He kept his eyes on the door. If his gaze strayed somewhere else (not that there was much else to look at down this long corridor), then his thoughts would stray, and if his thoughts strayed, who knew where they would wander. No. When you were employed to the Dark Lord, you did not have straying thoughts. It didn't matter whether or not he was currently on a 'mission', the Dark Lord always searched him for emotions. Severus Snape preferred not to deal with such matters as trivial feelings anyhow, thus his thoughts were only: Door. Black door. Go to the door. Black door. Go to the door…

Besides, he was on a mission that night. He fingered the object sitting heavy in his pocket to remind himself of this.

He walked towards aforementioned door and halted when he came to it. Stiffly reaching out an arm, he made to push on the door – but it swung open without assistance. Slightly curious now, he went on into a large circular room. Blackness seeped from ceiling to floor, flickering blue flames in candelabrums on the wall offsetting the dark color. He purposely shut the door behind him, yet before he could stride towards the door opposite him, it moved. For a split second he wondered if he was seeing a mirage, but no, it was true – the entire wall was spinning quickly in a circle, blurring into a large black mass, the neon candles creating a steady stream of light. Interesting, though, was that the floor beneath him moved not a fraction.

Mere seconds later, it was over. The wall became steady once more, and the flames stabilized and stilled. Severus pensively surveyed the room for a moment. Why had the Dark Lord not specified which door to enter? Was he testing his young Death Eater, or had the fact that there were at least a dozen doors merely slipped his mind? Well, the room he was looking for would have to be behind one of them. Without hesitation, he marched straight into the door on his right. It swung shut soundly behind him.

It was dark, extremely dark, but that wasn't anything new to the young man. He was used to darkness. It was the strange feeling engulfing his entire body that was new and strange. It felt as though something was being drained from his body, scooping and sucking and leaving him dry. Not his energy – more like the only thing that was able to keep him going during this war, all that he had left. Hope. Severus did not like to think he was dependant on anything, so this idea was not a welcome one. But as he felt himself being siphoned of all that he had been clinging to, he realized that without hope, he himself was – well, hopeless. There was nothing, nothing to do, nothing to live for…

His breathing was becoming constricted, the air in the room seemed thin…or maybe his young nineteen-year-old lungs were merely faltering? Giving up on him in this desolate world, just like most everything else?

He started to panic, his normally calm and logical mind going blank in fear. He didn't know what do to, he was lost in the darkness, in the oppressive tightness, and he was starting to fall, farther and farther and farther…

And then suddenly there was a noise close to his ear. Severus' head snapped up.

The noise came from a door, creaking open loudly of its own free will. And…he saw light. There was light through there. There was air. There was an escape. Through the door, that open door. Light, spilling from the gap. Fresh air, gushing from the sides. He stumbled towards it, falling against the side of the door. He grasped the doorframe, heaving in great gusts of the air. He did not quite understand what was happening to him, nor what had just happened to him, but maybe he wasn't supposed to. Straightening himself, he strolled purposely into the next room.

He wondered for a moment if, in those moments of suffocation, his eyeballs had somehow been squeezed upside-down. Everything in the room was the wrong way up. What looked like a courtroom was on the floor beneath him, with rows of official chairs and the like, but it appeared to have been turned over. What was more, Severus realized he was walking along the ceiling. He almost turned back around right then and there, for fear of falling, but recalled the unpleasantness of the last room and changed his mind.

Carefully, he lifted up his left foot a fraction and put it slightly in front of his right. Taking marginal steps, he slowly made his way across the ceiling. Severus kept his eyes on the door ahead, far up above his head.

At last he reached the door. Sort of. He was still below it, stuck up on the ceiling. He removed his wand from the folds of his robes to cast an invisible support down beneath him, so as to catch him in his fall and allow him to move on to the next room. But before he could perform any such spell, he fell. It was not a delicate fall either. The ride downwards was rough and quick, and Severus ended up in a very awkward position on the floor. Cringing with pain, he slowly disentangled his limbs and staggered to his feet. Every particle of skin felt bruised, every muscle strained. With more effort than he usually used for anything, he drew his wand from his pocket and muttered several healing spells. His body instantly stopped complaining, soothed at once. Severus grimaced a little and made for the next door. Maybe now his lord had decided that his Death Eater had passed enough of these bizarre obstacles?

He entered the room, shutting the door behind him. All at once, the door vanished. He spun around, searching for another passage way, but all the walls were the same solid blanket of white. What was more, the walls were starting to close in around him.

