His vision clouded. Reeling on unsteady feet, he fell back, abandoning the front lines.
His Patronus snuffed out a moment later, leaving nothing but a blurred vapor that dissolved into the surrounding mist.
Stumbling over a curled form on the ground, he lost his balance and for a horrifying moment thought he was going to fall.
On your back on the ground, death was nearest.
Someone was screaming; just one long, pained howl that filled everything.
He never stopped, aside from that misstep, which slowed him (enough to end him?) just enough to reach down to haul the man up.
There was no protest. Just dead weight hanging from his shoulder.
He saw the gates through the eerie, cold mist and the blackness descending mercilessly over his eyes.
Every step required more effort than the last.
And when he fell, his eyes stared into wide-open, sightless green ones.
The mist closed in on them all.
He could hear Black's bones rattling.
Potter was prone on the stone floor, and it was not just the dungeon light; his face was stark white, bled of all color. He was silent.
His hands shook to rival post-Cruciatus hours. The minuscule golden cauldron, always carried in an inner pocket of his robes, twice slipped from the wire stand over the candle stub.
"This is all you have?" His voice came out strangled, yet sharper than he intended.
Lupin stretched out his arm, catching Severus's wrist and pouring the sticky crumbs into his palm.
The cauldron heated slowly, its contents softening.
It took both of them to pour the mass down the boy's throat; Severus pouring, Lupin rubbing the limp neck.
Potter swallowed convulsively. The moment he came back into himself was palpable, though it was only a twitch of his fingers.
Lupin let out a breath and collapsed next to the boy, shutting his eyes. His hand reached into a pocket of his ill-fitting cardigan.
A scrap of foil. More crumbs.
He offered them to Severus.
Severus waved him off, turning away from the sight of the glistening morsels.
He offered them to Black, who glared from within a corpse-like face.
The girl shook her head, curling in on herself. Tears had dried in rivers on her face.
Weasley gulped, but shook his head stoically.
Lupin sighed and drew an unsteady breath, before pushing the boy's head back and tipping the crumbs into his slackened mouth.
Potter blinked; the first sign of life coming back into Lily's eyes.
Not nearly enough.
He climbed to his feet, every muscle searing in agony. "I'll see what I can salvage."
There was no answer. Just the silence of weariness.
He left the chamber, stopping outside the door to get oriented. This part of the dungeon had never seen much use.
The obvious way up was blocked by heavy slabs of rough stone. Solid. The castle had collapsed in on itself. It was only here, deep in the dungeons below, that the walls still stood erect, for the most part undamaged.
He turned away and followed the corridor in the other direction, groping his way along the slimy walls in the near darkness.
A door looked familiar. The corridors circled, bringing him past the rubble in the main stairwell.
Another blockage. He could go no farther. The Potions classrooms with their life-supplying stores were out of his reach.
He turned the corner.
His own quarters; he stumbled inside with an intake of air that was quite nearly a sob.
Light. Warmth from the crackling fire.
It took everything he had not to collapse into one of the overstuffed armchairs. Every cushion beckoned with a Siren's call.
The cabinet contained the barest of personal necessities. Headache cures. Pain relievers. Basic stock for one who had faced the Dark Lord's wrath and lived to recover from the encounters.
Rare ingredients, as well; students would never see the likes. Werewolf fangs, goblin blood, exotics from around the globe, seeds from a dozen extinct plant species...
A rough burlap sack that felt reassuringly heavy in his hand.
A galleon a bean.
The lot was divided between two cauldrons set on a low flame.
He forced his hand to take up a ladle and stir, disconnecting Severus Snape, Potions Master, from Severus Snape, survivor of the Dark Lord's second coming.
Bubbling, steaming, dark and rich. Filling half a dozen goblets.
He gave in, licking the ladle clean; every precious drop. So bitter it sent a shiver down his spine.
From a box, a cache of smooth, perfectly round eggs.
A hundred galleons on the black market.
