Happy Days in Hell
Category: Drama/Angst, Friendship/Family later
Pairing(s): none that I'm aware of
Spoilers: written pre-OotP, so from the first four books only, AU as for the other books, though certain aspects of OotP were included into the later parts
Beta: Ty Rose – she morphed this awkwardly worded, limping text into a real story, many-many thanks to her!
Author's notes: this is a re-edited version of my story written way before OotP came out, so in a way it is extremely AU. My beta and I are currently working on its text to morph it into an enjoyable read, and in the beginning of every chapter, I will note if it is already re-edited. The non-edited chapters can be still awkward and grammatically problematic, but I hope by the end of this fall, the editing process will be done.
Chapter 1 - The Bastards' Game
It was too quiet.
Great walls of stone loomed over the grounds, dark windows presiding over the woods like austere sentinels. A tall black gate stood ominously like a stark nightmare against worn stone…Nightmare Manor oozed a malevolent aura that crept bone-deep to anyone who suffered the misfortune of standing in its shadow. The very air crackled forebodingly. Every tree that dotted the grounds was twisted and scarred with Dark Magic; sinister shadows ran between them like nebulous pools of ink.
Or like black pools of blood, Severus reflected.
He eyed the gate darkly. He mused, not for the first time, that those gates could have been made from dementors; to be welcomed through, he thought despondently, you had to forfeit your soul.
Surprise had washed over Severus when he had Apparated before the gates to the Dark Lord's nearly-empty circle. Despite having to leave the Hogwarts' Anti-Apparition Wards before Disapparating, he was one of the first Death Eaters to arrive that afternoon.
Avery and Rome were already in place. Rome, a young man from France, was a new disciple of what he liked to call the 'Dark Arts.' Severus sneered; all of their soulless terrorising and massacring was leagues away from anything that could ever be considered 'Art.' He had never thought of Dark Magic as Art – not even in the very beginning, when he was still foolishly idealistic and much less sensible… if there had ever really been a beginning to this madness. From his early childhood, Dark Magic had been a constant in his life; like most of his family, he had been drawn almost irresistibly to the darker side of magic. The Snapes were well-known revellers in Dark Magic. All save Quietus, who… No. His heart gave a painful squeeze, and only long practice kept his breathing steady. He did not want to think of him. Not here. Not now.
Suddenly, he heard a couple of cracks and spotted the cloaks of other Death Eaters among the trees populating the forest adjacent Nightmare Manor. A Death Eater with white-blond hair arrived, and sidled up to him. Severus gave the man a curt nod, and Malfoy inclined his head in return.
He needed to figure out why he had been summoned again so soon; only yesterday evening he had received the list of the potions he had to prepare for the coming weeks. This meeting had to be apropos of something darker and more horrible than the usual tormenting brews. He suppressed a shudder.
A triple 'Crack!' added three more servants to their number. He recognized Nott and Goyle, but the third man was a mystery to him. Severus hadn't noted the man's broad but short build in the inner circle before. The Death Eaters shifted uneasily as they waited for their Lord; Severus has little doubt that the Manor's ominous presentation was not only for prisoners' benefit.
Being a Death Eater meant that he never knew where he would Apparate to when the Dark Mark burned. When he felt the summoning, he would Disapparate and appear where the Dark Lord directed, destination unknown; this safeguarded the Dark Lord against the occasional spies among his followers, for the position of the meeting points could not be passed on to authorities – the Ministry or Dumbledore. This afternoon the meeting point was Nightmare Manor, one of Voldemort's most hidden domiciles…
And his most terrifying.
Severus did not know where Nightmare Manor was situated, although he had been here on many occasions. Over the last fourteen years, both he and Dumbledore had searched for the Manor desperately…and unsuccessfully. Nightmare Manor was and had been the Dark Lord's main prison. All of the enemies he did not want to kill immediately were brought here for his sadistic entertainment.
Severus was sure that after the infant Potter had defeated the Dark Lord fourteen years ago, many people had died in Nightmare Manor, even without the Death Eaters' tender mercies; prisoners had been left behind because nobody was able to find the place.
The place of fear, pain, screaming, crying, trembling and dying. The place of humanity's most dreadful tortures.
He hated this place. He hated it from the bottom of his heart, hated it more than any other place. He loathed it more than the ministry's dungeons – the place of the 'Light' tormenting – abhorred it more than... but he stopped himself. Those were dangerous waters.
