Severus cursed as the body in his arms fell to the mossy ground. The exertions of the past two hours or so were enough to make his tired muscles want to give up and die, let alone carrying some lump of human flesh for miles over the moors between the backside of Hogsmeade and the lawns of Hogwarts.

The lump at his feet made a whimpering noise and Snape leant down, too fast for his protesting muscles. He stumbled, almost falling on top of the body.

'Damn, damn, damn, damn!' he muttered quietly, observing with detached concern his own hand gripping the grass in front of him, splashes of mud darkly colouring the skin. A cloud drifted over his brain as he considered the lines and strokes. Mud, or blood- it was hard to discern where the stains converged. Snape's eyes began to cloud over and he clenched his jaw. This was not the time to be blacking out. Taking deep breaths, he concentrated on steadying himself, slowly moving into a crouched position. When his world stopped swaying a little, he turned his attention to the bundle before him.

It lay stilly in the moonlight, a mound of cloth and flesh and blood. He had had to stun it to get it out of the Death Eaters' circle, making the others believe that the child was already dead, that there was nothing to do with it except dump it and leave it be- but that spell should have worn off by now. Had it- she, Snape corrected himself, the thing before him was a person, not the object his colleagues made it- had she been injured to a greater extent than he thought?

He reached out a hand, feeling the figure jump and begin shivering beneath his touch. He let out a silent sigh of relief, and looked up at the moon. He needed to muster his strength to get the girl to the castle.

Tonight had been a nightmare of a new order, if only because of his own weakness. He had turned up to the revel as requested, following instructions that were almost ludicrous in their obfuscation, to find a barren field and a bonfire. The revelry his fellow deviants were performing would make the ancients stand up and cheer, or at least grunt, but the scenes which confronted Snape left him unmoved. Fifteen years' experience, give or take, had left him almost numb when it came to the atrocities some humans managed.

He had watched with as much disinterest as he could manage as the bodies of the girl's parents were brought forward, and had managed without a grimace to watch the acts performed on the corpses. Nothing his 'colleagues' did could surprise him any more, not even making the girl watch as the revellers frolicked.

She had struggled, as they had planned she would. Taking life was no fun to these- he hesitated to call them people- without some kind of struggle.

He had watched as they threw random curses at her, not really doing her too much harm. Their actions, their games with the bodies of her parents, were harming her far more, it was plain to see. However, the distraction of his fellows gave Snape an idea. Slowly, he joined in with the revels. It was a delicate matter- too much, and he would be behaving dangerously out of character. He had to match his usual detachment while at the same time participating.

With a cruel smile firmly spread across his face, Snape stepped forward and calmly surveyed the two mutilated bodies before him.

'Finally joining in the fun, eh, Severus?' asked Lucius Malfoy, passing by on his left. The fire on the man's face lit up the angles of it; dark smudges of drying blood here and there adding to his hawklike appearance. Snape remembered dimly that once, he had liked this man. Once he had enjoyed his company chatting by a winter fire. The trouble was, there had been too many fires of this type; too many occasions when simpering loyalty or awkward fear or- who knows?- even personal enjoyment had led the man to show his darker side, to be the first to jump at the chance of murder and mutilation. Even in the days that he himself had followed the Dark Lord, Snape had despised such animal behaviour as his comrades revelled in. Rape, murder, torture- these were the pleasures of cretins, people who had no understanding of true power. Of course a girl would plead for mercy when you were raping her; a starving child would beg for food, wouldn't it? Humans were creatures with a strong survival instinct, and a remarkably low pain threshold. Even before his stomach had turned from Voldemort's cause, taking pleasure in such absurdly natural and boringly predictable reactions had made Snape question the credibility of his dark compatriots.

Malfoy had wandered off before he had to answer the man's question, and Snape was grateful for once for his own reserved nature. No one would expect real participation from him, expect him to join in the malignant joviality that embraced those near the bonfire. He looked down at the corpses sprawled on the ground before him, his brain ferreting out his next move.

It would be out of character to take anything more than an academic interest in the bodies. He had never expressed enjoyment in death, and could not convincingly do so now. However, maybe to be seen as trying to experiment on them, testing new spells...

He pulled out his wand, and performed a simple Rejuvanis spell on the heart of the nearest corpse. The organ was lying handily outside the remnants of the rib cage, so he could observe its motion without any further assistance.

Ossory, another reveller, sauntered up to him.

'You're a little late, aren't you, Snape? These things are cold.'

Snape fought back the urge to glare at the man, instead sending him a lazy stare. 'Never too late, Gwon. I thought I might try out a few little... ideas I've been thinking up, see if there's anything I can make up to help the master when he has his little chats with people.'

Snape felt another presence at his other side, but didn't turn around.

'Ideas, Severus?' Peter Pettigrew's voice was full of self- importance, and Snape bit back a sneer. He hadn't liked the snivelling idiot when he had been surrounded by his pretentious friends at school together, and things hadn't changed with Voldemort's New Order. He turned on the man with as much calm as he could muster, but didn't bother to hide his contempt too much. He was a child of the Serpents' Den, after all.

'I've been investigating the uses of heart palpitation in insistence charms,' he said, and was gratified to see Pettigrew's eyes widen. 'We may find them helpful when... asking for information.' He turned back to the beating heart, tensed for a possible challenge.

