With a soft pop, Snape appeared on a thickly wooded hillside. The light of the moon and stars did not penetrate through the wooded lacework up above, but he could see that Draco was waiting on him, his glowing wand tip barely affected the surrounding gloom of the forest. Farther down the slope a light glimmered between the tree trunks. Together, they walked downhill, picking their way through the snarled undergrowth. As the Potions Master and the boy neared the light, they could see the source were ruins of an old stone chapel. Magical lanterns hung at intervals above the jagged remnants of the graffiti - streaked walls. They walked in silence, for which Severus Snape was grateful. Inside his head the Potions Master rehearsed his story, doing his best to ignore the sick feeling that had taken up residence within his stomach as the events of the night unfolded themselves within the cavernous depths of his pain - clouded mind.

Lord Voldemort, once Tom Riddle, stood upon a magickally elevated dais above the broken stone floor, at the far end of the chapel. He was talking with his favourite servant, Peter Pettigrew, but, his red slits were fixated upon the open archway, watching for the last of his faithful followers. At the Dark Lord's feet lay Nagini, his familiar, the thick body of the snake coiled beneath her head as she dozed, contentedly. Several Death Eaters, cloaked all in black stood to one side. These were the ones that were up in the tower with Draco ! His eyes glossed over the diminutive form of Alecto and the others. But, where was Erin ? SeverusSnape couldn't help looking about the room for me. She has to be here ! But, where ? Another score of Death Eaters stood arrayed in a rough semicircle around the maniacal leader.
As Snape, and Draco, approached, the others shifted and murmured among them selves.
"At last, everyone is now here," announced Voldemort. " Tell me how the mission I assigned to young Malfoy fared."
Severus Snape stepped forward."It is done, My Lord," He said, inclining his head respectfully. "Young Malfoy's plan worked perfectly. He lured the old fool to the Astronomy Tower and disarmed him. The Death Eaters he smuggled into the school." Severus bowed politely in the direction of the others as he continued, "Prevented his escape, and also held off Order members who were patrolling the school."
"Do not play games with me, Snape!" Voldemort hissed in his high cold voice. "I know who killed the old fool, Dumbledore!" Beside him, the great snake stirred lifting her head to gaze at the man who had angered her master. The Potions Master dropped to a knee.

"Yes, Master, it was I. The boy set it up. He was readying himself, hesitating before his first kill. I had just run into the tower, so that only I among your followers there knew that the tide of the battle raging below had turned. It seemed urgent your will be carried out, before help could arrive for the old man from below. I regret if my precipitate action has displeased you." He raised his dark eyes to Voldemort's, keeping his face still calling to mind the memory of running through the chaotic scene at the foot of the stairs. Remembering to carefully conceal his mad dash down to the dungeons to retrieve me afterwards. As Voldemort's red eyes met his, he braced himself mentally for the ghastly touch of the Dark Lord's mind intruding upon his own. Apparently satisfied by what he found, Lord Riddle withdrew from Snape's mind and spoke. "No, Severus, I approve your decision."
Severus Snape bowed, his head low over his knee.

"Thank you, My Lord," He said, rising smoothly to his feet. Lord Voldemort looked over at the group of Death Eaters to his right, and back to Snape and Draco.

" That is not what I have heard. These followers, " He indicated the group of four on his left side, " Were there longer. Young Malfoy did indeed contrive a means to bring my servants into the school and, yes, further caught the headmaster alone, unarmed. But, he failed to act, despite more than one reminder to carry out my orders. I think young Malfoy needs, " A cruel smile settled over the thin lips of the evil wizard," Some further encourage - ment." He turned to Draco.
"Step forward, young Malfoy. It has been discovered that you have disobeyed my orders." Draco took a couple of hesitant steps forward, until he stood shoulder to shoulder with his mentor, Severus Snape. He was trembling visibly, his face pale in the magickally crafted light. Lord Voldemort raised his wand, aimed squarely at Draco's chest. Severus Snape restrained an urge to swear viciously. Damn Alecto and the others, for getting to the Dark Lord first. And the fool boy, for not telling me a blasted thing. I should have known the rendezvous point. So that I could have gotten there first and maybe forestalled this. Well, I did vow to protect the boy, which made me the bigger fool. A foolish act for which I will dearly pay for. What would the price be, this time ?

