Title: Where Death Walks
Fandom: Harry Potter
Relationship: Severus Snape & Persephone
Word Count: 3,678
Summary: After Voldemort’s attack, Severus Snape was the first person on site. Or was he?
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It was technically not Her season. She usually timed Her rare visits for the Springtime, but She always felt welcomed when She walked the earth just before the Dead Times.
She knew why, of course.
She brushed ice-cold hands along the tree branches, turning leaves redorangegoldbrown and knocking them to the ground singly or in small clusters. She reached to flowers, once bursting with colorful vitality, and watched as they withered and faded. More beauties to decorate Her parlour. The air was cold with a hint of Winter-To-Come, and still She walked. She could have stayed home, alone again, but Her very nature decreed that She should seek out humanity, even though humanity would not know Her.
The whisper made Her pause.
The plea completely caught Her attention.
Eons had passed since She was properly worshipped—since any of them were worshipped, really. She should not have noticed. The word were…not quite right. The candles were completely the wrong color, and there were either too many or not enough, but She did not remember which. And there was no fruit or flower for Offering, which should have made Her turn away.
But the frightened weeping around the words gave Her pause.
“Please!” a soft voice gasped in the twilight. “Please, help me save my baby!”
She turned and tilted Her head, taking in the prayer that was probably not meant for Her. Raising Her hand, She stopped time, and in the stillness She followed the prayer to a hidden cottage in a quaint village in the middle of nowhere. There were frozen figures there, posed in the jeering postures of bullies that had existed since Time had begun; She walked past them without sparing a glance. Inside the cottage was the body of man prostrate in the foyer, his expression one of agony and defiance.
He had died well, but his was not the prayer She’d heard.
She glided up the narrow staircase, passing a dark-clad figure with an evil countenance, and entered a brightly-colored chamber clearly decorated for a child. On a low cabinet against one wall was a cluster of white candles arranged in a circular pattern with several colorful crystals piled in the middle. Beside the candle circle were small clusters of feathers and sticks and bells—all arcane symbols, though none clearly dedicated to Her.
The prayer had come from this room. The Goddess to whom the prayer was sent had not heard—or had chosen to not answer. Eons had passed; it was easy to not hear when one did not expect to hear.
She stood in the doorway and observed the unmoving occupants for a short while; the woman with tears streaming down her face and the boy-child clearly reacting to his mother’s stress. There was no sense of fear in this room, only hatred and despair and hopelessness. The mother was, quite obviously, in need of some sort, but She had no idea of what. Reaching out, She brushed her hand against the mother’s forehead, and the images and impressions flowed like a raging river.
James will see us all dead rather than stand up to that foolish old man!
This is the only child I have, and I don’t know how to protect him!
Prophecies are utter shite and only a fool will believe them!
Oh, Harry! How can I save you?
If James had only believed in me like he believes in Dumbledore!
I should have just taken Harry and run!
Please! I don’t know how to say the words, but please help me save my baby!
Ah! Those are the words She’d heard, uttered from panic and despair. She remembered, vaguely, that sometimes the best, most heart-felt prayers had come from panic and despair.
I’m not afraid to die! I just want Harry to be safe and happy!
She blinked slowly, and time moved forward just a bit—and the horrid, evil figure from the stairs made his way into the chamber, snarling with some sadistic glee. There were meaningless words exchanged, with the dark figure posturing and threatening and the mother pleading, but the baby was quiet and observant through it all.
“No, not Harry!” beseeched the mother. “Not Harry!”
“Stand aside, you silly girl,” sneered the evil shape.
“No!” screamed the mother. “Kill me instead!”
There is was, She thought with soft satisfaction—a bargain, a willing sacrifice, and the uncoordinated prayer was complete. In the brief moment between the offer of sacrifice and the bright flash of green light, She stepped forward and reached into the vile evil figure and pulled, taking the soul from the body and tossing it far away from the cottage. The black robes fell, empty, to the floor, but She barely noticed as she stepped forward to embrace the mother.
Vivid green eyes, brighter than the spell that ended her life, blinked up at Her. “You saved me?”
“No,” She answered with a rasp. “But I will take you into my Home, because you called to me in your desperation.”