Not very perturbed, Severus stepped over to one of the walls and ran a finger down it slowly, trying to detect what sort of charm could be used to break through. The Ministry would not make an occupant use any sort of blood enchantment, or anything else considered potentially 'Dark'. What else could be required?... But there wasn't really time to think on the point. The walls were compressing tighter every moment, now wasn't the time for any complicated curse. So Severus did the first thing that came to his mind: He pulled out his wand, aimed it at the wall opposite him, and spat out the blasting charm.

There was a brief lull of silence as the spell shot from his wand and to the wall, then noise exploded around him as the wall crumbled to bits, before all went quiet again. He blinked, staring at the mess he had just made. So much for being inconspicuous and not making a disturbance. He stepped over the rubble, only turning back briefly to mumble, "Repairo."

All this for his lord? Had the Dark Lord intended him to go through all these odd trials, or had Severus taken a wrong turn? But no, his lord has most certainly said the Department of Mysteries…

His feet were beginning to become sore as he continued walking. How long had he been here, anyhow? Time was a concept that seemed to disappear in most of the rooms here.

Severus strode into the middle of a room, which was bare except for a solitary armchair that looked rather inviting. He approached, tracing one hand over it to see what sort of enchantments had been placed upon it. There didn't seem to be any sort of magic, but perhaps it was well hidden. Regardless, Severus conceded to his tired feet and sat down on the chair. A short rest would do him no harm. And he could always get up, if needed…

The instant his legs had buckled and his back reclined against the cushiony seat, a new feeling engulfing him – or, rather, left him. All sense of urgency, of priority, of reason, was gone, leaving him with the feeling that nothing was needed to get up for. He could stay here for several hours, in fact. Or maybe days…hell, how about several years. It wasn't as though there was anything in his life he needed to rush back to. He settled back comfortably into the chair, enjoying the sensation of not having to care about anything.

Time didn't seem to matter in that chair. The seconds turned to minutes, and soon, he figured vaguely, the minutes would turn to hours. Or maybe they already had, and he just hadn't noticed. But there was no need to notice anything anymore. Not time, not other wizards, not the Dark Lord and all his endless tasks that Severus found no enjoyment from…he could leave all that behind. Start over anew…or rather, not ever start anything again.

His eyelids fluttered shut contently under the weightless relaxation flowing through his veins. Nothing to fret over…nothing to get up for…he could just stay here…

A sharp, sudden pain on his left forearm sent him out of his peaceful state. He jerked upward in the chair from shock, his eyes widening, clapping a hand soundly around his arm. The Dark Lord. The Dark Lord was making Severus' Mark burn. It was not the usual burn of summoning, either. It was more of a twinge, a snap, a reminder. A reminder to not forget what he was. As though the Dark Lord knew just what was going on with one of his youngest and brightest Death Eaters right at that instant.

Severus shook his head, bewildered and angry. What had made him been foolish enough to think that he could avoid everything and just sit on his ass the rest of his life? He had made his life into what it was, he had to take responsibility for it and go on no matter what else. He was going to charge on, and hope that one day he could try and make up for his mistakes, his mistake that was this Mark on his arm.

Actually, at the moment he was rather indebted to the ruddy Dark Mark. If it were not for it, who knows how long he would have wasted away in that chair? He glared down at his forearm and grudgingly gave the Dark Lord a silent thank you. The first and last thank you he would ever give to him. And with that, Severus lifted his stiff legs and brought them solidly to the floor, rising to his feet and continuing on towards another door. He swung it open and ventured in.

Something was a bit off about the room. It was difficult to place what, exactly, but something didn't seem right. The structure of the room seems built oddly, morphed slightly to one side. All the colors were faded, dull. Strange shadows float across the room, bouncing lightly from one wall to the other, their soft, whispery voices carrying far enough for him to hear the hushing sounds but not far enough to make out the words.

The room made him feel unsettled, a bit nervous. He began to back up towards the door, grappling for the knob, a knob that he could not seem to find in his anxiety –


His hand whipped back sharply, as though scorched. His eyes darted around, looking for what he could not see.


He knew that voice. He didn't want to know it, but he did know it. The voice was more airy than he had remembered, a soft note on a breeze. But he still recognized that tone, her tone, instantly.

"M-Mother?" he asked tentatively, cringing even as he spoke the word.


He stared down every dark, shadowy shape in turn, scrutinizing each for her face. But each shadow was quite featureless, only wispy outlines of figures, and he could not begin to distinguish one from the other, much less find one amongst them.

