A light burned in the headmaster’s windows long after the castle was silenced for curfew. Severus Snape hadn't slept in many nights. The timetable was shorter than even Albus had predicted. The Dark Lord’s minions were creeping triumphantly closer to their goal and all he had was a portrait to consult. Dumbledore’s portrait only winced a little and smiled sadly as Snape kicked the desk on his third turn around the room. It was the Granger girl, he was sure of it, keeping them from being seen. All he needed was one sighting, one witness, but half of the frames in the office had been empty for weeks, their occupants visiting other portraits, watching, listening, for nothing. If one sighting was all it took he should assume Mulciber was equally close. Mulciber. It naturally had to be him sent to track down Potter and his associates. One witness, one imperius curse, and the Chosen One would be delivered to the Dark Lord. He could count on Mulciber favoring the imperius curse but that wasn’t enough to predict when and where he would use it. Would he dare to kill Potter or deliver him alive?
Snape stopped before the headmaster’s portrait. As far as he was concerned Dumbledore was still headmaster acting by proxy beyond the grave. He remembered the Carrows gleefully trashing the office, Scrimgeour’s clinical search, and all the time the sword of Gryffindor slept quietly behind Dumbledore’s portrait. How was it not obvious?The Minister was too exhausted to notice the sword left in Dumbledore’s will was a fake, or maybe he wasn’t worthy and to him even the real thing would have felt like any other sword. What was the sword of Gryffindor supposed to feel like? He’d avoided finding out.
The stone hearth flared green and Snape cleared his mind with practised ease; thoughts toppling like wooden blocks.
“Missing old friends?”
There was something about Belltatrix’s voice that always made Snape wince or itch to throttle her. He turned away from Albus’s portrait,
“Hardly. Not when they can pop in whenever they like. But even you’ve got to admit, none of this would have been possible without him.”
“I’m sure you enjoyed having him eating out of your hand. Oh I’m a reformed character, oh how kind and gracious you are, the great all knowing headmaster… ” Bellatrix drawled in poor imitation of Snape’s laconic speech.
“Tell me, is there some point to your being here? Or has the Dark Lord finally grown tired of you fawning over him and you’ve come to curry favor with me?”
“Don’t pretend you’re still his right hand,” Bellatrix spat, “Stuck here babysitting a bunch of blood traitors and mudblood brats! You’ve been sidelined and you know it. With Dumbledore gone there’s no need for you.”
Snape let his face contort, a loyal Death Eater insulted. After a moment, his voice shaking with anger, he answered.
“I only hope to continue to be useful to our lord. Now tell me, why have you been sent here.”
Bellatrix triumphant was better than Bellatrix suspicious, nauseating as her smirk was.
“The Dark Lord requires the sword of Gryffindor. After the ridiculous smash and grab attempted by the blood traitors the sword is no longer safe here. I assume the fake provided passed muster?”
“Yes, the minister accepted it without hesitation. Where did you manage to find such an excellent copy--”
“That’s for those yet in his inner circle to know.” Snape snarled but she cut him off,
“The sword, Snape.”
He sat down slowly behind the desk and let the pause grow.
“Oh, I’m to give it to you? I’m sorry Bellatrix, but I don’t keep it here. Naturally.”
His smugness rubbed her wrong,
“What? I thought this school was the safest place to keep anything.”
“It was, once.” But then trash like her kept showing up. “It’s not in the condition it was and in order to keep free egress for all of the Dark Lord’s followers it needs a certain...flexibility.”
Even if it hadn’t been the truth Bellatrix wasn’t much of a scholar and could hardly disagree. She chewed her lip and poked at an instrument on the desk, it had once puffed and whistled if Snape remembered correctly, but now swayed silently in the fire’s draft. Snape poured a drink with laborious care.
“Well?” Bellatrix could never stand still for more than a minute.
“Of course, would you prefer firewhiskey or…”
“The sword! Tell me where to get it, you should know better than to keep the Dark Lord waiting. And if you’ve been keeping it elsewhere why did the Weasley bitch try to steal it?”
Snape settled back comfortably. She had no way of checking the truth of this.
