"What a transformation, Severus. Look at the state of you."
"It's been a while since you've seen me, Bella."
"It would seem that I've not seen you since we were children. Not for what you are, Severus." Her sharp footsteps contrasted harshly with the silky tones of her accusatory words as she descended the stairs, her gaze unwavering upon Severus.
"You've known me as well as any, Bella."
"Yes." Her stare was filled with scorn as she glared at the man now so incomprehensible to her. "Yes, I have." She allowed herself to loll invitingly against the bars of his cell as she provoked him, "And is that not sad? Does that not make some…definitive statement, as to the condition of your existence, Severus? "
"Other than that my time spent eating death damaged it beyond all restoration?"
"Ha! You were damaged before ever you entered our ranks. We've known a spy existed - these nine years we've known it! But to think it could be you; you, who could never have reason to turn against us - knowing that your only chance for acceptance, for respect, lay in our ranks; you, whose very nature and circumstance define you as one of us!"
"You should know my nature to be no less changeable than my behaviour or my loyalty, Bella."
"You fool, what hope can you have among them?"
"What hope can I now have anywhere? It's not about hope." Severus' body was weakening even as his spirit spewed from his being. "It's about power."
The woman wove the keys to Severus' cell between the black folds of her robes.
"And what power would they grant you?"
"They need grant me nothing, I seize it myself in making the choice. I had ever felt helpless before I deviated from your ranks; ever controlled. My every decision was manipulated, or forced upon me. A series of others had ground my existence into the dirt out of envy, cruelty, or sheer delight in abusing my affection for them. Do not feign ignorance as to my motives, Bella. Your own particular brand of cruelty is dictated by nothing more than a fear of helplessness; a want of power."
"There is much power to be had in the service of our master." A slow grin stole across her features as her eyes bore into Severus.
"Enough even for you to exercise your own personal quirks, Bella."
"Your deviation falls somewhat far from a mere 'quirk'. I can still barely believe you capable of causing the chaos you did. You bastard. So many of those botched missions were mine, and you saw what our Master did to me!"
"You only volunteered for the risk, Bella! You needed the punishments; the pain. You always have. I felt less guilt in your case than I did in many others'. You have always grounded yourself in agony." Severus inclined his head. "I…I understand…"
Bella hissed at him and he shook his head in resignation.
"I do, Bella. You think your psyche so complex, but you just need to know that you're worth something; worth enough to our Master to deserve torture. How can you feel alive if no one cares enough to hurt you? How can you feel anything?"
"You think me more twisted than you do yourself?" Bella's heels clicked sharply on the stone as she strode pensively along the bars of Severus' cell. "Perhaps you are right. After all, you are little more than a child self-harming in the dark. Do you know I followed you? For a while. To check the extent of your dedication when you first became one of us. Still at Hogwarts then, you were." Her grin leered cruelly through the bars towards Severus. "And would you guess what I discovered? Your little routine. Night after night without fail."
Severus staggered backwards softly. "You're bluffing-"
"You fool, Severus. Have I any need to bluff? Teetering on the edge of that Astronomy Tower like that for anyone to see! Night after night after night."
Severus was silent in the shadows.
"Do you know that after meetings I sometimes came to the edge of the forest just to watch you do that, Severus? An unchanging variable in the confusion that has always shrouded us. Quite comforting really. Unless you're the one doing it, I suppose."
"It isn't…I don't…"
"WHAT! What isn't it? What don't you do? Shall I take a wild guess at why you do it? Perhaps you yourself are not so very complex!"
"…Or perhaps it is merely that we understand one another." Severus mumbled brokenly.
"You think it puts you in control. If you are caught, tortured - killed even! - it happens only with your blessing, only with your consent. Because you could have deprived everyone of the opportunity; you could have ended it all first." Bella rested her head against the bars. "Still…it does amaze me that you lasted this long. There must have been many nights on which the choice to continue was a near thing."
"You are surprised at me? That I continue to choose pain over nothingness?"
"Ah, but such pain, Severus. So consuming that it unites us as Death Eaters! We endure what so few could; it strengthens us, and yet…you. You undermine everything with your betrayal, with your incitement of inevitable failures amongst us."
She inclined her head, slowly. "And how now do you feel, Severus?"
Severus' eyes were filled with emotion, though he restrained himself in silence.
"Tell me!" She roared smashing her hands against the bars, her renowned unpredictability emerging.
"How could I not?" Slowly, seductively, she dipped her thin fingers into her robes, and there was a clink of silver as she removed a key from the chain within. Her eyes never leaving Severus', she toyed with the key in the firelight, before coyly slipping it into the lock and entering the shadowed cell.
Harry fidgeted as he watched the scene from the avid silence of his cell, willing Severus to overcome the woman, to bolt from the cell. The man made no move to do either, although there was no wand in sight.
