Chapter 10: Godric's Hollow
"Candy corn," Snape snapped at the large gargoyle as he approached the hidden entrance to the office. It shifted aside to reveal the moving stairs, and Snape started climbing them two at a time without breaking stride. At the top of the stairs, he knocked loudly with the polished brass doorknocker.
"Come in!" he heard the Headmaster say. Snape opened the door and stepped in, closing it behind him.
Dumbledore was standing next to one of the several small tables in his office on which the Headmaster kept his collection of magical instruments. Snape deduced he had interrupted an investigation of some sort, as Dumbledore was still carefully putting one of the instruments back down on the little table where it was kept when Snape entered.
"Good evening, sir," Snape greeted him.
"Good evening, Severus," Dumbledore replied with a smile. "To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
"Something strange just happened, that I thought you should hear," Snape told him.
"Yes?" Dumbledore prompted, his face taking on a look of concentration.
"I received an unusual summons from the Dark Lord," Snape explained. "Far more…urgent, then usual. Abruptly, while I was still leaving the school grounds, it ceased completely. Once I did pass the gates, I attempted to Apparate to the Dark Lord's side, but found myself back where I had started. The Dark Mark on my forearm is gone."
"One reason it could fail is if he were in a location not his secret to share…" Dumbledore said, thinking aloud as he walked towards the portrait of the former Headmistress whose other portrait was in the Potters' hiding place. "Pardon me," Dumbledore said, rapping his knuckles sharply against its frame. The witch started, opening her blue eyes and shaking her head as if to clear it.
"Would you be so kind as to check up on them for me, Ethelfleda?" Dumbledore asked her.
"My pleasure," the witch replied brightly. "That Harry Potter is such a charming baby-" she said, her voice stopping abruptly as the last bit of the hem of her archaic robes disappeared from view. She reappeared almost instantly, looking quite worried.
"I can't see anything at Godric's Hollow. The portrait at #11 Gryffin Lane is no longer hanging on the wall!" she said.
Dumbledore paled. The portrait's disappearance from the wall of the cottage was a bad sign; far more ominous, Ethelfleda had just uttered the secret in the presence of Severus, which ought to have been impossible.
"She should not have been able to say that in front of me, surely?" Snape asked urgently.
Dumbledore's wand appeared in his right hand as if by magic, and he hurriedly waved it about as he muttered an incantation. Snape recognized it as a localized lifting of the anti-Apparition barriers of the school.
"Wait here!" Dumbledore commanded.
"I'm coming along," Snape contradicted him. Dumbledore nodded curtly as he Disapparated. Snape followed, before the traces of the Headmaster's passing grew too faint.
Dumbledore Apparated to the street out in front of the cottage, outside the Anti-Apparition wards he had helped to set. That something terrible had happened was instantly apparent – where the cottage had stood there was now a shambles. He turned first to the bushes where Mundungus was supposed to have been on duty.
Snape arrived in an unfamiliar location, to find Dumbledore ahead of him. In the moonlight, he could see a ruined building standing in an expanse of lawn, a row of trees separating it from the rest of a small village. Dumbledore had paused at a clump of shrubbery, and Snape saw what appeared to be someone's lower leg lying under it. The lack of accompanying gore was explained when Dumbledore bent down and grasped a handful of grass. As he straightened, it proved to be a large piece of silvery-grey cloth. The Invisibility Cloak, Snape realized, which had been concealing what appeared at first to be a pile of rags with legs sticking out. The pile quivered as it emitted a prolonged, grunting snore.
Mundungus was merely asleep, Dumbledore noted with relief, though the soundness of that sleep was suspicious and worthy of further investigation once time allowed. Dumbledore stuffed the cloak inside his robes and proceeded swiftly down the graveled walkway that had led to the front entrance of the cottage. He stopped abruptly at the threshold, and Snape caught up with him.
At their feet, his eyes staring sightlessly up at the night sky, lay James Potter. There was not a mark on him, but Snape had seen that expression of shock before enough times to recognize a victim of the Killing Curse when he saw one. Heedless of the possible danger, Snape dashed into the rubble, lighting the tip of his wand.
"Lily!" he shouted. "Lily?"
Dumbledore followed behind him. Snape's precipitate entrance into the ruined cottage sent a portion of a wall tumbling down, but Dumbledore could see that Snape had jumped out of the way. The ensuing crash brought forth in answer a loud wailing.
