Chapter 12 : The Cave
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Finally, he had gone as far as he could. Squeezing his eyes shut he slid into the water. His lungs contracted and he struggled for breath. Slowly, tediously, he began to swim. His waterlogged robes dragged behind him in the thick, icy water. He entered a long, narrow tunnel. It was dark and dank inside. Severus pulled his wand.
“Lumos,” he breathed. The tip of the wand ignited, filling the small space with light. He continued swimming, now only able to use one arm. He switched arms periodically, whenever one tired, but it was still difficult to keep his wand raised above the water level. He was shivering violently, and his wet hair was freezing to his head. Yet he pushed on, around a bend in the tunnel. It seemed to go on forever. His wand-light didn’t reach the end of the tunnel, if there was indeed an end to it.
Then, abruptly, his feet struck something solid. He had reached carved stone steps, leading out of the water. He raced up the steps as quickly as his legs would move. It seemed that the water, though nearly freezing, was warmer than the air. Luckily there was no wind, but the frigid air sliced into him as his wet clothes began to freeze. His hands had a bluish tint to the skin, and he fumbled with his wand, dropping it. He stumbled to the ground trying to retrieve it. The light had gone out and the cave was pitch-black. Finally, his numb fingers found the wood of the wand and he grabbed it.
He then realized he couldn’t remember the incantation to dry his clothes… he couldn’t even remember why he was soaking wet and in a cave… Nothing made sense. His mind was foggy and he wanted more than anything to find a small, comfortable place to curl up and sleep. He wasn’t shivering anymore; instead, he was beginning to feel overheated. Shedding his soggy coat, he crawled on into the darkness, skinning the skin of his hands and knees, but not feeling the pain.
He was so tired, but he kept crawling until he came to a wall. He raised his hands to it; the surface was smoother than untouched stone should have been. Suddenly, the wall fell away—disappeared into thin air. Severus stumbled forward, hitting the ground with a thud and scraping his chin. He was too exhausted to get up again. It wasn’t exactly comfortable, but all he wanted was to sleep.
Then he remembered something; it came to him from the depths of his fading memory: He had to find the Horcrux and bring it to Lily. It was the only way. As he dragged himself upward, peering into the darkness ahead, he recalled something else. With sluggish, unskilled hands, he pointed his wand at himself.
Muttering the incantation for the hot-air charm took all the strength he could muster, but it instantly dried his clothes. For some reason, he began to shiver again, though his mind was clearing and he felt stronger. Lighting his wand again, he pulled himself to his feet. The sight before his eyes was unsettling.
A great lake spread across the expanse of the cavern. The water was unnaturally still; not the faintest ripple disturbed its surface. It was murky, almost opaque; the light from his wand didn’t penetrate as far as it should have. There was a green glow emanating from the center of the lake, on what appeared to be an island. Severus had little doubt that this was where the Horcrux was… but how to get there?
He began skirting the water’s edge, walking sideways around the narrow rim on the lake and leaning into the rock cliff. He didn’t take his eyes off the water. He wished it would move; just the tiniest ripple would relieve him. It was as if he was engaged in a staring-contest with the lake, which appeared to be winning. The whole situation was rather unnerving.
His progress was slow and painstaking. As he drew nearer, he saw the island was a large, smooth stone, and looked to be perfectly round. The faint glow was in the direct center of the island, and thus the cave. Severus realized he wouldn’t be able to get any closer than he already was. The Horcrux was in the exact middle of the cave.
Severus raised his wand and half-heartedly tried something he was sure wouldn’t work. “Accio Horcrux.” His voice echoed hollowly.
He wasn’t surprised when the Horcrux wasn’t summoned, but something happened that made him jump back against the wall. Partway between him and the island, something had leapt from the water, blocking his spell. It happened so suddenly that he wasn’t able to tell what it was, let alone whether or not it had actually happened in the first place. And the water was so still; only a couple lingering ripples, which were now lapping at the stone rim at his feet, offered any proof. But something had to have caused the disturbance… Shaking it off, he thought for another solution. Of course there would be charms prevented him from Apparating to the island… but there must have been a way to get there.
He remembered what Dumbledore had told him, only the previous day: It’s hard to say whether or not you would make it out alive. At the time, in the safety of the headmaster’s office, it had been easy to conclude that Dumbledore was exaggerating and trying to force Severus into making up with Lily. But now, alone in a dark cave, with lingering symptoms of hypothermia, it was hard to not be concerned about what Dumbledore had said. But surely he knew that Severus was going to attempt it alone… Dumbledore was the type who just knew things like that; he could see the courses of action people were going to take as accurately as the most gifted Seer.
