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Chapter 31
Creating Swamps and Quagmires

He stood quite still looking up at the light. It came from a small window, the only one in the dungeon classroom. It was his only reminder that life existed outside. Strangely enough he longed to go out there to breathe the air and feel alive, a part of him did anyway. April was fading and May almost begun. Spring had finally come to the far north, finally reached what had been a cold and bitter winter. He had once had a few happy spring days so very long ago. They were mere dreams, now.

Severus Snape let out an audible sigh. It was the utter failure of his existence that rankled him. All his plans seemed to have come apart. His life was as a slip of muggle paper drifting in a stream. Fate had swept it away and the glue that had held him together was dissolving.

Dumbledore was sorely disappointed in him, he knew. He’d refused to teach the Potter cretin Occlumency. To Hades with him! Dumbledore could not make him help the pompous sneak any more than he was bound to. Any contact with the boy’s mind put them all in danger anyway, most especially himself. Potter had seen his memory, an agonizingly embarrassing moment to be sure but what if he’d seen something else? Harry Potter was connected to the Dark Lord, there was no longer any doubt of it. He was spy, for pity’s sake! He’d seen his master in Potter’s eyes! He couldn’t risk the exposure of his duplicity, let alone his more dangerous or intimate memories to a heedless fool. The idiotic young man was both his nemesis and his albatross. How he hated the sainted Potter. His life was cursed. James’ son was a little thief and just as arrogant as his father. He could only thank his stars that the little nitwit hadn’t seen the rest of it. Better that he’d seen his father for the condescending berk that he was. Better that than the other memories.

A small cough sounded behind him.

He was loath to turn around having recognized the sound. His life was a misery.

The cough came again accompanied by a clearing of the throat.

Snape rolled his eyes in exasperation before turning around.

The large toad woman, Dolores Umbridge smiled her wide mirthless lips. “Professor Snape,” she began acting all business. “I must speak with you.”

Snape stiffened and clamped down on the martyr’s sigh that threatened to emerge from him. “Headmistress,” he said nearly gagging on the word. He indicated that she should come nearer.

“This is intolerable,” she began. “You must help me enter the tower.” Her syrupy voice was incongruous to her shape or her personality. She should croak.

“I have no control in this castle, as you are no doubt aware, Dolores.” His voice was smooth. He chose his words carefully. He bowed slightly in abeyance.

“Albus Dumbledore is a criminal! When we find him, he shall be thrown into Azkaban where I will personally see to it that his soul is sucked out by the Dementors!” She stomped a pudgy foot in frustration. It was no secret that she’d spent the last few weeks of Easter Holiday trying to enter the Headmaster’s tower. She had spent the entire school year vying for power with that one ambition, to rid Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry of Albus Dumbledore and sit on the seat of power herself. That she could not now enter the tower was laughable to all but her. Her ambitions were a sham. She was no match for the likes of the greatest wizard in the world.

“I’m not political, m’am. I am but a professor of potions. I have no idea what separate magic prohibits you from entering the tower.” He shrugged with a studied unconcern and flipped a stray strand of long black hair from his eye. “I would help you if I could.”

A quick malevolent glare came onto her face even as she smiled. She looked grotesque. “You’re lying,” she said viciously. “You would help me if I brought back your little friend.”

“I beg your pardon? What friend?” He was truly stymied. The pig of woman was galling.

“Professor Wood.” A look of triumph spread on the hideous mug. “You and she were quite a little number. I’ll allow her return if you would help me get into the tower, Severus.”

A stab of emotional pain entered Snape’s brain. He’d missed Felicity. Her quirky ways and irritating verbal diarrhea had lightened the mood of his existence on occasion. She’d made his life imprisoned in his promises somewhat bearable. The night that he’d sent her away had haunted him and intensified his unceasing loneliness. He’d kissed her then and her lips had yielded to him even as she’d feared for her insipid lover, Lupin.

A loathing for Umbridge swept him up. She and her kind were the dirt beneath his feet. Her petty ambitions were much more than just a nuisance.

“I think you overstep your position, Madame,” he snarled. “How DARE you insinuate that I would have a relationship with Miss Wood beyond the accepted. My personal friendships are my own affair!”

