In the year Hogwarts was founded, one of the nicest (most accurate) prophecies ever was made. Of course, no-one realised this at the time; it was collected, bound and placed in the prophecy room along with countless others, and, like those countless others was generally forgotten about. Occasionally a scholar or two would try to interpret it, but as no one was named, it was considered too hard and they normally went back to researching the "Riddle Anagram Prophecy". Still it remained, waiting patiently.
"And they are born, brothers tied, one in shadow, one in light.
And one will know and one will not, for some things are best forgot.
And together they'll grow side-by-side, near and far, in light and dark.
And one brother will light the flame, and one brother will die all the same.
And one brother always near protects the son the serpent fears."
Chapter 01. A Very Bad Day.
Severus Snape was an introvert of the first order, a shy, gentle, and intensely private man. The fact that he had too many secrets to keep and had seen too many horrors he had allowed him to raise 'intensely private' to an art form. Members of the Order and unfortunately, as far as he was concerned, some members of the student body, could only guess at the horrors, but they were inevitably wrong. However, no one guessed at the secrets, and he intended to keep it that way. Severus Snape was also a bloody good actor.
Of course most people wouldn't observe that Professor Severus Snape was a bloody good actor. They were more likely to observe that he was a mean, sarcastic bastard who wouldn't know a kind thought if it jumped up and bit him on the Gluteus maximus. Although, considering they also thought he was a greasy git bastard meant that they would actually pity any 'kind' thought that had to go anywhere near his gluteus maximus, or any other body part for that matter. They, after all, certainly didn't want to go there. Few, however, recognised that Professor Snape had degrees of bastardness. To most, it was all one and the same. But some days he could give nastiness a whole new meaning, and today was likely to be of those days according to Hermione Granger's calculations. After all Miss Granger was the sort of person who looked for and found significant patterns and with over four years at Hogwarts, she had most of the significant dates marked. The reasons might escape her, but she had picked them and as always, Hermione was right. Today was not going to be a good day.
Severus Snape swept into the Sixth Year potions class like a hurricane: dangerous, wild and furious. Apart from classes, the last two days had been spent in what now appeared to be futile research. If lack of sleep, unsuccessful prowls during the rare times he'd left his laboratory, and Fifth Year Slytherin/Gryffindor Potions class were actually potion ingredients, then the result would be catastrophic, and it was. There were some times when he'd welcome Voldemort's attention; now was almost one of them. Almost.
His eyes quickly noted any absences. Potter, absent. "I see some of the class believe their time is better spent elsewhere, ten points from Gryffindor courtesy of Mr. Potter," he snarled. 'At least Granger and Weasley are present', he thought. That at least discounted any 'current adventures'. When all three were scarce, trouble generally followed close behind. That was the last thing he needed today.
Glowering at the rest of the class, Slytherins included, he began to outline today's lesson plan, a relatively simple compulsion potion, something that they should be able to do in their sleep. In theory they should all finish in well under the normal three hours the class ran for, even Longbottom. Sarcastically, he asked if anyone had even bothered to read the suggested text prior to class, completely ignoring the Granger girl. Though he'd never mention it aloud, she was currently one of the few joys he had in teaching. Her thirst for knowledge rivalled his own.
Noticing the general lack of movement, he snapped to the class in general, "Well get on with it," before beginning his customary stalking through the class. Sharp-eyed and even sharper-tongued, he waited for the inevitable mistakes. On another level he pondered the significance of today. Potter had not attended any classes that he was aware of; and the fact it was today, worried him. He was almost inordinately pleased to notice Longbottom reaching for the wrong jar.
"Mr. Longbottom, I presume that you do know the difference between Red and Green?" Snape enquired nicely, no yelling, no snarling: just nicely, quietly, even (shudder) politely. His voice was akin to a lion enquiring of a mouse as to whether it was aware that it was trying to get food from the lion's teeth. The more alert students, read Hermione Granger, moved as far away from Neville as possible without actually leaving the area near their shared desk.
