Defection

By Lady Lestrange

Disclaimer: The Harry Potter characters and previous situations belong to JK Rowlings. No infrigement is meant or implied. No money is made from this Fanfic. Thanks JK.

--Lady Lestrange

Special thanks to my beta, ennui de mort who thought of the title and who always does such a good job being my extra muse as well as proofreading, moral support and just plain fun.

SPOILERS: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Summary: POST HBP. SPOILERS. Severus Snape had always thought Dumbledore was a manipulating bastard, but then, he was never against a bit of manipulation. At the height of the Dark Lord's power, and before the death of Regulus Black, Severus Snape was loyal to the Dark Lord Voldemort. He could have even tolerated the man's brother, Sirius, for Regulus sake. He held his own with the Fabulous Four Gryfindors, although he never liked them. But now, he has reason to hate. None of my stories are fluff or based on relationships alone, however this story assumes a physical relationship between Regulus Black and Severus Snape. That is the extent of the SLASH. There is nothing explicit. Rated T for torture scenes similar to JK's in intensity.

Defection

By Lady Lestrange

Severus Snape's robes were wet with sweat and fear when he pounded incessantly on Albus Dumbledore's door. He didn't know the password. He was not one of Albus compatriots. No, he was the enemy, and he had not been back to Hogwarts since his school days. He was in the service of the Dark Lord now, until moments ago when the Dark Lord had ordered the death of his lover, Regulus Black. After Apparating, he had run the distance from Hogsmeade and he had a stitch in his side. Magic glowed about him like a wreath.

"Please! Open, damn you," he screamed at the stone gargoyles.

Abruptly, the door opened and not satisfied with the pace of the moving stair case Severus took the steps two at a time. "Please, Sir, Professor Dumbledore," he panted using the title that he had abhorred so long ago at school. "The Dark Lord has sent his Death Eaters on a mission--"

Twin blue eyes looked at him from Albus' and Aberforth's faces as they glanced up at him over flowered teacups.

Aberforth said nothing, but Albus raised an eyebrow, seemingly unconcerned. "And you have come to tell me this, Severus? Why should I believe any intelligence you bring?"

"It's Regulus."

Dumbledore's teacup stopped half way to his mouth and sat it down. He exchanged a glance with this twin, Aberforth.

"Regulus Black," said Severus Snape. "I know you are the head of some vigilante group that attacks Death Eaters," continued Severus. "You can stop him--stop him from killing Regulus."

"Is that what they call us?" Dumbledore said mildly.

"Here!" Severus pushed up the sleeve of his robe revealing his Dark Mark. "You suspected for ages. Now you can turn me over to your little group. My life for his. Isn't that the way you Gryffindors work, trading lives like Slytherins trade money." Severus sneered. He continued to stare at Albus with his unfathomable eyes, his nostrils flaring in fear and exertion, his long fingers clenched in an unaccustomed anxiety.

Albus said nothing, nonchalantly sipping his tea. "Would you like a cup?" Albus asked, holding up the teacup, his calm unnerving considering Severus' news.

Severus could stand it no longer. He strode to the older wizard angrily and grabbed the purple and gold lapels of the man's robe, sloshing tea everywhere as Albus still clung to the cup. He knew better than to draw his wand. "Listen to me! Listen, if not for my sake, for the sake of your precious Gryffindor mutt. I've kept their secret all these years. No one knew they were animagi from my mouth, even though they damned near got me killed. No one knows! Not even the Dark Lord--I am an occlumens and I am a damned good one. You owe me."

"Is that what you think?"

Severus growled in frustration and dropped his hold on Albus, who immediately cleaned up the spilt tea. "If you won't help me, Regulus is dead. The Ministry is ineffectual. They will take forever to act--send it to committee or something, and I'd like as not end in Azkaban. You know that the Ministry is useless. That's why you started your vigilante group in the first place. Longbottom is an ass, and Crouch is a bigger fool.

"Albus," said Aberforth gently. "Take pity on the poor boy. You know you are going to help him."

"He only helps his Gryffindors," snapped Severus.

"That's not true, Severus," said Aberforth, defending his twin.

"Have you tried to reason with Tom?" asked Albus calmly. "Sirius tells me Regulus is in his confidence. Surely even Tom wouldn't kill him so haphazardly."

"Sirius tells you!" spat Severus his eyes widening at Regulus betrayal, appalled that Regulus told Siruis anything of the Master's work. "He told Sirius?. "Sirius! That blood traitor! That infamous blackguard! I'll kill him!"