" Crucio ! " The Dark Lord shouted in his high, cold voice, as Severus stepped in front of Draco. Damn Narcissa ! As the spell hit him, he fell to the floor, screaming with the pain. As the waves of fiery agony swept all rational thought from his mind, he wondered, how familiarity with the effects of the Cruciatus Curse could never render it a whit more bearable ? It was equally intolerable, every time.
After what seemed an eternity, the pain receded. Severus Snape found himself lying on his stomach. From the intensity of the tremors that still shook his body, Severus judged that he had been under for quite some time. Any surprise that Lord Voldemort may have felt at his reaction had not been sufficient to distract him from casting the painful curse.
" What, is the meaning of this ? " asked the Dark Lord, his eyes glowing red. Nagini now fully awake, her long, powerful body circled Lord Voldemort's dark robes, her eyes alert.
Stiffly the Potions Master fought his way up onto his hands and knees. Then he sat back, head bowed. " Look at me ! " commanded Lord Voldemort. "Why did you jump in front of the boy ? I do not suffer fools gladly. "
It was not a question that Severus Snape could refuse to answer. If I did, the Dark Lord would seek the answer within my mind. Moreover, if, for the first time, he did not find an answer there, the Dark Lord would know that he had been deceived. I had no illusions about my ability to resist the prolonged and invasive Legilimency that I knew would ensue. The Vow would certainly come to light, and along with it, matters of far greater importance. That alone brought certain memories a little too close to the surface, ones that I do not want him to see. As the Potions Master raised his eyes to meet his Dark Lord's, he pushed down the memories of Dumbledore: the discussion about the Riddle diary, when the headmaster sought his aid about the cursed ring, and, especially, the one they had shared about Potter just before his own death. Severus Snape faced Lord Voldemort, his stomach writhing at the thought of what he was about to do.
" My Lord, " He began. " I, have sworn an Unbreakable Vow to protect the Malfoy boy from harm. "
" And just, whose idea was that?" Asked the Dark Lord, danger glinting within the tone.
There was no way to hide the fact, either. I had warned her, I tried to warn them

"His mother's. She was worried about the dangers the mission would entail. Bellatrix, here, can confirm my story, she was the bonder," Severus added. The Dark Lord's high, cold laugh rang throughout the room.

"Still have an eye for the ladies,

Severus ? And as always, ones who choose other men. " The watching Death Eaters laughed appreciatively. Severus noticed Peter snickering, as well. He fought to keep his face neutral, and focused on a memory of kneeling with Narcissa as Bellatrix performed the Vow.
" Well, " The Dark Lord said softly,

" It seems that Narcissa needs to be shown the error of her ways when it comes to my followers obeying my orders. "
As the older snake - like man spoke, Severus rose to his feet. He staggered as his right knee nearly gave under his own weight. I must have bruised it on one of the many stone fragments that littered the floor. Regaining his balance, he took his place next to Draco Malfoy, who remained silent despite the tears that had begun to form in the corners of his eyes at the mention of his mother. Severus shook his head ever so slightly at the young man. Their eyes met briefly. ' No, ' He mouthed at him. Draco sighed, trying to will the tears away. The Potions Master wished savagely that somewhere in the depths of her black heart Bellatrix Lestrange, who was standing behind him, would be pained by the sight of her own sister having to writhe in agony before the Dark Lord. He looked back, schooling his face into blank indifference.
"Bella, my dear, come forward," The Dark Lord beckoned.
She swept past Snape in her long cloak, dropping to her knees cautiously a several feet away from Nagini. Her eyes remained fixed upon Lord Voldemort.
" Since the mission was a success, I suppose you trained the boy adequately. But you would do well to remember not to let your enthusiasm override your good

Bellatrix, bowing her head to the floor, replied, "Thank you, my Lord, I live to serve you always !" Her eyes shone fervently as she gazed upon her Master, who watched her as well. Her body began to burn under his eyes as they swept over her heavily swathed form. Then their eyes met and each could see the need consuming the other.
"Take Draco outside. Though, he will share accommodation with you and his mother for the time being, I want you to return to me. But, Bella, my dear, the present first. Then . . . " His red eyes glowed with a desire to take her right then and there.
"Yes, my Master," she said, her eyes dropping as arousal ran rampant throughout her body. Still on her knees, she approached Him kissing the hem of his robe, wishing it were his lips. Then did as she was bade.