As Neville stumbled over even this simple a question, Professor Snape sighed and snapped, "Never mind, Longbottom. For the last six years, the dread of you coming into my classes has increased exponentially. I am now convinced you are nothing but a dummy operated by Miss Granger, for what purpose, I have no idea, but it must be some obscure student joke of which I am not aware." The students tensed as he rose to his full height, managing to loom over Neville, even though he was a good 12 feet away.
Severus sighed and visibly collected himself. "Oh, go away. Get out, Longbottom, and do not return until you have given me five feet on the difference between red and green mandrake root, with specific examples of the possible disasters if you mix up the two. Ten points from Gryffindor for wasting my time, and a further ten points care of Miss Granger for her unconvincing ventriloquist act."
Draco and his cronies sniggered and Severus narrowed his eyes. "And five points from Slytherin for not sharing the joke." The fact that he'd docked Slytherin had more than one student wondering if the world was ending. Feeling an unwanted ache in his arm he finally snarled, "Now get out, the lot of you!"
The students stared at the Potions Master in shock as he returned to his desk and lowered his face whilst pulling his cloak over his head, a gently thumping could be heard. "Anyone who is present when I look up will personally be part of my new potion experiment for the getting rid of exceedingly annoying students!" Severus' statement rippled through the room hanging there like the Apocalypse. The students overturned chairs in their haste to get away.
He continued to hide under the cloak, and he tensed as he felt another presence. "I said, get OUT..."
"Not to me, Severus," said Dumbledore in his usual dry voice.
Snape startled and blushed. "Headmaster..."
"How many times must I tell you, Severus? It's Albus, and it always will be for you." It was plain to Severus that the Headmaster was very worried.
In point of fact Dumbledore was more than worried; with Severus and Potter in his care he had reasons to be. Currently it was Severus for whom he was most worried. The physical return of Voldemort meant that at some point his Potions Master would either have to return to Voldemort's side or allow his true allegiances to be known. Voldemort would want to know why Severus had failed to return to his side soon after the tri-wizard tournament, and he was likely to very pointed in his questioning.
Still, taking the direct approach would fail with Severus, so instead he asked, "Longbottom again, I presume? He has a good heart, Severus, but he's not a potions person. You might want to consider that not everybody can be you."
'Lucky them', he thought quietly before continuing aloud. "Perhaps you are right, Head... Albus. Neville Longbottom is more suited elsewhere. I know there is a brain in there somewhere; I have heard that he is a genius when it comes to herbology. I just wish he wasn't such a rabbit."
Albus Dumbledore chuckled. "Severus, in your presence, everyone is a rabbit."
A rare smile crossed the face of Snape before rapidly disappearing. "Why are you here, Albus?" The faces of Potter, Weasley and Granger danced in his head, rabbits, never.
"Always to the point. You may have noticed that Mr. Potter was not in class today."
"Yes Albus," he said, "a fact for which I am eternally grateful," his characteristic 'I loath Potter' sneer dancing across his features. Of course he couldn't tell the Headmaster he was aware the Harry had been safely ensconced in the Headmasters' office all morning, another one of those damn secrets. Explaining to the Headmaster how he was always aware of Potter's location was not something he wanted to consider; that particular fact might lead to questions of loyalties and he was going to have enough of those soon from Voldemort.
"It seems that Voldemort might be planning some sort of 'celebration', Severus."
"Ahh, the scar acting up again is it?" Severus enquired mildly. 'Of course Voldemort is planning something', he thought to himself while rubbing his arm. 'The first time on this date that he's been whole since James and Lily Potter were felled; an occasion well worth remembering'. In fact, knowing Voldemort, he probably intended to have a Dark Revel Jamboree on their graves. And this time he would be unable to avoid the summons.
"You will have to go my friend." Dumbledore said, "I'll speak with the faculty, after all they will be curious. The fact that you dismissed a class is no doubt winging its way through the halls as we speak."
"Tell them I'm indisposed, Albus. I suspect I will be extremely indisposed very shortly," he commented dryly.
