by Persephone Lupin

Category: Angst/Horror (hurt/care)

Rating: R

Ships: HP/LL, HG/DM, RW/OC


SUMMARY: When Severus Snape receives an anonymous message disclosing Harry Potter’s intention to venture on a late-night stroll through the Forbidden Forest, he jumps at the opportunity to finally get Potter expelled – and runs into a deadly trap. WARNING: Severe Snape-Angst, torture galore. Post OoP



DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.


Chapter 1: Of Sneaks and Snakes
Chapter 2: Behold the Traitor
Chapter 3: The Many Faces of Death
Chapter 4: Unicorn Blood
Chapter 5: Seas of Agony
Chapter 6: The Parcel
Chapter 7: The Dream
Chapter 8: Cat-Cries
Chapter 9: The Scent of Blood
Chapter 10: More Blood
Chapter 11: Crisis
Chapter 12: Close Call
Chapter 13: Consultations and Confrontations
Chapter 14: Horror and Hope



Chapter 1: Of Sneaks and Snakes

Trapped. Damn it. And so foolishly.

He had stumbled right into the trap like a stupid first-year. He, Severus Snape, the epitome of cunning and subtlety. He could kick himself for his foolishness. And now, neither cunning nor subtlety nor anything else in this world would save him. He was definitely done for. Trapped like a rabbit in a snare, and the wolves slowly closing in on it with fangs bared and saliva dripping.

He still couldn’t believe that he had acted thus – Gryffindorish. To give the boy his only means of escape, his life-insurance - what utter foolishness! And what in the world had possessed him to follow the brat in the first place? Of course, it was impossible to tell the difference when somebody used Polyjuice Potion, even for a Potions master, but having let himself be lured out of the castle and into the Forbidden Forest by such a preposterous scheme was hard to swallow. At least, he had learned one thing: Never trust an anonymous denunciation. He should have known better, anyway. At the latest when realizing that Potter was without his loyal sidekick, the inevitable weasel-boy. Now, it was too late. He would die without the chance to apply his new wisdom. And it was all his fault. His blind desire to have Potter expelled had apparently clouded his judgement, had made him vulnerable. It was his blind spot, his Achilles heel, and they had used it.

But why now? He wasn’t aware of anything that could possibly have aroused suspicion. Of course, now he himself had provided undeniable evidence of his betrayal. He had given the Phoenix-feather, the token of Dumbledore’s resistance, to the boy when he had felt the presence of Death Eaters through his Mark. But instead of using the Portkey function to flee to the safety of Grimauld Place, Potter, or rather the one he believed to be Potter, had cast Expelliarmus at his teacher, taking him totally by surprise as he was staring intently into the darkness to get a glimpse of what was going on under the shadows of the enormous trees. And, who had taught the brat the handy spell? This same Severus Snape who was now standing in a clearing in the Forbidden Forest at the dead of night, encircled by the enemy, and de-wanded by one of his students. How ironic.

The enemy had his Phoenix-feather. And they knew how it worked. He had foolishly revealed the activation spell for its Portkey function to the impostor, to Draco Malfoy of all people. And worst of all, this might not simply mean his death but also a serious drawback for the entire resistance. Luckily, the feather-Portkey did work for a single person only – one of Dumbledore’s more ingenious safety measures to prevent an invasion of Headquarters in case a feather found its way into the wrong hands. But the fact that they knew about the token of the secret Order alone might prove detrimental. Let alone the possibility that the Dark Lord found out about its other properties. He would rather bite off his tongue than tell him, of course, but Voldemort was not stupid. And he could always catch another member of the Phoenix Order and squeeze the information out of him or her, now that he knew. All his fault. And Dumbledore wasn’t aware of the danger, yet.

They were drawing closer now, wands raised and pointed at his chest. A good score of them. Considering the anti-Disapparition wards plus the fact that the tip of the impostor’s wand, like the sword of Damocles, was hovering about his head, almost touching his right temple and ready to strike any second, he had no chance at all to get out of his deadly predicament. If only he could provoke the hooded figures to kill him on the spot. Twenty green flashes of light would bring quick and certain death. But they were ordered not to kill him by their Lord, he was sure of that. His would be a long and terrible death, terrible enough to ensure non of the other Death Eaters would ever dare to even think of treason. Not that the likes of Lestrange, Mcnair or the Mafoys would be likely to do so in the first place. But you never knew, especially not with the new recruits. Besides those form Durmstrang, there were several of his own Slytherins, some of whom he deemed not entirely hopeless. And weren’t two or three of the Death Eaters rather reluctant in approaching him, wands slightly shaking? But what could they do? They couldn’t help him, even if they wanted to. And after the Dark Lord had finished him off, they surely would be sufficiently scared to not try anything against their Master in the future, either.

Another ‘plop’, this time in the center of the circle. The Dark Lord appeared in a flash of black and crimson, accompanied by his abominable giant pet snake and that disgusting Wormtail-creature.

"On your knees, traitor," Draco hissed into his ear. Severus did not move but stared defiantly down on the Slytherin Prefect in the unlikely guise of Harry Potter. Never had he loathed this messy black hair, those emerald eyes, and the lightningbolt scar more than in this very moment when the hated face didn’t really belong to the person confronting him. Another twist of irony. But the platinum blond started to show through the black already, a tell-tale sign that the Polyjuice Potion hadn’t been brewed with the necessary expertise.

He didn’t have to wait long for the reaction to his disobedience.

"Crucio," shouted Draco, his wand still pointing at his teacher’s temple.

Not too bad for a 6th year, Severus thought as pain bored through his head like a spear and then spread into his entire body. A tide of white-hot lava setting every single fiber on fire. He bit his lip convulsively to prevent himself from screaming as he fell to his knees. Luckily, Draco wasn’t powerful enough to sustain the Unforgivable for more than a few seconds, yet. But he had achieved his goal, however. Severus was on his knees. The Dark Lord seemed extremely pleased with the young wizard’s performance.

"You did well, my child," he praised. "A true Slytherin, one your father can be proud of. You will do great deeds once you have received my Mark, and you will be honored among your fellow Death Eaters as the one who brought down - the traitor." The last words he spat out with venom, pointing at Severus who was still on his knees, panting and twitching in the aftermath of the Cruciatus.

Severus spat some blood that had accumulated in his mouth from the deep cut in his lip, and looked up. No, he would not crawl to his master and cry for mercy. He would never sink that low, whatever they were going to do to him. He stared back into the snake-like eyes that were glowing red in the flickering torchlights. Voldemort was first to break eye-contact.

"Ssseverusss, Ssseverusss…" He was slowly shaking his head as if in regret. "Why did you betray me, child? You did betray me, didn’t you?" The voice had turned into a threatening hiss.

"You have the evidence. Would it make sense to deny the undeniable?" Severus rose. Maybe the Dark Lord would kill him quickly if he provoked him into a fit of rage? But no such luck. He should have known better.

"Back on your knees, vermin!" Voldemort hissed. He signaled to Pettigrew who was already waiting greedily for a chance to once more show off the powers of his magical prosthesis. The bald wizard murmured a curse. Two flashes of crimson light shot from the tip of a silvery finger in quick succession, hitting his school-mate’s kneecaps with shattering force. Severus could not suppress the cry of agony as the bone splintered into pieces. His legs gave way and he collapsed to the ground, holding his mutilated knees with both his hands, groaning softly.

"This is much better, isn’t it, Ssseverusss?" Voldemort jeered. "And now, as you have resumed an appropriate position, you might yearn to hear what made me suspect you in the first place, don’t you?" He lifted his gaze and let it wander slowly from one Death Eater to the next. "As you might have noticed, we have a couple of promising new recruits," he continued. "And, to my great surprise, one of them informed me about some highly suspicious circumstances in connection with the rather unfavorable events at the Ministry of Magic. She used to be a former colleague of yours." With a sweeping motion, the Dark Lord pointed at a hooded figure that had been hiding in the shadows outside the circle of Death Eaters. A surprisingly short figure Severus noticed with growing apprehension.

"May I present our newest and most welcome recruit, Professor Dolores Umbridge!" shouted Voldemort triumphantly. She entered the circle, hood thrown back, a vicious sneer on her toad-like visage.

"Well met, dear colleague, hem, hem," Umbridge intoned, gloating over Severus’s pain. "In case, hem, you, Professor, and the Potter-brat were thinking you could fool me, Dolores Umbridge, then High Inquisitor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I can assure you that you were certainly wrong. After the, hem, unfortunate affair last summer, I had plenty of time at the, hem, St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries to reconsider the events that had led to my, hem, recreational sojourns there. And, I have to say, I came to certain, hem, most remarkable conclusions. The most important being that it was time to finally, hem, answer my call and join the mightiest of wizards ever, the Dark Lord, our Master. The other one was the realization that, during the relevant period of time, there had been only one person present in the entire Hogwarts castle who could have possibly alerted Dumbledore’s ridiculous resistance group, ahem, and this person was obviously – you, Professor Snape." She pointed her short, fleshy index finger accusingly at Severus. "Am I right in assuming that you did understand perfectly well what Potter was hinting at with his enigmatic gibberish about a certain Padfoot, Professor? And the Veritaserum you gave me was certainly fake, wasn’t it? I should have looked through your scheming right from the beginning. But, I must admit, that your obvious and seemingly genuine antipathy towards the Potter-brat, together with your, hem, intriguing personality and your, hem, hem, dark masculinity, hem, somehow distracted me. Actually, I, hi hi, was quite taken with you, hi, almost infatuated …" She broke into a girlish giggle. "Infatuated, indeed, hi hi."

Severus cringed. That was utterly disgusting. He could not decide what made him more nauseous, the pain in his knees or the image of this creature lusting after him. He would rather bed the Bloody Baron than – just to think of the possibility made him want to throw up. The Dark Lord, on the other hand, seemed to genuinely enjoy the humiliating scene. As did the other Death Eaters. The sneers behind their masks were almost palpable.

"You see, dear Ssseverusss, that Professor Umbridge was extremely helpful to our cause. Therefore, she will take your place among my loyal Death Eaters once we have disposed of you," Voldemort explained. "Which leads me to the next item on tonight’s agenda: the enactment of due punishment."

These words spoken, Voldemort drew his wand and pointed it at Severus.

"Serpensortiae," he hissed as he whirled it through the air. A wriggling knot of lurid-green serpents rained down on the prone figure on the ground and quickly wound around his arms, legs, chest and throat, a suffocating mass of living fetters.

"Just a benign advice in case you might try to provoke my beautiful pets into biting you to end your pathetic life early: the bite is not deadly, but extremely painful," Voldemort drawled on complacently. Knowing the Dark Lord, Severus had not expected the poison to be lethal, anyway. This would have been too easy a way out.

"Now, I’m not one for cruelty if avoidable, you know," Voldemort continued.

The lie of the century, thought Severus bitterly.

"Watching people being tortured is rather annoying, come to think of it."

You prefer to do the torturing yourself…

"That’s why I want to propose a bargain: a quick and painless Avada Kedavra for you giving me vital information about Dumbledore’s resistance. What do you say, child?"

"Never in my life!" Severus choked out through clenched teeth. The snakes had wound their writhing bodies tighter and tighter around their victim, making it hard to breath. The pain in his knees had become almost unbearable under the ever-increasing pressure.

"No? Your last word, Ssseverusss?" asked the Dark Lord mockingly. "Too bad. Considering that Veritaserum doesn’t work with you, this leaves one option only, and you won’t like it, I can assure you." This said, Voldemort produced a few unintelligible hissing-sounds, which seemed to infuriate the snakes. With heads erect and fangs bared they made ready to strike.

"Last chance to reconsider my proposition, traitor!"

Severus desperately tried to not let his growing panic show, but the ‘no’ he produced was barely a whisper. He closed his eyes waiting for the snakes to attack. And attack they did. Another whispered word in Parsel, and the poisonous fangs pierced through his clothes and dug deep into his skin. While the actual bites did not hurt that much, the venom, that was spreading rapidly through his circulatory system, was burning like concentrated acid making his heart race, his breathing increasingly quick and shallow, and sweat was beginning to pour down his face and back. His vision blurred, lurid lights flashed before his retina, and the sense of hearing seemed grotesquely enhanced. The Dark Lord’s high-pitched laughter hit Severus’s tympanum like a host of pointed daggers. He wanted to cover his ears, shelter them from the agonizing sounds, but his hands were tied closely to his body, and any attempt to move only made the snakes angrier. The intensity of the auditory and visual hallucinations increased by the second as the poison flooded Severus’s cerebral system until sounds and lights painfully exploded inside his skull. Then, everything was swallowed by darkness.



Chapter 2: Behold the Traitor

When he came to, his entire body felt numb. He tried to open his eyes, tried to move, but couldn’t. Not a fraction of an inch. At least, he was able to breathe again. And think coherently. The snakes had obviously vanished. But where was he now? Definitely not in the Forest anymore. This was a stone floor, moist and cold and covered in thick layers of dust and mud. A dungeon? The humidity and the rotten-moldy odor were tell-tale evidence of an underground location. So, he was imprisoned in some dreary dungeon, half-poisoned and with broken kneecaps. No help to be expected and only the worst to anticipate. That pretty much summed it up.

The only positive aspect of his present existence was that he had not given away information, yet. His self-induced allergy to Veritaserum had proven quite helpful once again. It was his most ingenuous safety measure. Not a very pleasurable experience, no, but effective. When Voldemort had fed him the serum after his return into the fold for one and a half years ago, he had almost thrown his guts up – together with the potion. The second time, it had been even worse. After another vomiting fit, he had passed out in a puddle of bile and blood. It had served its purpose, though. Convinced Voldemort of the impossibility to extract any information from him by using the Truth-potion. That left torture. But thanks to his superior skills in Occlumency, Voldemort had never mistrusted him more than his other Death Eaters, which left his torture experience rather limited so far.

There were the sounds of heavy steps in the corridor. A door screeching. Somebody entered the cell – or were there two of them?

"Snape!" A painful kick to his ribcage. Severus groaned. Ice-cold water was being splashed over his head, finally shocking him out of his stupor. He opened his eyes. In the dim light that fell through a small window close to the arched ceiling, he saw a hooded figure bending over him, hands big as shovels. Goyle, no doubt. Then Crabbe couldn’t be far, either.

"Get up, traitor! Master wants to see you," the brute growled without as much as moving his lips. Severus struggled to sit up, but was already grabbed rudely by two gigantic paws and hurled towards the other brute, Goyle’s doppelganger, who was waiting in the doorway. They dragged him up a never-ending flight of stairs, every step painfully connecting with his damaged knees, and finally flung him down at his former Master’s feet. The pain had left Severus dizzy and nauseous, and he was hardly able to lift his head to meet the Dark Lord’s gaze.

"You do look pitiful, my child," Voldemort observed in mock-concern. "Poor Ssseverusss. I could heel you with a single flick of my wand, you know. I could do that. And I might even consider letting you live … - Under one simple condition: if you let me share your invaluable knowledge about the Order of the Phoenix. You could start by explaining your means of communication, for instance, that would surely merit the restoration of at least one kneecap, I’d say. Won’t you reconsider, Ssseverusss? It would spare the both of us a lot of trouble."

"Try whatever torture your pervert brain is able to concoct, I will reveal nothing, inhuman monster!" spat Severus, anticipating another bout of Cruciatus in return. But the Dark Lord only laughed his bloodcurdling high-pitched laughter.

