Chapter Thirty-Four: Memories

Severus was in agony, his body radiating heat and smoke, his nostrils full of the reek of his own blazing skin and hair as he became the inferno which consumed him. Only the burning existed and the deafening noise of his own screams as his body was slowly incinerated.

And then ... suddenly ... it stopped.

Rapidly, his body began to cool and his skin to heal.

Instinctively, his head lolled to the side, his eyes searching for Emily. Green eyes met black in a tentative, terrified glance as they silently assured themselves that the other was alive. They could risk no more, though he could see that she wanted to say as much as he. After a far-too-brief moment, their gazes fell away, one from the other, and were drawn inexorably to their savior.

Lord Voldemort was paying them no more heed, though, as his attentions turned from his rapidly-healing Death Eaters to their would-be murderer. Beneath his cold glare, Lucius Malfoy lay petrified, open-mouthed and staring furiously.

"Lucius," he hissed in a voice that drew fingers of ice down Snape's spine. "I understood when I claimed you that you were ambitious, but murdering your fellow Death Eaters..."

Severus looked on in wonder as Malfoy's mouth moved, actually fought the petrification enough to form itself into an "O" as if to answer the accusation. He couldn't help but be impressed that Lucius possessed the strength of will to do such a thing.

With a quick flick of his wrist, the Dark Lord released the spell. "You appear to have something to say, my friend."

"Grey disobeyed a direct order, Master," Lucius spat, clearly infuriated by this treatment, "and destroyed our alliance with the werewolves of Derring Woods. Because of him," he finished viciously, turning his cold, gray glare on Severus..

The sharp eyes of Voldemort narrowed and flicked over to the witch who lay curled on her side, still gasping for breath, then returned to Lucius.

Severus fought back the intuitive urge to curl his body around his friend and whisper comforting charms into her lovely spill of hair until she quieted, just as he had countless times when they were young.

But even if they weren't being watched, she would likely push him away.

Gods, if he had only known what would come of refusing her, of shunning her affection. He had only wanted what was best for her.

Or had he?

Was that really the truth?

Or had he, instead, only been too proud to go to her father and reason with him, too humiliated at the thought of facing the inevitable disappointment in Lord Grey's eyes when he learned of Snape's intentions toward his only daughter?

The two men had had an understanding for years that nothing could ever come of his being so close to Emily, that they could nurture their friendship in any way they chose, as long as Severus never became intimate with her, as long as she remained free to marry a man worthy of the Grey name.

Severus was beneath Emily. He'd known it since childhood - thought he had accepted it. But now, watching her as she rose, trembling, to her knees before their Master, he realized his mistake. He loved her. And, if Malfoy's insinuation was to be believed, she still loved him. He had been a fool to let her go, to allow her father and his obsession with powerful and uncorrupted bloodlines to keep them apart. It was a damning mistake, one from which they may never recover. But he made up his mind at that moment that, if they survived this day, he would return to her, would make her listen.

If there was even the slightest chance that she could still be his, he would take it.

His mind set itself to its new course, barely listening as Lucius defended his actions to the Dark Lord. For a long while, he made careful plans, fully trusting his ears to hear and file away any pertinent information in Malfoy's ill-tempered speech. Sweet Merlin, only a Malfoy would be so bold as to speak to the Dark Lord in such a haughty manner, and only Lucius could get away with it.

"I believe I understand." Severus shivered as the Dark Lord's voice slithered over him. His tone was pleasant, far more so than the situation could ever warrant, and it filled Severus with a sense of great foreboding. A long, bony hand stretched down toward Emily and she took it without hesitation, allowing the Dark Lord to pull her to her feet.

"Emily, my dear child," he purred silkily, cupping her cheek gently in his palm. "My wretched, wayward little girl. Is Lucius telling the truth? Are you ... in love with my Potions Master?" he asked with a pronounced sneer.

Severus cringed as Emily gazed adoringly into her master's eyes and shook her head in denial, her face full of the awe that she reserved only for him and his nearly immeasurable power. Snape detested that look. He detested her obsession with gaining the Dark Lord's favor, but he detested most not knowing where he was going with this dangerous line of questioning.

"I am relieved to hear it, my child," their Master continued. "Love is for the weak, pathetic fools who are ruled by emotion rather than strength. Such creatures have no place within my circle."

Emily smiled softly into his face, utterly lost in his words as he continued.

"I will not punish you further for your disobedience," he purred silkily. "But very soon I shall insist upon an act of loyalty from you, further substantiation that you belong only to me. Do you understand why I must insist upon this?"

"Yes, Master," she whispered huskily.

"Then we are finished here. You and Severus are dismissed. I must discuss this incident further with Lucius."

"Thank you, Master," she managed, then moved closer, just a breath closer, and Severus hesitated, froze in mid-obeisance, as she was suddenly wrapped in Voldemort's cold embrace, her head resting in complete trust on the shoulder of evil itself. It was the only time he had seen anyone embrace the Master, and it shocked him so that, for a long moment, he failed to breathe.

