The Prince Defeated

A man with long, black hair struggled wearily up the slope behind the Shrieking Shack, a wand clutched in his hand. He was glancing frequently over his shoulder into the darkness. Suddenly, his booted foot landed clumsily between two rocks, and he slipped and crashed down on the slick, muddy ground to lie unmoving under the ancient trees. His face was a frozen mask, but there were tear tracks in the dried sweat and filth that coated his face. The skin over his left cheekbone was slashed open, and dried blood was crusted around the wound. It would soon be dawn on a clear June morning.

As the moments passed, the birds that had gone mute at his approach began rustling again, preparing for their morning cacophony. Time passed in silence while the man lay unmoving - with only the sound of harsh breath signaling that he was still alive.

Suddenly, with a pop, a woman appeared nearby. A light glowed bright as she shone her wand over the slippery ground. When she spied the fallen man on the ground, her eyes flashed, and she laughed triumphantly.

The man seemed unaware of her presence until she stepped up and kicked him hard in the ribs. Clutching his side, he groaned and forced his eyes open to stare dully up at her.

"Well, Snape, this is a strange place to find you, after your glorious acts," she sneered. "Why haven't you Apparated to the Dark Lord to gloat over your impressive accomplishment? Amycus and his band of fools returned hours ago, bursting with tales of your triumph, but you didn't join us. Where have you been?" she said, pausing for breath. "And what have you done with my idiot nephew?" she demanded in a furious whisper.

Severus Snape stirred at last and forced himself slowly into a sitting position in the mud, covering his wand from her sight as he gathered his filthy robes about him. He resembled a living corpse, his nose more prominent than ever, jutting from gray skin stretched tight over the bones of his face. His black eyes were dead and expressionless.

"Why are you here, Bellatrix?" he rasped in a hoarse, disused voice.

"The Dark Lord has ordered all of his Death Eaters out to search for you, in case you should require assistance," she snarled, her jaw working. "He is planning a triumphant return for you and wished to make it clear to us all that you deserve the greatest honor for killing that old fool, Albus Dumbledore. And it is my good fortune," she hissed acidly, "that I have found you first. Now, Snape, no more questions from you; you must immediately tell me where Draco is. Immediately!" She demanded, "I know that he Disapparated from Hogwarts with you last night, and no one has seen him since."

Snape considered standing, but every muscle in his body quivered with exhaustion. He was nearly paralyzed with fatigue - he knew he would collapse at Bellatrix's feet if he tried to rise. Through his weariness and grief, he saw that she was tense with rage and as dangerous to him as a rabid dog. He straightened himself as well as he could and tightened his grip on the wand half hidden in his sleeve. He sat in silence as Bellatrix loomed over him.

"Did you hear me, Snape? I want to know what you've done with Draco!" She was breathing heavily, and her eyes were bulging. "Did he run from you? Did you do something to him? Where… is… Draco?"

His lack of response maddened her, and he waited resignedly for the last shred of her self-control to evaporate. He wondered dispassionately if he would have the strength to block her spell. He didn't have long to wait - but when her attack came, it was not magical at all, but a series of vicious kicks. The first, to the side of his head, laid him flat on the ground. The second sent his unused wand spinning out of his hand. She shrieked with mad laughter as the wand ricocheted off a tree trunk before redoubling her furious attack, kicking every part of his body that she could reach. Then, she kicked Snape's head once more. Lightning blazed inside his skull, and then there was nothing.

First, he was only aware of the pain. His eyes felt like they had been glued shut, but he had no desire to open them. It did seem that he wasn't dead; however, instead he felt rather like one would after a brisk round of Crucio from the Dark Lord. 'If Dumbledore were here, he'd tell me that where there's life, there's hope,' he thought sourly. 'He is the only person I'll tolerate that rubbish from, but right now I would have to….' Suddenly, memory returned … the Astronomy Tower, Dumbledore, Draco, Death Eaters in Hogwarts, and an Unforgivable Curse. His curse. He shook his head, causing more pain … but still in his fogged mind, he saw Dumbledore, ashen and weak, slumped against the tower wall, surrounded by his enemies, looking to him for salvation.

Begging to him in that agonized voice, "Severus… please."

A blow stopped the recollection cold. Something hard smacked into his face, making him struggle unsuccessfully to open his eyes and move somewhere, anywhere, else.