"Stubborn to the end. No less than I expected. I guess that leaves me no choice but to irrevocably severe the bond that has been connecting us for so many years. A pity. - Wormtail!" He motioned to Pettigrew who was lurking about in the gloomy rear part of the hall-like room. The rat approached, almost stooping to the floor in reverence to his Master. Finally, Wormtail straightened and whirled his wand. A strange stone device appeared out of thin air, resembling a hybrid between a slab and a scaffold. This accomplished, the balding wizard put forth his exposed left arm for Voldemort to touch the Dark Mark.

Soft ‘plops’ announced the arrival of apparating Death Eaters. They formed their usual circle. On the Dark Lord’s sign, Crabbe and Goyle dragged Severus towards the stone construction, made him kneel before it, ripped off his cloak and shirt and pressed his upper body onto the smooth granite surface, face down. Immediately, iron bonds appeared and wound itself tightly around his chest and outstretched arms, slicing painfully into his flesh.

A door opened, and a hooded figure entered the room. His hood and mask were scarlet instead of black, and he wielded an ax in his heavily gloved hands. Mcnair, the executioner. He slowly approached the prisoner.

So, this was the end. Death by beheading. At least it would be quick, much quicker than he had hoped for. And Mcnair was an expert. No danger of becoming a second Nearly Headless Nick. If it wasn’t for his painful position, which made his knees ache like hell, he could have faced death open-eyed and calmly. As it was, he was shaking with the pain and close to fainting. Not very dignifying, exactly. Voldemort coming up to him and gently stroking back the strands of black hair, caressing his exposed neck with cold and claw-like fingers, didn’t help with his nausea, either.

"Now, we come to a parting," the Dark Lord announced to the assembly. "Behold the traitor!" There was the roll of a drum following Voldemort’s words. Then silence again, absolute silence except for the hammering of his heart. The blow would fall any second now, and then it would be over, no more pain, no more nightmares, no more Neville Longbottom ... He sighed almost in relief.

Another drum roll. He felt Mcnair come closer, could picture him raise the heavy ax, holding the wooden handle firmly with both hands, the torchlight reflecting from the sharp and unblemished steel of the fatal blade, the perfect arc it described when it came swishing through the air in a perfectly smooth motion. The drumming ceased. Another second of silence.

Then, the ax fell.


Chapter 3: The Many Faces of Death

With a sickening thud the blade cut through flesh and bone and finally hit the underlying stone. Blood splashed. The drum again. Warm droplets of scarlet were raining down on his face. The taste of salt as his tongue licked over dry lips. Strange. He could still feel, taste. How was this possible? Was he a ghost? He didn’t feel any pain anymore, only a strange numbness in his entire body. But as a ghost he shouldn’t feel the pressure of the iron fetters, should he? Something was wrong. Definitely. Should he dare open his eyes?

There was a pool of blood on the gray stone surface, his blood, and it was growing steadily. But his neck still seemed to be connected to his body…

Then, realization hit him. This wasn’t about death and beheading. No. They had cut off his forearm, the one with the Dark Mark. Irrevocably severed the bond ... Not that he minded that much. He had wished for the Mark to come off a hundred times and more. But not - this way.

With realization came the pain. It shot through his arm and shoulder like a fiery sword, stabbing and slicing and burning at the same time. And the blood was spilling freely, the ever-growing scarlet pool having reached his face by now, making him wonder if he was to drown in his own blood. He groaned. Bleeding to death might not be the worst way to die, though. The pain would slowly wear off and be replaced by a numbing sleepiness before he would slowly glide into darkness inescapable. Like a candle burning down. There might even be a fleeting moment of peace ...

"Behold the traitor!" The Dark Lord’s voice again, cutting mercilessly through his silent musings. "And here, look at Peter Pettigrew, who gave his limb willingly to his Master, sacrificed it for a higher purpose. As a reward he received this magnificent and powerful hand of magical steel. Look at it! Isn’t it beautiful? A remarkable gift for a most loyal servant. – But the traitor will receive nothing but pain!"

The last words echoed menacingly through the room, reverberating inside Severus’s head. Pain. The cruel game wasn’t over yet. What would come next?

Voldemort tapped Wormtail’s magical hand with his wand. Immediately, it started to glow with increasing intensity, radiating sizzling rays of heat. The rat slowly approached the blood-splattered slab. Severus could feel the heat as if he was standing in front of an open furnace. It was almost singeing his hair as the balding wizard came to a halt beside him. Now, something really bad was about to happen. As if he hadn’t had enough for one day. How he yearned for rest, oblivion, even death. But it would not come – not yet. He tried to steel himself against the oncoming pain, but there was no strength left in his mangled body. He was too exhausted to even keep his eyes open.

There was a motion where his left arm - or rather what was left of it - was chained to the table. Then excruciating pain. And the smell of burnt flesh. He screamed as Pettigrew pressed his white-hot claw against the bleeding stump, screamed and screamed until he finally sank deep into merciful oblivion.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When Severus awoke from unconsciousness, he was in the dungeons again. Same cold stone floor, same moldy air. But now, a few strands of autumn sun were reaching the ground of his cell. And there was an unfamiliar smell ... It reminded him of something but the memory was constantly eluding him. What was it? – the smell of burnt flesh, his flesh. He gagged when the images of his ordeal came flooding back into conscious memory. His arm. The burning pain. The screaming ...

The pain wasn’t that bad at the moment. As long as he didn’t move, he merely felt a dull, pulsing ache in his left arm. His knees were hurting, too. But it was bearable in comparison to – the other pain. He didn’t want to think of it right now. Didn’t want to look at his mutilated arm. Had it really happened? Or was it nothing but a figment of a hallucinating brain? Maybe he was just having a horrible nightmare, and would soon wake up in his comfortable and warm four-poster bed in his familiar Hogwarts dungeons. He would have a cup of strong black tea while still in bed reading the Daily Prophet, and then decide whether to have breakfast in the Great Hall or at his chambers. Probably the latter. He didn’t feel too well today, not really hungry, and not at all ready to meet all those annoying dunderheads before he had to - in class. But another cup of tea would be welcome. He was terribly thirsty. His throat and lips felt all dry and sore. He only had to reach for the bell on the nightstand to summon a house-elf ...

The movement and the ensuing pain brought him back to bleak reality. Was he loosing his sanity? Was this the beginning of delirium? He was feeling hot, feverish, but was shivering from the cold at the same time. Probably he was just having a bad case of Influenza, and would wake up in the Hospital wing any moment, all this being nothing but a fever-dream. He had always shunned the Hospital wing like the devil shunned holy water. And, luckily, he was almost never sick. If he was, though, he had his private stores of healing potions and salves, and he knew how to use them. But now, he would give anything for a glimpse into Poppy Pomfrey’s hazel eyes ...

Wonder whether they had already noticed his absence at school? Maybe not. It had been a Friday night when he had followed the impostor into the Forest. And since he had never been a very sociable person and preferred to spend his week-ends alone in his study, probably nobody would miss him yet. The students would certainly be ecstatic when finding out about their most hated teacher’s mysterious absence after the week-end was over. What day was it anyway? He had no idea about how long he had been unconscious. Was it only Saturday, or Sunday already? His first class on Monday would be double Potions with the 6th-years, all houses together. His most accident-prone class after the Weasley twins had dropped out so spectacularly last summer. No great loss if you asked him. Bright, but hopeless trouble-makers. If he hadn’t been so wary all the time they would surely have blown up his dungeons on a regular basis, probably the entire school. This left Neville Longbottom, the bane of his life. Why the Headmaster had literally forced him to admit this brainless excuse of a wizard to Advanced Potions in spite of his abysmal grades he could only guess. Probably the boy’s grandmother, an old friend of Dumbledore’s, was behind it. Longbottom was brilliant with plants, he had to admit that, truly green fingers, and when herbs were involved in potions brewing, he knew a lot about their properties and uses. But let him get into the vicinity of a cauldron and the most unpleasant things would happen. Miraculously enough, there had never been a fatal accident – yet. The constant war between Slytherins and Gryffindors didn’t help much, either. Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy in one and the same class were bad enough. Add Hermione Granger, the insufferable know-it-all, to the explosive mixture and the result would turn out to be detrimental to any teacher’s sanity. At least in a Potions classroom. No. The students certainly wouldn’t miss him.

Would anybody miss him at all? Probably not. They would miss Snape, the spy, but not the person. And he couldn’t even blame them. If it only wasn’t so cold in here. He could almost feel his skin turn blue. And nothing to drink. Maybe they had forgotten about him? How long would it take to die of dehydration? Three days? No, certainly less than that after the considerable loss of blood. But what if he started to lick the moisture off the dungeon walls when crazed enough by the thirst? He had heard of people buried in an earth quake survive for many days in this fashion. The cold would kill him first, then. Couldn’t be more than 45°. How long could one survive those temperatures without a cloak or blanket? And he didn’t even have his shirt. A few days, maybe?

His head was throbbing with all the ‘maybes’ and the quickly rising fever. Best to think of nothing at all, clear the mind of all thoughts and emotions. He could do that. Had done it a hundred times as a spy. As Dumbledore’s spy. Dumbledore with the twinkling blue eyes. Maybe he would miss him. The old wizard had a heart for almost any creature, even for an embitter, twisted ex-Death Eater. Yes, the Headmaster would miss him. And with the image of Albus Dumbledore in his mind, Severus fell into a feverish sleep.



Chapter 4: Unicorn Blood

He woke up to the unblinking stare of a rat. A fat and almost hairless rat. How appropriate for this dreary location. There ought to be hundreds of rats down here. So, he might end up as rat-food, after all. They did eat people when their victims were too sick to fight them. And he didn’t feel much like fighting right now.

The rat continued to stare, sitting on its hind legs and seemingly scrutinizing him thoroughly. It was so bizarre that Severus started to wonder whether the rat was real. He blinked. But the rat was still there. Then he noticed the missing front paw - Peter Pettigrew in his Animagus form. Was he here to check on him? They hadn’t forgotten their prisoner then. But was this a good sign or a bad one? Probably the latter. Wormtail’s presence almost qua definition meant that bad things would happen.

The rat sneered, then, surprisingly quick for its bulk, crossed the room and disappeared through a hole in the wall. Running to its Master, Severus assumed. And indeed, shortly after the Dark Lord appeared in the door frame.

"How do you enjoy my hospitality, Ssseverusss, dear? Everything to your liking?" he began mockingly. Severus only blinked. It was hard enough to concentrate on the blurry vision and to grasp the meaning of the words. The task of answering was completely beyond him.

"Too haughty to reply? Ssseverusss, Ssseverusss, you really should know by now that a polite question merits an equally polite answer. Or do you have anything to complain about? Speak!" He motioned to Pettigrew, now back in his human form, who entered the cell and kicked hard at Severus’s badly swollen knees.

"No," the injured wizard croaked as the pain shot through his legs.

Another kick and Voldemort’s voice barking, " ‘No, my Lord,’ you imbecile! Try again!"

"No, my ..." A violent coughing fit rendered him unable to finish the sentence.

"Oh, you are sick, poor child?" The Dark Lord’s voice was dripping with mock-concern. "Cold and hungry and miserable, are you? That’s exactly what you deserve, traitor!"

"Yes ... my ... Lord," Severus managed to whisper while trying to get some minimum oxygen into his aching lungs. He might die of pneumonia, though, if the thirst didn’t kill him first, or the cold ...

"But I’m not inhuman," continued Voldemort. "We’ll feed you well enough, Wormtail and I. I don’t want to loose my favorite plaything, you see - not before I have tired of it." He signaled to Pettigrew again who promptly produced a glass vial with a silvery blue liquid from the folds of his robes. A poison?

Wormtail knelt down at the prisoner’s side and forced the strange substance down his throat. Severus gagged violently. He had never swallowed anything that tasted even half as horrible as this concoction. The taste was impossible to describe with words, even for a Potions master. A mixture of fear, pain, desperation, and death would probably describe it best, only that he couldn’t tell how these would actually taste. Strangely enough, in spite of tasting like death, Severus did not feel that close to dying anymore. Not that the potion had alleviated the numbing pain in his knees and arm or the chill that made him shiver almost constantly, but he instinctively knew he would not die any time soon. Not a favorable prospect considering the malicious sneer on the rat’s face and the mad glimmer in Voldemort’s eyes.

The Dark Lord’s next words affirmed Severus’s worst fears.

"I must admit," he said silkily, "the taste is rather appalling. But the effect is magnificent, I can assure you. I used to drink this amazing substance in large quantities a couple of years ago, lived on it. But nowadays it is regrettably difficult to come across. Too bad. Otherwise I could keep you alive for years. But since unicorn blood has become so scarce and precious, I fear we will have to limit the fun to a few weeks."

Merlin. Weeks. He had to wait for death to come for another few weeks. Weeks full of torture, pain, and humiliation, to be sure of, since that was the Dark Lord’s sick notion of fun. The prospect made him want to vomit. But not in the monster’s presence, no, rather choke on the rising bile.

"By the way," Voldemort drawled on sneeringly, " I let Dumbledore know about your fate. Would have been too cruel to leave him wondering, wouldn’t it? Actually, this was Wormtail’s idea. He has his moments once in a while. To think of sending that old fool the tell-tale present instead of a letter of condolence. Rather ingenious. Too bad we couldn’t enjoy the expression on the great Albus Dumbledore’s face when he opened the box. Surely a priceless sight. Just imagine him sitting there, probably expecting another delivery of lemon drops, but unwrapping the bloody arm of his missing Potions master instead. I’m almost positive he threw up all over his ridiculous robes. Don’t you agree, Ssseverusss, dear boy?"

Severus had closed his eyes. He refused to think. Think of the Headmaster open the box. The shock and disgust on his face. How the twinkle in his eyes would freeze and turn into sorrow and despair. And all and everything was essentially his own fault, Severus Snape’s, who had foolishly run into the Dark Lord’s trap for a mere schoolboy’s grudge.

When the Cruciatus hit him in the chest, the pain was almost welcome as it distracted him from his dark thoughts and quickly drove his exhausted body and mind over the edge and into merciful oblivion.



Chapter 5: Seas of Agony

The days and weeks that followed passed in a hazy blur of fever-dreams, torture, and pain, and ever more torture, more pain, interrupted only by hours of deep unconsciousness. He had lost all track of time, was merely living in a horrible and never-changing present where past and future had lost their meaning. All was essentially the same. Torture and pain. Only the torturers changed. But what difference did it make whether it was Crabbe or Goyle kicking and beating him, Lestrange or Malfoy wielding the wand that inflicted the wounds? The pain had become an almost uniform sensation by now, making it hard to tell where it originated from - from the broken bones, or the many mottled bruises, burn marks or deep seeping cuts that covered every inch of his body.

Some things were so bizarre he wasn’t sure they had happened at all. Had Dolores Umbridge really made him carve ‘I shall not betray my Master’ into his flesh with her horrible quill?

Pettigrew had forced unicorn blood down his throat repeatedly, becoming increasingly mad as his stomach had rebelled and thrown up most of the disgusting substance. In his fury the rat had grabbed his jaw with his silver hand and forced his mouth shut, almost suffocating him in the process. And breaking his jaw.