Suddenly, the strength was stolen from his limbs as the Dark Lord opened his eyes, cast a black look directly at him over Emily's shoulder ... and smiled. It was a foul grin, one of pure malevolence, just between the two of them, and Snape immediately interpreted the meaning.

Emily's denial of her love for him had meant nothing. Voldemort knew. He knew the truth about both of them. He also knew that Emily was drawn to power as a moth to the flame, and as long as he had the power, he would have her. She was one of his possessions now, and if Severus ever made a move to threaten that, he would die.

Suddenly, his stomach gave a nauseating lurch as a cold chill raced down his spine.

His hands grew ice cold, even as his face was suddenly bathed in sweat.

He began to shake as the picture before him froze, and then began to fade.

Something was wrong.

Something was very, very wrong.

Inexplicably, he saw the future stretching before him - not in a haze of clairvoyance, but with absolute inevitability.

A sickening spasm of deja vu.

He had been here before.

This was not real. This was a memory, one of his worst. The day he knew she had found another love, had given herself over to it entirely. The day he realized that he was powerless to save her.

But it is only a memory, he counseled himself sternly. How did you come to this place in your mind? What do you remember?

I remember Emily, he thought weakly. I remember that she was in trouble, and I wanted to help.

Emily is always in trouble, the rougher, more analytical side argued coldly. She's a foolish child. Put it aside. You need to save yourself first, Professor.

Professor

Professor of Potions, Potions Master, actually, at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

And that was where he had been only a few minutes ago.

Emily had been in trouble, had run into a room ... No. Into a rune - a circle of runes.

Then the fog lifted, and he remembered.

The last circle. Its runes were woven around the spiritual spire of the pentacle. Emily had shown him just a few days ago. They were runes of dreams and memory and binding.

Dreams.

Memory.

Binding.

Brilliant, Severus. You walked directly into a trap -dove into it, actually.

Coldly, he silenced the berating before it could begin. No time for that right now. He had to find Emily before she became lost in her own nightmares.

But, where to begin? Everywhere he looked, he was surrounded by the same, gloomy haze. And, if that were the case, then it didn't really matter which direction he took so long as he got moving. Resolutely, he began to walk, but with his first step the light around him winked out and he was left in absolute darkness.

From that darkness, rose a familiar voice.

"I knew it," Eric Grey hissed, appearing out of the rapidly-lighting mist like the specter he had to be.

Severus fought back the shock and directed his attention to the crouched figure Eric was addressing.

It was a gaunt, haggard-looking Emily, just looking up in astonishment from the enormous, twisting runic circle she'd carved in the vast foyer of the Grey mansion.

She stared a moment, sighed irritably, then returned to her work, imbuing the creation with a familiar-looking black potion, his own Draught of Destruction.

"Get out, Eric," she replied tersely.

"We had an agreement, Em," he said softly, crouching beside her, placing a hand on her arm.

She immediately shook it off, determined to complete her task.

"We had nothing," she snapped. "You agreed to hide. I allowed you to do so."

"You told me you would wait in Ireland until this blew over, or until the Order ..."

"The Order is a pathetic band of ineffectual, self-righteous buffoons. There's nothing they can do to avenge our father ... or to save us."

"And you can?" he asked, frustration creeping into his voice.

"Bloody right, I can," she returned darkly.

Eric cast his eyes to the circle as the potion oozed through the entire design at his twin's coaxing, guiding its movement with her wand, infusing it with astonishing power.

"You're going to kill them?" he asked casually.

"Yes."

"With this?"

"Yes."

"And you expect they'll just ... blunder into it?"

She stopped working long enough to glare at him out of the corner of her eye. "It's designed to draw them in, and when I'm finished, if you will allow me to finish, it won't be visible."

He rose to his feet, studying her carefully as she continued to work.

"You realize he'll be among them?" he asked softly.

She stopped again, sighed, and lowered her wand. Her eyes, however, did not waver in their inspection of the work. "I know," she answered finally.

"You're going to kill him?"

"I don't have a choice," she said blankly.

"He's your best friend," Eric argued. "How can you ..."

"Was, Eric," she corrected irritably. "A long time ago. He's nothing but a killer now."

Eric opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it again as Severus leaned forward to listen more closely, realizing that they were talking about him. Eric knew the truth, that he was a spy for the Order. Had he tried to tell her that night?

"Emily," Eric began carefully. "There are ... things about Severus you don't know. He's ... not exactly what you think he is."

"Eric, stop it!" she snapped, rising to her feet to face him. "Stop deluding yourself! I know what's going on. I know what you feel for him." She paused, took his hand, and held it uncomfortably as she continued in a much more subdued tone. "I'm sorry, Eric. I know what being in love with him feels like. I know how it hurts. I understand."