So Severus decided that if Dumbledore did indeed know, he would’ve put more effort into trying to save Severus’s life. At least, Severus hoped he would have. Even if Dumbledore wasn’t especially fond of him, he was a valuable spy. With renewed security, Severus turned his mind back to the task at hand.
How to cross the lake and get the Horcrux. To bring it back to Lily. So she would forgive him.
But first things first, he had to cross the lake. He leaned against the cliff and closed his eyes for a brief moment… and reopened them just as quickly. He didn’t trust the lake—and whatever was in it—and opted to keep watch. He remembered something Lily had told him when they began the hunt, a piece of wisdom passed on to her from Dumbledore.
Something about magic leaving traces. If you focused enough you could sense the presence of it… Trying to believe this was true, he relaxed his mind. After only a few seconds of not having felt anything, he was discouraged. But he had to keep trying… he had to do this for Lily. If for no other reason, he would do this to redeem himself in her eyes—to never have her look at him in that way again. He would do anything for that—for her.
Severus concentrated his mind again, until no thoughts ran through it. The cave was completely and utterly silent—the type that rang in his ears and made him feel like he was going mad.
Then, with a start, he came to a sudden realization. There was magic. Here. Near to him. He could feel it—sense it.
He moved a cautious hand out into the air, feeling like a lunatic, but there was no one there to see it. Besides whatever was in the lake, though he didn’t think they would much care. His hand bumped into something solid, yet completely invisible and the shock of it caused him to bang his elbow on the rock behind him as he jumped back. He found the thing again—it felt like a chain—and gripped onto it. Then he tapped it with his wand and the chain appeared. It was rusty and rough in his hand. Unsurely, he touched the tip of his wand to it again and the chain began to move upwards. He loosened his grip and let it slide through his hands.
Through the murky water, he saw something coming toward him. When it broke the surface, he saw that it was a small boat. It glided across the lake silently. Severus stared down at the tiny boat—it was also green, and seemed to glow—and felt the greatest sense of foreboding. Shaking it off, he carefully climbed into the boat, which didn’t rock back and forth with his shifting weight as much as it should have. As soon as he was settled inside, it began to move, skimming across the glassy lake, leaving not the smallest wake behind it. It was hard to tell how fast he was traveling, but before long he couldn’t see the shore he had just left from. It was as though he were on the ocean; only the unnerving qualities of the lake reminded him that he was not.
Severus saw something in the depths of the water, close enough that the light of his wand could reach it. His heart felt heavy in his chest, on his lungs, as he realized what was residing in the lake. He couldn’t look away from the deadened eyes, staring sightlessly upward, and the pale, rotted flesh.
Inferi. Of course. This was Voldemort’s cave, after all. What else was to be expected from him? Severus wrenched his gaze away from the dead man and looked straight ahead. He could see the stone island more clearly as he drew nearer to it. At long last, the boat bumped against the edge of it, and he stepped out, being mindful to not touch the water. The flat island was only inches above the lake, but was completely dry, as though no wave had ever washed over it.
The boat stayed in place as Severus ventured toward the center of the rock, toward the green light, which was glowing brighter. As he approached it, he saw that it was a stone basin of some sort. When he reached it, he saw that it was full of an emerald potion, which was emitting the misty light. In the bottom of the basin, clearly visible through the liquid, was a locket.
Salazar Slytherin’s locket… one of the Horcruxes. His heart leaping in excitement, he reached toward the basin. Abruptly, he jammed his fingers on something solid in midair. Confused, he moved his hands around the basin to find that it was surrounded by an impenetrable force-field of sorts. He wouldn’t be able to get any closer than he was now. At least not with his hands. He pulled out his wand and tried to Vanish the green potion. He wasn’t all too surprised when it didn’t work. Taking a step back, he racked his brains for a solution.
It was indeed a potion, though one he had never seen before, with its translucent glow and frighteningly green coloring. But since it was a potion, he could only assume it was meant to be drunk. He shuddered at the thought of it. He didn’t even want to know what a potion of Voldemort’s own creation would do.
Severus considered turning back. Surely if he were to climb back into the boat, it would bring him to the other side and he would be able to leave without any trouble. This was a tempting option. He was eager to get out of here as soon as possible. He could find Lily and tell her he knew exactly where a Horcrux was and they could get it together. But he didn’t want to subject her to this level of danger. So far, everything they had done had been safe. Lily claimed to be prepared to risk her life if it came down to it, but actually facing death was another thing entirely.