Snape turned and clambered over the ruins of the house towards the sound. As he reached the top of a pile, he saw on the other side the source of the noise: a baby, with tousled black hair, sitting in his crib and crying loudly. The crib had been spared by whatever had destroyed the house.
Dumbledore, following behind, saw the baby too, and his eyes widened as he noted the livid red scar that marked the boy's forehead. The words of Sybill Trelawney in her prophetic trance returned to him: "And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not." Swiftly, he went over to pick the baby up and confirm the suspicion that has just entered his mind.
In the light cast by his wand, Snape saw a spill of bright red hair. Lily was lying on the ground in front of the crib. Dropping to his knees, Snape lifted her head carefully onto his lap. Unlike Potter, her face wore the calm expression of one sleeping soundly and her eyes were closed. Though he knew she would not have slept through the wailing of the baby above her, Snape gently brushed her hair out of the way and felt for her pulse. He had often wondered how it might feel, to touch that hair and that face. Her hair was as fine and smooth as the silk to which he had often compared it in his mind, the skin of her face and neck was warm and soft to the touch still as it must have been in life, but her heart beat no longer.
He had failed. How long he sat there, overcome by guilt and grief, he could not later recall. After all his efforts, after his warning, still, she was dead. Worse, he had only himself to blame, for his stupidity, his criminal thoughtlessness, in choosing to serve the Dark Lord. Better that he had died, somehow, on his way to the Dark Lord to tell what he had heard at the Hog's Head. That last thought brought to mind Potter's words, spoken only hours ago, not far from that establishment. "Sirius would die rather then serve Voldemort in any way!"
Abruptly Snape was filled with a rage like nothing he had ever known. He lowered Lily's head tenderly back down onto the rubble, and then looked about him for the wand he had carelessly discarded to check on her. Grasping it in his right hand, he rose to his feet.
Dumbledore, now standing beside him, gripped his shoulder, whether in sympathy or to restrain him, Snape could not bring himself to care. Without even a glance at the Headmaster, Snape pushed past him and scrambled back whence he had come.
"Severus!" the old man said, his voice ringing with command.
Snape did not even flinch. The sound seemed to be coming from far away, and had no connection to him.
Dumbledore flicked his wand in a complicated gesture over his head, and the air surrounding the foundations of the cottage thickened to form a barrier a man could not pass. He was not sure where Severus was going or why, but the rictus of hate twisting his harsh features suggested it was to no good purpose. After all Severus had done in the last year, he could not simply watch him throw his life away and make no attempt to get through to him. Moreover, if what his cursory examination of the boy suggested was true, he would still be needing Severus.
As he reached again the body of James Potter, lying in the rubble, Snape walked right into an invisible barrier that prevented him from going any further. Taking a step back, he blasted the barrier with the most potent counter-spells he knew, and then threw himself at it again. It had survived his counter-spells; he bounced off it. Feeling strangely out of breath, he paused to consider his next move.
"Unless you think you can lift my anti-Apparition jinxes instead, Severus, I suggest you speak with me," Dumbledore said from behind him.
Snape spun around and went back to confront Dumbledore, his wand raised.
"LET ME GO!" he shouted.
The Headmaster stood near the crib where Snape had left him. He held the baby in the crook of his left arm, the blanket wrapped around it warding off the chill night air. The baby's loud wails had quieted some. Dumbledore must have seen to the baby while he was kneeling on the floor next to Lily.
"Hush now," Dumbledore murmured reassuringly down at Harry, who had started at Snape's yell.
"Where are you going?" the Headmaster inquired of Severus with a mild expression, as he bounced the baby in his arm.
Snape wanted to scream, to throw something, anything, to shake that hateful calm on Dumbledore's face. How, in the face of what had happened, could he be calm? But it would accomplish nothing. He would save his energy to use where it was best directed.
"I am going to kill Black," Snape stated flatly, and lowered his wand. Dumbledore could not keep him there forever, and his resolve was not going to change, he thought defiantly. He took a deep breath, for his lungs seemed not to be working properly.
Dumbledore gazed at him over his half-moon glasses, his blue eyes grave. He felt sickened by the needless loss of life that night. The murder of Sirius Black by Severus and resulting life sentence, or Severus's death at Black's hands, would serve only to raise the count of squandered young lives.
"Leave him to the Ministry," Dumbledore said. "They will soon learn of Black's role in the murders."