A pinch of this; a spoonful of that.
Thousands in gold.
So dark. So smooth. No potion rivaled this.
No potion used ingredients so fine.
The fumes set him dizzy. The bitterness would be strong, as he had nothing to offset it.
Into a shallow pan now. Every droplet carefully spooned out of the cauldron.
The fire crackled from his wand.
Taking down a bottle of hundred year old brandy from a high shelf, he hesitated, thinking of the children.
But there were no children in Hogwarts' ruins.
He sprinkled it liberally over the pan, then took a long swallow from the bottle.
Warmth spread through his chest, chasing away the chills that still shook him.
Now he could face the long walk back down the damp, narrow corridors. This time a torch lit his way.
Only Lupin looked up when he entered. Granger and Weasley were collapsed against one another in a stupor. Black could just as well be dead, for there were no signs of life. Potter...
Still wide-eyed, staring straight ahead at nothing. A rag doll propped up against Lupin's shoulder.
"Both stairwells blocked," he said, wasting no words. "The way to my quarters is clear. We should move at once."
No one moved, until he reached down and pulled the boy up, catching him as his knees buckled.
"I'll take him, Severus."
He ignored Lupin, already moving away. They would have to find the strength to follow; he was finding it difficult just to put one foot in front of the other with the boy's weight in his arms.
He heard Black's rasping voice behind him. "Help me up, Remus."
And they did follow him. Wordlessly.
A surreal scene, he thought.
His quarters, for over a decade his solitary refuge where even Dumbledore would not seek him out, were now a refuge to this ragged band of walking wounded.
Potter was stretched out on the divan; Severus would move him to the bed in the other room when the ache in his bones abated long enough to contemplate rising from his chair.
Lupin and Black occupied his wolf skin rug in front of the fireplace. Only the barest of baleful glances from Lupin before he settled with a heavy sigh into the thick warmth.
Granger was in Weasley's lap in the other armchair, both of them with shut eyes, hands white-knuckled around one another.
His hands still gripped a tall goblet, which steamed and warmed his face just as the contents had warmed him from the inside.
He finished off his portion, savoring the bitterness and the smooth texture on his tongue.
Now there was no other cure but rest.
He cast a warming charm on the pan, where enough crumbly goodness remained to feed to Potter in the morning.
Getting to his feet, swaying slightly as the pounding in his temples intensified, he picked the boy up and carried him into his sleeping chambers.
His bed was plain, unadorned. Solid oak, polished to a dull shine. Stark white sheets under a dark green blanket.
Potter's unruly hair fanned out around his head. His eyes blinked open, focusing on Severus's face confusedly.
"Sleep," he said, his voice as harsh as it was low. "Sleep now."
And Potter obeyed for the first time in his miserable life.
Severus stayed, looking down at the boy, until he was certain his breathing was steady and unlabored. He held back a hand that wanted to brush crusts of blood off the boy's forehead, where the ugly scar still stood out lividly; more vividly that ever with the boy's face so white.
At last he moved away.
He had enough blankets to make fair pallets for them all on the floor.
Granger and Weasley were allowed the chairs, the girl curling up cat-like with her tangled mass of hair concealing her face, the gangly boy's legs tucked under him awkwardly.
He snuffed out the torches. The fire in the fireplace had burned lower, but still crackled reassuringly.
He settled and pulled the blanket around himself, hugging his arms over his chest comfortingly.
In the morning they would see what was left of the world.
He shivered, then shut his eyes forcibly.
Those thoughts were no good. Tonight there would be no wondering about what lay beyond the dungeon walls. Tonight there would be no thoughts of rebuilding, or surviving, or mourning, or going on.
"Remus? Have I been hallucinating?"
There came the sound of a weary body shifting uncomfortably. "Why?"
Sleep closed in on him, the welcome unconsciousness taking him from the almost incomprehensible enormity of the night's events.
Black's incredulous voice was lost in blessed slumber.
"He made us a cake."