Severus gently propped up the obliviated and unconscious Potter in his chair, making sure he would not fall over. He could not afford even a bruise on the boy, now.

For as long as he is underage.

He dispelled that ominous thought from his mind. That was a problem for his Self of the future. Right now, it was a question whether he would have a future at all.

At least the damned eyes were closed now, that made it much more bearable. Like this, it was just bloody Potter, the bane of his existence.

He took a deep breath before finally turning to meet his colleague's eyes. The shock that undoubtedly Minerva had suffered had already given way to anger, as it was to be expected. She didn't seem to have found words to express it yet, however.

"It had to be done," he said before she could start yelling.

When Minerva McGonagall's nostrils flared, for a moment Severus felt fifteen-years old again. It was annoying that she could still sometimes make him feel like an errant teenager after so many years.

"It certainly did not have to be done!" she screamed. "How could you, Severus?!"

"We had agreed that Potter would be obliviated if we didn't manage to do anything tonight," he reminded her, making a conscious effort not to flinch nor step back, "so it's not like you have an issue with obliviating a fourteen-year-old."

"You did manage to swear something!" she argued furiously. "And now you have messed it up!"

"I did not. You know full well that once an Unbreakable Vow is sealed, there is no way to undo it until it is fulfilled. The Vow took, and it's still in place. Potter doesn't need to know."

"And how in Merlin's name do you intend to fulfil your Vow without him knowing?"

"I'll figure it out," he said dismissively.

"You should have told me that you meant to do this!"

"I did not mean to!" exclaimed Severus angrily. "I did not know what the hell I would be able to swear, if anything! If I had managed to swear what I intended, obliviating the brat would not have been an option, since I would have had to train and advise him directly. But you heard what I swore. There is a chance that I will be able to fulfil the clauses without anyone suspecting I'm helping Potter, and I would very much prefer that."

"You're being an idiot! It would not be the end of the world if someone knew that you care about Potter!"

"I do not care," he sneered. "But it might have grave consequences if someone suspected such a thing. It is you who are not thinking straight, Minerva. What do you think it would happen if Dumbledore found out what I did? He's a judge! He not only would be really cross that I risked his life without consulting him, he might do something to make sure I can't fulfil my Vow, in which case both Potter and I would die. And that without mentioning the Dark Lord!"

"What on earth has You-Know-Who to do with this?"

"Everything, obviously," he drawled. "Who do you think entered Potter in the Tournament? He's coming back, or already back, and watching. And on Dumbledore's orders I will have to resume my role as spy as soon as he summons me, so I would very much rather he doesn't hear that I have sworn to keep Harry Potter healthy."

That threw her off. She was now more frightened than angry, which Severus considered worked on his favour.

"I was prepared to face all those risks if I managed to swear a proper Vow," he continued, "but as it is, I will try to keep my cover —both my covers— if possible."

"That still doesn't explain why you obliviated Harry," she charged again. "You could have simply sworn him to secrecy."

Severus snorted.

"Oh please! Potter doesn't know how to keep a secret, he tells his little friends everything. Besides he's a terrible liar and a hopeless actor, and his mind is wide open for anyone to access it. The less he knows, the better."

"I disagree. He will hardly listen to your words or trust anything you give him or anything you do around him if he doesn't remember this night."

Severus took a deep breath. That was actually a good point, of course. But still.

"I don't think it matters much," he said evasively, "since probably the both of us will die tomorrow. Even if that lousy Vow allows me to do anything, the Goblet might still kill Potter as soon as I try to actively interfere, and then my Vow will kill me. If by some miracle we are alive on Wednesday, I will evaluate how to proceed and if it's necessary for me to tell the brat about this."

"Just admit that you did it because you are afraid!"

"Afraid of what?" he demanded.

"Afraid of Harry knowing that you're not a complete bastard! This night meant something to you, Severus, and that scares you. You obliviated him because you can't deal with that."

"That's absurd! We're not all weepy old women like you, Minerva, I don't wear my heart on my sleeve like a bloody Gryffindor and I certainly don't make strategic decisions based on Potter's puppy eyes. You told me to make him trust me, and I did. Now that the Vow has taken I no longer need his trust so everything can go back to how things were, death threats aside."

"You're in denial, and you're a coward!"