The mother’s spirit looked around before spotting her lifeless body on the floor in front of the crib. “Oh! He’s killed me!”
“You sacrificed yourself,” She said. “For your child. For that alone you shall be given a special place in my Home.”
The mother sighed breathlessly. “But who will care for my child now that I’m gone? Who will teach him how to be a good man, or tell him how much he was loved?” The mother turned to face Her with hope in her eyes. “Will you care for him in my stead? Please! He’ll need a mother!”
She was about to refuse, but paused to think. She was often alone, roaming the empty halls of her palace with only Shades for company. Her husband was loyal, much more than others of their kind, but He had been spending time with bankers of late, showing them how to better access His gifts of gold and silver. And while He’d had daughters of His own, He had never once, in all their time together, seen to giving Her a child of Her own—and yet She was considered a patron to mothers and children.
And didn’t this mother reach out to Her with a simple prayer? None of the Others reacted to the call, if They had even heard it. But She was there, on the one night of the year when Death walked closely with the living, and She alone heard the prayer—and She alone could take action here. Her husband would not begrudge Her this one thing.
With a nod, She raised her slim, pale arm, and called forth a skeletal raven, instructing it briefly to take this mother to the Palace. “She is to be given a Window. Do you understand?”
The answering caw was like fingernails against a headstone, but the raven rose on raggedy wings and carried the Shade of the mother out of the cottage just as a loud POP sounded in the street outside, and She soon heard the front door slam open before footsteps clambered up the wooden stairs.
From the shadows of the room, She watched as a slim, dark man stormed into the chamber and dropped to his knees, wailing. He pulled the body of the mother into his arms and keened wildly in anguish, and the sight of it pulled at Her heart. She stepped from the shadows after reaching out to quiet the whimpering boy-child with a gentle touch.
“Who is she to you?” She asked, and the dark man started and pulled back from the deathly embrace.
He turned wide eyes to Her presence and shuddered in fear.
“Who was she to you?” She asked again, raising again her slim arm to stop time from passing.
“She is…was…the very dearest of friends,” the man croaked, wiping tears from his eyes. He laid the body back on the floor with care, smoothing her hair from her face and closing her eyes gently so that the brilliant green eyes were hidden for good, then he stood on shaking legs and turned to face the crib—and the weary child within. “I have so many, many regrets about what happened here, but I had hoped I wouldn’t be too late.”
She stepped forward and crossed her arms over her torso, becoming more corporeal. “Tell me about her,” She commanded, and the man nodded and sighed reluctantly.
“I was a lonely child due to the isolation my parents kept me in. I knew abuse and cruelty until I met Lily. We were both nine years old. Lily had just discovered that she had Magic, the same as I did.”
She tilted her head in consideration. “She was not the same, was she?”
The man shook his head. “No, not quite the same. My mother was a witch, born to a pure-blood wizarding family, so I was raised to magic. Lily…was born into a non-magical family; the first witch in her family in perhaps ever. And Lily had a sister she was once very close to until her magic manifested. But she…saw something good in me, somehow. And as her magic grew, her sister grew distant and Lily grew closer to me.
“We went to school together, sitting on the train and conspiring to always be the best of friends.” The man sucked in a shuddering breath as he glanced down at the body by his feet. “I could not keep to that bargain, to my disgust. In my shame, I threw her away. We hadn’t spoken for five years.”
Her eyes narrowed as she took in his obvious grief. “And yet you are here.”
“I am,” he agreed. “This,” he spread out his hands to encompass the room—or perhaps the entire cottage, “is all my fault.”
“I was here from the time of her prayer,” She said firmly. “You did not strike against this family. You did not ignore her pleas. You did not orphan this child.”
The dark man shook his head and kicked out lightly to move the empty black robes piled next to the mother’s body. “I came across some important information—and I trusted the wrong people. I asked two men to protect Lily. One hid her away here, using a spell a child could work his way through, and the other…killed her, even though he promised not to.”
She looked down at the pile of empty cloth with a slight sneer. “She bargained with this…man. She asked him to kill her instead of her child, and in doing so she sacrificed herself willingly.”
The man sucked in another shuddering breath as he looked past Her into the crib. “Lily would have been an extraordinary mother,” he said dully. “When she loved, she loved with all her heart. I would have loved to have watched her raise her son, even if only from a distance.”
