Disclaimer: JK Rowling, Warner Bros, Scholastic & Bloomsbury Books all own the Harry Potterverse. I make no money from this work of fiction.
Author's Note: Many, many thanks to Catsintheattic, who provided me with the German phrases.
Severus kept watch during the night as Poppy slept. Theodore did not move or stir; he only breathed, in and out, with barely a twitch of his eyelids. Poppy had said he would be in the infirmary for at least a few weeks. She also said that it was astonishing that he had lived through the ordeal at all.
Theodore Nott, Sr., had glared when Severus contacted him by Floo earlier that day. Once Severus had explained the situation, his expression had changed to that of fright, but Severus could see no sign of surprise at the mention of basilisk blood. Nott had coolly informed Severus that he would visit his son later that day.
His back ached from sitting in the uncomfortable chair all night long. It was just after sunrise, and soon enough he would have to make his way to the Great Hall and endure another day's pointless activities, with only the scant hour or two of sleep that he had managed before the knocking on his door had awakened him in the middle of the night.
Theodore gasped raggedly, and Severus leaned forward in his chair. The teenager opened his eyes, and they rolled wildly in his sockets.
"No!" he moaned.
"You're in the infirmary," said Severus, lightly touching his arm. "You are recovering."
He turned to look at Severus, his eyes struggling to focus. "Didn't..."
"No, it didn't work," said Severus coldly. "Your foolish attempt to kill yourself failed, mostly due to the efforts of Professor Tanner."
Nott glared at him. "The book..."
"A book?" Severus was startled. "You don't mean to tell me...did you send away for that nonsense?"
"It was...written by...Grindelwald!"
"What's next for you, then? A Kwikspell course? Learn to fly without a broom?"
The teenager looked upset. His left eye looked odd, as if there was a film over it. "I'll do great things."
"And how? With the Dark Lord as your...ally?" taunted Severus. "You'll find out, soon enough, that the Dark Lord is not your tool. You are his."
"Just because you failed," gasped Theodore, "doesn't mean that I will."
Anger filled him. "You cannot control him." He fixed Theodore with a savage look. "You can't think you can use him for your own ambition. He'll destroy you, or someone you love, sooner or later...perhaps only for his own amusement."
His lip trembled. "Shut up!"
"What is going on here?" demanded Poppy, hands on hips. "Severus, I think it's time for you to return to your classroom."
"You'll want to pay attention to his left eye," said Severus stiffly. "He isn't seeing very clearly at the moment." He turned and strode away.
Sarah woke from a murky dream involving twisting basilisks. The light streaming in from the windows revealed that it was just past dawn. Reaching up to pull the blankets away, she hissed in pain.
Examining her hands closely, she noted that the blistering had disappeared, but they were still as red as lobsters, and they ached and throbbed. They had swelled during the night, and she grimaced at the thought of trying to get through her day with them in this condition.
Entering her office, she poured more Burn Relief on them, hoping to alleviate some of the worst pain. It had limited results. The swelling receded, but her fingers still were a garish red color, and she could not bend them without pain.
There was a knock at the door, and she heard it open. A weary and pale Severus entered her office, closing the door behind him. "Sarah," he said.
"He lives," he said grimly. "His skin has returned to normal, though his left eye seems to have developed a slight film."
She nodded, which made her feel dizzy. "I thought it might. Erich could have drawn it out entirely. If only one eye is affected, though...it worked better than I thought." The room tilted slightly, and she blinked, trying to clear her head.
Severus was in front of her now; how had he crossed the room so quickly? He guided her to the couch, his hand on her elbow. She sat down and raised one shaking hand to her head. She was still so very tired.
"Merlin," swore Severus, grabbing her wrists. "Your hands..."
"Basilisk's blood is caustic," she mumbled.
He inspected them carefully. "You were using that hack Dodd's formula again."
She leaned back against the couch, the room spinning. "It's all I have."
"Whatever you want, you have only to ask me for," he said irritatedly. "Or at least go to the infirmary."
She slid sideways until she was lying down on the couch. There was a noise, presumably the door closing, and she closed her eyes, feeling very disoriented.
She dreamt that she was holding her hands in a bowl of ice cream. It was slick and cool and felt marvelous. She wriggled her fingers.
