Note: The final installment of "Poison". I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Severus's head is a strange, dark place, and I suppose I'm a little bit glad I don't have to go in there anymore!

The words swam in front of Severus's eyes, and the musty old-book odour was overwhelming. He closed it in frustration and placed it among the other discarded, useless tomes. None held the key to saving Lily: none would provide a way of discovering the spy from the Order without betraying his own position as a spy within the Death Eaters. Sighing, he rose to examine the cauldron of potion he had been brewing.

It was the rusty brown of dried blood and as each bubble burst, the escaping air sounded like screaming. This potion would cause the drinker intolerable pain and make him beg for the Crutiatus Curse; brewed exactly to the Dark Lord's specifications.

There was a time when Severus would have felt strangely proud of this brew: more subtle and effective than mere wand-waving, painstakingly created and utterly perfect. Now he did not care; he had hardly slept for months and was so tired that his whole body ached. Potions were useless, and whenever sleep finally claimed Severus, he was tormented by dreams. Sometimes they even came in the day: visions of death and scenes of writhing, naked bodies.

He was glad that he was largely autonomous in conducting his duties for his two masters; Occlumency requires a tremendous amount of mental energy, which insomnia had sapped from Severus. When speaking to the Dark Lord, it was only large doses of strong potions which could keep his mind sharp enough to avoid giving away his treachery. As for his other master, they had not met since before he had interrogated Bellatrix, many months ago. He did not have the information, so saw no point in a rendezvous.

The feeling of shame he had experienced that night still haunted him. Somehow it had opened up so many things that he had locked away in the back of his mind. For the first time, he had found himself truly digesting everything that had occurred, the nature of his relationship with Bellatrix.

And what he saw disgusted him.

At once a pitiful, weak fool and a twisted pervert.

He hated Bellatrix to almost the same magnitude reserved for James Potter. Sometimes he believed that if she were to die, he would laugh and feel that justice had finally been served. Yet at the same time, he craved the painful pleasure he gained from her body; her furious caresses, the bite of her kiss, the burn of mutual hatred firing their passion.

When Bellatrix was not in his mind, his thoughts invariably turned to Lily. By now, she must have lost the plumpness from her pregnancy from running after a little brat. Severus was unsure as to how old children were when they started walking, but he had no doubt that James's spawn would be running his poor sweet love ragged. The three would be cooped up in a hiding-place: perhaps the close proximity would lead Lily to realise what a mistake she had made!

If she survived: Severus still had no way of ensuring that. The Dark Lord had agreed to save Lily for Severus's use, but he did not trust this method, and pictured leading Lily into a life chained in the Lestrange cellar. Visions of Bellatrix tormenting his Lily would intrude into his thoughts, that cruel red mouth drawing blood from marble-smooth skin.

Invariably, it led to frantic sessions of scouring books for answers, tearing out pages and sobbing in frustration at the fruitlessness of this endeavour. There seemed to be no path ahead, just more darkness. No salvation for Lily, and perhaps no salvation for Severus. He would live out the rest of his years fucking a married woman who he hated, with the woman he loved either dead or suffering a fate worse.

It was the waiting that was the worst—he knew that it was only a matter of time until the Potters were found. It—whatever itwas—would happen soon.

And Severus knew that life afterwards would be even worse.

The night of reckoning came at last. Rather fittingly, it happened on Halloween, and Severus wondered whether the Dark Lord had purposely selected this night. It would certainly fit his notions of grandeur.

The Death Eaters were gathered around the great table at the Lestrange house. A crystal goblet marked each place and in the centre was a vast quantity of bottles of red wine, corked, awaiting the Dark Lord's triumphant return. The room buzzed with excitement; it reminded Severus of King's Cross Station on his first day at school, more than ten years ago now. He looked around at his companions: Lucius Malfoy, squeezing his beautiful wife's hand; Mulciber, drunk already; Crabbe and Goyle, their expressions so vacant that Severus was unsure that they knew the reason for their presence tonight.

And at the head of the table sat Bellatrix. She looked splendid tonight, wrapped in deep purple velvet robes, her dark hair shining in the candlelight. At her throat was a vast jewel, the colour of blood. She beamed broadly, anticipating conquest tonight. Severus struggled to breathe as he was filled with both loathing and desire. To retain composure, he averted his eyes to the men surrounding her.

A Lestrange brother on either side: Rodolphus subdued, Rabastan gleeful. Behind her stood Crouch, his eyes always on Bellatrix, leaning as close as he dared to catch the scent of her hair.

Severus's stomach twisted in unbearable knots. He knew that soon the Dark Lord would enter, and news would arrive. Perhaps he would hear that Lily was dead, and his own heart would stop. Otherwise, he would enter triumphantly, dragging Lily by her gorgeous red hair, and she would be placed upon the table, stripped, broken glass breaking skin and Bellatrix cackling.

"Hear you've requested a little lady tonight," Rabastan leered, raising his empty glass at Severus. There was a moment where Severus tensed, horrified that he had not adequately closed his mind and transmitted his tortured beliefs. It passed as he reminded himself that this was a thought that was never far from Rabastan's mind—the man was a sexual deviant, and it was likely he believed no more in notions of bloody purity than Severus, only in rape and defilement.

