The characters and situations in this story belong to J.K. Rowling, Warner Brothers, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.

Yeah, okay. Let me state first that I am new to this fandom and do not possess the proper encyclopediac knowledge thereof. This story stems from my muse being a perverse nonentity. I have had the invaluable assistance of two editors, but I probably slipped up more than once.

Speaking of, Cincoflex - as always - is my rock and enthusiastic supporter, and helped me straighten this thing out repeatedly, and put up with my going crazy(er) for most of January. Trialia generously Britpicked the manuscript with consummate attention to detail. Occasionally I ignored their excellent advice, so don't blame them.

Finally - last warning - with a fandom this enormous, I must assume that everything has been done already. The only excuse I have is that I haven't read it. Any unoriginality is completely accidental.

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2000

There was someone in his study.

Slowly, Severus lowered his quill. None of his wards had gone off, so odds were the presence was benign; nonetheless, he had a hex ready to speak, paranoia being one of the reasons he'd survived to the present day. But the small figure standing barefoot on his worn rug was most definitely not a threat.

Severus considered the house-elf for a long moment. It wore a clean towel toga-style and looked to be fairly young, though age was always a difficult thing to judge in house-elves, and he didn't think he'd ever seen it before. It certainly wasn't his; he employed no elves.

When it said nothing, he raised one brow. "Well?"

Apparently permission was what it was waiting for. Gravely the house-elf stepped forward, extending a sealed letter.

Severus took it warily, but the heavy paper was embossed with the Malfoy crest and the wax bore the mark of the son of the house.

"Why is Draco sending messages by you instead of by owl?" Severus asked as he cracked the seal.

The house-elf shook its head. "Tosk does not know, sir. Tosk only knows he must wait for any reply."

Well, that was that, then; there was no point in questioning the creature further. Severus turned his attention to the message.

It was brief and puzzling, Draco's rather childish script spiky with some disturbance. Sir, it read, what can you tell me about other worlds?

Severus squinted at the note. Other worlds? What nonsense was this? Pure theory had never been one of his interests - he preferred the solidity of practical magic. Drawing out his wand, he performed a couple of quick revealing charms on the paper, but no further message appeared.

But the mere fact of the request meant Draco was serious. Severus thought for a moment, knowing that the house-elf would wait patiently, and considered the question.

Many magical philosophers had postulated the existence of other worlds or dimensions over the centuries, but as far as Severus knew it was theory alone. Some few experimenters had tried to find gateways into such, but most had titles like "the Mad", and all of them were deceased. Thinking back, Severus remembered vaguely that the concept had been discussed in one of his classes at Hogwarts - mostly with an eye to possible summoning of creatures from another place - but no special emphasis had been placed upon the idea.

Why does Draco need this information? The boy had been regrettably mediocre academically during his years at Hogwarts, and Severus didn't think that had changed much in the two years since the Dark Lord's war. But he also doubted that the Malfoy library held much on the subject, and Wizarding libraries weren't common. In fact, the best books on the subject are probably either at Hogwarts, or privately held.

But why come to me? Severus hadn't set foot on the Hogwarts grounds since waking up to find himself, disappointingly, still alive; and while Draco held Severus in a somewhat nauseating awe for protecting him, he hadn't seen much of the boy lately either. Neither Severus nor Lucius enjoyed the sight of one another.

Something was going on, that was clear; but Severus didn't feel inclined to get involved. He pulled a fresh sheet of parchment from his desk and wrote a quick note in response. Very little. They are theoretical and, if not discredited, considered unreachable. You might try -

- and there his hand paused. Severus had tried to bury much of his life in the back of his mind, striving for a fragile peace, but now a thread of voice unwound itself and shouldered forward. No more worlds to conquer? it asked lightly, and he shivered as the memory made itself felt.

Voldemort, pacing slowly as he sometimes did when pontificating, an attitude that could turn from amusement to deadly fury without warning. Musing on what would happen when his great vision was achieved and all the world lay in his power. Smiling at someone's toadying suggestion that he could then rest on his accomplishments. There are other worlds, he had said, with that airy amusement. Perhaps I'll set the Unspeakables to finding them for me. Everyone had laughed -

Deliberately, Severus closed the memory away again. The quill in his hand had dried; he dipped it again and bent to the parchment once more. - the British Library if you take care to use the Wizarding entrance. Surely the boy wasn't trying to fulfil Voldemort's old dream; he hadn't even been present for the conversation.

He scrawled his signature, sealed the parchment with a bit of wax and a spark from his wand, and handed it back to Tosk, who bowed and vanished.

Odd.

Severus dismissed the incident from his thoughts, and resumed his interrupted task of replying to the Headmistress' latest missive. Once again, Minerva, I must decline your repeated invitation to resume my post at Hogwarts. I like my freedom and I intend to keep it, never mind your flattery about my less than stellar teaching abilities.

However, you are still welcome to visit and try to persuade me, as long as you bring another bottle when you come.

He smiled as he sealed the letter - Minerva was a worthy conversationalist over tea or drinks - and set it aside for later before going in search of something to read.

Half an hour later the same indefinable shift of the air told him that Tosk was back. He lowered his book, beginning to be annoyed, but before he could demand an explanation the house-elf stepped forward. "Young master needs you," he said firmly, and grabbed Severus' wrist.

