Part 4

Lord Voldemort did nothing so common as fly in on a broomstick; he Apparated directly into the middle of the circle, his hooded cloak - a deep blood-red - obscuring his skeletal frame and face.

He appeared facing directly away from Snape, looking at Avery, who appeared to shrink before his gaze, then straighten taller. Then Voldemort, still without moving, spoke softly, and the reality of that voice, combined with memory, chilled Snape to the bones. "Lucius."

"Master," Malfoy said quietly from two places to Snape's right.

"You have brought our wayward friend." Not a question.

"I have, my Master."

Voldemort turned slowly and looked straight at Snape, his eyes gleaming, his thin lips pressed into a faint smile.

And at that moment Snape knew he'd made a terrible, terrible mistake.

"Severus," the Dark Lord murmured, taking a step forward. "It has been a long time."

Snape tried to swallow against the sudden panic that had risen in his throat and bowed deeply. "Too long, my Lord." Dear God, let him be wrong. Let him be wrong -

There was a brief silence; then Voldemort mused, "You escaped justice. Much like your old friend Lucius. You are to be congratulated."

Snape kept his head lowered in an attitude of reverence. "It is your Lordship who is to be

"And yet," Voldemort continued as if he hadn't spoken, "and yet, not exactly like Lucius. He merely claimed I had laid an Imperius curse on him. You went a step further, my friend ... you made some outrageous claims, did you not? That you were a spy for Albus Dumbledore. That you had been working against me all along."

These questions were only to be expected, Snape told himself, and he'd prepared his responses in advance. But there was something in his head that was telling him this was all wrong, that nothing he said would do him the least bit of good ... it was just panic. It had to be. "My Lord, it was the only way I had of gaining Dumbledore's trust. I knew it was only a matter of time until you rose again; and if your faithful could get on the inside, as, ah, Lucius and I have done, then we could - "

"'Get on the inside.' Yes, I see what you mean," Voldemort said softly. "And you've certainly done that, haven't you? Working at Hogwarts under the very eye of old Bumble-bore himself. Potions master, yet." One corner of his mouth turned up in a horrid half- smile. "Well, then, Severus. Tell me what you have learned on the 'inside.' Tell me what I most want to know."

Snape could hear his throat click when he swallowed, and knew Voldemort could hear it too. No other Death Eater made a single sound. "Anything, Master."

"Tell me," Voldemort hissed, and drew a step closer, "of Harry Potter."

"An arrogant brat, my Lord," Snape said immediately, hoping the rasp in his voice could pass for loathing. He had anticipated this particular question. "As foolish as his father."

"Really?" Voldemort sounded amused. "And what else?"

"Surrounded by equally foolish friends, but well protected by Dumbledore. Watched like a hawk, in fact. There has been no chance to ... "

"'Watched like a hawk,' " Voldemort echoed again, his words ringing with mockery. "Yes, yes, of course. We must watch our prodigies, mustn't we? May I understand - " his gaze became particularly unpleasant - "that you have been watching him, Severus?"

"Naturally, my Lord," Snape said through a mouth gone suddenly dry.

"And the other students? Do you watch them as well?"

"My Lord?"

"Malfoy's boy, for instance." Voldemort swept his arm out to point to Lucius Malfoy, and although Malfoy's face was covered by his mask, his eyes were gleaming with vicious delight. Snape felt his heart drop right into his stomach. "I understand young Draco is growing up to be quite a fine young man. I have hopes that one day he will prove himself sufficient to join us; already he has begun his work for me ... " those terrible eyes focused again on Snape, rooting the younger man to the spot. "You may have been watching the students, Severus, but one of them has also been watching you."

"My Lord?" Snape managed again, the only words he could think to speak.

Voldemort turned away again and began pacing the inside of the circle, his long, thin hands clasped behind his back. "Poor Draco has told his father that you seemed completely uninterested in his little ... flirtations. I was frankly surprised. Such a good-looking child. But that was not the greatest surprise." The stalking figure paused and looked up at the sky. Snape's nails were pressed so hard into his palms that they were beginning to draw blood.

"You should be more careful whom you kiss on balconies, Severus," Voldemort announced suddenly. "Such public places. Even if they are dark and shadowed."

It took every ounce of willpower Snape had to keep his eyes open and not collapse in a dead faint.

"Harry Potter, Severus? Harry Potter? Of all people, you choose to give your affections to my most ... irritating nemesis? Of course, I could be wrong. I could be misreading all of this entirely." Voldemort turned to face him again, and something rather resembling a paternal smile was on his face. "Tell me I am mistaken, my old friend."

Snape nodded, unable to speak, his blood turned to ice. He could say anything, promise anything, if it would get him out of this meeting alive and he never had to come back. He'd go to Dumbledore, tell him it was impossible, that he couldn't do this, he couldn't do any of it, if only he could get out of here -

"That's what I thought," Voldemort said, sounding pleased. "It was all an elaborate ruse on your part, wasn't it? A cunning trap? Designed to lure young Potter into your confidence and trust?"

"Yes," Snape gasped, feeling as though all the air in the world had disappeared.

"And does he trust you? Have you gained his confidence?"

"Completely, my Lord!"