"I remember her from school," the pervert continued. "Of course, she was only about twelve when I last saw her, but I hope she hasn't changed much." Men laughed. Severus exploded.

The next thing he knew, his wand was aimed at Rabastan and the word "Avada" was out of his mouth. A hand grabbed his right wrist firmly, and at the feeling of nails in his skin, Severus surrendered.

"Now, now, Sevvy-wevvy." Bellatrix spoke as though Severus was nothing but an errant child. "You can have her first." The words were loaded and full of menace. Their meaning was clear—there were no other options for Severus. If Lily survived, this would be her fate. A glance at her eyes revealed that malicious joy at his situation.

Yet they reminded Severus of a crucial fact, that after tonight he would have nowhere to go. The Order would collapse, and it was best that he stayed with the winning side.

"My apologies," he said silkily. "I am merely delighted by our impending victory. May the Dark Lord return swiftly."

"He's been gone a bloody long time, though, hasn't he?" Rodolphus wheezed. Every eye in the room flicked towards the great clock in response. With a start, Severus realised that four hours had passed since the Dark Lord had left, and a strange little bubble of hope began to rise within Severus. Was there some way that the Dark Lord had been defeated, and that Lily would be safe.

He had heard stories of people in love knowing instinctively when their paramour has slipped beyond the veil: an invisible cord severed.

Severus had not felt this: Lily was still ever present within his soul. Hope grew.

More hours slipped away. They were pacing now, and Mulciber had opened a bottle of the wine. Nobody would speak of the possibility that their side had lost and the Dark Lord crushed.

At last Malfoy rose, and slipped silently towards the door. By now dawn was breaking, and many were slouched in their seats, eyelids sinking.

"Where are you going?" Bellatrix barked. She was sitting bolt upright, still confident in her master's arrival.

"To find out any news. I wish, of course, to see the smoking rubble of the Potters' house. The evidence of our victory." Lucius bobbed a bow and left.

The sun now high in the sky, light penetrating even the heavy velvet curtains of the Lestrange house. Neither Lucius nor the Dark Lord returned. Every second that passed filled Severus with more optimism: Lily would live, and would not suffer at the hands of these beasts. Soon they would hear that the Dark Lord had failed due to a brave woman with hair the colour of the rising sun. She would be so joyous, that she would kiss all those who had fought alongside her... including Severus.

Another rose to search for news. Severus did not expect him to return: they were deserting now. It was coming to a close at last.

It came to a close, though not in the way Severus had hoped. The Death Eater returned, minutes later, pale and shaking.

"It's over, it's over," he muttered, "he died, the Dark Lord, he was killed. Oh, it's over, it's over."

Severus heard a scream, but did not attend to it. "And what of the Potters?" he asked urgently.

"It's all over, over for us. Confess now, say we was brainwashed or summat."

"Listen," Severus said sharply. The world around had ceased to be, his future rested upon the news from this idiot. "What became of the Potters?"

"Dead, too, except the kid. It was meant to kill him, but it's only a fuckin' baby!"

Severus groaned deeply and his knees gave way. It was over. Lily was dead and he had failed to protect her. The pandemonium in the background, the cacophony of a requiem for defeat, provided a fitting backdrop for Severus's thoughts. What had happened was his fault, for he had passed on the prophecy. He would never again gaze into those eyes, for she had been entirely extinguished. There was nothing left now, no purpose to Severus's life, and for the first time he thought of ending it with a bitter poison. Until this point, he had always been eager to survive, yet to live in a world without a trace of Lily was unthinkable.

The screaming grew closer, a crescendo of pain.

His eyes finally registered Bellatrix. The jewel at her throat was ripped off, and her hands tore at her hair; her face was twisted in agony.

"You have to help me find him," she shrieked. "It's not true, it's just not true. It can't be. Help me find him, Severus."

It was like staring into a broken mirror. Bellatrix was a distorted reflection of himself: his suspicions were confirmed that Bellatrix had loved Voldemort just as he adored Lily. Both widowed by this horrible tragedy. He watched his hand, yellowish, veins bulging, shake its way towards Bellatrix's screaming face in a gesture of comfort.

It was then that everything became clear. It was not he who had killed Lily, but the Dark Lord. His love had lived her life in the hope of destroying evil, yet evil had destroyed her. Even without hearing the prophect, Voldemort would most likely have murdered her in the end because of her principles and her ancestry.

He snapped his hand back.

"No," he said sharply.

A calm had descended now, and the way forward seemed clear. He must leave this vile circle at once, for they all had Lily's blood upon their hands.

He would go to Dumbledore, for the old man would know of some way to make Lily alive again.

"Where are you going?" Bellatrix screamed. "We have to find him, the Dark Lord!"

Severus took one last glance at Bellatrix, now prostrate upon the floor, convulsing in hysterical sobs. Then he turned and walked away, his body feeling energised as the last of the poison finally left his system.