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For a moment, all Severus could hear was Lily’s rapid breathing in the darkness. He was seized with a sudden terror that she’d wander off the ledge, and he tried to reach out to her, but the rubble littering the cavern floor slipped under his feet and he stumbled. He reached out to steady himself against the wall, and felt a thick, sticky substance coating it. It was as though the walls were bleeding.

Then Lily’s voice came out of the darkness: “Try doing some magic,” she said.

Severus tried. It was a terrifying sensation, to feel the magic flowing down your arms, tingling in your finger-tips, but without anything happening. Beside him, Lily gave a frightened little gasp, and it tore through Severus like a chain-saw. He reached out to her again, and found her this time, clasping her warm little body fast in his arms.  

“It’s alright,” he whispered. “It’s some kind of spell that Abraxas Malfoy must’ve put on the place. Something like the enchantments that make it impossible to Apparate or Disapparate inside Hogwarts, probably. It’s not for good.”

Lily had leaned her head against his chest, but he pulled her chin upwards again, trying to look into her eyes. He hated the idea that she might hear his racing heartbeat and know he was afraid.

“It’s just this room,” he said, exerting every fibre of his being to keep his voice steady. “Go back into the corridor and see if you can use magic.”

Lily did so. He went with her a little way, steadying her as she stepped across the loose stones (and whatever it was that was making that crunching sound), until she pulled away from him, and he heard her footsteps receding up the corridor that led back to the dungeons. For a few minutes, it was as though she had dropped out of the world altogether - no gingerbread scent, no warm touch, no low, calm, serious voice telling him that he was being unkind or unfair or just plain morbid. Snape felt a nagging sense of grief - at the moment, it was like a fly buzzing around him, trying to get his attention, but, as soon as it landed, it was going to sting like a scorpion.

There were bound to be other booby-traps set by Abraxas Malfoy. And, without magic, how could she defend herself? He should never have let her go on her own. Even if there were no booby-traps, there was still the potion-crazed Lucius, roaming about the place, and he was worse than a dozen Dark Curses, especially to a ‘mudblood’ who stood between him and Narcissa.  

Suddenly, the dungeon exploded with colour. Severus had to shut his eyes. When he opened them again, there was the reassuring, if slightly blurred, figure of Lily, holding two flaming torches. She must have summoned them from their brackets in the dungeon corridor, because she hadn’t had time to go all the way back.  

“Magic works about ten feet down the corridor,” she said. “And it takes a while to fade - that’s why our wands went out about thirty seconds after we came in here. But I thought I should get us some light, so we can look for the porcelain bitch without magic.”

Snape grinned at her. “I like the way you think,” he said. “Especially the bit about the porcelain bitch.”

Lily had been staring at him rather dreamily, but when he said this, she bit her lip and looked away. The Rosura potion was still glowing within her, and she was so adorable under its influence, that Severus wondered if he could punctuate the years of misery that were sure to follow by poisoning her a few more times in his life. If he got to see her - and see her like this - all warm-hearted and clumsy - say, once a decade, he could probably survive a life without her.         

When he could tear his eyes away, he saw that the torches were illuminating a ledge in front of them: Severus realized with a jolt that they had been standing right at the edge of it. He gripped Lily’s arm and pulled her back, being careful to touch her as little as possible, because he didn’t want her to suffer any more than she already had under the influence of this potion. They could see the edge of an island of stone in the middle of the abyss, but it was two far away to make out what was on it.

Severus decided that they couldn’t risk shouting for Narcissa: it might give away her location to Malfoy, who was sure to be skulking around here somewhere. Now that he had Lily by his side, he couldn’t imagine what he’d been thinking, letting a dangerous man like that into the castle. Narcissa’s sneers and insults seemed miles away. Still, Lily would not be by his side for much longer, and he’d have to brace himself for her pity when the potion wore off. He didn’t want to think about it right now.

He walked slowly around the ledge, being careful to avoid the bones that he could now see scattered amidst the pebbles on the floor. They were standing in a kind of miniature graveyard. Some of the bones looked like animal skeletons - and he wondered what had lived down here that could have killed the creatures - but, set in little alcoves in the cavern walls, were dozens of skulls - clearly human, though some of them looked slightly misshapen, as though they had belonged to trolls or centaurs or goblins. Each one had its own little shelf carved into the rock, and each was starkly illuminated by the dancing firelight. Snape had the fleeting impression of being in hell, but then he reminded himself that wizards didn’t believe in hell. He was always giving voice to muggle superstitions or phrases like this, and they always got him mercilessly teased in the Slytherin common-room. No matter how much he tried to distance himself from the muggle world, it still shaped his thoughts in ways he deeply resented.

