Summary: The Dark Mark has made a suspicious reappearance on Severus Snape's arm, prompting Albus Dumbledore to make a potentially deadly vow. Set during GoF. Slash.
Rating: PG-13 for subject matter, implied violence/suicide, euphemistic sexuality
Obligatory Disclaimer: Not mine, etc. Please don't sue me, etc. No profit is being made, etc.
By Daphne Dunham
For Albus Dumbledore, it is always the same dream – a nightmare, to be precise, one which descends on him like low-lying clouds bursting torrents and bolts of horror. Severus, his body quaking with pain. Severus, moaning and gasping last breaths. Severus, with Lord Voldemort towering above him, laughing maliciously as he wields his wand with lethal intent. Sometimes he dies by Avada; sometimes he is forced to drink a poison that he himself has made; other times Voldemort tortures him with Cruciatus until his tired, frail body surrenders. Regardless the cause, the scenes are all variations on the same theme: a defeated Albus being forced to watch, powerless, as Voldemort brutally murders the hook-nosed wizard who has been his student, his spy, his friend, his lover.
It is because of these nightmares that Albus feels a little weak as he watches Severus hoist the left sleeve of his robes up past his elbow this evening. The younger man is paler than usual, and he bears the haunted, horrified look of someone not-so-dimly aware of his own mortality.
"It's coming back," Severus is saying, indicating the shadowy mark on his sallow skin. "Karkaroff's too… stronger and clearer than ever."
Albus leans over his desk to get a closer look at the hideous emblem. In truth, he has suspected this would happen for years, and since Peter Pettigrew's return to his master last spring, the threat of Voldemort's eventual return has seemed inevitable. There have been other signs of Voldemort's increasing strength, of course. Albus has conferred with Firenze, for instance, and there have been odd occurrences – the disappearance of Bertha Jorkins, for one. None of these indicators have been more startling to Albus, though, than the faint but undisputable reappearance of the Dark Mark on the arm of the wizard before him.
"How long has it been since you noticed it?" Albus asks. He feels rather embarrassed that he has not detected the mark on his lover's body himself, but between the start of the school year and the preparations for the Triwizard Tournament, there has been little time or energy for intimacy.
"Not long. Only since Monday," Severus replies softly, sensing Albus' alarm at his inattentiveness. Having satisfied the headmaster regarding the authenticity of the Mark, he lowers his sleeve once again. It is a loathsome symbol, a reminder of the greatest mistake of his life, and he detests beholding it a moment longer than necessary.
The headmaster sighs deeply as he settles back in his chair. "It is as we feared, then," he murmurs, his eyes distant and sad. "I don't need to tell you what this means, of course."
"No, I'm the last person who needs instruction on the ways of the Dark Lord," the Potions master says bitterly. An involuntary shiver makes its way down his back at the thought of the horrors he had experienced while in Voldemort's servitude; sometimes, when Severus closes his eyes, he can still see the scarlet gore of blood on snow or hear the tormented screams and pleas for mercy associated with Cruciatus.
Albus nods, knowing all too well the details of the younger wizard's troubled past. It had, after all, been him who'd found Severus all those years ago, his own wand pressed to his temple. Avada—Avada—Avada, he'd been stammering, unable to get past the first few syllables of the curse. He'd been desperate for any relief from the shambles he had made of his life, and Albus had sheltered him, had shown him another way. The solution hadn't been easy then – defection from the Death Eaters never is – and matters promise to be just as complicated now, with Voldemort's pending return.
"And Karkaroff? What does he make of this?" Albus asks, shaking from his mind the image of the miserable, wayward teenager barely recognisable in the stony features of the dark-haired wizard before him.
"Karkaroff's been on about it all week," Severus replies, his tone bitter. "Following me in the corridors, in the staff room, at meals. The students will notice before long if he keeps this up."
The headmaster presses the tips of his slender fingers together pensively. "Karkaroff's afraid, of course. He betrayed too many Death Eaters at his trial not to be."
At that, Severus falls oddly quiet. Averting the headmaster's gaze, he rises awkwardly and crosses the office. He paces a moment before the fireplace, his mouth opening, closing, then opening again in preparation to say something. With a troubled sigh, he resolves to close his mouth once more and stalks over to the nearby window instead. Moodily, Severus gazes out at the ground below, across the grass and towards the ominous shadows of the Forbidden Forest. Even from his desk, Albus can see that below the young man's furrowed brows, his black eyes are dark and vacant, a hard, hollow stare that is anywhere but here.
"Severus?" Albus questions, rising from his chair. It only takes moments before he is standing behind the sallow-skinned wizard, his hand placed supportively on his shoulder. "Severus what is it?"
