Chapter 7: Black Hills, White Snow
“Good news, Snape,” Harry announced triumphantly, returning to the shack in the morning.
“You’ve been appointed ambassador to the magical community in Hong Kong,” Snape filled in the blank.
“Now, really,” the young man exhaled. “With that sort of attitude, you’d think I wasn’t wanted around here.”
“I’m trying, really I am. I mean, bedside nurses aren’t as easy to get as you might think. Especially with patients so very…”
Harry sighed. “Memorably so. At any rate, what I wanted to say is that food shipments finally came in from the ministry. So we’re stocked up again and you can cease lamenting about Ron’s donations and muggle imports.”
He looked genuinely pleased with this announcement, and the bowl of oatmeal Harry set up for him on the end table. He propped himself up as best as he could with his good arm, then made an effort to lean towards the bowl so he could get the spoon to his mouth.
“Look…do you need any…?” Harry started.
“Absolutely not,” he shot back.
“I just wanted to ask if…you wanted a tray or something,” he huffed. “You’re as thick as a jackass sometimes.”
Snape’s eyes shot at him. “And you’re as annoying as a horsefly. I just wish you were easier to squash.”
“Now we’re really getting somewhere!” Harry turned and grabbed a piece of cardboard left over from the pizza they’d shared the other night. “This will have to do.”
“For…this.” He balanced it over a pillow and put it on his patient’s lap, then placed the bowl on top of that. “Happy eating!”
Snape grumbled, but was obviously having an easier time getting the spoon to his mouth with the new innovation, so refrained from further complaint. Instead, he focused on praising McGonnagall. “I knew she would get it done if she kept at it,” he informed Harry. “You just can’t let the pressure up on those ministry people. They’ll make you do everything and then demand to be paid. But by and large, she’s good at sticking with things. I was sure she’d find a way to get it done…” Just then a slight look of melancholy crept in his eyes, talking about his former colleague who now hated him along with everyone else.
“Snape,” Harry addressed him. “Would you like to…maybe…send her a message?”
“What have you got in your head, boy? Rocks?”
“Look, I’m sure she’d…be better about all this than you think. I don’t think she ever really hated you this whole time…”
“She tried to kill me.” Yes. She had. No second thoughts. He had done his best to avoid doing her real injury in the melee; he’d even retreated from the school rather than accidentally inflict an injury on her, even though he knew he would be punished by the dark lord for doing so. But she hadn’t seemed to think twice about her intentions. She had meant to kill him.
“She thought you were a death-eater at the time, and that you were about to kill me,” Harry countered. “But she can’t blame you altogether for the things that happened, not after she realizes…well, that you were on the good side, after all. I’m sure she’d help out if push came to shove…”
“What good side?” Snape snapped. “You think there was a good side in this war?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Alright, enough with the embittered thing already. I just mean you were fighting against Voldemort like the rest of us.”
“The same side,” he sneered. “All of us so very good and clever…on the same side. We became so obsessed with slaying the dragon, we bold knights became dragons ourselves. Well…I already was one. Nothing lost there.”
“Nothing? Really?” the young man repeated, knowing better than to accept his sarcasm as truth by now. And he was suspecting more had been lost through the cracks of tortured time than could ever be imagined, and creating a tremendous barrier between himself and his former colleagues that could never be dismantled.
Snape shrugged. “Dumbledore told me I should have been used to it…the taste of death. But he was not the one who had to stand by and watch the Dark Lord’s captives be tortured. He said make it look real. Well, it looked so real, it became…real. And so the gore flowed, and the spy remained silently at his post. For he had bitten the forbidden fruit already when the sheen was still on it, and it tasted so sweet to him…until the glimmer faded, and the poison was in his veins and the worms ate out his heart. So send him out to chop down the tree…and let the snake find his neck. There’s commendable symmetry in that, is there not?”
He laughed a brittle laugh, then coughed. He was coughing more often lately, and Harry had once noticed a crimson stain on a sleeve when he pressed it to his lips.
“Alright, so what do you want me to say?” Harry blurted, exasperated. “It wasn’t fair that they made you do all the dirty stuff on your own. Not that you didn’t make some winners of mistakes yourself, yet…still, it was pretty awful sounding. But as you have been quite astute at reminding you in the past, life isn’t fair.”