"Screw with this!" he roared, making his way to the fireplace. "I won't spend one more minute of my last day of life arguing with you. Deal with Potter, I'm off."

"What am I supposed to do with him?"

"The same that you would have done if we had obliviated him after not swearing anything. I erased all his memories from the last six hours or so, he will remember going to bed and then waking up and coming down for an early breakfast, at which point you accosted him to offer him a ginger cookie. You can use the occasion to remind him that he will die if he tries to run away."

Not waiting to hear her answer, Severus furiously threw a bunch of powder to the flames and flooed away.

His potentially last day of life sucked. He was exhausted, to begin with, not having slept more than two hours since Saturday and not judging wise to keep dosing himself with Pepper Ups (the potion might be essentially harmless, but anything was toxic in excess). He was also in a very ill mood, even worse than his mood of the last few weeks. If he himself admitted to being a cranky bat, then it really was a bad day.

He was still angry at Minerva —and she no doubt was still furious at him—, so he decided to completely avoid her and eat his meals in his quarters or his office. It was also wise to avoid Dumbledore and Moody, in case they suspected his bad mood or in case they said something that made Severus try to curse them. And, of course, he didn't want to cross his path with Potter just in case the brat had a nosebleed or something and Severus had to heal him to avoid dying.

That bloody Vow had a big part on his awful mood. Sure, he was pleased and relieved that he had managed to swear something, but those clauses were ludicrously deadly.

The high unspecificity —that had probably allowed him to agree to the clauses— would probably render the Vow useless against the Goblet of Fire. It was entirely likely that he had only been allowed to swear because it didn't make a difference, being so unspecific as to not be registered as an opposition to the Compulsion Charm.

As to why he handn't dropped dead immediately, perhaps the Vow was just waiting for confirmation of his inability to fulfil the clauses to kill him.

And the time limit... No, better not to think about that.

The only fortunate aspect of his day was that he didn't have the fourth year Gryffindors in class. It was too soon for him to see the normal Potter after last night, since he didn't feel much like insulting the brat right now and he had pretty much vowed to insult him all the time. It wasn't the same to do it because he enjoyed torturing him than because he would die if he didn't, he suspected the obligation would somehow take all the fun out of the hobby. With any luck —and if they didn't die tomorrow—, he would be able to go back to normal in a few days at most. Potter would find a way to annoy him in no time at all, he could count on that.

He couldn't deny that he felt a bit conflicted about the obliviation. Not that Minerva was right about anything, of course. He hadn't done it out of fear of Potter knowing (although it made him feel much better that the boy would not remember anything) but more out of fear of Dumbledore or the Dark Lord knowing. Severus definitely didn't care about the brat.

The whole thing made him feel weird, though. Last night had been an unsettling experience. All those hours kneeling with Potter, holding hands, making eye contact... At times, he had almost completely forgotten that the brat was James Potter's spawn, and his heart had done a scary thing when the boy had smiled at him right before the first try. For an instant he had been kneeling in front of Lily.

It's the damned eyes, he cursed internally, wishing he could charm them permanently brown, or black, or blue, or purple for all he cared. Anything except red.

He considered taking Dreamless Sleep that night, knowing that he would need to be well rested tomorrow if he hoped to be of any use, but in the end he rejected the idea. If this was to be his last night alive, he wanted to dream. Even if he had nightmares, as usual. It might be a bit idiotic, but in the face of such a short remaining lifetime he would welcome an extension even if it was just a brain illusion.

Also, he hoped for a last Lily dream.

"Will you, Severus Snape, provide me with a new broom every month, for as long as I am underage?" asked Potter with bright green eyes full of amusement.

In the nightmare, Severus crucio'd the brat for his insolence, and an instant later he died as a result. He woke up with a jolt.

I should have taken Dreamless Sleep, he thought punching his pillow angrily.

All too soon, Severus was standing at the edge of a huge enclosure, fear gripping his heart as he watched four handlers carefully placing a batch of eggs next to a bloody dragon.


Dumbledore had done a great job hiding them, the sneaky bastard. How long had such massive, loud creatures been in Hogwarts without Severus knowing? Of course Severus had wanted to find out what the task was about, but he hadn't had the opportunity. Attempting to tail Albus Dumbledore would have only served to ensure that Severus finally discovered how it felt to be Confunded, and he hadn't had much access to any other judge as to perform some Legilimency (he suspected the Goblet must prevent anyone from approaching the judges, in any case).


