Twelve Again

Summary: Severus Snape returns from a DE meeting, but something is seriously wrong. He's a kid again. Takes place in Harry's fifth year.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and associated characters, events, and places are not mine.

Hagrid found him lying just outside the front gates of Hogwarts. He sprawled on the ground, unconscious, face, hair, and robes soiled with blood, mud, and possibly worse. Fang whimpered behind the half-giant not wanting to approach the small form, no doubt smelling the evil that led to the body's condition. Not that the body itself was pleasantly fragrant itself. Even Hagrid could smell the blood and a rotten reek that made him think of death.

He opened the gates cautiously, looking around for whatever might have done this to the child. For child it was, he saw as he knelt down beside the form. Gently, he brushed dark hair away from the young face. Vaguely familiar features were twisted in pain, even in unconsciousness. Hagrid couldn't name the child, but he guessed the boy was a first year.

Carefully, he lifted the child, who softly cried out at the disturbance but did not awaken. When he reached the Hospital Wing, Poppy Pomphrey bustled collecting different potions about as the huge man set the boy on one of the beds. She muttered under her breath as she began her examination, interrupted by occassional exclaimations of dismay and outrage at whomever was responsible.

Hargid backed out of the infirmary, in part to avoid being thrown out, but mostly to go report what he had found to Dumbledore. It took only minutes to find and explain the situation to the Headmaster, and within a quarter of an hour, both were back in the Hospital Wing.

Poppy had cleaned the boy up some, and he laid on his back looking far more comfortable than he had lying in the mud outside. He turned his head in his sleep, turning his face toward his two visitors. Beside him, he felt the Headmaster stiffen. "Great Merlin," the older wizard whispered in horror. He approached and lowered himself into a chair as though in a daze.

Hagrid looked at the boy again, confused. Cleaned up and laid out on a bed, he thought the child looked almost peaceful. No doubt several painkilling and healing potions had already begun work on him. He couldn't see what had so upset the Headmaster.

Poppy performed another scanning spell, and made a sound of indignation, as if the discovery of another injury was a personal insult. She rolled and pushed back one of the boy's overly large sleeves. In fact all his robes appeared much too big for him. Harry Potter would fit into Hargid's own clothes with about equal snugness.

The mediwitch used a sponge to clean away the blood on his left forearm, then cried out in alarm as she looked at the dark wound, retreating physically several steps. Her eyes were wide and her hand covered her mouth. "My God."

Morbidly curious, Hagrid stepped nearer, and drew in a sharp breath as he got his own look at the child's small thin arm. The Dark Mark was freshly emblazoned on the pale skin, and he thought he detected a whiff of burnt flesh. Stunned, he more felt than heard Dumbledore rise and come even with him. "Oh, Severus," the Headmaster whispered.

Both Hagrid and Poppy looked at the old wizard in surprise. Then their eyes drifted back to the small figure on the bed. Hagrid studied the boy's face intently. Limp black hair, a smaller (relatively) but still crooked nose, pale skin, even the Dark Mark. Robes sized more for a man near six feet than a child of eleven years. All these attributes spoke toward Dumbledore's identification, yet the youthful features and skinny four foot frame denied the possibility. "Can't be," Poppy whispered, evidently coming to the same conclusion.

Dumbledore apparently didn't hear her. He approached the bed and gently brushed a thumb along the boy's cheekbone. The child mumbled something unintelligible and rolled over, pulling away from the touch. His face pressed into his pillow, then he slowly propped himself up on one elbow. He blinked against the bright whiteness of the hospital wing, then squinted up at Dumbledore. "Headmaster?" he asked sleepily.

Dumbledore smiled down at him sadly. "Hello, Severus. How are you feeling, child?"

The boy collapsed back down into the pillow, belly down and face first. His answer emerged muffled, "Tired." He rolled over again, this time to face the Headmaster. Propping himself up again, he noticed Hagrid. He turned his head around the room to see who and what else he might have overlooked. "Hospital Wing again," he lamented, flopping back down onto his back.

Dumbledore's mouth twitched, evidenced by a slight movement of his beard. "Yes, child."

