Disclaimer: Alas, Severus Snape is not mine; he belongs to J.K. Rowling, as do all other characters and wondrous things in the Harry Potter universe. There will be a few characters that are mine, but no profit is being made. They only want to play.

Through the Flames Comes Destiny's Child

Prologue

A black storm swirled and pulsed, punctuated by red flashes of pain that lit up the darkness like crimsoned lightening. It battered the soft yellow beam of light that struggled to find a path through the chaos to the shelter deep in its midst - a shelter under siege and weakening with each scarlet flash.

It was getting progressively harder to traverse the battleground of his mind, and at the same time easier to breach the barriers of the sanctuary that had been painstakingly erected and enforced for so many years. The sanctuary, once a fortress, now lay in ruins - the occlumency shields that guarded it shattered after the second month of imprisonment at Azkaban.

The light flickered once as it crossed the outer perimeter, where the shielding still offered a thin, almost translucent skin of protection. It stopped at this paper-like cover, glowing brighter and brighter, until it was as bright as the noonday sun. Slowly, it moved sideways until it made contact, transferring its energy along the frail wall, increasing the protection it afforded the deep recess of his mind.

Once seemingly satisfied, the light, now a soft yellow once again, moved deeper into the sanctuary, then dove down, down through layers of fog and misty vapors into the catacombs of his mind. It followed a passageway to the left, until it came upon an open room. This vault had once contained memories, some placed here because they were of happy times; most because they were of the Order or pertained to the man's role as a spy; all were now broken and scattered, drifting along through the fog.

Continuing on, the light traveled through the maze of passages, twisting and turning until at last it came upon a clearing. In this, the deepest part of his mind, she found him. Huddled against an outcropping of rocks and facing a sea that foamed and surged, he sat with bowed head, clutching himself into a tight ball. He looked as he did the day he was captured - long greasy hair, sallow skin, dark stubble on his chin. His features here, however, were much more distorted than in real life - the nose an exaggerated version of the original, the paleness of skin and greasy hair magnified. She wondered if he knew what he truly looked like now - after months of internment at Azkaban. She hoped not, for his sake.

She floated before him, bobbing gently up and down in front of him over and over until finally he focused on the image before him and frowned, watching it grow and transform until a red-haired angel took shape before him. Her image glowed briefly before tamping down to reveal her features, and she stepped forward and knelt in front of him.

"Severus" the image said softly.

He looked at her blankly for a moment, before averting his eyes downward, trembling slightly.

"Severus" she prompted again, "Look at me. Do you know who I am?"

A shudder ran through him and he jerked his head slightly in a nod.

"Who am I?"

"Death?" he whispered hoarsely, hopefully.

"No, Severus", she said sadly, noting how he sagged upon hearing the negative. "I was here yesterday - do you remember? I have visited as often as I could . . . please . . ."

"Why?" He interrupted with a childlike note.

"Because, Severus, I have been chosen to be your guardian - I requested it and fought for the right to be your guide through the fire. You don't deserve this punishment and we are doing everything in our power to help you through. This wasn't supposed to happen. You, Severus, who have done and has given up so much for the light. It is an honor for me . . . , but oh, Severus, you must fight! You must! Remember me Severus . . . remember me who was your friend. Remember me, and my son who you have saved countless times! He will need you again, Severus. Oh, I would that he would not, but he is going to be tempted by the dark path. He needs you Severus. We need you!"

Severus looked at her, then threw the distorted self-image of his head back and laughed a deep rich sound, although slightly hysterical. When he looked at her again, he scowled.

"Lily. Ghostly invader or figment of my imagination? No matter. I can't help Potter. I can't help myself. I hurt, Lily. I hurt all the time." There was much anguish in his voice as he continued. "Please, let me be Kissed. They feed, and I have hope, but then they stop. I want it to end, Lily. Please make it end."

"It won't be for much longer, Severus. Please believe that. Soon, you will be away from this place, away from the dementors. Your body will heal, Severus, the pain will be gone. And you are helping, by remembering. That is your task right now, Severus. Do not let them break your mind".

He nodded absently, but his eyes had the look of resignation - of one forsaken. If Lily noticed, she did not say, and she babbled on of inconsequential things - his elves, his mother's manor, some witch from America - nothing that mattered. He was a prisoner and would be until the day they decided to release his soul to the dementors.

Lily watched him as she rattled on, making conversation she hoped would stimulate his wits and draw his attention. If she was making headway, she could not tell. After a period of time, he cocked his head to one side, staring blankly over her left shoulder as if searching or listening to something. She knew what it was; had been expecting and dreading it. Abruptly, he stiffened and looked around wildly at her.

"You must leave", he said, his voice quailing. "Now. The guards . . . they are coming for me."

He was panicking, his breathing coming in short gasps.

Lily moved closer to him and wrapped him in a strong embrace.

"I will not leave you. You will not be alone."

"No . . . you don't understand. They . . . they do things to me . . . horrible things." He was trembling violently. "I DON'T WANT YOU HERE!"

"But I have been, in the past", she replied softly.

"No . . . no . . . he was pushing against her furtively, but she was holding him tightly, and he was weak.

"I will not leave you", she repeated. "You are not alone." She started to glow again, enveloping him in her light. "Feel me. Feel my warmth. Concentrate on the warmth, Severus. Hold on to it, as tight as you can."

Around them, the lightning flashed blood-red, like whip marks. The coldness of dark magic lashed against them and he clung to the small comforting warmth as curse after curse ripped through his body. An eternity later, his body writhing under hers, the screams began.

xxxxxx

Rough hands escorted prisoner #586 back to cell E-19 and dumped him unceremoniously on a bare cot. E-section was buried deep within the fortress of Azkaban, offering trickling walls, a cold, dank floor, icy air, and absolutely no light. The prisoner curled in a fetal position, clutching at the tattered remnants of a striped prison gown with one bloody hand and shivered violently. He fought the urge to retch, and fought to stay conscious. He did not fight the pain. He had learnt better, a long time ago, although this pain was close to unbearable. His uncles would have been impressed.