Could Abraxas Malfoy have killed people down here? Until this moment, Snape had always assumed he was just a deranged teacher, driven mad by disobedient and irredeemably stupid school-children. He had never suspected the man of being a Dark Wizard.

Lily was also looking at the skulls. Her mouth was twisted with disgust.

“Maybe he just collected them,” Snape suggested. “Lots of wizards have skull collections - Avery’s dad drinks mulled mead out of them. He’s always saying that they belonged to his enemies - but I know for a fact he bought them from the Carrion Pigeons in Knockturn Alley.”

“Carrion pigeons?”

Snape was uncomfortably aware that he was telling her things that would confirm her doubts about him, but the charm of having Lily listen to him, of telling her things she didn’t already know (which hardly ever happened), was too strong to break. “They’re sort of grave-robbers,” he explained. “Goblins, mostly. They sell human flesh for use in potions.”

“What kind of potions?” she asked, and despite the Rosura, there was a definite edge to her voice now. He’d have to be careful.  

“Just potions,” he said evasively. “You know, a lot of Healing magic requires human ingredients.”

“That’s stuff like hair and nails and blood - stuff you can take from a person without killing them.”  

“But, if they’re already dead,” Snape persisted doggedly, “what’s the harm?”

“The harm is in creating demand for that kind of thing,” she said warmly. “Healing magic used to use dead flesh, but too many people were killing muggles just to supply the healers with it. So, it was outlawed. Anyway, that kind of magic always does more harm than good. If you have to hurt someone in order to brew a potion, or cast a spell, the remnants of that hurt are always visible in the effects of the magic; the patient might recover, but at a price.”

Snape smiled uneasily. He loved talking to Lily about magical theory - he even loved arguing with her about magical ethics - but, tonight, it was making him tense. (And he was already pretty tense from refusing her advances). He was beginning to realize that he couldn’t be the type of wizard Lily wanted him to be. Nobody could, unless they had the whole wizard world at their mercy. Potter might be able to get away with letting his enemies live, and only using magic that was wholesome, because Potter had piles of Galleons and magical friends - Potter had teachers and students alike fawning on him - Potter had never had to struggle.   

“There’s something I don’t get,” Lily murmured, interrupting his resentful reverie. “There’s an island in the middle of this pit, right? Presumably, that’s where Malfoy Senior put the disobedient children. They couldn’t get out, because they couldn’t use magic - although, I don’t know how he got them there in the first place - maybe he was immune to the dampening effects of this room, if he created it. But, if the children were trapped on that island, why did he need the bolt on the door leading into this room? What was he locking in that could get up to that door in the first place?”

Snape froze. “You mean there’s something else in here?”

“Possibly,” Lily said, shrugging. “Abraxas Malfoy doesn’t strike me as the kind of wizard who ever did anything by halves.”

Severus listened. He could hear nothing but the rush of water far below. He supposed it was an underground river that fed into the lake in the grounds.

“Do you think Narcissa’s on that island?” Lily asked, pointing her torch in the direction of the plateau in the middle of the crevasse. The light couldn’t penetrate that far: Severus could only see the outer edges of the plateau - but there was something hanging limply off it - like a fold of fabric, swaying in the stillness. He wondered briefly how he would feel if he discovered Narcissa was dead.

“We’d better find a way across,” he said eventually, “if there is one.”

“Of course there is one,” Lily said brightly. “Abraxas Malfoy was a teacher. Teachers don’t set traps, they set challenges.”

Snape smiled at her. She was so dauntlessly optimistic. “He was also a Malfoy,” he pointed out. “And Malfoys don’t respect intelligence; they respect Malfoys. You know there’s a Black Family dungeon down here somewhere too? The door only opens if you smear it with the blood of a member of the House of Black. If Abraxas Malfoy set up any defences like that, we’re in trouble.”

“Look for a secret lever or something,” Lily said, picking up some of the skulls from their little alcoves and examining them. “There has to be a non-magical way over to that island.”

Snape did as she asked, casting the torchlight over the slimy walls and the animal skeletons, half-buried in soot.

“You could get into the Black Family dungeon,” Lily murmured absent-mindedly, “because you’re related to the Blacks, aren’t you? Didn’t that ancestor of yours, Moribund Prince, marry Narcissa’s grandmother?”