“An illusion in a glass case, that’s all there was.” He lied, “The Dark Lord trusts my precautions, the Dark Lord knows the instructions he gave regarding that sword and that keeping it here, should the ministry discover I gave them a fake, would be rampant carelessness which is why he told me to hide it because I am never careless. All of this tells me, Bellatrix, that either he didn’t send you and you want the sword or he sent you with a message I was to deliver it. To him.”
“You’re to deliver it to me, tomorrow, at Gringotts.” Bellatrix said sulkily, “It’s to go into my vault. Our master wants every piece under his eye at the end of the game.”
Snape smiled, “Which is why he is our master. Tomorrow, six o’clock.”
“Six? Why not-”
“Because goblins do not keep banker's hours, Gringotts is always open, and because it’s convenient for me. If it’s urgent you’re welcome to wait here for a few hours…?”
Bellatrix grinned and Snape’s skin crawled.
“Can’t stay tonight, sorry love. There’s a little place, just outside Reading, that’s due for a purge tonight. Too much seditious talk, too many mudbloods disappearing without a trace. Muggle lovers all of them. We fly after dark.”
She stalked back to the fire and threw a pinch of floo powder on flame. Over the sudden blaze she called back,
“I’d invite you to come and purify in the name of Wizard kind, but it seems you have a such an important job here. Don’t forget to kiss all the tiny tots nighty-night! ”
He let her have the last word, anxious she leave. Less than twenty four hours to duplicate the sword and get a copy to Gringotts, or failing that find Potter and give him the original sword and tell him what exactly? Everything before Voldemort discovered his betrayal and killed him? Was it only hubris that made Severus feel that dying too soon would ensure disaster? Snape stood up and raised his arm. A grey owl roosting high above in the rafters of the tower fluttered to him. Outside Reading, she had said, could be anywhere. Snape tied a cryptic warning to the owl’s leg and reached for more parchment. He would have to produce a sword of some kind tomorrow. In the next hour six more owls slid noiselessly into the night until they were followed by a much larger object that hurled itself into the cold air and with a fluttering of robes lifted above the trees of the Forbidden Forest and was gone.
The back alley behind the Hag’s Ankle was a good place. That is, it was good if what you were up to wasn’t. Mandungus Fletcher would have protested he was always on the right side but he’d agree that a majority of his living wasn’t necessarily to the good. In war time black markets always flourished and he had his eye on a few things that were really good, or good to some types. There was a witch trying to sell her grandmother’s cellar, excellent vintage, and she had a few bottles aside for him. In the meantime he was watching a wizard displaying a dragonhide to a few customers who clearly didn’t realize it was an Egyptian Swordtongue and planning how he was going to keep its owner from realizing its value too. Someone wandered over to where he hovered, hands over a smokeless blue fire in a trash bin, and joined him in the warmth. Mandungus nodded politely and shifted a little, as not to lose sight of his mark. The stranger also shifted and blocked his way.
“Look mate, no worries but would you mind --”
Mandungus almost pitched forward into the barrel of flame but the stranger steadied him.
“Er, yeah, I’m fine,” said Mandungus who was experiencing a pleasant muzzy headedness while feeling entirely lost. “But, if you don’t mind, what was I saying just now?”
“You were just telling me about that fake you pawned off, the one no one caught onto?”
“Plenty of those, oh yes, I have my ways.” Mandungus went to tap the side of his nose and missed. “What was it exactly?”
The stranger hummed a little, “Jewelry I think, something heirloom? But you managed to forge it in so little time.”
Mandungus shook his head modestly,
“It’s not about having skills, it’s organization mate. Sure, you get some knock off jewels from one fellow and a bit of old silver from another bloke, and give it all to a third party who don’t know nothin’ about the others and you think you’re sitting pretty but really now...what you need is a craftsmen. A real artist.”
The stranger’s hood lowered closer,
“And where would someone, if they were as clever and resourceful as you, find an artist like that?”
“I know a chap!” Mandungus sang cheerfully and clapped the stranger on the shoulder, “good kid. Knapp is the moniker. Bit strange...but he know’s his stuff. Wood, metal, any style you want like pict artifacts, goblin made--”
““Ah, but of course it would be silly to tell anyone about him.”
“So of course you didn’t, and you haven’t.”
“Where does he live?”
“Just outside London. He works in back of the apothecary in Reading.”
“ Reading? The address, quickly!”
