Chapter18 - The Final Descent

Severus awoke, feeling emptiness spread out from his body and taking over the world around him. Everything seemed so large but seemed to be comprised of completely and utterly nothing. He had performed his mission for the Dark Lord, and he knew he could not report back until he was certain Sartoris was dead.

He continued to lay in bed, staring at the green canopy over him and wishing for time to stand still. He could not get up, he could not see if it had worked, he could not see if it had failed and Sartoris knew what he had done, he could not bring himself to move at all.

However, he of all people knew time would never stand still, and he forced himself up to shower and dress and prepare himself to slip into his actor's Mask of Mourning when he would be told the news of the scandalous death of the potions master.

The corridor of the dungeon was filled with teachers and aurors, the buzz of conversation and questioning reaching his ears as he approached the gathering. He carefully applied a Mask of Confusion across his face.

"What's going on here?" he demanded.

Professor Sinistra - closest to him - turned, and gently touched his face with her long purple nails. "Oh, Severus! It's horrendous! Professor Sartoris is dead!"

A Mask of Anxious Disbelief replaced the confusion. "Dead? He can't be. Death would be afraid to collect him."

"It's true." She took her hand away and used it to find a kerchief in her robes, bringing it up to dab at her thin nose. "When he did not respond to the call for Faculty Parting Breakfast, he was found in his office."

Severus shook his head, carefully knotting his brows together. "No. He's not dead. Let me see him!"

Professor Sinistra tried to pull him back, but he shook her hand off his arm and pushed his way between Professors Kettleburn and Azaki, gazing into the lab. "Let me through!"

Professor Azaki managed to grab his arm. "No, Severus! You can't see him!"

"He's my potions master!" Severus snarled at his Magical World Studies teacher. "He can't be dead!"

Azaki released him and Severus rushed into the room, knocking down two Aurors and nearly crashing into the doorway.

In the potion master's office, Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall were talking quietly with three Aurors and the Minister of Magic. A figure draped with a white sheet was hunched over the desk. On the desk itself was a mirror lined with two long rows of white powder.

"Severus - " Dumbledore began.

The teenager plastered a Mask of Anger over his features. "What happened to Sartoris?" he shrieked, striding across the room and whipping the sheet off.

Sartoris' body was slumped over the desk, his hand gripping a stiff piece of tubing and the blood drained from his face.

"The Professor," McGonagall stated clinically. "Had died of a chemical overdose, Snape." She eyed him critically. "And we would appreciate it if you would please leave the dungeons so the Aurors may conduct their investigation without any sort of hinderance."

"Who did this to him?" Severus inquired.

"He did it to himself, Severus," Dumbledore replied. "We will share the details with you later when the investigation is complete, when we know the full details of his demise. Considering how close you were to this particular teacher, the Aurors may question you if it suits their investigation."

"Indeed?" one of the female Aurors piped up. "We may as well get it done with now. Mind if I ask you a few questions?"

Severus nodded silently, finally applying his Mask of Shut-Down.

-

He - was - brilliant. If he could say so himself.

He revealed he did not know of Sartoris' recreational habits involving any of the more illegal potions, nor did he believe his mentor to be the sort to indulge in such internal mutilation.

"But his addiction seems to have stretched back as far as the 1940's," he was informed. "The amount found in his possession and the amount he had consumed the night before indicate that Sejanus Sartoris was using this ... drug ... as a stimulant to be able to function from day to day. Evidently, he had also used it for recreational purposes since we found small traces of Enhancement Draught in his bloodstream. The draught seems to be what had killed him - it enchanced the effect of this 'cocaine' and caused an artificial overdose in his system."

His mission had been successful. He had to remember to keep his hair in his face when he felt like smirking.

He really should not feel such relief for assisting in the poisoning of his potions tutor and mentor, but yet ... he felt a strange sense of satisfaction in bringing about the end of that part of his life. Like a severing of his past. What he could endure as a Death Eater seemed welcomed compared to the darkness of his childhood.

It gave him more of an excuse to hide in his dorm room and not bother with associating with anyone until Dhir Prakash arrived within a few days.

-

Minerva McGonagall gently stroked Fawkes' head in Dumbledore's office.

"It seems," she commented. "That Snape had taken the death of his mentor rather hard."

"Does one blame the boy?" Albus asked. "Sejanus was very likely the only teacher on staff that did not fine him points or have him serve many dententions due to Sirius Black and James Potter."

"Well, now we know why - the man was a filthy drug abuser!"

"Minerva, it is still in bad form to speak ill of the dead, no matter what his personal habits were."

She pursed her lips, as if sucking on a lemon.

Albus continued: "He has been teaching potions at this school since 1901, Professor. It was simply his Time to go."

She raised an eyebrow. "Will you be safe in the school with Severus Snape here while Dr. Prakash visits?"

"I will be well, Minerva," he replied. "Severus has withdrawn himself over this scandalous death of his mentor, but he will bury himself into his work with the doctor. He will assist only one rather than two."

