AN: Here is the chapter ! Sorry it took so long... The chapter is kinda short but it seemed natural to end it there. I'm not totally satisfied with it, but I didn't want to make you wait any longer... so here it is ! (Besides, I got the feeling that Americanpie wanted me to update... yes, I can take a hint ! ;-P )

As always, thanks to all those who reviewed, 'cause you're the reason I keep writing this story !

Enjoy !

What Am I

Chapter 9

"You have to merge your energy with the Dark Lord's."

"Is that all ?" came the incredulous answer from Sebastian. Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. 'He doesn't understand,' he thought.

"Yes, Mr. Arlan, that's 'all'," sneered Severus, "but don't think it is as easy as it sounds. You can't just absorb his essence and remain the same. You have to modify his essence as well as yours to make them fit to accept each other, only then will you have the possibility to make them mix together."

Seeing the dark look on the boy's face, Severus knew that Arlan had finally grasped the true concept of 'merging energies'. And the Potions Master could guess that he didn't like this notion. "If you are ready," said Severus crisply, "we shall begin immediately. Time isn't on our side, and the more the Dark Lord's energy detaches itself from yours, the harder it will become for you to manipulate it." It was true, they had to act quickly, and Severus could only hope the boy would see the emergency.

The teen nodded. "What am I supposed to do ?" This time, the voice was more determined than ever, which pleased the Potions Master immensely. Determination was what they needed right now.

"You will have to be in a trance in order to be able to properly visualize each essence." Sebastian winced, and Severus sneered in contempt as he went on, "however, I will be the one inducing your trance, as I am only too well aware of your extreme inaptitude for mind-magic." As he was spitting these words, the Potions Master realized he wasn't being fair: even though the Occlumency lessons were still as hellish as ever, the boy had improved himself. Severus waited for a whine of indignation but none came.

"Just sit on the floor. If I'm not mistaken, the trance should make you see the energies even more clearly than in your vision."

Seb sat cross-legged on the stone floor, not really comfortable with Snape's choice of words. 'If I'm not mistaken' was far from reassuring. Besides, he still didn't know how he was supposed to manipulate the energies. As if he was reading his mind, Snape added, "you will know what to do."

Severus sat in front of the youth and pointed his wand directly at his student's head. He noticed that the boy didn't look very comfortable about all this.

"Selfahena tengosad pulsaosi estimetet loungir."

The boy's eyes naturally followed the movements of Severus' wand, and soon they closed themselves. As for the Potions Master, he was satisfied to see that his student's respiration was deep and regular.

"Well, it seems like we succeeded in putting you in a full trance, Mr. Arlan," said Severus, knowing full well that Sebastian couldn't hear him.

Five minutes passed. Then ten. Sebastian's fingers twitched so discreetly that Severus almost missed it. He assumed it was just a neuronal reflex. However, he could not ignore it when the teen's whole body went rigid and started shivering ever so slightly. Severus knew that the energies would resist at first, but the boy should be able to fight them, and win. Stopping the trance too soon would not be of any help.

Snape waited as the tremors shook his student's body and small moans escaped the younger man's lips. Fingering his wand, Severus prepared himself to break the trance. When the boy started whimpering more loudly, Severus spoke the words, and the youth's body collapsed on himself, shaking more visibly now that the trance was over.

As Seb tried to calm himself, stretched on the cold hard floor, his teacher's face entered his vision. He shut his eyes tightly. 'You didn't tell me it would be so painful, you useless bastard.'

"Arlan, open your eyes and look at me... Now !" The hard voice of the Potions Master rang annoyingly into Seb's head, bringing him back to reality much faster than he would have liked. 'No,' thought Seb as he did as instructed, 'of course he wouldn't tell me. Asshole.'

"Mr. Arlan, in case you hadn't noticed, I'm waiting for your report. Much as I love seeing you take a nap on the floor, I would be even more pleased to know whether the trance worked as expected." Seb shook his head, wishing he could say aloud the flow of insults which had taken possession of his brain. Unfortunately, the memory of his iced tongue was still very much present in his mind.

"Oh, the trance worked all right, sir," growled Seb as he brought himself to a sitting position, "I saw the energies, I even felt like I could understand their nature... at least to a certain extent. But this is too hard, sir." He noticed that he was still shivering, and tried in vain to get his limbs back under control. "I tried to make the essences merge, I really tried, sir... but there are too many changes to do, and each modification is a battle with myself."

Seb looked at his teacher's blank face, hoping the man would understand that what he was asking was nearly impossible. Snape's response was to tap his fingers against his chin.

"Well, I knew you wouldn't succeed at the first try. So, Mr. Arlan," said the Potions Master, with a hint of impatience in his cold voice, "you will try again."

