Ordinary people do not say the name. If they can, they do not even think about it. Lord Voldemort. Lord Thief of Death.

They do not understand.

Death is not the end of life but its summation. Death holds not merely all of life but the energies of transition, powers that can only be guessed at, borrowed from eternity. The spell merely sunders what is 'Real' from the cadaver. And it is this 'Reality' that he steals.

It is this that they consume to sustain the Dark Lord.

The Death Eaters.

He does not remember his own initiation, a sacred, secret moment between himself and his Lord. He is told by a Muggle healer that it is normal not to remember traumatic experiences. The man calls himself a 'Quack' and tiredly patches him up while, outside the hospital, Aurors wipe up the less wily survivors of a fire fight. He curses himself for his weakness, but is already becoming disillusioned.

He was promised power and power he certainly has. Power that is not his to use.

Or not to use.

He realises that he is only a conduit, a gut for the Dark Lord's brain and he hates it, despises and would abjure it until his own continuation is anathema to him.

He did not betray his Lord. It was he who was betrayed. Loyalty that does not go both ways is not loyalty but something else. And so he has another master whose loyalty is less certain. (For certainly Voldemort has none).

A master who whispers gravely 'Do what you must.'

And so, in disgust and misery, he does what he must, and in weariness and pain, does what he can. A word sent - a whisper of warning from the dark. Winged vermin pressed into the cause of light. Severus Snape imperioing pigeons in the park. He would laugh for he cannot cry.

Potter . . . On his own, the self-righteous fool stood no chance against him and he has been robbed of vengeance because the decision was not his but another's.

Evans . . . Curious, intelligent and so easy to talk to. Bright minutes when ideas had flown like birds between them.

He had thought that they were becoming almost friends until that day by the lake, when despite the fact that those arrogant, strutting boys did not tolerate defiance and she had good reason to fear them, she could not hide a smile.

Theirs had been an association that brought an offensively bright little muggleborn first the attention and, when she had proved resistant to his charm, the interest of Gryffindor's Golden Boy. It had brought an unwanted, unattractive child torment and contempt. Of course he could not expect his own house to defend him, but how very Slytherin of her. In his pain and helpless rage he had called the only ugly thing that came to his mind. He had not known then, or had forgotten, that sometimes people smile when they're afraid.

He has seen so many people afraid, pureblood as well as . . . and he can see no difference.

And he does not want to do this thing. 'Get out of the way you foolish girl.' Though her child must die the mother might be saved.

But she will not.

He sees that her hair is the colour of the setting sun and he braces himself against the brief pleasure and rapid pain of another's Death passing through his own soul.

He has seen them before, hung on the air before him like the sparkle of sunlight on water and drawn through him to darkness. He is but a conduit - does the road to the scaffold grieve?

She is pleading, offering her own life for her child's. Hopelessly he considers that, without husband or child, perhaps this is kindness? He is not aware of having spoken the words but something is very wrong.

He finds that he is facing not merely a broken reflection but the blazing sun itself.

In sudden fear he realises that She must pass through him and he is sure that it cannot be done without destroying him entirely. He could believe that he welcomes it, except that his own magic, struggling for his very existence, is pulling the house down around them. On his belly and unthinking he protects the child, crawling blindly away. He can feel the hunger of the Dark Lord opening himself to swallow Her and he cannot. It is the darkness that is engulfed.

Through long hours he lies pinned and broken under rubble while the child is rescued and other events unfold and in his mouth is a taste like the scent of summer meadows. In the quiet morning Dumbledore comes for his spy.

Days elude him and months and years pass by. She says nothing but his own voice speaks to him continually. Words upon words and more words. He spins angry, elegant, silken phrases, weaving the tale of his own existence amongst the lives of others. He hangs in a web of words slung across the abyss. He drinks, he eats, he breathes but, even so, some of the children murmur that he's a vampire. If it were only that simple then he might have an end, but his body is the only tool they have. She is beautiful and he is so very afraid. When he sleeps he dreams of fields of asphodel.

He watches the child. This prideful, stubborn, wilfully ignorant boy cannot defeat the Dark Lord but, even so, he guards him.

He must.

He has applied for the Dark Arts position again. He knows that he will not get it, but in the dungeons he sees too much. In a massive vault of masonry and native granite he comes upon a bier with a simple box of dark wood on it. He is unsurprised to see that the small silver plaque bears his name. She lays a garland of white flowers over it.

'I'm trying to decide which curse to use on Malfoy, sir.' Snape stares at the boy. She is standing before him pleading, demanding, desperately needing something and he would give her anything but that he does not know how.

He pretends not to see her.

At the Headmaster's request he has arrived to escort Crabbe, Goyle and Malfoy home from Saint Mungo's. In the corridor outside the ward, for the first time, he sees that she is crying and he is still capable of pity.

And so, although he fears her and what must happen when he fails, finally, finally he approaches her, acknowledges her, fingers reaching out towards bright hair. She looks up and her green eyes seem so weary. Though he needs neither wand nor word he needs their comfort. His fingers reach into his sleeve and grasp the familiar edge. The word is spoken softly. 'Legilimens!'

She is reading in the quiet of the Hogwarts library . . . Grindelwald defeated . . . Tom Riddle awarded Order of Merlin . . . Grindelwald's supporters in hiding . . . graves desecrated . . . for a moment he sees his own pale face in the hospital corridor, terror mingled with concern in his black eyes . . . then the hooded cloak of a Dementor . . . and then he knows and he remembers and the horror is unendurable. The world whirls round him with the sound of thunder and goes dark.

'Severus, Severus . . .' Dumbledore. They must have called him.

When he opens his eyes he sees why. There are windows missing, the walls are cracked and the tiled floor beneath him is no more that squares of coloured sand. Dumbledore's arm is around him as it was on the night of the werewolf. This time he does not pull away. He knows now what it is that he is so afraid of. What they are all afraid of, although they have been made to forget. He knows why Lucius tried to bring back a younger version of the Dark Lord, although Lucius himself does not.

He knows why Death Eaters are so called and where Dementors come from. He knows what becomes of soul sucking acolytes when the Dark Mantle moves on to a new Lord and why it must not.

He gets up. 'I'm sorry,' he says and then 'I know.' He sees the resignation in Dumbledore's blue eyes give way to confusion then sorrow mixed with hope.

'Severus?'

'I'm here.'

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Author's notes.

I am endebted to Maryx at FictionAlley for the suggestion that Voldemort means 'Thief Of Death' and to Tom Lehrer for the song 'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park' and to JKR for the unapproved loan everything else.

Also to those who did not review my last attempt at this fic indicating that it was probably incomprehensible and most especially to the single kind soul who did, thus proving that the system was working.