Snape was not afraid of Bill Weasley, far from it. It was true that the two wizards were as different as chalk and cheese: the one silent, suspicious by nature, intelligent, but uncommunicative - heavy-minded and sombre; the other bright and healthy, jovial to most, but still sharp under the surface - a happy nature. Despite their differences, during the years in the Order, Snape learned to respect the oldest Weasley son for his unwavering dedication to Albus Dumbledore and his invaluable information from the Gringott’s world.
Villains and honest people alike, they all handled money, and it was surprising what you could deduce from the mere facts of money transfer and exchanges of property. A prerequisite to extracting such information were impeccable relations with the goblins, which Bill Weasley somehow admirably had managed to establish.
Snape and Bill Weasley used to receive their instructions from Dumbledore after the Order meetings in each other’s presence. The first time this occurred, it surprised Snape greatly, given that his own spying activities were so secret and of such sensitive nature that the less people who were aware of them the better. But Dumbledore explained to them that they were both key persons in the Order movement, and having them aware of each others missions was a matter of security. Eventually, Dumbledore expected Bill to take over the leadership of the Order which was better done if well informed from the start about Snape’s activities. This was especially true after Dumbledore was condemned by the Gaunt’s curse.
As a consequence, Snape felt that Bill Weasley was the only member of the Order beside Dumbledore who truly trusted and respected him. With the other members, suspicions always arose in one way or the other, often undermined by Mad-eye Moody’s paranoia, as to Snape’s loyalty. It was in a fashion deliberately set that way, because Dumbledore wanted Voldemort to believe that Snape was a double-spy. The uncertainty within the Order whether Snape truly belonged to them or not would make Snape more credible to Voldemort, and so he would receive more freedom from the Dark Lord to perform his double-spying, which, in turn, would facilitate his triple-spying. The constant suspicions and sometimes downright hostility from his fellow members at the time still wore on Snape’s patience, however.
It was a small relief for Snape to share with Bill Weasley the knowledge of Dumbledore’s impending death. The yoke of being the one to kill their leader was one that Snape had to bear alone, however. But it seemed that this fact only increased Bill Weasley’s respect for his person. That last, horrible year before the end of the war, when Dumbledore was dead to all and when Snape seemingly worked openly for Voldemort, Bill Weasley, after recovering from the ware-wolf attack, constituted Snape’s only, if sparse, contact with the Order.
So the fact that the sight of Bill Weasley’s head in his floo made chills travel down Snape’s spine did not mean that he feared the man. On the contrary, his intimate knowledge of Bill Weasley’s trustworthiness and sound judgement made Snape convinced that only something extraordinarily serious could have caused the wizard to take the risk of thwarting the storm to call him. And that something was what made Snape so apprehensive, because it was bound to do with - Harry Potter.
Snape had entrusted Bill Weasley with Harry when it became apparent - at an unnecessarily late stage before the start of term - that the young wizard was in fact not recovered enough from his post-traumatic condition to attend school as planned. Snape reckoned that both Mme Pomfrey and he had been blind to the signs, as they had become used to Harry’s symptoms and habits over the summer, and yet wished him recovered so much that they chose to see only the improvements and not what still lacked in the broad picture. If Snape was honest with himself, he supposed that he had hoped that Harry would be shocked out of his aversion for the headmaster by the start of term where it would be impossible to avoid contact with the school leader.
The insensitivity of this scheme dawned upon Snape one day, only a week before the start of term, when he visited the hospital ward where Harry had made himself at home during the summer and was only then preparing to leave in exchange for the Gryffindor dorm. Snape had entered the room just as Harry let out a loud exclamation. Snape found the young man in a terrible state, near tears, with shaking hands and a bunch of leaves of paper on the floor.
”Look at me,” Harry whispered hoarsely. ”Look at me, I can’t even abide his handwriting. I can’t read his letter.” Snape had only to cast one glance down at the exact hand that filled the space of the lines on the pieces of parchment scattered on the floor to know who Harry was talking about.
”I can’t… I can’t start school when I’m like this,” Harry croaked desperately. ”Dumble… D… the headmaster will preside every single meal in the Great Hall, won’t he? He will make speeches, he’ll be around in a different way from what it’s been during the summer, won’t he?”
Snape made a gesture as if to confirm and deplore at the same time. He swallowed hard when Harry’s pleading green eyes set on him.
”I so wanted to share this last year at Hogwarts with my friends,” said Harry, full of regret. ”I wanted to see more of Ginny at last, to be able to work out with her whether we should plan our lives together, or if we should go separate ways, because I still don’t know what to think… I wanted to relive those carefree days of school from before, and even more so now, since Voldemort is gone, but I can’t. It’s impossible. I have played along these past weeks, because everyone wants me to return to normal and everyone has high hopes, but I’ve had my doubts all this while, and this just confirms it. Even his handwriting triggers these horrible reactions.”
”Perhaps we can make something out, Harry. Make an agreement with Albus, or…” tried Snape.