“No, and that’s exactly my point,” he clarified. “Maybe we were all wrong about the Dark Lord, and he was, actually was our sweetest friend. He was so deranged beyond recovery, he made us seem easier to swallow, and lent some purpose to our little performances in the circus ring. He was a glorious distraction from our true selves. Now that you dispensed of him, we’re all just…little Voldemorts, infant vipers, slithering along aimlessly, and waiting for our heads to be crushed.”
Harry paused for a long moment, pondering the depth of his words, and wondering what he was seeing run through his mind. Then he queried, “Whatever happened to Clare Henley? The girl from third year who went missing not long before…Dumbledore died?”
Snape closed his eyes. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think,” he blurted. “That’s why I’m asking you. All I know is that the first day she didn’t show up to class, you pulled the stuff out of her desk and threw it across the ground. You’d never shown your anger in class like that before, and you made so much noise, the students in the halls came to see if you’d gone berserk. I remember the stuff…her Rimmel lipstick she smuggled in, a butterfly notepad, her pouch mirror, a picture of her family at Land’s End for the summer…You were shaking you were so mad at her…”
“I wasn’t…mad at her, just then.”
Harry stared at him, starting to feel sick. “She was dead, wasn’t she?”
“She had…no use for those things…anymore.”
“Did you see her die?” Harry’s voice was cracking with a sudden flood of realization. “Did you…have to…?”
“No, I didn’t kill her, if that’s what you’re asking.” Snape shook his head. “I just…couldn’t save her.” He lowered his eyes to the half-finished bowl of oatmeal, and set it aside on the end table. “I didn’t want her to die.”
“So that’s why…you were mad?”
“I was upset I had to…clean out…her possessions…” He bit his lip. “I regretted not giving her longer detention sentences. Then she wouldn’t have…wandered out, gotten captured.” He looked at Harry. “Amazing reality when…heavier punishments from a teacher like me could have…saved a life…”
Snape remembered with bitter clarity how Bellatrix Lestrange, the death-eater assassin, had led him into the chamber where he had first realized the captive was none other than one of his own students in third year. Yes, yes…she was the one with crinkly brunette hair and bright blue eyes who had come to his class wearing an obsessive amount of makeup in breach of the dress code, and he had personally scrubbed it off her with a rag and given her extra punitive homework…and there was some other time she’d been passing notes with her latest boyfriend and got detention for it…that was the worst he could think of at that moment…
The girl recognized him and was stunned. “You…you’re…” she stammered, “a…a death-eater…”
“Indeed, charming diva of Ravenclaw,” he snickered, making a grand show of it. “It seems you have now found yourself under the will and at the pleasure of the Dark Lord, to whom the future belongs…”
He had not even finished his little speech before Bellatrix cast forth a torture spell on the girl. Snape was shocked by the rapidness of the move, as his student screamed and clutched her stomach. Were they not intent upon questioning her…? Oh, no…no it was clear, the intent was…to make an example of her…and he had been brought in…to test him…
He stood frozen, gazing on immobile as the other death-eaters joined in, like wild dogs tearing apart a cornered deer. And the eyes of Bellatrix were ever on him, waiting and wishing for him to show some sign of the turmoil writhing in his soul. But he refused to oblige, even as the girl continued to scream, knocked about on the ground by the powerful current of the dark magic.
“Stop! Please…Sir…make them stop!” She was pleading with him directly now, pleading for him to stop the torture. Death-eater or not…he was still her teacher.
But he could not. He knew he could not. There was no way she could be saved; if he tried to intervene, she would still die, and he would be unmasked. So motionless he remained. But he could not stop a split-second spark from springing into his eyes when her pleas reached his ears. And Bellatrix noticed it.
Viciously, she cast another bolt from her wand at the girl…the mortal kind, assuring she would never rise again. Snape closed his eyes, wishing away the horrible world around him. Then he heard the girl’s moaning grow closer, and saw Bellatrix had her haphazardly in her arms, and was bringing her towards him, like a lifeless bundle.
“When she’s quite dead, bring it in to the Dark Lord.” Her rouge-painted lips lifted in a sinister smirk. “A little tribute of loyalty, maybe you could call it? To prove what a good team we make together, hmm?”
Snape tightened as the pain-wracked child was shoved into his arms. The girl started fighting and clawing to get away on instinct, but she was too weak, and soon was just clinging to him and whimpering as the intense burning ravaged her body. He didn’t want to look at her…he couldn’t look at her…not with Bellatrix standing several inches from his face, smiling her insane, sickening smile and waiting from something inside him to snap, as the other death-eaters gathered around for the entertainment.
