DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Chapter 1: Of Sneaks and Snakes

Trapped. Damn it. And so foolishly.

He had stumbled right into the trap like a stupid first-year. He, Severus Snape, the epitome of cunning and subtlety. He could kick himself for his foolishness. And now, neither cunning nor subtlety nor anything else in this world would save him. He was definitely done for. Trapped like a rabbit in a snare, and the wolves slowly closing in on it with fangs bared and saliva dripping.

He still couldn't believe that he had acted thus – Gryffindorish. To give the boy his only means of escape, his life-insurance - what utter foolishness! And what in the world had possessed him to follow the brat in the first place? Of course, it was impossible to tell the difference when somebody used Polyjuice Potion, even for a Potions master, but having let himself be lured out of the castle and into the Forbidden Forest by such a preposterous scheme was hard to swallow. At least, he had learned one thing: Never trust an anonymous denunciation. He should have known better, anyway. At the latest when realizing that Potter was without his loyal sidekick, the inevitable weasel-boy. Now, it was too late. He would die without the chance to apply his new wisdom. And it was all his fault. His blind desire to have Potter expelled had apparently clouded his judgement, had made him vulnerable. It was his blind spot, his Achilles heel, and they had used it.

But why now? He wasn't aware of anything that could possibly have aroused suspicion. Of course, now he himself had provided undeniable evidence of his betrayal. He had given the Phoenix-feather, the token of Dumbledore's resistance, to the boy when he had felt the presence of Death Eaters through his Mark. But instead of using the Portkey function to flee to the safety of Grimauld Place, Potter, or rather the one he believed to be Potter, had cast Expelliarmus at his teacher, taking him totally by surprise as he was staring intently into the darkness to get a glimps of what was going on under the shadows of the enormous trees. And, who had taught the brat the handy spell? This same Severus Snape who was now standing in a clearing in the Forbidden Forest at the dead of night, encircled by the enemy, and de-wanded by one of his students. How ironic.

The enemy had his Phoenix-feather. And they knew how it worked. He had foolishly revealed the activation spell for its Portkey function to the impostor, to Draco Malfoy of all people. And worst of all, this might not simply mean his death but also a serious drawback for the entire resistance. Luckily, the feather-Portkey did work for a single person only – one of Dumbledore's more ingenious safety measures to prevent an invasion of Headquarters in case a feather found its way into the wrong hands. But the fact that they knew about the token of the secret Order alone might prove detrimental. Let alone the possibility that the Dark Lord found out about its other properties. He would rather bite off his tongue than tell him, of course, but Voldemort was not stupid. And he could always catch another member of the Phoenix Order and squeeze the information out of him or her, now that he knew. All his fault. And Dumbledore wasn't aware of the danger, yet.

They were drawing closer now, wands raised and pointed at his chest. A good score of them. Considering the anti-Disapparition wards plus the fact that the tip of the impostor's wand, like the sword of Damocles, was hovering about his head, almost touching his right temple and ready to strike any second, he had no chance at all to get out of his deadly predicament. If only he could provoke the hooded figures to kill him on the spot. Twenty green flashes of light would bring quick and certain death. But they were ordered not to kill him by their Lord, he was sure of that. His would be a long and terrible death, terrible enough to ensure non of the other Death Eaters would ever dare to even think of treason. Not that the likes of Lestrange, McNair or the Mafoys would be likely to do so in the first place. But you never knew, especially not with the new recruits. Besides those form Durmstrang, there were several of his own Slytherins, some of whom he deemed not entirely hopeless. And weren't two or three of the Death Eaters rather reluctant in approaching him, wands slightly shaking? But what could they do? They couldn't help him, even if they wanted to. And after the Dark Lord had finished him off, they surely would be sufficiently scared to not try anything against their Master in the future, either.

Another 'plop', this time in the center of the circle. The Dark Lord appeared in a flash of black and crimson, accompanied by his abominable giant pet snake and that disgusting Wormtail-creature.

