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A Cost Too Much by Cor_Leonis
Chapter 1: A Cost Too Much
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The price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings.
Counting Crows, Mrs. Potter's Lullaby
Severus was in his storeroom, his patient, nimble fingers rearranging the jars and wares. It was quite a task keeping the potion ingredients in an order that suited his liking. It had almost become a nervous tick of his—many a sleepless night was spent among the dusty shelves and musty glass jars whose smeared labels were becoming harder to read as time wore on. He spent countless hours classifying jars and scourgifying glasses and shelves.
When he had first arrived at Hogwarts, he had alphabetized all of the ingredients with diligence, readying his new work area to his liking. Two nights later, at roughly two o’clock in the morning, he had decided that this would be unsatisfactory, and divided the ingredients again. Powders were located on the corner shelf, away from the cool breeze that swept through the doorway. Water plants were on the adjacent shelves close to the floor, magical creature parts were on the large shelf that faced the doorway, and miscellaneous stones, essences, and liquids were kept on the tall, narrow shelf near his desk. The ingredients that he deemed most precious—those that were hard to come by, even in Knockturn Alley—were located in his glass cupboard next to his cauldron table.
The glass cupboard was another few nights’ progress in itself. Snape spent his nights placing the most difficult and enigmatic charms he could think of to protect the contents inside of it. Should an unlucky student attempt to steal from it, he or she would break out in a scaly, red rash—one that would worsen the more it was scratched. As if that wasn’t enough, as soon as the cupboard’s shield was breeched, the perpetrator would fall into a deep slumber until awoken with the correct countercharm—a charm that only Snape knew. Really, the latter would have been sufficient punishment, especially after he took away the dozens of housepoints that he knew he would, but Severus had a penchant for making students miserable, and the rash was a satisfactory benefit.
He sighed, grabbing a few jars containing the powdered root of asphodel, pieces of amber, safflower oil, and myrrh. With a careless flick of his wand, blue-white flames sprung up from underneath his cauldron, quickly heating the cast iron. Severus began to add the ingredients with a careful precision. First, he added ten ounces of oil and one ounce of myrrh, which began to heat quickly. Carefully, he stirred the mixture three times clockwise and picked up a small piece of amber, which he dropped into the oil. As the amber began to melt into the oil, he readied the asphodel, pinching the powder between his fingertips. He added just a dash, and the potion turned the light-golden colour of sunlight.
It was time to add the wizard’s blood. Snape had actually found a glass jar full of blood, with an anonymous label, obviously, covered in a thin cloak of spider’s webbing on the bottom corner of one of the shelves. He was fairly certain that blood was illegal to sell in most wizardring countries, though if one knew the right shopkeeper in Knockturn Alley, he or she might be able to acquire a jar. However, he was cautious about using the blood in the jar. He wasn’t sure where it had come from, and was worried that it could potentially cause hazardous effects on his brew. Instead, he would use his own blood. A drop here or there proved useful in quite a few (dark) potions, and he wouldn’t miss it. The dull pain from a slice across his fingertips occupied his mind, anyhow.
He picked up his knife from the countertop, drawing the blade slowly across his fingertip.
He started, digging the blade deeper into his skin then he had intended to. Almost immediately, a few drops of blood formed from the deep cut on his fingertip, but he was in no hurry to heal it. Severus’s mouth twitched slightly as he set the knife down on the edge of the table and turned to face the doorway.
“Headmaster,” he greeted. What time was it, anyhow? He thought that it must be close to three in the morning, and yet, Dumbledore stood before him as though it was the middle of a school day. The old wizard was dressed in his travelling cloak and looking unusually grave, the corners of his mouth pulled far down into his silvery beard. Snape’s black eyes surveyed him curiously, and he arched an eyebrow.
“Severus, I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour,” Dumbledore started. Severus opened his mouth to dismiss him and to tell him that he was unable to sleep anyhow, but Dumbledore silenced him with a hand. “I have some terrible news,” he said.
Snape nodded slowly. An awful feeling came over him and he could feel his stomach sinking down to his feet. Indeed, something terrible must have happened if Dumbledore had stopped to have a chat with him this late at night. Snape was aware that the Dumbledore liked to stroll around the castle, humming odd tunes to himself, but he had never stopped at Snape’s dungeon office this early in the morning before.
It must be something to do with the Order, he concluded. He thought back to the last Order of the Phoenix meeting, where he had given Dumbledore a quiet but urgent warning on Lord Voldemort’s plans to murder a child in fulfilment of a prophecy, a prophecy that Snape had heard and told him about. Because of this, Dumbledore had urged the Potters to go into hiding and attempted to protect them with the Fidelius charm.
Please, Snape thought, please let it not be Lily. Instead of voicing his thoughts, he cleared his voice and spoke in the steadiest voice he could muster. “What would that be?”
“Voldemort was in Godric’s Hollow tonight, Severus.”
He bit back a swear word that was on the edge of his tongue, and took a sharp step backwards, bumping into the table behind him. His potion, which was now emitting clouds of puce smoke, splashed in the cauldron from the jolt. Normally, Snape would have been astounded that he had neglected his brewing for this long, but he was too shocked by Dumbledore’s news.
“Was he---“ he started, “was it---the Potters?”
“I’m afraid so, Severus. Both Lily and James,” Dumbledore paused, his voice calm, but very sad, “were found dead.”
