Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter; all of that in the property of JKR. I don't own A Merciless Affection; that credit goes to Verity Brown.

A/N: This is yet another lost chapter of Verity Brown's A Merciless Affection. If you are in search of a likable fluffy-bunny Severus Snape, I advise you to hit the back button now for you shall not find him in this fic. What you will find is a very dark and troubled, yet painfully human Severus Snape searching for strength and redemption. There is also a very strong religious theme in this fic. If you can stand that, then read on and hopefully enjoy. As always, a very special and heartfelt thank you goes to Verity for allowing me to provide some insight to her version of Snape.

Note from Verity: Lady Whitehart presented me with this story for my birthday—one of the best presents I've ever got. Thank you, my friend!

Questio Pacis

Severus reluctantly entered the tiny chapel in Knockturn Alley. He hadn't been there since the summer before his mother died, yet he was surprised at how many of the details he remembered. Carefully stepping across the threshold, he paused, half expecting part of the ceiling to collapse in on him or lightening to strike him down. The only person who would be less welcome in a holy place such as this was the Dark Lord.

Grumbling at his own stupidity that had landed him here, Severus slid into a pew in the back of the chapel. He buried his head in his hands, contemplating his numerous failings. The more he thought about the last twenty years of his existence, the more disgusted he became. Ambition and lust had been his downfall. Ambition to be something beyond a scrawny Knockturn Alley half-blood bastard. Then there was lust, lust for power, lust for flesh.

Other than to fulfill a necessary step in legitimizing his marriage to Sarah Darkglass, why was he here? There was no hope for him; the best that he could hope for was to manage some protection for her and her son. No, their son. Severian was part of him as well. While he was sure his fate was sealed, his son must be given every chance to live.

Angrily he glared at the crucifix over the altar. When he had been a small boy, his mother had explained that one man was responsible for the salvation of the entire human race. At one time, he had even believed it for her sake, but now... Now the salvation of the entire wizarding world rested on the shoulders of a rash, arrogant, little whelp who was so consumed by his own feelings of self-importance that he was utterly useless. An idiot boy who knew nothing about what he was going to be asked to do. An ungrateful child that Severus was expected to protect for the sake of them all. No matter what the price. Even at the sacrifice of his own wife and child!

He continued to silently rage at the unfairness of it all. He and Sarah and their child were nothing more than pawns in an elaborate game of chess between Dumbledore and the Dark Lord, forced to protect the most undeserving king. He struggled to contain his wildly frantic emotions. Control was the last bastion of protection he had to give his family.

Little by little as rage dissolved into despair, he began to study the agonized expression on the carved face of the battered man on the crucifix. The anguish it portrayed was almost a living, breathing entity. He himself felt that agony in the carefully concealed guilt of his past deeds, and now he felt it even more strongly in the fact that he was responsible for entangling Sarah in this web of death and destruction. He could still see the look in her eyes when she slipped in to her persona of Sarah Darkglass Snape, beloved daughter of a Death Eater and the proud wife of another. He hated himself for making that a necessity in her existence. Meus Deus, Meus Deus, quare festinatio sententia relinquo mihi?

Why had he been forsaken? That much was obvious. He was a deeply horrible person. He had been a murderer and a rapist. He was cruel to those whom he considered weak and even more cruel to those who dared oppose him. He lied and cheated obtain what he wanted. Not only did he tolerate evil, but he was instrumental in perpetuating it in the children of his compatriots by pretending--although not fully pretending--to desire the death of the son of his childhood enemy.

He had taken advantage of and used the only two women who had ever come to him of their own free will. First Cassilda and then Sarah: they had been his and his alone. Cassilda had been used purely for pleasure, a pale substitute for Lily Evans. How many times had he looked at Cassilda and envisioned that it was really Lily under him? Sarah had been nothing more than a stepping stone in his ambition to gain a measure of power for himself. He had never expected to feel anything for either of them. He had been too late to realize the potential he could have had with Cassilda. But with Sarah, his lust had changed so subtly, so gradually, it had almost gone unnoticed.