Dolores Umbridge fumed and glared. She’d developed a twitch in her eye. She was oblivious to the dangerousness of Severus Snape. She was too lost in the frustrations of her position and wanted in that tower. She sneered at him. “I’m not the fool you professors take me for, Snape. I WILL prevail. The Ministry is in charge of Hogwarts now and I am the Ministry! You’d best fall into line.”

She stood waiting for him to rage against her but Severus was a survivor, a man who knew when to bend until that glorious moment when he could break her neck. “I bow to your power, Headmistress, but in truth I have no idea how to enter the Headmaster’s tower.” He cocked his head to the side and tossed his hand out with a sweeping gesture.

She could nothing though she looked as if she were about to explode. The veins in her fat neck were plainly visible; she was grinding her teeth so hard. All she could do, however, was stamp her foot again before turning to clomp out of the room.

He turned back to his window, a signature Severus Snape smirk spreading across his face. It was all too easy at times.

For weeks after the battle for Wolvin Village between the werewolves and the Death Eaters, the Gray’s house and the school were enveloped in a dreary gloom. Dealing with death was not easy. That it had come roughly riding on broomsticks and was wielded by magic folk bent on extermination made living with it all the harder.

The people of the village took their dead and went home. The wounded, about fifteen in all, stayed with the Gray’s to be treated by Agatha, Felicity and when he was available, Albus Dumbledore. They were the only healers in the area.

The Death Eaters had disappeared. It was a success of a kind. The werewolves had rid their hamlet of the threat to their existence, but they had paid a steep price for what might be only temporary. Voldemort’s Death Eaters had left the houses at the farm of Hidden Fist burning in ruin. There was nothing left and for the werewolves, it was a hollow and sad victory. If they were not destroyed, the Death Eaters would return someday to finish their extermination.

War, the battles, the skirmishes, and all the dastardly intrigue were a cruel and ugly human frailty. Albus had seen it before. Years ago, in the muggle’s great war he had watched in horror as the wizard world and the muggle world had collided in the turmoil that was WWII. Now again, power, evil and the lust to eradicate others brewed the same putrid potion. Whatever and whomever Voldemort touched was contaminated by his evil. It was the real and horrible kind. Even Albus Dumbledore, who saw the good in all men, had long since given up any hope of allowing Tom Riddle’s soul to roam free. Riddle had sealed his fate when he’d chosen to split his soul. He no longer human and had become as muggle legends: a demon, evil incarnate and forever apart. He must be stopped no matter what sacrifices must be made. This was a fact and Dumbledore knew it.

Albus looked out the window toward the common green on the Gray’s estate. It was late afternoon and the world was bucolic. The evil seemed far away again. As always, life rolled on and happiness, beauty and love could be seen everywhere rising from the ashes of war.

Remus, Felicity, Tonks, Kate and the young man, Barnabus had laid out a blanket and were having a picnic in the warm spring sun. Though he had no wish to join them, he did enjoy watching them in their play. Remus and Felicity seemed a very happy couple though he sensed a tension there. It was inevitable. The dragon people were difficult to understand. He had known Remus Lupin since he was a child and the he had become the best kind of man, one with a large and accommodating heart. He would make every effort to fathom the dragon and her ways, but even a great love has its limits. Remus would be tested.

Albus shook his head partly humored and saddened by the same realization. Felicity was a dragon that would mature for centuries more and would never become a domesticated being. It was not in her nature. She was a wild one. Her heart, too, was large and loving, but it belonged soaring in the clouds. He laughed. He watched as Remus did a trick that had infuriated both Tonks and Felicity. They’d both pounced on him in delighted laughter. The group of adults was wrestling about while the younger Kate and Barnabus looked on confused. To be young again would be so sweet. He sighed.

Whatever happened, they were all happy in this single moment. And that in its self was strikingly beautiful.

“You look deep in thought, Albus,” said the deep voice of the weary leader of the pack, John Gray. He stood next to the old wizard. Their eyes met. He’d lost a son to them. His own brother, Fenrir had killed him.

“I cannot help, even in our sadness, but watch the young with a lightening of my heart,” answered Albus.

John looked out at the picnickers. Tonks and Felicity were hugging each other in laughter as Remus danced a jig for them. Even Barnabus was smiling up at him. John shook his head. “Even though we’ve rid our land of them, Albus,” he said soberly. “They’ll be back unless you stop them. No one is safe. It’s just as before. As that maniac gains power, we all suffer.” A lone tear appeared in his eye.