"Now that, that little matter is out of the way," Lord Voldemort said turning to the group who had participated in the raid, "I congratulate you on your successful mission. You have served me well tonight. The world will tremble with fear when the news gets out. The ineffectiveness of the Ministry is established beyond a doubt. All will know that they proved unable to protect even Hogwarts from my Death Eaters, despite its vaunted ancient protections, even with the aid of Dumbledore and his so-called Order of The Phoenix. They will know that the Death Eaters can, and will, strike

anywhere." A cheer erupted among the crowd of Death Eaters. The Dark Lord paused, waiting for it to subside.

" Furthermore, the Order has lost its most powerful leader in Dumbledore. It is, a great victory for our cause."
Shouts of ' Victory ' rang out from all directions. Lord Voldemort raised his hands for silence. "My plans can, now, move into a new phase. Expect to receive new orders soon. You may go now, my

friends." As the assembled Death Eaters bowed to their master, Voldemort spoke again. " Severus, a moment. I would hear more of the evening's events and discuss your reward. You have served me quite well tonight, and as you know I reward my most helpful followers. " The Death Eaters who had joined Draco in the raid approached the Dark Lord, kneeling and kissing his robe in leave-taking. Severus Snape came closer to his Dark Master, the ever faithful Wormtail at his side, favouring his injured right leg. He waited as the remaining Death Eaters filed past the Dark Lord making their obeisance before leaving the ruined building. Was this private interview a good sign, or a bad one? His initial explanation had been well received, he judged. The Dark Lord had accepted his reasons for preempting Draco and seemed quite pleased to be rid of Dumbledore. An ' old fool, ' he had called him. He had seemed almost pleased to have uncovered a supposed weakness for Narcissa and a reason to humiliate me in front of the others. As he remembered the laughter of the onlookers gathered around him, and his powerlessness to protect himself, he reminded himself coldly, I do not value the good opinion of any who had been present here tonight.
"I see, Wormtail, that you left my house ahead of the exterminators, as usual, " Severus sneered, as the last Death Eater backed away. Wormtail shot him a resentful glance. The Potions Master faced Voldemort directly, his dark eyes glittering. " I had hoped, my Lord, that after tonight, I might dispense with Wormtail's, 'assistance'," He said, placing a delicate inflection on the final

" Indeed, Severus. " A slight smile crossed Voldemort's snakelike features. He turned to Wormtail. "Wormtail, you will be rejoining me. I shall see you later

tonight." Wormtail dropped to his knees grasping the hem of the Dark Lord's robe to kiss it.

" Oh, thank you, my Lord," He responded, then, scurried off outside the circle of light cast by the lanterns.
"I had my doubts about you, when you came back two years ago, Severus," The pale - skinned man began after Wormtail was completely out of sight. " Your story hung together, I could sense the truth in it. But I remembered that Dumbledore had always been a powerful wizard and, yet, he believed you as well. "
" I feared as much, my Lord," Severus said silkily. "I accepted it as an unavoidable disadvantage of my role as a spy. I regret I cannot continue to serve you in that capacity at Hogwarts. " A cold smile that did not touch Lord Voldemort's eyes twisted his very thin lips. "I knew you would not remain there past the end of this year. I am well pleased that you accomplished the task before departing. Still, details interest me. What was young Draco's plan ? "
"In rough outline," Severus began cautiously, furiously reorganizing the information he had deduced to stress Draco Malfoy's contribution, "He secretly smuggled Death Eaters into the castle on a night when the Headmaster stepped out to Hogsmeade. Then he lured Dumbledore into an ambush atop the Astronomy Tower by sending up the Dark Mark where it could be seen from the village . . . "
"Yes, yes, the others have told me all that. What was your role in the plan ? " Lord Voldemort interrupted.
" Unfortunately none, my Lord," The Potions Master responded smoothly,

" Though I did what I could to divert the old man's suspicions after Draco's earlier, clumsy attempts. Fortunately, Draco made it easy by choosing methods that clearly originated outside the school. Draco would not discuss his plans and I knew none of the details. "
" Interesting. I had heard you were a favourite teacher of his," remarked the Dark Lord.
" So the boy has said, " Severus agreed. "I believe this change in his attitude was due to the influence of Bellatrix. She has always been distrustful of my role as a spy. A, very straightforward thinker," He concluded, his lip curling. Lord Voldemort nodded his acceptance of the man's explanation. Returning to the subject, the Dark Lord asked,