"Stop moving!" hissed Severus, and her eyes shot open. He sat next to her on the couch, applying salve meticulously, coating each finger one at a time.
"Ah," she said. "Thank you." Her feet hung over the other arm of the couch, though she didn't remember putting them there.
"What you did last night..." He frowned.
"He must have gone to the Chamber of Secrets," she said drowsily.
He rubbed salve into her thumb. "Yes, and I'm certain you've guessed what that means."
She blinked a few times and tried to collect her thoughts. "He's a Parselmouth?"
"No," he said impatiently. "I left the doorway open because I wasn't certain how to close it. He must have entered and stolen the blood before I informed the Headmaster."
She felt befuddled. "Then...what does it mean?"
"I doubt highly that he gathered the basilisk's blood for himself." He wiped his hands off on a tea towel and reached into his pocket, pulling out a pamphlet entitled Learn Blood Magic in Just Ten Days! "I found this in his room, which is where he must have received his...inspiration." He fixed her with his black eyes. "You did notice that he bears the Dark Mark?"
"I believe he sent a portion of the blood to him."
Her hands were slick from the potion, and she took the towel from him, wincing. "The Dark Lord...He knows of the spell. But he is no Sanguimagus...there is no possible way he could cast Undying Devotion upon anyone."
"Perhaps not." There were black circles under his eyes. "It's also an ingredient—albeit a minor one—in the Lingering Wounds Potion."
"Oh," she said stupidly.
He looked at her for a moment longer, and then looked away. "This Undying Devotion spell...could you cast it?"
"Yes," she said quietly. "I...think so."
"If he captures you again, he'll force you to cast it, whether under the Imperius Curse or with a threat so terrible you'll obey." He sat stiffly next to her. "How can you stop someone who is in thrall to the spell?"
"It's very difficult to stop an Anbeterin ihres Herrn," she said, examining her hands. The red had faded entirely. "The basilisk's blood is a source of power, you see...it infuses them...it gives them some of the same protections. They don't sleep or eat; they're sustained by their energy. They are far more dangerous than Inferi, as the Anbeterin keeps her mind, and her magic, intact..."
"Ah." He ran a hand through his hair. "I see."
"The link with the Sanguimagus who cast it is the most vulnerable point. If you can kill the Sanguimagus, the Anbeterin will be released."
He tensed visibly. "And if...that is not an option?"
"If you can't kill the Sanguimagus, the Anbeterin will continue to follow his orders," said Sarah softly. "An Anbeterin is unaffected by fire, resistant to most spells, and has the strength of five men."
"Surely it can be pierced by a knife."
"Yes, of course, but it is a difficult thing to get close enough to one to strike the blow." She closed her eyes. "When the Sanguimagi were still lead by Salazar Slytherin, the Magi supposedly found a weak point, but I don't know what it was..."
"If the Sanguimagus controlling the...Anbeterin were doing so under the Imperius Curse, I'd imagine that it would be possible to stop the curse."
"Yes, but...if the last spoken words..." Her thoughts spun slowly in her head. "An Anbeterin can only be controlled by voice commands. If the Anbeterin could not hear any further commands, she would continue to fulfill her last instructions, unless the Sanguimagus died."
"That's how they're controlled?" asked Severus, his tone one of disbelief.
"Yes," said Sarah, yawning. "Sometimes the Magi would use Silencing Charms to try to stop them, but often the commands were given in advance...They are not mindless Inferi, after all. Hence their value..." She thought she heard his voice again, but it sounded far away, and then she was asleep.
Nearly everything Severus encountered that day had irritated him. His classes had been taxing, and he had used the few precious minutes of his break to update the Headmaster on both Nott's condition and the information Sarah had told him about the Undying Devotion spell, but the Headmaster hadn't seemed appreciative, and took him to task for not knowing what Nott had been conspiring to do.
At lunch he didn't want to endure the scrutiny of his fellow professors or the students, and sent for something quick from the kitchens. Afterward he made his way to the infirmary.
When he entered, he noticed immediately that Theodore was not alone.
"Severus," said Nott Sr., his eyes narrowing.
"Nott," he replied, sitting down in the empty chair on the other side of the bed.
The teenager lay between them, sullen.
"This is all that blood witch's fault," said Nott angrily. "His eye is ruined. He can't see out of it."