As his new friend hurried away Mandungus waved after him happily. He thought he turned to wave back but really he was just waving his wand. At that moment Mandungus Fletcher shuddered, looked around bewilderedly, and saw that the dragonhide had disappeared while he’d been asleep.
It was well after dark when Snape landed in a low meadow outside Reading but the sky flickered red. Something was burning. Outside Reading, Lestrange had said, but that could be anywhere. The apothecary was well within the city and hopefully she and her monosyllabic henchmen were wreaking havoc far from this Knapp.
Snape wasn’t unfamiliar with Reading, it being close to Cokeworth, but it took him some time to find the 24 hour convenience with the old shed in back. Circumventing the dumpster Snape stepped straight through the corrugated fence and into a smoky haze. Haven Alley was the source of magical emporiums for West Reading and surrounding hamlets but tonight it was unrecognizable. Shop windows were blown out while the interiors blazed. Carts were turned over in the street which was strewn with rubble and wares. It was silent. Whatever violence had occurred had moved on. Against the burning sky the black forms of Death Eaters could be seen flying above the smoldering rooftops.
Keeping close to the shadows Snape moved swiftly, refusing to let his gaze linger. He encountered the first body outside the bookstore on the corner of Sythe and Goodbeaste. Snape stooped a little, found no sign of life, and kept moving. It was less than half a mile on but his progress was hindered by the lowering flights of Death Eaters. He kept an eye to the sky and cast a concealment charm.
One Death Eater flew lower than the rest. Soaring down the street, rattling the windows, and landed almost in front of him. Short, dark hair, an intense face. A witch. That wasn’t common amongst Death Eaters. He didn’t recognize her but she seemed to know her way. After getting her bearings she pulled her hood over her face and ran towards the part of town still burning. Snape gave her a head start and followed. She was out of sight by the time he reached the apothecary.
The store wasn’t on fire but that was the only thing that could be said about its condition, or its owner. Fletcher had called the forger a ‘kid’, so Snape doubted the grizzled man coughing blood in the street was Knapp. Snape looked both ways before kneeling down. This was the work of the Cruciatus curse. The man was terribly twisted and blood ran from his ears and nose. It was the damage that Snape couldn’t see that would be impossible to heal. Snape raised his wand and put his hand behind the man’s head who struggled weakly.
“Hush, be still. Dormias .”
Snape lowered the now sleeping victim. He would sleep for some hours. Hopefully help would arrive before he woke, or died. Even so, little could be done for him.
No sound had come from the shop. The interior was dark. If this Knapp was intelligent he’d be hiding inside. The Death Eaters had had their entertainment from this place, they wouldn’t be back. Wordlessly he cast a silencing charm over the broken glass in the doorway. It was impossible to enter in complete silence but he didn’t fancy apparating into a dark shop with a terrified wizard inside.
Creeping in he searched in the dark before daring to conjure light. The ground floor seemed clear as did the cellar but if forgeries were being made on the premises...Snape found the most cluttered corner of the cellar, people always tried to hide things visible or not. He waved his wand slowly. The iron bed frame, lumber, and broken rocking horse rippled and became a cunningly painted curtain.
The hidden room behind it was utilitarian. Here was a workbench set for tea, a cabinet with an innumerable amount of small drawers, and a kettle sitting over a cold hearth. Scrap metal was neatly sorted and stacked next to a small, self hammering anvil that was still working on whatever project Knapp had left in a hurry. Snape looked in the cabinet. Diamonds; not real of course . He picked one up and scratched it against a glass jar filled with nails. It cut easily. Or maybe not. A true artist indeed. Snape waved his hand and drawers fluttered open and closed until he caught a glimpse of sullen red. Rubies.
“Are you looking for someone or just looting?”
It was the witch who had nearly flown into him. She was standing at the bottom of the steps, her wand pointed at him. Her voice had a lilt to it, West country no doubt.
“I’m looking for a Mr. Knapp. When I find him he’s going to need these.” He slowly pocketed the rubies. His wand was still in his other hand, but lowered.
“Did you see where they took him?”
“He was gone before they got here.” He gestured to the anvil, clanging away, “That has been hammered so thin it could slice unicorn hair and the fire is cold though the kettle is filled. I’d say he left before his tea.”
Her eyes didn’t leave him. She stood like someone practiced in dueling. Still, if she knew Knapp no need to hex her right away.
“I very much need to contact him,” Snape insisted.