“Claudia Black,” Snape said sullenly. “Yeah, but I’m not descended from her children. Everybody married Moribund Prince.”

“How come?”

Grudgingly, Snape elaborated. Talk of his ancestors always made him gloomy, for some reason. “He fell into a magical coma at the age of twenty-one, and never woke up,” he murmured. “Obviously, a wizard with a noble ancestry, who couldn’t talk back, was every pure-blood witch’s dream, because he had fourteen wives and twenty-seven children before he died.” He poked at a mouse-skeleton with his shoe, and added: “Evidently, he was in no position to protest.”

Lily frowned dubiously. “How did he have twenty-seven children if he was in a coma?”

Snape shrugged. “I never found a book that was prepared to go into details.”

Lily laughed, blushing - well, he supposed she was blushing - under the coral-pink glow of the Rosura it was difficult to be sure. “I suppose there are charms that could have been effective,” she mumbled. “Engorgement, or…”

Snape was laughing himself now. He couldn‘t believe he was laughing, after everything that had happened tonight. “I always kind of assumed,” he said, when he could straighten his face, “that his wives took lovers and just pretended their children were Moribund Prince’s. Because it would get pretty boring, being married to a man in a coma.”

“It wouldn’t be so bad,” Lily said thoughtfully, checking the doorway to the corridor for secret passageways or hidden switches, “I could read him Shakespeare, and he wouldn’t be able to stop me.”

“I think even a magical coma wouldn’t be that strong,” Snape told her. “You’d bore him awake.”

Lily made a face. “It’s a shame you can’t get into the Black Family dungeon,” she said thoughtfully. “I would’ve liked to have seen it.”

“Not your kind of thing,” Snape said, “trust me.” And then, because he couldn’t resist it, he added, “but, if you really want to see it, we could use Bella’s blood to get in.”

Lily smiled at him. There were no reproaches this time. If Lily disliked Narcissa, it was nothing to how she felt about Bellatrix. But the smile froze on her lips, and suddenly she was backing away, towards the edge of the abyss, because there was something coming out of the tunnel through which they’d just entered, something that was flailing madly and filling the darkness with shrieks. The echoes in the cavern intensified and distorted the sound until it was unendurable, until it sounded like human voices begging for mercy, and the mad, muggle notion that they were in hell crept up on Snape again, though he was too afraid for Lily to pay much attention to it.

He grabbed her shoulder and pulled her away from the ledge, onto the thin path that ran around the edge of the abyss.

As she moved, he was able to see the creature, in the rust-coloured glow of the torches. What had at first appeared to be a writhing mass of feathers and claws separated out into strange, powerful limbs and glowering, amber eyes. The creature was immense - but, perhaps through long years living in these tunnels, it had developed a kind of crouching gait. It had the head, wings and claws of a giant eagle, and the hind-quarters of a lion. Its feathers were matted with filth, and its wings were folded at an unnatural angle, as though they had been broken at some point in the past, and had healed in a very confined space.  

The creature seemed to be maddened by the firelight, but the idea of putting the torches out and being in the dark with that thing was extremely unappealing to Snape.

“It’s a Griffin,” Lily whispered.

Snape’s heart was racing, and his brain had ground to a halt. The Griffin was standing in front of the only way out, and it was being incensed by the firelight that they needed to escape it. Still, he wouldn’t show his fear in front of Lily. “It’s alright,” he said again, meaning it even less this time. “We’ll… we’ll find another way out. Follow me around the ledge, slowly. Don’t turn your back on it.”

Lily let him steer her away from the creature, around the edge of the abyss. Snape’s eyes were drawn to the Griffin’s sharp beak and claws, both of which had congealed blood smeared around them.  

“It’s not fresh,” Lily said, as though reading his mind. “It’s not Narcissa’s.”

“I don’t care about Narcissa,” he said abruptly. “Narcissa can rot down here for all I care. We’re getting out. Stay behind me.”          

“Severus!” she said suddenly, making him jump, “it could fly us to the island!”

Snape was sufficiently exasperated by this comment to take his eyes off the Griffin for a moment and stare at her. “How exactly?” he asked. “You tame Griffins with Confundus Charms, or by slipping a Docility Draught into their food. We can’t use either of those things.”

“We’ll just have to tame it like a muggle would.”

“A muggle wouldn’t,” Snape pointed out. “A muggle would run a mile at the sight of it.”  