All in all, this summoning probably meant that the meeting would be for the Dark Lord's entertainment, and Severus hoped vehemently that he would be able to slip away before it began. He would rather adopt the Potter brat than torment yet another unfortunate soul. He detested these occasions; they were repugnant and disgusting, and left him feeling irredeemably contaminated. Fortunately, he was not usually compelled to participate. The Dark Lord valued his ability to spy on Dumbledore over his apparent penchant for torture, and Severus was all too glad to let the Dark Lord believe that if Dumbledore cast Priori Incantatem on his wand, a plethora of torturing spells would give away his true allegiances.
Still, there were times when the Dark Lord compelled him to join to these "games." Voldemort occasionally tested his followers' loyalty through torture… torture of a more innocent victim, or of his followers themselves. Severus's loyalty, however, had been already tested (he did not allow himself to remember thattest), so today, most likely, he would have to face an important enemy of the dark side. But who could be so important for the Dark Lord to summon all of his most trusted? He had to warn Dumbledore as soon as he could get back to Hogwarts.
Severus idly kept track of his comrades as they arrived – it was soon apparent that the Dark Lord's inner circle had grown. There were more than a handful of people he did not recognise. In another ten minutes, silent save for the uneasy rustling of thick, black robes, the full inner circle was present. Everybody stood in their place waiting for the Dark Lord to invite them into the Manor. Letting his gaze sweep across the gathered Death Eaters, Severus could not imagine any enemy so important. Perhaps Dumbledore? But that was impossible. When he had left Hogwarts, Dumbledore had been there still, unharmed. Who else then? The idiot Fudge? Or some important Auror? Moody perhaps?
Oh, that would be fun. He would indeed be able to cast a couple of nasty spells on the man. He bared his teeth behind his mask, just thinking of what Moody had done to him: the Ministry's trials; Moody's 'Light Arts' torture sessions; the forced Veritaserum; the Tormenta curse (the Light version of Cruciatus – forgivable, but cast by an experienced hand, no better than its Unforgivable twin, the Cruciatus Curse) thrown on him again and again and again because he had not been a man, just a filthy Death Eater… Those days and nights when he was denied sleep in an effort to break him––and after that, the six months in Azkaban… Six! It had felt like a lifetime. He had not been able to feel anything since then. Nothing. His feelings had left him there, perhaps forever. And it was all Moody's doing. The old, paranoid bastard. He shuddered inwardly. If the new prisoner was indeed Moody, he would not show mercy. No. Never.
When he had seen the man last September limping into the Great Hall, he had felt sick. For Albus to be so heartless as to allow the Auror into the same building as him!
He forced down another shudder. Well, in the end, it had turned out to be Barty and not the old bastard. Yes, bastard too, but not old. A young and dark-versioned bastard, now worse than dead. Kissed by a Dementor. Ugly way to die.
Bastards: he was now waiting for the Greatest Bastard of the present world to introduce his new captive to his loyal servants… bastard-servants.
Yes, he was a bastard too. Everybody on this bloody earth was a bastard, except for Dumbledore.
He bullied his brain back to the present, trying and failing to identify the Death Eaters who had arrived last. So, let the Bastards' Game begin!
At that moment, Voldemort stepped through the gates of the Manor and approached his patiently waiting servants.
"Come. Join me in the Main Hall," he purred sibilantly. Even kept low, his voice carried over the waiting crowd. "Our esteemed guest is waiting!"
Something in the air was so cold... Severus pulled his cloak tighter around himself, and let a shiver escape. The towering, black gates of the Manor were like an enormous mouth opened wide, swallowing everything and everyone entering them. Severus wanted to be at the castle. Or at home. Or anywhere but here.
Their expressionless masks flickered in the torchlight as they finally entered the Main Hall.
In the centre of the immense room was a child. Quite a small child at that, with thin, messy dark hair, and round glasses.
Severus almost froze in the doorway.
No. Not a child. Not again. It was different to torture a child in classes, with words, sarcasm, detentions, taking off house points. But physical torture made his stomach churn in unease, and he had to struggle against memories assaulting his mind.
He realised in an instant that all the others were already standing in a semi-circle around the boy; he was the only one missing, still rooted on the spot. He sighed deeply and approached the circle with steadied steps. As he slid into his place, the boy lifted his head.