It seems a little absurd to ask Severus what is wrong when he knows full well that it is related to Voldemort and the fact that the Dark wizard's return is tantamount to a death sentence for him. However, Albus can find no other words to express his concern.
"Karkaroff's afraid," Severus scoffs, mulling over the headmaster's previous comment. "The fool hasn't the slightest notion of what true fear is." He pauses a moment; then, face paler than usual, he turns to look at Albus. "The Dark Lord will kill me this time," he chokes, speaking in barely more than a whisper. "He'll have heard the rumours by now; he'll know I'm a spy."
Albus falters, searching for something meaningful to say. However, as he stares into those dark coals of lonely eyes before him, he already sees Severus dead. There are ghosts lurking in the shadows of those eyes, a stillness and solitude that reminds Albus of cemeteries or mausoleums. It unnerves him.
"Severus –" Albus begins to say before he can stop himself. He has meant to offer words of sympathy and comfort – the kind of encouragement everyone has come to expect from him over the years, but his voice trails off hoarsely instead.
There is nothing awkward about the lacking language, though, and a desperate rustling of robes and an echo of relieved gasps quickly replaces the silence as Albus' lips seek Severus'. Sometimes this is the only form of consolation the two can offer one another; sometimes this warmth of flesh on flesh is the best reassurance that, despite the bleakness of matters, they are not alone.
There are tiny kisses across collarbones and fingertips dusting over nipples. There are tongues flickering in and out of navels and palms massaging members into madness. And afterwards – after Albus' whiskers have tickled the inside of Severus' thighs – after Severus has rocked his hips in wanton time to Albus' thrusts – there is a hasty retreat to the headmaster's chambers and the comfort of his four-poster bed. Crossing the darkened room, Severus shivers, goose bumps rising across his bare, pallid skin. Hastily, Albus moves to wrap him in blankets.
"Albus, don't fuss," Severus protests, motioning to brush his hands away.
To the casual observer, the younger wizard may have given the pretense of annoyance, but Albus knows better: Severus needs to be doted on, needs to feel wanted and cared for. A childhood of neglect and abuse does that to a person, and so Albus persists. He pulls the quilts over Severus, kisses his eyes closed, and, lying next to him, urges him to sleep.
Hours later, Albus awakes with a nightmare-induced start. It's the Killing Curse tonight, and even in those first few seconds after he jerks his eyes open, Albus can still see the flash of green as it washes over Severus' pale skin, can still hear Voldemort's cruel cackle ringing in his ears. Sitting up in bed, Albus has to remind his heart to beat. He has to remind himself to breathe. He tells himself that he has only been dreaming, but just to be sure, he turns to check that the young man is still lying beside him. After all, one can never be too careful with a dangerous lover – and Severus Snape is a dangerous lover; the shadowy reformation of the Dark Mark on his forearm serves as a testament to this fact.
The moonlight creeps into the room from the window overhead. It leaves lazy shadows on the walls and tiptoes across Severus' face as he sleeps. He looks almost peaceful with his eyes closed, something deceptively akin to a childlike innocence lingering on his face. Severus Snape is not a handsome man – at least not in the conventional sense, in the Gilderoy Lockhart or Lucius Malfoy sense. Love, however, does strange things to one's perception of beauty, and Albus finds himself marveling at the fullness of the younger wizard's lips, the muscles which tense across the top of his back, the curve of his backside and the cleft therein.
Overwhelmed, Albus reaches out to trace his fingers affectionately up the young man's bare arm, over the menacing blur of the skull and snake which reside on his otherwise pale skin. Severus stirs but does not wake, and as the headmaster touches him, he wonders how long it will take after his return before Voldemort realises that, despite appearances, the great Albus Dumbledore does have a weakness, that if there is one person more important to him than Harry Potter, it is Severus Snape. As Albus watches Severus' chest rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall, he can't begin to estimate how many more nights he and Severus will be able spend like this if Voldemort returns the way they both expect him to. However, he can make one resolution: he can refuse to allow his nightmares become reality.
Some men make promises prior to lovemaking in hopes of wooing. Others make promises while carried away by gentle shudders and feverish moans. Albus Dumbledore prefers neither. He saves his vows for when he has nothing to gain or lose, for the quiet moments when nothing has prompted him except sincerity and the soft glow of moonlight as it stretches across his lover's face. Leaning forward, he has found at last the words he had meant to say earlier.
"I'll sacrifice myself before I let Voldemort take you, Severus," Albus murmurs, brushing his lips against the young man's forehead. "I'll sacrifice myself."
A/N: I hope the title translates to miserable/wretched sleep – at least that's what my Latin-English dictionary says it should be. However, trying to teach oneself Latin is a miserable/wretched task in itself, so if I've made a mistake, you Latin experts, feel free to (politely) correct me. :) Also, "It's coming back…" is a direct quote from GoF.