Sebastian was trying to catch his breath. His body was aching so fiercely that the slightest move brought unbearable pain. The mere thought of sitting up, let alone standing, was unconceivable. He had lost count of the hours he had spent there, lying on the floor, trying to tame the wild essences coursing through his body. The stones on which he was lying weren't cold anymore, they were warm and damp from his sweat.

The youth idly noticed that someone was talking to him, but he couldn't have cared less. He wouldn't do it again even though the voice was hard and demanding. He just wanted to rest.

"Come on, Arlan, surely you can do better than that. Let's try again."

It took all of Seb's will power to find the strength to answer. "No." A little noise of irritation escaped from Snape's throat, but Seb didn't know whether it was because he hadn't added the usual 'sir' or just because of his answer.

"Do I have to explain the situation again, boy ?" asked Snape in a low and menacing tone, "Maybe you didn't grasp the full importance of—"

"Oh, shut up already !" Sebastian was fed up with his teacher's exactingness. Snape didn't know how it felt to be in his place. His teacher's face was becoming paler than usual, but Sebastian was too drained to care, "I perfectly understand the situation. But the fact remains that I won't achieve anything this way. Voldemort's essence and mine are too different, I won't win this fight." He sighed, "isn't there another way ?"

"'Sir', you forgot 'sir'. I'm your professor and you will address me with the proper respect, you impertinent brat !" spat Snape in Seb's direction.

"Oh, please !" shouted the teen, his weariness forgotten and replaced by anger, "you keep telling me that time isn't on our side but YOU don't care about losing precious seconds to remind me of my place, isn't it a bit paradoxical ?!"

"You obviously NEED to be reminded of you place, boy ! I am still the one in charge here, and if I say you have to get into this damn trance a hundred times to merge those energies, you WILL DO IT !" roared Snape.

Anger and tiredness had taken control of Seb's tongue as he retorted, "Fuck off, SIR. I'm telling you this is not working, why can't you get that into your thick head, SIR !"

"Don't you talk to me this way !" Snape's hand rose to slap the boy but he caught himself in time. However, the younger man had seen the familiar move of his teacher's hand, and had already backed off a good meter away.

Severus let his hand drop, cursing under his breath. It had been going too well. The lessons, everything. Apart from the occasional shouting matches, they were almost getting on, and he had to go and ruin everything. The tacit truce of the last few days had been broken, and they were back to step one. As he looked into the green eyes of his still silent student, a feeling of déjà-vu took hold of Severus. The dangerous and slightly wild glint in the boy's eyes was back, and his whole body was tense, ready to run and escape, not unlike this day when he had apparated the Boy-Who-Lived in his manor. But this time, at least, he had caught himself before striking the teen.

Sighing, Severus conjured two armchairs out of thin air, sat in one of them and gestured for Sebastian to take the other one. Warily, the teen sat down.

"There is another way," said Severus in a calm and composed voice. He waited a few seconds, giving Sebastian some time to get back into the conversation. "This is an ancient ritual, very long and difficult, painful for the one receiving the ritual, and draining for the one casting the spells. Instead of merging the essences like we had been trying to do until now, it will separate them totally, and at the same time, it will secure the unwanted magic in a 'locked compartment'. In other words, you will hold the Dark Lord's essence 'prisoner', without it being able to influence your own magic anymore."

Sebastian shrugged, "looks perfect to me... sir." The last word was added with a hint of wariness which made Severus cringe.

"It will be very painful. From what I know, it will feel like a part of you is being ripped away."

"Well," retorted the youth, "the other method isn't exactly pleasant either."

"This is not comparable !" snorted the Potions Master, "Usually, the kind of pain you will receive should knock you unconscious, but unfortunately, the ritual in itself keeps you conscious, so you won't have any means to escape the pain."

Seb swallowed, "can I rest an hour before we try that ?"

"No," said Snape simply, "your state of tiredness will help the spell since you will be in no condition to fight it."

Sebastian followed Snape into a small, cold room, which contained only a bed, a chair and a small desk. He guessed it was some kind of guest room, which had not been used for years and maybe even centuries.

It had taken Snape five minutes to explain the ritual in it's entire complexity, and Seb had been relieved to note that he would have surprisingly little to do. Snape would cast the spells, and Sebastian would only have to concentrate on the energy which would be secured. And bear the pain.

Sebastian lied down on the bed, his heart beating madly in his chest. The look of worry painted on Snape's features wasn't helping him to relax either.

"I've already told you that the pain would be unbearable," said the Potions Master without meeting his student's gaze, "therefore, I will conjure some physical restraints, to... prevent you from hurting yourself."

The teen's throat constricted at the word 'restraints' and he asked with difficulty, "couldn't you bind me magically, sir ?"

Snape cleared his throat before replying, "The ritual is quite draining, I won't have enough magical energy to hold a binding charm at the same time."