"You're not going to talk me out of it!" Snape told him. "You might as well let me go." He noticed suddenly that he was shaking.
"I will," Dumbledore agreed, "after we talk."
"He's a traitor. He sold out his best friend to the Dark Lord. He deserves to die!" Snape said vehemently.
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow inquiringly. Severus had reached the point of trying to justify his decision. Perhaps, soon, he would be ready to listen.
Snape stared back, his face stony. He'd made his point, he told himself. If Dumbledore wanted to talk him out of it, he could outwait him. He stood silently, watching as Dumbledore soothed the baby and then set it back down in the crib, asleep.
"Severus," Dumbledore said, "you are quite right that if you choose to throw your life away in an empty gesture of revenge against Black-"
"Empty!" Snape spat.
"Black did not kill them, Severus," Dumbledore pointed out quietly.
"If not for him, they would still be alive," Snape contradicted him.
Dumbledore gave him a long, penetrating look. Snape, suddenly reminded that the same could be said of him, lowered his eyes, and then averted them hastily from the sight of Lily's body.
The body language was not lost on Dumbledore.
"As I was saying, I cannot prevent you from throwing your life away. But, as a favor to me, could I ask you to first briefly assist with a matter of some importance to me?" Dumbledore asked.
"What matter?" Snape asked brusquely.
"What do you think happened here, Severus?" Dumbledore inquired.
"The Dark Lord came here and killed the Potters!" Snape answered.
"Why would he do that?" Dumbledore followed up.
"Because of the prophecy, of course," Snape spat the words out bitterly. This was a transparent attempt to make him feel guilty, then, as if such a thing would change his mind now. Utterly pointless, for he did feel guilty, more than Dumbledore could possibly imagine. But Black was also to blame, and for that, Snape would kill him. If after he saw to Black, he then rotted away in Azkaban or died a traitor's death on the Dark Lord's orders, it was no more than he deserved.
"Indeed. The prophecy," Dumbledore said. Softly, as if saying them to himself, he recited the words Snape had heard that accursed night two years ago, "The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies..."
"So tell me, then, Severus, why is the baby still alive?" Dumbledore said into the silence that followed his utterance of the prophecy.
Snape stared at him, jaw hanging open momentarily. It was true, what Dumbledore said. In his grief, rage, and guilt, he had simply not given the circumstances any thought. Why would the Dark Lord leave the baby untouched in his crib after dispatching Lily and Potter? Something did not add up, here.
"Voldemort did try to kill Harry," Dumbledore explained to Snape. "The cut on Harry's forehead is all the effect his Killing Curse had before it rebounded at him."
"Then…the Dark Lord is dead?" Snape asked. Dumbledore seemed to consider the question a long time.
"It would make sense of your little conundrum with the Dark Mark," Dumbledore said, "but I have my doubts. Can you wait for a moment while I investigate?"
"Very well," Snape agreed grudgingly. As he watched, Dumbledore knelt on the rubble around the crib and carefully crawled all around it, feeling the entire area with his hands. He rose to his feet and wiped his hands off on the skirt of his purple velvet robe, leaving great dusty marks upon it.
"As I suspected," Dumbledore said. "I read the traces of Lily's death – the Killing Curse. Something unusual happened, though. Her death and her love, somehow, linger, and protect the boy. Her protection caused the spell of Voldemort to rebound upon him, which ought to have killed him. Yet I sense no trace of his final departure, nor can I find any indication that he fled, alive."
This account brought to Snape's mind a vivid image of Lily's final moments. The Dark Lord would have approached relentlessly, wand drawn and pointed straight at the baby in the crib. She must have stepped in front of him, barring his path, blocking the Killing Curse with her own body as it she could not block it with her magic…
And so she had died. The Dark Lord had killed her. The last of the rage at Black receded, swept away by a black wave of despair. She was truly gone, the one person who still regarded him as a friend, however little he deserved it. He shook his head, hopelessly, trying to clear his mind of these dark thoughts. The terrible emptiness remained, but he did jar loose a memory that might be of use to Dumbledore.
"I have heard it rumored that the Dark Lord has protected himself in some way from death," Snape said.
Dumbledore nodded, for that rumor had featured in one of Severus's reports. He now had the evidence before him that Voldemort had resorted to the darkest of dark magic to ensure his continued existence.