Snape froze again.
No. It could not be true!
The boy was Harry Potter.
Damn it! Damn it, damn it…What the hell was the boy doing here? He should be at home, tucked away with his family watching the telly, or playing idiot games with his friends, or anything but this. He stared at the brat in total disbelief, disjointed thoughts racing through his mind.
He wanted to wake up in his dungeons to a glass of brandy. Or Firewhisky. A glass? No, not enough. He would drink the whole bottle!
But his body did not want to wake.
For an instant, he thought the boy recognised him, as their eyes locked. But after a moment, the boy turned his face to Voldemort.
He did not understand what happened. The boy had been captured by the Dark Lord or by his Death Eaters, that was clear. But how? When? How could Dumbledore be unaware?
And what could he do? How could he help the boy to escape? Nightmare Manor was protected by Anti-Apparition wards, just like Hogwarts. He could not simply grab the boy and Disapparate. It was impossible. Still, he had to save the sorry life of this foolish child who managed to get mixed up – again – in an impossible situation.
He choked on a sigh. Whatever he did, his days as a spy would be over. This thought caused a sudden, great relief. He felt free. But what could he do with this newly found freedom, trapped in this damned nightmare? There was no hope for them.
Perhaps he would let the boy be tortured and killed. If he tried to solve this mess, they would simply die together. If he did nothing, he could retain his role and help the Light Side and Dumbledore.
He felt the muscles of his jaw twitch, and forced himself to take a slow, calming breath.
Then again, he could not believe there would be any hope for the Light Side if Potter died. No, Severus grimaced inwardly, Potter must live. There was Lily, and his oath to her... and to Quietus's name. That meant he had to help the little bastard. Yes. Potter was a bastard too, because he got himself involved in this damned, bloody situation. It had been hard enough to keep up the façade of a loyal Death Eater without troubling his conscience too much, and now... But that line of thoughts was useless. He had to find a way out. His eyes began to roam over the Hall: the doors, the windows.
There was no escape.
He knew the building quite well; he even had a basic lab there, not in the dungeons but on the third floor––here the dungeons were the prison.
The prison. The most horrible prison in the world – or at least one of them. Cells and chambers of endless pain. He knew them. He knew what an imprisoned person looked like after some weeks spent in there. Life in this prison was like an extended Cruciatus; if the Dark Lord wanted to torment somebody for months, he could. He did. He liked breaking people before killing them and gave no thought to time. The Dark Lord always seemed to have lots of time.
But how could he rescue Potter from this damned building?
Severus's mind snapped back to the Circle when he realised that Voldemort was speaking.
"Welcome, my most loyal servants, on this auspicious day." The Dark Lord happy struck fear into the most stoic heart; now, he was ecstatic. His voice was laced with naked triumph. "We are joined today by a most honoured guest: Harry Potter." The words sounded like poison dripping from Voldemort's tongue. Severus clenched his jaw shut. A murmur rose through the gathered Death Eaters, and those who had not recognised the celebrity in their midst strained to get a better look. The Dark Lord's missive seemed like permission to gawk at the boy.
The boy's legs were bound. He could not run away as he did in the graveyard a month ago when he had escaped the Dark Lord after his 'resurrection.' His wand was missing, too. It looked like the boy's infernal luck had finally run out.
Snape was grudgingly impressed with the boy, despite his initial shock; he did not see mindless terror in the boy's eyes. He did not see panic. Potter was just standing there, like a lamb waiting to be slaughtered, accepting whatever his future held. Potter's eyes, locked on his again, betrayed only the smallest hint of fear.
Resignation, There was only resignation in those green eyes… nothing more. Resignation like in those black eyes... Just resignation.
It was the same expression. But how? How could this pair of green eyes feel identical to that pair of black? Their expressions were identical.
The boy just felt resignation.
The resemblance... standing in this dark circle without terror, looking at him with pain caused not by torture but by disappointment... and Snape wanted to scream as he remembered somebody else.
A boy standing in the very same place, in the centre of the circle without terror or weakness. Just in pain... like it was so long ago... but it was so clear... those black eyes... He could never forget them.
But the Greatest Bastard was still speaking.
"You have three rounds of fun with him. After that, I will kill him. I, alone. Be careful with my prize," said the Dark Lord, smirking in satisfaction.