Severus immediately began mentally revising everything he remembered about such creatures and as many curses and various charms that might have some effect on them. Jumping into the enclosure (assuming that was possible) would have to be a very last resource strategy, since then his cover would be spectacularly blown up and Potter might be disqualified as a result. So, if possible, he would try to deal with the dragon from a distance and, ideally, in such a way that the external interference wasn't too obvious.

Bagman was explaining what the task was about, although Severus had already guessed. There was an egg that didn't belong in the nest, so the champions most likely would have to retrieve it. "They simply have to get past it," said Bagman cheerfully, as if approaching a nesting dragon were infinitely easier than directly killing the creature. It simplified things for Severus, however. Perhaps making it drowsy or clumsy would be enough. He wasn't sure Confundment was an option from so far away. Was it possible to imperius a creature that big? That would be an easy solution to this problem, but he wasn't confident at all he could pull it off. Probably not even the Dark Lord could imperius dragons, else he would have tried to use them as weapons during the war.

He really hoped he would be able to do something, because he had no doubt that surviving inside that enclosure for only one minute would be an impossible challenge for Potter. Probably the brat didn't know a single spell that might be useful against a dragon, and he would not have a phoenix and a magical sword to help him this time (not that those tools would be of much use in this case). Furthermore, Bagman was explaining that once a champion entered the enclosure no one would be able to get in or out until the egg was retrieved or the champion died. So it wouldn't be enough with just surviving for some time, Potter definitely needed to put his hands on the egg to ever get out of there.

I'm so dead, thought Severus grimly.

As he watched Diggory dealing with his dragon (Severus had no idea what breed it might be, but those blue flames looked as if they could burn even hotter than Fiendfyre), he tried to reach with his magic into the enclosure, but he found impossible to even mutter a spell. He very consciously forced himself not to panic. Of course he couldn't even try to interfere with Diggory's dragon, he hadn't vowed an Unbreakable Vow to him. It would have been useful to verify what sort of wards had been raised around the enclosure, though. Would he find resistance when it came Potter's turn? He could hear the dragon well enough from the stands, but he wasn't sure if the crowd could be heard from the enclosure. Dragon and champion were too busy with each other as to pay attention to anything outside. But there must be some sort of ward, at least to prevent the dragon from attacking the spectators. With any luck, the Goblet would not have judged necessary for it to be a ward against external interference when in theory nobody could even try to help.

It was hard to believe that Diggory was a Hufflepuff as the boy moved around the enclosure raising shields and dodging fire balls, and even harder when he began transfiguring rocks into animals in such a calculated way that the dragon seemed to completely forget him as it was obviously tempted to hunt them down. When at last Diggory transfigured a lamb, the creature couldn't restrain itself anymore and agilely sprang up into the air to viciously fall over the tasty prey. Diggory used the distraction to dive for the Golden egg. Unfortunately it appeared that the dragon had never really lost sight of its nest, because it changed course in mid flight and almost incinerated the Hufflepuff. The boy had already caught the egg, however, so dragon handlers were able to immediately run into the enclosure followed by a very distressed Pomona. It looked as if Diggory had lost half his face to the flames, but Severus was pretty sure that a bit of Skele-Gro and Burn-Healing salve would sort him out. That fire might look hotter than Fiendfyre, but it was just regular fire.

Severus' anxiety rose while the silver dragon was taken away, but the next champion announced was Delacour, so he somewhat relaxed. The girl's dragon was smaller and much less aggressive than Diggory's, although much louder. To everyone's surprize, Delacour disillusionated herself as soon as she walked into the enclosure. That was smart. Of course dragons could also smell their prey, but they relayed on their sight to spot threats from a distance. Being invisible, Delacour might be able to approach enough undetected and take the creature by surprize. And indeed, after a moment the dragon began slowly falling asleep. Delacour must be enchanting it from wherever she was without the dragon even noticing. The crowd was clearly disappointed with such a boring performance, but Severus thought that it was probably the most sensible way of approaching this task. Of course it had to be the girl the one to come up with it, women were often much more sensible than men. Her strategy worked nicely, although she had the bad luck of being caught by a small jet of fire that the dragon let out in its sleep. Her Disillusionment Charm failed in her panic, but she quickly put out the flames with an Aguamenti Charm, and she already had the egg, so that was it. Boring but effective.