"That is no way to win my help," interrupted Albus.

"He turned on his own brother," sneered Severus.

"Sirius has not turned on Regulus. He simply sees another way--a way in the light and is trying to show Regulus the error of his ways."

"He is going to get his brother killed," shouted Severus, pacing like a large black bat.. "No one leaves the Dark Lord's service. No one--except through death."

"Oh, I highly doubt it is as dramatic as that. Tom was always powerful, but he is only a wizard and he does have a logical streak. I doubt he will want to lose Regulus as his confidante. After Regulus has retrieved the artifact for me, I will protect him."

"You!" shouted Severus. "Artifact? What artifact?" Severus blood ran cold. He suddenly felt he was looking death in the eye. How did Albus know about the artifacts?

"And I should tell you, why?" Albus said coolly.

"One of the seven," muttered Severus helplessly. "Oh gods, he's dead already." Severus pushed the lank hair out of his eyes with an impatient hand.

"There are seven?" said Albus in horror. Albus took two steps forward and clasped Severus chin in his hand, bringing his eyes to meet his own. "Legilmens!"

Immediately the thoughts of Regulus rolled forward in his mind: the emotions hot and panicked. They were too close to the surface for Severus to shield. He had not expected a frontal attack from Albus and was slow to occlude. Never had the Dark Lord probed so deeply, so quickly-- Things he could not reveal bubbled to the surface: Slytherin's locket, the potion.

"No!" Severus wrenched away, and pulled a bottle of clear liquid from his robes. "Use veritaserium."

Albus took the bottle and touched it with his wand, expertly determining the concentration of the potion. "If you are to save your lover it will take both," said Albus revealing that Albus saw what he had concealed from the Dark Lord for months now. "I must have no doubt of your sincerity."

"Now, Albus," protested Aberforth.

With trembling hands, Severus met Albus eyes. "I will need to sit down."

Albus nodded and conjured a green overstuffed chair with large red roses. Without even looking at it, Severus sank into the chair and closed his eyes, composing himself. Albus held out the veritaserum. "Three drops should do it," he said.

"Use five," said Severus. "I want no doubt to linger." After he had taken the veritaserium that would weaken his defenses in general and force him to answer a direct question, he looked up, blank eyed at Albus Dumbledore, the Dark Lord's menace. "His guts were cold with dread. "I'm ready," he said.

xxx

"Legilmens!"

The first thing Albus saw were private thoughts--private moments between Severus and Regulus. Thoughts and memories Albus knew he had consciously shielded from the Dark Lord. Albus turned from the thoughts, discretely, and felt Severus' wash of relief that he was not disgusted or angered by the display, both of which were evident in the Dark Lord.

Instead Albus asked, "Do you love Regulus Black?"

"Yes." Severus Snape was still and composed. He made no sign that he was nervous, but this fact must have caused him much trepidation in Voldemort's inner circle.

"And you have kept this secret from Tom?"

The statement required no answer, but Severus answered nonetheless. "Yes."

A part of Severus knew that Dumbledore had not often questioned someone under veritaserium. A query phrased as a statement was open ended and too easy to lie to, even with the truth serum coursing through him. The thought was comforting in itself, and Albus' legilmency was not viciously intrusive. In some respects that was more insidious. Severus was unsure of what Albus saw of his relationship with Regulus or his involvement in Voldemort's quest for immortality.

"Why have you lied to Tom?"

He understood Severus fear moments later when through the legilmency link he saw the torture and death of two Death Eaters who had proclaimed to love one another.

"He believes our--relationship is--an abomination," said Severus in that toneless voice controlled by veritaserium. "He would torture us--keep us apart."

"Legilmens!" said Albus strengthening the link between them, verifying by every means necessary that Severus Snape, this bastion of Voldemort's inner circle, was indeed defecting. The facts were twisted and tortured within Severus own mind--the thoughts held no order or chronology. Severus had been uncertain of what to do for quite some time, teetering on the fence between light and dark. This threat on Regulus life was simply the impetus that made him act.