He heard the girl scream again, burying her face in his chest automatically, and he tightened his arm’s hold around her shoulders, even though his face remained a blank slate. He was feeling with her senses now, feeling her every ragged breath torn out of her lungs, and the way her heart was racing, and the climax of her fear. She was only a child…children should never know fear of this kind…never, never…
“I…don’t want…to die…please, please…”
The ones watching her laughed, and the one holding her tightened still more. She was too far gone for anyone’s help now, even if he had been able to administer it. But she started sobbing, then choking for lack of air, the color running out of her face and her hands clenching into fists. He felt her slipping, and her realization that it was over.
Death is happening, child…oh, forgive me…
He felt a final shudder run through her as her small body gave up the struggle, and on an instinct he could no longer resist, he pulled her up fully against him, so she could feel his heartbeat close to hers. Maybe she would forget who it was…where she was…maybe she would see her parents in her mind instead, and think she was safe…
Still, he refused to let his face show anything, but he could not stop his hands from responding to protective instinct, and one of them shielded her face, so her last moments would not be haunted by Bellatrix grinning ghoulishly at her. He felt her tears wet under his fingers as her frame went limp, and he felt her pass through him. That’s it…go to sleep…you won’t feel anything…all hurt and fear will die…oh, dear child…just sleep here, in my arms…
Again, he met the cruelly gleeful eyes of the woman in front of him. His own hand ran down the dead girl’s face, closing her eyes to never see such horror again. He felt like vomiting, but was too well trained.
Slytherin: Ambitious. Cunning. Proud. No room for breaking hearts or sickened stomachs…
So he did as she had bid him, and he strode into the Dark Lord’s presence, his arms full of the dead 13-year-old. And his deep, dark eyes met the inhuman, egg-like eyes that jutted out of that chalk-white, melted face. And without the least sign of emotion, he thrust her down on the great iron desk in front of him. He heard her skull crack against the corner, and felt the knot inside himself tighten, but would not show it. Instead, he focused his mind on something a great playwright once penned…for his own sanity’s sake and as some small semblance of honoring the dead…
Fear no more the heat of the sun, nor the furious winter’s rages…
“All hail the Dark Lord,” he intoned, and brought his hand to his shoulder in the form of a salute, “whose judgments shall earn him all deserving merit.”
Thou thy worldly task hath done; home art gone and ta’en thy wages…
He watched as Voldemort touched the child’s freshly bloodied scalp and reopened her eyes.
“A shame really. She might have been desirable one day.” He ran his fingers along the tear-stains on her face, and a rosy coloring rubbed off on them. “Why Severus…I do believe she still was using makeup, in defiance of your orders. Tell me, can you deduct marks posthumously at that house of yours?”
Snape stiffened as a shard of his vile words callously pierced through the softest underbelly of his heart. Did he really think…his mind worked like that?
Fear no more the frown of the great; thou art past the tyrant’s stroke…
He watched the Dark Lord’s bloodied fingers trace across her pale lips, and felt a nauseating chill run through him.
“They should be paler yet, Severus, but you see, she was wearing a coating of lipstick. You must be getting lax in your disciplinary enforcements…”
He would give anything to have her back in his class the next day, alive and vivacious as she once was, always talking when she shouldn’t…he’d even let her keep her makeup…the silly, vain little creature…
Care no more to clothe and to eat; to thee the reed is as the oak…
“Her draw-backs seem to be she was too short and none-too-developed in the front. I can imagine her trying to wear high heels and a woman’s brassiere at a dance in fifth year. Ah, yes…”
Yes, she would have loved those frivolous social affairs at fifth year, he knew…loved the dressing up, the boys, the attention…he would have probably had to give her detention for staying out after curfew call…and now she’d never have the chance…and his heart was bleeding…
Golden lads and girls all must as chimney sweepers, come to dust…
Voldemort was pulling open the first buttons of her blouse, and Snape was turning his seething eyes to the floor. “Yes…what a charming little fool, wearing one already. I should have found her alluring I think…perhaps even more so now. There is a certain grace to be found in death that can improve upon the female form…”
Snape felt himself going numb from suppressed rage. The monster was touching her, like an insect, like a specimen, like…a toy – a child, robbed of her precious life, sobbing to death in his arms! Give the little one peace in death at least…
Scepter, learning, physic must all follow this and come to dust…
“Of course you are not one to appreciate such things, Severus…but your taste has always been somewhat compromised by setting your bar too low…”
There was a click in Snape’s throat. He could not stop it.