"Did Potter's potion get on me then?" He sat up yet again and once more took a survey of the room. "I know it got on him, but he's not here." He made a gesture to the other empty beds with his left arm, and froze, staring at the Mark. "Headmaster? What is that?" he asked shakily, still staring at his outstretched arm.

"Severus, I'm going to ask you a question, and it might sound odd, but I want you to answer it, alright?"

The boy's wide-eyed black gaze never left the Mark. "Ok."

"How old are you?"

"Twelve." Dumbledore briefly closed his eyes as if in pain, but the child was too fascinated with the Mark to notice. He brought it in closer to get a good look at it, the looked at it from several different angles. "It's kinda cool-looking, isn't? Spooky, too." He looked up at the adults around him. "How'd I get it?"

Dumbledore shook his head. "We were hoping you could tell us," he said gently. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"Um." The boy squeezed his eyes closed, and scowled in effort. Then he looked back up at the Headmaster, confusion in his black eyes. "I don't know. It's weird. It's like everything happened a long time ago but not. Like, I know what happened, but I'm not really sure what the last thing I remember was. I know that Black blew up Potter's shirking potion by putting in too many shrivelfigs, and that we had a minor duel outside the Great Hall. But I don't know which came first." He looked down at the Mark again, "And I don't remember getting a tattoo at all. It still kinda stings." He rubbed at it absently.

The Headmaster pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down next to the sitting boy. "Severus," he began solemnly. The boy looked at him curiously. Hagrid and Poppy watched, almost afraid to move. Neither had ever seen Snape this open and were afraid of breaking the spell. Dumbledore continued, "What do you remember about Voldemort?"

The boy frowned thoughtfully. "Lucious talks about him a lot. He says," Severus stopped, looking at Dumbledore shrewdly. "I probably shouldn't be talking to you about this."

Dumbldore only smiled. "Severus, I promise I won't expel you or Lucious Malfoy for what you tell me."

Severus shook his head. "That's not it, Headmaster. It's bigger than Hogwarts, sir."

"Simply passing along rumours will not get anyone imprisoned, Severus. It is important I know what you know of Voldemort."

The boy looked at his hands uncertainly. "All right. He's a Dark Wizard. The wave of the future, Lu- that is, some people say. He's big on purity of blood and all that, and grants power to his supporters. He's apparently got a bunch of followers already, and more are lining up, just waiting to be old enough. Not really sure what the big deal is, but I'm just a second year. Lu- um, some of the older wannabe followers do their recruiting in the fifth and sixth years. It's considered to be a real honor to be approached, especially for fifth years." He stole a quick look up at the Headmaster, then back to his hands. "Is that what you wanted to know?"

"Do you know what his supporters do?" Dumbledore asked softly, "Or how to recognize one?"

Severus shrugged. "Not really. I guess they kill people, some of them. Do Dark things. Dunno. How to recognize one? Um, they wear masks?"

The Headmaster gently took Severus's Marked arm in his hand. "Voldemort brands each of his followers, Severus, binding them to him, claiming them as his own. It can never be removed or reversed. This is what his Dark Mark looks like."

Severus looked down at the Mark again, surrounded now by Dumbledore's fingers. He looked paler than ever, and Hagrid could almost make out a faint shaking along his small frame. "Me?" He lifted wide, scared eyes toward the Headmaster. "Are you going to put me in Azkaban now? Honest, I don't remember getting it, I thought it was just a cool tattoo."

"I know, child. You won't go Azkaban."

The boy flopped back onto his pillow in relief, his arm still held by the Headmaster. "Phew."

"But you must be care that no one see it, Severus, do you understand that?"

He nodded. "I'm a Slytherin, sir. Of course." He pushed himself back up into a sitting position. "So you're just gonna let me be a Dark Wizard, sir?"

The Headmaster gave him a sharp look. "Absolutely not! I understand that your Mark was none of your choosing, that you can remember anyway, so I cannot punish you for it. But if I learn of you truly following any Dark practices, you will certainly be answerable for it. Clear?"

Severus seemed to shrink under the admonishment. "As crystal, sir."

"Good," Dumbledore nodded. Then he visibly softened. "There is something else you need to know, Severus."