"Welcome back to life, Snivellus," drawled the hate-filled voice of Bellatrix. "For a short time, at least." She chuckled at her own wit. "Funny thing, memory. I'd forgotten that my dear, departed cousin Sirius used to call you that. Forgot it for years, but it came to me just now, like a gift. You always were a pathetic brat, trailing after us the way you did," she said. "I don't know why any of us put up with you."

"If you remember," Snape replied, in a voice that croaked, "after all your years of education, you were incapable of passing a single N.E.W.T. exam without assistance from my first year self." He continued. "I suppose you had better things to do at school than learn."

He tried unsuccessfully to shrug, wondering idly why Bellatrix was going on about ancient history. He dimly registered her voice going on, haranguing, insulting, demanding, but it seemed very distant. 'I must have a concussion,' he thought. 'It actually creates a pleasing numbness, which muffles the harpy's demented shrieking. If the pain weren't so annoying,' he continued to muse, 'I'd have concussed myself years ago. In fact, noisy, psychotic bitch that she is … maybe it's even worth the pain not to really hear her.' The hint of a smirk twitched across his bruised face, and in response his head throbbed, causing his mind to drift out of focus again.

'To the well-organized mind, death is… what? What did Dumbledore say? I can't remember…' he thought fretfully, fading in and out of consciousness. 'I'll find out soon though, since Bellatrix Lestrange is going to kill me.' He thought, 'I am going to die tonight.' He formed the words precisely in his mind, but they were unconnected to reality. 'Going to die… going to die. Die.' It seemed, at that moment, that his whole life was a long, dark series of lessons about death - and that this one would be the last.

Without warning a hand seized his wrist, digging fingernails sharply into him, and a familiar sensation of pressure squeezed the breath from his body. Stunned, he realized, "I'm Apparating side-by-side with the bloody woman. What does she think she's doing?" The sensation went on far longer than he thought possible. His head was going to explode, his starved lungs burned, collapsing as the last air left him. As he lost consciousness once again, the last image in his mind was of Dumbledore, looking seriously down at him.

Icy water slapped over Snape's face, blasting his crusted eyes open and rushing into his nose and mouth. Once the sensation of drowning passed, he swallowed a bit of water gratefully and cautiously turned his aching head toward the light emanating from Bellatrix's wand. The sky was pitch black again, and the few stars he could see through the forest canopy were not quite where they had been earlier. He realized that she must have taken him farther than he had ever Apparated before, and that fact, combined with the knowledge that she had not merely killed him in Hogsmeade, started his nerves vibrating with tension.

'There's nothing she can do to me that hasn't already been done,' he told himself defiantly, but in saying that, he felt like a Muggle he'd once watched whistling as he passed by a graveyard late at night. Realizing that what he felt was actually terror, something he had never thought to feel again, escalated his sense of helplessness. A wave of panic swept over him, leaving him chilled and shaking.

"Cold, Snape?" The hate-filled voice startled him. She was standing on higher ground than he was lying on.

He noticed the sound of a running stream very close by, and some very hard rocks underneath him, which stabbed into the bruises he'd gained from Bella's furious attack.

"You probably wonder why you're not dead. You will be, but I'm going to take a hint from Albus-Bloody-Dumbledore first."

In a steady voice that gave the illusion of control, Snape replied, "You confuse me, Bellatrix." His body was racked with chills, which he hoped she couldn't see.

"Dumbledore told the Dark Lord repeatedly that there are things much worse than death. I'm going to test his theory on you tonight, Snivellus, and see if I can discover what some of those things are. You can die afterward." She smiled cruelly. "If the wizarding world ever discovers your fate," she continued, "the Dark Lord can reward you posthumously for your courageous act in killing his old adversary. Not that it sounded difficult. My nephew was perfectly capable of doing the task, and when I find him, I'll be able to ask him why he let a jumped up half-blood like you steal his moment of glory."

"So let's get to it, Snape," she said. "Tell me why I should let you live, and please be convincing."

Snape clamped his shaking lips together to prevent himself from saying the obvious, insulting things that sprang into his mind. 'How stupid does she think I am? Does she ever think? What a life that moron Rodolphus must have, married to her all these years, trapped by her day and night, unable to escape.' He thought, 'Azkaban must have seemed like Paradise to him, if he had a cell to himself.'