Clasping his knees tightly against his chest, the man fought to control his breathing, and struggled to clear his mind. It was getting harder and harder these days to retreat to the safety of his waking dreamscape, the sanctuary in his mind, that he had created so long ago. It was the only place he had left . . . the only place in which to hide from the horrors of his reality. He was on the verge of going mad, he knew. And even though his pride had been stripped away, along with his dignity and his sense of self on the first night in this place of hell, he could not help but be reluctant to give up his last remaining prize - his mind.

And so he struggled, pushing forward to that place within himself, towards a surprising feeling of warmth tickling deep in his mind. He was so weary, so tired of this existence, but something compelled him to go on, until he reached the plateau, his aching body slowly relaxing in this deeply meditative state.

Mixed shades of oranges and greens pulsed and swirled all around him as he stood facing a glittering blue sea. The sky above was dark and stormy, but the surface water sparkled and twinkled, and sent a comforting feeling of warmth through him. Just like Albus's eyes had always done; his clear blue eyes looked out of the sea at him.

"He is very proud of you, you know."

Of course. She was still here. He had not consciously drawn her in his dreamscape, but perhaps his subconscious? Needing a . . . what? Ally? Friend? No, she was one of his victims, and could never be that. Besides which, she was dead, because of him. Perhaps she was here to make sure his suffering was complete. As much as he thought of this place as hell, and the torments and abuse of his body as just punishment, he could not but shudder at the thought of death, when he would enter the real Inferno. He had never begged for mercy, for he had not shown any and did not deserve it, but he had wished for death many times. At times he thought he really was in Hell - the humiliation and abasement of his punishments seemed worthy of Hades, but surely there would be no respite there, however brief. Death would be much worse, he knew, but at least there his tormentors would have the right.

"Severus, listen to me". The Lily-image was standing beside him at the edge of the water. "We do not have much time. You need to concentrate. You need to go deeper . . ."

"Why can't you leave me be?"

"Because you are needed, Severus. It is not over, as everyone believes. You must be strong, and fight against the madness - until your trial, when you will be freed. And then, once freed, you must help Harry".

"Haven't I done enough?" He was so weary. He had given all that he had . . . all that was left was an aching emptiness. Even his identity was gone - he had been reduced to a number - #586. And yet he knew it had not been enough. He owed penance to his victims. And he owed still more for Albus.

"There will be light for you, Severus, I promise you. I have seen it. There is one who is coming, who will see your goodness, and you will be happy, someday".

He looked at her oddly for a moment, then blinked, as if waking from a dream.

"Lily?"

"Yes, Severus?"

"I'm going mad", he choked. "Or I am mad."

"You aren't yet, Severus", Lily soothed. "But you must go deeper, where it is safer from attack." She guided him away from the water to a series of caves at the foot of a hill, where they followed a tunnel to a small, narrow space. Here, she bid him sit on the floor in the cramped opening, and he squeezed into it, drawing his knees up to fit in the tight space.

Lily readied herself to provide him a protective shield, and as she began to glow, he looked at her, eyes glistening with unshed tears.

"The dementors will be here to feed soon."

"I know, Severus."

"Why do they still feed on me, Lily? I am empty. Is it to torment me? They come so close . . . so close to the Kiss. I fear it, but yet I yearn for it . . . an escape from Hell. I am a coward . . ."

"You are no such thing, Severus. You mustn't think like that. You will get through this . . ."

"I can't do this anymore. I can't . . .", tears rolled down his cheeks as he sobbed quietly, burying his face in his arms.

"You are stronger than you know, Severus. And I will help you. I cannot stay with you through it, but I can help protect you from it", Lily said with determination. She was glowing brightly now, her features lost in the brilliant light.

"Go. They are coming."

He could see her dimly through the shield she had created, growing smaller until vanishing completely.

"Hang on, Severus", her voice floated back to him. "Severus . . ., Severus."

And as the prisoner in cell E-19 lay helpless and numb with cold and fear as the dementors approached, there was at least one memory that lay within, shielded by an angel's protection. Severus . . . My name is Severus . . .

xxxxx

Gold and silver specks glimmered in the air, hanging suspended like frozen raindrops against a background of feathery whiteness. A lone presence waited by a golden fountain, gazing serenely into its rippling surface. Moments later a soft yellow glow materialized alongside, transforming into a red-haired angel who threw her arms around the other, clinging to him fiercely.

"Shh", he whispered, caressing her back, kissing the top of her head. "I've got you now. It's O.K."

"Oh, James", she sobbed. "I'm so afraid for him. So very afraid."

He hugged her tightly and was silent a moment. Then, "the vision? Will it come true?"

"If he survives this . . . then yes, it will come true. But . . . he is dying. Physically. He hasn't much time."

"Then I shall greet him, and present to him my gift. He will know at last my regret for misdeeds done him while living, and perhaps forgive me."

She looked up at him, wide-eyed. "You were successful then?"

"I was. We have her. She is confused, and disoriented, but Albus is with her. She is part of his penance, for Severus."

"I am glad. But I would rather he live. He deserves happiness on earth first. I called on his honor today. On duty. I wish he could believe he is valued more for himself than for his usefulness."

"But you know he will respond more to that than anything. He will pull through, however narrowly. He has never let us down yet when it comes to duty."

xxxxx

A/N James and Lily will not be prominent in this story. Lily may appear a few more times in Snape's dreams, as a way of obtaining his viewpoint; both will appear much later for a kind of intervention, but that is all.