'Three rounds. It is at least two hours as I know them,' Snape thought. He saw Voldemort drawing back to sit on his dark throne-like chair.
"Let the show begin!" he called to his Death Eaters.
And the show began.
Outwardly calm, Severus felt his pulse quicken. Beads of sweat burst onto his brow. He desperately needed to find a way to save the boy, but as the minutes flew by, he only grew more and more tense. There was no way out. The windows were too high, the building was guarded by Anti-Apparation wards, if they wanted to escape, they should get out of the building and the specially guarded gates. Impossible. He could not do that alone, not to mention with Potter. And there were too many of his ex-colleagues. And he had no emergency portkey, Voldemort's wards recognised portkeys, and to bring such a device to a Death Eater meeting meant death. The boy would die, and with any attempted rescue, he would die too. The temptation came again: he could let the boy die. He had no other real choice anyway; the boy would be killed regardless. Why should he be exposed and killed for naught? Dumbledore and the Order needed him.
Frustration lanced through him. They needed the boy as well. And he took an oath to that damned girl!
He wouldn't have believed real life could be worse than the nightmares he had had to face almost every night for the last two decades, yet here he was, living a nightmare worse than any he had dreamed.
His eyes burned as shining rivulets of salt slid down his brow. He tried to squash his impulse to blink furiously. It wasn't the first time he'd found himself grateful for this bloody mask. He was almost shaking as he watched the show. Many shouts in Latin: Seco! Frango! Contundo! Flagello! Diffringo! Uro! Glee on one end of the wand, suffering on the other.
Potter screamed, and writhed, and jerked, and shrieked, and winced. He had only short respites between torments, where one finished and another began. His pain-filled voice seemed to echo through the entire building. This was just the first round... and there would be the second, the round of physical abuse. The thought made Snape sick.
His turn was near. His turn to torture the brat he had hated for years, the brat he had humiliated, ridiculed and shamed before his mates. The brat he had tried to get expelled in every way.
The boy he had protected without thinking, the boy he had helped to survive every year in that damned school simply because he was the boy he had sworn to care for. It perhaps hadn't been the most willingly given care, but it was the best care he could afford.
When his turn arrived, he realised he was petrified, unable to lift his wand, to speak, to open his mouth. Unable to move. To breathe.
The boy lay on the floor bleeding. Suffering. Still, he did not beg. He did not plead for mercy. He seemed exhausted, but he was not broken. Severus realized, quite against his will, that he felt respect for the boy. At first, he had been sure that Potter would be easy to break. He was just a fifteen year old boy, wasn't he? Boys of that age were expected to break, to give up, weren't they? And yet, Potter was not broken. At least not yet. And his gaze…The Potions Master shuddered. This gaze was again too familiar. He had seen that gaze years before... He had to get a grip on his emotions before tears betrayed him.
What was he supposed to do now? He desperately needed time. If he really intended to figure out something, he had to curse Potter. Immediately.
Snape turned his head away from the boy, and whispered a "Tormento" pointing his wand at the boy.
"Light curses," Voldemort laughed, the genuine mirth looking foreign on his face. The Dark Lord nodded his approval in Severus's direction. "Let's show Mr Potter what the Light Side's Torment Sessions feel like!"
Severus felt a rush of self-loathing. His feelings of shame and regret almost suffocated him.
The screams of the boy filled the Hall, again and again. No, he would not do this for the second round. Could not. Impossible.
He knew precisely what kind of pain racked the boy's body.
As he lowered his wand, the screaming stopped. He turned his head back to the boy, and their gazes locked again. And the damned brat nodded.
Severus's heart sank. Now, he was absolutely sure the boy had recognised him. He felt his gorge rise at this realisation; he felt dizzy and nauseous. Without knowing why, he did not want the brat to die thinking that Severus had betrayed him. At some point during the torment and screaming his hatred had dissipated.
He, too, wanted to scream aloud as the torture went on.
The second round... whips and kicks and fists…. After the first ten Death Eaters had played their game, the boy was barely recognisable. Bruises, wounds, blood, broken bones - only the green gaze locked into his black after every turn showed him that the boy was still conscious, still alive. Why did Potter suffer the same as that black-eyed boy so long ago? Why?
Why did the boy look into his eyes again and again? He was not pleading for mercy, for pity, for care. But his eyes always returned to Severus's.