”No,” the young wizard replied firmly. ”I can’t ask of the headmaster to hide for my sake, not during the school year. And it’s not only about him. I have imagined the castle filled with pupils - the busy corridors, the crammed dorms, the constant buzzing of voices during the meals - and I’m not ready for it. It will tire me out in half a day. I’ve just began to be able to read books, in the quiet of a deserted room. The constant distraction of other people around me will exhaust me senselessly. I’m sorry, it doesn’t work like before. I need quiet. I need peace. And I need to paint.”
Snape had not argued with Harry, because he suddenly realised how right Harry was, and he had made an instant decision. Lily’s son needed quiet, and so he would provide that for him. That was why Snape turned to his closest collaborator during the war and asked of Bill Weasley if he and his wife would be willing to house Harry Potter during the year at Shell Cottage, far away from Hogwarts. Simultaneously, he obtained from Albus and all the teachers concerned that Harry be allowed to study from a distance and yet pass the NEWT exams at the end of the year.
As a result, since the middle of September, Harry Potter was removed from Hogwarts and lived by the sea, under the hospital roof of Bill and Fleur Weasley. This was why Bill Weasley’s head in his floo on a stormy night made Snape’s gut clench with anguish.
However, Bill Weasley’s features also triggered memories from the war, memories of intense watchfulness, ruthless determination and deliberate flaunting of dangers, at which time there was no room for personal feelings, and giving in to one’s inner fears were out of the question. Therefore, Snape did not move a single feature as he stepped forward, knelt in front of the fireplace and inquired:
Bill Weasley didn’t beat about the bush. He was very much aware of the precarious nature of his call which could be interrupted at any moment.
”Harry’s gone missing,” he said promptly. ”The storm’s just as bad in our part of the country,” he added.
”Missing in the snow storm?” Snape furrowed his brows. ”Why on earth would he…?”
”We don’t know yet, but it’s a fact,” interrupted Bill. ”My wife went down to Harry’s atelier when the storm was catching force this afternoon, and found the place empty.”
”Harry’s wand was left on the table. Apparently he left without his wand.”
The statement, naturally, underlined the seriousness of the situation. Until then Snape had subconsciously clung to some idea of a misunderstanding, of a notion of just-in-case over-precaution on Bill Weasley’s side, but this left no doubt.
”What has been done?” said Snape. ”What can I do?”
”I know it’s much to ask, but then I thought that you’d wanted to be asked,” said Bill. ”Would you come over and help in the magical tracking of Harry? We cannot do any physical search in this weather - tracking spells are all we can manage, and they are rather delicate as you know. We’ve been tracking for the last five hours, a couple of Aurors and I, but our resources are beginning to wane. We’ve called in reinforcement from the Auror department, but I know you’re just as competent and, if I interpret your interest in Harry’s welfare correctly, you’d be just as motivated, or more so. But it’s dangerous to step through the floo, you need to consider the risks…”
”I’m coming through!” Snape rose promptly from his kneeling position to grab the floo-powder on the shelf above.
”Bring a coat,” advised Bill quickly. ”Shell cottage is not as windproof as I’d want it to be, and Merlin knows for how long this storm is going on.”
Mutely, Snape swung around, summoned a thick fur coat, and the next moment he stepped into the floo, muttering spells that would strengthen the connection further.
The floo travel, even under normal conditions a whirling ride, was ten times worse than Snape had ever experienced. He was violently tossed against invisible walls. The fact that he had put his thick fur on before leaving would probably save him several bruises.
It did not spare him from being literally flung into the living-room at Shell Cottage with such force that he landed at the opposite end of the fire-place and slammed his skull into the edge of a bookshelf. Fleur Weasley, Bills’ french wife, cried out loud and ran up to him.
”Protection charms around the head,” Snape hurried to supply in a croak, in order to reassure the frightened young woman.
”You would have split your head in two, had you not put such in place!” exclaimed Fleur.
Her english was much improved from when she was an exchange student at Hogwarts, Snape noted giddily, and irrelevantly, because he had met her numerous times since she was his pupil. He felt more shaken than he wanted to acknowledge when he stood up promptly from his humiliating position on the floor. He rapidly realised that there were no broken bones, but he healed several deep scratches on his knuckles. Letting the residual dizziness form the floo pass, Snape was finally able to take his surroundings in.
He let his eyes sweep around the room that was all made of wooden tiles - floor, ceiling and walls alike. Snape had once visited a Muggle sauna at a swimming facility, and the room reminded him of that, although bigger, decorated and cosier. Snape’s gaze landed on three men standing on each side of the fireplace. Reflexively, he felt his guard tighten. He no longer had anything to fear from the Aurors, but he had spent most part of his life being wary of them, with the result that he would never be completely at ease in their presence. At this precise point of time, he was grateful that they were here, however. One of them stepped forward.
”It was good of you to join us,” he said and stretched out his hand to greet Snape. ”We have a long night ahead of us and need to get organised in the search for Mr Potter.”