It was Severus' rude awakening to Tom's perversity. At last Tom's beliefs touched Severus himself. Tom could condone murder, but not homosexuality. From that moment, Severus' occlumency gained a fanatical thread in Voldemort's circle. He was determined to keep his private life secret from his Lord and Master--no, Dumbledore smiled. Severus did not call him Master in his thoughts. He called him Tom, his one time friend, a friend who should have understood and accepted his friend's sexual preferences. Severus felt betrayed by that. Tom carried a twisted sense of morality to be sure. Dumbledore had often regretted sending young Tom back to the orphanage. It was clean and neat and the children were well fed, but the directors were strict to the point of fanaticism, taking their own views on a vengeful deity and frightening the children with stories of hell-fire. Tom had taken from the environment a need to cleanse the wizarding race of all but the purest of blood. Like Hitler, about whom Tom learned first hand among the muggles, Voldemort wanted to breed the purest of the pure wizards without regard for love or feelings of any kind. Any deviation from his code could not be tolerated in his world. The rape of muggles or muggleborns, must be followed by their immediate extermination which was, of course, the goal anyway. Muggles could be tortured indefinitely, but bearing a half blood child was an abomination. Strange, that both Severus and Tom were half bloods themselves. Only Severus' expert occlumency and usefulness as a Potion's Master kept him at Tom's side. Dumbledore ceased trying to make sense of Tom Riddle's twisted morality and applied himself to the task at hand, determining the sincerity of one Severus Snape, inner circle Death Eater, murderer, potions maker for the Dark Lord and lover of Regulus Black.

"Does Tom know you are a half blood?" Albus inquired.

"No." Severus' rich baritone was firm in his denial.

In answer to Albus quest to understand, Severus allowed him to see the torturous tale he had contrived of his mother's supposed infidelity. No one in the pureblood world would blame her for cheating on her muggle husband. The fact that in actuality, there was no wizard lover did not matter to them. The fact did not matter that Snape had poisoned his mother's muggle husband with a slow acting draught that destroyed his kidneys made the muggle doctors think that his alcoholism had finally caught up with him. After all no one believed his drunken stories of witches and wizards. The Slytherin common room was belied with tales of Snape's beautiful and treacherous mother. Sadly, this made her a heroine in many Slytherins' eyes.

"Did you kill your father?" Albus asked, wanting confirmation of what he saw through the legilmency.

"Yes."

Albus shuddered at the lack of remorse. This man was too like Tom Riddle for his comfort.

At last secure in the fact that Severus indeed did need his help if he was going to free himself from Voldemort, he asked, "How do you know that Tom wants Regulus dead?"

"The Dark Lord felt a disturbance in the protection of one of the artifacts. He called the Death Eaters. Told us to kill Regulus. Told us Regulus was a traitor. I know where the artifact is. I have to get there first--before the other Death Eaters--" Severus' voice dropped to a tortured whisper. His hands worked in his lap. "Before he drinks my poison."

Albus found it hard to believe that Severus Snape has so little sway over the Dark Lord that he couldn't call in this one favor. "Didn't you try to convince him Regulus was loyal?"

The disbelief was evident in Severus thoughts. "You do not deal with the Dark Lord by making threats, however veiled."

"What did you do? Did you speak with him at all?"

"Yes." Said Severus flatly. "He would not be swayed."

"Tell me about the artifacts."

"There are seven," said Severus. " I don't know all the details."

"What are they?"

"Slytherin's locket, Hufflepuff's cup, a diary, I don't know whose." Severus paused thinking, "I don't know the other four, only that six are already hidden and warded."

"Does Regulus know of these artifacts?"

"Yes."

"Does Regulus know where they are?"

"The three I knew of. I'm not sure of the others. The Dark Lord tells the purebloods more than me, but I think Regulus would have told me, unless he thought it put me in danger."

"How did you try to convince the Dark Lord to relent?"

Severus struggled against the veritaserium. He did not want to reveal this to Albus. It would undermine his protection. The wizard would not like his answer. Thankfully, Albus lack of experience with truth seriums allowed him to slip under the question. "I begged," said Severus tonelessly. "I told him things he wanted to hear."

"What things?" Albus persisted. " Tell me what you said to convince the Dark Lord to let Regulus live."

Now Severus was stymied. Albus had corrected his question, and he was forced to answer truthfully. He did not hesitate. That would confirm his reluctance. Instead he answered immediately in the same toneless voice.

"I told him about the prophecy. I told him everything I knew. It was my trump card. I told him Regulus was not the one who would harm him. It was either the Potter brat or Neville Longbottom."

Anger boiled through Albus and Severus thoughts shattered in grief and rage, the legilmens link vibrating with the combined emotions of the two wizards.

"Even this prize would not sway him," Severus continued. "The artifacts are too important--too precious."

