Word Count: 2100
Summary: Severus is troubled by talismans both Gryffindor and Slytherin.
Disclaimer: This work of fan fiction is based on characters and situations created by J. K. Rowling and owned by J. K. Rowling and various publishers, including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made from (and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended by) the posting of this fan work.
Author's Note: This fic follows A Thoroughly Inappropriate Conversation. Thank you, arynwy and shiv5468, for beta'ing.
Severus knew it was well that he did eat because, as usual, he wouldn't be getting much sleep; he would be waiting in his office for news of Potter's whereabouts from Phineas Nigellus. His forthcoming errand made him nervous; what if Potter failed to retrieve the sword? It would have to be taken, as Dumbledore had repeatedly told him, 'under conditions of need and valour', and even though Severus knew Potter's ultimate fate, he wanted no part of putting the boy in harm's way—no matter that he had worked out how to do it as carefully as he had selected the memories that he would share with the boy when the time came to reveal to him the true weight of his dreadful destiny. He pushed all thoughts of that eventuality from his mind as he considered the matter of the sword.
That plan rests upon the doe. Severus' fingers wrapped themselves around his wand seemingly of their own volition. What if I can't summon her?
It was a stupid thing about which to be worried after the lengths he'd gone to maintain his Patronus' expected form for Dumbledore and the Order's sake. He'd started practising with the Patronus Charm from the moment he understood how the Order sent their messages.
And to torture myself with the incontrovertible evidence of how I failed her.
Was he going to dwell on that now? He didn't want to. He didn't want to think about his failures at all, especially his greatest one. He didn't want to think about how he had been responsible for Lily's death, but it was impossible to avoid such thoughts, he found, as time pushed him inexorably closer to the moment in which he would come to bear some responsibility for the death of her son.
How could I ever have believed that she would accept me after . . . .
Severus tried to stop his self-flagellation; he usually saved it for the anniversary of Lily's death.
Too much is at stake for me to dilute my sense of purpose.
Ah, but that was the point to this exercise in self-loathing, wasn't it? It had been months since he'd last cast the Patronus Charm. He sighed and allowed his mind to wander where it would. As a boy, a young, foolish, desperate boy, knowing as he did that no one could love Lily better than he, himself, could, he'd been confident that Lily would forgive him once she understood the utter completeness of his love and how he'd "masterfully" arranged to bestow it upon her.
She was supposed to be mine, to be given to me as a reward . . . .
That had been, of course, his arrogant failure of understanding as a boy, but thinking about everything he'd ever known of his first and truest friend from an adult point-of-view, Severus had come to accept, albeit rather late, that there was no way Lily could have ever forgiven him for having arranged that her life be spared at the expense of her son's.
And her husband's.
The thought that James Potter had been Lily's husband still burned, but he couldn't deny the truth of her choice, or what it had meant for her. To the last, Lily had been loyal to her family, and she'd shown him the same sort of loyalty until it had become clear to her that he had chosen, over everything, over their friendship, over her, to follow the Dark Lord. When she'd rejected him, Severus hadn't understood why; in his lust to possess Lily at any cost, he'd believed that desire was love, and he'd been certain that she would come to reciprocate his given time. Perhaps she had been attracted to him once; Severus could no longer be certain, but any trace of the warm regard for him that he'd thought she'd felt had cooled after he'd failed to condemn his friends for their Dark "pranks." After that, he and Lily had only had their deteriorating friendship to bind them, and he'd broken that bond by refusing to heed her pleas that he give up his fascination for the Dark Arts and where it would inevitably lead him. The "Mudblood" incident had only been the last straw for her.
When I made her afraid of me.
Even so, he'd been furious with Lily for abandoning him, so furious that he'd wanted to hurt her, to harm everyone who stood with her—but his anger had spent itself quickly enough as he'd clasped her lifeless body to his. It was, however, years before he'd realised that he could never have truly loved Lily if she'd accepted his decision to become a Death Eater. She'd always put others before herself, and if she could have loved him for taking her away from her family, for taking what he wanted at the expense of others, she would not have been his Lily.
And that's why she never truly was.
Yet, there was something more to love, something that it had taken the ending of his ill-fated relationship with Nymphadora to teach him: women weren't possessions, no matter how fiercely one might long to possess them, and desire was only one component of love. It was trust that mattered most, and trust, once lost, was almost impossible to reclaim. He'd lost Nymphadora's trust as easily or more so than he'd lost Lily's because, when he'd finally surrendered to his passion for her, he'd done so before coming to understand that loving a witch didn't give one the right to control her—and Nymphadora had, far more quickly than Lily, seen him for the hateful grasping weakling that he was.
"You never told me what Charlie said—that he was sorry we'd fought, that he wanted my forgiveness."
"Why should I have done? A dragon wrangler, really? Did you truly want to follow that dunderhead to the wilds of Romania where your many and excellent talents would be wasted? I stand by my decision.
"It wasn't yours to make!"
No, it hadn't been, but having achieved Nymphadora—a remarkable witch with Lily's spirit and kindness and Black ancestry to boot, a witch who, in spite of his protective persona, had found him worthy of her regard—Severus had wanted to keep her.