"You did not know the plan, then. So how was it you came to be at the right place at the right time ? "
" A fellow Professor summoned me to help fight the Death Eaters. I disabled him and arrived alone at the fight. I saw one of us had fallen, and the others present below were outnumbered. Since I believed the mission to be most important, I ran up the Tower stairs . . . "
" Yet, you did not know the plan, you said," Voldemort interrupted him. "How, then, did you know that Dumbledore was up there ? "
"A magical barrier had been placed across the stairs, which repelled all but Death Eaters. I saw its effects and recognized the spell. It seemed logical the barrier was keeping help from reaching Dumbledore while Draco carried out his task."
" Continue," The Dark Lord ordered."I ran up the stairs. Draco had disarmed him prior to my arrival and had the Headmaster's wand trained on him."
"They told me that in the end, the old fool begged you for his life," Lord Voldemort said, a questioning note in his voice.
" Yes, " Severus replied, pouring all the contempt he felt for that lie into that one word and forcing his lips to curl into a sneer.
" Show me ! " The Dark Master commanded. Severus Snape obeyed, inhaling deeply to calm himself as he made eye contact. He recalled again the memory of Dumbledore, slumped against the wall. The green jet of light helping to blast him off the Tower. With every remaining ounce of strength, he fought to keep down the grief, self-loathing, and vile contempt that threatened to overwhelm him as he relived the moment. Voldemort withdrew, a hideous grin of satisfaction on his face.
"So much for the old man's pious platitudes," He said triumphantly, his eyes a blazing red. " 'There are things much worse than death ', indeed," The Dark Lord finished mockingly. A high, cold laugh rang out across the now-deserted ruin.

There are, you bastard ! Severus thought to himself. Professor Dumbledore's own words, Severus Snape had no doubt, though he did not know the occasion on which they had been spoken. Their applicability to his own situation froze the sneer on his face. I must smile and join in that hideous laughter, but it's just too much. Disgusted by his own weakness, the Potions Master deliberately shifted his weight to his right leg, gasped, then righted himself. It did not go unnoticed. Lord Voldemort had conveniently provided the excuse so that I would not have to join the twisted celebration tonight. Severus forced a semblance of a smile onto his face in response to his Dark Master's obscene

laughter. This reminder of his punishment did not escape the other man's notice. He looked back at Severus Snape, a hint of the smile still on his lips. Severs dropped his gaze, permitting some of the fear welling in his chest to show on his face. Lord Voldemort's smile grew wider.
" What, had enough, Severus ? " He asked softly, training his wand lazily on Snape. " You seemed, so eager earlier. "
Snape straightened. "Like Albus Dumbledore tonight, I merely recognized that death would be the ultimate failure. I did what was necessary to avoid it," He

responded. The Dark Lord's eyes narrowed as his hand steadied for a moment. Then his high, cold laugh rang out again, and he lowered his wand. The Potions Master exhaled softly, only then realizing that he had been holding his

" Well said. And, well done, tonight," His Dark Master told him. " Your judgment was correct; the opportunity young Malfoy created was not to be wasted. "
"You spoke of a reward, earlier, Master," Severus encouraged the man to go on.

"Yes, Severus, yes. " Those red slitted eyes turned towards the door. " Bella ! " Lord Voldemort called. " You can send Snape's surprise in. " The female Deatheater opened the door and pushed me inside the room. My eyes widened in fear at the sight of Severus and the Dark Idiot in person, again.

" This is to be your gift. I have no use for her now. Perhaps her cousin is not sullied. " My eyes closed. No ! Not Anna !

" My Lord ? " Severus asked. Something glinted in his eyes, but, before Lord Loon could see it he had masked it with indifference. " I thought you wanted the girl. "

" She is not a virgin ! " The Dark Lord hissed. " I require a virgin. And a ' pure ' one at that. She is tainted. So she is yours. I remember the way you first looked at her. After all she is a pretty play

thing. "

" Thank you, My Lord. " Severus Snape kissed the hem of the robes that were his Dark Master's. Then, rose from his vicarious position in front of him. He approached me, grabbing my arm.

" Your present will not go to waste. "

" Perhaps you will have more luck than Bella did in getting her to learn her place. Farewell, my friend. " Without a word, Severus guided me out of that room and out into the night. Moving away from the revel he steered me out of the stone chapel, limping. Then, where no eye could see him Severus Snape swept me up in his arms. He managed, despite his knee, to get to a spot where he could easily apparate. With me moaning in his arms he apparated to Donavan Keep in County Galway, Ireland.