Albus was hard put to make any sense of the facts when they were obscured by anger, and he pulled hastily from Severus, assaulted with the backwash of his emotion.

Aberforth was by his side. "Albus? Are you alright?"

Severus slumped in the chair, unconscious--unconscious among those he called enemies. Albus looked at him for a long moment and then conjured an afghan of enormous proportions. An array of pinks and purples and blues in a haphazard granny square design covered the prone form of Severus Snape.

"What are you going to do?" asked Aberforth. "Do you believe him?"

"Yes, I do," said Albus. "His emotion matches the words and the scenes in his memory. No one can fake true love, but there is Order work to be done."

What is it?"

"The Potters and the Longbottoms are in danger. We have to invoke the Fidelius charm as I feared. Tom has found out about the prophecy."

"What do you need me to do?" asked Aberforth.

"Stay with him." Albus gestured to Severus. "I can't have him wandering about the castle. If he awakes, I will try to find someone to rescue Regulus. Do you know where Sirus is?"

"No," said Aberforth. "He went home to Grimmauld Place this morning."

"Grimmauld?" Albus questioned unbelievingly.

Aberforth nodded. "Peter was with him."

"Watch him, Aberforth," said Dumbledore motioning to Severus. "I do believe he loves Regulus, but that is no reason to trust him."

Severus Snape was dreaming. He had been in the Dark Lord's service for nearly five years now. Lord Voldemort was a man that inspired awe and obedience. Severus Snape found his dark good looks compelling and his cruelty was rarely directed at him. He did things right, unlike the other dunderheads in the circle. Severus Snape was proud to call him Master, even though he felt that he was a bit ostentatious and had told him so. Tom Riddle had laughed and Severus was supremely lucky that , privately, he was privileged to call the Dark Lord, friend. They were alike in some ways although Tom was forty years his senior. They were both half bloods who had fought their way to the top of the Slytherin hierarchy with guile and blood and brooked no contention to their dominance. Yes, Severus was teased in his school days, by Slytherin and Gryfindor alike, but those that went too far found themselves in the hospital wing, the victim of some obscure poison that could never be traced directly to him. He was a master of disguise and even when Sirius tried to kill him for snogging his brother, he managed to turn the tables and blame the Gryffindors. Unfortunately, Dumbledore could see nothing wrong when the Fantastic Four perpetrated their vile acts. Nonetheless, the rest of the school believed him and the Gryfindors went on a month long fast. He was vindicated.

There was no other Potions Master that could brew the concoctions that the Dark Lord required. There was no one else who would dabble in the half-life of dark potions, which promised eternal life or eternal suffering. No one else who was as loyal as he was. He was invincible. His climb to the top of Lord Voldemort's advisors was not without struggle and some blood, but nothing could be traced to him, unlike Bellatrix who fought her way to the top, hindered by her ineffectual husband, and armed with a bludger in one hand and a wand in the other, Severus did none of his killing with his wand. Oh no, he could bottle fame, brew glory and even stopper death. He did so for the Dark Lord, and sometimes, he left the stopper out.

Severus worked tirelessly in his mother's potion room. He knew no one would disturb him here. Not even Regulus. He knew that this potion's room was sacrosanct. It had belonged to the Prince family for generations, but his mother was the last of the Princes. She was dead now. However, her potions expertise would live on. Severus was certain of that. He added the powdered root of asphodel last, gently stirring the potion as he dusted the surface with the root. It was not Draught of the Living Death, but it was so close as to be mistaken for it in color but not viscosity. There was one great difference though. This potion, unlike the peaceful sleep of Living Death, caused pain, severe pain and slow acting though it was, had no antidote. In fact, Severus was not quite certain it would work. It was one of his most recent works of art. The gelatinous nature of the potion's surface made it impossible to pour out of a vessel made of granite or quartz. Likewise, once in a stone cauldron, he was certain a cup could not penetrate the natural barrier caused by the magically retained surface tension. Fortunately, it was currently housed in a silver cauldron.

Severus Snape touched his Dark Mark with his wand and waited. Within moments, it began to burn. None of the Death Eaters knew where the Dark Lord was all the time, but Severus knew several hiding places. He just wasn't sure which to Apparate to. When the Mark burned however, he followed it's direction and Apparated to the Dark Lord's side. Severus glanced around and recognized one of the Malfoy summer cottages in the countryside. Bellatrix was with him and Rodolphus, like his lap dog. Severus refrained from scowling at the woman.

