What if Snape hadn't been really following anyone of his masters but a stronger, mysterious inspiration? A dark tribute to the ambiguous Snape we used to know. HBP compliant.
Disclaimer: I don't obviously own the characters in this story, even if I would like to.
Many thanks go to my fantastic betas, Jynx67, Pennfana and Notsosaintly, and to all those reading and rewieving my story.
"Should I really believe you?"
Feeling dizzy and confused, Snape opened his eyes in the shadows and blinked to recover his sight. The surface where he was lying was hard and uncomfortable, so he worked laboriously to get up on his elbows, causing a ripple of pain to course down his spine. His forehead was still burning, but the ache was waning, and he was relieved to find that there was no sign of blood. Wormtail's motionless body was resting near him. The little man seemed to be sleeping peacefully in oblivion.
At first, the place where they had landed appeared to be totally unfamiliar to him; there was nothing he could distinguish in the stillness of the large, square room, whose stony floor felt rough and irregular under his hands. He slowly began to turn his head when, with a flicker of alarm, he perceived a powerful presence, a tremendous stream of energy fiercely pulsing around him.
He froze and waited for his eyes to get used to the scarce light gradually, and finally the scene became unmistakably clear. A huge table was in the centre of the room, and next to it sat an old, black-clothed man, his fingers softly fidgeting in impatience on the plain wooden surface. His greyish brows, wrinkled in a frown over his fiery, shining red eyes, were menacingly revealing a rising anger ready to burst into violence.
Suddenly alert, Snape hastened to kneel and bow in front of his master, feeling subjugated by the immense power radiating from the Dark Lord's awesome person. However, an icy glare was the only answer he received when he dared to raise his eyes, so with a quick movement, he lowered his head again and waited in silent submission.
Unfortunately, Wormtail chose that exact moment to awaken, his mind still under the terrifying effect of the Dark curse cast upon Snape that had also transmitted to his body. Bewildered by what had happened, frightened and disoriented, he instinctively transformed himself into a rat and tried to escape, scrambling on the uneven ground.
Immediately, with a sarcastic smile, the Dark Lord aimed his wand and exclaimed harshly, "Accio!"
A flash of light, and the spell stopped the little animal in its flight, flinging it violently backwards through the air until it was caught by Voldemort's outstretched hand. The rat wriggled and squeaked pitifully while the Dark Lord kept him dangling by his tail and looked at him with cold, disgusted eyes. Then he dropped the creature to the ground. The twisting Wormtail landed brutally on his stomach and haltingly transformed himself into the sick little man, desperately trying to control his nausea and avoid vomiting.
"So, Wormtail." The Dark Lord's smile was becoming nasty. "It seems you've forgotten your manners, if you ever had any. You kept me waiting for a long time, and you know that this is not polite. I presume that…"
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Master!" implored Wormtail, practically crying, "but Snape arrived very late and I had to wait for him! Please forgive me!"
"It is also very rude to interrupt!" Now the Dark Lord was letting his anger explode in its full intensity. "It's time you learned your lesson. Crucio!"
The spell froze the upcoming plea on Wormtail's lips, and he twisted horribly, curled in a ball of pain. Thankfully, after only a few excruciating seconds, Voldemort calmly lowered his wand, releasing his miserable victim from the terrible torture. The trembling little man, shaken by sobs, painfully rose on his hands and knees and crawled near his master. He kissed the hem of Voldemort's cloak, thanking him for his mercy in a broken voice; then, still crawling, he moved back, head lowered to hide his tears.
With a frightfully slow movement, the Dark Lord now turned his head to look at Snape and said in his quiet, menacing tone, "It seems that you have developed a highly irritating inclination to disobey my orders. I wonder if you have thought about my words these past few days, Severus."
"I have, my Lord," murmured Snape respectfully, and once more he felt the familiar sensation of awe pervade his soul, forcing his body and mind to submit to the formidable power towering over him. Again, he bowed reverently then raised his eyes, offering himself to his master's scrutiny with unexpected humility.
"I find your attitude much more appropriate this time," the Dark Lord replied, a curious mixture of anger and satisfaction colouring his voice. "It may then be possible that you are still useful to me." Curling his lips in an expression of command, Voldemort ordered sharply, "Do come here!"
Snape made an initial movement as if to rise, but he stopped almost immediately and glanced at his master questioningly. The Dark Lord frowned then gave a short, satisfied laugh and exclaimed, amused, "Ah, I'm glad to see you have learned your lesson since last time! I was sure you wouldn't have forgotten it so soon. Yes, Severus, you are allowed to rise and pay your respect."