Especially if it meant keeping her from a pure-blood wizard.
The realisation was unexpected, and Severus pondered it, wondering if it were true. He supposed it was; his bitterness had always informed his decisions in disastrous ways.
Am I still so broken? Do I deserve anyone's love? Does it even bear thinking of?
Questions of love were asked by men who thought they had a future in which to love, and being honest with himself, Severus wasn't sure that he did. Oh, he'd done what he could to protect himself; he'd always had a second and even a third plan to keep himself from danger, but that was so that he could keep Lily's son from harm. But for his vow to Dumbledore, Severus didn't think he'd have tried particularly hard to survive; he didn't like himself much.
But now that Potter has to die . . . .
What hope was there that he, himself, would survive the Dark Lord? What hope was there that he might survive the wrath of those who felt that he'd betrayed them? Daphne, and perhaps, Pomfrey, suspected that he might be playing a deep game, but Severus didn't hold out much hope that anyone else would give him, should he survive what was to come, the opportunity to explain his objectives.
Damn you, Albus! You never even pretended to care about my future! Severus shook himself. That doesn't matter now. The only thing that matters now is leading Potter to the sword.
Resolved on that point, at least, he raised his wand and silently, fearfully, willed himself to summon the doe.
Yes, years of practise, it seemed, wouldn't fail him, in spite of the fact that when he did not concentrate on producing a corporeal Patronus, it was wisps of amorphous silver that issued from his wand to wind themselves about him in cold condemnation of his past betrayal.
I have no right to you any longer, not after what I did, but it has to mean something good, doesn't it, that I can still summon you?
As if in answer, the doe's shining form began to dissipate.
"No. Don't go. You can't go!" Severus cried. You're the talisman with which I'll draw Potter to the sword!
A talisman, a thoroughly inappropriate talisman with which to lead Potter towards further danger—Severus was momentarily disgusted by his own plan. Doubt once more filled his mind.
"Stop this," he told himself, pulling on his robes and gathering together the items which he would need to take with him to his office, for if Potter were found, he would have to leave at once. You cannot give in to doubt. You have no right to do so. You chose to be here, remember? Isn't that what you told Daphne?
Daphne—she trusted him. Remembering that was soothing, and fetching his travelling cloak, Severus began to think on the good that he had done.
I've kept secrets. I've procured information. I've protected the students—I have! As best I could. I kept that murderous bitch, he told himself, thinking of Diana Greengrass, away from her daughter. I've kept the Carrows largely at bay, especially Amycus. No one's been raped, he thought, recalling Daphne's words. No one's died—not on my watch.
He'd done the best he could as Headmaster. He'd keep doing the best he could for Hogwarts' previous one. He'd summon the doe. Potter would claim the sword. Dumbledore's plan would move forward.
And perhaps I'll manage to survive all this, he thought, abruptly. I want to survive all this!
It was a surprising realisation, and it ripped from him a rough, rasping sound so devoid of mirth that for a moment, Severus couldn't recognise it as a laugh. Shocked and confused by it, he froze.
Why am I laughing?
His question quelled the outburst.
Because even if you do survive, you won't necessarily win anything for your troubles, will you? Daphne isn't a prize to be won like the princess of some fairytale—only heroes win fair maidens for their pains.
Where that thought had come from, Severus didn't know, but he pursued it.
Daphne's not some damsel for the taking, no, and she'd be the first to say as much. She's strong like that, proud—but in spite of everything I've done, she's shown me friendship. However prompted by gratitude and fancy it might be, I've earned her loyalty.
Perhaps he had done, but was it right to take strength from that innocent understanding when he wanted a far more worldly knowledge of her? Severus vacillated. Given his damnably fragile emotional state, it was dangerous to dwell on how much Daphne trusted him. He wasn't a hero, not like the ones who were sung about in ballads or written into poems—not like the one that Potter was doomed to become. No, no one would ever write his story, so he couldn't very well seek out Daphne's tangible favours. He didn't have the right; he wasn't her prince.
"That is quite enough, you idiot!" Severus exclaimed, hating himself for the foolish, wistful turn of his thoughts.
Daphne wasn't for him, and he'd been right not to permit her to truly share anything with him. He would not now weaken on that score; instead, he would leave off his ridiculous procrastination and again turn his thoughts towards his duty.
Have I forgotten anything? he asked himself, glancing about his quarters. His eyes swept over and then returned to the remains of his dinner, fixing upon them while his heart began to pound. "Oh."
He'd been wrong. Daphne had shared something with him, something symbolic of her loyalty—something that, if he was to successfully bear the part he had to play in leading Lily's son one step closer to death, he did need to touch.
Moments later, he was standing in a pantry and holding up a pearlescent, vegetal globe in the dim light.
Potter will have the sword to give him courage, he promised himself, and I'll have this.
He charmed the object not to rot, and then, feeling only slightly silly, slid it into his pocket.
No one will ever know, and Daphne would never deny me a talisman against fear and guilt.
So it came to pass that when he travelled into the Forest of Dean to leave the sword for Potter, Severus took with him for his own protection the gift of a pure white onion.