Everything in Severus was screaming for this whole Bastard's Game to end. He wanted to go home, to lock himself into his rooms and drink whisky until he passed out, and to sleep, and sleep, and not to wake up ever again. Ever.
He wanted to run away. But... but.
What would he say to Dumbledore? How could he enter his office to tell the Headmaster the truth? 'Sorry, but Potter died, and I tormented him before it, though I used only forgivable, light-sided curses, like Tormenta'?
How could he continue his life if he participated in this torture – in killing children, again? How could he teach other children? He had always been terrible – an insufferable, mean git, and a real monster – but at least human. If Potter died with his active assistance, and without a real effort from him to help, he would be thousand times less than the lowest creature. How could he teach Weasley and Granger? How could he ever look them in the eyes? And what would the broken oath do to him? Would he be able to sleep afterwards? To eat? To breathe? To think?
A sharp CRACK! rent the air, mingled with a strangled sob. He wondered that Potter had anything left to break, even as he struggled not to turn away from him.
He could never escape from his past. Almost twenty years were not enough to repent for what he had done before. If he let Potter be killed now, he would never be able to survive. He was sure.
It was his turn again. The brat, the insufferable, damned brat was again searching for his gaze, even though his eyes were so blackened and swollen Severus was not sure Potter was able to see through them.
He lowered his head and took a tiny bottle out of his pocket. Fortunately, he was not expected to use his physical strength or some tool for physical abuse. Rather, he was expected to show them an interesting potion; for this auspicious occasion (Severus grimaced inwardly, stifling a snort), it had to be something spectacular. Like many others before, this was a show directed and enjoyed by the Dark Lord himself. The Bastards' Game. And the Dark Lord wanted to see pain.
For an instant, Severus thought he would drink the potion himself rather than giving it to Potter. It was a new and immensely painful brew. He always carried torturing potions with himself for occasions like this. He had never meant the boy to suffer by his hand, but he needed the time this potion could afford him.
He stepped to the boy, kneeled, and opened Potter's mouth with his left hand. With his right, he hastily poured the contents of the vial into the boy's mouth, forced him to swallow, and stepped back into his place in the circle.
For a moment, there was deep silence. The next instant, the boy's eyes widened at the extreme new level of pain and he began to scream so loudly that even the most indomitable Death Eaters had the urge to cover their ears.
The Bone Game Potion. In that moment Severus loathed himself more than ever before – and he had loathed himself deeply for quite a while.
The Bone Game Potion was a perfect part of the Bastard's Game. It crushed all of the victim's bones into tiny pieces, causing insufferable pain with every little movement –like breathing– and afterwards, returned them to their normal state with the pain of an especially painful and rapid Skele-Gro Potion. It didn't cause any irreparable harm, but it was as painful as the Cruciatus.
Severus Snape did know. He had tested it himself.
The boy would never trust him again, not that there would be time to forgive and forget, or for apologies. Potter would die. And he, Severus Nobilus Snape, would die with him. He saw no way out, however attentively he waited for a moment of slackness in the Dark Lord's and the others' guard. As the screaming halted in the hall, the boy's eyes remained firmly shut. Only the shallow rise and fall of his chest showed he was still alive.
"Wonderful, Professor, I am amazed!" The Dark Lord's eyes glittered like a hungry snake presented with a fat rodent. "I can't believe your imagination is still so fresh after those years you spent with that Muggle-loving old fool."
For a short instant, Severus was sure he would point his wand at the bastard and kill him immediately, but before he could move his hand towards his belt, the show went on. He ignored the calculating looks that a few of the circle tried to pierce him with.
The third round arrived… and Severus still did not know how to save the torn child from the situation.
While he tried to plan the boy's escape, he still had to think about another curse for the tormenting session. The Dark Lord would punish him with a well-pronounced Cruciatus if he used the same curse again. But what could he use? Perhaps the Knife Curse? It was excruciating, but its effects were short-lived. Ten seconds, little more. Twenty, at the very most.
As the last cry that was ripped from the boy faded to dry sobs, it was Severus's turn again.
"Culter," he said turning his gaze again from the boy, trying and failing to keep his wand steady.
The screaming was shriller and fiercer than before. It lasted for almost a minute. But how? Severus attempted to stop the curse but the screaming did not stop. Finally he recalled that the Knife Curse together with the Bone-breaking Curse Nott had used interacted to cause hours of serious after-effects. Shame crawled through his veins like acid. Some qualified wizard he was! Guilt felt as if it was eating his insides.