“Tell me how all of this was your fault,” She commanded again. “Tell me how she might have felt seeing you here, now.”
The man stepped back from the crib and leaned against the door jamb. “After I ruined our friendship when we were fifteen, I sought others with which to belong. I did not choose wisely, but by the time I realized that—it was too late. I was suddenly a part of a revisionist band seeking to weaken the position of muggleborns in Wizarding Society. While our leader had the support of many pure-blood wizards, very few officially joined this group, which could be called a terrorist group. It was led by a wizard who called himself Voldemort, and we—his followers—are called Death Eaters.”
She laughed then, cold and brittle. “Voldemort? That’s a bit arrogant, is it not. ‘Flight of Death’ is what that means—or ‘Flee From Death’. Either way, no one can flee or hide from Death; it is not done.”
The man shivered as the room grew suddenly cooler and he looked closer at the shadowy woman in front of him: she was pale, almost ghostly white, with blue-green eyes and dull reddish hair that was encircled with a wreath of wilting flowers, and she was slender but not gaunt, and tall but not as tall as he, and she was dressed in a brilliant blue sheath-dress that looked unfit for such a cold season.
“No,” he said, “I don’t suppose anyone could ever flee successfully from death, but that wizard did all that he could to become immortal. He used dark spells and rituals, he killed and tried to steal the magic from his victims, and he ordered me to create potions for him—all to extend his life beyond all possible measure. I’m sure he’s done more heinous things, so I doubt that he’s truly gone, even with evidence to the contrary.”
“No,” She agreed. “His darkness is not within my Home, though I did banish him far from here.”
The man offered a tiny half-smile. “Once I realized what I had done—what I had joined—I tried to back out. I went to my former mentor and begged forgiveness, and all he required of me was to stay within this group and spy—and I had to become a teacher at the school I previously attended. In an act of supreme irony, Voldemort ordered me to use my teaching position to spy on my mentor, who was actively fighting Voldemort’s agenda for the so-called side of Light.”
“So you became Janus,” She surmised. “With one face looking at the Dark, and the other looking at the Light.”
Startled, the man laughed, though there was no mirth in the act. “Yes, I suppose so. In any case, I only ever saw Lily at a distance after that moment. And then one fateful night, while spying on my mentor, I overheard a prophecy—a prophecy about a Dark Lord and the ‘one who would have the power to vanquish him’. Because it was my dubious duty, I took the information of the prophecy to Voldemort—but I hadn’t heard the entire thing. The prophecy stated that this special ‘one’ would be born as the seventh month dies, born to someone who had thrice defied the Dark Lord, and that he would have the power that the Dark Lord knew not. That is what I reported to Voldemort. I never gave it a second thought, because there are many wizards that have birthdays in July, and many of those could consider themselves to be an enemy of Voldemort.
“And then I learned that Lily was pregnant, and was due to give birth in July.”
She looked at the child, who was lying calmly in the crib, watching Her very carefully. “So this arrogant magic user not only sought to fight his mortality, but also decided to make war on an infant to do so? And he didn’t even know if this prophecy was about him, because he was never mentioned by name. This mother said that Prophecies were useless, but I didn’t understand at the time.”
The man nodded, glancing again at the body of his former friend. “I begged my mentor to take Lily and protect her and her child, and his answer to that was to hide the family with a simple Fidelis Charm, never knowing if the Secret Keeper was truly loyal or not. I begged the Dark Lord to not kill Lily, even if he had to kill the child…and yet, there she lies.”
She turned a glittering angry gaze at the man and bared her teeth. “You would not care if this child had died?” She hissed. “I have also taken notice that never once have you mentioned the man at the bottom of the stairs—the one who fought so fiercely to protect his family. Do their lives mean nothing to you?”
The man gasped in shock as a sudden chill overtook him. “I beg forgiveness, My Lady!” he gasped. “James Potter was never my friend, and so I find I cannot mourn his passing no matter how noble it may have been. And I never once knew the child, so it was unimportant to me. Had Lily and I still been close, perhaps that would not be so….”
“Tell me,” She commanded. “Tell me your story, and let me judge what you deserve forgiveness for.”
