"Damned Potter," sneered Severus, storming into his office, after a very unsatisfying meeting with Dumbledore. More Occlumency lessons for that sniveling son of a Gryffindor ass would be a supreme waste of his time. Nevertheless, he was being forced to continue this pointless pursuit.

He had been as clear as possible with the headmaster. Even if there was a valid reason to provide special protection for Potter, it was inconceivable that Potter could master these skills to a level that would actually provide him protection. Dumbledore, for all his wisdom, did not understand the capabilities of Voldemort. It had taken Severus, himself, years of concentration to perfect the skill of closing his mind to intrusion and opening the minds of others. For a brief moment he reveled in the remembered feel of penetrating an unsuspecting mind. The knowledge he gained by this surreptitious invasion was not the reward. The reward was the feeling of total control. A momentary look of rapture crossed his face and he sighed, and then shook himself back to reality.

Potter would be arriving shortly, although probably late as usual. Severus realized that his hatred of the boy ran almost as deep as anything in his psyche ever had. Potter was the re-incarnation of one of the foulest associations of his life. James Potter had been a spoiled, cocky, over- confident, overbearing twit. He came to school believing that he was the center of the universe and he and his gang of thugs had dominated Hogwarts.

However, Severus did not fall into the category of a follower. After the sorting, in his first year, Severus had looked for any opportunity to cause damage to James Potter and James had reciprocated whole-heartedly. They had dueled once during class, in what must have been their fifth year. The devastation that was wrought in two minutes time was amazing. Dueling was not tried again for the next two years, following that debacle. While he and James did not permanently harm each other, the walls, the tables, the windows, and several students standing too close suffered from the spells that missed their mark.

Getting worked up was not useful to him right now, so he made an effort to calm his thoughts. Severus took Dumbledore's Pensieve from the shelf and placed it on the desk. He began to remove various thoughts so that on the off chance Potter would actually breach his mind; he would not risk the privacy of certain regrettable memories. If Severus had been willing to admit it, his biggest fear in teaching Occlumency to Potter was that Potter would be successful and uncover some forgotten corner of his mind that he wished to guard.

Ahh, he thought as he probed for those dangerous memories, there IT is. THAT particular memory mustn't be available. He extracted it and several more. The pantsing he took after O.W.L.'s, the time they saw him kiss a girl and they chanted 'greaseball' in front of her, the night he tried and failed to catch Lupin in the tunnel near the school, were all memories he extracted. None though, were as devastating as that one memory.

Finding it caused him to relive it; the night he took the 'Dark Mark'. That night forced him to admit his folly to himself, and to renounce the Dark Lord the very next day to Dumbledore. Until it happened, he did not fully understand his own heart, but that event had put it all in stark relief. He was not a blind follower and even though he had passed their damned test, he would never allow someone to force him into such submission again. His unique situation had proved a windfall for Dumbledore and his 'Order', and Severus had been forced to except Dumbledore's terms in order to receive the protection and freedom of Hogwarts castle. It was the price he had to pay for his mistake.

The Dark Lord was a master of the perverse. He could play with any victim like a cat, or he could simply, and nonchalantly, strike a deathblow and go on as though there was nothing amiss. His minions lived in fear and submissive respect, doing as they were told. He lured them in too deep to get out, and then he kept them prisoner in his twisted cult of lies and promises of knowledge and power. Lord Voldemort never gave anything but what he didn't take more in exchange.

The night of his initiation Severus had been literally tingling with excitement. The other Death Eaters had enticed and dazzled him. He felt taking the mark would be his entrée into the most powerful society ever envisioned by man or wizard. Untold secrets would be his. Power and control would be his. All he had to do was accept the mark.

He arrived at the appointed time at the Malfoy mansion. Torches burned brightly lighting the way to the heavy black wooden doors. He, as the neophyte, was not to enter at the front, but through a side passageway. It led him down many steps to a small, hewed stone, antechamber. A single torch lit the space. The light fluttered over the walls and he stood tall and proud as he waited. This night was his.