"Severus…it's good to see you again…"

"I can't really say the same," he muttered, looking fixedly at the floor, "considering that I cannot see you."

There was a small humming laugh of approval. She'd always had the same dark humor as he. "Even so," she said, "I am glad to see you, although Merlin only knows what you are doing here. How are you fairing?"

"As well as I ever was."

"And your father?"

His gaze on the floor narrowed. "Why would you care?"

"He was my husband, Severus."

His eyes, suddenly blazing with anger, flew up to the ceiling in some desperate attempt to try and make eye contact with her. "He killed you!"

"Not intentionally," she replied softly.

"I'd never seen marks and bruises that looked more intentional, Mother," he spat.

"I was ill with fever as well, Severus. Those certainly did not help my condition, but Tobias is not the only one to blame here, life was taking its toll on me as well. It was not truly his – "

"Shut up! Shut up!" he roared, all the rage he had never been able to take out on her pouring out from his soul as he glared up at the shadows, which were still drifting from wall to wall. One shadow, however, had stopped moving, and was merely hovering by the back wall. "Stop defending him, Mother! He doesn't deserve it. He deserves to be dead, rotting away in his grave as you are. He never deserved your petty excuses and defenses, and still doesn't. So stop it."

There was silence on the other end, and for a moment Severus wondered if his mother's spirit wasn't really up there, if that whole conversation had merely been in his head. Then he heard a low, gentle exhale, and Eileen Snape said softly, "Oh, Severus. Do you know how many times I would often ask myself, throughout each day and night, why I still defended him? Why I still would tend to him and always be by his side, despite all the storms that you and I suffered through? Do you know how many times I would question myself, 'Why am I still here? Why have I not left him?'?"

He didn't answer, just stared levelly at the ceiling.

"Love. I loved him, Severus. I still loved him, and always have." Her voice broke slightly. "And I always will." There was a soft whooshing noise, and the shadow that had been by the back wall came swooping towards him. He felt a soft brush against his cheek as it passed against him caringly. "Surely you can understand."

He shut his eyes briefly, taking a deep breath as he reopened them. "Not quite," he said quietly. "But I've tried."

The shadow brushed against him once more, then hovered in front of him. "Well," she said, trying to sound brusque while close to silent tears, "I'm sure you're wanting to get out of here, ey?"

No, he did not want to get out of here. He wanted to stay with her, try and bring her back to the world of the living, replace this shadowy form with the mother he had always said so little to but really, somewhere far down, always deeply cared for –

"You can leave right under that archway," said Eileen. She saw, even through his façade of calm, his hesitance at not wanting to leave all that was left of her. "Go on, Severus," she said softly. "It's not your time to stay here and die alongside me, and nor is it my time to magically come back to Earth as a human – not now, not ever. But you still have a life here, Severus. Go live it."

It was harder, in some strange way, to say good-bye to her this time than it had been last time. Last time there had been little else to do. He had arrived home to find her sprawled on the ground, disoriented and bleeding, his bastard father standing over her. Severus had taken her to St. Mungo's immediately, but even magic cannot heal all wounds. The Healers could do nothing but make her comfortable during her last hours, feeding her pain killers and giving her soft pillows. She died painlessly in the hospital bed, Severus sitting numb in the chair beside her.

Last time there had been no choice but to say his good-byes. Here now, though, it was different. But he knew, even as he stared at her shadowy imprint, that there was nothing he could do, that he would have to leave.

"I'll miss you," Eileen said to his back, as her son made for the door under the archway.

"Yeah," Severus muttered awkwardly. He had never been the affectionate sort, nor the emotional sort, and was feeling a bit uncomfortable at his outburst several minutes previous.

"But you will be with me someday," she said quietly, speaking to both herself and him. "Someday you'll be with me. And so will Tobias."

"Great," Severus griped, "another reason to look forward to my next life."

"We'll be fine. And Severus?"

"Yes?" He paused, hand on the door knob.

"Please, do no murder or harm your father in the mean time."

His mouth twitched.

"I know I am not very demanding in this form, but just do this one thing for me, and do not hurt him. I understand you can do perform some Dark spells now – " his muscles tightened at her reproving tone, he knew she disliked the Dark Lord and his followers " – and I'm sure Tobias does too, but please. Do not use them on him."

"Can I whack him over the head with a Muggle shovel instead?" he mumbled bitterly.

"Severus," she said in answer, warningly.