But Pettigrew simply nodded, turning his own attention to the body. Judging that it was time for something more, Snape put a few simple charms on the heart to make its valves move in a more interesting manner, and put on a face of scholarly concern. Inwardly, he reflected that his time as a follower of Voldemort had not left his knowledge of the human anatomy untouched.

Satisfied that his audience was sufficiently enthralled, Snape used a few moments to secretly observe the girl at the edge of the fire. Her eyes were still open, bravely surveying the scene before her, though her head lolled slightly. Certainly, she was strong enough to cope with a few charms. Surreptitiously, Snape muttered the words under his breath, gratified to see the girl slump and become still as the spells took effect.

After a moment, his two watchers moved away, in need of a more entertaining spectacle than a beating heart. Snape looked once more at the girl. She hadn't moved, and a deathly stillness had overtaken her features. Now was the time to act. He had no idea whether it would really work, but it couldn't possibly hurt to try- at least, not much more than usual.

Calmly, he sauntered over to the girl and bent down to take her pulse. Good. She had no sign of life, and no one had noticed anything amiss with his clinical inspection of the victim. The show could begin.

Taking a slight step back, Snape raised his wand and muttered a harmless spell that would make the girl's body move. Louder, he uttered some nonsense words, linking together a few phrases from a common torture curse for effect. He had begun to draw attention, he noted, and continued his act.

Malfoy rushed up to him, grabbing his arm.

'Severus, what are you doing? The girl was supposed to be fun for us!'

Pettigrew trotted out of the crowd, his face blotched with anger. 'Snape, what in hell are you doing? You weren't told you could play with the girl!'

'It's just a little further experimentation, Peter,' Snape answered, his tone taking on the appropriate amount of uncertainty over the assurance. 'She's a perfect lab rat.'

'She wasn't here as a lab rat, and well you know it, Snape!' Pettigrew stormed, glaring at him. Snape smiled inwardly. These people were so predictable.

With a minuscule flick of his wand, Snape intensified the convulsions of the girl's body, stopping them abruptly. Pettigrew's eyes flew to the girl, and Snape darted forward, his face lined with puzzlement. He reached for her pulse.

'Damn!' he said, turning back to Pettigrew. 'She's dead.'

'Snape, damn you! You deliberately went against my orders!'

Snape assumed a mask of humility. 'I'm sorry, Peter, I just wanted to experiment-'

'Experiments be damned! We had plans for that carcass!' Pettigrew sent a crony over to the body, and Snape watched as his simple spells fooled yet another Death Eater.

'It was such a perfect opportunity-' Snape kept his eyes away from Pettigrew and the others, forcing laughter down. These people were absurdly simple, and the rush of adrenalin the confrontation and magic brought on was making him giddy.

'You will learn the consequences of your actions, Snape,' Pettigrew continued, drawing his small pudgy body up. Snape idly reflected that the little man was ludicrously trying to ape his master. 'There is no place here for those who take the orders of Voldemort lightly. Crucio!'

Snape had braced himself for the curse, but it still bit into his flesh with the subtlety of an elephant. The many times he had experienced this curse had not endeared him to it.

Knowing that a show of strength would go against his plans, Snape quickly dropped to his knees and gave in to the cries rising up from his belly. Eventually, the cursing stopped. He dimly heard Pettigrew order him to dump the body as penance, and not to show his face until the next revel.

As humbly as he dared, Snape took up the body of the girl and left the circle of firelight. There would be a few eyes watching over him, he knew, but not that many. Those at the revel this evening were not the smartest of Voldemort's cronies, not as cautious as the Dark Lord himself encouraged. Fighting the pain in his muscles, and cursing the blood from a dozen little slices that made his hands slippery, he trudged to the nearest, darkest corner, where he was relatively safe from prying eyes. With a quick movement or two, he transfigured a coin into a human-shaped bundle, set it on the ground, and incinerated it. By the glow of its dying embers, he cast an invisibility spell on the girl at his feet, and once more pulled her into his arms, throwing her unprotesting body over his shoulder. Trying to walk as casually as possible, he moved into a moonlit patch, and Apparated.

The walk from the other side of Hogsmeade had been a long one. It was not until he reached the gates of Hogwarts that he had felt comfortable revealing his burden, though he had been unable to convincingly pretend that he was carrying nothing at all. By the time he had cleared Hogsmeade, the girl had weighted him down like a ton of bricks, and he could only hope his staggers, to any interested observer, would be interpreted as the after- effects of the Cruciatus.

Now, he looked down at the bundle before him. There was no way he would be able to lift her to the castle, but thankfully, now he was safely within Hogwarts' grounds and wards, he could use his wand without fear of suspicion. Using the mobilcorpus spell, he stumbled his way up to the building looming in the moonlight before him.

A/N: Anyone who formerly read this will note that the term some found offensive has been removed (to everyone else- no, it wasn't a naughty word). I apologise to anyone who experienced undue distress for the use of the former term, and only wish to assure that I meant no offense. If you have any objection to the broad term 'ancients', then I do not know how to help you: it is in Snape's head that the monologue takes place, and it is therefore meant as a referrent to one of his ancestors. As the family Snape this would refer to is entirely fictional, hopefully no-one has cause to be offended.

However, for anyone who still has a problem with this, if you would be so courteous as to leave an email that I could contact you on for the chance to discuss the problem, I would be most appreciative.