Severus bowed deeply in respect, his lank hair parting to allow his left ear to be visible between the strands that the greasy potions' fumes had layered in dirt and sweat . "It is finished, Sir. Please forgive my appearance. I came right away as you wished. The potion is cooling in the silver cauldron as we speak. Once I pour it into the stone basin--it must be granite or quartz-- I do not think anyone will be able to dip a cup from it or pour it out--not even you--" said Severus, a slow smirk appearing on his face.

Voldemort turned his piercing green eyes on Severus and red fire flashed inside of them making Severus shiver. Severus knew that Voldemort had long trained all of his lackeys to call him Master. Only he, Severus, occasionally pushed the issue and called him Sir instead, reminding him of his humbled beginnings. It was a power play that Voldemort was not going to allow today. Apparently Bellatrix hadn't placated him as well as usual and Severus had over stepped his bounds. Severus shielded his thoughts as Voldemort spoke. "I'm trusting I won't need the artifact in years, but you never know. Do you have an antidote to it?" His thin lips twisted into a smirk.

"No Master. Not yet."

"Then don't make one," said Voldemort calmly, playing with a strand of Bellatrix thick black hair bringing the lock to his nose and sniffing luxuriously while Rodolphus looked on, seemingly oblivious to the exchange.

Severus felt a stab of anger and pity for Rodolphus. Never would the Dark Lord play with what belonged to him, he promised himself, and then he quickly occluded his thoughts, quelling the emotions that could easily get him killed. "But Sir," he said. "The potion is lethal. It is a slow and painful death."

"Good," said Voldemort smiling coldly at him. "If I need to recover the item, I'll be sure and take a prime enemy with me to drink your caustic potion--someone who does not acknowledge me as Master," Voldemort finished in a low hiss, leaving his meaning unmistakable. Severus tensed, expecting punishment, but the Dark Lord continued without pulling his wand. "Bring the potion to me in its silver cauldron when it is ready," he said waving Severus away. "I will add it to the stone basin."

"Very good, Master," said Severus, bowing again and departing to at last go and find Regulus and rest. The exchange between Bellatrix and the Dark Lord made him anxious to find his secret lover and hold him close. He sometimes wondered what his friendship was worth with his mercurial Master--perhaps nothing. Surely nothing if he found out that he and Regulus were lovers.

His dream progressed to sensations, and he was immersed in passion, clinging desperately to Regulus who seemed to be slipping from his grasp. Suddenly they were no longer in their bed, but on a cliff face. Regulus has fallen over the edge and with superhuman strength Severus had caught his hands. Holding both of Regulus hands as he dangled from the cliff, Severus could not reach his wand.

"It's ok, Severus. Just let go," Regulus said gently. His lips were pinched and his face was turning blue from asphyxiation, an effect of his potion. "It's not so bad, Severus. I'll just die."

"No!" Severus tried to pull Regulus from the cliff face, but it was no use. His hands were slippery with sweat and tears. "Please! Albus, help me!"

"What good will it do?" Albus asked as he stood calmly on the cliff face sipping tea.. "You have no antidote. He is dead already."

Regulus was slipping from his grasp when the Dark Lord apparated beside him, the resonance of his voice a hiss in Severus' ear. "You are mine, Severus and Regulus is a traitor. Traitors must die. Albus stood idly by while the Dark Lord, with a casual flick of his wand, severed Regulus' hands from his arms and he was screaming--screaming and falling along the cliff face the black water below. "Crucio!" the Dark Lord said lazily and Severus awoke with a start, sweat soaked and shaking, the pain of the crucio almost real in his memory. He bolted to his feet.

"Not so fast," said a voice behind him--Aberforth.

"I have to go," said Severus. "He's in danger. The Death Eaters will kill him. I have to try."

Aberforth nodded and shook the crumbs of some snack cake from the front of his robes. "I will accompany you," he said simply.

"No, I--"

"Albus said not to leave you, and I won't leave you."

"Do what you must," sneered Snape as he stalked to the door. It opened without even a touch and he strode through it, hurrying to the Apparition point. When he reached it, Aberforth grasped his forearm, saying, "If you tell me where we are Apparating to, I will help."

"I don't know," Snape replied. "I don't even know if it is a real place. I have only seen it in the Dark Lord's mind."

"You have legilimized him?" said Aberforth disbelieving.

"No," said Severus simply, but he offered the old man no further explanation. "This could get you killed," he said. "Albus will blame me."