So he decided against bringing Lily to this terrible place. He had to do this alone. It would prove his loyalty to Lily and she wouldn’t be able to hate him anymore. He would bring back the locket and allow her the honor of destroying it. That was the only way to get back in good graces.
Severus conjured a simple goblet and extended it toward the basin. He was not relieved when he made it past the invisible barrier. The potion was indeed intended to be consumed. He scooped up some of the liquid and brought it to his lips. It had no scent whatsoever. He had no clue as to what it would taste like—no hint as to what it would do to him. In one fluid motion, he tipped the goblet back and the potion drained into his mouth. He swallowed it quickly, and, though it was as cold as the water he had so recently swam through, it burned his throat as it went down.
At first, he felt nothing. The potion was tasteless. Then he started to feel an intense thirst, as though his throat and lungs were on fire. Desperately, he took another goblet of potion and poured it into his mouth. It did nothing to decrease the pain—only made it worse. He was starting to black out and could scarcely see well enough to take another drink. But he managed it. If all Voldemort’s potion was going to do was cause him pain, he could handle it.
But Severus soon realized that was not all the potion was intended to do.
It started with screamed words, slammed doors; his father late coming home. The neglect in the earliest years—the resentment that came later, and grew to be mutual. He tried to stop the memories from coming—he knew where they would inevitably lead, and he couldn’t bear reliving that—but it was pointless. The darkness of his youth passed quickly now, as if the potion was eager to torture him over things fresher in his mind.
The recent look of loathing in those glorious green eyes… the biting sarcasm, the shouted words, each of them ringing true. The sickening crack of Disapparation—the overwhelming sense that he would never see her again.
Back several years, his memories coming in pieces, jumping around, leading maliciously toward the one that would hurt him the most. He took another gulp of the potion, a fresh dose of poison. He was beginning to hope it would kill him.
Seeing her with him—his worst enemy, the one he could not think of without wanting to punch a hole through a wall. How arrogant, how insufferable… What was wrong with her to see any trace of goodness in him? They were in Hogsmeade, talking, laughing—Severus tried to ignore them. But they kissed. A gut-wrenching sight to endure. Potter had reclined back in his chair after they’d pulled away and glanced over to Severus, his face smug as he wrapped an arm around her. And she hadn’t noticed that Severus was even there, for she was so enchanted by James Potter, who she used to rant about to Severus all the time … He was so confused, so lost.
Another mouthful of potion and the worst memory of all was approaching… but another first to make him suffer in his dread: Voldemort deciding that the prophecy meant Harry Potter, not Neville Longbottom. Severus trying to tell him that it was Neville; that there was no way it could mean Harry… The disgusting hunger with which Voldemort discussed killing the Potters… killing Lily. Severus tirelessly, shamelessly begging him to spare her…
And over it all, finally, after much ado, he heard it—heard himself—heard the shouted word that tore everything apart—everything he had strived for—everything he had almost had.
Severus couldn’t go on as he fell to the foot of the stone basin, which was finally empty for all his efforts. He reached an arm inside and found the locket. He slipped it into his pocket. He had done what he had come here to do. He was nearly unconscious, but he felt a terrible thirst overcoming him. He needed water more than he had ever needed anything.
Crawling to the edge of the island took all the strength he possessed. His head fell into the dank, freezing water and he was nearly too tired to exhausted to take in any water. But he opened his mouth and swallowed a little of it. Some energy came back to him—enough to lift his head and sit back on the stone. When he opened his eyes, he wasn’t all too surprised to find dead hands reaching for him out of the water. He stumbled backward, as fast as he was able to move. Hands were grabbing his ankles and pulling very slowly, with grim determination. The smooth surface of the rock island offered no traction. He slid across it back to the water’s edge.
He thought he should put the Horcrux on the island so the next person to come wouldn’t have to drink the horrible potion. But he was slipping underwater and he was immobilized by the Inferi, as well as fear, fatigue and cold. Just before his head slipped under the surface, teetering on the brink of consciousness, he saw a bright white light across the lake. He thought he heard screaming—a familiar voice. Then there was more light, orange and hot, shooting out toward him, into the water. His captors released him, and he thought he must have died—that would be the only reason they would ever let go. His eyes slid shut and he continued drifting downward in the deep lake.
A/N: ...reviews please? -Jenni
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