But Lily wouldn’t be deterred. She was looking around at the sparse dungeons, as though searching for inspiration. “What have we got?” she muttered. “Fire, skulls and pebbles…”

“Lily,” Severus said anxiously. “We’ve got to get out of here. Forget about Narcissa. She could be anywhere - she could’ve been chased off the ledge by that thing, for all we know.”

But he was slowly and painfully becoming aware that, if Lily wanted to stay and fight the thing, there was nothing he could do but rack his brains along with her. He couldn’t leave her, and still less could he let her think he was a coward.

“Alright,” he said, his voice slightly strained. “Let’s think about this logically. If Malfoy Senior used this creature to fly across the chasm, he must have had something - ,”

Severus stopped. He was suddenly struck by an idea. Griffins had been bred by wizards to guard treasure - so they must have been bred to detect guilt. It was the same principle as the Contrition Charm - everything in this room, maybe even the magical dampening field, was reacting to their disobedience. The Griffin was not incensed by the firelight, but by their intention of robbing the room of its treasure - of Narcissa.

“Lily,” he said, talking quickly, because the Griffin was advancing on them, and they were running out of ledge, “we’ve got to make it think we’re not here for Narcissa.”

“Why else would we be here?” she breathed desperately.

Severus felt as though his brain had given up - it had been through too much tonight - fending off the kisses of the only woman he’d ever loved, working against all its instincts to try and save the life of a woman he despised, being robbed of its ability to do magic - he had been through sexual and magical frustration, and now terror was winding its way into his veins, and he had nothing left. The hourglass was empty. His time was up.

He stopped backing away and Lily, magnetised to his side by the Rosura potion, stopped with him. There was an unbearable amount of trust in her eyes.

“Kiss me,” he said.

Even in their current perilous situation, Lily was unable to resist. She pressed her lips to his and, once again, Snape was gripped by that delicious oblivion. He felt as though he had dropped off the ledge into the darkness, and was sinking, with his beloved, into the dark, foamy waters of the river far below. It was like the river Lethe, obliterating all his memories, easing all his bitterness, kissing away Spinner’s End and Hogwarts and Platform Nine and Three Quarters - everything that had shaped him into the uneasy, bitter, resentful creature he’d been until a few moments ago. All the hatred that had been binding the molecules of his body together disappeared, and he melted into his Lily.

After a few minutes (or an eternity - Severus had no idea which), Lily pulled away from him, breathless and glowing, and glanced absent-mindedly at the Griffin. She seemed surprised to discover that it was still there.  It had skulked away into the shadows, and was gnawing at its blood-clotted claws with its sharp beak.  

Lily grinned at him. She looked deeply impressed. “How did you know that would get rid of it?” she asked.  

Snape sighed, torn between contentment and exasperation. This was all he’d ever wanted - to impress her, to save her - but, when she woke up in the morning, it was going to be overshadowed by that unbearable pity he was dreading so much. He was not going to be her hero then, just a pathetic little thing that she had led on without realizing it. It was worse to think that she would reproach herself, as well as pitying him.   

Still, there was work to be done. He would have years to dwell on the experience of her pity. Right now, the porcelain bitch needed saving.

“When we go near the Griffin, you have to keep thinking about me,” he said.

“I can do that,” she breathed, almost laughing.

“It won’t attack us as long as we don’t feel guilty,” Snape added, ignoring the urge to throw his arms around her.    

“It looks like it will only support one person’s weight, though,” she said, regarding the monster critically. “I’ll go across first.”

Snape shook his head. “There’s no way,” he said emphatically.

“Look,” Lily said, folding her arms, “I may have gone all girly with this stupid, pink potion, but I’m still me. Narcissa might need healing magic. You don’t know as much about that as I do.”

Snape sighed. He supposed it would be easier for Lily to keep her mind off Narcisssa, anyway, since she was under the influence of a potion that made her obsessed with men. At any rate, he was pretty sure that he could use magic in this room now, as long as he thought about his Lily and banished guilt from his thoughts, so he would be able to steady her on the Griffin’s back with a Balancing Charm.

“Alright,” he said grudgingly. “Send Narcissa over, and I’ll send the Griffin back to get you. If you see Malfoy, don’t give him any chances, OK? Don’t even let him open his mouth. Just stun him. He knows how to use magic in this place, and he’s crazy.”

“I don’t need any extra incentive to stun Malfoy,” Lily muttered.  

