The day or two devoted to planning was a half-hearted effort. Severus seemed unwilling to ask for help and claimed to have the entire thing under control. Sirius was obviously unconcerned with that would happen if something went wrong and didn’t try to hide it.
Lily privately wished that she could take Severus’s place, as her adrenaline rush from infiltrating Lestrange Manor was wearing off and she wanted that feeling back. But she never thought for a moment to suggest this—it had to be Severus. It was the only option and it was risky as it was. Nevertheless, she couldn’t shake the feeling of uselessness. She hadn’t even destroyed a Horcrux yet! Sirius, who had been late in joining the Hunt, had already killed two.
So she had vowed to herself that she would discover the identities of the two unknown Horcruxes and personally destroy them. Perhaps it was a lofty goal, but she felt that she had done nothing to contribute yet. If she didn’t do something soon…
“Lily,” Sirius said suddenly, yanking her from her thoughts. “He wants the Cloak.”
She looked between him and Severus, slow to process what was happening. “Oh, uh…” She pulled the Cloak out of her pocket and put it on the table. Severus reached for it, but Sirius was quick to intervene.
“You’re just going to give it to him?” he asked incredulously. “What if something happens?”
“If I have the Cloak, it’ll be easier for me to get out of it—with the Horcrux,” Severus said. “That is, after all, what the entire purpose is.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sirius said dismissively. “I’m just not too eager to risk losing something so valuable…”
Lily smiled sadly, knowing that the value he spoke of had little to do with the practicality of the Cloak, but was much more sentimental.
“So I’m to assume,” Severus began, “that losing the Cloak is the most worrying aspect of this. I, of course, am completely expendable.”
Sirius straightened up, clearly taking the bait. “Well, if we’re being honest here…”
He fell silent as Remus shot him a stern glare. “Just don’t,” he said tiredly.
The two of them looked at each other, as if they could communicate telepathically, until it was clear that Remus had won.
“Well, I think we’re ready,” Sirius said. “You’ll leave first thing in the morning.”
Severus nodded nervously, but didn’t mention just how unprepared he was. Lily was worried, too. Had anyone ever broken into Gringotts and made it out alive? Well, she thought, there’s a first time for everything.
* * *
Severus waited in Diagon Alley, just outside Gringotts, for nearly three hours. He was sure that he’d just missed her when—Bellatrix strolled directly past. Severus, concealed in the Cloak, trailed behind her. She moved at a purposefully brisk pace. He followed her into Gringotts, taking careful, silent steps.
Once they were off the bustling streets, he was more nervous. Inside the bank, it was much quieter and he feared that the goblins’ beady eyes would see him. Luckily, the sharp click of Bellatrix’s heels masked the soft padding of his own footsteps.
Everything went well. He hovered a few steps behind her while she signed in. As the goblin led her away, he followed—his presence went seemingly undetected. He was amazed at just how silent he could be went he put his mind to it. He didn’t let the Cloak rustle as he treaded along; he only took a breath when necessary and timed it so that it would be covered up by an exchange of words between the goblin and Bellatrix.
Finally, they reached the cart. This would be trickier. But his two companions, unaware of the invisible man trailing him, boarded the cart and left plenty of time and room for Severus to climb on as well. As he sat down, Bellatrix turned toward him, a slight frown on her face. Severus froze and leaned away as the cart lurched into motion. She shook her head and turned away to face forward once more. He let out his breath slowly. After quite some time, the cart slowed to a stop. The goblin and Bellatrix unloaded and Severus was climbing out when he was the woman’s hand move to her pocket in a suspiciously subtle way. His first instinct was to freeze again, but—just before she hurled the first curse—he leapt a couple steps away from where she would aim. A red stream of light hit the wall behind him. Bellatrix made a low, growling noise in her throat.
“Madam!” the goblin gasped, flapping his small hands fretfully.
“There’s someone following us,” she whispered tensely, her eyes darting around.
“There’s no one there,” the goblin assured her.
Severus had been creeping up behind her all this time, his wand extended, but still under the Cloak. He was being as quiet as he could manage, but he exhaled too loudly and his target spun toward him before he could get as close as he wanted to. A curse narrowly missed him this time, but he quickly retaliated.