Snape felt a wave of relief washing over him. His submission had resulted in the desired reaction. Slowly, he got up and went near his master, kneeling once more at his feet and bending to kiss the edge of his robes. The Dark Lord looked extremely pleased. He nodded in grim approval; then, leaning forward, he stretched his hand and gently touched Snape's forehead with the tip of his fingers. The young wizard couldn't avoid stiffening at the contact and closed his eyes, expecting to feel the terrible suffering he had experienced so many times already explode once again in his body. But strangely, only a little, tolerable pang crossed his head in a quick flash.
Keeping his fingers in delicate contact with Snape's skin, the Dark Lord stared at him with an inquiring look. "I have perceived your struggle these past few days, Severus," he said quietly. "A very hard battle indeed… not many men would have survived it. But at last, I've triumphed as I had expected, and here you are again."
Voldemort paused for a moment; then he slowly added, "Yes, I perceived your anger... your anger and above all your hate, stronger than any other feeling."
Snape shivered inwardly, expecting a curse to blast him, but the Dark Lord went on, a cold glitter in his eyes. "I could feel them, but I didn't care. Anger is a force that I can easily control, while hate can make a man grow terrible in power. And you still want the Power, don't you, Severus? Your longing is so palpable! That's why you are here. That's why you have submitted again and come back. Now, has your useless anger taught you something more about your limits? Nobody can think to grow stronger in my service if he doesn't learn to overcome those miserable human emotions, and you have had to do it through harsh sufferings. It's difficult, but it is the only way. So, is your hate for me still haunting your soul?"
This unexpectedly direct question unsettled Snape, and he trembled under his master's touch. Voldemort had a knowing, sarcastic smile. "Don't underestimate me, Severus," he said softly. "A long time has passed since I was only a man, but I still remember what it means to be humiliated."
Snape hesitated under that unmerciful gaze, feeling helpless. The immaterial connection with his master was surely going to reveal his inner thoughts, even if he had tried to bury them deeply in his soul. Or perhaps he had a chance?
The Dark Lord frowned at his indecision and asked in irritation, "Your answer, Severus. I'm waiting!"
Impatiently, Voldemort pressed his spidery fingers against Snape's forehead, forcing him to tilt his head and present his face to his master. Instantly, as if obeying the Dark Lord's command, a whirl of emotions gradually began to form in the younger wizard's mind. Snape could perceive the cold void he felt inside being slowly filled by a mixture of contrasting sensations, each one struggling hard to emerge and rule the others.
Dumbledore had nourished Snape's craving for something that could have been generically called "consideration", "esteem", "appraisal", or even "affection". But Dumbledore had been the only one who had constantly supplied him with those feelings. His other colleagues in the school had been ready to give him "respect", yet no real friendship had ever been made with any one of them in particular. So a part of his soul was now unbalanced, deprived of the forceful source of emotions it had received for so many years and from such a powerful personality.
On the other hand, he could acutely feel the longing for power and knowledge that had been so captivating to his conscience in his early adult years. Those had been the prizes shining in front of him; those had been the primary reasons to join the Dark Lord's service… besides his desire for revenge, obviously, and that astounding, powerful, wonderful sensation of being considered and entrusted with special duties, of being inside, yet remaining outside… standing alone over the others… being different…
Being different… That final sensation affirmed itself forcefully in his mind, and he felt the strong affinity he had with his master. Not only the mixed, dark origins but mostly the thirst for something that could separate him from the other men, giving him the possibility of growing greater and triumphing over the limited human options.
This forceful awareness slowly saturated his soul, surprising him with its delightful intensity. So it was without fear that he finally could answer. "No, my Lord. And it is not going to haunt me anymore, now that I've come back to you."
"So, should I believe that you have now become the loyal servant you have never been in the past years?" Voldemort sounded sceptical, but also oddly amused.
Snape closed his eyes, and with a deep breath, he took refuge again in that extraordinary, blissful sensation. "Yes, Master," he stated simply and again linked his gaze to his master, knowing that his emotions had already reached the Dark Lord through the fingers still touching his skin.
"NO!" A sharp cry broke the silence that had suddenly fallen. Wormtail raised himself painfully on his knees from the ground where he had been lying until now, a hand on the floor to sustain himself, his face a mess of tears and dirt.
"No, Master!" he repeated forcefully, vibrating with hate. "He is a liar! Don't believe him! In the cave, today, he saw Harry Potter and that girl friend of his. They fought and Snape was defeated… but the boy spared his life, and the girl even tried to help him. Ask him why, please, Master!"