Soon the door to the inner sanctum opened and a face peered out. It was that 'rat boy', Pettigrew. Severus despised him but when Pettigrew beckoned to him, Severus followed. Had he known what was in store, he would have run, but he was proud and he thought himself about to become a lord among wizards, so he entered.

The room was arranged with a series of steps rising up in the darkness in a semi-circle. At the bottom was an open area and directly across from the stepped area was a dais upon which sat a chair. Pettigrew led him to the center of the open area and told him to wait there. As Peter walked away some type of magical light suddenly shone up from the floor at Severus' feet. He was annoyed by this 'spotlight' and stepped to the side of it. At once, tremendous pain coursed through his body, nearly knocking him over in its intensity. He jumped back toward the circle of light and found relief. He tried gingerly moving out of the light in the opposite direction and experienced the same pain. So, he was trapped. This did not bode well and he began to worry. What if they were going to do something else to him, not give him the mark?

Severus tried to calm his mind. After all, he had proved his allegiance and had impressed the other Death Eaters. He could sense that. He would not assume the worst yet, but he got out his wand and held it at his side. Soon a quiet murmuring and rustling announced the arrival of the marked ones; Lord Voldemort's Death Eaters. They wore cloaks with deep hoods that obscured their faces. They filed in at the top of the stepped area and took seats around the semi-circle. There was little talking. Severus remained standing straight and still with his head high. He would not cower.

Next, a door opened, and a chill breeze whished past Severus. He shuddered. In the doorway stood a tall thin form, also hooded and cloaked. The form swept into the room and up on to the dais then sank into the chair with a flourished of its cape. "Who is it that seeks to join the legion of the Dark Mark?" boomed Lord Voldemort.

"I, Severus Snape wish to join with you," was the reply. Severus had made the declaration with as much force and dignity that he could summon.

"You must prove yourself, Severus Snape," came the response. Severus had stiffened at this and prepared himself for what was to come. But, what was to come he wondered? Some form of branding, certainly. Some pain with it, most likely. Perhaps a statement of allegiance.

"You, Severus Snape, are here to be judged. Are you the grist or are you the millstone? Are you the jackal or are you the lamb? Are you the hunter or are you the prey? This I must know before I allow you to serve me," said Lord Voldemort expansively. He rose and began to pace around the dais.

"I have a small test for those with the desire to serve me and to prosper under my tutelage." Severus had bent his concentration upon Voldemort. He was listening but also thought he would try to probe the mind of this powerful dark wizard. Severus read the thoughts of most people quite easily. When he made his attempt now, he was met with a completely alien force that neither allowed him in nor seemed to be forcing him out.

"The test goes thus. Peter, bring in our other guest." Pettigrew brought in a man, shackled and dirty, with wild looking hair. His wore clothing that was ripped and shredded and where his skin was visible; there were signs of healing cuts. He was barefoot and a noose was tied around the man's neck. Peter fastened the end of the rope to a metal ring embedded in the floor and calmly walked back to his seat. The man was breathing heavily and looked angrily toward Snape.

"Good, Good," said Voldemort in a silky voice. "Now," he said turning to face Severus. "The challenge," he said dramatically "If you choose to join with me, you must first kill this man who is a traitor to me." Severus raised an eyebrow, but dared no more. He took a moment to consider. The man meant nothing to Severus, so killing him would be as simple as 'Avada Kedavra', and then he would be in. He was reluctant to kill for no apparent reason, however, his leader said the man was a traitor. Severus was ambiguous about it, but decided to proceed.

"I am happy to do my lord's bidding," he said clearly to the room. He raised his wand and prepared himself to perform the spell.

"Such prompt obedience, I am impressed Severus, and ready with the spell, then? First, state your intention for the assemblage."

