Black-robed figures stood in a half-circle, watching the pale, snakelike man in the centre.
The braver Death Eaters had occasionally wondered why they were always left standing in meetings while their Dark Lord sat comfortably on a throne-like chair. Severus Snape was among those.
He patiently waited while Voldemort went through the usual ritual of listening to progress reports, and throwing curses when he heard something he didn't like. Finally, it was over. Or so he thought.
"Severus Snape," the Dark Lord said, with a grim smile, "Approach me. On your knees."
Flinching inwardly, Hogwarts' Potions Master obeyed.
"You," the Dark Lord said, "Are a spy for Albus Dumbledore. No," he held up his hand, "No point in denying it. What I want to know is why? Why you left my ranks, and betrayed your fellows? Why you abandoned all the power I gave you?"
Snape scowled. The game was up, and he knew it. He expected to be dead soon. No point in holding back.
"Because you are a murdering hypocritical half-blood bastard. What power have you given us, except to grovel at your feet?" he stood up and raised his chin defiantly.
"Look around you. Malfoy, Nott, pureblood names that once stood for proud, independent families, and look at what became of them! Murdering scum, kissing the hem of your robes just to prevent being tortured. I saw my mistake early on. I haven't been yours for nearly twenty years now."
The Death Eaters gasped while the Dark Lord's eyes shone with anger and malice.
"And look what it brought you. I will make you an example. No, I will not kill you…yet. I will give you the opportunity to see how wrong you were in the side you chose."
Snape stood up proud when the silvery light hurled towards him from the Dark Lords wand. Pain wracked his body and he felt himself shrink. It lasted only seconds before he lost consciousness.
"Get up, you brat," was the first he heard.
He opened his eyes. Towering above him were three scary people in black robes. He swallowed. Death Eaters, he knew. Mother had told him about them.
Strong hands grabbed him and he felt the painful sensation of being apparated by someone at best mediocre in the skill.
They had ended up in a forest. A very scary forest. He had a wicked headache and his entire body hurt, but he knew better then to complain.The Death Eater that was apparently in charge smacked him in the head and threw him to the forest floor.
"Best of luck to you, Snape. I hope something vile eats you."
With that, the three disappeared and he was alone in the forest.
With no choice left, he started walking. And walking. Hours later, he was completely lost, even though dawn was approaching fast, the forest was still dark and he was thirsty.
"Snapes do not cry," he remembered his fathers voice, "They take what is dealt to them."
Of course, the one doing most of the dealing was his father himself.
He shivered, wondering how angry his parents would be when he got home.
"What are you doing here, young foal?" a voice behind him suddenly asked.
He startled, his magic accidentally flying out of control and hitting the…thing…behind him. The thing wasn't in the least bit upset by it, but merely brushed off the unintentional hex.
"Ah, a wizard child. I sense you have been here before. Come here, foal."
He wasn't sure if this…a centaur, he realized, was trustworthy, but he would surely die on his own and the creature didn't seem hostile. He took a tentative step towards the huge man-horse.
The centaur studied him intently and then his eyes widened.
"Tell me your name, foal. For I fear a foal is not what you were until recently."
"My name is Severus Snape," he said bravely.
The centaur nodded. "I feared as much. I must return you to Albus Dumbledore as soon as possible."
"Dumbledore? The barmy old coot that is Headmaster of Hogwarts? Why are you taking me to him?"
The centaur looked down on him gravely.
"That is for the Headmaster to explain. Come, I will let you ride on my back. It is over an hour to Hogwarts, even galloping, and I fear your small legs won't hold out that long."
"I am NOT small," Severus exclaimed indignantly.
"To me, you are," the centaur said, hoisting him on his back. "Hold on tight, we will be making some haste."
Dumbledore was pacing his office impatiently, waiting for his spy to return when Hagrid entered.
"P'fesser Dumbledore, sir! You better come quick. Firenze is at the front door and he has…well. You best come see."
Curious, Dumbledore followed Hagrid to the doors where Firenze was waiting with a sleeping black bundle on his back.
"A child?" Dumbledore enquired mildly.
"Yes," said the centaur, leaving it to Hagrid to gently lift the child from his back. The robes fell back to reveal a pale face and long black hair.
"I found him deep in the Forest. From what little I know of human foals I would guess he is about five or six years old now."
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "Now?"
Firenze stamped his hoof impatiently. "Yes, now. From what I've gathered from watching the mind of the boy, he was found out as a spy earlier tonight. This, headmaster, is Severus Snape."
Hagrid nearly dropped the child, but composed himself and held the black bundle tightly.
Dumbledore stared at the child's face dumbfounded.
"He was found out," Firenze nodded, "Although he does not remember it. This is Voldemort's idea of punishment. His adult mind is still in there, but suppressed. He is a young foal now. Well, I will leave him in your care, headmaster. Goodnight."
With that, the centaur galloped off in the direction of the Forest. Hagrid shifted the boy a bit so he was laying more comfortably in his arms.
"Li'l tyke's gonna need a bed, headmaster," Hagrid prompted.
Dumbledore looked up, twinkle gone from his eyes. "What? Oh, yes, yes, you are right. It's too cold for him here, too. Take him to the infirmary, if you please, Hagrid. I will send a note to Filius, Minerva and Pomona in the morning and we'll see if we can find a remedy."
It was a strange room, although the bed was nice and comfortable. There were lots of other beds too. Had his father put him in hospital again? But no, nothing was hurting. He'd been having a nice dream, too, about riding on the back of a centaur…a centaur…
He bolted upright.
The centaur had taken him here! He was at Hogwarts, the Headmaster would have contacted his parents by now…he was in SO much trouble.