Severus pulled the pamphlet out of his pocket and threw it casually on the bedcovers. Theodore stiffened and his face flushed. "I think you'll find that this is at the heart of the matter," drawled Severus.
Nott picked it up. "So he likes to read in his spare time." He read the title. "My boy's clever. He knows this is rubbish." He tossed it back on the bed contemptuously.
"If you turn to page six, you'll see that he followed their instructions, and attempted to mingle his blood with that of a basilisk, exactly as shown."
Nott shrugged. "Boys will be boys. That still doesn't explain why she meddled. She's cost him his sight. He should have been taken to St. Mungo's."
The door opened, and Severus spared a quick glance, only to see Sarah entering the infirmary. His heart sank. Of all the awful timing. She blanched when she saw them, but continued walking toward the bed.
"Come to gloat?" taunted Nott.
Severus could see the muted anger in her eyes, and remembered that Nott had beaten her when she'd been captured by the Death Eaters. "I came to see if I could examine him once more," she said calmly.
"He isn't blind enough for you already?" asked Nott, turning an ugly shade of red.
"I fear that the damage is permanent," she continued, as if he hadn't spoken. "There might be a chance, however, that I could draw out what is impairing his vision."
"Stay away from him," said Nott.
"If that is your wish," she said neutrally. "I doubt it will work, anyway, but I felt I should try."
Nott laughed without humor. "You have some nerve, witch. Coming in here and offering to heal him, when you caused it."
She looked a trifle paler, but stood her ground. "Your son procured the equipment, stole the basilisk's blood, and injected it into his own blood on his own. I had nothing to do with any of it, except for my attempts to purge the blood from his system."
Theodore looked at her. "Do you think it will work?" His voice was a painful rasp.
"I don't know," she said. "We will never find out, I'm afraid. Your father has forbidden it."
He turned to his father. "Let her try."
"You're not right in the head," said Nott. "She's taking her revenge out on you. You'll be blind in both eyes, or worse, when she's through!"
"I want her to try," Theodore insisted.
Nott stared at him for a long minute, looking disgusted. "Don't be stupid!"
"If I might just—" began Severus.
"Shut it, traitor," said Nott angrily. "Listen to me, Theo. Don't give her a chance to do worse."
"Don't be foolish," snapped Severus, his temper fraying. "She saved his life."
"I want her to try," insisted Theodore. "Let her." He fixed his father with a glare, made disconcerting by his mismatched eyes.
Nott returned the glare. "I don't know how I raised such a son."
"Will you allow it?" said Sarah coolly.
Nott looked at her, then at Severus, and finally back to his son. "Fine," he said coldly.
"Try it now," commanded Theodore.
Sarah slipped past the father and stood at the head of the bed. She brought one hand down over his face, close but not touching. "Keep your eye open, no matter what," she murmured. "This will be very painful."
Severus watched as she closed her eyes, and he could feel a faint prickling, a sense of magic permeating the space between them, swirling above the teenager's head. The strain was fairly obvious on Sarah's face, and she looked no better than she had that morning, when she had been haggard and stumbling. It worried him that she was trying again so soon. He watched as she grimaced, her hand trembling. The feeling of magic intensified, though it was nowhere near the rush of energy that he had witnessed the night before; this was much more subtle and restrained.
Theodore began to whimper, his raw vocal cords rasping, and Nott clenched his hands into fists, his expression murderous.
"She's trying to heal him," said Severus softly.
Nott glared, but seemed to sense the warning behind his tone, and sat back in his chair.
Theodore's cries redoubled, and Sarah's jaw clenched. He thought he could hear her teeth grinding together. The teenager arched on the bed and made a horrific wheezing noise.
"That's it!" thundered Nott, reaching out to grab Sarah's arm.
"No! Don't touch her!" shouted Severus, pulling out his wand and sending a Stinging Hex flying over the bed. Nott grabbed his injured wrist, hissing.
Sarah withdrew her hand, and Theodore fell to the bed, gasping. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm afraid it's permanent."
Nott turned to her, his hand gripping her arm. "You bitch!"
"Severus?" asked Poppy, who had just entered the room and looked confused.
"Unhand her," said Severus. "Now."
Slowly Nott let go and turned to face him. "There was a time when you wouldn't have let filth like that touch him." He glowered. "You're just another Mudblood-loving fool." The teenager sobbed behind them.