"I would like to make further investigations. From what I see here, I conclude that tonight was a temporary setback for Voldemort. If he is to be defeated permanently, I fear that it will fall to the boy."
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord," Snape said, his lip curling. The sleeping baby certainly did not look like a vanquisher of Dark wizards. "If you are right, the boy has not done so. Divination is an uncertain field of magic, and prophecies do not have to come true."
"There is truth to what you say about Divination, Severus," Dumbledore admitted, "but it does not apply in this instance. Trelawney's prophecy is true. With my apologies, I will ask that you take my word for it. This morning, Harry Potter woke up a happy little toddler whose destiny did not have to be in any way remarkable. Tonight, he is the One."
Snape considered what Dumbledore had just told him. What made him so sure? It came to Snape suddenly – the accursed prophecy was incomplete. It did not just trail off mid-sentence; there was a second part! This later part that he had not heard, owing to the interference of the barman of the Hog's Head, must include some prediction pertinent to the night's events.
While Severus digested this information, Dumbledore made a couple of gestures with his wand, lifting both the physical barrier and the anti-Apparition jinxes on the location. He had done what he could for Severus – now he needed to leave himself.
"There. You are free to leave," he stated. "I should like to follow the faint traces I can still sense of Voldemort before they are too faint to detect. It might be important to know more precisely where and in what condition he survives. I can't leave the boy, though, he is the key. If you could stop by Hogwarts and send Hagrid to me, that would save me a bit of time."
"Can Hagrid Apparate?" Snape asked. The groundskeeper was certainly performing magic on the sly, as the size of his pumpkins indicated. Apparition, however, was difficult magic, especially for one so large.
"No," Dumbledore said. "But he has ways to get around. He'll be by before dawn, certainly."
That would mean hours lost, Snape realized. Not to mention the loss of any advantage Dumbledore might gain with complete information, if it proved too long. Black could wait a bit longer, he decided.
"Would you like me to take him back to Hagrid?" Snape offered dubiously. "You could continue your investigation immediately, if I did."
"I would rather not risk having you seen with Harry," Dumbledore said. "When Voldemort returns, though with luck that should be many years away, I want you to be able to say that you were at Hogwarts tonight."
"Surely finding out what has happened to the Dark Lord is more important?" Snape objected.
"If you could stay and watch over Harry until Hagrid arrives, we could accomplish both," Dumbledore suggested. "I would not have you risk exposure needlessly. As far as I am concerned, our arrangement still stands."
Snape nodded his head in agreement.
Dumbledore suppressed a smile. Having agreed to do it, Severus would stay. In the time it took Hagrid to get here, he would have plenty of time to think things over, and Dumbledore was confident he would reach the right conclusions.
"Excellent. Here, use this," Dumbledore said, tossing him the Invisibility Cloak.
As Snape caught it, he saw Dumbledore point his wand, and something silvery flew out of it and sped off into the night.
"There, I have sent a message to Hagrid," Dumbledore said. "Well, then, I'm off to pursue those traces. Good night."
"Good hunting," Snape replied.
As Snape covered himself with the cloak, Dumbledore clambered out of the ruin. Out on the lawn Snape could see Dumbledore consulting an instrument he had apparently pulled out of a pocket, before vanishing.
Snape was left standing alone in the rubble. Well, he corrected himself, not quite alone. There was the baby. For the first time that night, he took a careful look at the center of all the night's events. His mop of unruly black hair reminded Snape unpleasantly of the boy's father and their encounter earlier. Potter had been arrogant as ever, so sure he knew everything, so sure he could not be wrong about Black. And he was dead because of it. Snape could not bring himself to feel any regret for James – his arrogance had cost not only his own life, but Lily's as well. If he had only listened... His earlier doubts about his own role in that conversation returned to him, and he forced them away, looking back at the child in the crib.
His face, peaceful in sleep and round like that of any other baby Snape had seen, looked like no one in particular. Certainly, Snape could make out no trace of his mother in those unformed, chubby features. His forehead was disfigured by a jagged cut in the shape of a lightning bolt. It was no longer bleeding, but still stood out a livid red against the child's fair skin. Snape suspected it would scar, though if indeed the cause of the wound was the Killing Curse, that scar was a small price to pay for his survival.
Snape's eyes were drawn unwillingly back to Lily. That was the true cost, her life for her child's life. Not worth it! Yet what choice had she had? To die before her child, as she had chosen, or to watch him killed, and live with that memory. That she had not done her utmost, that the death was something she might have prevented…he could almost envy her. He could. He did.