"Severus! You are really excellent today," he heard the Dark Lord's words through the agonized screeching. "Better than ever before."
He nodded as he stared at the small, writhing body in front of him.
Abruptly, the boy's voice quieted. Potter did not move.
'Oh, no,' whispered Snape, as the next Death Eater lifted his wand.
"Stop!" Voldemort hissed. "I want to kill him," He glided to his feet and stepped forward.
In that moment, Severus was absolutely desperate. Voldemort would kill the boy, he knew, and he just could not stand idly by let him. A last glance confirmed there was no way to flee, so only one option remained. He prepared himself.
The Dark Lord stood over to the lifeless body and with a kick turned Potter onto his back.
"Ennervate," he pointed his wand to the boy.
Potter did not move. Snape froze. Did he kill Potter? Impossible. The oath would surely kill him, then.
"I know that you are conscious, Harry," Voldemort said in a cold, ruthless voice. "And I want to talk with you before I kill you."
The boy opened his eyes. Snape felt a momentary relief. Potter was alive!
"But I do not want to listen to you, Tom. I don't care what you want to say. Kill me, and finish this show."
Severus could hardly hear the boy's words. Potter's voice was totally hoarse after two hours of screaming. It was weak. But he was not!
"As you wish," Voldemort smirked, and lifted his wand. Now! Snape thought.
"Avada Kedavra!" he roared, pointing his wand at the Dark Lord, and charging over to the boy to help him up as fast as he could.
But the curse was blocked by the Dark Lord, and the next moment Snape lay on the floor, Stupefied by his ex-fellows.
"Professor Snape! What an expected surprise!' the Dark Lord smirked viciously with an inhuman twinkle in his eyes. "Finally, I have found the leak––you, as I suspected. Didn't I, Lucius?"
One of the Death Eaters nodded, and Voldemort went on.
"I suspected it was you––you, faithful servant of the mudblood-lover Dumbledore, the short-sighted follower of the Light Side, despite a little torture by the Aurors and six months in Azkaban… I can't understand it," the Dark Lord cocked his head to one side, and lifted his gaze in thought. "You were always so strong; and yet, you betrayed me. Today, for a short time, I believed I had been wrong. Those curses! That potion! Have you enjoyed them, Potter?" he turned his eyes to the boy.
Potter did not seem to hear the Dark Lord's words and as the Potions Master looked at the boy, their gazes locked. The man felt a sudden urge to say something to the boy before dying. He reached his hand to his face and slid off his mask. They stared at each other without a sound besides the boy's harsh breathing for a long moment. Severus heard the Dark Lord's words but didn't try to understand them.
He just watched the boy whose eyes shone with pain.
The boy would die. And he would die alongside with Potter, with The-Boy-He-Hated-For-Long-Years. Now, he couldn't understand his previous feelings. Why had he hated Potter, how could he hate this boy? How could he be such a stubborn, bloody idiot and hate this boy just because of some stolid pranks his father and his mates played ages ago? His dead father. Who had saved his, Severus's, life, at that. Well, that had been a self-serving action too, but regardless, James Potter had saved his life. How could he be so blinded by prejudice? He was lost in his own unanswered questions.
He was staring at the boy – the torn, dying boy – and felt ashamed. Tormenting curses… Bone Game Potion... and he could still see no hate burning in Potter's eyes. The boy seemed to accept Severus as he accepted his fate… his impending death.
Severus could not help but reach out his hand and carefully stroke the boy's face.
"Sorry…" he said.
Harry closed his eyes for a moment.
"Thank you," he muttered.
Thin cords shot from the Dark Lord's wand, and the next moment Snape was bound beneath a glare that could have stripped flesh from bone.
"Severus, your time is over. It is your turn again, Mr. Potter," the Dark Lord said and bit out another command. "Erecto."
The next moment Harry stood on his feet, albeit dizzily, face-to-face with Voldemort.
Snape just stared at the boy who was standing calmly in front of his enemy. Voldemort's face was a mask of rage as he examined the young man standing before him without terror, grovelling, or pleading for mercy. Without showing weakness!
Yes, the boy was not broken. He may have been tortured, but his soul had remained his own as he had accepted the fact that he was going to die.