Bellatrix fell backward, stunned, onto the stone floor. Severus allowed himself a moment to breathe a sigh of relief, before placing an Imperius Curse on the very confused goblin. The creature gave in easily, too stressed to fight it, and led him to the vault. They snuck past a guard dragon that seemed to be blind, as if only turned toward them when the goblin spoke.
“Right this way, sir. Almost there.”
The dragon started toward them—Severus flattened against the wall—but soon reached the end of its chain. Severus let out his breath and continued toward the vault. The goblin unlocked the door and let him inside.
Severus, removing the Cloak now, sighed heavily upon seeing the inside of the vault. Everything in it looked valuable enough to be a Horcrux. Would he have to destroy everything there just to find it? But then again… there was a reasonable chance that there wasn’t a Horcrux in the vault at all. Luckily, he didn’t have to consider this devastating thought for long; he suddenly spotted something small and familiar on the top shelf.
Hufflepuff’s cup. His heart beginning to pound in his chest, he edged toward it, never taking his eyes off the small goblet. It seemed to reflect the minimal light in the vault, a shining beacon. Upon reaching the shelf, he began to carefully climb up until the cup was within his grasp. He grabbed it eagerly and never expected what happened next.
The skin of his hand burned painfully, as if scorched on red-hot metal. He released the cup involuntarily and at least twenty more identical goblets sprang forth from it, clattering to the floor. Simultaneously, he fell from where he clung to the shelf and landed on the floor. The other artifacts he’d touched in the process also burned and multiplied, and the Imperius Curse had lifted from the goblin, who had disappeared.
He lay perfectly still, his pulse still racing, and the things in the vault stopped cloning themselves. Careful not to touch anything else, he stood up from the rubble. No sooner had he got to his feet than a curse flew past his face, practically singing his eyebrows.
Bellatrix, now revived, had come to the vault. And she had apparently not alerted the authorities, as she was alone. Severus knew from the snarl on her face that she wanted to deal with this personally.
He ducked out of her sight again and fumbled with the Cloak in his pocket. He had to get it on without Bellatrix seeing it. Once it was draped over him, he felt much more confident and crawled back to the scattered cups on the floor. Bellatrix was still prowling toward the entrance of the vault, but out of sight. She had seen him, though, and he thought for a second that the game was over—he was no longer a spy. He’d blown his cover. He should’ve kept the Cloak on the entire time! What had he been thinking?
Severus winced as his hand brushed across a large vase; he jerked back before it could burn him, but the damage had been done. Identical vases were appearing out of thin air and bumping into him, continuing the vicious cycle. And he’d blown his cover yet again. Jets of light were mingled in with the multiplying vases, shattering most of them, and narrowly missing him, on his hands and knees and under the Cloak.
But worse things could’ve happened. In fact, being bombarded with curses worked out quite well. It had destroyed most of the vases and had cleared a path to Hufflepuff’s cup and its dozens of look-alikes. He moved toward them, at a painstakingly slow speed. Finally he’d reached them. Then came yet another problem: Which cup was the Horcrux?
Then he had a sudden stroke of genius. He rocked back onto his toes and leaned forward. He prodded one of the goblets and then dove behind a table. Curses flew, just as he’d planned, from a Bellatrix who seemed to be getting closer. Most of the cups she hit shattered and she soon stopped, realizing that she was risking destroying something of Voldemort’s. But she didn’t stop soon enough—one of the cups she’d hit had not shattered. It had only lifted up and rolled off… right to Severus. Sure that this was it, he took a deep breath and moved over it. He reached a hand down, still completely inside the Cloak, and grabbed it. He ignored the burning of the palm of his hand, clenching his teeth against the pain, and made a break for it as the replications clattered to the floor behind him, leaving a clear trail of where he was and where he was headed.
He sprinted around the tables and shelves, dodging streams of light all the while. Finally the goblet stopped copying itself and he was out the door before he knew it. Not stopping to think, he ran straight for the dragon and then took cover behind it as Bellatrix burst out of her vault, wearing an expression of pure rage.
“Snape!” she bellowed.