"I won't," he consented grudgingly, then, after a hesitation, murmured, "Thank you."

If Eileen was not sure what he was thanking her for precisely, she wisely decided not to ask. "You're welcome, Severus."

He jerked open the door before he could have any second thoughts about it and stepped through, closing it behind him. The instant the door shut, he realized he was suddenly floating around the ceiling. Bizarrely, he could still see his body standing on the ground beneath him. Trying to swoop towards it proved impossible, there was some sort of barrier. Had he died himself after passing through that room? His body looked quite motionless, standing on the ground beneath him. But surely his mother would not have led him to his death. No, no, this was one of those out-of-body experiences he vaguely recalled hearing about.

Severus bounced up and down once against the invisible shield impatiently. Now what? He knew he had learned some sort of spell for this back at Hogwarts in his Charms class, but could not recall it in the slightest. How could he, he'd never had reason to use it up until now.

One half of his mind was still occupied with what had gone on in the other room, but the other half commanded his spirit to float around the walls, scanning for a clue as to what the spell might be.

The walls were stone the color of cream, cracked at various spots. Here and there pieces of the rock had been carved away, and sometimes, he noted, there were initials sketched in lightly. Clearly others had been here before him. But there were certainly no words written on the rocks containing a spell of any sort.

The spell had something to do with returning the spirit. He shut his eyes, searching his mind for recollections of what it had been. He pictured Flitwick, tottering around the room and speaking of the spell…

"…requiring a need to return the spirit of an individual to their body…for those experiences when you find yourself out of your mortal shape... one must say Retractum Animus…"

Had that been it? Was that the spell? Or was his mind merely recreating the memory's words because he was in need? But it was worth a go.

"Retractum Animus."

It seemed as though his eyes had rolled around to the back of his head: his vision was skewed and everything was blurring, whooshing by…but then it stopped. And he was back on the floor, in his body.

Pleased that he had gotten through that obstacle and wondering how many more were to come, Severus flung open the door to the next room. He placed one foot down, crossing over the doorway – but his foot seemed to meet air. For a brief moment, Severus wobbled, trying to catch his balance and go back into the previous room, but too late. He toppled forward, falling a short distance before landing in something – wet.

It was a lake. Albeit, a very shallow lake – his feet touched the bottom easily, with the water level only to his stomach – but a lake nonetheless. On the other side of the room was the door, a key stuck in the lock. It can't be that easy, Severus thought, eyeing it. Surely there was some catch, some trick. He couldn't just be able to waltz up there and turn that key to go through.

Glancing around, he noticed two more keys in the room – one at the bottom of the lake, several meters away from him, and the other dangling from the ceiling. He concluded logically that whoever made this room would want the occupant to have the most difficult time possible getting out, as seemed to be the theme of the others. Raising his wand, he attempted to silently summon the key by the ceiling. The key did not so much as wiggle. He tried several more spells, but to no avail, the key wouldn't budge.

He could, he reasoned, merely blast the ceiling apart as he had done with a wall in the other room. However, since he was below the ceiling, and gravity pulls objects down, this didn't seem like the brightest plan. But something simple would most likely do the trick.

Warily, he cast a stretching jinx upon the key. It wiggled, then began to lengthen, growing slowly. He watched as it made its way downward, then when the end was at arms length, he reached up and yanked. The key came down immediately. Unfortunately, due to his stretching charm, it was now very long and heavy, so when he jerked it down it crashed onto his shoulders painfully. Wincing, he shrunk the key down to several centimeters long, then waddled towards the door, one hand on his stinging shoulder and the other closed around the small key. He fit the object into the keyhole and turned it, opening the door and passing through.

It was a stone room, its shape similar to that of a sports arena. Chained to the opposite door was a fox, sitting back idly, staring at him. Vaguely he realized that the animal looked exactly like his patronus (excusing the fact that this animal was very much real), but suddenly the fox snarled at him and sprang to its feet, blocking his way. The only way out was to fight it, and move the chain to the other door, that much he figured out quickly. What he couldn't quite figure out was how to duel a fox, something that could not speak, much less lift a wand. Surely he would have an unfair advantage with this?

Or maybe not.

The fox suddenly leaped at him with such ferocity that he startled a bit, jumping out of its way as its feet hit the floor. The creature turned on him and lunged once more, barring extraordinarily sharp teeth. Severus dodged again, drawing his wand and spinning it rapidly between his fingers. This time when the fox jumped he was ready: he aimed his wand at its belly and shouted, sending the animal flying backwards and into the wall.

