now she would not have to look upon the actual thing.

Sirius's movement seemed to stir the others from their shock. Dumbledore moved first, swinging his own wand to levitate the body, bringing it with him onto the grounds and in the castle, no doubt to the back rooms of the infirmary. The others followed at a slower pace. Remus looked dazed, glancing around the grounds as if unsure what was happening. Lily hardly seemed able to walk, and James was supporting most of her weight. Sirius walked on her other side, ready to catch both of them if need be.

This was going to be extremely difficult for Lily emotionally—Sirius still needed a few minutes to process what this was going to mean for all of them and the war effort. Lily counted Snape among her dearest friends. They had known each other even before coming to school. Snape had been the one to tell Lily that she was a witch. They had remained friends despite the difference in their Sorting. Of course, they'd had falling out in fifth year—courtesy of James and Sirius picking on Snape as they were so want to do—but their friendship had been renewed and strengthened by Snape's turning spy for the Order all those years ago.

Sirius was positive that Snape was still in love with the woman, but it was one of those things that just wasn't talked about. She was with James, and that wasn't going to change, so Snape took what he could get in the form of friendship, and everyone kept to the status quo.

Jesus Christ, what in the hell were they going to do now?

I know. I didn't actually write Snape's death. I can't really write from his point of view (he's an awesome and complicated character that I just can't nail), and that's the only way I'd want to write him kicking it. I apologize for that, and for the rushed end of the chapter.