"Excellent." Voldemort's eyes narrowed, and he raised a hand in the air. A large black owl hooted and came swooping down from a tree branch to rest upon the Dark Lord's shoulder, nearly startling Snape out of his wits. He tried not to twitch. "Then this little task will pose no difficulty for you. Write a letter to Harry Potter immediately. Tell him to meet you here in this clearing as soon as he can. Tell him it is vitally important. Summon him here before me."

The world seemed to be swimming in front of his eyes, and Snape had to choke back a brief, hysterical laugh. Well, he'd been wrong. Voldemort had found the one thing he could not promise - could not do. And the old monster knew it. Harry. He should have known. He should have listened.

"Impossible," he said shakily, and when Voldemort frowned he added quickly, "Potter is well-guarded, as I've said, there's no way Dumbledore would let him come here by himself, but later I could perhaps arrange it so that he - "

"But you are a Hogwarts teacher, Severus," Voldemort said quietly. "You are completely trusted by Dumbledore, or so - " with another glance at Malfoy, "my sources tell me. Write to Harry Potter. Explain that you have discovered he is in danger at the school and that you have created a safe place for him to hide. Will not Dumbledore believe you?"

Snape's mouth opened and closed.

"Unless, of course, Bumble-bore knows that you are here already. Unless you really are what you said you were so long ago: a spy and a traitor."

Still mute, Snape shook his head.

"Then send the letter," Voldemort whispered. "I have the owl ready. I have parchment and quill here for you. Write and send it, Severus." He was holding out a quill, a grand affair with a silky black plume and dripping scarlet ink - at least, it looked like ink. It was perhaps two centimeters from Snape's left hand.

Snape didn't move.

"Surely this is not asking so much, after so many years of silence and ... misunderstanding? Am I not giving you a sufficient chance to redeem yourself?"

Snape closed his eyes.

"You aren't going to do it, are you?" Voldemort asked, and though Snape's eyes remained closed he could still hear the terrible satisfaction in that voice. "I thought as much. Ah, Severus, you always had brains and courage, but you never had the sense to ally them with the right things ... it's going to get you into terrible trouble someday ... " Snape felt the tickle of feathers as Voldemort brushed the quill against his hand again. "You will not do what I ask."

"No," Snape whispered.

"You are not a true Death Eater. You are not one of my followers." With the utmost gentleness, Voldemort raised his hand and slowly slipped the mask from Snape's face.

"No." His own voice seemed to be coming from miles away. He was beginning to wish he had fainted; being conscious was not proving tremendously enjoyable, and it was certainly going to become even less so in very short order.

He could feel the Dark Lord's body heat, such as it was, recede, could hear his soft footsteps drawing away. "Lucius. You have done well."

"It was my pleasure, Master." Vindictive hatred dripped from Malfoy's voice.

"Your pleasure. I suppose that it was. Yes, I think we can safely say, Lucius, that your penance is well begun. Soon I will forget that you left me to suffer for thirteen years ... soon. Not now. Now I must deal with one who wanted me to suffer. Who worked for my destruction."

With his eyes still closed, their lids like heavy weights, Snape wondered absentmindedly how long it would take for him to die. Hours? Days? A week? What if they tested him again in that time, tried to get to Harry through him? Would he be strong enough to resist? He wasn't certain.

"And to think," Voldemort continued, "everything he worked for is futile! Even the wretched boy he shields at the cost of his own miserable life - even that boy is doomed as we speak. Did you know, Severus," he added, "that, when you share blood with someone, it is possible to send visions to this person?"

Snape's eyes snapped open.

"It is difficult, I'll grant you," the Dark Lord said calmly. "But not impossible. Very little is impossible for me. Oh, I could not send Harry a false dream - I could not show him a vision of something which did not exist. Yet. But your death, Severus, now that was a certain plan of mine. I could show him that.

"He's not an overly bright child," Voldemort continued. "I thought for a while I would have to draw him a map. But a second vision sufficed; just this night I revealed to him that we are meeting outside of Hogsmeade." At these words, the Death Eaters suddenly stirred, and though none dared make a sound their shock was evident. Voldemort turned to smile slightly at them. "You are surprised, my friends? Perhaps you expect Albus Dumbledore to come charging in here on a shining hippogriff to disrupt our little gathering?" They laughed nervously then. "No, no, I have studied my Harry Potter and I think I know him; he does not think well when panicked. I rather believe," with a direct stare at Snape, "that if anyone comes to save you, if anyone actually thinks you worth the trouble, it will be young Harry himself. That was why I had you fly in; I was rather hoping he'd follow you ... but I see we shall have to wait a little longer." Voldemort smiled another, even more terrible smile. "And with a little luck ... he won't even bring his wand."

No. No, no, no, no ...

"This distresses you," Voldemort said coldly. "As I knew it would. The sight of you sickens me, Snape. I shall see if I can find a vision of you that is more pleasing to my eyes."

He raised his wand. As one, the Death Eaters tensed with anticipation, craning their necks to get a good view of the death of their former ally. "Nothing easy for you, Snape," Voldemort whispered. "You will suffer before you die." The holly tip was pointed directly at Snape's face. "Crucio."

The first bolts of blinding pain hit, and Snape fell to the ground. Then Voldemort whispered the word again. And again. And again. And again.

Snape could hear himself screaming as his nerve endings lit themselves on fire. Spots of colour began to dance before his eyes, but he knew it would be a long time before he was granted the mercy of unconsciousness, or the ultimate absolution of death.

His bones jarred again, and he howled at the sky.

Part 5   |   Non Anime Fanfiction