He could have killed the creature with a simple green flash of light. But he did not think the goal of this obstacle was to kill, only to best the other. Not that Severus was really one to play by the rules, but he figured he should this time.

Severus' attack had riled the animal even more, and it charged at him with even more vigor. He pointed his wand at the creature again, but the fox was faster and nimbler this time, spurred by anger. The animal knocked into his stomach, pushing him to the ground.

The fox growled into his face, pressing down hard on his shoulder with one paw and swiping the other down his front, sharp claws tearing into his clothes. Severus struggled to lift his wand arm, which was pinned under the fox's body, but couldn't. Desperate, he jerked one shoulder sharply to try and roll away, but this caused the fox to push harder on his body. He jabbed one knee up under the fox's stomach, making solid contact.

The fox sprang back, whimpering in pain. Severus, seeing his chance, bounded to his feet. His wand forgotten in haste, he dashed towards the chain attached to the door. Grabbing it, he yanked it free from its bondage, and raced towards the other side of the room. He snatched a hook hanging from the wall and tied the end of the chain to it. The fox, who had been oblivious during these proceedings due to his pain, suddenly fixed his eyes on Severus again and bounced toward him. Severus sent him hurtling away with a flick of his wand, and ran for the other door. He yanked the door open and pushed it shut behind him.

This new room was dimmer, with dark colored, shimmery walls. Severus walked over to one of the walls with mild interest, running his fingers down the smooth surface. He stared into his reflection: it was a mirror. And yet, he did not merely see himself, he saw other things. Figures and images swirled in the reflection. He turned his head half-way around, but only saw empty space behind him. His eyes moved back to the mirror, slightly entranced, squinting as he tried to make out what precisely the shapes were.

He stepped back suddenly as the shapes moved closer, became clearer. Too clear. A man who couldn't have been much older than his father emerged from the mirror, his feet connecting to the floor. He pushed back dark hair and looked over at Severus, his stare blank. Severus felt himself paling. This man. He knew this man. He knew not a single piece of information about the man standing before him, not his name nor his birthday nor his favorite color. But he knew his face, all too well. It was the face of the first man he had ever killed.

"Good day, young man," said the male, brushing a little dust off one pant leg.

Severus squirmed a little. He couldn't tell if the man remembered him or not.

Another figure stepped out from the mirror, a female this time. She pushed herself away from the wall and moved to stand beside the man, her husband. She glanced Severus over, disgust and remorse mingled in her eyes.

"We're not dead, you know," she told him, "so there's no need to look so uncomfortable."

"Wha – no – you are. You are," Severus said, knowing he sounded stupid even as the words tumbled out. "You're dead. I – saw you dead. You are dead."

Now their little girl came out from the wall and bounced over to her parents. The father put his hand protectively over the girl's shoulder as the woman replied, "We are dead, yes, out there. But not in here. In here we are alive."

Severus twisted his hands together, staring. He was ashamed to look at the family he had murdered so ruthlessly in such a bold manner, but he could not help himself; something didn't make sense. He ripped his eyes from them and stumbled over to the wall, his fingers whispering across it. He squinted, leaning close to the wall, trying to make out the other images contained in the reflection. There were faces, many faces, tortured faces and possessed faces and murdered faces. There were flashes of light, so much light, light from Dark Marks and Crutacious Curses and Avada Kedavras. He sighed deeply, and pressed his nose against the glass, not able to tear his eyes away from the horrors he relived day after day, night after night.

Abruptly, the images changed. They blurred around the edges, blended into one, faded altogether. The only thing he could see now in the mirror was himself, nose to nose with his reflection. And then his reflection leaned away from him of its own accord, straightening itself, standing tall and proud. His reflection smiled at him, looking happy, light. Severus pulled back uncertainly, looking over at the family standing in a cluster.

"Look at your arm," said the woman gently. "Everything should make sense then."

He blinked at her once in confusion, then warily raised his left arm to the ceiling, as though stretching.

"No," she chuckled softly, "lift up the sleeve."

He grasped the fabric between his fingers and pulled it up, revealing his bare forearm. "I don't know what…" he began agitatedly, but stopped suddenly. He looked at his arm. There was no Mark upon there.

He glanced up at the ceiling once, as though confirming he was still on the ground, on Earth. Then he looked back at his arm. But the tattoo still wasn't there. It was as though it had never been. It were as if he were an unmarked man.