"I will kill your enemy, My Lord, on your command," said Severus. He felt he had delivered that statement quite grandly, and he had certainly impressed his soon-to-be brothers in darkness. He stood waiting for his instructions. Perhaps this was only a test of his resolve and he would not be killing the man after all. He decided to continue to try to probe Voldemort's mind as he waited. It was very resistant to his efforts.

"Severus, you have stated your intention and you must follow through on it. Now for the conditions of the killing. Neither of you will have wands....Yes, Severus, this man is a wizard as well. Andres here..." Voldemort indicated the shackled man, "stood in the same position you do now but three weeks ago. He declared he would NOT kill for me. At that moment, Andres became the hunted and not the hunter."

Severus' concentration was broken. What did Voldemort mean?

"You will fight Andres to the death. If you win, Andres will be dead and you will be initiated into my little family," he spread his arms wide. "If you lose, well... you'll be dead, and Andre will have to fight again, until he is killed. Who will leave the room alive, I wonder?"

Voldemort was clearly enjoying this charade. Severus was now suffering from serious doubts. Voldemort took his seat again. "The rules of the fight, then," he said with a voice as smooth and as sharp as ice. "As I said, no wands. You will fight with these daggers." Voldemort indicated some knives that Pettigrew was holding in a cloth wrapping. "And to ensure a fair fight with no hidden weapons..." there was a sniggering from the cloaked cadre behind him, "...you will fight naked, such as the ancient Spartans did. Disrobe NOW."

Severus took a deep breath and tried to think. It was a trap no matter how one looked at it. Kill or be killed. In addition he was to be humiliated by this puerile display. He could see no options, as he could certainly not escape the room alive. Hatred welled up in him but he had to go ahead, there was no choice in it.

With as much dignity as he could muster, Snape began to remove his clothes. Pettigrew removed the shackles from Andres' hands and then yanked the rope around the man's neck until he too stripped. Severus looked sideways at his adversary. The man was lean and might have been muscular at one time, but now was a wasted version of that self. Severus was not an athletic person, but he was fit enough. As he finished undressing, he began to hear muffled laughter from the assembled watchers including the voice of a woman. Severus knew his face was flushed despite his attempt to control his emotions.

He was shown the knives and he pointed a one, which Pettigrew tossed at his feet. The remaining one was given to the agitated Andres. The circle of light imprisoning Severus suddenly expanded to encircle the entire floor. Pettigrew pushed Andres through it into the center. He screamed in pain from breaching the light curtain. Just painful enough to keep us inside mused Snape. "You may begin," said Voldemort.

The fight began with a lot of dancing back and forth, thrusts, parries and wide arching swings. A few cuts for Severus, a few for his opponent. This was going to be difficult, thought Severus panting. He was twenty as opposed to Andres who must have been forty. It might have been an advantage, but he had never fought in this way before. He was not a killer, not like this. He preferred subtlety to this brawl of a knife fight. He tried to concentrate wholly on the fight but the comments, laughter, and now wagering, by the Death Eaters was distracting. Lord Voldemort presided over the entire thing like a deranged tyrant.

The fight continued and Severus lost track of the time. Andres had nothing to lose. Neither did he. When this realization hit him the anger fired his resolve. The gathered throng didn't really care about the outcome. He could win or lose and they would still have their entertainment. He hated Voldemort. He hated these Death Eaters. He hated himself for thinking this would be his salvation. He attacked with overwhelming fury. He ignored sense and reason and simply charged straight at his opponent knocking him to the ground. They rolled toward the edge of the light and Severus forced Andres' knife arm to the ground, and his hand through the curtain of light. Andres bawled in pain and dropped his knife. Without thinking further, Severus slit Andres' throat.

Severus was smeared with the blood of this unknown enemy. Blood covered everything. As he tried to rise, he slumped over the still warm body, totally spent. He struggled to get to his knees and he realized he had been stabbed and cut more than a few times. He staggered over to the edge of the light where his clothes lay on the floor. Picking up his shirt, he tried to wipe away the smell of the dead man's blood. The circle of light had disappeared. A hand caught his arm. The woman was there, earthy yet hard. He recognized her as Bellatrix Black. She wiped her hand over his chest and tasted it. "Blood, sweat and tears, Severus?" she asked, laughing.