She went up to the Griffin, looking straight into its glowing amber eyes, and then bowed, with much more confidence than the situation warranted, as far as Severus was concerned. The Griffin, after regarding her haughtily for a few seconds, inclined its head. This was as close to a bow as Lily was going to get, and she seemed to realize it, because she stretched out a hand to the Griffin’s beak, and gave it a tentative pat.  

She got on the creature’s back, gripping its feathers with one hand and holding her flaming torch aloft with the other. Snape muttered the balancing charm, but still his heart hammered as the Griffin leapt off the edge of the platform - they dropped for what seemed like forever, and then the creature unfurled its massive, lop-sided wings and beat the air, gaining height. The darkness melted away from Lily’s torch, revealing two figures on the rocky platform in the centre of the chasm, one prostrate on the floor, with his ice-blonde hair pooled about him like a halo, and one kneeling beside the figure, her hands placed elegantly in her lap, watching the approaching light with haughty expectation.

Snape realized with a start that Narcissa might have been watching them as they kissed. They had been holding flaming torches, after all, and the Griffin had been making enough noise to get her attention.    

Words were exchanged - Severus couldn’t make them out. Lily knelt beside the figure of Malfoy, sweeping her hair back into a ponytail with a wave of her wand. She fumbled in the pockets of her robes and produced something, which she proceeded to poke into Malfoy’s mouth, none too gently. Then he saw her turn her wand on Narcissa.

“Get on the Griffin,” came Lily’s disdainful voice through the intervening space. “Do you think you can manage that, princess?”

Narcissa was clearly not brave enough to retort. Snape saw her go up to the creature - it squawked and snapped at her with its beak, but Lily, whose eyes were still on Malfoy, muttered: “You’re supposed to bow. If you looked up from your mirror in class every once in a while, you might know that.”  

Stiffly, Narcissa bowed, and, after a dubious pause, the creature bowed back. Snape knew that Lily would not be casting a Balancing Charm to steady her, so he did it himself, ensuring that she stayed on the Griffin’s back until it landed next to him, and she slid off, backing immediately against the wall, with her nose wrinkled, as though she couldn’t be far enough away from the creature with the matted feathers and the blood-smeared claws.

When she noticed Severus, she gave him a curious look. It was knowing, almost triumphant. Severus supposed she knew now how he felt about Lily - she was probably planning to blackmail him, or just plain humiliate him by letting everyone know.

Well, it didn’t matter, he thought despondently. Anyone could know, now that Lily did. Getting teased for liking a mudblood, even being hunted by the Death Eaters for allowing one of their own to get killed - because Lucius was still lying motionless on the floor of the plateau - seemed like a picnic compared to experiencing Lily’s awkward, wide-eyed pity.   

He stared back at Narcissa defiantly. His hope was lying in ruins around his feet. Everything had gone wrong. And his plan to teach this hateful bitch a lesson had only given her more ammunition against him.

Still, he would never forget Lily’s tender, blossom-coloured cheeks and her surreptitious smile. It was a painful treasure, an exquisite ache; it was like a knife plunged up to the hilt in his heart: it was agony, but he couldn’t take it out, or he would die.    

“Stay here,” he growled at Narcissa, and then approached the Griffin, keeping his mind on Lily, and bowed. Waiting only for the creature to start inclining its head, he leapt on its back, and dropped through the air, towards Lily and the island.
Yet more Rosura!
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:iconveronika-art:
Veronika-Art Featured By Owner Apr 26, 2015
Thank you for giving Severus this moment, not the dangerous part, but the part for his heart... the moment shared with his Lily :heart:
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:iconwearesevenstudios:
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner May 8, 2010  Professional Artisan Crafter
Severus wondered if he could punctuate the years of misery that were sure to follow by poisoning her a few more times in his life. If he got to see her - and see her like this - all warm-hearted and clumsy - say, once a decade, he could probably survive a life without her.
Poor Snape. He lives his life in damage-control mode, doesn't he? He never really hopes for happiness. D:

Until this moment, Snape had always assumed he was just a deranged teacher, driven mad by disobedient and irredeemably stupid school-children. He had never suspected the man of being a Dark Wizard.
Can I just say I loved that Snape assumed a teacher could go mad by spending too much time teaching idiot children? :D
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 8, 2010
Can I just say I loved that Snape assumed a teacher could go mad by spending too much time teaching idiot children?

:giggle: Poor Sev! He'll have that confirmed in later years!
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:iconchaobaby7:
Chaobaby7 Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2008
I love reading this story. Its wonderful.
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Wonderful! Onto the next installment. Poor Snape.
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