"He won't," Aberforth said, and Severus nodded. They Apparated. A moment later they were plunged into icy water.

o o

Severus didn't know who, if anyone, accompanied the Dark Lord on his mission to hide the artifact. Probably he traveled alone. These artifacts seemed to be of major importance and Severus couldn't imagine his sharing anything important with anyone, but occasionally in his moments of anger he was careless. Voldemort had no idea how strong a legilmens his devoted Potions Master was, or how many unrelated, jumbled scenes seeped into his mind when Voldemort was legilmizing him. The link was pliable, manipulated by the stronger wizard, and of course, Voldemort always considered himself the stronger wizard in all aspects. It behooved Severus to let him continue to think that. Indeed in everything but the legilmency, Voldemort was far superior. Severus did know that each of the artifacts were hidden and warded with a number of traps. Now treading water, and unable to Apparate back out of the icy pool, he sought something to latch on to, to aid the Apparition--his lover, his potion, some way of proceeding that probably had some Death Eater's trademark magic on.

Bellatrix was in charge of inventing the most gruesome and tormenting traps, McNair supplying beasts of all sorts--usually something that the Ministry badly wanted dead. Malfoy, paying for all manner of gadgets and hiding places, Voldemort himself setting traps in death or with the undead, and Severus, who was in charge of potions and poisons. Severus had never given it it much thought, but now his life depended upon his remembering.. The Dark Lord was always secretive. The memories were unclear. He struggled to piece together the snippets that came to him each time Voldemort legilmized him.

He was not adept enough to sense Voldemort's magic even though the Dark Lord had invaded his mind numerous times, but suddenly he knew that this part was Bellatrix's idea. What did she like? It was dangerous to experiment like this, but he had no choice. He didn't think he could tread water much longer. She favored knives and skewers--instruments of torture--cutting--crushing--chains--He stopped, suddenly sensing the magic. There was a chain to pull them out, no doubt to manacle them to the wall, but at least they would not drown. He fumbled for his wand, and when the chain appeared he hauled himself from the freezing water. Aberforth was no where in sight. Had he missed judged the Apparition and splinched himself? Had he drowned? "Stupid Gryffindor," muttered Snape as he coughed up the blackish water he had swallowed, and wondered if it too was poisoned. He hadn't made that potion, but although not a Master of potions, the Dark Lord was accomplished enough potions himself to poison the water.

"Severus! Severus!" called a voice from along the shore. There was a small boat, nearly capsizing with the weight, but the craft had rescued Aberforth. In it was also Sirus Black.

"We have to get away from the shoreline," said Aberforth pulling third prone figure from the boat--Regulus! "We can't Apparate from here," said Aberforth

Stumbling with haste, Severus ran to them hoping that he was in time, but one look at Regulus stretched out pale and shivering on the rocks beside the boat told him he was too late. They were not going to the island; they were coming back. Regulus had drunk from the basin.

"Do something!" Sirus yelled at him as Regulus convulsed, screaming and thrashing.

"I can't," Severus pulled Regulus rigid form onto his lap and held him as he convulsed.

"Water," Regulus moaned weakly.

"He's been calling for water," said Sirus, but I couldn't conjure any on the island. "Aguamenti!" called Sirus, filing a goblet, but as Severus knew it would, the water disappeared before it reached Regulus lips.

Hot bitter tears rolled down Severus gaunt cheeks as he held Regulus, and rocked him. Aberforth sat beside him.

"Sev? Hurts," Regulus moaned, and then the fire of his potion tore at his guts and Regulus convulsed in his arms, tearing his clothes and thrashing. The screaming, a high pitched tortured sound, pierced Severus' heart..

Voldemort had forbade him from making the antidote, but even if he had tried he knew it would have been nearly impossible. Before the neurotoxins attacked the body with crucious-like intensity, the caustic byproducts burnt through the stomach and leaked slowly into the intestines destroying any hope of the victim being able to metabolize an antidote. By now, the stasis agents should have kicked in if Regulus hadn't diluted the potion with water. Severus didn't actually know how long it would last. He had used a silencing charm to stop the lab rats hideous mewing after they kept him awake the second night, but in the morning he found they had chewed off limbs and bled to death. With the addition of paralysis charms, the rats had survived for six days, but they could have died of thirst since their digestive system was neutralized. Six days of agony--Severus buried his face in his lover's sweat soaked hair. The poison was lethal. The only question was how long it would take for the drinker to die. He wrapped his arms around Regulus and rocked him. "Shh-h-h. I'm so sorry--"

Sirus ripped him away from Regulus and punched him in the face. "You slimy son of bitch! You're a Potions Master! Are you going to let him die? Do something!"

