Disclaimer : Sadly I don't own him and I'm not making a knut from this.

Stains

Silent battle raged in the heavens above, a battle as old as time immortal. Primordial foes, darkness and light, warred over the dominion of the vast skies and once again darkness was forced to release its tenuous hold.

Dawn approached.

Far below, the ancient castle of Hogwarts slept soundly, blissfully unaware as the cold caressing silver light of the wanning moon was gradually replaced by the golden rays of the waking sun. Rays which would soon warm its majestic masonry by mid-day.

Its inhabitants, young and old, living and dead, still drifted peacefully in the land of dreams...all that is, bar one.

A tall, dark figure rushed through the empty hallways, his light footfalls barely echoing off the worn flagstones. Only the faint flickering of a few beeswax candles registered his passing as his long black cloak billowed behind him. As always the slim silhouette headed straight to the dungeons, to the bowels of Hogwarts, to where he felt most comfortable.

Severus Snape stood before an inauspicious landscape painting, its muted colours obscured by countless years of grime. Heaving slightly, he reached into his robes and retrieved his wand. A few hushed words later and the rolling hills were replaced by a heavy oak door. Another wave of the ebony wand, another whispered password and the doorway swung open on its massive iron hinges. Severus entered his private chambers and ignored the door as it closed securely behind him.

"Lumos" he growled.

A few candles sprung to life, instantly animating the room as shadows danced erratically along the walls. As he crossed the living space into his bedroom, the potions professor pulled an object from his robes and threw it violently towards his neatly made bed. The object hit the edge of the bed with force and dropped noisily to the floor, landing heavily on a well worn rug. The loud thud caused the man's neck to snap around.

The empty eyes of a Death Eater mask glared up at him accusingly.

Severus sneered back, hastily pulled his black outer robe from his body and threw it over the mask, obscuring it from view.

He entered a compact washroom and paused, leaning heavily on an ornate marble sink. After a few moments, composure regained, he removed his black leather gloves and braced himself for the sight.

His elegant yet calloused hands were encrusted in dried blood, it was lodged in his fingernails and embedded in every inch of his pale skin.

Thin lips pursed together in distaste and disgust as he flipped his hands over, again and again.

His stomach heaved as the unfamiliar sense of nausea returned. Severus Snape was not a squeamish man but this was different...very different.

Hands trembling ever so slightly, he tentatively twisted one of the taps and clean warm water rushed into the white bowl. He pushed his palms into the steady flow and stood mesmerised as the dark red stains loosened and began to wash away. The tainted water disappeared quickly out of sight down the plug hole.

But it wasn't going to be that easy.

He released a derisive snort.

He didn't deserve to have it easy.

A few stubborn traces remained, he reached for some soap and a discoloured nail brush and began scrubbing mercilessly. He lathered and scoured until his skin broke and began to bleed.

The sight of his own life's blood mingling and washing away with that of another's, offered no comfort. He continued to clean himself until he was finally convinced no traces...no evidence remained. It was a thorough job, he had never liked using spells like 'scourgify', when it came to personal hygiene.

Only then did he dare to look up at his reflection in the small cracked vanity mirror, only then did he notice the tiny crimson droplets staining his tired face.

He closed his eyes and sighed.

As the furrows in his brow deepened, he visualised the blood's owner in his mind.

A young muggle, a plain girl but pretty none the less, long auburn hair and large brown eyes...he didn't think his conscience would ever let him forget those eyes as they pleaded hopelessly for help. She had been the latest play-thing, an amusement, a mere distraction to help pass a few of the Dark Lord's waking hours. It had been unfortunate for her that his fellow Death Eaters had chose to snatch her, she had just been down right unlucky that her arrival coincided with that of some bad news.

Voldemort's latest scheme was not going in accordance to plan... and he was not pleased. Fearing their Dark Lord's wrath, his minions were more than happy to cast their latest offering at his feet.

She was the perfect outlet on which to vent his frustrations. Voldemort was a cruel, insidious creature and when his mood turned foul, that cruelty took on new levels. Tonight, he had been particularly barbarous and brutal.

The more she pleaded and screamed, the more he smiled. The pleasure the Dark Lord got from inflicting such torture had always disturbed Severus. Yet again he had been forced to appear impassive to such callous deeds, all the while, his insides churned like a boiling cauldron.

He was never more thankful than when the screams finally ceased, she died before Voldemort could pass her on to his followers like some unwanted hand-me-down. It was a small blessing.

Soon after, the crowd dispersed, each tending to their Lord's wishes in different ways. As the Master himself prepared to leave, he turned and focused his red eyes on Severus, who bowed low in acquiescence.

"Take care of it," he ordered.

"My Lord," Severus nodded humbly and obediently.

No further explanations were need, the potions master was left to dispose of this latest victim.

He stood silently over her broken, bloodied body for a moment, then reached down, tenderly closed her unseeing eyes and picked her up. She weighed so little, he noted absently. He then quickly apparated to a near by forest and placed her cooling corpse in a shallow grave. This muggle girl who was nothing more than a child, would become another in a long list of statistics. So many people disappeared each year, never to be seen by loved ones again, what difference would one more name make.

As this thought filled his mind, Severus fell to his knees and vomited violently, he wretched until he'd emptied his stomach...until his muscles ached.

And now here in the privacy of his own washroom he felt that same urge to throw up again.

He opened his eyes, while purposely avoiding looking at himself in the mirror and splashed water over his face several times until even his hair was soaked. Only then did he risk looking.

The little tell-tale marks were finally gone.

But there were other, more hidden stains that would not wash away so easily.

Guilt over his actions and inactions had tarnished his soul permanently. Of course Dumbldore would appear at his door at some stage and try his best to convince his loyal spy that it was all for the 'greater good', that he was not at fault, that there was nothing he could have done...try explaining that to the girl's family.

He suddenly pounded his fist into the mirror and watched it shatter into a hundred little deadly shards. Unsurprisingly, he had cut his knuckles and they bleed freely, he winced in pain. He could heal the little cuts in an instant if he wanted...but he didn't want to, right now he needed the pain.

He walked wearily back into his sitting room and dropped his weight into a richly upholstered high backed chair. The fireplace burst to life, warming the room with its amber flames. Severus reached inside a small rosewood press beside him and retrieved a tall half empty bottle of fire whiskey and a clean crystal glass. He poured himself a glass and knocked it back, barely feeling the liquid burn the back of his throat, he then poured himself another and eased back into the chair.

It would be daylight soon, he would get no sleep now, not that that mattered. He would be forced to appear in the Great Hall as usual for breakfast, though the thought of food right now made his stomach lurch once more. Forced to appear as if nothing were wrong, forced to listen to the noisy and annoying chattering emanating from the equally annoying student body, forced to engage in mindless morning small-talk with his fellow staff members. He groaned at the thought.

His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a gentle rapping on his door, he knew instantly it could only be one person.

Dumbledore had come much earlier than expected, maybe the old wizard had sensed his disturbed mood, with the Head Master...anything was possible.

No doubt he was here to offer comfort, here to try and assuage his guilt.

Severus allowed a hollow, empty laugh to escape his lips.

Let him try.

Author's Note; Hi there folks ! Sorry, I know it's been an age since I've up-dated, for anyone who's interested, I've tried to explain things in my blog (homepage link on profile page) This is the first time I've had the urge to write something in ages, IF it turns out ok, I might trust myself to go back to my two main stories. So please do let me know what you think of this latest little one-shot, good bad or indifferent, I just enjoy hearing from you ! Many thanks !

Lai.