Dumbledore turned and left without further comment. He continued to ponder the Potions Master. What could he offer Voldemort that would stave off his anger? Knowing Severus' skills, that worried Dumbledore more than he cared to admit.
The moment Dumbledore left Severus strode quickly to the back of the room. With the flair of a maestro conductor he swished and flicked his wand, opening the security wards on his private laboratory. 'Minerva would be pleased', he thought sardonically as he re-instated the wards with similar flair.
His private laboratory was orderliness personified. Everything had its place and under no circumstances would it be found in any other place. Quietly bubbling, the remnants of his last experiment sat on a bunsen burner at the back of the laboratory. The experiment itself may have failed, but the potion itself was still useful, unfortunately.
More swishing, flicking and hushed murmurs later and a door appeared in the middle of the laboratory, literally. This door led to his own personal domain, a place even Dumbledore would be hard pressed to find, assuming he knew to look in the first place. Here was his Death Eater domain, located, as always at Snape Manor. If Dumbledore suspected that it was possible to slip past the wards of the school with such ease, the Aurors would be the least of his problems.
Shrugging out of his drab professorial robes, he stripped off completely. His form was as lean as most would expect given the scarecrow nature of his figure. What they wouldn't expect was the whipcord muscle over his skeletal frame, nor would they expect the criss-crossing of scars all over his body. Caning as a child, beatings as a boy and the not-so tender caresses of Voldemort as a man had left their mark.
Ignoring the form that looked back at him from the mirror, he strode purposefully towards the ancient oak wardrobe at the back of the room. The clothing in the wardrobe was as far removed from his usual garb as possible. Classic, elegant, understated and powerful: here hung the robes of a true Potions Master. Selecting the right garments for the expected 'festivities' took but a moment.
Black silk, the shirt hung loosely, the sleeves slightly puffed and gathered to long, tight cuffs, obsidian buttons fastened the underside of the cuffs to his elbows. Each button was a tiny potions vial. The collar tightly fitted his neck, embroidered, a serpent entwined around his neck; black, of course. The neck cloth had a raven motif, silk and lace, still black. The trousers were form fitting without restricting movement, velvet, of course. The boots were masterpieces of ingenuity, long to the knees and containing more than one hidden weapon; knives in the soles of both boots, the laces impregnated with blends of his own devising, harmless until activated with the substance in the lace tips. The frock coat was next, velvet with silk lining, the sleeves dropping away to allow access to the buttons of the cuffs underneath. Over it all went the robes. They were surprisingly simple: elegant, black and deceptive; like the boots, the work of an artist. Carefully hidden pockets allowed him to carry useful vials, two spare wands and a port key or two.
The last item he took from the wardrobe was the silver half-mask. Eyeing it with disdain, he placed it in one of the robe's pockets. Wrapped in the knowledge that he was The Potions Master, and all that entailed, he finally turned to face the mirror. The mirror shrank back.
'Good', he thought to himself, 'Severus Snape, Death Eater returned... still I wonder how Dumbledore will explain my absence', he mused as he walked through another door into his most private laboratory. Opening a storage cupboard that was warded to the fare-thee-well and beyond, he drew out several vials and parchments, though the parchments he handled with tweezers. Sequestering them all about his person he thought, 'Voldemort will be pleased'. Still, he hoped not to need the parchments, since they should only be used in the direst of needs.
After locking and re-warding the cupboard, he took a pair of black leather gloves from one pocket. Slipping on the mask, he touched his wand to the place above the dark mark and disappeared.
"Ah, Severus, so good of you to join us… eventually," Voldemort hissed as Severus Snape apparated directly in front of him. "You have an explanation of your tardiness, I hope?"