Wormtail was so excited and anxious to accuse his companion that he didn't notice he had been so daring as to actually "command" the Dark Lord to do something. Voldemort, looking cruelly interested, understood and accepted this unusual manifestation of courage as a proof of authenticity.
"A very surprising charge indeed, Severus!" he silkily said to Snape, while Wormtail, realizing what he had just done, cringed in fear, afraid to be punished for his insolence. "Yes, your friend is right, I haven't been told the reasons for your delay. It seems now that they were more than important. So, you have met and fought Harry Potter… despite my orders?"
The last words sounded hard and menacing, and Snape understood that the Dark Lord was toying with him like a cat with a mouse, savouring each one of the changing emotions that crossed the young wizard's mind.
"I met Potter unintentionally," Snape declared firmly, while he struggled to keep his apprehension under control. To be humiliated for a second time in a day, and in front of Peter again, was rapidly becoming a frightening possibility. "I suppose he was already on the Hogwarts grounds before I arrived there and clearly, he followed me during my inspection of the forest."
"And then you fought him, even though you had been ordered not to do so! Obviously, you have been defeated. I imagine you have finally understood my warnings…" The Dark Lord smiled intentionally, then hardened his voice. "But he has spared you! Why? Why didn't he take advantage of the situation? Was he really foolish enough to release one of his worst enemies while he had you helpless in his grasp?!"
"I believe he understood I was defenceless because of a spell, my Lord. He is an arrogant brat, and surely, he didn't feel it was a rewarding victory against a worthless antagonist." Snape swallowed while memories filled his heart with anger.
"I see." The Dark Lord smiled ironically at Snape's frustration. "And what about the girl? Sometimes women can be harsher than a man. Bella is proof of that, isn't she, Severus?"
"The girl tried to help me because she felt sympathy," Snape stated quietly, and a deep emotion passed quickly in his heart, remembering her words, but not so quickly that the Dark Lord couldn't detect it.
"Do you feel something for this girl, Severus? Or is she feeling something for you?" Voldemort looked suddenly furious. "What really happened in the cave? Let me read your mind!"
Snape resignedly turned his eyes to his master, voiding his mind of emotions and letting memories flow. There was no hope. Again, he had to submit to that immense, inexorable power. Now the Dark Lord's eyes were sombre, and the pressure of his fingers was more intense, even painful, while images materialized and disappeared in Severus' mind, showing the interior of the cave, Harry's unexpected appearance, the fight, Snape's fall and torture, Hermione's worried expression and her sudden pain and tears.
Wormtail was anxiously waiting, an avid expression on his face. His eyes were shifting from Snape to the Dark Lord, shining in cruel joy as he noticed his master's growing anger.
The Dark Lord drew his fingers away and stared intently at Snape. The younger wizard felt the enormous pressure of his master's terrible power trying to break his mental defences while the thin scars on his forehead began to redden and burn. But this time, something strange happened, and after the first initial suffering, the pain seemed to progressively decrease.
The enquiry was immediately over, and the Dark Lord closed his reptilian eyes in what seemed a difficult decision. Then he opened them again and declared flatly, "You are lying to me again, Severus! The bond I have sealed on your forehead has been broken. I could perceive it from the very first moment my fingers touched your skin. You had been warned and yet you have had the courage to defy my power." A terrible pause followed these words, uttered in quiet rage.
"How could you be so daring as to try to deceive me once more?" the Dark Lord roared suddenly, his fury exploding in violence while he aimed his wand and cast a ferocious spell. Surprised, incredulous at the incredible revelation, Snape didn't even attempt to react. Blasted to the ground, he rose with difficulty and tried to kneel again.
"How dare you to stand in front of me?" Again, the Dark Lord reiterated his spell, and again the young wizard was forcefully tossed against the hard stones.
"I'm a loyal servant… my Lord. Please… believe me…" Snape panted painfully, unable to rise.
"No, you have never been, and you will never be!" the Dark Lord replied vehemently. "Wormtail!" he exclaimed, "Tell me what YOU saw!"
Wormtail smiled vindictively and stepped forward, declaring with a voice heightened by hate. "There was somebody else in the cave, Master, another presence that was expecting us and revealed itself as soon as Harry struck Snape. It happened just after the fight. Now I remember well. Snape was already on the ground, shaking in pain. The girl became suddenly luminous; then she advanced, knelt by his side and touched his hand. But by doing that, her own hand was badly burnt, and the glow disappeared."