Seb nodded, painfully aware that now wasn't the time to back off. With a flick of his wand, Snape conjured heavy iron shackles. Trying not to think about how vulnerable he would be during the ritual, Seb put his wrists and his ankles in the shackles, all the while taking deep and steady breaths. However, it didn't prevent a wave of panic from overwhelming him as the restraints clicked shut and magically adjusted themselves. He closed his eyes, trying to calm down.

Snape began the ritual immediately. After having rolled up the bottom of Seb's pants' legs, he applied a salve—which Sebastian didn't recognize—on his ankles, and did the same with Seb's wrists, forehead and navel. He, then, sat down on the chair, and cast a few protection spells on the room, in case anything went wrong.

And at last, it began. Sebastian could hear his teacher chanting some incantations, the foreign words sounding like a lullaby to the younger man's ears. At first, he felt nothing, and he wondered if Snape had done the ritual right. Then he felt a wave of cool hair wash over him. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation, but he had never experienced such a thing. Seb concentrated on the green energy, visualizing it the best he could. It wasn't very hard : after a whole afternoon spent trying to manipulate it, he could say he knew the Dark Lord's essence pretty well.

The cool hair became warmer, then even warmer, until it was burning, and that's when he felt it. Snape hadn't lied. It did feel like a part of him was being ripped away. And from this moment, Sebastian was conscious of only two things : Voldemort's magic, and his pain.

Severus watched the boy struggle on the bed. He didn't have the time to feel bad about it, he needed to complete the spells, so the ritual could work. Concentrating on remembering every word was no small task, given that the ritual was an ancient one, rarely ever used nowadays. Beads of perspiration were falling into Snape's eyes, making his vision blurry.

'Later,' he thought, 'when I have finished these spells, I can wipe my forehead and think about the rest. For now, only the spells count.' Every word was taking some of Severus' energy, and he was thankful for the chair, without which he would have collapsed a long time ago.

Finally, the last word was said, and the Potions Master had to conjure his last strengths to trace some magic pattern in the air with his hands, a motion that would seal the ritual.

Exhausted, he closed his eyes briefly and let out a deep breath. Now he could only watch as the ritual did the rest. At the moment, the young wizard was pulling frantically on his restraints, not a sound escaping from his mouth. Severus had to silently admire the boy for his endurance. He had witnessed this ritual only once, and he could still remember the yells of the wizard who had endured it. The teen had managed to get a bit of the sheets he was lying on inside his mouth, and was biting on it as if his life depended on it. He was covered in sweat, not unlike Severus himself, and long locks of hair were sticking to his face.

Severus' eyes shut themselves, and unable to remain conscious any longer, the wizard fell asleep.

He was awaken by a small noise. As he open his eyes, he remembered where he was and why he was there. Noting that most of his strengths had returned, he stood up and checked on the boy lying in front of him. A long heart-shattering moan came out from the boy's throat, and Severus' stomach constricted itself.

And then it hit him. It was his son, lying there, helpless and shaking. It was his son, whose wrists and ankles were bleeding from where he had pulled too hard on the shackles. His son whose body was shaken by a huge spasms. His son who was moaning for it to stop. His son whose tears escaped from his closed eyes.

Severus tore his gaze away from this sorry sight, willing his heart rate to come back to a slower pace. But even though he could close his eyes, he couldn't shut out his son's moans of pain. Snape took the chair, put it as close as he could to the bed, and sat down. He didn't know what to do. What was he supposed to do to comfort a young man who was his son but didn't want to be ?

On an impulse, Severus put his hand on Sebastian's shaking shoulder. The teen shied away from his touch and Snape withdrew his hand sharply. He looked sadly at the young wizard in pain.

"One day, you will have to learn to trust me, you know ?" Snape's voice was soft, as if speaking loudly would cause the boy to shatter. Severus gently pushed the damp locks aside from the boy's face, and this time, the teen let him. Unconsciously, the Potions Master began to stroke the boy's hair, hoping to help him though the torture of the ritual.

Maybe it was just the ritual coming to an end, but as Severus stroked his son's hair, Sebastian's moans lessened, and then stopped totally. Finally, a golden patterned appeared in the air for a few seconds, indicating the end of the ritual. The young wizard was, at last, allowed to lose consciousness.

Severus unchained the exhausted boy and levitated him to his room. He put him carefully under the covers, and left the room.

As he walked toward his office, Severus reassured himself by telling himself that the boy wouldn't remember anything. After all, people who suffered this kind of ritual were never aware of their surroundings, and rarely remember anything except for the pain. Yes, it was all for the best. Unfortunately, Severus was conscious that a small part of him, the part that wanted him to be a father, was aching.

AN: There, all done ! Review please :-)