Snow fell, enveloping the world in a white oblivion, snagging on the limbs and branches of trees as it made its cool descent to earth.

Everywhere he'd gone, it was snowing.

The flakes, caught in the folds of his long, dark robe, refused to melt and instead took to shining with that dangerous glamor of sharp-ended icicles and puddles frothed with crackling ice. His eyes, the only modicum of black left unspeckled by the storm, roved the forest and searched it with all the kindness of a January tempest. He'd been frigid with students, sending them off to detentions with the biting sting of the first cold snap, icy with colleagues, and as distant with everyone else as a man trapped in a solitary squall.

For Severus Snape, the epitome of all things winter, it had been snowing for quite some time.

Suddenly, a great glob of snow hit Severus Snape right on the head. This rather ruined the poetic mood and caused him to lash out at it, brushing the chilly slush away vexedly and not giving one fig about its literary meaning or that he had been the subject of its extended metaphor.

He was in a horrible mood, seething silently in a not-quite-so empty forest, preparing once again to rend his heart open for the sake of a seventeen-year-old boy. In the end, he concluded caustically, everything really was Harry Potter's fault.

Rummaging in a small bag as he approached the lake, he eventually extracted a long, silver sword from its depths, one that should not possibly have been able to fit the tiny dimensions of the pouch. Then, with a wave of his wand and words that were carried away on a passing flurry, a silvery vapor took form beside him.

He ought to be emotionless at times like these, as unfeeling as a glacier. That was his job, was it not? He ought to carry out his mission with deft hand and cool logic, never wavering, never hesitant to act, ready to sacrifice anything for his goal...

The doe rounded the pond, its reflection skimming the surface, while he, preoccupied, enchanted the gleaming weapon of Godric Gyffindor, encrusted with its fire-red ruby, and sealed it below the still waters with a sharp coat of ice.

A shout from the outskirts of the pond jarred him from his thoughts.

"Harry! Harry! Hermione! Where are you? Blimey, this snow..."

Snape recoiled instantly, acutely aware that even in a night blizzard his black cloak and robes would be starkly visible at close distance. Hastily hiding behind a bit of foliage, he waited for the desperate voice to fade.

"How unabashedly stupid," he hissed, eyes glinting as they darted to and fro to ascertain that the danger had passed, his bitter mood turning even sourer, "how absolutely and unadulteratedly unwise must you be to yell out their names and expect them to answer when half the bloody world is looking for them and attempting murder?"

He fixed his Patronus with a cold, expectant glare. It made no move.

"Go on, then," he said heatedly to it, with a jerk of his head in the direction of the boy's camp. "He's right there."

The doe had no answer to that, but walked placidly away from its caster, not noticing the subtle dread that choked in the air in its wake.

Snape felt the breath escape him sharply as he turned away, his back scraping momentarily against the oak's rough trunk. Had it really been so absurd to wonder if she might stay, out of some obscure loyalty to him? But no, the light had disappeared; the doe was out of sight.

If it hadn't been for Lily, the idiot boy wouldn't have made it through his first year. His continued protection hadn't been dedicated to some grand scheme for the greater good, nor was it out of a general concern for humanity, most definitely not for the boy's own sake -- no, it was and always would be for one person, one laughing memory of a red-haired schoolgirl.

Who had never loved him back.

Perhaps that would explain the tightness that was constricting his lungs and making breathing unbearable as he watched the doe's returning light herald the boy's entrance. Snape wanted to laugh at himself, sneer at how like a fool he was that after almost twenty years of distance he still nursed a rabid jealousy for a woman long lost and long gone, but felt the laughter die in his throat at what he saw next.

Just as they reached the shore where the sword was clearly visible, the doe turned, facing its charge, and looked at him in such a way that confirmed every fear and every fretting Snape had about delivering the sword to Harry Potter. No matter what anyone else did, no matter how much he tried to prove himself worthy of her notice, she would always love her son more than any other person in the world. The proof standing before him was irrefutable.

Something snapped.

This particular snap! was made painfully audible by a sudden, unfortunate onslaught of dizzying wrath that caused him to crunch a twig in his haste to get his wand, dismiss the Patronus, and, consequently, prompt the boy across the lake to peer around blindly in the startlingly instant darkness.

Aware that prickling sensation in his chest had intensified to something like a white-hot knife slicing hard ice, Snape swallowed with minor difficulty and let the last of the fury ebb away into the cold, winter air. Now was not the time. He must remain in control.

It wasn't fair.

Life wasn't fair. He knew that. Nothing had been fair for him for a long time--he had promised himself into servitude to save people who died anyway, indirectly killed the only person he'd truly loved, guarded a boy who had inherited nothing redeeming from his mother except her eyes, the list of gross unfairnesses was endless. He'd accepted it, gotten along fine with this peculiar postulate of life well enough, until now. It was for this to happen too, for his own Patronus to tell him, quite plainly, that she too preferred the Boy Who Lived to the Git Who Tried to Save Her But Ultimately Failed, that really did it.

Why, then, did he keep trying to help the boy if all that awaited him was this disappointment and a bitter end, if not death? What was the point?

Snape looked back to the lake and was just in time to see Potter dive headfirst into the water. Gryffindor bravery indeed, he smirked shakily. At least he could still watch James Potter's son make an idiot of himself. But also that made him Lily's son as well and at that, he felt even worse.

He was sick of it, sick of the hot, gutting feeling that he got, still, decades later at remembering her snogging James Potter in their seventh year, sick of sleepless nights, sick of the dreams at half past three he'd awake from in terrified, hot sweats (either she was dead, or he was dead, or, Merlin, they were all bloody dead and everything was his fault), sick of the burning, coiling bile that so often suffocated his veins and gripped his heart whenever that boy strutted by, sick of the doubt that plagued him since the Headmaster's death, and now thoroughly sick, above all else, of still having to feel so vibrantly and passionately possessive of Lily Evans--he winced--of Lily Potter.

But, he conceded rather ironically, half-defeatedly, despite the burning past and scalding memories, even with that ever-consuming envy eating him away, and a wish to go back and fix everything, his feelings would not change. He loved her, after all this time and for all the time that would come after.

He supposed this was probably due to some suicidal streak in him and wondered, vaguely, if even that should be surprising.

If the world chose that moment to collapse, if everything unraveled in the midst of war's turmoil, if she never returned his affections, he would still love her. There was no longer any doubt. He knew what he must do. His course was set and he would hold it, until the very end.

Not for the boy, not for the school, not for the lives of innocent children (Snape very much doubted that any of them were ever truly innocent anyway) -- for her and only her.

"Always." he whispered, his eyes gleaming with all the fervor in the world, and let the word drift away into darkness.

With a swish of his cloak and a fluid half-turn, he Disapparted silently into the night, leaving no trace of his presence amongst the unblemished snow. Two boys emerged, panting, from the water, grasping a soaking sword.

Severus Snape kept his promises. He never wavered again.

Thank you for reading! I wrote this as part of a "missing scenes" in DH challenge for the wonderful LJ group, Romancing the Wizard. I hope you liked it!