Without even bothering to look the gathered Death Eaters, Severus bowed with all the flair of a 17th century courtier to his Lord and Master. Soft as silk, with a hint of steel, Severus answered his Lord. "I am most sorry my lord, but the sudden unexplained absence of a House Head would not be overlooked in some quarters; in particular, the Head of Slytherin. I thought it best to continue my quiet works rather than arouse enquiry." If he had bothered to look, a number of those gathered had stepped back, distancing themselves so as not to suffer their Lord's displeasure. Voldemort rarely tolerated a show of spine. The fact that this was Snivelling Severus Snape made the mild show of steel even more obvious.
"The Head of House Slytherin problem, yes, you were not that when last I trod this earth. Yes, we had not thought of that had we, Wormtail?" Voldemort softly addressed the man curled at his feet, ignoring the hint of spine Severus had shown. 'Snivelling Snape you may still be, Severus, but you are still a true Slytherin', Voldemort mused. 'I wonder what other surprises you have'.
"It seems you have moved up a bit in the world, potions maker. Still, Defence against the Dark Arts eludes you." Serpentine eyes watched Severus' reaction closely.
"All the better to serve whilst I waited your return," he answered smoothly, ignoring the potions maker comment, and the other one. Riddle was not the only one who failed to actually understand what a true Potions Master was, strangely he suspected Granger would know. As for DADA… well, a Slytherin with no ambition was not a Slytherin.
"So you did not doubt my return? Strange then that you were not prepared to join me immediately as so many of my other loyal followers were, House Head or not." Continuing to watch Severus closely he asked, "So then, my potions maker? What are we to so with you if you cannot attend me as you once did? Must we wait until we hear that you are 'indisposed'?" Noting the presence of many of his 6th Year Slytherins' families, he didn't bother to react to this comment, though he would trace the intelligence later. Voldemort looked at him with an almost bored gaze. Severus knew his life depended on his answer. "Will I always have to wait until you are 'indisposed'?" Voldemort's voice started to rise into a screech, and the gathered Death Eaters quailed.
Severus, however, was made of far sterner stuff as he calmly answered his 'master'. "That, unfortunately, may be the case, My Lord," Severus said as all present drew even further away. "But," he continued as he reached into a pocket of his cloak to draw out a small vial, "I believe that my work over the past few years might well be of use, Master."
Throwing the vial at the nearest group of Death Eaters, he watched as the contents of the vial vaporised. All the Death Eaters in that group thrashed about in agony as though under the influence of the Cruciatus curse. "I have had time to develop, and refine, some very special potions in the advent of your return." His vicious smile did not reach the rest of his face.
After observing the pain inflicted on his Death Eaters, Voldemort turned back to face Severus like a happy child. "How long does it last?" he asked eagerly, whilst contemplating the uses such a potion could be put to.
"The effect is somewhat variable. It is hard to find suitable test subjects on which to work so that I can refine the formula. At least 2 minutes, although one batch, which was hideously unstable, held its victim for 2 hours. A most amusing thing to watch. Of course, the muggle victim did not survive. Unfortunately, that particular batch almost destroyed my laboratory."
"Is there an antidote?"
"Well, I haven't brewed one, and as the potion has not been seen in the wizarding world before today..." He stopped, leaving Voldemort to fill in what he has left unspoken.
"Oh Severus, you are a joy," Voldemort finally cackled. "Unforgivables under glass, and not yet refined to its true potential." A psychotic bastard he may be, but no one would ever accuse Voldemort on being quick on the uptake when the infliction of pain was under discussion. "Tonight's festivities may prove more rewarding that I had originally foreseen. You will be able to stay, won't you, Severus?"
"It appears, My Lord, that Hogwarts believes that I am a trifle indisposed at the moment; my absence will not be noted. I trust that you have something extra special planned?"
"Good, you can further explain the properties of your wondrous new potion to me, particularly what you will need to refine it," Voldemort purred, "Still, my potions maker, you do appear to have discomforted some of my Death Eaters. Loyal followers who were prepared to return quickly to me, unlike you," Voldemort said as he nodded to where the group twitched feebly on the ground. "I can't have you having all the fun," Voldemort said as he casually cast the Cruciatus curse at Severus. It wouldn't do for Voldemort to let that pass without any punishment to be metered out; after all you don't go round cursing loyal Death Eaters for the fun of it, unless you are Voldemort, but death would not be Severus' end today. Voldemort did not let up on the curse until Severus' potion apparently wore off some ten minutes later.