Sometimes the Dark Lord had come to watch. But apparently he had soon tired of his plaything, as had most of his minions. Torture just wasn’t that much fun when the victim’s reactions were mostly limited to soft moans and whimpers because he was too weak to scream in his agony. Plus, that he would pass out all too quickly. Crabbe and Goyle didn’t mind, however. They were his most faithful companions. Astonishingly enough, he was still in one piece, or almost one piece. And he hadn’t altogether lost his mind, yet. At least he still knew who he was.

There hadn’t been any visitors down in the dungeons for quite a while now, not even the rat. Had they finally tired of the game? Even the two brutes? Had they decided to let him rot alone in his cell and die at last? It couldn’t be long now. A few more days, probably hours only, and the effect of the unicorn blood would wear off. As he lay on the hard stone floor, beaten and mangled and bleeding, his sick lungs desperately struggling for air, he could almost feel death mercifully embrace him in dark and comforting folds of eternal oblivion. Only a short way to go now. If they only let him ...

They didn’t. The screeching of the rusty door pulled him out of his semi-conscious state. Another hope shattered. Was he condemned to never-ending pain like immortal Prometheus, who had to suffer eternally for betraying his Gods?

"Ssseverusss, how are you doing today, dear child?" It was the Dark Lord, his voice dripping with fake concern. Severus had long since ceased to answer those questions since speaking was too painful for his sore throat and broken jaw. They would kick him for not replying, but they would do so anyway. Or use the Cruciatus. Or some other torturing spell. He should know them all by now ... Only this time, the usual punishment did not come.

"I have wasted more than enough of my precious time with you, traitor," Voldemort complained instead. "Not only have you deeply disappointed me as a Death Eater, but you have also proven absolutely worthless both as a source of information and as a toy. So, what to do with you? I could let you rot in your cell until there is nothing left but bleached bones. But I’m not inhuman, as I already pointed out. I’ll let you live. I’ll even return you to your beloved Headmaster so he can enjoy your company once more – after some special farewell-treatment."

Special farewell-treatment. The words hung in the air loaded with doom. But there was no time to contemplate the implications for long as his head was jerked up in a death-grip and another dose of unicorn blood was forced down his throat. By now, even his stomach was too tired to try more than a few weak and futile contractions.

Everybody had been invited to witness his final punishment. The hall-like room was already crowded with Death Eaters when he was slammed to the ground in the center of it.

"Time to say good-by to a dear friend," Voldemort announced as his minions had silently formed the usual circle and paid their reverence. "But not without a special surprise as a reward for his exceedingly faithful service. Raise your wands, my Death Eaters." At a signal from Pettigrew, they all pointed their wands at the prone figure in the middle of the circle.


A good score of curses hit Severus square in the chest simultaneously, pinning him to the ground with the rip-breaking force of a tsunami, compressing his lungs to minute dots impossible to fill with air. Every cell, every molecule in his body was ripped apart, set on fire, shattered in a supernova of pain. He screamed, screamed until there was no voice left, drowned in an ocean of agony, his sanity, his self dissolving, becoming one with the excruciating pain. Then, he was falling deeper and deeper into the darkest abyss, the blackest void, cold and empty as the universe.

When the assembly of Death Eaters finally lifted the curse, Severus lay motionless, hardly breathing, blood trickling from his ears and mouth and forming pools of scarlet on the dusty floor.

"Behold the traitor!" shouted Voldemort once again. Minutes of silence. Then, the Dark Lord motioned to Pettigrew, who flung an old blanket over the comatose ex-Death Eater, grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out into the dark December night. Tightly holding to the limp body, he Disapparated.

Another present for Albus Dumbledore by courtesy of his Master. Wormtail chuckled as he Apparated in front of the great wrought-iron gates with the winged boar statues, and dropped his lifeless burden on the long sloping drive leading up to the sleeping castle. The silence was profound.

Should he stay here in his Animagus form to watch what would happen? Somebody was bound to find the macabre bundle that was the Hogwarts Potions master, in the morning. That big oaf of a gamekeeper with his drooling dog, most probably. In his mind’s eye he could almost see the half-giant break into tears at the ghastly sight. Yes, he would hide in the bushes and wait. The Master would surely appreciate a detailed description. Too bad that there were so many cats in the castle. He slightly shuddered at the thought of the ugly red beast that had almost killed him when he was the 'pet' of Ronald Weasley. If not for the cats, he could have sneaked into the building to monitor the over-all reaction of students and staff, too. Would have been a lot of fun ...

Just as Wormtail prepared to transform, he heard an angry ‘meow’ in the immediate vicinity. Damn it! One of those four-legged monsters. Had the cat sensed his presence? If it was Miss Norris, she was likely to report the stranger right to her master, the abominable Filch. Or was it McGonagall in her Animagus form? Merlin forbid! Better to Disapparate straight away. No more fun tonight. A pity.

With an angry sigh of disappointment followed by a soft ‘plop’ the balding wizard disappeared, leaving the motionless body of Severus Snape behind.



Chapter 6: The Parcel

A few weeks earlier:

As every Monday morning, there was a lot of commotion when the flock of owls flooded into the Great Hall to deliver the mail. The joyful noise, however, died down abruptly when a gigantic black eagle owl came flying into the room. Like a looming shadow against the gloomy November sky displayed on the enchanted ceiling, it circled the Hall, then, with a sudden cry, swooped down on the Head table. Glasses, forks and spoons dropped to the floor as scared staff members ducked to avoid the charging bird of pray. But it did not attack. Flying low above the teachers' heads, almost brushing their hair with the tips of its ink-black wing feathers, it dropped an oblong box in front of the headmaster, swerved, and, emitting another eerie cry, gracefully disappeared through the open window. Dumbledore paled under his silvery beard as he stared at the parcel. There were dark spots on the wrapping that looked suspiciously like blood.

"What ... what in Merlin's name was that, Albus?" asked an equally shocked Minerva McGonagall.

"I don't know, Minerva. But this doesn't look good," the headmaster answered quietly. "If you ask me, this reeks of Voldemort."

After the headmaster and his deputy had left with the grisly parcel, the deadly silence that had followed the arrival of the dark bird gave way to nervous whispering. With the exception of Crabbe and Goyle, who continued shoveling great amounts of porridge down their gullets, everybody had lost their interest in the food. The name of You-Know-Who weighed heavy on the minds of the assembled students and teachers like the black breath of a fatal disease. If even the headmaster looked scared, the twinkle in his eyes lost to an expression of frightful trepidation, things must be bad indeed.

"Harry, this would have something to do with your scar hurting the other night, wouldn't it?" Hermione asked breathlessly when she had gotten over the initial shock.

"I don't know, really," Harry answered, contemplating the possibility. "It's not that I had a vision or something. It was just that I woke up because my scar was hurting like hell, but only for a brief moment, and then I felt a sudden glee that somehow didn't belong to me. I have no idea what might have happened."

"One thing is obvious, though. Voldemort must have experienced something that made him really happy. And whatever makes Voldemort happy is bad news for us ..." Hermione continued her reasoning.

"Wonder what that could have been?" Ron interjected, rolling his eyes. Of course, it had to have something to do with Muggle torturing, or a new plan how to kill Harry Potter, or a revelation about how to finally destroy Hogwarts. Something in that line in any case. "Too bad Dumbledore didn't open that box while still in the Hall so we would know what was inside. Must be something really gross from the looks of it ...."

"The headmaster surely had a good reason for not opening the parcel in front of all the students," Hermione lectured. "Probably you wouldn't want to know anyway," she added, shuddering.

At the Head table the remaining teachers were engaged in discussing the very same questions, or, at least, some teachers were. Professor Trelawney was animatedly talking to the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, a young and rather bookish looking man who had been the only applicant for the job - besides Snape. His lessons, so far, were not exactly exciting - rumors had it that his lecturing style strikingly resembled Professor Binns's - but, at least, he seemed to know what he was talking about. Obviously, Professor Smith had not yet learned to not take the Divinations professor's ramblings too seriously.

"But, dear Sibyll, this is really horrible. Are you sure the emergence of a black eagle owl announces the downfall of the school and impending doom for the entire Wizarding World?" he asked nervously.

"There is no doubt about it, dear Anthony, the day of doom is near," Trelawney sighed, clapping her overlarge aquamarine eyelashes. "I saw it in the tea leaves, and those never lie. But, alas, as is the fate of the true descendants in spirit of Cassandra' of Troy, nobody will listen to predictions of doom. Nobody but you, dear Anthony." Another sigh from the depths of her heart. "Take this Potter boy, for example, how often have I warned him of the terrible fate that is awaiting him, but would he ever listen ...?"

"Snape!" Harry suddenly exclaimed. "This has something to do with Snape! Look at the Slytherin table. The snakes are not half as scared as the rest of us. And Snape never turned up for breakfast!"

"But, Harry, Snape's never having more than tea and toast for breakfast, anyway, if he comes at all. He's just not much of a morning person," Hermione argued.

"No wonder! The greasy git spends all night prowling the school. And it's not that he is more of an afternoon or evening person, either," Ron said with unconcealed loathing. "Bet he's having pickled leaches or Flobberworm brains for breakfast down in his dungeons."

"Flobberworms don't have brains, you dolt," Hermione scolded. "You should know this by now. Anyhow, Snape's in the Order, why should he have anything to do with that parcel if it's really Voldemort who is behind it? We have suspected the man often enough and he always turned out to be innocent in the end. And Dumbledore trusts him"

"I wouldn't exactly use the words 'innocent' and 'Snape' in the same sentence," grumbled Ron, "but you have a point here, Mione."

"Snape is up to something, I tell you," Harry insisted. "Dumbledore did trust Quirrell and the fake Moody, too. He's a trusting man. But I won't make the same mistake, not after what happened in the Ministry."

"Harry, you can't honestly blame Sirius's death on Snape. He did what he could to ..." But Hermione's words were lost as Harry had already left the Great Hall.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Be careful, Albus," McGonagall cautioned. "If this indeed has something to do with Voldemort, it might be a trap of sorts."

"That's why I brought it to my office, Minerva. We'll do a thorough check for hexes and Dark magic before opening the parcel." The headmaster took several curious items from one of the many spindle legged tables and placed them beside the bloodstained box on the desk. One instrument resembled a metronome and produced regular ticking sounds, another one was a crystal octagon filled with a swirling golden gas, and the third object looked like a tiny Muggle humming-top. A soft buzzing emanated from the little instrument as it rotated around the parcel on an invisible orbit, spinning around its vertical axis at the same time. McGonagall watched fascinated while Dumbledore plopped a lemon drop into his mouth. Obviously, this helped, since the old man regained some color as he gazed intently at his precious playthings.

"No signs of magic around this box, Minerva," the headmaster finally observed. "As long as the crystal stays clear, the Dark magic ticker ticks regularly, and the hex scanner circles smoothly, it should be safe to open it." He carefully put away the invaluable instruments, and then proceeded to undo the wrappings. This done, Dumbledore carefully opened the lid. He blinked. All color was draining from his face again, leaving a sickly tinge of green. He swallowed hard to not gag.

"Albus, what ...?" Then, McGonagall saw what was inside the box. Her stomach turned, and she gave a strangled cry. In the parcel lay an arm, a human forearm, covered with drying blood, a fading skull and serpent imprinted on the ghostly white flesh. Voldemort's Dark Mark.

"Gods, Albus ...," she whispered softly, her eyes wide with shock.

"Minerva, have you seen Severus at all this weekend?" the headmaster finally asked, his voice as dead as the twinkle in his eyes.

"No, but that's nothing unusual. He's not exactly the most sociable person and cherishes his privacy a lot, as you know," the witch answered almost automatically, then her eyes grew even wider. "Albus, you don't mean ...?" But the headmaster had already walked over to the fireplace and was throwing some glittering powder into the merrily dancing flames.

"Severus Snape," he called out. But nothing happened. No answer.

"Shouldn't he be in class right now?" Minerva asked hopefully. "Double Potions with the sixth years?"

"He should, Minerva. However, I fear the very worst." Dumbledore walked over to his desk again, and, with an expression of utter sadness, gently closed the lid over what he thought was his Potions master's limb.

"Let's go to the dungeons," he then murmured. But it was obvious he didn't expect to find his teacher and friend down there.


Chapter 7: The Dream

At lunch, the students' were chattering and gossiping as merrily as ever. The incident at breakfast was mostly forgotten. However, this wasn't true for the Head table. The headmaster look older than ever, and McGonagall's eyes were red-rimmed as if she had been crying. Hagrid, no doubt, had, and he still made thorough use of his overlarge handkerchief. Snape's chair stayed empty. Only Trelawney and Professor Smith were chattering along, oblivious to the gloomy atmosphere around them.

"Something strange is going on," Ginny Weasley whispered to her friends at the Gryffindor table. "Look at the teachers. And Snape didn't show up for Potions this morning. He's never missed a single class before."

"He wasn't there to teach Advanced Potions, either," Neville said, sighing with relief. It hadn't been his idea to take that class.

"I told you Snape was up to something!" Harry hissed. "He's never missed a single opportunity to harass students yet, especially not Gryffindors."

"But he did look paler and thinner than usual those last weeks," said Hermione. "He might be sick, though."

"Or dead?" Ron asked hopefully.

"From the looks on the teachers' faces you could readily assume so," Ginny observed. "Some of them do look as if attending a funeral."

"The headmaster and Professor McGonagall seemed to be terribly worried when they didn't find Snape in the dungeons, too," Hermione added thoughtfully.

"He's returned to Voldemort, that's why," Harry insisted. "And now, they are worried because of all the Order secrets the greasy git will betray to his master."

"Harry, you ..." But Hermione was cut short by the headmaster, who slowly rose from his chair and cleared his throat.

"I have an announcement to make," he began, face drawn and grave. For a moment, he hesitated as if reconsidering what to say. "Potions classes are cancelled until further notice," he finally said, then turned around and disappeared through the side entrance, leaving an untouched plate and some hundred bewildered students behind.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Draco Malfoy was feeling rather uncomfortable, in spite of the arrogant sneer that was safe in place as always when he wanted to hide his true emotions. Something obviously was wrong with Professor Snape, and he had the strangest feeling that he had something to do with it. But it had been a dream, nothing but a bad dream, he kept on telling himself. There was no way he would do any such thing to his Head of house, traitor or not, not for his dear life. He respected the man too much. He wouldn't even use an Unforgivable on Potter or that annoying Mudblood. Or the weasel. But what had happened to Snape then? Probably, if he talked to the headmaster about his dream, he might be able to gain some information? But where was the headmaster's office, anyway? He'd never been there before. He could owl his father, of course. Lucius had surely been to Dumbledore's office more often than Dumbledore would ever wish for. But contacting his father always bore the risk of revealing his hideout, therefore he had promised to do so only in emergencies. His father would insist on being informed about what he wanted with the headmaster in the first place, too, and, somehow, Draco was reluctant to tell him about his dream. No, he would have to ask one of the teachers, preferably one who wouldn't ask too many questions. Would have to be McGonagall then. Draco swallowed hard. He had never imagined he would ever confide in the stern Head of Gryffindor, but now that Snape was gone... The Slytherin gathered all his courage and strode over to the Head table.

"Professor," Draco addressed his Transfiguration teacher, "I need to talk to the headmaster. It's about Professor Snape."

