Disclaimer: Jo's world, bless her. Just playing, here.


Breathe

Inhale, think of letting in, letting through.

Exhale, think of letting go.

Inhale. Think transparent.

Exhale. Forego resistance.

Inhale. You are invisible.

Exhale. You are empty.

Inhale. Choose.

Exhale. Give off that which helps.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Breathe.

Severus Snape flowed through the qigong routine like water… like grass waving in the wind… like water. Part the wild horse mane. White crane spreads its wings. Grasp the bird's tail. Needle at sea bottom.

Balance. Control. Breathe. Be the wind. Be the grass. Be the water. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe.

3:43 a.m. Breathe, Severus.

3:47… 3:50… Breathe.

Thoughts and images floated to the surface of his mind – Dumbledore's poisoned hand… the words they had exchanged last evening… Minerva's pursed, disapproving lips… Potter's dark head bent over his meal in the Great Hall… Draco's light haired presence, increasingly withdrawn… Potter and Dumbledore's absence… the portents that had both Trelawney and Firenze seek him out that evening… the sense that events were converging inexorably – destiny… fate… doom, maybe.

Breathe, Severus.

Hogwarts breathed around him, the pulse of it, of the magic of several hundred witches and wizards in training, their magic ebbing and flowing in rhythm with the castle's breath, with the wind, with the phases of the moon, with the ley lines that converged and pulsed far below the castle… He wondered if they knew. Of course not.

He shook that loose. Breathe, Severus. Clear your mind. He flowed from stance to stance, breathing through the pull and release of muscle, of tendon, noting the ache in scars and wounded muscle, too long suffering Voldemort's latest bout of wrath… noted it and let it go, breathing away the awareness and the pain. Inhale. Let it flow through you.

His wards tingled a warning, and he exhaled, shifted from Grasp the bird's tail to a neutral stance – first position, and bowed to the east. He inhaled and allowed the mask he wore daily to settle over him, resisting… refusing… emotion. Inhale. Let it be. Exhale. Let it go. Just breathe.

He twirled his robe over his shoulders and strode to the door, opened it, one hand on its edge, one on the doorframe. "Ah. Flitwick. To what do I owe this late visit?"

"May I come in, Severus?"

"Certainly." He stood aside to let the man in.

Flitwick moved to the center of the room – the very spot in which Snape had been… well… "The castle doesn't feel right, Severus. Albus is not in his office…"

Snape's eyes glittered. "I do not keep track of Albus' whereabouts, Filius. Nor is he here."

"I thought he might be. I know the two of you… He trusts you so."

"If it is the Headmaster's counsel you require, perhaps Minerva…?"

"No." Flitwick waved a hand. "No. It's you I'd go to in an emergency, Severus. You know that. Second to Dumbledore, you're the strongest we have. And I'm not sure you're second, to be completely honest."

Snape merely looked at him. Flitwick waved a hand again. "Don't look at me like that. I know my own strengths, Severus, and they are considerable, but I'd be a fool not to know that you hold more power in your little finger than I do in –" and here, he laughed and gestured at himself in self-deprecating humor – "than I do in my whole body." He smiled up at Snape in something like combined affection and respect, and it nearly shocked the breath out of Snape's chest.

Breathe.

"In any case, I was wondering if…"

"Patrols have been stepped up, Filius. The Order as well as faculty."

"It's not enough," Filius began, sounding agitated.

"It's what we have." A tingle on the edges of his awareness cut him off.

"I wonder if we might…"

They were interrupted by urgent knocking. "Professor? Professor Snape – please!"

It had begun. He saw awareness of it in Flitwick's eyes. "Forgive me," he said, his eyes glittering strangely. He did not give Flitwick the chance to reply; his wand slid into his hand and he flicked it at the man in a non-verbal spell that knocked him off his feet, and strode to the door, the knocking increasingly frantic.

"Professor?"

He flung the door open to Granger and Lovegood, the former of whom grabbed at his arm, tugging him into the corridor. "Professor… the Dark Mark! Over the Astronomy Tower! We're under attack!"

He pushed the door behind him, opening it wider. "Professor Flitwick has passed out. He hit his head. Take care of him," he said, and pushed them into the room, brushing past them. He paused to look back as they bent over the diminutive Charms professor, and shut the door gently, uttering a locking spell to keep those three, at least, safe. Then he whirled toward the corridor, flowed from walk to stride to haste to run.

It had begun. He sped toward the entrance hall, toward his colleagues and his students, toward destiny, fate, and his – but hopefully not the wizarding world's – inevitable doom.

Breathe, Severus.