When Voldemort finally let up, Severus' nerves were no more frayed than they usually would have been at this time of day. A Slytherin/Gryffindor double with a dash of Longbottom was always a 'pleasant' experience. Careful to hide the snide smile that threatened to cross his features, Snape wondered what Lord Voldemort would have thought of 'Torture by Teaching'. At that moment, however Voldemort was more interested in finer details about the Cruciatus Potion; in particular, difficulty, brewing times and possible refinements.
Using the cover of answering Voldemort's questions, Severus studied his fellow Death Eaters. 'The usual suspects are gathered of course', he thought to himself whilst commenting to Voldemort. "The brewing is difficult, My Lord, but not impossible. The trouble is that some of the ingredients are a trifle 'difficult' to obtain. Aurors and the ministry are always watching for the trafficking of 'dark' ingredients. The stronger the potion, the less time it keeps, but it takes about a month to brew, no matter what the strength. The problem remains refining and testing."
Wondering at the extent of the planned festivities, Severus finally paid closer attention to his fellows. Lucius was easily recognised by his shock of white hair, Parkinson's father, Crabbe Snr, Goyle Snr, and a host of others that had attended Voldemort with sickening sycophantism in the past. What surprised him was the lack of new faces.
"Are we initiating new Death Eaters today, My Lord?" Severus asked suddenly certain of the answer.
"Ah, always quick on the uptake. I had thought what better way to reaffirm my presence in the world than to take new followers, and given your comments about your new potions, I suspect we will be able to remedy your lack of test subjects at the same time." Voldemort smiled, moments later, everyone else present, except for Severus, did so as well. Voldemort noticed this, but as his potions maker had never been a crowd follower it did not surprise him. 'Arrogance will see you inevitably fail', he thought to himself, but as Severus had reminded him, the potions maker had some useful talents.
"Particularly on the day the Potter's originally defeated you," Severus commented blandly, a sneer dancing across his features as he watched again his fellow Death Eaters back away from Voldemort's expected anger. 'Toadying cowards'.
"I was not defeated!" Voldemort ground out through gritted teeth. Truly Severus Snape could try the patience of a saint, and as Voldemort was definitely no saint, Severus was pushing his luck, no matter how indispensable he was.
"Defeated, yes My Lord, but not vanquished," he finished quickly before Voldemort thought to curse him into a puddle of goo. Visions of Lockhart's attempt to heal Potter's broken arm chose that rather inappropriate time to surface. Schooling his features to their customary disdain, Severus continued, "You may have lost that battle My Lord, but it is obvious that you have not lost the war."
Acknowledging the skilful verbal footwork of his potions maker, Voldemort just glared at Severus before turning to face the gathering at large. "Yes, I thought today was a particularly auspicious occasion and what better way to celebrate that I still walk the earth whilst those meddlesome Potters and others are now dead and buried. As a test of their loyalties our prospective recruits have bought with them special guests for this evening."
"Guests?" It was Lucius who asked.
"Why yes," Voldemort smiled. "I had given each a port key, keyed to our gathering point. That fool Dumbledore will have a degree of difficulty explaining this, don't you think?"
Voldemort waved his wand taking down the 'SEP' field around the guests. Suddenly in the midst of the gathered Death Eaters appeared a group of adults. They had probably been taken from earlier in the day and were now bound and gagged like sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. When one of the adults moved, Severus saw what was causing the unholy glee in Voldemort's eyes. Three children, students of Hogwarts no less, also bound and gagged. Two of the children were first years, Gryffindors, and obviously shocked by their current circumstances. It was the third child that caused a start among the Death Eaters. The eyes of Hermione Granger locked with those of Severus Snape and a look of fear replaced the bravado.
"Oh yes," Severus breathed, "this will be fun."
TBC... PLease Review