With a hint of hesitation, knowing that his Master could easily read his eyes and discover any possible lie, he added desolately, "Perhaps she transmitted her power to him? I'm afraid I don't know, Master. I could only see Harry healing her. Unfortunately, I didn't notice or hear anything else, as I was standing behind them and I didn't want to be discovered. I'm… I'm very sorry, Master." He swallowed and bowed in fear, suddenly perceiving his master's disappointment and genuinely regretting not having more important charges against his old schoolmate.
"I see," declared the Dark Lord, livid again. "You were there to watch him, Wormtail! But once more, you have proven to be a foolish, useless servant!"
Another shot of fire abruptly exploded from Voldemort's wand, and the frightened Wormtail writhed convulsively with a scream. Forgetting the unfortunate little man, the Dark Lord immediately turned to look at Snape, his gaze a dreadful promise of more sufferings to come. Awesome in his fury, he stretched his wand and touched the younger wizard's forehead. Severus instantly closed his eyes in terror while a violent shiver crossed his body. Still, the pain was less intense than he had expected, because "something" seemed to shield his mind. Perceiving this change, the Dark Lord intensified his energy while his rage gradually transformed itself into a cold, calculating examination.
Vibrating in pain, yet resisting the powerful trial he was undergoing, Snape felt incredibly surprised. A new force was gradually growing in his body, protecting him, as if answering the Dark Lord's solicitations. The more Voldemort insisted, the more the protection became harder and more difficult to break. Astonished, the great wizard stopped to look at Snape, and Snape looked back at him in total amazement. At their feet, Wormtail was still sobbing quietly, and Voldemort impatiently silenced him with another flick of his wand, leaving him frozen.
"I see," the Dark Lord finally declared in a whisper. "I see," he repeated in a tone strangely similar to respect as he stared intently at the younger man. It was clear that Snape hadn't been aware of the breaking of the bond which should have linked him forever to his master. But it was also clear that his soul had deplorably been locked again, thus becoming once more impenetrable, even to Voldemort's immense power.
The Dark Lord considered Snape with frightening indecision. A test was undeniably needed to determine how much the new power had changed his servant and, above all, to decide his fate. With a sharp command, Voldemort released his magic, increasing its force more and more until Snape curled on the floor, shaking uncontrollably in pain. Darkly pleased to see that the young wizard could still be physically hurt by his magical power, Voldemort smiled cruelly.
"Your sincerity, at least in this matter, seems to be proven," he declared harshly, "and this is the only reason why I will allow you to live, for now."
Then he paused thoughtfully. "It seems that a new presence is interfering with my plans, Severus. I presume you imagine whom this force is concealing, as you have had the dubious honour to be chosen by it. And I wonder why… although I believe I already have an answer. Still, there is something I would like to try. Perhaps we can find a way to use this interesting gift we have been offered." Brusquely, he added, "The new power that rescinded my mark… did it speak to you?" His eyes rested suspiciously on the panting, shattered man at his feet.
"N-no, Master…" gasped Severus, his hands opening and clenching convulsively to ease the pain… and to tell a convincing lie.
"And the girl…" Here Voldemort paused again, a warning expression on his face. "Was she aware of what happened?"
"I think she was, my Lord, but I don't believe that Potter understood, unless she told him later," Snape answered feebly, still struggling against the terrible pain coursing through his body.
"Well, the boy doesn't matter at the moment." The Dark Lord seemed to lose himself in a reverie; then he suddenly awakened and declared forcefully, "I have a new mission for you, Severus. Go back to your old friends. Let's see what happens. Either they will believe the girl – and therefore you will probably be accepted again. Or my deductions are wrong and you will then be painfully killed." He gave a dark chuckle. "But I cannot be wrong, not if I know Albus Dumbledore! He is trying to interfere, even after his death, but I'm the only one who has ever come back from that solitary land, and I will prevail!"
Head lowered in respect, a strange, unknown hope rising in his chest at the perspective of this new, extremely dangerous task, Severus unexpectedly heard Hermione's words echoing in his mind. "We will be waiting for you, Professor."
Carefully, he raised a hand to wipe the blood trickling from the corner of his mouth and, at the same time, to hide the twisted, irreverent smile that was slowly forming on his lips. Once more, The Plan had revealed itself in the darkest of the hours. Silently, it had taken its child in its arms, and again, it was safely carrying him through the sufferings and the doubts of that long, terrible travel.
Burying hopes and fears deeply in his soul, Severus listened to the Dark Lord's orders with great attention. Then he rose to his feet, bowed deferentially to his Master and eagerly Disapparated, ready for his new mission.
Many thanks to those who chose to "travel" in Severus' anguished soul with me... I hope you liked the story. I would be glad to receive a final comment from you, if you have the time. As we say in Italy, "Tanti cari saluti! (Best regards!)"