"Follow me, Mr. Malfoy," the witch said, rose from her chair, and left the Great Hall, the blond Slytherin on her heels. That had been much easier than he had thought, no questions at all, not even a stern and inquisitive look. Strange. Add the red-rimmed eyes, and one could almost believe McGonagall was truly worried about Professor Snape, in spite of their notorious house rivalries Draco thought as he followed the briskly walking witch.

Once they had arrived in front of the gargoyle guarding Dumbledore's rooms, McGonagall spoke the password, 'marzipan bread'. The gargoyle sprang back, and they stepped onto the moving staircase. They found Dumbledore standing in front of the window, staring out into the dreary November sky. McGonagall cleared her throat.

"Headmaster, Mr. Malfoy wishes to talk to you." Dumbledore turned around slowly, sighed, and motioned his visitors to take a seat.

"How can I help you, Mr. Malfoy?" Draco swallowed nervously, then looked up and into the headmaster's bespectacled eyes.

"I had a dream the other night, sir, about Professor Snape. It was horrible." He shuddered, then told the whole story about him luring the professor into the Forbidden Forest in the guise of Harry Potter, of cursing him with the Cruciatus, of Pettigrew smashing Snape's knees, of Umbridge and the snakes, and how he had woken up screaming and sweating and sick. He had barely made it to the bathroom in time.

"I know this sounds really weird," he finished his tale, "and the memory is rather hazy, and I probably should just forget about it, but - sir, what's happened to Professor Snape?" he finally blurted out.

"We don't know yet, Draco. And though I want to believe that what you just told me was no more than a horrible dream, I have a rather bad feeling about it." Dumbledore sighed. "Mr. Malfoy, would you please give me your wand, I'd like to do some test on it. You will have it back momentarily," he added when seeing the defiant look in Draco's eyes. Reluctantly, the blond boy handed over his elegant and rather slender wand. Dumbledore produced his own and gently tapped it at Draco's, murmuring, "Priori Incantatem."

Draco's eyes went wide as he saw the images floating from his wand, images that confirmed his worst fears. Somebody had performed the Cruciatus with it.

"Headmaster," he stuttered, "it wasn't me! I'd never... you must believe me, I didn't do that, I swear!" There were tears in Draco's eyes. "I would never do this to Professor Snape ... it couldn't be me, please," he half- sobbed.

"I believe you, Draco," Dumbledore said quietly, "but this is very serious. Of course, it's not entirely impossible that somebody stole your wand for committing the atrocity. But how to explain your dream, or rather vision, then?" The headmaster suddenly bent down and rummaged in one of the drawers in his desk, then produced a small vial containing a muddy green fluid. "Please, drink this, all of it." He held out the vial to Draco. "It will enhance the residual traces of any magic that has been performed on you during the last couple of days. And with this little instrument," he picked the Dark magic ticker from the shelf, "we will be able to determine exactly what kind of hexes or curses have been used."

Draco downed the liquid and grimaced at the vile taste. At first, the metronome-like instrument ticked slowly and regularly, but then picked up speed until it ticked like mad. Suddenly, it stopped altogether.

"As I suspected," the headmaster murmured. Draco took a closer look at the ticker and saw a tiny scale in its socket inscribed with minute golden letters. The shorter end of the ticker's hand now pointed towards one of the words. Imperio.

"It was no dream, Draco. You acted under the Imperio curse," Dumbledore said sadly. "What happened to Professor Snape wasn't your fault, remember this. You must not blame yourself. But also remember what it means to be a loyal Death Eater. Those don't need to be put under the Imperio to torture and kill."

"But, Albus!" McGonagall interrupted. "How is this possible? It would mean that Death Eaters were inside the school, or at least one Death Eater, who cast the curse on Mr. Malfoy!"

"Not necessarily, Minerva. There is another possibility. Imperio potion. It could have been added to any sweets or cakes. You do receive sweets from home frequently, don't you, Draco?" The boy nodded, thinking of the delicious almond cake that was in the last parcel. His favorite. He hadn't even shared it with Crabbe and Goyle as he usually did.

"Severus invented it," the headmaster continued, "as kind of an entrance ticket back into the ranks, a present for Voldemort to prove his loyalty. Tom has always had a twisted sense of irony." He sighed again. "You'd better be careful with anything edible you receive via owl from now on, Draco. Best you bring it here and let me check for Dark magic."

"But, Professor, why would the Dark Lord praise me like he did when knowing that I didn't do it on my own free will?" asked Draco who had finally regained his wits. "This doesn't make sense at all!"

"Not really. Though, you never know what dark schemes are behind Voldemort's actions," Dumbledore reasoned. "Anyway, we might not be able to solve the problem yet. It was good of you to come to me, Draco. But you should be in classes right now, shouldn't you?"

Draco nodded sullenly. How on earth was he supposed to be able to concentrate on History of Magic right now when all he could think about was Professor Snape and what he had done to him, Imperio or not? He furiously wiped away the tears that had started to his eyes again. They would never see Professor Snape again; the Dark Lord would see to that. It wasn't right. He didn't deserve that. Nobody deserved it.

"Professor Dumbledore, can't you help the professor, please!" he sobbed, his vision blurry with tears.

"We will do what we can to locate Professor Snape, I promise. But it won't be easy." Dumbledore's gaze drifted towards the window again. No, it wouldn't be easy. They'd have to call in an Order meeting. The members must be warned. If Voldemort broke through Severus's defenses they all would be in grave danger. And with Umbridge having joined the Death Eaters .... They would have to closely observe all her activities in the Ministry, continue shadowing all the other known Death Eaters, intensify their efforts with the giants and werewolves, try to forge international allegiances, safe- guard themselves and the school and, most of all, Harry Potter, the only one who was able to defeat Voldemort. There was so much to do, and now, that they had lost their only spy, those tasks would become even more difficult and dangerous. And they were so few, so very few. How could they possibly manage to search for Severus, too? They just didn't have the resources. Without some lucky twist of fate, they wouldn't be able to do much for him, though the thought made his heart bleed.

"Come, Draco." McGonagall handed him a handkerchief. "We better leave the headmaster alone, now. There will be a way to help Professor Snape. We will all do our very best, I assure you. Shall I accompany you to your classroom?"



Chapter 8: Cat-Cries

A few weeks later:

"Hermione, wake up!" Lavender, the girl's roommate, urged. "There's a cat sitting under our window, crying its heart out. You'd better check if it isn't Crookshanks. Sounds as if he was hurt or something."

Instantly, Hermione was wide-awake with worry. She rushed to the window, opened it, and peered down into the night. In the faint light cast by her wand, she saw the huge red tomcat looking straight up at her. He gave a short cry, then ran a few steps towards the path leading down to the main gate, turned around, gave another cry, and continued to walk in the same direction, looking back up at Hermione again and again, meowing impatiently.

"That's a weird cat, I tell you, Hermione," Lavender, who had peeked over the bushy-haired girl's shoulder, whispered. "Looks as if he wanted to show you something. But what could that possibly be in the middle of the night?"

"I have no idea," a confused Hermione answered. "But judging from the racket he's been making it seems to be something serious. I better inform Professor McGonagall."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shortly after, two heavily cloaked figures left the main entrance of Hogwarts castle and followed the excitedly meowing cat down the winding path to the gates, their raised wands casting a faint and eerie light on the snow-covered grounds.

"This better has to be important, Miss Granger," muttered the older witch, but more to herself than to her young companion. "What a foolscap to run after some cat in the middle of the night. And it's starting to snow again. Brilliant. Probably some dead rat or something ..."

But it wasn't a dead rat. When they had reached the gate, Crookshanks squeezed through the wrought-iron stakes and ran towards a large bundle lying on the ground that looked suspiciously like a human corpse.

"Merlin, no, this can't be ..." McGonagall gasped. "Stay behind, Miss Granger," she then ordered, opened the gate and cautiously approached the prone figure. In the light of her wand, the stern teacher could make out a familiar-looking bunch of black, tangled and blood-matted hair that stuck out from under a dirty old blanket. Her heart clenched.

"Severus?" she whispered as she knelt down beside the still body that lay face down in the snow, tears starting to her eyes. Careful not to move him, she searched for a pulse on her young colleague's neck.

"Is ... is he dead?" a very shaky Hermione asked from behind.

"He's alive, but barely so," her teacher answered bleakly. "The bastards must have dropped him here not long ago. He's still warm." She rose, determination in her eyes. "Miss Granger, run to the hospital wing and alert Madame Pomfrey. Quick. We might still save him."

As Hermione darted towards the castle, closely followed by Crookshanks, McGonagall transfigured a large broken twig into a stretcher. She put a warming charm on the unconscious wizard, and carefully turned him around with a levitation spell. Snape gave a whimpering sound, and a rivulet of fresh blood came trickling from his half-opened mouth, leaving crimson stains in the snow.

"Oh, Severus, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you," the witch whispered apologetically. "I have to move you. Just hold on. Poppy will help you, you'll see. You'll be fine, just fine, just hold on a little. Don't you dare die on me ..." While murmuring, mostly to calm herself, she gently levitated the unconscious man onto the stretcher and proceeded towards the castle.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Madame Pomfrey met her at the entrance of the hospital wing, wide-awake and all business.

"Here, Minerva, the private room, onto the bed, but careful, his lungs must be damaged judging from his labored breathing and all the blood," the mediwitch cautioned. This time, Snape didn't stir or make a sound at all when he was levitated onto the sickbed. "I sent Miss Granger to get the headmaster. He'll be here any minute. And you better sit down now, Minerva, you look like fainting yourself."

The moment McGonagall collapsed into a chair the headmaster entered the room, followed by a very pale Hermione.

"How bad is it, Poppy?" Albus asked as he approached the bed, his voice thick with concern.

"I can't tell yet, but his pulse is very weak and thready, and he's hardly breathing," the mediwitch answered as she checked her patient for vital signs. Then she produced her wand and started scanning for injuries. But after a few readings she lowered it again, her hand shaking, eyes wide in disbelief.

"Albus," she whispered, "there is something terribly wrong with Severus. It's just impossible he is still alive with all these injuries. It's not natural."

"Dark magic," the headmaster confirmed sadly. "I can feel it. He's been kept alive by Dark magic. I'll send Fawkes to get Remus Lupin; he'll know best what to do. And, Poppy, better not use magic on Severus yet, it might be dangerous." The mediwitch nodded, and Dumbledore hurried back to his office, leaving three pale and rather helpless witches behind.

"We better start cleaning him up without magic, then," Madame Pomfrey finally said. "Would you please get some warm water and towels, Miss Granger?" Carefully, she removed the blanket that was wrapped around the Potions master's still form. She had to close her eyes for a moment at the sight of all the injuries that had been inflicted upon the former spy. How could humans be so cruel? She would never understand what was going on in the minds of those who were willing to bestially torture a fellow being.

Tears were slowly running down McGonagall's cheeks as she helped Poppy remove the bloody shreds that once were the Potions master's usual black pants. Now, that he was out of the cold, she found that his skin felt much too warm to the touch.

"He's burning, Poppy," she said quietly, then gently brushed a raven lock from the sick man's brow. "Poor boy, what have those bastards done to you?"

Hermione reentered the small sickroom, carrying a bowl with warm water and some towels. When her gaze fell upon what was left of her teacher's arm, she gasped and almost dropped the bowl.

"Miss Granger, you better give this to me," Madame Pomfrey said, reaching for the vessel in the girl's shaking hands. "I'm sorry, you shouldn't see this at all, my girl. Go back to bed and try to sleep."

Relieved of water and towels, Hermione fled from the hospital wing, the gruesome sight still etched into her brain. Careful not to wake anybody, she sneaked into her bed where Crookshanks was already waiting for her. She cast a quick silencing spell, and then, burying her face in her pet's soft fur, she burst into heartbreaking sobs until, drained and exhausted, she finally fell asleep.



Chapter 9: The Scent of Blood

Remus Lupin was ripped out of an uneasy sleep by a strange piercing cry, followed by the inevitable shrieking of Mrs. Black's portrait. His eyes flew open in alarm, but then he saw the familiar glow of red and golden feathers.

"Ah, it's you, Fawkes. You did startle me, you know. What's up? Order business?" The Phoenix held out his leg for Remus to remove the parchment that was attached to it. Ignoring the noise from downstairs, he quickly read through Dumbledore's short note. He furrowed his brow, increasingly worried.

"You are to take me to Hogwarts immediately? Has something happened to Harry?" The bird shook his head, and Remus sighed with relief, leaned back in his pillows and closed his eyes again.

"Ok, ok, I'll come with you. Just let me put on some clothes," the wizard said, stifling a yawn, as Fawkes pecked at him impatiently. He got up. When dressed and washed in a hurry, Remus grabbed the Phoenix by one leg and with a soft 'Plop' they both disappeared from number 12 Grimmauld Place.

The sensation was something between Apparating and traveling by Portkey, and Remus didn't like it much, especially not when all he wanted was to go back to sleep. But Dumbledore didn't send Fawkes on errands without good reason. The bird was too precious. It had a will of its own, too, and would just refuse to help with trivial matters. What could be so important in the middle of the night then if it wasn't Harry?

"There you are. Well done, Fawkes," Dumbledore greeted as they suddenly appeared inside the headmaster's office. "Please follow me. We need your help, Remus."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Madame Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall were still busy washing the blood and grime off the Potions master and carefully cleansed his many wounds when Dumbledore and Lupin entered the room. Heavy tremors were running through the unconscious man's body, and he was moaning softly.

"Gods, this looks bad," Remus murmured as he approached the bed. On their way to the hospital wing, the headmaster had told him what had occurred but nothing could have prepared him for the sight of his former classmate's battered body. The scent of blood was almost overwhelming for the werewolf's sensitive nose, however, there was a strange quality to it. Dumbledore was right, there was Dark magic involved. He could smell it all over the Potions master. The scent was somehow familiar. He had smelled it before, in the depth of the Forbidden Forest. Silver splashes on green leaves glittering in the soft light of the full moon. The stag and the huge black dog had been with him. And the rat that clung to the dog's shaggy fur. They had found it lying in a patch of moonlit lilies, dying. It was so beautiful even in its death that not even the bloodthirsty monster that was he could touch it. He would never forget the saddening sight, nor the smell.

"Unicorn blood," he muttered. "They've been feeding him unicorn blood."

"But this is horrible," McGonagall exclaimed, paler than ever. "It's a terrible thing to slay a unicorn, and whoever drinks its blood will lead a cursed life thereafter. He ... he might be better off dead."

"I'm not sure, Minerva, but it appears to me that the slaying of the unicorn is what draws the curse upon the perpetrator, not the drinking of the blood itself," Lupin said thoughtfully. "I'll better read up on this, and check with Firenze. At least, Severus won't die as long as the effect of the unicorn blood lasts, no matter how bad the injuries."

"And how long will that be?" Madame Pomfrey inquired.

"I have no idea," answered the werewolf. "The scent is pretty strong; so I'd say he'll be safe for another few hours at the least. But, Poppy, you better not use any potions on Severus. They don't mix well with unicorn blood. Spells should be safe, though. I'll be in the library doing some research on the matter, in case you need me. Good luck."