"Look at what has become of you, Severus." She raised a hand, tracing the lines of his swollen, disfigured face sensitively in the unfeeling air. "You are so damaged… Nevertheless. All is impermanent." With a wave of her hand, the bruising melted away, and Severus could not suppress a gasp of ecstasy in the immediate relief of the agonies that had so overwhelmed him. His figure recovered its familiar, untwisted posture, as the alignment of his sharp shoulders returned. "You may yet recognise your error."
Extending a delicate arm, she clasped the back of Severus' neck, drawing their faces together. Severus' eyes closed in the pleasure of the touch, despite its circumstances. Bella's warm breath assaulted his lips as she murmured in the cold of the dungeon, "Has the pain gone?"
"Yes." Severus' desperate gratefulness ebbed pitifully into his whisper.
"…It will return."
Severus opened his dark eyes, unfazed.
"Is that not the beauty of this…state of impermanence?"
Bella shook her head despairingly, gazing into Severus' eyes. "Your potential is such...our Lord could have loved you, Severus." She stroked a lock of his blood-matted hair, with a fond tenderness quite unbefitting the nature of the caress. "I have always seen you as the epitome of our Order."
"Bella." Severus expression was pained, tainted with sadness as he whispered gently, "It has been but an act. Now all that remains is the reality. And, Bella…" She leaned closer, drawn by his black eyes. "…I'm sorry."
A sudden snarl broke the intimacy. Bella had turned; the hopelessness of her crusade crashing down upon her. She withdrew her wand. "Reality is what we make it, Severus. Yours is to descend into the realms of my imagination. You have spurned the love that my wildest efforts could not siphon from our Master. I will see you pay for it. I will see you healed, and healed again. Neither death nor delirium will offer sanctuary to you. Your war is lost Severus. Our Lord will return for the boy, and I will ensure that by the time he arrives, it will be beyond your capability to care."
With a flick of her wand, the door of the dungeon opened, and through it emerged six cloaked figures; their faces shielded by hoods. In seconds, they had reached Severus' cell and were flooding inside, encircling him; Severus shifted in fear, his head twisting repeatedly around the circle as his opponents surrounded him.
"I've a little surprise in store for you." Bella smiled, leaning against the cell bars as she twirled her wand casually between her fingertips. "You cannot hate yourself, as I would have you do, for your rejection of our Lord. Nevertheless, I can offer you an alternative motive. One that I find from experience to be…most effective."
Severus' eyes flashed with fear as her grin spread, and her laughter rose to a final incantation, revealing the nature of his inevitable punishment. Each of the six hoods retracted to reveal the identity of their wearers, and inside each and every one of them stood… Severus Snape.
"They are imprints, Severus, shadows." Bella savoured his horror, intoxicated by its strength. "They have your talent for torture, your intimate awareness of your fears… and my will."
Severus himself had frozen, "No-", he gasped, "No, please, Bella. Do me yourself! Why deny yourself the pleasure of destroying me piece by piece..?"
"Severus!" Bella cried contentedly, "All in good time. There is no limitation on the number of rounds I may go with you. This one I will watch, and perhaps the next…"
"Bella don't do this…"
"Why wouldn't I, when I've been told the results are so beautiful? To fear yourself above all things. To face the mirror-image boggart! Tragic. And yet I'm told you have excellent reason…after all, you have turned out so very like your father-"
"-Bella! Bella, please…" The desperation in Severus' voice made Harry feel physically sick as the clones around Severus seized him closely, shoving that vicious sneer into Severus' face, which could instil such terror across the distance of the Great Hall. The sneer that occlumency had shown Harry on Snape's father's face, as he beat his wife, and his child cowered from him.
Severus was dragged squirming from his cell; Harry saw the man had forced his eyes closed, sheltering himself from the attack of his own image on all sides, "Bella! Don't leave me with them – you don't need them…"
" "Them"? Such distancing, Severus! There's just no need for such formality in the face of such…undeniable familiarity! You may call them 'Severus', 'Sev', or perhaps "daddy" - once the instability sets in…"
Bella's hysterical laughter rebounded off the dungeon walls, offsetting Severus' shouts and physical thrashing horribly to the observers imprisoned in their midst. Bella had not thrown the prisoners a glance since entering the dungeon but she lolled against their bars now, her laughter subsiding slowly. "I meant what I said, you beauties. Don't get comfortable in there. Once our Master returns from battle, Potter will die, and we will be granted the rest of you. Now Severus - he I may return to exhibit. In him, you will see just what it is we are capable of."
She walked away, undulating sensuously. "It's nice to see you again, Sirius. And to think I've escaped Regulus' desperate pawing these long years he's lain in pieces. I've no doubt there will come a time for me to test your…self-restraint?"
Harry's eyes were on Sirius' stricken face, as the metal door of the dungeon slammed shut in Bellatrix's wake.