“People are dead in the streets and you’re shopping? It must be important.”
What was she playing at? Time to show the dark mark and reveal himself as an ally.
“You should know all about the dead in the streets, I arrived late. I saw you fly here.”
Her frown cleared, “Oh I see the mistake. I’m not with them.”
“No need to pretend,” Snape sneered. “I saw you. Only Death Eaters fly.”
“We’ve been flying for generations in my family.”
Enough with playing twenty questions. His hand came up and the witch’s wand flew from her grasp. Just as quickly her other hand came towards him and he barely managed to sidestep something that smashed into the cabinet like a kicking hippogriff. Jewels, bobbins, and screws bounced everywhere, cutting painfully against him. Snape cursed and flicked his wand. She was lifted off her feet and suspended, immobile. He caught hold of her left wrist and dragged the sleeve up. No dark mark.
“The hell is this?” Suspended above him, she showed no fear but her eyes were fixed wide. “How can you fly unmarked? Flying is a dark magic of which only the Dark Lord is capable and only through their link with him can his servants fly. Who are you working for? Lestrange?” And did she know who he was ?
The witch tensed, her gaze slid sideways. A soft rattling came from behind. A silver ingot flew by his ear, scraping his cheek. He dove behind the workbench as, with a mighty tinkling, the contents of the broken cabinet flew into the air. His curse released the witch dropped to the floor but would have been shredded by the precious shrapnel had Snape not shouted,
“ Protego! ”
Like rain on tin the gems rattled and bounced off of the invisible barrier shielding her. Saved from a painful death the witch, instead of diving for her wand, just stared at him.
“That” Snape snarled, “Was really, very, stupid.”
His face was bleeding and he had wasted enough time. A memory charm looked like his best option. She hadn’t seemed to recognize him or realize he was a Death Eater.
“I don’t think you’re in any position to criticize.” The witch sounded bemused.
He stared at her offered hand. Weren’t they supposed to be dueling?
“Jethro Knapp is my brother.” She smiled.
Not a Death Eater, then, but definitely a mental case.
“Just tell me where to find him, time is short.”
“I have no idea, but I’m also certain I’m the only one who can find him. Call it...a family bond.”
His secret keeper maybe?
Knapp tilted her head back, “What do you need him for?”
“Doesn’t matter, there’s no time now--”
“Three hours. I’ll have him in three hours at most. I tracked him from Edinburgh to here in two. Tell me what you need. And I’ll tell you what I want in return.”
“You did just try to turn me into a pincushion a moment ago.”
She didn’t move.
“And you just saved my life anyway. Like I said, you’re in no position.”
He could still obliviate her. Or he could use her to reach her brother and then wipe her memory.
“I heard your brother can copy things. How good is he?”
“So that’s what the little rat has got himself...sorry. Yes, yes I’m sure he’s good. Jethro is talented to say the least. What do you need?”
Snape produced a sketch. Her memories of it wouldn't be long lasting anyway. She expressed no unusual interest in the sword.
“He will, of course, be paid well. I need it tomorrow.”
She laughed. Snape raised an eyebrow.
“You’re serious. Okay, tomorrow.” She looked at the sketch again, “You wouldn’t tell me what it’s for if I asked but...how important is this?”
“Life and death. For everyone.”
She studied him carefully. Snape closed his mind, just in case.
“This item is ancient, very ancient. I want you to make a copy that could fool the most powerful wizard you know and then some.”
“Jethro’s price will be gold. My price is a name.”
“The person in the Muggle Born Registration Commission who keeps leaking false arrest lists of Muggleborns. We don’t know who is safe and who is in danger.”
Fair exchange. But was it worth the gamble? He had to keep the sword for Potter. If she was trying to protect Muggleborns then she was on the right side.
“Arthur Pinstick,” he said, “and he won’t be the only one spreading false information, but a ringleader I’m sure.”
“Then if your information is correct, you may expect me with your sword by…?”
“Tomorrow at five. Knockturn alley, the Spiny Serpent. You know it?”
This time he did shake her hand. Before releasing it he leaned closer and hissed, “Let me impress upon you the need for confidentiality. If you betray me I will personally make you and your entire family regret it.”
The dark eyes gave nothing away but her voice was grave.
"Understood. Until tomorrow.”
And with a turn she disapparated.