"He's slipped into Darkness, Albus."

"We've done all we could."

"We knew it was inevitable."

"While there is life, we shall hope."

"And he has pulled away from that."

Albus spread his hands across his desk, silently shrugging. "He is also an adult and we cannot make the choices for him any more."

McGonagall closed her eyes, continuing to pet Fawkes. "I remember how you tried with Tom Riddle."

"I'm surprised it was known at all."

She opened her eyes. "I was a very observant student, Professor Dumbledore. Even then, his 'other' name had been whispered of." She pressed her lips, then added softly, "I could not tell you seven years ago, but I will now - when I had first placed the Sorting Hat on Snape, I felt the same darkness and bitterness as I had felt with Riddle when I knew him in school. This child is going to be a plague to humankind."

"Do you doubt my trust?"

"I doubt you can discriminate the difference between hope and hopeless, Albus."

He lowered his eyes. "Every superficial surface has a depth that can never be reached or known. The same is true of Severus."

McGonagall inhaled, turning her attention back to the phoenix. "I do hope you're right."

-

"Tomorrow is the arrival of Dhir Prakash to Hogwarts," the Dark Lord stated. "I believe you will find his instruction to be refreshing."

Severus stood silently in the cold, wet chamber.

"Something troubles you, beautiful one?"

Severus shifted his eyes from left to right. "Dumbledore will be alone in the castle - "

Voldemort raised his hand. "Patience, Snape. Simply killing him at this point is ill-advised, however the temptation appears to be irresistable. I will bide my time with him. The only things you worry about at this point, my lovely pet, is to absorb everything he says and does, and to learn from Prakash." Nagini slithered up the carved chair and curled himself around the Dark Lord's arm. "Understand, Snape?"

"Perfectly, Dread Lord," Severus answered with a bow.

"I still must congratulate you on your work with Sartoris," he chuckled. "An Enhancement Draught; quite clever of you. Dumbledore was quite shocked, wasn't he?"

Severus smirked. "The look of betrayal would have pleased you immensely."

"Very good." The Dark Lord grinned wickedly. "Very good, Death Eater Snape."

-

Albus entered the Dreamlands silently, walking into the Forest of Souls and coming upon a scene of peculiar figures.

The clearing in the wood had been filled with a room - specifically, his office. Within this office was Severus Snape; an older Snape that had seen and lived through too many horrors to name, but yet lived through them with his soul damaged but intact.

In this room was a young man that looked like James Potter, save for a lighting-shaped scar on his forehead and a pair of intense green eyes behind his glasses.

"All this," the boy was saying. "Was an act?"

Severus lowered his face, bracing his hands on Albus' desk. "An act to outwit everyone, including the other players, Potter." His gravelly voice - abused by the poison he took at seventeen - was suitable for dark graveyards and unholy rites.

"You were a rotten bastard, Snape."

"That was the role I had to play."

Albus pushed his way into the room. "And I take responsibility for it!"

Severus looked up at him, his face harder, more craggy, but the liquid black eyes returning his gaze. "Repenance is not for the Directors, Father. The Actors who have begun to believe they are the roles they play - that is who must Repent."

The teenage boy glared up at both of them. "I'm not an Actor or Director! I did not ask to be born to this! I'm not the hero or savior of the world! I refuse it!"

Severus turned on him. "And I was born for far worse things, Potter! If I had really been the monster you believe me to be, I would have helped Quirrel kill you your First-Year! I protected your ungrateful hide not out of a Life Debt to your father, but because you were needed for this!" He leaned close to the teenage boy's face. "We are born for certain things, Harry Potter, and some of those certain things are more important than our feelings and comfort."

"I don't want to do it!"

"We do it because we CAN do it, Potter. No one else is capable but us."

Albus stepped back, watching the Dark Child and the Child of Light battle their wills against the other.

"I am not capable!"

"Indeed you are. At least you are permitted outright combat instead of tormenting yourself with the horrors of being on the inside."

The young man's mouth flew open, making no sound for a moment. Finally, his voice returned. "If I'm meant for this, then why do you need to protect me?"

"Because of prophesy and because I refuse to allow the Dark Lord to destroy that which I hold dear!"

"Severus - " Albus began.

The older Snape glanced at him, then turned back to the boy known as Harry Potter. "Because I'm the only one who can. When all is said, and the forces have taken out the rest of our comrades, you will see me in the Shadows, apparently on the side that wishes to kill you. But I will be the one staying the hand of Darkness long enough for you to destroy it."

"I can't do that," Harry Potter whispered.

"If I can touch the Darkness and live, you can surely destroy it. I will wage my final breath on it."

-

Albus' vision blurred, spinning him out of the Dreamlands and back into semi-consciousness. The scene faded; breaking into pieces that whirled out of mind and sight as the old wizard woke in the pre-dawn darkness.

Wondering now what had until seconds ago been so important, Albus Dumbledore rose and began to prepare for the day.

-

THE END

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