"No," he interrupted firmly. "You don't. You don't know ... "

"I know all I need to know," she said tightly. "I know that he's one of them. I know that he killed our father, and I know that he and Lucius are coming back for us ... Tonight. They are two of the deadliest wizards alive. The Dark Lord will be crippled without them. As a member of the Order, that should be your first priority."

Eric was shaking his head, his hand moving to his hip where his wand rested. "I can't let you kill him, Emily."

With a whispered incantation, she set the potion moving within the runes again. This time, allowing it to flow at its own pace. "The circle is activated, Eric. You can't stop it, and you don't have the power to stop me." Her eyes flicked down to his hand, moving ever closer to his wand.

"Don't," she said firmly. "It doesn't have to come to that." She took a step forward. "Can't you see I'm doing this for you? For us? We'll be free again, Eric, free from thetaint, the abominationof love."

"I am not tainted because I am in love," he returned harshly, his voice rising above its usual quiet resonance. "It is not a sickness or a weakness. If anything, loving him has made me stronger, because I know that I can never have him." His shook his head and smiled sadly. "He loves you, Emily. He always will."

"Well ..." she swallowed thickly. "It's a bit late for that."

"It's not too late, Emily, for any of us," he replied, his tone much sharper than usual. "And I'm not going to allow you to kill the one man who could save us all."

Her brow furrowed, trying to discern his meaning as, for a moment, they stared in silence, the tension between them stretching to the breaking point.

Then both wands raised as one.

Their cries were intermingled so that it was impossible to tell who cast what spell, but Emily fell backward, her wand sailing toward the front door, her head barely missing the edge of the circle. Still, somehow, she managed to catch Eric's wand as it sailed obediently toward her and the air was split with a pronounced SNAP as she broke it in half.

She was back on her feet in an instant.

"Have you lost your mind?!" she shouted. "Are you trying to kill me?!"

His eyes darted from the ruined bits of wood in her hand to his sister's livid face. Slowly, his skin began to color with rage.

"I am thinking, Emily," he growled, pacing slowly toward her, pinning her against the runes at her heels. "I'm thinking ... better you - better both of us - than him."


Queen of the Faeries:

Interesting. I really appreciate your honesty. I hate to think that things were getting repetitious. (Escaped winces) Sorry about that. My bad. To answer your question, though I'm sure you've figured it out by now, this is the circle from the uppermost point of the pentacle, Spirit.

Dianatyne:

That was just mean, D ... but funny.

Elessar Evenstar:

You are too flattering, sweetie. Yeah. You have to love Severus even he's acting the love-sick clod. You know, aimless pondering about what would happen if I were in a fic was what prompted the writing of my first story (Ahem).

1lonelyangel:

I hope that this answered your question, my dear. And I hope that the simple answer was worth the wait. I was listening to History of Us by the Indigo Girls while I wrote that chapter. It's a very drippy song and never fails to bring tears to my eyes. It was also quite poignant. Damn. Now that you mention it, I should've included the lyrics at the beginning of the chapter. I'm such a clod!

Sesshomaru's Angel:

Just one more chapter and we'll flush out the whole Eric story. And, just as a side-note, but a very important one: Watch where you're flinging that term, dear heart. You're liable to hurt someone. Quite a few of my friends are "fags." It's not a reason to kill off a character because it's not a negative trait. You note that I, myself, am bisexual. I'm fairly sure that you didn't mean anything horrid by saying it, dear, but be careful. You came close to insulting me and most of my entourage. Cheers!

bluebird1611221:

Your compliments take my breath away. If you're looking for some good writing, check out Lady Jenilyn's story, "Mirror of My Dreams." It's wonderful.

dalamis:

I look forward to checking out your work. It won't be tonight, but perhaps tomorrow I can take a good, long look. Yay! I'm excited!

Captain Oblivious!:

You're so cute when you fall over twitching. It's always complicated being evil, especially if you're trying to be a socially-acceptable evil person. Then you have to have all sorts of angsty reasons for your anti-social behavior. But, it's worth the trouble. Happily, I was sorted into Ravenclaw. Much, much easier to deal with. Careful where you're pointing that waffle iron! You make me nervous with that thing!

Aerith luva:

Holy crap! You read the whole thing in a day?! Wow! I'm officially impressed! Thanks for the good word. I really appreciate it!

Lady Jenilyn:

Wow. You have such an understanding of the way those two think. I'm not sure of it's so much good writing (blush!) on my part or deep insight into the characters on yours. Let's call it a great deal of both and celebrate over some mint rum! I'm sure you could use a drink. I know I could. Rough week. I have a friend who's in dire straights and I'm at my wit's end trying to help. Hopefully all your questions will be answered in the next few chapters ... and then my story will come to an end. Sigh. Oh, yeah. I need a drink.