"Very good, Severus. I am proud of your triumph. Now you must finish the task, making your initiation complete," announced the Dark Lord. Severus stopped wiping and turned to face Lord Voldemort. What did he expect now? Snape, without thinking, tried the mind penetration technique. He wished he hadn't however, because he immediately broke through. 'You must eat the freshly killed flesh of my enemy and thus you will become my Death Eater. If you refuse this you will be killed.' Severus realized that Voldemort was in control of even this. He had allowed Snape to see this thought and only this. It was as good as if he had spoken the words, this Severus knew. He was now a puppet just as were the rest of the pathetic creatures in this room. He picked up the knife, walked swiftly over to the body, dropped to his knees and screaming, slit open the man's chest, pulling out the heart of his victim. He drew his blade across it and swallowed the strip of flesh that he had removed. Nausea welled up in him, but he realized that he was still in danger, and willed himself not to vomit. When would this nightmare end, he wondered.

Suddenly there was a Death Eater on each side, holding his arms. They pulled him toward the dais and dragged him to the floor. Two others held his legs. He was pinned to the ground on his stomach, spread eagle, as Lord Voldemort approached. The snake, Nagini, slithered out from behind Voldemort's chair. She slid over his out stretched arm and across his back. He could feel the weight of the snake now draped over his legs. His left arm was twisted to expose his forearm. He could not see what was happening. He heard Lord Voldemort speak a spell and suddenly Nagini struck, sinking her fangs into his arm. A stabbing pain shot through him but he was past caring.

When they released him, he dressed and pulled on his boots. His fellow Death Eaters clapped him on the back and congratulated him. He nodded at them and smiled, tight lipped. They were all swilling wine now. Severus noticed a writhing pile of legs, arms, and other body parts in one corner of the chamber. They were no better than beasts. He felt sick. Severus did not look at his mark, he knew it was there and he did not care to see it. He just moved toward the door.

"The Dark Lord will summon you when he needs you," murmured Lucius Malfoy who waited near the door. "Your mark will tell you when." Lucius grabbed the newly made mark tightly, inflicting terrible pain. Severus refused to respond. He looked into Lucius' face. There was a wicked smile there. Severus nodded to Lucius curtly and left the house.

The next day, Severus went to Hogwarts. He begged an audience with Dumbledore and he told the entire story. He asked for a way out. He never intended to end up as the pawn of a twisted maniac. He wanted fame and power, not more servitude. It was the first time he had asked anyone for help.

Dumbledore had listened intently and proposed an arrangement to benefit both of them. In exchange for a position at Hogwarts where he would be safe, Severus was to continue on as a Death Eater and a spy for Dumbledore's Order. He had no choice but to agree. It was the only way he could have resisted becoming a mere boot lick to the great Lord Voldemort. Dumbledore's parting shot was, "If you deceive me, I will kill you, Severus. Make no mistake."

Three months later, Voldemort was virtually destroyed by a small child; one Harry Potter, and Severus was free of him. He owed Harry for this release as he owed James Potter for saving him from the werewolf. He also owed James for every insult and humiliation from his school days. He had despised James Potter and then James had shown him pity. It was bile in his throat. Like his experience with the Death Eaters, people and events were always conspiring to push him down and rob him of glory. He wanted to be the one pulling the strings but that role always eluded him.

Just then there was a knock at the door. Harry Potter had arrived for his Occlumency lesson. He entered and laid his books down. Severus was rude, as always. He hated the boy and he hated the father as much as he hated himself. So as soon as Harry raised his wand in defense, Severus attacked Harry's mind with abandon. Harry was soon flat on the floor, and Severus Snape felt ever so much better.