"On your knees, traitor," Draco hissed into his ear. Severus did not move but stared defiantly down on the Slytherin Prefect in the unlikely guise of Harry Potter. Never had he loathed this messy black hair, those emerald eyes, and the lightningbolt scar more than in this very moment when the hated face didn't really belong to the person confronting him. Another twist of irony. But the platinum blond started to show through the black already, a tell-tale sign that the Polyjuice Potion hadn't been brewed with the necessary expertise.

He didn't have to wait long for the reaction to his disobedience.

"Crucio," shouted Draco, his wand still pointing at his teacher's temple.

Not too bad for a 6th year, Severus thought as pain bored through his head like a spear and then spread into his entire body. A tide of white-hot lava setting every single fiber on fire. He bit his lip convulsively to prevent himself from screaming as he fell to his knees. Luckily, Draco wasn't powerfull enough to sustain the Unforgivable for more than a few seconds, yet. But he had achieved his goal, however. Severus was on his knees. The Dark Lord seemed extremely pleased with the young wizard's performance.

"You did well, my child," he praised. "A true Slytherin, one your father can be proud of. You will do great deeds once you have received my Mark, and you will be honored among your fellow Death Eaters as the one who brought down - the traitor." The last words he spat out with venom, pointing at Severus who was still on his knees, panting and twitching in the aftermath of the Cruciatus.

Severus spat some blood that had accumulated in his mouth from the deep cut in his lip, and looked up. No, he would not crawl to his master and cry for mercy. He would never sink that low, whatever they were going to do to him. He stared back into the snake-like eyes that were glowing red in the flickering torchlights. Voldemort was first to break eye-contact.

"Ssseverusss, Ssseverusss…" He was slowly shaking his head as if in regret. "Why did you betray me, child? You did betray me, didn't you?" The voice had turned into a threatening hiss.

"You have the evidence. Would it make sense to deny the undeniable?" Severus rose. Maybe the Dark Lord would kill him quickly if he provoked him into a fit of rage? But no such luck. He should have known better.

"Back on your knees, vermin!" Voldemort hissed. He signaled to Pettigrew who was already waiting greedily for a chance to once more show off the powers of his magical prothesis. The bald wizard murmured a curse. Two flashes of crimson light shot from the tip of a silvery finger in quick succession, hitting his school-mate's kneecaps with shattering force. Severus could not suppress the cry of agony as the bone splintered into pieces. His legs gave way and he collapsed to the ground, holding his mutilated knees with both his hands, groaning softly.

"This is much better, isn't it, Ssseverusss?" Voldemort jeered. "And now, as you have resumed an appropriate position, you might yearn to hear what made me suspect you in the first place, don't you?" He lifted his gaze and let it wander slowly from one Death Eater to the next. "As you might have noticed, we have a couple of promising new recruits," he continued. "And, to my great surprise, one of them informed me about some highly suspicious circumstances in connection with the rather unfavorable events at the Ministry of Magic. She used to be a former colleague of yours." With a sweeping motion, the Dark Lord pointed at a hooded figure that had been hiding in the shadows outside the circle of Death Eaters. A surprisingly short figure Severus noticed with growing apprehension.

"May I present our newest and most welcome recruit, Professor Dolores Umbridge!" shouted Voldemort triumphantly. She entered the circle, hood thrown back, a vicious sneer on her toad-like visage.