Sometime in the last year, he should have told her what he had done. He had not run into her once, but he could have arranged to see her, by owl or through Dumbledore. He had not. There had always been something else to do, there was the excuse that she should stay in hiding, that he was busy, but he knew the real reason he had not even tried. He had feared to see the friendly look in her eyes change to the cold contempt, or even hatred, he deserved. So now, instead, he could carry with him the memory of her face in the rubble, eyes closed forever.
Perhaps if he had told her, Potter would have believed him, this evening. Perhaps she would have taken the spy more seriously….
Sirius Black. Snape clenched his fists. He wanted to shout imprecations at him to the uncaring sky. No, really, he wanted to kill him. Damn Dumbledore anyway. He understood, now, why Dumbledore had stopped him, though. He, Snape, had lost everything that had made the game worth playing, but the game was not yet over, and he remained a useful piece, in a strategic position on the board. When the Dark Lord returned, he would have a part to play, if he was still around to play it. He could make his contribution to the defeat of the Dark Lord. Did he care, anymore? Perhaps he should go look for Black, after all…no; Lily had wanted her son to live, had died to give him that chance. It was the least Snape could do for her. He would wait for Hagrid, at any rate.
The Dark Lord was also to blame. He had turned Black, and he killed the Potters. Considered logically, if he was going to go kill anyone, it ought to be the Dark Lord. Snape bared his teeth in a horrible grin at the thought. Yes, he could talk about killing Black, but Snape had known, since he had first come to regret his decision to become a Death Eater, that the Dark Lord was an enemy beyond him. It was why he had so eagerly accepted Dumbledore's offer, a year ago. It had permitted him a measure of revenge against the Dark Lord, and enabled him once more to live with himself after all he himself had done in the Dark Lord's service.
Until tonight, his successes had been a source of satisfaction. A Death Eater arrested or killed based on his information, a life saved, a plan foiled, in these little ways he could strike back. In the face of his ultimate failure in the one thing that had mattered to him, they paled in significance. A small victory here, or another there, what did it matter to him?
Yet Dumbledore believed the final defeat of the Dark Lord possible, after tonight. That the baby he was watching over could make it happen. More, Dumbledore envisioned a role for him in that future. A sudden insight into the enormity of the trust Dumbledore had just shown him robbed him momentarily of breath. After all he had done, despite his failures, the Headmaster had just left that future in his hands.
Abruptly Snape became aware of a form walking towards the ruins of the cottage on the road. He raised his wand under the cloak and watched cautiously as the figure neared. He almost hoped it was an enemy – his guilt, and the sense of obligation Dumbledore's trust awakened in him demanded an outlet. However, he recognized by the enormous size of the person approaching that it was Hagrid. The Hogwarts groundskeeper was dressed as usual in his enormous overcoat and boots, and carried his pink umbrella slung over his shoulder.
As Hagrid approached the house, Snape retreated a few paces, to stay out of Hagrid's way as he retrieved the boy. He watched as Hagrid discovered Potter, a sight that tore from his massive throat a howl of grief and brought him to his knees. The spontaneous and unaffected emotional response of the groundskeeper tore at Snape's heart; and for the first time that night he felt that tears might come, but he remembered the need to stay hidden. Clenching his teeth, he stood silently and watched as Hagrid continued onward and discovered Lily, before his cries awakened the baby. The baby's loud wailing, mercifully, distracted Hagrid, who immediately scooped up the baby in his cupped hands and cooed at him reassuringly.
His responsibility discharged, Snape retreated. Silently, taking care not to disturb anything, Snape crept out of the rubble and headed for the row of trees. From that distance, he felt sure, he could Apparate quietly enough that Hagrid would be none the wiser.
Briefly, he considered going in search of leads on Black. No, he resolved, he would go to Hogwarts as the Headmaster wished, while it was still early enough to conceal his absence. Perhaps in the coming days he might manage to learn information that could lead to the arrest or death of Black from one of his fellows without arousing suspicions; or, if he was really lucky, he might run into him some dark night himself. He would continue to play the role of a loyal Death Eater, for however long it proved necessary, until the Dark Lord's return and beyond. It could not cleanse him of his guilt, nor repay the trust Dumbledore had placed in him, but then, nothing could.