Too late, he saw her intense stare and realized that she was reading his thoughts. He must be weak indeed, if he had not remembered that she was a competent Legilimens. 'No doubt she had taken private lessons from the Dark Lord himself,' he thought in disgust.

"As a matter of fact, Snape, I have indeed learned much from the Dark Lord, and you'll pay dearly for your insolent attitude toward me. Crucio!"

As pain overtook him, Snape cleared his mind of conscious thought and let the pain become his thought. Once more blackness overcame him, this time with Bellatrix's scream of laughter echoing all around him.

This time, he awoke lying on his back with the unaccustomed sensation of cold air on his bare skin. 'It's a dream,' he told himself childishly. 'I'll count to ten and then wake up.'

That pathetic hope was dashed by yet another lashing of cold water, which made him curl tightly into a ball, arms around his knees. He was rewarded for this by another kick, that sent him sprawling onto his back again, arms outstretched. Then Bellatrix immobilized him with a Body-Bind, which left him with his eyes wide open.

She walked slowly around him, as he watched her staring boldly at his exposed body, and then laughed and said, "Well, well… not so bad after all, Snivellus. Who knew that there was actually a man under all those dreary black layers?" She stooped and laid an elegant long-fingered hand on his chest, sliding it slowly downward as he stopped breathing. Her hand stopped, and she casually stroked his belly, smiling cruelly as she ran her fingernail lightly down his exposed penis.

Snape wanted to die from the sheer horror of her presence, and her vile touch, but all he could do was strive frantically for the control he needed to clear his mind.

She leaned close to his ear, pressing her lips briefly to his frozen mouth, and whispered gently, "Now I think you must stay awake for this, Snape. I've wanted to do it for a long, long time."

Immobilized as he was, he pulled his soul deeper in on itself, denying the nightmare he was trapped in, while she reached into her robes and drew out a fine bladed knife. She waved her wand over the blade, causing it to glow toxic green. Then she touched the Dark Mark on his left forearm tenderly and inserted the knife blade just under the surface of it with surgical precision.

It happened so subtly that at first he felt nothing and couldn't understand what she was doing. Then his arm blazed with pain, far worse pain even than he experienced on the day the Mark had been placed there. She moved the knife delicately, speaking as she worked.

"You were never worthy of this; you lived in comfort while the Dark Lord's true servants suffered for him. You hold yourself so high, Snape, thinking yourself better than the rest of us. But when your Mark is gone, there will be nothing to identify your pathetic remains," she continued while she cut, "and if anyone ever finds your corpse, you can be buried among Muggles where none will know you."

She finished her grisly work, and he felt hot blood oozing down his arm and into the earth beneath him. She dropped the bloody piece of mutilated flesh onto the ground, pointed her wand down and blasted it into oblivion. Then she smiled beatifically down at him, seemingly sated by her gory deed.

"You know, I could kill you now, Snivellus, but then you'd never have the chance to puzzle out the truth of Dumbledore's theory. Death will come soon, and by the time it does, I wonder if you'll find it the answer to your prayers." Her voice, which had been low and intimate, became brisk as she stepped back to look at him again. "But I won't know what you decide because I'll be back with the Dark Lord, helping him to solve the mystery of your strange disappearance and consoling him that although you had great power… " she sneered, "in the end, you betrayed him, and I alone am truly worthy of his trust."

She removed the spell, although he didn't feel it for a moment, then inserted her foot under his back and heaved him over, and his naked body bumped down the rocky bank and splashed into a small, ice cold stream. She shone her wand over him one more time. Then, standing on the bank, she shrieked out her loud, mad laugh, turned and vanished.

Now, when he wished for oblivion, it would not come. The night was black, and there were rustling sounds coming from the trees around him. The icy water on his skin burned, but he couldn't easily climb out. His body was already unresponsive; his cramping muscles were nearly useless from the cold. 'Alone at last,' he thought bitterly, shuddering with sickness at the memory of her hand crawling over his bare skin. "The bitch has won, but I refuse to die in this ditch."

He flung all of his life force into moving onto hands and knees, crawling out of the water, his numb fingers struggling to cling to any handhold he could find. At last, he lurched over the low bank, collapsed under some scratchy branches, and then curled himself up tightly. Eventually, in spite of his pain, he slept.