"I do not approve of that sort of language in my infirmary," said Poppy in a tone that brooked no arguments. "Out, all of you! The boy needs rest."
"I'm his father—"
"You may return later," said Poppy curtly. She bustled over to Theodore's side, wand drawn, with a look of concern on her face.
Nott snarled something unintelligible, and left, his boots striking the floor loudly. He sent Severus a single backwards glare full of menace.
"It seems we've been dismissed," said Sarah quietly. She turned toward the bed for a long moment, the expression on her face odd, before walking out of the room.
Theodore lay on the bed, looking haggard, and Severus's eyes were drawn to the Dark Mark on his arm. He looked so young lying there, so harmless; the Mark seemed like an ugly blot on his pale skin.
Cold. So very cold. An infinite landscape of white. The earth, flat and covered with a bare dusting of snow.
In every direction it spreads out before him, endless. His breath emerges in tiny clouds as he turns, looking for a landmark—anything to break the relentless horizon.
There is no sun. The sky is grey, emitting a thin, wan light.
He picks a heading and begins walking. He must take care to walk a straight line, or he will come back to the same place.
Time moves with him, slowing when he slows. There is no change in the light or the snow he has so carelessly sullied with his black boots. It seems endless, quite still, and he begins to wonder where he is. What sort of trap he's in.
There is a long dark smudge on the horizon. He stops and squints. A dark lake, perhaps?
Another mile or two, and he can see that it's a forest, massive gnarled black oaks tangled in a straight line across his path. He comes closer and closer, until he can see inky leaves shedding ash and soot over their exposed roots. The trunks groan and sway.
There is a figure standing there in front of the dark trees. Waiting for him.
He slows, but still continues walking. It would do no good to stray off his path now; whoever it may be, they have seen him already.
Closer still, and he can see that the figure is dressed entirely in white, standing rigidly in stark contrast to the twisted blackness behind her.
"State your name!" he calls out as he approaches.
She does not answer. He can see, now, that she is wearing antiquated, harsh white armor, and her hair is white. Her skin is white.
"Your name!" he says again. Another step, and suddenly he does not need an answer.
Her lips, her pale green eyes, even the pink of her fingernails have all been bleached to ghastly, milky paleness.
He stops in front of her.
There is only one spot of color. A blood-red symbol, carved into her forehead, pulsing eerily.
"Sarah," he says. She does not twitch. She does not draw breath. She stands, uncannily still. The blackened trees behind her moan and writhe.
"Sarah!" he says, louder this time. It makes him sick, looking at the blank white void of her eyes.
Her hand strikes out, as swift as a snake, wrapping around his throat, crushing. He tries to speak, tries to cast a spell, anything, but he is completely helpless in her implacable grip, clutching uselessly at her wrists. Her fingers tighten ever so slowly.
He came awake, panting, gasping desperately for breath, his lungs on fire. Grabbing his wand and waving it, he lit the torches in his room with a burst of flame.
His room. His ribcage heaved, trying to draw air in, and he looked around again, realizing that he was at Hogwarts, that it had just been a dream.
He had kicked off the blankets sometime during the night, and he shivered as he sat there, trying to calm his racing heart, blinking his eyes until they were accustomed to the glare of the torches.
There was a faint creak in his office, as if a door had opened.
His blood ran cold. The spells which protected his suite of rooms were powerful. It would take quite a battering to gain entry, and there would have been a signal, had they been breached. Leaping out of bed, he grabbed his robe, pulling it on hastily and snatching his wand.
Opening the door into his office, he stood poised with Protego on his lips, ready for any attack, but it was empty.
The door to the hall stood ajar. He could not imagine how anyone had entered without serious struggle.
Unless they hadn't entered, but left.
Walking toward the door, he gripped the edge and opened it all the way, looking down the corridor in both directions, but seeing and hearing nothing. Turning back to the door, he examined it thoroughly, muttering spells under his breath as he ran his wand over the wood. Nothing. He stepped through again, about to slam it shut in disgust, when his eyes were caught by something at the very bottom. A piece of string?
No. A bit of yarn. Yellow yarn. He plucked it from the rough bit of oak where it had been snagged. Where had he seen this before? He struggled to think.
Cursing, he opened the door again, scanning the hall, but the little doll was gone.