"What do you expect me to do!" yelled Snape sobbing. "Shove a bezoar down his throat? It's poison. The potion is deadly poison! Whatever I do will only prolong his pain."

"If he expels it--"

"No! It is more caustic coming up than it was going down."

No one noticed that Aberforth had disappeared.

"You bloody Death Eater! You planned this! You lured him to Voldemort! To his death!"

"I didn't bring him here," shouted Severus. "I didn't force feed him the potion!"

Sirius paled.

"Did you get your bloody artifact for the Old Man?" Severus continued incensed. "Isn't that what mattered to you? Not his life, not his suffering, just the bloody artifact? Where is it?" Severus began tearing at Sirius robes, and in their struggle, a gold locket clattered to the ground. They both froze, but Sirus recovered first, snatching up the locket, just as Regulus began to scream again. "Kill me! Kill me! I want to die! Make it stop! Make it stop!" The words ended on an inarticulate scream that went on and on. Severus turned on his heel and pointed his wand. His face scrunched up in the agony of indecision, and then he said the only words he knew that would make the pain stop, "Avada Kadavra!"

"No!" A huge black dog launched himself at the wizard, and Snape turned in time to bring his wand to bear, but no spell issued from his lips. The dog sank his teeth into his arm which had protected his throat. A vicious silent struggle ensued as the Padfoot tore the fabric, revealing Severus Dark Mark and ripping flesh and going again for Severus' throat. Severus' wand clattered to the ground. He seemed unwilling to defend himself against the raging black dog.

The pop of an Apparition caused them to stop momentarily and look at the far side of the shoreline where Aberforth had appeared. Struggling mightily to maintain his buoyancy while holding something wrapped in the front of his robes, he shouted, "Severus! Sirus! I got it! I got the bezoar! Help me!"

Sirius moved first, transforming and lowering the chain to Aberforth. Severus took the bezoar. "You're too late," he said hopelessly.

"Yes! You fuckin' killed him," sneered Sirius. "If you would have waited--"

"A bezoar wouldn't have helped!"

"But you said," began Aberforth confusedly.

"Just goes to show you, never trust what a Death Eater says," growled Sirus, pointing his wand at Snape. "Crucio!"

"Stop! Stop! Stop!" yelled Aberforth, pulling at Sirus wand arm. When Sirius wouldn't let up, Aberforth pointed his own wand at the crazed man. "Stupefy!"

Severus rolled over moaning, as Aberforth pulled him into a sitting position. "Are you sane?" Aberforth asked concernedly as Severus held his head moaning. "Do you know what happened?"

"Unfortunately," Severus said dryly. He crawled over to Regulus and laid his head against the man's still chest, listening for a heartbeat that was no longer there. As silent tears fell from Severus' eyes, a pale form rose from the body, the shade of Regulus Black. The Inferi of the water beckoned him, and he moved to join them, a look of horror on his pale face, as he could not help himself. He was drawn into the undead pool.

"No!" Severus dove for the shade, but his hands went right through it and Regulus sank into the water, bound with the other inferi. Ghostly, whispered words poured from the water. The voice was Voldemort's, reminiscent of his spell. "All who die here are inferi! Bound by your death, linked to the caster here you will remain, eternally faithful to the Great Lord Voldemort."

The voice faded as Severus waded into the water after his lover. "No!"

Aberforth yanked him back from his doom, and pulled his wand. Fire erupted between Severus and the inferi and they were driven back. Aberforth's blue eyes were blazing with a passion not unlike Albus' fierce glare. "It is no use, Severus. You cannot fight the enchantment. You have to kill the enchanter to break it."

Severus looked at Aberforth for a long moment. The man was no where near as smart or as powerful as Albus, but he knew ritual magic and obscure charms. Severus sensed without a doubt, the only way to free Regulus soul was to kill Voldemort. He nodded and Aberforth released him.

Severus raised his wand with a simple cutting spell. As the blood welled up on his arm, he spoke. "I make this unbreakable vow. I will avenge you, Regulus," Severus shouted into the void. "I swear on my blood, and the blood of my ancestors, I will see Voldemort vanquished." An eerie blue light surrounded Severus as he spoke words of power that formed the vow. "I will avenge you!" The blood dripped from his arm and sank into the stones at the water's edge. Simultaneously, magic seeped into Severus soul, binding him to his promise.