Krum's style was much more aggressive, and definitely more to Severus' taste. He was impressed with his skill, and especially with his calm in the face of such a dangerous threat (his dragon was some sort of Chinese breed, and the largest so far). The Bulgarian didn't look afraid at any moment, although it was hard to tell what might be going on behind his scowl. Severus felt suddenly certain that he must have at least some basic training in Occlumency. He knew that Durmstrang offered an elective on mind magic. Krum proved to also have a decent enough knowledge of battle transfiguration, a natural instinct to dodge fire balls, and a wide repertoire of really nasty curses. Dragons couldn't be affected by just any cutting curse, though, and the eyes —at which Krum was obviously aiming— weren't so easy to hit from a distance. He managed eventually, however, rendering the creature painfully blind long enough for him to retrieve the Golden egg. The dragon handlers immediately ran into the enclosure and collectively stunned the beast. Severus could see them questioning Krum, probably about the curse he had used. Indeed, the dragon woke up almost immediately and continued roaring in pain until one of the handlers hit it with a countercurse. Then they all stunned it once more before moving it. It was plain that they weren't pleased about the real eggs that had been squashed as a result of Krum's strategy, nor about the pain he had caused to the dragon.

Time seemed to be moving faster and slower at the same time, now. Severus' heart was beating wildly. There was only one champion left, and his life depended on keeping him safe. Healthy, as oppose to hurt or dead. Would he be able to do something? Would he have to watch Lily's son burnt to death before he dropped dead in failure?

He saw Minerva scanning the crowd with anxious eyes, no doubt looking for him. She might still be angry, but she relied on him nonetheless. Of course, she would not find him. Severus had already once made the mistake of not disillusionating himself before attempting a long-ranged countercurse in a public event, and Potter had almost died because of that (damned Granger and her stupid blue fire!). He would not allow himself to get distracted again. Besides, it would not do for anyone to suspect him of interfering. He had a cover to maintain, and also a Vow to keep secret from even Dumbledore. With this in mind, he had also cast a notice-me-not charm around himself, hoping to deflect Moody's magical eye.

After seeing the three previous dragons, apparently matched in size and ferocity to their assigned champions, Severus was expecting —and hoping— Potter's to be smaller and tamer. So he was really shocked when he saw the creature that the handlers were positioning in the enclosure now. It was the biggest of the four, and much more dangerous-looking, with bronze horns and tail spikes. A Hungarian Horntail, realized Severus with horror. This was probably the only dragon breed that he knew by name, and also by reputation. "More vicious than Hungarian Horntail", the saying went.

The Goblet must have been interfered with so Potter would get the hardest possible challenge in every task, concluded Severus. Else he would have to reconsider his theory about the brat having Felix Felicis instead of blood running through his veins.

Even the handlers seemed scared of the Horntail, giving it a wide berth despite the creature still being soundly asleep. And they all retreated till the very edge of the enclosure before rennervating it, which was very wise since the first thing it did upon opening its frightening yellow eyes was to try to incinerate everything around it. The flames had a range of at least fifty feet, to Severus' dismay.

And he still couldn't reach the enclosure with his magic. At this point he was certain that at least sound could reach the dragons and champions from the stands, so he was confident that magic could also go through whatever wards were in place, but it was still a question whether Severus would be able to pronounce a single incantation.

Most of the students present looked excited, like the morons they were, no doubt expecting another exhibition like the previous three. There was a very different atmosphere in the staff' and judges' area, where everyone was staring at the dragon with grim expressions. Minerva seemed about to pass out, and she was already crying. Filius and Pomona looked angry. Dumbledore simply resigned. Even Bagman was having trouble keeping worry out of his face. Crouch's face was unreadable, but no doubt he was concerned too. If the famous Harry Potter died in the Triwizard Tournament, hell would break loose and half the current politicians would lose their jobs.

Finally, the next champion was announced, Bagman blew the whistle again, and a moment later Potter walked into the enclosure. Even from a distance it was obvious that the boy was shaking like a leaf, and he looked as if he were about to be sick as he stumbled forward completely ignoring the loud cheering and booing of the crowd. The dragon began thrashing the ground with its spiked tail in warning as soon as Potter appeared in its line of sight. And Severus still could do absolutely nothing.

