“He’s got Padfoot!” Potter cried abruptly. The desperation scrawled plainly across his face. “He’s got Padfoot in the place where it’s hidden.”
Severus’s lip curled at Potter’s complete lack of finesse. Umbridge looked between them with fanatical interest.
“What’s he talking about, Snape?”
“I have no idea,” Severus said flatly. “He never had much brain to begin with. All your jostling around may have knocked the last few bits loose.”
Despair and defeat shuttered across Potter’s face. Severus wanted to slap him. Why did such an important boy have to be such a fool? Did he really expect Severus to openly acknowledge his thinly veiled cry for help?
“If that’s all…” Severus trailed off with a curl of his lip. Umbridge said nothing and Severus took that as his cue to leave.
Once free of an audience, Severus realized his heart was pounding quite hard in his chest. He’s got Padfoot, Potter had said and the thought was enough to make his knees weak.
Severus pulled their two-way mirror out of his dresser and tapped it with his wand to send a shock to the holder. Sirius’s disheveled face appeared almost instantly.
“What was that about?” he groused.
“Potter just told me the Dark Lord has you captive,” Severus said dryly. He hoped his tone masked the overwhelming relief he felt.
“Dammit,” Sirius cursed. “This is exactly why I told him to learn Occlumency.” His gaze turned accusing. “This is exactly why I told you to teach him.”
“The boy is completely unteachable,” Severus said.
Sirius just growled.
“Well, I assume you’re not carrying on this conversation while being trapped in the Ministry. I’ll let Albus know Potter’s laboring under a delusion.”
“Hey,” Sirius said. “Where is Harry?”
“Umbridge has him, trying to get information on Albus.” Severus rolled his eyes.
“That nasty cow?” Sirius barked. “The one that’s been torturing him? You left him there?”
“Did you expect me to knock out a Ministry official and four Slytherins to get him out of a small pickle?” Severus asked.
Sirius swore once again. “Harry thinks Voldemort has me captive and the only thing stopping him from getting me is a woman he despises. He’s going to be the one knocking her out.” Sirius rapped his knuckles against his head in clear frustration.
“Fine,” Severus said. “You tell Albus. I’ll go get your Golden Boy.”
“You better,” Sirius said. “I’ll never forgive either one of us if something happens to him.” Then Sirius was gone, leaving Severus to scowl at his own reflection.
After a few minutes of languishing in self pity, Severus returned to Umbridge's office. He found it empty and he promptly picked up Sirius’s habit of foul language.
Severus searched a few nearby rooms fruitlessly and began to wonder why he’d never recreated that blasted Map.
Severus decided to retrieve his cloak from his room and then walked into Hogsmeade to Apparate to Grimmauld Place. The threat of losing Sirius’s affection loomed in his mind and he figured Sirius would be the best person to find Potter anyway.
The house was completely still and quiet when Severus stepped in. Instantly, a small internal alarm began to sound. Something was wrong.
“Sirius?” Severus called. No response. Severus made his way up the winding stairs and to Sirius’s room. He opened the door and found Kreacher, fluffing pillows. “Where’s Sirius?”
Kreacher turned and looked at Severus with watery eyes. Then he began to laugh. It was a wheezy, horrible sound. The quiet alarm clanged louder and louder. Severus drew his wand.
“It’s too late,” Kreacher said gleefully. “He’s gone, he’s gone, the house is clean! Oh, he’ll be dead, and the blood traitors will be dead, and the Dark Lord will rise again…”
The Dark Lord. Those words registered in Severus’s mind first.
“Explain yourself,” Severus bellowed.
“Master Malfoy has been helping me cleanse the house, I met the Dark Lord, and I couldn’t tell any secrets, no, but I could lie, and I lied so well. I lied and told the filthy boy that the filthy man had been taken. And now all the filth is in the Ministry getting cleaned.” Kreacher clapped excitedly, rocking onto the balls of his feet.
Severus killed the elf without a second thought and fled the house.
As he stepped onto the street, his Mark began to burn. Severus felt himself spinning out of control and clutched at his aching arm, struggling to regain his breathing. Sirius was at the ministry. Apparently now the Dark Lord was too. He’d have to play both sides of the duel. How best to help while appearing to hurt?
Severus spent a long time planning and rehearsing. It was time he would come to regret.
Eventually, he drew his hood and answered the agonizing call.
Severus appeared amidst chaos. Order members and Death Eaters tossed hexes across the room, ranging from a Disarming charm to the Killing Curse. Potter and his friends stood in the middle of it all, looking severely battered but holding their own.
Severus searched the room until he made out Sirius in the chaos. Despite the danger, he felt an immediate reassurance seeing Sirius alive and well. In fact, he looked happier than Severus had seen in decades. His face came alive among all the flashes of light and he danced expertly around the beams careening toward him.
The next thirty seconds happened in slow motion. Severus saw Bellatrix Lestrange draw her wand and he knew, instantly, she was going for the Killing Curse. Severus drew his own wand to cast his deflective dual charms as quickly as he ever had. They worked. He could tell. When Sirius crumpled as the green light hit his chest, he was not dead. The spells had worked.
Then his body kept falling and Severus saw with horror what was behind him.
“No,” he tried to scream but it came out a choked whisper.
Sirius’s body fell through the Veil.
By the time Severus made it to the Veil, it was like Sirius had never been there. Bellatrix was battling someone else. Hexes still flew everywhere. Severus fell to his knees, hands pressed to his chest. He couldn’t breathe. He was going to die. Could he, please, die?
He kneeled there and contemplated diving in the Veil. What could await him there? Permanent nothingness sounded blissful. And any other option would involve Sirius. It had to be superior to this cold rotten world in which he no longer lived.
“Severus?” Severus could not recognize the voice. He turned and saw it was Remus Lupin. The expression on his face was unreadable or at least it was in Severus’s current state. Severus only dimly registered that the battle had stilled around them. The room was empty save the two of them. How long had he kneeled there?
How little did he care?
“Severus, did you get hit with something?” Lupin was talking softly, the voice you’d use on a wounded animal so as not to startle it.
“No,” Severus said. He stood. He felt carved out of marble, impossibly cold and hard.
“So you’re alright then?” Lupin asked with clear skepticism.
“No,” Severus repeated and turned away to flee the room.
Severus felt suddenly all at once the exhaustion, the trembling of his limbs, the agony of the Dark Mark, and he shoved it all away. It paled in comparison to the searing of his heart.
He didn’t have time to worry about himself. He had to devise a way to reach into the Veil, to pluck back what had been taken from him.