The blood from Severus’s fingertip had had left a few bloody spots on his robes, and a few drops were splattered across the stone floor. His fists clenched involuntarily, and a fresh blood squeezed through the cut on his hand. He stared blankly at his fist, smeared in the rusty colour of his blood, unable to say anything. A flood of emotion was rising up his throat and he was afraid that if he opened his mouth, it would be like a dam breaking and he would lose his composure in front of the headmaster.
He wasn’t completely heartless, after all.
Dumbledore must have sensed this, and continued. “As you had warned me, Severus, Voldemort’s target tonight was indeed Harry.”
Severus had seen Harry’s picture once before, and thought about the giggling baby with James’s untidy hair and Lily’s lovely eyes. Was the boy dead too? Or perhaps orphaned?
“Their deaths are both heroic and tragic, but all is not lost, you see, because Voldemort was unable to kill Harry. In fact, it would seem that the young Mr. Potter has powers that are greater than even I can imagine.” Dumbledore smoothed out his beard thoughtfully, and stared directly into Snape’s eyes. “Harry defeated Voldemort because of Lily’s love and blood flowing through his veins. It's an ancient magic, and still powerful.”
Don’t talk to me of love, Severus begged silently.
“Voldemort has disappeared, and his followers are angry, so I ask you to keep your ears and eyes open for any other activity that may come after this.” The old wizard looked at Snape and said plainly, “Though I don’t think he has gone forever, I believe that Harry did enough damage so that he will be gone for some time. They have already begun celebrating throughout England.” Dumbedore’s last comment was purely factual, and not an attempt to fluff over the events of the night.
So it was done. Voldemort was gone, and the wizarding community was temporarily free from his terrorism. Though Snape could take small comfort in that fact, it seemed trivial. His mind was still reeling back from the fact that Lily was gone. Gone.
“And the boy?” At long last, it seemed that words were able to escape his lips.
”With Petunia. I have arranged it so that he will stay there until he is old enough to start his schooling here at Hogwarts.”
“Ah.” For a brief moment, Severus pitied the poor boy that would never know the loveliness that was his mother. He thought of James for a moment, and then looked at Dumbledore curiously.
“Headmaster, I don’t quite understand. How did the Dark Lord find the Potters? I thought they had a Secret Keeper.”
Dumbledore’s shoulders sagged slightly, and for a brief moment, he very much resembled the old, tired wizard that he was. “They did, and it seems that he betrayed them and told Lord Voldemort of their whereabouts. Sirius Black was captured and sent to Azkaban this evening after blasting apart a muggle street, killing a number of muggles and a fellow student from your years at Hogwarts--Peter Pettigrew. It seems Peter tried to confront Black about what he had done.”
Severus stared at Dumbledore blankly, letting this news sink in. “Black?” he hissed. Sirius Black, James’s best friend, trusted in keeping the Potters’ secret confidence now had all but murdered them himself. Severus had never liked Black. In fact, he loathed the spoiled brute as much as he had James, and now—now Sirius had caused Lily’s death.
Severus felt his knees begin to buckle, and he leaned back against the desk so that it could help support his weight.
Dumbledore nodded slowly, and, looking beyond Severus at the cauldron that was about to bubble over, sensibly took his wand out and emptied it. “You should get to bed, Severus. We will be having a staff meeting about the events that took place tonight, and to discuss suspending a day of classes in memoriam of the Potters. They still have quite a few friends here, of course.” He paused, his gaze resting on Severus once more, “Would you like me to get Poppy to bring you a sleeping draught?”
“No, I’ll be fine. I’ll—I’ll head to bed momentarily. I just need to clean up here.” Snape waved his hand across his office uselessly.
“Make sure you do that, Severus.”
By the tone of Dumbledore’s voice, Severus knew that the Headmaster was talking about going to bed, and not cleaning up the office. He nodded once, and turned back to his potion ingredients.
Dumbledore turned and walked out of the room, his footsteps echoing through the dungeons as he walked farther and farther away. He was not humming tonight.
Swiftly, he swept the jars up in his arms and placed them on the shelves. He spent no time arranging them so that the labels were clearly visible, nor did he double-check them to make sure he put them in the right order. His hand was shaking as he placed the jar of safflower oil on its shelf, and it nearly fell onto the stone floor. He sighed agitatedly and ran his fingers down the length of his face, but it was no use, he could not pull himself together.
Severus walked over to his desk and sat in his chair, numb to his surroundings. All the events that Dumbledore had shared with him floated through his mind, and it filled with a million questions that he hadn’t asked. He wondered if Lily had died quickly and painlessly, and if she had to see James die. He wondered if she had lived long enough to see her son defeat the Dark Lord. Snape was no stranger to death, and he wondered, had she lived, if she would have talked to him about what happened that night.
But she didn’t.
And she couldn’t.
He rested his elbows on the table and put his face in his hands, emitting a deep, mournful sigh. Severus closed his eyes, and just like that, his emotional walls came tumbling down, and his eyes teared up. He had not cried in years—since before his schooling at Hogwarts, in fact. Crying seemed almost a foreign emotion now. His shoulders shuddered with his silent sobs, and a few salty tears dripped down his sallow face and hung precariously off of the tip of his hooked nose, until they fell onto the oak desk and began to form a puddle.
He cried and thought of Harry, and poor, naïve Peter.
He cried for his newfound freedom from the Death Eaters.
But most of all, he cried for his Lily, even though she was never really his to begin with.