Snape walked for hours through the forest and came to a door.

He had been walking for at least three miles, following the path that he could barely see in front of him -- the path was no more than a few inches wide, and it was very, very dark. He had to depend on his wand for light, but he dared not make it overly bright -- there were things in the woods. Here there be monsters, he thought darkly, and moved on.

The path had been worn over time by various creatures -- creatures that rarely came out of the forest. He had found himself faced with it on his evening patrol, and he inexplicably felt compelled to see where it went.

It started out straight enough, with only a few low bushes among the evergreens. But then it curved sharply, and it was as though he was suddenly thrust into a whole different world. This world was totally dark, clear, and quiet.

Dangerously quiet.

He climbed over errant tree roots. He never told anyone, but running in the forest had been a favorite activity as a child. Feeling the natural stair- steps beneath his feet now made him feel slightly more secure -- this was familiar territory.

Not, of course, that he felt insecure. Rather the opposite. He knew he should feel more uneasy than he did. This was the Forbidden Forest, after all. Things lived here that Snape had no desire to tangle with -- he had heard rumors about a colony of Acromantula, and he was certain that other, even less desirable things abounded here.

Time seemed to slip away from him as he walked. It often did when he was lost in thought, but he had no thoughts now. He was aware of time going by at an alarming rate, but he was not alarmed. Something -- or someone -- would not let him be alarmed.

He simply walked.

And just as thoughts of fatigue edged their way nervously into his mind, he came to a clearing.

A pale, bright moon had emerged from the sneakily sinister clouds -- wisps of those clouds still cast a brief shadow on the ground in front of him. Grass interspersed with intermittent pine needles covered the ground. He stood, the almost-sinister moon shining down unfavorably on him, lengthening his shadow until it was grotesque.

A door stood in front of him.

It was a simple yet elegant arrangement: the dark, smooth wood -- he somehow knew it was made of wood, even though he had not touched it -- rested steadfast in the marble frame. A knob that shone soft silver in the moonlight presented itself on the door's right side.

He knew without question that this was what he had been meant to find.

He also knew that if he circled around the door, he would find nothing but the other half of the clearing.

However --

What would happen if he opened it?

Snape could remember an admonishment from some otherwise forgotten "mentor" in the recruitment stages of his days as a Death Eater. Don't unlock doors you're not prepared to go through, Snape.

Sometimes one did not know what was on the other side of the door. He did not know if he was prepared.

He raised his head to the sky. The moon seemed to be laughing malevolently at him. He started to snarl at it, but stopped, as though he realized that it was only a trick of his imagination. He did not like the feeling of being unprepared.

He had been an accomplice to atrocity. He had committed countless crimes. His students feared him; his colleagues did not trust him. He was widely regarded as someone not to cross.

And yet a simple door managed to make him hesitate.

Severus Snape never hesitated.

Just like Severus Snape is always prepared, he thought with some asperity.

His sense of being controlled had left him; his own thoughts were the only thing there. He stood feet shoulder-width apart, arms akimbo, frowning at this door.

There were so many options. There could be the faces of those he had killed or helped kill -- always a cheerful thought. There could be a gorgeous brunette who actually was interested in him -- also a cheerful thought, but much less likely than the former option. He somehow did not think that whatever had brought him here had done so with the intention of giving him some pleasure or respite.

And then it occurred to him that whatever was on the other side of the door might be lethal. It could be a trap. Or even a Portkey, he thought. Not that there's anywhere I particularly want to go -- or anyone who would want me there.

Of course, there was always the simplest answer: someone had put up a door in the middle of a clearing in the Forbidden Forest for no reason whatsoever other than pure whimsy. But Snape didn't think so -- the Forest would have long since taken over the door, despite any enchantments to the contrary. The Forest had a way of doing that.

A cloud drifted across the moon; Snape shivered unconsciously.

A soft, fine drizzle began to fall. He did not notice.

He simply looked at the door as one would while sharing some silent communication with an old friend of questionable loyalty. All thought of 'options' left him; all thought of danger left him.

And after a while, he looked up at the moon. It was softly veiled by a few wayward bands of cloud. The cloud gave him the answer he needed.

He stretched out his hand and touched the knob. He paused a moment, as if to steel himself, looking at the dully shining knob for strength.

And then he opened the door.

What he saw made him stand slack. His arms dropped to his sides; he looked, raising his chin in an act of subtle supplication.

When he was finished, he left the clearing, retracing his footsteps along the path.

The door closed softly behind him with a barely audible click.

And the next morning, when he snuck out before breakfast to try to find the path, to prove to himself that it hadn't been a dream --

He could not.