The worst crime he had committed was allowing Sarah to conceive. He had wanted to bind her to him in such a way that he would be assured favor. Fathering the grandchild of one of the Dark Lord's most entrusted followers turned martyr would gain him a measure of esteem with his master. A master who would value that Severus had shouldered the responsibility instead of abandoning it to a miserable fate. Then again, he had offered Sarah a way out. He had offered her the opportunity to terminate the pregnancy, yet another example of his disregard for life. If only she had, she would be safe and out of the Dark Lord's notice.

"Damn it all to hell," he whispered to the silent figure above the altar. "What have I gotten myself into? What have I gotten them into?"

Deep within himself, in some long-buried part of his conscience, Severus could feel a great tidal wave of guilt beginning to swell. He forced it down, battling with it. Guilt served no purpose to the condemned. In the tangled web that was his life, guilt could be deadly.

Unable to look at tortured figure at the front of the sanctuary any longer, Severus let his eyes roam to other parts of the chapel. A statue of the Madonna holding her Child caught his attention. The resemblance of the carved young woman to Sarah was striking. The expression of devotion and underlying determination was so powerfully depicted on the beatific features. Yet there was an innocence there as well that Sarah didn't have. An innocence he had stripped away. An innocence he watched crumble with each dark deed she was forced to do. An innocence that would have remained if he had only exercised a little bit of self-control.

Severus dug the heels of his hands into his eyes. He had come here for a reason, and he had best be getting on with it. Slowly he lowered himself to his knees, realizing that it had been almost another lifetime since he had knelt before anyone or anything other than the Dark Lord. With that last bitter thought, he tried to focus once again on the figure over the altar. He had decided that it was possible to make a full confession and not jeopardize their lives. It was highly improbable that his compatriots would ever consider questioning the priest.

Where to begin? Prejudice? Rape? Murder? Torture? The images of his crimes clamored for his attention. The cried of his victims reverberated in his mind. To no avail, he clapped his hands over his ears to block them out. For more than fifteen years, he had kept them quiet, but now they were threatening to break him. Severus found himself gasping for breath as his attempted to regain control of the rampaging images. I cannot do this alone!

Involuntarily, he raised his eyes once more to the crucifix, using the anguish displayed there as means to minimize his own. Severus understood the expression of physical pain, but he only beginning to comprehend the extent of the emotional pain an innocent would endure by taking on a punishment that should not have been His. Perhaps it was merely a trick of the shifting light and shadows, but the lines on the figure's face seemed to deepen, as if some of Severus's suffering was being absorbed into the statue. As his own pain was being siphoned away, Severus began to regain control of himself. He would go through with this. He must, for Sarah's sake, for their son's sake.

Slowly rising to his feet, Severus squared his shoulders and entered the confessional. Once inside, he knelt down. "Bless me, father, for I have sinned..."

An hour later, Severus watched the young, sandy-haired priest stumble from the chapel, his purple stole askew. Apparently ex-Death Eaters were not common penitents. Severus sincerely hoped that after hearing his confession, the priest would still allow the marriage to take place. If he didn't, then all three of their lives were in greater peril than before. He and Sarah and their son needed this added bit of protection. The Dark Lord needed to see a proud and willing Sarah Darkglass at Severus's side, not the terrified girl who was forced to bind herself to him. Surely the life of an innocent, unborn child would be enough to convince the priest to permit the marriage.

One by one, the jet-black beads slipped through his slim fingers. The long buried words of the once familiar prayers were uttered grudgingly at first but eventually in earnest. When the last Amen was whispered, Severus knew his prescribed penance was over. His true penance, the one that would hopefully bring about his redemption, had been on-going ever since he discovered that Lily Evans was to be targeted. No, not Lily Evans, he reminded himself bitterly. Lily Potter. And her death was my doing. I may not have cast the curse that took her life, but my foolish choice still brought about the death of a truly good and pure person.

"Severus?" The priest had returned. "I... Against my better judgement, I will officiate your formal marriage to Sarah Darkglass this afternoon. All three of you will be kept in my prayers. And, Severus, may your deeds, no matter how dark they become, eventually bring about a greater good. "

With a solemn nod of thanks, Severus silently exited the chapel, his robes billowing behind him. He would need to tell Sarah to be ready as soon as possible. Stepping out into the light, he felt a faint glimmer of hope. Hope that he just might survive long enough to see his son's face. Severian...

In case you were wondering, the Latin translates to: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?