The dragon stirred and turned toward her voice, its tail nearing taking Severus out.
“I’ll find you,” she promised. “You might get out of this alive, but you can’t escape me forever.”
Severus gulped and backed away, into a dark corridor. He wandered for quite some time, his hand hurting worse with each second; the cup and his hand had been burned together and he wasn’t brave enough to rip the cup—and some of his skin—off at the moment. Eventually, he came to a similarly wandering goblin.
“Imperio,” he muttered. The goblin spun on his heel and led Severus to a cart and then to the lobby of Gringotts. Bellatrix was leaning over the desk of one of the tellers, hissing threateningly at him.
“Someone broke into my vault!”
“That’s impossible, Madam, you can’t break into Gringotts.”
“I know exactly who he is and exactly what he took. You will not let anyone out of this bank until we find him.”
Severus picked up his pace and was able to escape the building before the goblins bent to Bellatrix’s will—and gave into the threats she was surely piling on. Severus Disapparated as soon as he was outside of Gringotts, not caring about the shock the sudden noise would cause to passersby. He had to get out of there. Every extra moment he stayed endangered him.
Back in Hogsmeade, he returned immediately to the Hog’s Head. He was not surprised to see Lily, Sirius and Remus sitting around their usual table and completely alone, apart from Aberforth, who was lurking behind the counter, eavesdropping. The three looked up expectantly and Severus slipped off the Cloak. He was holding Hufflepuff’s cup in his hand.
He smiled weakly. “I got it.”
Lily jumped up and engulfed him in a quick hug that he wasn’t at all prepared for, and then grabbed the cup. He winced as a layer of his skin went with it. Apparently the protective curses had worn off because Lily wasn’t burnt and the cup didn’t replicate. Severus sighed and sank into a chair, dropping his head to the table.
Lily placed the Horcrux in the middle of the floor and eagerly conjured Fiendfyre that consumed the goblet until it bled a dark bloodlike liquid. She was positively beaming as she admired her work.
“Congrats on your first Horcrux, Lily,” Sirius said, grinning. She smiled even wider and placed the dead cup on the table once it had cooled. She pulled out the ring, diary and locket and gathered them together, arranging and rearranging them as if they were a doll collection, or her most prized possessions.
The three men watched her quietly. Finally one of them acknowledged the one previously ignored.
“Well, I broke into Gringotts for one,” he began bitterly. “I spent a considerable time dodging curses, getting burnt repeatedly and…” He paused and surveyed their expressions.
Lily was flipping through the charred pages of the diary, but it was clear that she was listening, just feigning disinterest. Sirius looked rather bored as he let out a massive yawn. And even Remus seemed less than impressed. No one prompted him to continue his unfinished sentence, and he wondered if he should.
Wouldn’t they discard him without a second thought if he was no longer a spy? That was the only reason he had been useful all this time—the only reason they’d kept him around. If they knew he’d lost that, why would they want to put up with him anymore?
But if he didn’t tell them now, it would only be a matter of time until they found out. And then they would question his motives for not confessing immediately and the whole thing would be far too complicated.
So he continued after a few seconds hesitation. “And she… saw me.”
Everyone’s head snapped up at once, as they stared, wide-eyed, at him.
“What do you mean she saw you?” Sirius asked in a low voice.
Severus sighed. “Bellatrix saw me.”
“Well, I’d gathered that much!” Sirius snapped. “Why weren’t you wearing the Cloak?”
“I was, but I’d stunned her and I guess I thought—”
“You thought you were safe, eh? Never think that for a moment! Never let your guard down!” Sirius seemed to be having considerable difficulties restraining from saying anything more, but he managed it after clamping his teeth down on his fist.
Lily didn’t seem all that angry—only sorely disappointed. “So you can’t be a spy anymore, huh?”
He shook his head ruefully. “I can’t go back anymore. I’ll bet Voldemort’s plotting my death as we speak.”
A/N: More implications of Snape’s blunder will be covered in the next chapter; I just had to end this with that line :) We’re in the homestretch now! Currently, there’ll be 21 chapters. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Gringotts infiltration chapter! Took me forever to write it, which isn’t the best sign, so… was it any good?