Consign to thee, and come to dust…
And at that moment, Snape would have given anything – even his very soul – for the chance to tear off that melted face himself. But instead, he inquired lowly, “May I return to work, my lord?”
The Dark Lord dismissed him with a wave of his hand, his eyes still fixated on the child’s corpse, and Snape bowed. And wished to God he would be allowed to see his “master” die again someday, slowly and wracked by pain.
And then he had rushed away to his private chamber, and buried his head in his books until nightfall, struggling to regain some sense of sanity in surroundings that were increasingly sinking into meaningless madness. Then a most unwelcome visitor arrived.
“I’ve never known a man to cling so hard to his books and his virginity,” came a mocking voice from the entryway. It was Bellatrix.
“I do not believe…we had an appointment,” he forced out. His nerves were frayed from his earlier ordeal, and could all too easily snap. He needed this time to himself to continue at the game. Or else the checkmate would surely be against him…against everything.
She was undeterred, peering over his shoulder at his book. “Books, books, always books, smelling of must and eaten up by moths. Ugly, smelly, dead things.” Nevertheless, she started reading aloud: “Come away, you human child, to the waters and wild, with a faery, hand-in-hand, for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand…” She made a syrupy smile. “Why, Severus, how very sweet. Who wrote it?”
He was staring in front of him, all his senses forcibly subdued. “William Butler Yeats,” he stated. “It is about…the loss of innocence.”
She laughed out loud at this. “Don’t tell me you’re in mourning?”
“I’m immune to mourning.” He gazed up through the glass ceiling. “Sometimes, though…even we might…search out the stars.”
“Don’t,” she blurted, and there was a sudden earnestness in her voice. “You are too far gone for that. They will blind you.”
He stared at her now. “Why have you come here, Bellatrix?”
She quickly snapped back into her casual demeanor. “You waste away in here, all by yourself, with no companionship…”
“I prefer my own companionship, thank you.”
“Hah! What stimulation it must bring you.” She cocked her head sassily. “Just you…and your resistance.”
“Yes,” she insisted, “to your own abilities, your greatness. I know how deep the dark runs in you. It’s like tar, waiting to boil. But where is your fire?” She glared at him. “Are you still able to cast a patronus, Severus? None of us are able…anymore…”
He did not respond, turning his eyes back to his book.
“You’re keeping things from poor Bella,” she pouted, sitting down next to him on the bed. “We’re friends, you know. You’re supposed to be honest with your friends…”
Snape turned his page so hastily he tore the corner of it, biting down hard on his tongue.
She started twirling a lock of her stringy hair around her finger. “Still lusting after that mudblood witch who didn’t want your bed?”
He thought his heart would stop, but it kept going, slowly, slowly…and he yearned with all the strength of his magic to silence her wagging tongue forever. He felt her hand slide onto his shoulder, and up the side of his neck.
“Don’t keep trying to get away. There’s no going back, or forward. Time has stopped here…there only is. Why not make the most of it? Hell has its pleasures.” He felt her breath very, very close to his ear, and he dared not move. “Don’t hold back, Severus. Don’t keep fighting what you know you are. The boy with the factory smudges, who became a prince of darkness. Let it flow through you.” Her hand ran up his cheek, slowly, sending a tingling sensation across his face. “You don’t have to be alone in the night…I can be…anything…you want me to be…”
Snape let his eyes drift up to the glass ceiling again, and saw small creeping shadows scurrying across it, speckling the stars.
“The spiders are here, Severus,” she whispered, reaching for the button of his collar. “They’ve come…for the girl…”
He let go the breath he hadn’t known he was holding, and a sickened lump lodged itself in his throat. He knew how the Dark Lord disposed of bodies…he let the spiders in the woods have their fresh meat. So all the little ones were crawling out of the walls for the feast…
“Are we not all…spiders…” he rasped, exhausted from the emotional strain, “who have grown too large…and now must catch songbirds…in our webs…?”
“Big spiders eat little spiders,” she whispered. “Our time may come…but let us…feel now…”
“I…don’t…want…to…feel…” His throat was drying out. So was his resistance. His hatred for her could all too easily take on another form of expression, and it terrified him. He terrified him. What…was happening?