The mediwitch frowned at Lupin's words. No potions. How in Merlin's name was she supposed to heal Severus's many wounds without potions? She would need a lot of luck, indeed. And strength. Performing healing spells effective enough to repair all the broken bones alone would tap a lot of her energy. Worst was his chest. It was badly crushed as if struck by many curses simultaneously, and the shattered ribs had pierced both lobes of Severus's lungs. It was a miracle he could breathe at all. Then, there was a broken jaw, and his knees. At least, the chest injuries were fresh, whereas the others were weeks old already. And the older the more difficult to heal. The knees were heavily swollen and festering. Besides the lung bleeding, there was a ruptured spleen and considerable damage to liver and kidneys. Add a badly burned and infected stump, a severe Pneumonia with high fever, numerous cuts and bruises, severe malnutrition, and a tremendous loss of blood to the picture. And the tremors were undoubtedly caused by liberal administration of the Cruciatus. Those bastards. It was an absolutely impossible task.

"Albus, I don't think I can do this. Not without potions," the mediwitch said. "He'd be much better off at St. Mungo's, though I can't see how we could transport him there without causing additional damage."

"St. Mungo's is not safe for Severus, anyway, Poppy, now that Voldemort knows," Dumbledore sighed. "Think of what happened to Broderick Bode of the Department of Mysteries last year. No, we just have to try our best here, though it might not be enough."

"Well, then I better get started." The mediwitch exchanged the wet cloth for her wand and concentrated. It would be a long and strenuous night.



Chapter 10: More Blood

"Gods, am I tired," Madame Pomfrey said, collapsing into a chair. A cold December sun was already rising, and she had worked on Severus all night, assisted by Dumbledore and McGonagall. Still, the young wizard was far from healed yet. She had managed to fix his shattered ribs and sternum, and the worst damage to his inner organs so far, and it had exhausted her to no measure. Minerva was helping with keeping the fever down, both with spells and calf packings, and Albus had helped magically treat and bandage the minor wounds and ease the tremors and the pain. Without their assistance, she would surely have fainted from sheer exhaustion by now.

What really made her worry, though, was the blood loss. There was no way she could treat this with spells only. And if she couldn't stabilize Severus's circulatory system before the effect of the unicorn blood ran out, he would surely die despite all efforts. There still was the Muggle way, of course, but they would have to find suitable and willing donors first. The problem was that the Snapes were one of the oldest and purest Wizarding families in all Britain. You had to find donors whose blood was at least as pure as the recipient's; otherwise the magicytes would clot and cause a lethal reaction. Of the staff members none would qualify, not even Dumbledore. She didn't know about the students, though.

"Minerva, are there any students now at Hogwarts who are of as ancient and pure-blooded descent as Severus? I have to do a blood transfusion, and soon, he won't stand a chance otherwise."

"I'll check the records, but it will take a while, I fear," McGonagall answered, stifling a yawn. "I'd have to cancel my Transfiguration classes for today, too." She turned to the headmaster.

"Please, do so, Minerva. And if there are any suitable donors among the students, bring them right here. We better don't lose any time," Dumbledore urged. "And you, Poppy, go and take a quick nap. You won't be much of help for Severus in your current state. I don't think the poor boy can take much more, anyway. Magic is always a strain on the organism, even healing magic. And he's been subjected to far too much magic those past weeks." He sighed.

"But there is still so much work to do ..." objected the mediwitch.

"The other injuries just have to wait some more. They are not deadly, are they?"

"No, but ..."

"No 'no's', Poppy. And get yourself some breakfast. I'll watch over Severus in the meantime. Off you go. And you too, Minerva."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In her office, McGonagall took out Severus's old student file. The staff files were kept in Dumbledore's office, but this one would do for the purpose as well. It was almost as extensive as the Weasley twins' thanks to the many entrances due to the constant fights between the Slytherin and the Marauders. And those were only the incidents that had been reported by a Prefect or a teacher. How many more there had been, she could only guess. It was always four against one. And the Slytherin always got most of the blame. And detentions and point deductions. Just because he hadn't seen any other way to defend himself than by using the spells and hexes he had learned at home - rather Dark magic, unfortunately. She had still difficulties understanding how she could have been so blind to what had been going on under her very nose. And under Dumbledore's. No wonder Severus had finally sought refuge in the gang of Slytherins around Bellatrix Black and Rodolphus Lestrange, though, not being rich as all the others, they had never treated him as an equal despite all his knowledge about the Dark Arts and Potions. From there, it had been a small step to Voldemort. And the Shrieking Shack incident had only confirmed that, for a Slytherin, there was no help to be expected from any Gryffindor, be it headmaster or deputy headmistress.

Well, it didn't help much to dwell on what couldn't be changed anymore. She had failed the boy so much in the past; she better found a way to help him now. With the tip of her wand, she tapped at Severus's name on the file and mumbled "Generis revolo," then tapped against a blank sheet of parchment. The Snape family tree instantly appeared on the sheet. Now, she had to do the same with some hundred other students' files and compare the data. It would only take a few days .... No, Minerva, use logic, that's what Severus would do in your place. First, rule out the Muggle born students and half- bloods. That decimated the possible candidates of all Houses but Slytherin to about a half. And siblings needed to be checked only once. Or probably not, better be safe than sorry. Slytherin would certainly have the highest probability for success, but there always had been pure bloods of ancient Wizarding families in the other Houses, too. Some Sirius Black, for example. But now that he actually could have helped Severus instead of making his life a hell, the Gryffindor had managed to get himself killed. Though, there were still the Longbottoms and the Weasleys. She would try those first, and Draco Malfoy. The Slytherin would be only too willing to help his Head of House. Something that probably could not be said about the other candidates. But she would make them help, if by her wandpoint ....

"Accio Neville Longbottom, Accio Ronald Weasley, Accio Ginevra Weasley, Accio Draco Malfoy!" the witch exclaimed, pointing her wand at the drawers that held the records. Four folders appeared and settled on her desk.

"Let's see, then." She performed the same procedure with the names on the folders as she had with Severus's, thus ending up with another four family trees. Ron's and Ginevra's were indeed identical. Not that she had suspected otherwise knowing Molly and Arthur Weasley, but better safe .... Now, McGonagall made copies of the Snape family tree with a simple duplication spell, put one copy on top of each of the other family trees, face down, and murmured "Comparatio."

The writing on the parchments began to glow and seep into one another for a few moments and then the results appeared on the back page.

Bingo! That was better than she had expected. Both the Malfoys and the Weasleys were as old and pureblooded as the Snapes, and the Longbottoms could be traced back for even two more generations. The use of logic did pay sometimes, she had to admit. But only to herself. She would collect the students right away and bring them to the hospital wing. Ronald would surely know what had happened already as she had totally forgotten to tell Miss Granger not to talk about the events of the night. And if Poppy needed more donors, she could come back and check some more files later. Or the other Weasleys could be summoned. Severus wouldn't like being in their debt, and owing his life to Neville Longbottom of all people would certainly hit him hard, but there wasn't anything that could be done about that. And perhaps, an infusion of Gryffindor blood would do Severus a world of good, who knew? At this thought, the stern witch couldn't suppress a smile.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Please, wait here for a moment. I'll be back and explain everything shortly," said McGonagall, ushering the three Gryffindors and one Slytherin into the little waiting room. They had no clue yet what was going to happen, but since the three sixth years had been called away from a death- tiring History of Magic lesson, they didn't mind that much. Only Ginny was a bit disappointed to miss her favorite subject, Herbology.

When she had found her brother outside the greenhouse, the old fear had struck that something might have happened with her Mum or Dad or her older brothers who were all working for Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix. Ever since Mr. Weasley had been bitten by Voldemort's gigantic snake while on Order duty, she had had nightmares that involved the violent death of a family member. If she were to encounter a Boggart right now, it would certainly be almost identical to her mother's back in Grimmauld Place. But if something had happened to her family, why would Neville and Draco Malfoy be there, too? And why did McGonagall lead them to the Hospital wing without saying a single word?

There wasn't anything wrong with Harry for once. She had seen him in the Great Hall not long ago having a hearty breakfast. Only Hermione hadn't been her usual self. The Gryffindor Prefect had looked as if she hadn't slept all night, and she had been late for breakfast, something that almost never happened. She had left the Hall without saying a single word to anybody, not even 'hello', and hadn't touched her food, either. But why would Malfoy be here if something had happened to Hermione? She certainly wasn't dating the arrogant Slytherin? Though, Draco hadn't been his arrogant and sneering self for quite a while now. Ever since Professor Snape had disappeared. Another yet unsolved mystery. Right now, Malfoy was standing apart from the other boys in a corner of the little room, arms crossed over his chest and scowling, but somehow Ginny had the impression that under the facade he was rather insecure and nervous. Was this possible? Neville, of course, always seemed insecure and nervous when outside a greenhouse, though he had improved a lot since he had become a member of the DA. He had grown quite a bit, too. He wasn't the chubby-faced and stocky kid she had met during her first ride on the Hogwarts Express anymore. Actually, he was quite handsome ....

Creaking, the door opened again, and McGonagall entered the room. She looked as grave as ever when she started to explain.

"As Mr. Weasley might have heard already," - a blank look from Ron - "or probably not, Professor Snape was found last night. To be precise, Miss Granger's cat found him, badly injured. What I ask of the four of you now is to donate some blood to safe the professor's life. Some of you might not like him much, and much of this is surely his own fault, but Professor Snape has been a loyal member of the Order of the Phoenix for many years, and he helped safe Harry Potter's life more than once. He does deserve to be saved and honored despite all his shortcomings. So, if you would follow me ...."

To Ginny's surprise, Draco Malfoy hadn't even blinked when McGonagall called Snape a loyal Order member. As the son of a fugitive Death Eater, shouldn't he be appalled by the news? But he looked genuinely concerned instead. Something was definitely wrong with the Slytherin. This wasn't the Malfoy she had known for over four years now. Had he changed?

Ron definitely hadn't. He looked as if McGonagall had asked him to swallow slugs. He and Harry had thoroughly enjoyed the absence of their most hated teacher. If Ron hadn't been so keen on becoming an Auror just like Harry, he certainly would have dropped Potions without a second thought. Unfortunately, future Aurors had to take the subject and needed good grades, too. So both boys had been stuck with Snape - and Snape with them - until that day in November. Ron had been joking about Snape being dead then, and Harry had never missed a chance to drop a remark about Snape having swapped sides again. Obviously, he had been wrong about the man once more. And Snape must be gravely sick indeed if he needed a blood transfusion. Usually, the healers just administered a blood-replenishing potion. At least that was what the healers at St Mungo's had done with her father when he had almost bled to death after the snake attack. If Snape had been in the clutches of the Death Eaters for all those weeks, he probably was much worse off than that. But why hadn't Voldemort killed the traitor?

Neville looked quite pale and terribly nervous, though not disgusted like Ron. He was genuinely afraid of the Potions master and always walked down the dungeon stairs as if to his own funeral, but he had a wide heart. He would help even his worst enemy, Ginny was sure of that. Only that he didn't care much for the sight of blood ....

As McGonagall held open the door for her students, Draco was the first to join the witch.

"How is the professor?" he asked quietly.

"Not well. We hope we will be able to save his life, though, with your help." As she stressed the last words, the stern witch shot a disapproving glare at Ron, who still hadn't moved. Although not as deadly as Snape's, it was impossible to ignore McGonagall's gaze, and the redhead finally followed his Head of house towards the ward where Madame Pomfrey was waiting.



Chapter 11: Crisis

"How is Severus?" asked Remus Lupin when entering the private room.

"Stable so far, though that doesn't say much with the unicorn blood still working," Madame Pomfrey answered. "I'm just giving him some blood and fluid, the Muggle way. Hope it'll be enough to keep him alive once the effect of the unicorn blood fades out."

"The scent is still there but not as prominent as before," said the werewolf, sniffing the air. "It won't be long now."

"Then it will show soon whether I was able to make a difference at all." The mediwitch sighed. "If you are up to it, I could need some assistance. Severus's arm is badly gangrenous. I have to cut again or the infection will poison him. If you could hold him down while I operate?" Remus nodded though he felt a bit queasy at the thought. He didn't care much for the sight of blood, at least not when in his human form. And this would surely hurt a lot.

"Where is the headmaster?" he asked. "Wouldn't it be better if he cast some pain-relieving spells?"

"The spells don't help that much anymore. Unfortunately, the organism gets used to them rather quickly. A lot quicker than to potions." Another heartfelt sigh. "Albus is catching up with some dearly-needed sleep right now, as is Minerva." With a trained eye, she surveyed the young ex- professor. "You don't look that well rested, either."

"To be honest, I fell asleep in the library on top of Havelock Sweeting's 'Encyclopedia of the Unicorn', but I wouldn't recommend it as a pillow." The werewolf massaged his tense neck.

"Have you found anything useful yet?"

"No, not really. Essentially, whoever slays a unicorn and drinks its blood to prolong his own life will be cursed. I haven't found anything about the nature of that curse, nor what would happen if you were forced to drink the blood. There is very little known evidence, unfortunately. Most is mere speculation. Hopefully, Miss Granger will be more successful. She is currently in charge of the library research. Said she couldn't concentrate on History of Magic anyway after what happened last night."

"Quite understandable." The mediwitch nodded to herself while tightening the magical clamp around Severus's upper arm to prevent any bleeding. The Death Eaters had cut right through the elbow, and she would have to do so several inches above. Too bad that the joint couldn't be saved. It would have been so much easier to fit a well functioning prosthesis then. For a man like Severus who was used to working with both hands all the time, it must be a bad shock to suddenly lose an arm. She could re-grow bones, but alas, there was no way a mediwizard could re-grow an entire limb. Not without Dark Magic. It would be hard for him to adjust to the loss when he awoke. If he awoke. But there was no alternative. "Are you ready, Remus? Then let's start. Adurgeo Consanesco!"

The bright blue ray of light that emanated from Pomfrey's wand ate slowly through tissue and bone, sealing the wound at the same time. Severus gave a few whimpering sounds but did not stir. He was simply too weak to struggle against the restraining grip of the werewolf.

"Thank you for your help, Mr. Lupin," the mediwitch said to the slightly greenish looking wizard while bandaging the stump. "I think I can manage on my own now. Severus's knees are a terrible mess and need to be treated next, but they are not necrotic, fortunately. Given some time and patient treatment he should be able to walk again."

"Are you sure?" Remus barely managed to suppress a sigh of relief when Pomfrey nodded. "Then I'll go talk to Firenze. And then back to the library. I'll inform you as soon as I've found something of importance."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"What's wrong with you today, Hermione?" Harry asked as his friend joined the Gryffindors for lunch. "First you are late for breakfast and don't even say 'hallo' or something, and then you skip classes all morning. You aren't sick, are you?" When the girl didn't answer right away, Harry continued, "And Ron, Neville and Malfoy have been called away from classes by McGonagall and haven't returned yet. And what's Lupin doing here?"

"Lupin is doing some research. I was helping him in the library all morning. Oh, Harry, it's so terrible!" Hermione suddenly exclaimed. She swallowed hard to keep herself from crying again, and finally told her friend what had happened during the night. Harry just sat there gaping when Ron, Neville and Ginny entered the Great Hall and walked over to the Gryffindor table. The three of them looked rather pale.