The boy looked at him warily. "If you tell me the mole on my leg means I'm forever bound to the Church of England, I don't want to hear it."

Dumbledore smiled faintly, but his eyes' twinkle had dimmed. "Severus, we are no longer in the year you believe it to be." The boy's eyes narrowed, but he did not respond. "It's 1995."

Severus looked at him disbelievingly. "If you were Black, I'd consider that an insult to my intelligence, sir."

The Headmaster chuckled. "I appreciate your silent compliment that I don't look any older. Perhaps if I bring in Minerva you might be more inclined to belief." At Severus's confused look, he added, "Professor McGonagall." The confusion cleared, and the boy shrugged. Dumbledore turned slightly, "Hagrid?" Severus jumped, just now remembering that there were other parties in the room.

"Aye, Dumbledore, sir." Hagrid left to fetch the Head of Gryffindor House, not really certain whether or not the old wizard had insulted her by suggesting that she had visibly aged in the last thirty or so years. But then, there were far more changes between 40 and 70 years of age than there were between 120 and 150. Poppy had only joined the staff about fifteen years ago, and Hagrid knew he himself hadn't changed much, even assuming the Slytherin second-year had paid the half-giant groundskeeper much heed.

When he returned with McGonagall, Severus was still sitting up in bed, but his Mark had been wrapped in a bandage. Apparently, discussion of the elapsed years had been put off until proven, and the Headmaster and the boy were discussing the relative merits of James Potter's appointment to his Quiddich team as only a second year.

Dumbledore smiled at the new arrivals, and Severus stared at McGonagall, black eyes widening. For her part, McGonagall was returning a stunned look at the boy. Hagrid hadn't really been sure how to explain the situation to her, and so had only told her to come to the hospital wing.

Of the two, Severus recovered first. He had, after all, had some warning. "So it really is 1995? Swear to Merlin?"

Dumbledore nodded solemnly. "Swear to Merlin. It really is 1995."

Severus tried unsuccessfully to blink back his astonishment. "Must have been asleep longer'n I thought."

The Headmaster looked up at his Deputy Headmistress. "Minerva, you remember Severus," he said with only a hint of irony, "he's twelve, still."

"Twelve," she repeated faintly.

Severus cocked his head curiously, "But if this is 1995, then how come I'm still little? Shouldn't I be, like, ancient?"

"Forty years old is not ancient, Mr. Snape," McGonagall remarked coolly.

The boy made a face halfway between surprise and dimay, "Forty?! I'm supposed to be forty? Bloody He-"

"Mr. Snape!" McGonagall cut him off sharply.

He flinched back from her tone, but did not look in the least apologetic. Instead, he looked between the two Professors, then asked carefully, "So I've been asleep, and not aging, in the Hogwarts Hospital Wing for some thirty years?"

"No," Dumbledore said softly, and even McGonagall's expression turned almost sympathetic. "Two days ago you were a forty year old man."

The boy's eyes narrowed. "Then why am I twelve again?"

"Two days ago, our forty year old Professor Snape," Dumbledore paused as the boy goggled at him in disbelief, "went to spy on a meeting of Voldemort's followers. He didn't return that night or the next day. About two hours ago, we found you, unconscious, just outside the Gates. We have no idea what happened during those two days or how you came to be twelve again."

"Oh." Hagrid took it to be the 'I-still-have-no-idea-what-you're-talking-about-but-I'll-pretend-I-do' type of 'oh.' The boy looked like he was trying to digest this new information, and not particularly succeeding. The other adults in the room waited, Hagrid wasn't quite sure what for. When the silence started to grow uncomfortable, Severus looked up at the Headmaster. "So what now?"

Dumbledore sighed. "I suppose you can't teach as you are. I'll need to find a substitute potions instructor. You, I suppose, will take second year classes until we can find a way to return your memory and age."

Severus nodded slowly. "Ok. Um. What about, um, the tattoo?" He touched a hand to the bandage.

"You'll be safe here. Just tell me if and when it hurts."

The boy nodded, and missed the sharp look McGonagall shot at the Headmaster.

"Severus, I have question of preference for you." The boy looked up at him inquiringly. "Do you want to be Severus Snape turned twelve again, a younger relative of yourself, or someone entirely independant of our Potions Master?"