“I’m sorry, John,” said the wizard kindly.

“So am I,” said John. He sucked in a brave breath. “You’ve got to find a way to stop him, Albus. This can’t happen again. My people haven’t fully recovered from the last time. If we have to go into hiding again, life in this village will never be the same.” His face was rigid.

Albus bowed his head to John’s grief. “I’ll do my best, my friend. I’ve a plan that’s formed. We’ve a few key advantages this time around.” He looked out the window. “The dead have left behind valuable allies. They’ve made sure to leave a promise to keep and a quest of truth for the living. We’ll prevail. I might not live to see it, but we’ll win this fight once and for all.”

He smiled indulgently at the inquiring features of the werewolf. He often saw that look in others. “Don’t worry,” he assured the troubled leader. “I’ll leave Felicity with you for the time being. She and Remus can have their time together. You’ll be protected. Voldemort and his followers won’t return unless we fail entirely.” He looked again at the happy gathering on the lawn. “By April’s end, Remus should return to London. I’ll send for Felicity sometime after that.” He squinted at the scene before them. “You’ll see. It only seems a quagmire because we’re in the trenches trying to get out. It will be all right.”

The two old men, one stocky and strong, the other slightly stooped and frail, stood watching the fading sun set behind the band of revelers for a long time after.

“You’ve got to admit it’s pure brilliance on my part,” said Fred. He’d shoved the last item into the closet, a secret storage area that they’d used for their entire career at Hogwarts.

“And mine, brother,” answered George.

“We truly are geniuses, you know?”

“Bloody brilliant.”

“Yes, that, too.”

Fred and George Weasley had been working on a big change for their lives and careers. They had goals. They had motivation and ambition. As they walked the stairs congratulating themselves, however, their sister, Ginny ran up behind them. “George? Fred?” she said panting from the climb.

“Little sister,” answered George turning around.

“Don’t stress, Gin,” said Fred observing her flushed features and mused up red hair.

“What’s up?” They said together.

Ginny stopped with them on the landing while catching her breath. “Harry needs some help,” she began. “He needs you to occupy Professor Umbridge…”

“I do believe the toad woman wishes…” interrupted George.

“…to be called Headmistress toad woman, Ginny,” finished Fred. They both laughed at their own witticism.

Ginny rolled her eyes. Really, the twins were so often ridiculous. They were both brilliant and bonkers at the same time. “He needs to talk with a friend,” she continued with a wink to emphasize that the friend was a certain secret member of the Order of the Phoenix named Sirius Black.

“Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, George,” said Fred. “That’d be a code, that wink.” He did an exaggerated wink for his brother.

George laughed out loud. “You kill me.” He put his arm around Ginny’s shoulder. “Say no more, luv. We’ll volunteer our services for the lad.”

“Consider it done, sis.”

“Yes, done.”

Ginny smiled at her elder brothers thinking them good sports and how she was lucky to be related to them, until she saw some surly Slytherins come down the stairs from class. She looked up the stair to see Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle grinning maliciously at the gaggle of red hair on the landing.

For his part, Malfoy thought that they’d got Ron and Ginny just in time to torture with their new powerful positions on the inquisitor squad. He hadn’t seen his mistake, at first.

“Oy, Weasles!” called Malfoy to Ginny from above. He was about to use his wand on Ron until the other redhead turned to look up and he spotted that it was one of the twins, Fred or George. He stopped short and buried his wand in his robes. Crabbe and Goyle, as always, followed what Malfoy did. No one messed with the twins. They had more dirty tricks up their sleeves than Peeves the ghost and they were much more clever than he was. Malfoy had crossed them just last month by saying something snide about Quidditch being pleasanter without two redheaded beaters and he’d woken up with purple hair and a fat lip that resembled a spotted trout. Those were two Weasleys to stay well wide of.

It became a standoff. The three Slytherins stood above eyeing the three Gryffindors below, both sides deciding on what was the other’s intent. Hogwart’s School had nearly sunk to civil war since Dumbledore’s leaving. When the Ministry had discovered the existence of Harry Potter’s Dark Arts Club, the Grand Inquisitor, Dolores Umbridge had taken over as Headmistress. She’d recruited the loosely formed inquisitor squad to be a roving band of goons. Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle were the chief contributors of muscle and force. They’d taken to the job with relish. Still, it wasn’t done to mess about with the Weasley twins.