"Harry, you won't believe what's happened," Ron said to his best friend, totally missing the boy's bewilderment. "McGonagall made us donate blood to Snape of all people! We had to drink Galleons of blood replenishing potion, too. It was disgusting, I tell you. Neville passed out, of course. Pomfrey just let us go but not before relieving us of another batch of blood." He looked at his friend more closely. "You heard what happened, mate, didn't you?" Harry nodded silently. He still had difficulty believing all this. Snape tortured and almost killed by Death Eaters? Then the greasy git hadn't switched sides after all. He'd been truly loyal to Dumbledore and his Order of the Phoenix. But there still was Sirius. Snape had been taunting him, again and again, for not being useful for the Order, until his godfather finally had had enough of the Slytherin's sneering remarks and followed the other members to the Ministry of Magic. To his death. It still hurt so badly. It would always hurt. But Sirius would have joined the rescue party even without Snape's taunting, he knew this now. Had known it all the time, but it was just so easy and convenient to blame the evil Potions master. Perhaps, Snape was right. Gryffindors did tend to act on impulse and without thinking of the consequences, to ignore rules and orders, to trust their own courage and luck more than other peoples' advice, and to take chances just for the fun of it and risk their lives and other peoples' in the process. James and Sirius had been like this, and they both were dead. He often was like this, too, but he didn't want do die. He mustn't die either, not before he had fulfilled his task and rid the world of Voldemort for good. Maybe, he should listen to other people more in the future. If Snape hadn't insisted on being such a bloody bastard from the very beginning, he might even have listened to him occasionally ....

"Malfoy's still up there trying to persuade Madame Pomfrey to let him see the professor. But I don't think she will," Ginny interrupted his train of thought while filling her plate. "Things seem pretty bad."

"They cut off his arm, the one with the Dark Mark. He was hardly alive when we found him, McGonagall and I," said Hermione, still shuddering at the memory. "It was horrible."

"They cut off Snape's arm? Hey, then he probably can't teach anymore!" Ron exclaimed, his face lightening up considerably.

"Ronald Weasley, that's not nice," scolded Hermione. "Snape let you take Advanced Potions after all so you could become an Auror despite your inadequate OWL. And Harry and Neville, too."

"I bet, Dumbledore threatened to sack him if he didn't ..." mumbled Ron, slightly ashamed. Somehow, he always managed to upset Hermione. Maybe because when upset she looked more beautiful than ever?

"I don't think Snape will stop teaching," Ginny said. "He might have to alter his introductory speech though, and use quite a bit of wand-waving in his classroom in the future, some Sticking Charm so the ingredients will stay in place while he cuts them up one-handed, for example. Hope he won't become even more bitter and mean because of this." Then she turned to Neville, who hadn't said a word so far. "Why don't you eat, Neville, you aren't sick anymore?"

"No. I was thinking of my parents," he said quietly. "Snape will be really lucky if he doesn't end up at St. Mungo's with them."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Mr. Malfoy, didn't I tell you that Professor Snape is too ill to have visitors yet? He's still unconscious and wouldn't even notice you are there." The mediwitch looked indignantly at the blond Slytherin. "Anyway, shouldn't you be in class right now instead of lurking in the corridors?"

"Please, Madame Pomfrey, just one minute. I ... I have to see the professor!"

"Stubborn as Severus himself, aren't you? One minute, then. Just to get rid of you." She sighed. "Follow me, Mr. Malfoy."

Of course, Draco knew that his Head of House had been badly injured, nevertheless, seeing the formidable Potions master so pale and vulnerable was almost too much for the boy. Blinking back tears, he quietly approached the bed.

"I'm so sorry, Professor," he whispered hoarsely. "They will pay for what they've done to you. I swear."

The blond Slytherin was about to leave again when Snape stirred. He gave a strangled groan and shuddered, and then his whole body began to twitch and convulse violently as if in terrible pain all of a sudden, and his breath came in heaving gasps. Draco's eyes grew wide with horror.

"Mr. Malfoy, quick, hold the professor down or he'll hurt himself!" Madame Pomfrey shouted, looking almost as terrified as the student. "I'll get the headmaster. And Lupin."



Chapter 12: Close Call

"Something wrong with Severus, Poppy?" Dumbledore asked worriedly when stepping out of the fireplace in the mediwitch's office, shortly followed by Remus Lupin.

"It's horrible. Almost as if he were under the Cruciatus. In his weakened state this might well be fatal. We must do something, if only I knew what," stammered a somewhat disheveled Madame Pomfrey as she led the two men towards the private room.

Draco was still struggling to keep the wildly thrashing and groaning Snape from falling out of the bed. The life-watch, a clock-like instrument that was standing on the nightstand monitoring the patient's vital signs, was showing a frighteningly high and irregular heart rate.

"I can't smell the unicorn blood anymore," Remus said nervously.

All of a sudden, the movement ceased and a ghostly shudder ran through the Potions master's thin frame. The life-watch gave a shrill sound of alarm as its hand jumped to the frantically flashing words at the noon position: ventricular fibrillation.

"Stand back, all of you," Dumbledore ordered with authority.

They stepped away from the bed to make room for the headmaster. An aura of power radiated from the old wizard as he placed both hands several inches above the dying man's heart, softly murmuring incantations. He knew, if he didn't manage to stop the fibrillation and coax Severus's heart into beating regularly again within the next two, three minutes, they would lose him. He concentrated hard. Finally, a bright purple light sprang forth from between Dumbledore's outstretched fingers and formed a bristling ball of energy that shot towards Severus's chest and vanished in a spark. Another purple orb formed, and another one. Dumbledore was sweating now, his brow furrowed in concentration, but he kept on chanting, and more and more light pulses emanated from his hands. Time was running out.

"It's beating again!" Madame Pomfrey suddenly exclaimed with a look at the life-watch. It showed a weak but fairly steady heartbeat. Dumbledore sent another few energy balls at his Potions master, then collapsed into a nearby chair, brushing his sweat-dripping brow with his handkerchief.

"That was close. However, he seems to be stable now, thank Merlin," the mediwitch declared after taking a few readings of her patient, who lay motionless, his face ashen. "I better change all those bandages. He's drenched with sweat. And some of the wounds have started bleeding again." She turned to the former Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. "Are you sure you can't detect any trace of unicorn blood anymore, Mr. Lupin?"

"Positive. But it might be better to wait some hours before you give Severus any healing potions yet."

The mediwitch nodded. Her patient had lived through this major crisis, and she would be able to treat him with potions soon. It was more than she had hoped for in the first place. He would live. However, this recent episode didn't bode well.

"Headmaster, I fear Severus was subjected to excessive administration of the Cruciatus curse. This would be the only explanation for his reaction. A sudden release of residual magic after the repressing effect of the unicorn blood wore off." The mediwitch swallowed. "He might still end up at St. Mungo's."

"I know, Poppy, I know." Dumbledore sighed. He was looking older and sadder than ever. "We will find out soon enough. When he comes to." The old wizard took his sleeping friends hand gently into his own and just sat there. Severus Snape was a complicated man, and it wasn't easy to get close to him. But over the years, Dumbledore had gained his trust, and his friendship. Although they had had frequent arguments, mostly about the Boy- Who-Lived, he could rely blindly on Snape's competence and loyalty when push came to shove. The man had a brilliant mind, and, deep inside, an essentially good core. The thought of losing him to permanent insanity almost broke his heart.

"Professor," a slightly trembling voice interrupted the headmaster's bleak musings. "Professor Dumbledore, I need to talk to you. It's important." The old wizard turned around, sighing once again. Draco Malfoy was looking at him. He was very pale and obviously still in shock, but there was a strange glimmer in his eyes. He had made a decision.

"Follow me, Mr. Malfoy. My office, if you please."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Christmas was approaching soon, but he wasn't in any Christmas spirit at all, in spite of the early snow. This would be the first Christmas he would stay at school. Not that he had to. Even with his father back in Azkaban and his mother in a sanatorium in Switzerland to recover from a nervous breakdown, he could go home and spend the holidays at Malfoy Manor. They owned a host of house elves after all. He could even invite his 'friends', Crabbe and Goyle junior. However, he hadn't hung out with them a lot these days. And he didn't feel like going home at all.

Last Sunday, the headmaster had allowed him to Floo to the Manor to see his mother after her alleged breakdown. She was a great actress when it came to causing a scene, and he hadn't believed in this breakdown for a single second. She just wanted to get away from the whole Death Eater business, and the Daily Prophet headlines. He couldn't blame her. In her current frame of mind, she even revealed to him that it had been his father who had spiked his cake with the Imperius potion. Without the Dark Lord's knowledge. It had been easy enough since it was Lucius who had been in charge of the illegal potions Snape brewed for their Master. He had explained to his wife that this was necessary to save their only son from the Dark Lord's wrath that would be inevitable if the boy refused to take part in the plot against his Head of House. And Lucius knew his son well enough to know that he would refuse. However, Draco knew better than to believe this. After his botched mission in the Ministry of Magic, the only motivation behind his father's actions had been to save his own hide and status. Presenting his son as a perfect little Death Eater was only one means to this end.

The plan had worked, too. By ingesting the potion, a telepathic link had been established between father and son, and Draco was forced to down the contents of the little vial hidden in a secret compartment in the parcel. He had changed into his nemesis, Harry Potter, and walked off into the Forbidden Forest. Lucius had correctly counted on Snape's hatred for the Boy-Who-Lived and his well known desire to get Potter expelled. The Potions master had followed him without a second thought. However, his father had made a mistake. A stupid mistake. He should have thought of obliviating Draco afterwards. This wasn't the only mistake, either. It had almost been too simple for the Aurors to track the owl he had sent to Lucius and take the fugitives by surprise in their hideout. They would rot in Azkaban, and it wouldn't be easy for the Dark Lord to break them out again. They had dragons now to guard the prison ... Draco smirked evilly at the thought. He had admired his father once; had wanted to become exactly like he was. However, he would never forgive Lucius how he had manipulated him. How he had forced him to torture the man who had been as much a father figure to him as Lucius. He had seen what it meant to be a Death Eater with his own eyes, and now he knew better than to simply imitate his father. Now he knew on which side he really was.

Deeply steeped in thought, he almost missed that somebody was calling his name.


The blond Slytherin turned around.

"What do you want, Granger?" he asked coolly. He wasn't in the mood for a conversation with the annoying know-it-all just now. Probably not ever. What could she possibly want of him anyway? They had never actually talked before, only exchanged insults and hexes. He had to admit though that the Gryffindor looked truly dashing as she came running through the snow, cheeks flushed with the exercise and the cold. She stopped short in front of her classmate, slightly breathless.

"I saw you coming from the hospital wing. How is the professor?"

"And why would that interest you, Granger?"

"Do you think you are the only one who cares?" Her eyes were blazing with anger now. Hazel eyes full of intelligence and vivacity. She seemed to be genuinely worried about Professor Snape. It had been her, or rather her cat, who had found him in the first place, too.

"His wounds are healing. He's still unconscious, though."

"But it's almost been a week! He should have woken up by now." Draco nodded, then looked to the ground. Was he blinking away tears?

"Madame Pomfrey said the coma might be a result of the Cruciatus curse. It ... it can cause damage to the nervous system and the brain. The professor might never be the same again."

This was bad news. Hermione had seen Neville's parents in the closed ward at St. Mungo's last Christmas when they had visited Ron's father. Picturing the acerbic Potions master like this was close to impossible. "I understand," she said softly, then turned around slowly and walked back to the castle.

Draco stared after his classmate for a while until he finally follow her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Severus?" McGonagall asked in a quiet voice as not to scare her sick colleague. He had blinked, hadn't he? "Poppy, I think he's waking up!" Snape blinked once again, and then opened his eyes with obvious effort.

"Severus, can you hear me?" The mediwitch, who had rushed to the bed immediately, bent over her patient to get his attention. "Severus?" There was no reaction. No sign of recognition. The Potions master stared blankly at the ceiling and didn't even blink when Pomfrey moved one hand across his face repeatedly.

"He's not responding," she said sadly, then shook the man gently by his shoulder. Severus winced and clenched his eyes shut again. He started to tremble and his breathing and heart rate sped up as if in panic. The mediwitch drew back her hand.

"I'm sorry, Severus, I didn't mean to frighten you. You are safe here, nobody's going to hurt you, I promise ..." It took quite a while and many a soothing word until Snape calmed down again and only a faint quivering reminded of the incident.

"Poppy, is there any hope for Severus?" McGonagall asked quietly.

"I cannot tell for sure. But this isn't good. Not even his pupils showed any reaction." He did react to touch, though, but rather badly. No surprise after what the boy had gone through. And since he didn't seem to realize where he was nor who was with him, he might well believe he was in the clutches of his torturers still. This would explain his panicky reaction. She would have to treat his wounds and wash him when he was fast asleep then, as not to scare him unnecessarily. Although his overall physical condition had improved a lot by now, thanks to the many potions she had been giving him, he was still very weak and any additional stress to his system should be avoided if possible. Luckily, most of the students had left Hogwarts just yesterday to spend the Christmas break at home. No more classes for Minerva, and no more sick students for her. And less trouble for the headmaster. They would have more time to sit with Severus. The presence of people he trusted might do him well after all, even if it wasn't obvious.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was late on Christmas eve and she was still sitting in the otherwise deserted library when a voice startled her from behind.


The girl looked up from the ancient tome she was skimming through, surprised at hearing Draco Malfoy use her first name.

"I ... I have something for you. Or rather for your cat, since it was he who found Professor Snape the other day." The blond Slytherin held out a small box to her. Hermione was gaping at Draco as if he had suddenly grown green and silver antlers. Or bunny ears. When she didn't take the box, he put it on the table beside the book. "Are you still reading up on unicorn blood? Have you found anything relevant?"

"No, not yet, but there just has to be something in one of these." Hermione, who had finally stopped gaping, pointed at a huge pile of books on a nearby table.

"You are going to read through all those tomes? For Professor Snape?" Draco's eyes grew wide in surprise. "Then ... why don't you let me help you? I don't have that much to do over the holidays anyway, and together we would find out more quickly ..."

Hermione's mouth dropped open. Was this really Draco Malfoy offering his help? And a present for her cat? Or had she fallen asleep over her books and was having the weirdest of dreams?

Instead of waiting for an answer, Draco took one of the heavy tomes, sat down beside her and started to read. When she, too, bent over her book again, Draco looked up and smiled, a rare genuine smile.

"Did you know that you have the most beautiful little teeth?"



Chapter 13: Consultations and Confrontations

"Albus, we need to consult a specialist. I'm at my wit's end."