Shivering, he pulled his knees up to his chin and drew the blankets around himself.
"Ah, you are awake," a female voice said briskly, "you'll be wanting breakfast, I think."
Before Severus could respond, a tray appeared.
"You can get up and dressed, but don't leave the room. I believe the Headmaster and the Heads of Houses wish to see you after breakfast."
The woman disappeared into an office.
Severus climbed off the bed and pulled on his robe that was folded on the chair next to the bed. Then he inspected the tray: a bowl of hot oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. A glass of juice. His eyes widened. He was never allowed to eat this much at home.
Frowning, he discarded the bacon. Ever since father had forced him to drink mothers potions, he had been unable to eat heavy foods without severe pain and vomiting. The eggs would do if he didn't eat too much, the oatmeal was ok too. He drank some juice and buttered a piece of toast. Alternating between bites of toast and spoonful of oatmeal, he managed more then he had ever eaten before. About half a bowl of oatmeal and a piece of toast. He did drink all of the juice.
"You need to eat more," said the woman, a nurse apparently, who stepped out of her office again, "you are underweight for your age. "Drink this." She held out a vial.
Severus stared at it.
"Come on, drink it," the nurse said impatiently.
Severus stubbornly closed his mouth. She was NOT going to make him drink it. He remembered the intense pain after the last time he was made to drink one and he did not want a repeat.
"Come on, you brewed it yourself."
That did not inspire confidence. He had to help mother brew, but the things she made him brew were definitely not healing potions. He panicked and picking up the tray, he threw it through the room, where it landed in front of the feet of a very old wizard, who had just entered, with two women and a very tiny man, barely taller then Severus himself.
"Well, well, what a temper so early in the morning," the man said, waving his wand to make the mess disappear.
Severus shivered. Surely he would be very severely punished now.
He stood up straight, shoulders squared, as his father had taught him to do when he was about to be punished.
The old wizard took his arm.
"We will have none of your antics, young man," he said sternly, "There are more important things to do."
With that, he was escorted to the bed. Severus squirmed a bit, surprised. The hand grasping his upper arm was holding him firmly, but did not hurt, nor was he dragged forcefully through the room.
"Up, on the bed," the old wizard said. He looked tired, as if he hadn't slept in weeks, Severus noticed.
He knew he would most likely be smacked for asking questions, but he had to know.
"Where am I? What happened?"
One of the witches, the shortest one, with a kind face, stepped forward.
"You are at Hogwarts, Severus. Firenze found you in the forest, do you remember that?"
He nodded. "He let me ride on his back after the black men left."
"Black men?" the other witch questioned. Severus felt a bit uncertain. She looked very stern.
"They wore black robes and masks," he said timidly, "I remember waking up, and they took me to the Forest and left me there."
"Do you know who they were?" the witch asked.
"Death Eaters," he said before he could stop himself. His eyes widened and he clasped his hand over his mouth.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry, I'm not supposed to talk about them. Please don't tell my parents," he begged the kind looking witch.
"It's ok, Severus," she said, patting his hand, "We already suspected that. But do you not remember what happened before you woke up and were taken to the forest?"
Severus shook his head.
"I don't know," he said, bowing his head, "I don't remember. Last I remember is Father being angry with me, and then waking up."
"We do need the information from last night," he said, "to see what Tom has planned. Severus, look at me."
The boy looked up into the blue eyes. He gasped as he felt something…someONE entering his mind, and he tried to do what his mother had taught him, and throw up the walls in his mind. The force retreated a bit, surprised, but then it simply pushed his walls aside.
Severus screamed. A few minutes later, he lay panting on the bed, shaking from the intrusion.
"Really, Albus!" the other three professors were saying, "That was uncalled for. He is only a child! You could at least have explained what you were going to do."
"I had to catch him at unawares, to make sure I'd reach his suppressed adult memories," the headmaster said, rubbing his temples, "I forgot he already knew Occlumency when he came to school. It seems he's in the practicing stages right now. He can put up walls, but not very strong ones. Had he not done that, it wouldn't have caused him pain."
"If you had TOLD him what you were going to do he would not have put them up!" Flitwick squeaked indignantly.
Severus had managed to sit up again and glared angrily at the headmaster.
"Mother was right, you are a nasty, mean old man," he spat out.
The headmaster ignored him, but McGonagall looked at him with interest.
"Your mother said that?"
"She hated school," Severus said dispassionately, "She was always bullied by the other children. She says she wants me to go to Bobotons or Dumstrang," he wrestled with the foreign names, "I think she wants me to go to the one in France. She is making me learn French. I don't want to be here, I think Mother would be angry that the nice centaur brought me here."
The four stared at the young Potions Master, wondering how the young man had ended up going to Hogwarts after all.
McGonagall grimaced. Eileen had been quite correct in her reluctance to let her son attend Hogwarts. He had been bullied.
"Severus," she said, "We need to do some tests, to see if anyone has put some hexes or curses on you. It won't hurt, we're only going to point our wands at you to scan. It might tickle a bit."
The four raised their wands and together cast a number of spells.
Then they moved to the other side of the room to compare notes.
"I'm afraid this is not something easily remedied, Albus," said Flitwick, "The charm is very strong and very complicated. Simply reversing the spell might kill him."
The headmaster nodded. "Tom used some ancient magic and twisted it, from what I could tell from Severus' memories. It used to be an old healing spell, used to give traumatized people a second chance at childhood, but it only lasted a certain period of time, no more then a few months. From what I can tell, this charm has no limit."
Minerva nodded. "I agree. Unless we find a safe way to reverse the spell, he will remain six years old."