"Well met, dear colleague, hem, hem," Umbridge intoned, gloating over Severus's pain. "In case, hem, you, Professor, and the Potter-brat were thinking you could fool me, Dolores Umbridge, then High Inquisitor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I can assure you that you were certainly wrong. After the, hem, unfortunate affair last summer, I had plenty of time at the, hem, St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries to reconsider the events that had led to my, hem, recreational sojourns there. And, I have to say, I came to certain, hem, most remarkable conclusions. The most important being that it was time to finally, hem, answer my call and join the mightiest of wizards ever, the Dark Lord, our Master. The other one was the realization that, during the relevant period of time, there had been only one person present in the entire Hogwarts castle who could have possibly alerted Dumbledore's ridiculous resistance group, ahem, and this person was obviously – you, Professor Snape." She pointed her short, fleshy index finger accusingly at Severus. "Am I right in assuming that you did understand perfectly well what Potter was hinting at with his enigmatic gibberish about a certain Padfoot, Professor? And the Veritaserum you gave me was certainly fake, wasn't it? I should have looked through your scheming right from the beginning. But, I must admit, that your obvious and seemingly genuine antipathy towards the Potter-brat, toghether with your, hem, intriguing personality and your, hem, hem, dark masculinity, hem, somehow distracted me. Actually, I, hi hi, was quite taken with you, hi, almost infatuated …" She broke into a girlish giggle. "Infatuated, indeed, hi hi."

Severus cringed. That was utterly disgusting. He could not decide what made him more nauseaous, the pain in his knees or the image of this creature lusting after him. He would rather bed the Bloody Baron than – just to think of the possibility made him want to throw up. The Dark Lord, on the other hand, seemed to genuinely enjoy the humiliating scene. As did the other Death Eaters. The sneers behind their masks were almost palpable.

"You see, dear Ssseverusss, that Professor Umbridge was extremely helpful to our cause. Therefore, she will take your place among my loyal Death Eaters once we have disposed of you," Voldemort explained. "Which leads me to the next item on tonight's agenda: the enactment of due punishment."

These words spoken, Voldemort drew his wand and pointed it at Severus.

"Serpensortiae," he hissed as he whirled it through the air. A wriggling knot of lurid-green serpents rained down on the prone figure on the ground and quickly wound around his arms, legs, chest and throat, a suffocating mass of living fetters.

"Just a benign advice in case you might try to provoke my beautiful pets into biting you to end your pathetic life early: the bite is not deadly, but extremely painful," Voldemort drawled on complacently. Knowing the Dark Lord, Severus had not expected the poison to be lethal, anyway. This would have been too easy a way out.

"Now, I'm not one for cruelty if avoidable, you know," Voldemort continued.

The lie of the century, thought Severus bitterly.

"Watching people being tortured is rather annoying, come to think of it."

You prefer to do the torturing yourself…

"That's why I want to propose a bargain: a quick and painless Avada Kedavra for you giving me vital information about Dumbledore's resistance. What do you say, child?"

"Never in my life!" Severus choked out through clenched teeth. The snakes had wound their writhing bodies tighter and tighter around their victim, making it hard to breath. The pain in his knees had become almost unbearable under the ever-increasing pressure.

"No? Your last word, Ssseverusss?" asked the Dark Lord mockingly. "Too bad. Considering that Veritaserum doesn't work with you, this leaves one option only, and you won't like it, I can assure you." This said, Voldemort produced a few unintelligible hissing-sounds, which seemed to infuriate the snakes. With heads erect and fangs bared they made ready to strike.

"Last chance to reconsider my proposition, traitor!"

Severus desperately tried to not let his growing panic show, but the 'no' he produced was barely a whisper. He closed his eyes waiting for the snakes to attack. And attack they did. Another whispered word in Parsel, and the poisonous fangs pierced through his clothes and dug deep into his skin. While the actual bites did not hurt that much, the venom, that was spreading rapidly through his circulatory system, was burning like concentrated acid making his heart race, his breathing increasingly quick and shallow, and sweat was beginning to pour down his face and back. His vision blurred, lurid lights flashed before his retina, and the sense of hearing seemed grotesquely enhanced. The Dark Lord's high-pitched laughter hit Severus's tympanum like a host of pointed daggars. He wanted to cover his ears, shelter them from the agonizing sounds, but his hands were tied closely to his body, and any attempt to move only made the snakes angrier. The intensity of the auditory and visual hallucinations increased by the second as the poison flooded Severus's cerebral system until sounds and lights painfully exploded inside his skull. Then, everything was swallowed by darkness.