He frowned thoughtfully. "Not a relative. I'd be expected to know more about the old me than I do." He scooted backward and leaned against the headboard. "At a guess, I'd say my grown-up teacher self won't like to be associated with a twelve year old. Specially if I get in trouble." He looked between the Headmaster and McGonagall quickly, "Not that I plan to get in trouble. It just sometimes happens, ya know?"

Dumbledore chuckled, though McGonagall assumed a stern look. "Quite so," Dumbledore agreed lightly.

"So I think I'll be somebody entirely different. It'll be fun, too."

"You'll need to be reSorted then," Dumbledore warned.

Severus shrugged. "Sure. I'll probably still end up in Slytherin. Even quicker'n before, what with a secret identity, and the, the tattoo, right?"

The Headmaster smiled sadly, "Most probably, child."

Severus nodded, though it was obvious his thoughts were no longer on the discussion. "So I'm really in 1995?"

"You really are," Dumbledore reiterated.

"That's so unbelievable." His awed expression suddenly turned worried. "I don't know anyone now, do I? They all grew up. No friends, no Potter, no - do my parents know I'm twelve again?"

"Severus, child, even if you were still twelve in truth, your parents soon wouldn't be able to care for you anymore."

Black eyes grew wide and scared. "They're dead?"

"I'm sorry, child."

The boy squeezed back tears, then looked back up at Dumbledore dry-eyed. "So I'm alone. Who's my Head of House now?"

Dumbledore startled, and looked at McGonagall, then back to the boy. "Well, it was . . . you."

Serverus began to laugh, softly at first, then louder until Hagrid could no longer distinguish whether the child was laughing or crying. Poppy took this as the signal that the visitors had overstayed their welcome and were now upsetting her patient. She shooed them out without quarter.

In the corridor outside the Infirmary, McGonagall turned on the Headmaster. "He thinks he's twelve."

Dumbledore nodded sadly. "He looks younger, though. His body, at a guess, I'd put at only nine or ten. He was tall for a child, as I recall. We'll need to tell all the professors who had him before who he really is."

McGonagall pursed her lips. "Still has the Mark, though? He didn't have it this young last time, did he?"

"No," Dumbledore assured hastily, "no, certainly not. He thought it was just a tattoo until I told him about it. He doesn't know how he got it."

"How long do you suppose it will be until he's back to normal?"

The twinkle in the Headmaster's eyes was nowhere in evidence. "Perhaps a week. Perhaps when a counter potion or spell is discovered. Perhaps not ever. We don't know how this happened or whether or not it's permanent."

Poppy Pomphrey was checking her potions inventory when a bloodcurling scream interrupted her work. Jumping to her feet, she ran to the infirmary proper, where Severus was thrashing back and forth on his bed. Hurrying to his side, she rested a cool hand on his burning forehead. Fever dreams, she diagnosed. The chances of waking him were pretty slim, but she tried anyway. "Severus, wake up," she told him, sharply and loudly, shaking his shoulder.

To her surprise, his eyes snapped open. They turned to her, wide and terrified. "It's alright, child," she said softly and gently, running a hand along his sweat dampened black hair. "It was a dream."

He shook his head. "It wasn't. I know where I got the tattoo, now."

The tattoo. The Dark Mark. "Oh, child," she sat on the edge of his bed and gathered him in her arms. He held on as though she were all that stood between him and the abyss. She felt him shaking even through her robes and his. "Do you want to talk about it?" He shook his head without pulling away. She sat there and rocked him until the trembling subsided and disentangled himself from her.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"Whatever for, child?"

"Crying. Father said never to do that."

She brushed gently at a wet track on his cheek. "Severus, you have every reason in the world to cry. It's perfectly all right."

He shrugged, not believing her. "It's weak."

She sighed, knowing the argument could only end in stalemate. "Can you talk about what you remembered?"

He looked at her quickly, eyes betraying a haunted terror.

"You don't have to if you don't feel comfortable yet," she hastened to assure him.