Her touch slithered around his neck, her body wrapping around his as he found himself easing back against the bed. The embrace felt like that of a serpent encircling its prey. It had been so long since anyone had hugged him, like Lily had that Easter Sunday so many years ago, and hers had made him feel so warm and safe it was like a breath of heaven. Now all he felt was the lure of hell sapping his strength.
How long had he been familiar with that lure? That gnawing thrill, the daring to let go, and fall, and fall, and fall…
And then…she started to sing, softly, ever so softly, in his ear:
“What are those hills yonder, my love? They look as white as snow…Those are the hills of heaven, my love, you and I’ll never know…”
Ah. He knew this song. It was old, very old…as old as the Fall of Man, he thought. It was called “The Demon Lover.”
“What are those hills, yonder, my love? They look as black as night…Those are the hills of hellfire, my love…you and I will be nigh…”
He dared to breathe, and the pungent scent of perfume infected his nostrils. He hated it, and he wanted it, and he wanted to be sick, and he wanted pleasure to ease pain, and he wanted death to ease horror…he wanted a hug…
“Severus…” She leaned closer against his shoulder, and whispered in his ear, “Sevy…”
He snapped his gaze to her, and there next to him on the bed, with her red hair curling over her shoulder, was Lily. He stared at her for what seemed like an eternity, and her hands caressing him, and his own started to shake. He wanted to touch her…oh, he wanted to hold her…and to cry…he wanted it to be real so, so badly…he felt weakened, and bruised, he wanted to be held…he wanted to let himself pretend…he wanted to stop hurting…
But when he looked into those green eyes he had loved so dearly as a child, he found no warmth in them. No. No. There was no Lily in them. Bellatrix, the antithesis of everything Lily had been, was a skilled temptress and conjurer, but here was her fatal flaw: she could replicate the body, but not the soul.
And that was her reasoning for doing this. She wished to debase everything Lily had been to him into nothing more than a sexual fetish, to twist his memories, to pull upon his baser instincts, to warp everything that was sacred to him, to sever the last twine of his humanity…to make him give in. To make him let go.
No. No. No. Lily…
“Harking is bonny, and there lives my love…”
“My love lies on her, and cannot remove…”
“It cannot remove, for all that I have done…and I never will forget my love…”
Like lightening, he shot up, fury blazing in his eyes, and like the fire of the red sun, heart bleeding before the cleansing of the storm, his power burst forth from him, pushing back the illusion, and casting Bellatrix across the room against the wall.
At first she just lay against the wall, looking stunned by the impact of the rejection. Then she started laughing maniacally.
Snape was hovering over her at his full height, his eyes sparkling dangerously, and his wand drawn menacingly. “Don’t…ever…do that…again.” His voice was surprisingly calm, but electricity was running through it. “The day you do…you die.”
Then another sensation coursed through him. Looking at her laughing insanely on the floor, he felt…dare he think it, was it pity? Was it caused by seeing a glimpse of what he could have been, without the faintest melody to cling to in the silence?
“What were you…before…?” He could not help but wonder if there was ever a time when she was something whole, as opposed to a shimmering body encasing a shattered mind. And in spite of himself, he found himself offering his hand to help her up. It was suddenly harder to judge, seeing that the line between them was so painfully thin.
She looked at him in shock, and her laughter faded. “I suppose…I was beautiful…” Her voice was mouse-like, eerily so, as she carefully accepted his arm up. “But it doesn’t matter now. I told you, time has stopped here. The door locks on the inside, you see. We live in the dark hills…why torture ourselves with memories…or thoughts of the snow?” Then her face contorted and she screamed, “I hate you! I hate you for talking about…before! Don’t ever say it again, never, never, never!” She seized his book from the bed and flung it across the room at him. “I hate your books! They’re evil books, you make them evil when you touch them, don’t think they’re so good! Everything is evil here! Your mark is as dark as mine! They’ll burn them all up when you’re dead!” Then she pressed her knuckles hard against her mouth, and fled his room.
Snape did not very well know what happened after that, as he lay motionless on his bed, rattled inside seemingly beyond repair, and the hours all melting together, thickening, like mucus building up inside the lungs and preventing breath. But somehow, somewhere, in his grinding moments, he found himself in a dream with his eyes still open.
It was very simple. It was just being a little boy again. And Lily, still a little girl in braids, coming and saying “Get up, Sevy! We’re having pancakes for breakfast! Get up, it was all just a dream.” And he smiled at her, and she gave him a hug.
And that, he surmised, was the closest thing to the stars or the snow or the clouds of heaven he would ever be able to imagine.
Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.