The man turned wide eyes to the Shadow Lady and shuddered. “Someone will come soon, looking for the child in the aftermath of the attack.”
She flicked her arm around slightly and said, “Time has no meaning now, nor will it until your tale has been told.”
The man stumbled to the sole window and looked out, finding birds suspended in the air like puppets on a string. The clouds were motionless, and smoke from Voldemort’s explosive entrance to the house hovered in place, waiting for a breeze. In the distance, he could see a large shape riding the horizon and he shook himself back into action. “That would be James’ best friend, Sirius Black, coming to check on his chosen family. I think everyone suspects Black is the Secret Keeper, so he’ll likely be blamed for what happened here.”
“How do you know he is not?” She asked cooly.
The man turned back to Her. “Because Black is loyal to the extreme, and he loved James Potter like a brother. There is no force on this earth that would force Black to act against this family; not even Death itself.”
She cocked an eyebrow in response and said, “Tell me your story.”
“Very well,” said the dark man wearily. “My name is Severus Snape. I was born to a pure-blood Witch and a non-magical man, and the only bright spot in my life was when I met Lily Evans two years before we both began to attend Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
For what seemed like hours—but was not because time had stopped—Snape told his ‘story’ to the shadowy Lady who felt like Death and Hope combined. He spoke about his only friendship, and his part in its destruction. He spoke about joining the Death Eaters—and his almost immediate regret after learning what that group was really about. He spoke about his debt to Albus Dumbledore, and he spoke about his job as a double-spy. He spoke fearfully about the schoolyard rivalry with James Potter, and his abuse from Potter and Sirius Black. He spoke about the despair he’d lived with since hearing part of the blasted prophecy—and of his efforts to contact Lily in an effort to protect her. He even mentioned one other family, Frank and Alice Longbottom, who’d had a child the day before Harry was born and who might have also been a target—and how ashamed he felt now to wish it had been them so that Lily would still be alive.
“She wanted to never hear from me again after I was Marked,” Severus said calmly. “I do not blame her. If I could rid myself of the mark, I surely would because it has caused nothing but pain and strife. It keeps me a slave, if not to Voldemort then to Albus Dumbledore. I can never be free and I can never atone.”
She wandered to the window and glanced out, peering into the distance. “You say this Sirius Black will be coming because he may know the Potters were in danger?”
Severus nodded. “Black and Potter have a very close bond in Magic. They have chosen each other as brothers, and Black will consider the Potter family to be his own, especially considering his actual family is almost completely on the side of the Dark Lord. You might consider him to be the ‘Black Sheep’ of the Black Family.”
She smirked slightly. “Did you know that black sheep were once sacrificed in my honor? Black horses pulled my chariot, and black sheep were my messengers. This Sirius Black will be of use to me, but you are correct that you should not be found here. Especially if this so-called Leader of the Light knows that you may have been aware of the attack.”
Severus nodded and moved to the door, head hanging low. “My deepest wish was to have been reconciled with Lily. For now, I shall vow that no harm will come to her child if I can help it. It is the very least I can do in her memory.”
She looked up sharply. “It is your wish to honor her life after her death?”
Severus looked over his shoulder. “It is the very least I can do, My Lady. At one time, Lily was everything to me.”
She nodded and moved toward him, becoming even more corporeal as she reached for his arm. “Never once in this time have you asked My name. Nor have you asked My favor. But I shall have need of information, so I shall have need of you.” Her icy hand gripped his left arm harshly, and he felt the cold sink into him like a weight. So cold was Her hand, in fact, that Severus felt that his arm was burning from it, and when she released him he pulled away and rolled back his sleeve to reveal his Dark Mark.
But it was not there.
In place of the snake-and-skull brand on his left forearm was now the imprint of a pomegranate, red and full where once were narrow black lines of pure evil.
In shock, Severus looked up at the Shadow Lady, only to find her physical features morphing into something so very familiar.
“I walked the Earth as Persephone,” She said. “I am Goddess of the Dead, of Spring and Rebirth, and of Mothers and Family.” Her pale reddish hair deepened to a dark auburn, and her pale skin darkened to a healthy English Rose. But her blue-green eyes grew wider and brighter, and the color shifted to a brilliant emerald green. “But now, I believe you may call me ‘Lily Evans Potter’.”