Finally, the Slytherins silently stomped on down the stairs with Fred and George eyeing them with almost regret. Marking Malfoy for mischief was a satisfying sort of fun for them.

George sighed as the Slytherins reached the bottom landing and scuttled quickly out of sight. “I’m going to miss him when we’re done,” he said.

Ginny looked at him as if he’d grown a second head. “You’re joking.”

“He is,” said Fred. “But I know what he means. There’s something strangely satisfying about tussling with Malfoy and his little gang.” Fred sighed, as well.

Ginny shook her head disgusted. “So, you’ll help Harry then?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Fred.

“We’ve just the thing to help him, you’ll see.”

They smirked knowingly at each other and sauntered up the stair toward the Gryffindor common room leaving Ginny contemplating whether to follow them or go back to the library. She opted for the library.

A few days later, all hell broke loose at the castle. It was the stuff of legends and even Severus Snape was impressed. When Fred and George Weasley created the swamp on the 5th floor and exited Hogwarts with a sensational ruckus and hullabaloo, he’d been whispering with McGonagall about an upcoming Order of the Phoenix meeting in the third floor corridor. They’d sprinted together to the scene just as the rascals were about to get trounced on by Filch the caretaker. Both McGonagall and Snape had eyed each other with a look of restrained glee. It wouldn’t do for either of them to show pride or triumph at the Weasley’s actions, but it was an entirely satisfying experience to watch the dreadful Umbridge turn purple with rage as the boy’s brooms flew to them.

“I do believe,” said McGonagall quietly to Snape. “That they’ve learned their lessons more expertly than I’d given them credit for.” She raised an eyebrow in Snape’s direction.

He smirked down at her.

“It’s really too bad,” she continued. “As I’ve no experience with such magic. It’s an ecosystem of some sort, isn’t it? It looks very complicated. I doubt that I’d be able to get rid of it. Pity.” She allowed a small smile. No one was looking but Snape. The Weasley’s were on their brooms announcing something about a shop in Diagon Alley. Snape wanted to laugh out loud. Those two would be causing trouble at Hogwarts for decades to come with their inventions. Shopkeepers, indeed!

“I have no talent for such complicated spell work, either,” he said bowing low so that only Minerva could hear him. “I always knew that those two had more talent than they’d let on.”

Minerva looked at him surprised. “Severus! Are you softening?”

“Hardly,” he sneered. “I’m merely stating the obvious.”

The students were cheering and clapping. A group of Hufflepuff girls nearby were giggling and jumping up and down with such glee that they were in danger of falling into the swamp. Minerva rushed over to sternly hold them back and calm them down.

Snape surveyed the crowd. Across the swamp, a livid Dolores Umbridge was sputtering with anger and shouting that something must be done. Filch was looking miserable and distraught beside her. It was quite humorous to watch. He would be quite pleased to relay the event at the upcoming meeting. It would lighten up what would certainly be more dreary news of the bloody werewolves. He loathed the Order of the Phoenix meetings almost as much as he loathed… his eye rested on Harry Potter. He stood just above Umbridge and Filch. Severus’ mood immediately darkened. Even from the other side of the corridor, he could tell that Potter had been up to something. His face was flushed and he looked exceedingly furtive.

Severus watched him for several moments. He was so much like his father and yet worse, somehow. Where James had been irritatingly arrogant, his son was that and angry, so angry that it nearly boiled over threatening to scald all around him. Good. The prat would need to be good and angry when he faced what was to come. Snape caught Harry’s eye and he smiled smugly. The boy looked nervous and disconcerted by the contact and quickly looked away.

Snape glowered toward him across the swamp and watched as Harry sank back away into the shadow. He was a sneak, that one. The little berk wouldn’t be up to the task when it came and they would all die because of it, surely. Severus seethed at the thought. The favored Potter would weaken in the end, he would not be able to control his selfishness and he would leave them all holding the short stick. He hated that. Hated that his life should be held in the hands of one so unworthy. Death wouldn’t come soon enough at the end, he was sure of it.

I wish that I could update more quickly but I can’t. Gone are the days when I was able to write a thousand words a day. Forgive me. Thank you all, who are reading and reviewing this story. You’re very kind and it means a lot to me. I’ve only two more chapters…maybe three. I might be able to finish by Thanksgiving if I’m lucky!

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