Now he began to properly panic. He would not be able to help, and so Lily's son would die, and then Severus would die. The Vow would only serve as an insurance that he would not continue living in failure. Lily would never forgive him for allowing her son to die like this. He should have just tried to kill the brat himself last night, quick and without pain...

It was soon confirmed that Potter had no clue whatsoever as to how to fight a dragon. He didn't seem to know any shield to raise or curse to cast. At least he snapped out of his initial shock, some unnatural calmness steadying his frame, and began dodging fireballs. He had reflexes as good as Krum's, and he was faster, but that would only keep him alive for a few minutes at the most, especially if the boy tried to approach the dragon. The beast didn't seem to want to leave its nest unprotected, but it was staring at the boy with hunger in its eyes. It was said that Horntails preferred human prey over anything else.

And Severus still could do absolutely nothing.

He was going to fail! The brat was going to burn to death in front on him without Severus being able to help at all!

And then it hit him. He hadn't vowed to help Potter. He had vowed to keep him in good health.

He had been approaching this all wrong. The Vow didn't allow him to touch the dragon, but it might allow him to keep the boy from harm.

Severus quickly searched his mind for every protective spell, curse and charm he had ever learned or read about. He was now convinced (or at least desperately hopeful) that he would be able to cast something as long as he directed his magic at the boy. He had to find something long-range to cast, though.

It took him only a few seconds to make up his mind and begin chanting under his breath. He didn't care about the cost at the moment, nor about the pain, although he really hoped Potter would continue dodging most of the blows and fireballs.

In what had to be acknowledged as a remarkable display of Gryffindor suicidal courage, the boy had began approaching the dragon, running from one rock to another to shelter himself for a few seconds before the stone was melted into lava.

Severus had to resource to all his self-restrain to keep himself from screaming or fainting when Lily's son caught fire for the first time. No matter how painful burning was, he couldn't afford to get distracted, he had to continue chanting without losing eye contact with his target.

The audience was yelling wildly, people covering their faces in horror in his peripheral vision, but he only had eyes and ears for what was going on inside the enclosure. Potter got burnt thrice more in the next minute, and just to add some variety he also got hit by that hellish tail, his left shoulder almost being dislocated in the process. Severus was still managing to hold up his protecting shield, but things were looking far from good. At any moment the boy could be completely engulfed by a jet of fire, and that would be the end of Severus' protection.

There was only one rock left for the boy to hide behind, and it was already glowing red hot. Severus could feel the heat scorching his skin. What were the chances of Potter getting close enough to the eggs without being burnt or spiked or simply eaten? Slight to null, estimated Severus. He was going to fail, he realized. It wasn't enough what he was doing, especially since the boy didn't know that he could use Severus' sacrifice.

The last rock melted, and suddenly the boy was sprinting. For a moment Severus thought that he was doing exactly what he had been hoping he would do: making a run for the eggs without worrying about the fire or the spikes. Using Severus' sacrifice. I tried, Lily, he whispered inside his heart. I'm sorry!

He got completely distracted from his internal goodbyes when he saw that Potter wasn't running towards the eggs, however, but towards the dragon. What the hell was he doing? Was he suicidal? Damned boy! He dodged another jet of fire, but didn't see the tail coming in time so his right leg got thoroughly spiked. Severus' protection faltered when he lost his balance and involuntarily shut his eyes, grunting under his breath.

He opened his eyes again just an instant later and tried to resume his chanting, but he could see that it was too late. The brat kept running head on towards the dragon, even if Severus could give him his protection now it wouldn't be enough. One could only die once, and that dragon could certainly kill the brat multiple times in three different ways at so close distance.

The beast was getting ready for roasting its prey alive before devouring it when Potter came to a halt right in front of it and raised his wand. What the hell did he intend to cast?

Severus didn't hear the incantation over the general uproar, but he saw very clearly the familiar jet of green light that shot out of the boy's wand. He saw the curse hit its target, and then, as if it were happening in slow motion, he saw the Hungarian Horntail crumble to the ground.

A deep, unnatural voice resounded inside his dumbfounded brain.

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...