Madame Pomfrey looked down at her fitfully sleeping patient, sighing. He would wake up from time to time and open his eyes, but had not yet shown any conscious reaction. No spark of recognition or sign of lucidity. The intervals of waking - if you could call it this - had become slightly longer, but that was all the noticeable improvement of more than two weeks. The young wizard still seemed to suffer from a significant amount of pain as he often started whimpering and moaning in his sleep, and the tremors and spasms hadn't ceased, either. However, she was reluctant to give him strong sedatives. His organism had to cope with all too many potions already. They had devised a schedule so there would be somebody around at all times, and the mediwitch had the impression that Severus was calmer when a person he trusted was talking to him, but since this came down to the ridiculously small number of three, the long vigils had drained those select few considerably. Things couldn't go on like this, not with school starting again on Monday - after the dreariest Christmas ever. Dumbledore's attempts at appearing cheerful had failed pathetically, and even tiny Professor Flitwick didn't sport his usual Christmas spirit. The few students who had remained at Hogwarts over the holidays had been unnaturally subdued, too. Harry Potter had not been among them. The boy had been allowed to spend his vacations with the Weasleys at the Burrow, after the place had been made unplottable. To everybody's surprise, Miss Granger had not joined her best friends, nor had she visited with her parents but stayed at school. She had been busy researching the properties of unicorn blood for days on end, although Remus Lupin had given up on the issue almost immediately. He had explained that if even Firenze couldn't tell, nobody could. A reasonable assumption. Nevertheless, Hermione had found quite a bit of trustworthy evidence indicating it was indeed the slaying of the unicorn, not the drinking of the blood that would draw the curse upon a person. However, knowing this was of little comfort now. If Severus was rendered permanently insane, he wouldn't be able to lead more than a half-life anyway, a half- life at St. Mungo's closed ward together with the Longbottoms and Gilderoy Lockhart. Not exactly uplifting prospects. Draco Malfoy had spent Christmas at Hogwarts, too. He had come to visit his Head of House every day, but for some reason unknown to the mediwitch, Severus didn't seem to trust his student. Whenever the boy spoke to him, the sick man winced and showed signs of panic. So, the blond Slytherin just sat there for a while, leaving as silently as he had come.

"Do you really think this is necessary, Poppy?" Dumbledore asked. However, he already knew the answer. He had chosen to close his eyes from reality all those weeks and told himself again and again that Severus would recover his mental abilities, but, as time passed by, it had become increasingly difficult to keep up the pretense.

Madame Pomfrey nodded resolutely. "Yes, Albus, it is."

"So be it then. I'll contact St. Mungo's first thing tomorrow."

Never had the headmaster looked so tired and downcast before.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"What do you say, Doctor Hippocampus, is there any hope for Professor Snape?" Madame Pomfrey asked her colleague after he had done a thorough examination of the comatose patient.

"I hate to sound overly pessimistic, I really do. However, this is by far the worst case of Cruciatus induced insanity I have ever encountered," answered the old healer gravely, "and I have seen quite a bit both during the Grindelwald war and You-Know-Who's first reign." He was the one in charge of the Longbottoms, too. Once more, he took some readings of the sleeping wizard's cranium, and then he slowly shook his head. "I am truly sorry, but there's not a raindrop's chance in a frying pan that he will awake from the coma. Large sections of his brain have been switched off by the intense agony from the Unforgivable, and only the most basic structures are still functioning. I fear your Professor is trapped in the memories of the torture and the pain, and it would take no less than a miracle to reverse this." Profound silence followed his devastating diagnosis. "I would strongly recommend you transfer the patient to St. Mungo's," the healer continued. "He will be cared for by experienced healers and nurses at our Institution, and you can visit whenever you wish to. It's the best for both you and your young colleague."

"We will think about it," Dumbledore answered hesitantly. "I will inform you of our decision, Doctor. And ... thank you." This then was what Voldemort had planned for the traitor. Trapped in an endless state of pain and fear inside an unresponsive body for ... years? Decades? At the same time, it also was a severe punishment for Dumbledore and everybody who cared for the boy. Having to see him suffer like this ... this was worse than death. A sudden wave of burning hatred flooded the old headmaster's soul with an intensity he had never experienced before, and hadn't thought himself capable of, either. Voldemort would pay for this. He would make him pay, even if he had to strangle the monster with his own bare hands ...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"They said large parts of his brain were like switched off by the Cruciatus? Not destroyed or annihilated?" Hermione asked the blond Slytherin who had come up to the hospital wing to pay his daily visit to Professor Snape only to hear the healer's words of doom through the half- opened door. Draco nodded bleakly. "Then there must be a way to switch them on again," murmured the girl while biting her lips pensively. "Draco, I think it's time for some library research again. Muggle library," she added with a mischievous glint in her eyes. She would show him that Muggles weren't altogether brainless and useless ....

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"'Mione, you are not going to meet with Malfoy again?!" her redheaded friend exclaimed hotly. "I can't believe it. How many times has the arrogant git called you a Mudblood, eh? Have you totally forgotten about this? And what about the Densaugio curse? This is Evil-Sneer Malfoy!"

"Calm down, Ron. We just read up on the treatment of the apallic syndrome - to help Professor Snape. My Mom sent me scads of medical books and journals, and Draco is a great help. He's rather intelligent, you know."

"What probably cannot be said of a certain carrot-head," sneered the blond Slytherin who had silently come up to the Gryffindor table. "I'd assume, your head would start smoking after only half a page of 'Advances in Neuropsychology'. Not that it didn't look like burning anyway ..."

"Sod off, or I'll hex you into next week, ferret-boy!"

Hermione rolled her eyes in exasperation. Those two would never get along, and between Draco and Harry, things weren't any different, even though they fought on the same side now. Just like Sirius and Snape. And she was caught in the middle ...

Draco shot one of his most arrogant glares at his rival. "You wouldn't dare, Weasel, now with Potty hanging around with this freaky Ravenclaw all the time. What was her name again? - Loony Lovegood, wasn't it? Nice couple, Crackpot Potter and Lunatic Lovegood. Bet they'll make it to the front page of Witch's Weekly when they get married - as Weirdoes of the Year."

Ron's face turned an ugly brick color. Malfoy had hit a nerve. His best friend was hanging around with his new - or rather first - girlfriend more than he'd like him to. Harry had even forgotten about Quidditch practice the other day! And Ron literally felt like the fifth wheel when together with them. Not that he didn't like Luna. However, it hurt to lose his best friend to a girl. And to top it all, they had fallen in love at his home, the Burrow. Luna had been invited over for the Christmas holidays after her father hadn't come back from one of his expeditions - searching for some legendary potato-eating monster in some lake in Sweden ... probably the monster wasn't a vegetarian after all. And now, his 'Mione deserted him for Draco Malfoy of all people! Things couldn't possibly get worse - yes, they could. Snape could be back teaching. Malfoy and Hermione were already working on it. And knowing Hermione, they wouldn't stop until the greasy git was back from the dead and his old malicious self again. That Snape actually would show any sign of gratitude towards his Gryffindor saviors was pretty much out of the question, Ron was sure of that. He snorted in frustration.

"I fear we won't be privy to any intelligible comment from the Weasel today. Let's go to the library, Hermione." The girl glanced apologetically at Ron before leaving together with her former enemy. Sometimes, she could slap Draco right in the face for his arrogance. However, during the holidays she had been surprised to find out there was a quite different side to the haughty Slytherin, and she had liked what she had discovered. She had finally found somebody who matched her intelligence ...

Snorting once again, Ron left the Great Hall and made his way towards the Quidditch pitch to work off his boiling frustration. He would show them. He'd become the best Keeper ever in the history of the Wizarding world. Since Hermione wasn't interested in Quidditch whatsoever, they probably weren't that good a match after all. There surely were other girls. What was the name of this amazingly blond Hufflepuff Chaser again? Silene Greenleaf? He could ask her to go to Hogsmeade with him next Saturday, could he not? And this time he wouldn't blush or stutter.

His resolve made, he mounted one of the practice brooms and took off.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Oh crap, this doesn't help at all. This regimen would take years, and success is rather uncertain. No more than about thirty percent of the patients do respond to the treatment, and full recovery is reported in exceptional cases only. I fear, Muggle medicine isn't any more advanced than Wizarding medicine when coma patients are concerned." Hermione complained, barely suppressing a yawn. "I think, I'll call it a night. I'm really tired, and we haven't achieved anything all day. Again."

"Wait, Hermione, I reckon I found something. This here sounds interesting." Draco pointed at one of the many articles that were scattered on the table in front of him. "Seems to be a rather obscure therapy, though."

"OK, let's see, then. But that's the last one for tonight."



Chapter 14: Horror and Hope

"Albus, you cannot delay the decision any longer. Severus's condition hasn't improved at all since Doctor Hippocampus was here, and it's been more than two weeks now," Madame Pomfrey urged once again, and this time she wouldn't give in.

"I know, Poppy. I just can’t..."

"There's no alternative, Albus. Look at yourself. You are almost as pale as the poor boy from all those nights spent at his bedside. We cannot have you fall ill, too. And, as much as I hate to say it, you should look out for a new Potions master. The students were pretty much ahead of the official syllabus, thanks to Severus's strict and demanding teaching style, but if lessons aren't resumed soon, how are the children supposed to pass their OWLs and NEWTs this summer?"

Albus was relieved of an immediate answer by a soft knock on the mediwitch's office door. "Yes, please?" The door opened and in peered the blond head of Draco Malfoy.

"Madame Pomfrey, I think, Hermione and I have found something that might help Professor Snape ..."

"Why don't you and Miss Granger come in, then, so we can discuss your findings with the headmaster?" the mediwitch said in a tired voice. What could the children possibly have found out? There was no cure for Cruciatus induced insanity. The St. Mungo's team had thoroughly researched the field and experimented with countless new therapies, but to no avail. However, it was uplifting to see two young people spending so many hours in the library to help their professor. She smiled weakly at the students who had come up to her desk, a journal and a couple of parchments with notes in their hands. "Let's see what you have there, children."

"It couldn't hurt to try, could it?" Hermione asked after they had explained everything to an eagerly listening Dumbledore and the mediwitch, who was frowning heavily with skepticism. "I mean, he couldn't possibly become any worse than he is already?" When both Pomfrey and the headmaster nodded thoughtfully, she continued, "We'd only have to find something Professor Snape is genuinely afraid of ..." Neither Draco nor she had come up with any reasonable idea yet. Snape just wasn't the person to be afraid of anything at all.

"Werewolves," the headmaster said quietly, "he's afraid of werewolves."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"You cannot be serious, I mean ... Albus, I strongly doubt that this is a good idea. Not that I'm not ready to help Severus, I truly wish I could, but I have never heard of anything like this. To shock somebody out of his coma? This sounds more than dubious if you ask me."

"I agree, Remus. It does sound dubious, if not outright ridiculous. However, it's the only hope we have. The next full moon is in a week, and though the Wolfsbane from St. Mungo's is not as effective as the one Severus used to brew, there won't be any real danger involved. We have to at least try. We do owe him that much."

"And what if he dies of the shock?"

"Then we'll let him go in peace ...."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Crouching I am crouching I am always crouching there will never be a time when I am not crouching in pain and in fear the crouching is now and the pain the fear it is always now all of it is now daylight comes through the cracks in the wall the rat does not wait for me to sleep the taste of death is on my face I want to thrash but there is no room to do it in crouching always crouching if I had more to drink I could make tears I will not drink the dead taste the men with the masks wield sticks of pain I am trying to leave my body behind it is hard to make yourself die forever you sleep short and then return sticks of pain someone is trembling I can feel it here he is fighting hard to leave his body which is a small bird trembling is it me? there is no room to tremble so I am not able to die it is the crouching that is now always now and the pain the fear I can hear a voice His voice but the noisy clouds are in the way I am not big he cannot hear me I am falling like the rain is I am crouching to keep from falling with the rain I am going to be in pieces they took my face away the men with the masks took it away there is no one to say me my name I wait I wait for His voice there is night and there is day again again night day night day daylight comes through the cracks I am waiting the air is heavy I am not dead it presses me down it is difficult to breathe in the narrow space the pain is with me always with me I am a small bird trembling with fear they took my name away the men with the masks took it away the voice knows my name but the clouds are in the way always and always in the way ...

A howl a horrible howl it tears through the clouds I am trembling the howl reminds me there was a time before the crouching before the clouds came in the way a huge tree in the moonlight a tunnel reeking of death the howl pierces the clouds I am trembling trembling with fear it pierces my ears a small bird trembling it pierces my brain the howl comes closer always closer I must fly I am not big I can fly through the cracks where the sunlight comes in the howl devours the sunlight I must fly it comes through the cracks trembling with fear trembling always trembling a small bird I must fly I am not dead the howl chills me kills me the clouds are bursting howling I am going to be in pieces where is the voice? the howl tears me apart I am in pieces I have to fly fly where the voice is the voice with my name what is the name of the voice? my skull is bursting I burst through the clouds trembling always trembling away from the howl Albus Albus is the name of the voice must fly away away the howl ...

His eyes shot open in absolute horror.

With all his might, he struggled to get away from the huge gray beast that was looming over him in the semi-dark room. A beast with bared fangs and deathly claws. A beast out of the worst of his childhood nightmares. The beast of the Shrieking Shack. Panting heavily, but unable to fill his constricted lungs with the dearly needed air, his heart beating frantically, he pressed his trembling body against one of the upper bedposts, as far away from the monster as possible, being too shocked to utter a sound.

Suddenly, the beast was gone. He blinked. Where the gigantic wolf had hovered just seconds before, now stood an old man with long white hair and beard, his friendly blue eyes twinkling over half-moon spectacles. The man was speaking to him. He knew the voice. His voice.


It was barely more than a shaky whisper, but it made the old wizard's heart skip a beat out of joy. It had worked. The shock therapy had worked.

"Albus, that's right. My name is Albus, my child," Dumbledore said reassuringly and took the panic-stricken man's hand into his own. When Severus began to frantically search the room, eyes still wide with terror, he gently cradled him to his chest, stroking his back soothingly. "The wolf is gone, Severus, you don't need to be afraid. He's gone. Nobody will hurt you. It was Remus, only Remus. Do you remember Remus? He took his Wolfsbane. He wouldn't have hurt you. You are safe here. You don't need to be afraid ..."

Slowly, the tension and the trembling subsided and the dark-haired wizard leaned into the headmaster's embrace, thoroughly exhausted from his ordeal. His eyes closed wearily as one last shudder ran through his body.

After a while, Madame Pomfrey came up to the bed. She had been standing close by all the time to intervene if necessary.

"Albus, I would like to examine Severus now, and then he should sleep. He must be drained," she said softly. Dumbledore nodded and gently let the sick wizard glide back onto the mattress without letting go of his hand. "Severus, do you remember Poppy? Poppy Pomfrey, our mediwitch?" The young man blinked several times, struggling to keep his eyes open and focused, then he nodded weakly. When the mediwitch took out her wand, he winced and started to tremble again, but after some more soothing words from the headmaster, he calmed down and let Pomfrey run her wand slowly over his forehead. Now and then, the mediwitch nodded but didn't comment.

"Do you hurt anywhere, Severus?" she finally asked after having finished her readings.

"My head," he answered hoarsely. Pomfrey nodded again, then reached for a small vial in her apron. She counted five drops of the honey-colored liquid into the glass of water that was waiting on the nightstand and brought it to her patient's lips.

"Here, my dear, drink this. It will help with the pain and make you sleep. We will watch over you."

Before Severus had finished the last drop, he was already asleep.


"Poppy, what did you find?" Dumbledore asked anxiously when he, Madame Pomfrey, and Minerva McGonagall, who had returned to the hospital wing after having taken the docile werewolf back to his temporary quarters, were sitting in the mediwitch's office having a late-night tea and sandwiches together.

Severus had recognized him, even remembered his name. Albus. This was a remarkable improvement, wasn't it? Dumbledore knew it didn't necessarily mean that his young friend was miraculously healed yet. Most probably, he still had a long way to go on the path of recovery. However, it was a beginning, and he wouldn't have to go alone. There was hope now ...