Snape, again, felt ashamed. The boy was very brave. As brave as his father had been. As brave as that black-eyed boy, who had stood in the very same place. Braver than he had ever been at Potter's age.
"Kill me now, Tom" Potter said suddenly in a stern, but quiet voice. "You can finally finish the job you failed fourteen years ago. Now, there isn't any weak muggleborn woman to stop you."
Silence fell in the hall. The wrath of the Dark Lord became almost tangible in the air, but the boy did not seem to care.
Then Voldemort suddenly calmed himself. Severus's mouth went dry and he fought the urge to cringe. An evil grin stretched across the Dark Lord's face.
"Very brave, Mr. Potter. Very Gryffindor of you. But I've… reconsidered. I won't kill you. Not now, at least. No, I find myself taken with another idea; I have another way for you to die. A protracted death. I have time. I'll wait for you to beg. Or... perhaps I will give you another choice, the choice to live and serve me. I'll give you the time and the chance to think about it. And naturally I will... help you in to reach the right decision…in my own way."
"I will never trade my soul, Tom," Potter answered firmly. But Voldemort did not seem fazed.
"We'll see, Mr. Potter," he turned around abruptly to glare at Snape. "And what shall I do with you, my dear professor? If I remember correctly, you are not as brave as this young man next to you, are you? So what about joining him for a while? Two or three weeks, perhaps? It depends on... ah, but I won't spoil the surprise for dear Mr. Potter. Perhaps you can show the boy the real wisdom of giving up."
Snape's eyes widened.
"Precisely, Professor. And" he lifted his gaze to his followers "I think we can begin, but be careful! Do not to kill them. Not until I give you permission," Voldemort smirked and turned away in a cloud of robes, leaving the room.
Eyes sharpened and shone with a fervid light behind blank masks - the hall was instantly full of predators, all fixated on their cornered prey. The circle of Death Eaters tightened around them. The boy collapsed next to Severus as the Erecto spell faded, but he was bound too tightly to catch Potter. Lying with the boy in a heap on the floor, Snape knew this was only the beginning.
When the bindings were removed, he checked Potter. The boy was unconscious again. This would be his turn then. Probably longer and more vicious than the boy's had been. He was a traitor, after all.
Unfortunately, it took a full hour and a half to lose consciousness. His erstwhile comrades made sure of it.
"Vernon, the boy hasn't arrived yet!" Petunia screeched nervously at her husband.
They were watching the telly after dinner.
"Ummm..." Vernon muttered, his eyes fixed on the screen.
"Vernon!" Petunia repeated.
"Well... what am I supposed to do then? He will be back by midnight, I am sure. He is just ashamed," Vernon responded calmly. "Or his freak friends took him away again. Fortunately. Oh, look at that dog!" he pointed abruptly at the screen. "It's just like Marge's!"
Petunia shuddered. She hated animals, especially Marge's ugly old brute. And she was worried.
"Vernon, every time they took him they informed us... somehow. But today... It's already close to midnight and..."
"And...?" colour rose in Vernon's neck as frustration crept through his multiple chins. He was not interested in the boy's ruddy disappearance. "If he wanted to go away, good riddance. And I want to watch the movie."
"But we are his guardians, Vernon. If anything happens to him, they'll come to us!" she cried the last word loudly.
Vernon jerked, and sighed, stroking crumbs off of his belly.
"Right. But I don't want to look for him all over the city. You can do that if you want, but I won't!"
"I think we should call the police," Petunia whispered.
"Oh! A good idea!" said Vernon with a malicious grin. "I hope if they find him, they'll keep him for a couple of days, don't you think?"
"I don't know," she answered hesitantly.
"What's the matter?" Vernon asked suddenly as he noticed Petunia's vacillating tone.
"I don't know," she repeated, but after a while she added. "I have a very strange feeling. A very bad feeling, rather... I've felt it once, long ago..."
Vernon stared at her. Petunia was quite agitated. Her hands were shaking, her face pale.
"What... are you all right?" Vernon asked reluctantly.
Petunia shook her head.
"No, something bad has happened. Something like the day I first went to the cinema with you..."
Vernon cleared his throat, but his voice trembled as he managed to speak.
"Do you... do you think that...?"
Silence fell in the room. They stared at each other in horror. Finally, Vernon stood up.
"I will call the police. Now."