Already, Regulus body was starting to decay in the caustic air of the cursed place. He was being consumed by the power of the inferi and there was nothing Severus could do. I have to take the locket back," he said helplessly. "That is the only way he will trust me. The Dark Lord must think I --killed him." Severus' voice broke.

"You did kill him," said Sirus who had just been enervated by Aberforth.

"Sirus! You stupid Mutt, don't you see I had no choice? Now give me the locket."

"There are always choices, Snape! We'll settle this right now!" Sirius brandished his wand. "Just you and me, Snape, or is a fair fight something you cannot fathom."

The pop of an Apparition startled them--whoever it was, did not land in the water, but on the island near the potion basin--near the artifact. Fog of the inferi obscured their vision.

"It could be the aurors," whispered Aberforth. "I was a little unorthodox getting the bezoar. You were in too much of a hurry for me to use the usual charms."

But it wasn't the aurors. It wasVoldemort. Severus felt the tingling of his Mark that only happened when Voldemort himself was near. "Go!" Severus hissed as the boat slipped off of the shore and floated out like a live thing to receive its Master.

"You killed my brother," Sirus sneered as Aberforth pulled him away from Snape. "Your wand proves it. I'll see you Kissed. I promise you, I'll see you Kissed."

"Be quiet," Aberforth hissed. "He'll hear you."

"Tell Albus--" began Severus, but Aberforth cut him off. "I will." In the next moment, Aberforth had grasped Sirius arm. They disappeared without a sound.

Severus had no time to wonder at Aberforth's expertise in Apparition. Within moments, Voldemort stepped out of the boat and strode to Severus side. All was quiet except for Severus laboured breathing and the low hum or magic that accompanied the rapid reformation of Regulus body into inferi.

"So Regulus did know where it was," said Voldemort as he approached Regulus body and kicked it over onto its back. His boot squished into the soft flesh and an odor of decay permeated the air. Your potion prevented him from taking the locket. It's still in the bottom of your bespelled basin, but how did he get back here alone?"

"I--" Severus fumbled for words, too tired to occude to the extent he needed, too disillusioned to make up lies. Sirus had the locket. He saw Sirus take it. What was in the bottom of the basin?

Voldemort grasped his chin and stared into Snape's eyes. "Legilmens!" he spat, and Severus tried desperately to occlude.

After a moment Voldemort released him. "Regulus took an oath to serve me," said Voldemort coldly. "And he serves me still."

"Yes, Master," whispered Severus, forcing his mind to stillness.

"As do you."

"Yes, Master."

"You should have not have relieved his suffering."

"Yes, Master."

Voldemort toyed with his wand nonchalantly. "I would think it fitting to feed you the potion that he failed to die from, but then I would lose my Potion's Master and I rather like your brewing style. It would be an inconvenience to lose you." Severus screamed as Voldemort poked his wand into the puncture wounds at his neck and arm and then sniffed the blood. "Animagus," he said. "Who attacked you?"

"Sirius Black," Snape answered without hesitation. Dumbledore had failed to save Regulus. He owed him no loyalty.

"Scourgify," said the Dark Lord cleaning his wand. "Ah--and how long have you known that little secret?"

"Since my sixth year at Hogwarts," answered Snape woodenly.

Tsk, Tsk, my little snake, you have much to be punished for."

Snape said nothing. Regulus was dead. Dead by his potion and Dead by his wand. The Dark Lord was right. He had much to be punished for.

"Come," said Voldemort holding out his hand. Black curls had fallen over his brow and his eyes were clear. He looked composed, no sign of the demonic pleasure he would take in Snape's torture. "Come, we will Apparate to somewhere more comfortable. Well," he smiled coldly. "Comfortable for me. You will be a long time before you feel comfort, Severus--perhaps never."

"Yes, Master." Severus hesitated. Voldemort never touched his Death Eaters except to give them pain. The thought of clasping his hand was abhorrent to Snape. He struggled to quell the feeling. "You cannot Apparate from here," said Voldemort angrily. "I can. Do not give me more things to punish you for--"

Severus took his Master's hand, and the long white fingers closed around his own. The dread place dissolved from his sight. A clenching in his gut reminded him that he was leaving Regulus behind, abandoning him to the inferi. The water stilled to a mirror surface as one word echoed in ghostly tones and called to Severus Snape's soul: vengeance!

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