Pomfrey smiled. "Doctor Hippocampus will have difficulties believing this when I send him my report of tonight's events. I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. As far as I can tell, Severus's brain functions, in general, are quite normal again, although he must be extremely confused, and he's having a terrible headache. Symptoms like after a severe concussion. Most likely, there will be extensive memory gaps, too, and he will have difficulty concentrating for a while. However, I am fairly sure that, given enough time and quiet plus plenty of sleep, he will make a full recovery. Of course, there is still the trauma of his imprisonment and the loss of his arm to cope with. It won't be easy, but Severus is just too stubborn to give himself over to depression as long as he feels that he is still needed."

"I will make sure he knows how much we need him, even if his spying days are over for good. We will think of a way for him to continue teaching and brewing in spite of his handicap, too."

"We will, but not tonight, Albus," interrupted McGonagall, giving the headmaster one of her strict but concerned glances that did not allow for any objections. "You definitely look dead on your feet, and I feel wrung out myself. Time to retire. Poppy will surely notify us as soon as Severus awakes."

Resolutely, the stern Transfigurations teacher took the headmaster by his arm and marched him out of the hospital wing.




"I have an announcement to make." Professor Dumbledore's voice echoed through the Great Hall, and it sounded more cheerful than anybody had heard him speak for many weeks. "Professor Snape is now on the best way to recover from the severe injuries inflicted upon him by Voldemort and his minions." A shudder ran through the assembled students at the mention of the dreaded name. Although the headmaster had never officially explained what had happened to their Potions master, they had heard plenty of rumors. So it was indeed true that the sinister Professor was not a Dark wizard and follower of You-Know-Who as many had suspected, but had helped Dumbledore fight the monster. And apparently, he had paid for it. "I am pleased to tell you that he will, most probably, start teaching again after the Easter holidays," continued the headmaster. "I expect you to give him the warm welcome a loyal fighter on the side of the Light deserves."

Dumbledore sat down again, ignoring the excited mumbling and chattering of his charges. Severus had always found some sort of morbid delight in the rumors that had grown up around his person over the years, the most persistent being that he was a vampire. Therefore, it wouldn't be he who stopped the gossiping. Everything that might cheer up the recuperating young wizard was more than welcome. Severus had been staying at Headquarters for quite a while now, together with Remus Lupin, so he wouldn't have to worry about curious students watching their feared Potions master making his first feeble steps on the long road to recovery. Most of his memories had come back by now, good ones as well as bad ones, and unfortunately, the latter were the more abundant, especially in the nightmares that frequently haunted him. Dumbledore was glad that Remus and Severus seemed to get along much better than he had anticipated, though this might be no more than an indicator of the fact that the Slytherin wasn't entirely back to his old sarcastic self yet, and this was rather worrying. On the other hand, without James and Sirius around, there might even be a chance for the two former school mates to eventually become friends after all, who knew? To distract the man from his troublesome memories, they had set up a nice little Potions lab in one of the spacious cellar rooms which strongly reminded of a dungeon. Knowing the Black family, it probably had served exactly that purpose. He couldn't brew for long stretches of time yet, since his knees would start aching and another bout of migraine would be almost inevitable if he overexerted himself. So, complicated potions like the wolfsbane were still out of the question. However, with the help of some handy charms Filius Flitwick had taught him, and the devoted service of one house elf by the name of Winky, he managed remarkably well so far. Well enough to resume teaching in a couple of weeks, hopefully. Contrary to what most students probably might think, Severus was quite good with house elves, at least as long as they didn't talk too much or tried to mollycoddle him. This was common knowledge among the Hogwarts house elves, and they usually respected the Potions master's idiosyncrasies. Little Winky was absolutely adoring in her miniature white lab suit and gloves - her special work equipment, not cloths, oh no! - and she was learning quickly how to skillfully cut up and prepare ingredients, clean the glassware, knives, and cauldrons, and keep the stores in order. She was so busy and proud of being the Potions master's personal house elf that she had completely given up on butterbeer, another positive effect of the arrangement. Ironically, Severus was otherwise pretty much in the same situation as one Sirius Black had been the previous year, locked up at Headquarters and unable to do much for the Order except for giving advice, and he didn't take it much better than the Animagus. Patience had never been one of Severus's prominent character traits, except when dealing with complex potions, and Dumbledore knew the man would give his life for being able to storm at the Death Eaters this very instant and take revenge. On the other hand, the Slytherin was more reasonable and cunning than the late Gryffindor, at least when not in a senseless rage, and therefore would grudgingly content himself with waiting and silently working for the perfect chance to finally destroy Voldemort and his Death Eaters. This was how snakes were hunting, and the thought would certainly keep him going. At least for a while.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


The classroom door opened with the characteristic bang, and in came the Potions master, black robes billowing behind him. He looked gaunt and pale even for his standards and his stride was missing its usual vigor, however, the withering death-glare the Professor shot at Neville Longbottom when he tipped his flask of diluted Bundimun secretion, was unmistakably the old Snape. Curiously enough, Neville didn't cringe but smiled apologetically at his Professor while wiping up the spilled fluid that slowly ate through the work bench. The boy was much too happy these days to let a mere glare get to him. After fifteen years at St. Mungo's closed ward and to the surprise of everyone, including the healers and, most of all, Dr. Hippocampus, his parents were finally recovering. A gigantic Acromantula had done the trick for his father, and his mother had been shocked out of insanity by a genuine but well-fed Vampire. It had taken some time for them to come to terms with the fact that their little baby boy was a young man already and that they had missed out on fifteen years of their lives. However, they would be allowed to leave St Mungo's soon, and then they would finally be a normal family again. His smile deepened at the warm memory of his mother suddenly recalling his name. No, a little rebuke from his teacher couldn't quench his new happiness. After all, in some way, his parents wouldn't be recovering if it hadn't been for Snape.

One rather pleasant change for the students was that Snape didn’t constantly hover over the brewing teenagers, breathing down their necks like a scary overlarge bat and spouting criticism and insults, but stayed in his chair or stood leaning to the edge of his desk during most of the double lesson. In the latter position, he looked rather awkward since he didn’t seem to know what to do with his right hand as he couldn’t cross his arms in front of his chest anymore .... Nevertheless, nothing, not the tiniest error or briefest inattention, escaped his scrutinizing gaze.

When Snape deduced ten points from Gryffindor because Harry had added the dragon’s blood to his Power-Cleaning solution before the powdered Saponaria, causing an explosion of sticky green goo that bubbled up and released a stench that ominously reminded of troll dung, Harry glared angrily back. However, he quickly lowered his gaze again and began cleaning up the mess. Hermione was right, he probably should pay more attention, or his lack of it might cause a dangerous accident one day. And, as it was Snape's responsibility to ensure safety in his classroom, it was no wonder he was rather strict about things and didn't tolerate sloppiness. Only that he deduced more points from Gryffindor than from any other house still irked Harry a lot. After almost six Snape-free months, however, Gryffindor had accumulated so many House points already that it was almost impossible to not win the House Cup this year. And the Quidditch Cup was undoubtedly theirs, too, with him as Seeker and Ron as Keeper ....

"Mr. Weasley, Mr. Longbottom, Miss Granger," Snape suddenly announced after the students had handed in their potion samples for grading, "before you leave, there is something for you in the store room, second shelve on the left. Mr. Malfoy, would you please follow me to my office?"


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


"Pinch me, Hermione, I believe I’m dreaming. Those are not presents, are they?" asked Ron incredulously. His entire view of life seemed to shatter at the sight of the gift boxes wrapped in green and silver wrappings.

"No, Ron. This is quite real." His friend smiled, reached for the envelope with Ron’s name on it and held it out for him. "This one even looks as if it were for you." Of course, his was the smallest gift, if it was a gift at all and not a simple thank-you card. Although, he hadn’t even expected that much from the Potions master. When he opened the envelope and peeked inside, his eyes grew wide despite his initial disappointment. "Wow, tickets for the Chuddley-Cannon match next weekend, two of them, and prime seats at that!" The note attached to the tickets informed that a Portkey would be arranged for him and a certain Miss Greenleaf to take them to the stadium and back again. A certain Miss Greenleaf? How could the greasy git possibly know about Silene? He hadn’t known himself until quite recently. Did the slimy Slytherin, now that he couldn’t spy on Voldemort anymore, use his double agent skills on his students? Glorious prospects, indeed. There was a card, too, green with a silver Slytherin crest and no more than two words on it, ‘Thank you’, plus the initials S.S.. So, Snape knew how to spell the words after all, thought Ron, though he doubted that the surly Professor was capable of actually saying them. And he’d surely rather bite off his tongue than utter them in the presence of any student, especially if the student was a Gryffindor. Not that he was exactly keen on having a private talk with the Potions teacher, and the thought of having to shake hands with the greasy git gave him the creeps. No, better a short and painless card. And probably, it hadn’t even been that painless for Snape to write down those two words thinking of whom he owed his life to. And the fact that he had Neville Longbottom’s blood cursing through his veins now must surely be beyond painful for the Head of Slytherin. Ron chuckled and turned to his friend. "What did you get, ‘Mione? A Potions book?"

"A brand new one, ‘Complex Potions for Masters’; it’s not even on sale yet! And there’s a dedication: ‘For a most promising student, Perseus Evans.’ That’s the author! It even has the wolfsbane recipe ..."

"Oh, stop it, ‘Mione. Get your nose out of that book and open that other little box, it’s for you, too." Hermione tore her eyes off her new possession with an effort and began to unwrap the little parcel.

"Another bracelet for Crookshanks! And Snape put a tracing spell on it. That’s nice." She could even use both bracelets together; the filigreed silver one with emeralds Draco had given her for Christmas would go perfectly with the enchanted black one. If not for his ginger color, Crooks would look like a Slytherin mascot with those .... Softly chuckling at the thought, Hermione turned around and looked at Neville’s gift. It was by far the largest one. Neville was smiling as he read the note that went with the shining cauldron. "It’s a Cauldron-Never-Burn, a recent invention by some American. A real hit in the States. Think that there are quite a few wizards there who have the same problem I have, and even without having Snape breathing down their neck and making them jumpy! It starts sounding an alarm as soon as the contents in the cauldron near boiling point. Potions lessons should be a lot safer now." Neville grinned widely.

"Looks as if Snape found the right thing for everybody. Wonder what’s in Ginny’s box? A little booklet or something?"

"Let’s go give it to her, Ron. She’ll be in the Great Hall having lunch. I’m rather hungry, too."

"Guess what I am, ‘Mione, could eat an entire horse .... And I have to tell Silene about the tickets!"

For the first time in six years, the three Gryffindors left the Potions classroom chuckling and chatting instead of fuming with anger and frustration or, in Neville’s case, scared out of their mind.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


"Take a seat, Mr. Malfoy."

Draco sat down in the indicated armchair in front of the large fire place in Snape’s office, opposite from his teacher. This certainly was very unusual since students always had to take the rather uncomfortable chair in front of the desk, if they were allowed to sit down at all.

"Sir, I want to apologize for what ..."

"No, Mr. Malfoy, you don’t need to apologize for anything," interrupted Snape sharply. "It wasn’t your fault. I’m the one to blame since it was I who invented that blasted potion in the first place. You aren’t responsible for what happened. You are only responsible for what you did afterwards, and that you can be proud of." A short moment of silence ensued that gave Draco the chance to let Snape’s words sink in before his Head of House spoke again.

"I assume you are going to take the Mark as soon as you’re turning seventeen?" Trust Snape to not beat around the bush .... Draco nodded. "The headmaster told me what happened, and what you are planning. You are aware of how difficult this will be, and of the extreme danger? Mortal danger?" Draco nodded again. He had seen with his own eyes how badly Voldemort reacted to treachery. He only needed to look at his teacher, at the black cloak that hid what he knew wasn’t there anymore. The thought alone made him shudder. However, his resolve stood firm. He would take the Dark Mark and spy on his future master so his kids, if he ever was to have any, would grow up without the threat of darkness looming over them. Who knew, perhaps he was even going to marry a certain ‘Mudblood’, and he couldn’t possibly do that as long as Voldemort was around. His lips curled up in a grim smile at the thought.

"I see I won’t be able to talk you out of this." Snape sighed resignedly. "And the Order dearly needs a spy now that I can’t do the job any longer." His onyx eyes darkened and he fell silent for a moment. "However, this is no children’s game," he finally continued, "and you need to be prepared as well as possible. You’ll need to learn how to occlude your mind against external penetration. And you better be good at it, or you won’t stand a chance against the Dark Lord. But, I dare say you’ll surely master this obscure branch of magic far better than a certain Gryffindor celebrity. You aren’t a Slytherin for nothing, Mr. Malfoy. Of course, you must not be seen to associate with a known traitor to the so-called Cause outside classes as not to arouse suspicion. I’ll give you the password to the secret passage that leads from the Slytherin common room to my private quarters. Feel free to use it whenever you want." He smiled reassuringly at the blond Slytherin. Although his Slytherins were not nearly as scared of him as the students of the other Houses the thought of actually entering the den of the Head snake must make the boy nervous. He would have been scared out of his wit if his former Head of House had invited him to his private quarters. But that was an entirely different story ... "As you will surely hear soon enough, I gave those Gryffindor saviors of mine some presents. You, however, I want to offer my sincere thanks and my friendship. My door will always be open for you, Draco."

"Thank you, sir," the future spy finally managed to stutter.

"Draco, are you quite sure nobody suspects anything? There’ve been rumors about you and a certain Gryffindor know-it-all. Then there was this owl to your father, and people surely observed you frequently visiting the hospital wing while I was sick."

"Oh, that’s no problem, sir. That was only to spy on you." A sly smile graced his lips. "And Hermione is nothing but a means to get closer to Wonderboy Potter - officially. My mother took the blame for the owl. She’s going to stay in Switzerland in hiding until the war is over." Snape nodded thoughtfully. He was probably the only one who had known for years that Narcissa had stayed with Lucius and kept up the facade of a perfectly functioning pure-blood family only for the sake of her son. It was only logical that she would protect Draco, even if it meant for her to live in exile and apart from her son for years. At least, she was away from Lucius now.

"You know that your father and I once were friends?" Snape asked softly. "Or rather, I thought we were." He looked to the floor, almost sounding sad for a moment. Then he locked his gaze with Draco’s again. "I didn’t realize it was nothing but a lie until I found myself up to my eyes in a swamp of blood and death and pain. Dumbledore gave me a second chance. I’m glad you took your first one." The smile Snape gave him was so sincere and full of affection and pride it made Draco’s heart skip a beat. He had never seen his acerbic Potions teacher smile like this. Nor, in fact, his father. The friendship of this man was worth all the trouble and danger he had gotten himself into; it was the most precious gift he had ever received, except probably for Hermione. He would make sure to not disappoint the Professor, not ever.

"Professor, you are all right, aren’t you?" Draco asked with sudden concern.

"Don’t worry, Draco. As long as I have my wandarm to fight with ..." It was Snape’s turn to smile grimly, and Draco was more than glad he was on the same side now. He wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of the Professor’s wrath, no, Merlin forbid. Finally, Snape rose. "You better go get yourself some lunch or you’ll be late for Transfiguration. You don’t want McGonagall to deduct House points, do you? And I need some rest before I can face another batch of dunderheads ...." He accompanied Draco to the door. "Take care, Draco."

"You too, Professor." Smiling back at his Head of house, Draco left for the Great Hall.


The End