The look in his eyes did not lessen. "I woke up lying in a puddle of mud and water and something sticky. Blood, I think. It was dark and we were outside. There were a bunch of grown-ups surrounding me. More than six, but less than fifteen, I think. They were standing in a circle around me. There was another grown-up in the middle with me, but he was different. He wasn't wearing the same dark robes and wearing the same blank mask as the ones in the circle. He didn't look very human. White skin and red eyes and all twisted looking. He asked how old I was. I told him 'twelve' and he laughed. So did the grown-ups in the circle, but they didn't sound as happy as he did.

"I asked who he was, but he ignored it. He asked my name, and I told him 'Severus Snape.' He laughed again. He asked who my master was, and I said I didn't know what he meant. That made him mad. He grabbed my left arm and looked at it. It didn't have the tattoo then. He got madder. He told me to kneel or he'd kill me, so I kneeled. He meant it, too.

He said something about an initiation, but he was squeezing my wrist so hard, that it was all I could do not to show that it hurt. I didn't really hear most of what he said until he let go by pushing me face first into the mud. He told me to stand, so I did. He asked who my master was again, then told me to say 'You, my Lord.' Then he repeated the question again. So I said 'You, my Lord.' It would've been a real bad idea to cross him. He would've killed me, I know it.

"He smiled at my answer, and I felt cold. He took my left arm again and pressed his wand against it. He said a spell, and then my arm hurt like it was going to fall off. I think I screamed. Next I knew, I was lying in the mud again. He told me kneel, so I kneeled. My arm was bleeding, so I unrolled the sleeve, which was way too big for me, and pressed it against the wound. This made him mad again.

"He grabbed me up by the front of my robes and lifted me clear off the groud. For such a twisted man, he sure was strong. I held onto his wrists to keep from choking. He seemed to find this amusing, so he lowered me back to my feet. Half afraid of another attack, I didn't let go of his wrist. He smiled again only it was scarier than any glare I've ever seen. He put a hand on my shoulder like a proud teacher would. Again, he asked who my master was.

"I'm a quick learner. I said 'You, my Lord,' right off, and even sounded like I meant it. He sort of chuckled. I let him pull me into a loose hug. My aunts do that all the time and it's easier just to give in and pretend to like it or they get all offended and you end up grounded for not being a proper young host. But where my aunts are more overly and disgustingly affectionate, he was, I guess, possessive. Like how you'd hold your cat if someone else was trying to steal it.

"He told me I was his now. He told me I had an important message to deliver. And then he hit me with the Cruciatus curse, and the next I knew I woke up in here." He looked up from the bedclothes he had been intently studying since his second word. "I don't understand."

He looked much calmer now that he had told his story, but he was still pale. Carefully, Poppy asked, "What don't you understand?"

"If I'm supposed to be his, why did he send me to Dumbledore? That's who he's afraid will steal me, I'm sure of it."

"I'm afraid he's who you were to give the message to."

The boy's confusion only increased. "That's the other thing. He never told me what I was supposed to tell or to who."

Poppy smiled sadly. "You are the message. It was received loud and clear. You-Know-Who does not take well to spies and turncoats. I suspect he'll try to win you for good this time around."

"Why me? Why are they fighting over me?"

"Because you're an important player on the board."

He shook his head. "But I'm just Severus. Just Severus."

Poppy took his hand in both of hers. "Severus, in your previous incarnation, you went to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named voluntarily. Then you swtiched sides and came to Dumbledore. You played a pivotal role as a spy within You-Know-Who's ranks, bringing back critical information and helping where you could without jeopardizing your cover. A hero, if you will, though your older self never believed that. Apparently, You-Know-Who finally learned of your treachery. As a matter of pride, I suppose, he's going to try to win you back and for good."

"And he'll kill me if I give any indication I'm not a hundred percent his."

"I fear so."

The boy looked into the middle distance, looking far older than twelve, but still much less than forty. Then he focused on her again with an intensity she found disturbing. "I don't like being controlled. Voldemort's going down. I'll spy again."

"Child, you're only twelve now."

He pulled away from her attempted touch. "I'm Severus Snape. I did it before. And, frankly, unless I really become his, I don't have a choice." He touched his bandaged left arm. "He's already claimed me."

Poppy could only look at him sorrowfully and nod. "Shall I call down the Headmaster?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

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