None of it had ever happened. Or if it had, it had been reversed, and none of it matter anymore. He swallowed. Did that mean his life was started anew? No more blame, no more mistakes, no more regret? No more lord? Just him, leading his own life? It was all he had wanted since he had realized what he had done to himself, to escape the Dark Lord and this life, it was all he had hoped for. But he had never believed it to happen…could it? Would it? Had it?

Either he had been speaking these words aloud, or perhaps his Occlumency barriers had fallen in his complete shock, for the woman now said, "It's all you ever wanted, isn't it? Well, you have it now. All that you've done as a Death Eater has been reversed…if you stay here, that is."

He tore his gaze from his arm. "Wh – what?"

"You can be free. We can be free." She gestured to her family, to the other occupants in the room whom he had not noticed until now, occupants who had all been on the receiving end of his various curses. "We all will be free in here."

"But – but – I can't stay in here – "

"Isn't this what you wanted?" the little girl asked him, her wide eyes curious, innocent. "Why would you leave what you want?"

It was simple logic, but it just wasn't a simple situation. Severus gazed despairingly around the room, looking in turn at each of the faces, as though they would somehow provide him the answer. Some of them smiled at him, some frowned, some looked impassive and some looked pitying.

Something touched his shoulder lightly. He spun around frantically, and found himself staring at his mother again. Only this time, she appeared very much alive, and not merely a shadow.

She smiled at him. "Hello, Severus."

"I…" He looked down at his left arm, still uncovered by both his sleeve and his former Mark. He didn't know what to say. "I…what…it…what should I do?" he asked desperately.

Eileen merely continued to smile. A part of him wanted to smack that smile off her face, tell her this was no time for smiling in such a way. Another part of him didn't at all, and wanted to hold it, embrace it forever and always.

"I trust you to make the right choice, Severus," was all she said.

He hated that answer. She had used to say it to him all the time when he was small. Never had it infuriated him more. "But…"

"I trust you to make the right choice," she said again.

He looked at her for a long moment, then, before even he really knew what he was doing, turned around and started for the opposite door.

"You're not…staying?" It was the little girl again.

"No, I'm not," he said, not turning back.

"But – why? You're happy here. And that hideous thing on your arm is all gone." Her father nudged her warningly, but she plowed ahead. "What's not to like about here? This is perfect, isn't it?"

He turned around slowly, looking hard into her young eyes. "It is perfect," he said honestly. "But if I stayed here, it would be as though I were cheating out on my life, erasing all my mistakes effortlessly. But mistakes can't be erased, they're permanent." He rubbed his left forearm. "You have to make up for what've you done wrong, and not just expect them to…vanish. Because they won't. They won't." He shifted awkwardly on his feet. "I have to work towards my desires, even if they never happen. That's the only way to ever really be happy."

The young girl blinked in puzzlement, then shrugged. "Okay. If you think so."

He jerked his head, and briefly sought out his mother's face with his eyes, confirming his choice, like a small child seeking parental approval. She beamed at him, eyes misty, and nodded. And with that, Severus took the last steps towards the door and thrust it open, back towards his life. What little there was of it, anyway. But he knew he could work on that. After he completed this task for the Dark Lord, that is.

His eyes flew over the surroundings in this new room. Thousands of prophecies lined the walls, divided by aisles as though in a library. Thank Merlin, he had finally made it. Why his lord had needed him to come here of all places, he had not the foggiest. But questioning the Dark Lord was not a common practice.

He strode deliberately across the room, watching the aisle numbers tick by. When he reached aisle eighty-three, just as instructed by his lord, he moved down it. He paused at the middle of the row. Carefully, he drew from the folds of his robes the object his lord had entrusted him with. For a moment he stood immobilized by the item's fancy designs and obvious high value, tracing his fingers over the engraved pictures and words. Then he snapped himself back to the present, pulled out his wand, and transformed Hufflepuff's cup into what looked like a prophecy orb. He slid it onto the shelf in-between two other spheres.

He stood back for a moment, staring at the newly transfigured object, and wondered what exactly had been so important to his lord about this task. He had an inkling, though. It had been hard not to notice the magical weight of the cup, hard not to observe how many spells and curses had been placed upon it, hard not to think that perhaps the Dark Lord had turned this into more than a mere cup before giving it to him.

It doesn't matter to you, Severus reminded himself. Whatever is or isn't in that cup is not your concern.

So, his mission accomplished, Severus turned and walked away, lightly rubbing the Dark Mark on his arm.