The impulse to shake free came too late. Side-along Apparition by house-elf was different from that of humans, but before he could do more than realise he was in transit Severus found himself seated not in his armchair but on the edge of a bed, book still in his other hand.

"No! What have you done?" Draco's voice was anguished, frightened - the sound brought back old memories, of wind and night and the inevitability of an old man's machinations, and the ashy taste of death on his tongue. "Take him back, take him back!"

Tosk's long fingers - cool and dry - unwrapped from Severus' arm, and the house-elf bowed. "Young master needs him," he repeated, and vanished.

The oath Draco spat actually did blister a bit of the ornate room's paint. Severus looked around, taking in the huge canopied bed, the heavily carved furniture, the thick rugs - in short, exactly how a private room of the Malfoy manor should appear. Long training in dealing calmly with the unexpected let him turn his gaze on his former student. "What, may I ask, is going on?"

Draco, standing near the end of the bed with his fists clenched, groaned. He was as pale as he had been during the height of the Dark Lord's reign, but for the purple-blue bruise around one eye. "I didn't mean for this to happen - "

"Clearly. What is going on, Mr. Malfoy?" He had no authority over the boy any longer, but the tone seemed to help. Draco straightened and swallowed.

"Disaster, that's what." He rubbed his eyes with one hand, and Severus realised uneasily that grief as well as terror marked his face. "We have to get you out of here, but I don't know how."

"The same way I came in?" Severus suggested drily, more and more alarmed at Draco's desire to get him away from the manor, but Draco shook his head.

"Tosk is the only house-elf left and he acts - peculiar. I can't even find him most of the time, not that I want him showing up right now, but - " He gulped. "Maybe I should start from the beginning."

"Perhaps you should." Severus frowned. "Since you are not suggesting I Disapparate myself, I assume that the manor is under wards."

"Yeah." Draco's shoulders sagged, and he pointed his wand at the two overstuffed chairs near the room's big hearth. They walked over the rug to the bed, and Draco collapsed into one. Reflecting that a chair was more dignified than the bed, Severus took the other.

"The beginning," Severus reminded him.

Draco let out a long breath, but it eased him not at all. "Two days ago - no, wait. You know my father had a store of…artefacts."

"Dark objects, yes." Lucius had been known for it, in fact, hoarding nasty treasures like a squirrel hoarded nuts, and to less purpose. "I take it the Ministry didn't find them all?"

Draco snorted. "As if those prats could outwit us. There's at least two storage rooms they didn't find - not that I know about everything that's in them. Not all Dark," he added hastily. "Some of it's just old, or strange. Father inherited some of it, and Mother had a piece or two from the Blacks as well."

Severus nodded. "Go on."

"Two days ago…well, we hadn't any warning. The door blew off the cellar stairs, and Aunt Bella and two goons came storming out."

The statement ran ice up Severus' spine. "Bellatrix died in the Battle of Hogwarts."

"I know." Draco's face twisted. "I know! But it was her, Professor, there was no way to mistake her."

And Draco should know, Severus reflected, since the boy had had to live with the madwoman when Voldemort had commandeered Malfoy Manor. He frowned, running through possibilities in his head. "Neither of us saw her body. Was her death an error? Could she have fled and - "

Draco cut him off with a sharp gesture. "No. I wish, but it's not that simple." His hand was shaking, and again there was grief in his face.

"Go on," Severus said quietly.

"We were eating breakfast," the boy said, his voice going dull. "They just appeared, screaming threats, and Father leapt up, but Bellatrix didn't even give him a chance to draw his wand." Thin hands rose to cover his face. "She destroyed him - burnt him alive."

Severus held back a hard shudder at the muffled words. Bellatrix was quite capable of such an act, to be sure, but he'd thought her particular rabid evil gone forever. Lucius. No one deserved such a fate.

"I'm sorry," he told the boy gently. Whatever broken thing Lucius had become by the end of the war, whatever tangled feelings Draco had possessed about his father, it could not have been an easy thing to witness.

But where had she come from? They said she was dead. What happened?

Draco shrugged one shoulder, a gesture of helplessness rather than dismissal, and lifted his head, blinking. "Well. After that we didn't cross her, and those two brutes she controls - " He touched the bruise surrounding his eye absently, and Severus could fill in the unspoken story. "She slammed wards around the manor and forbade Mother and I to breach them. She's been wandering around ranting to herself and demanding - "

Severus held up a hand. "I can imagine. But that doesn't explain where she came from. If her death was not an error…"

Draco grimaced. "She came through one of the artefacts. A mirror; it belonged to Great-great-great-uncle Catullus Black and he was an experimenter."

"She came through…a mirror?" Severus frowned again. "How is that possible?"

"I don't know!" Draco's voice cracked, a note of hysteria. "She says - they say - it's another world. Like ours. V-voldemort died there too, and they were running from the Aurors. And came here."

Severus blinked, mind racing over the possibilities. Other worlds. The theory had borne fruit for someone, it seemed. Though how Bellatrix had been the one to find it -

The door across from him swung open with a creak, and Draco froze. Bellatrix stood in the opening, wand pointed straight at Severus' throat. He held very still, breath going shallow as it had when he'd been faced with Voldemort in a temper, and closed off all expression, damning himself for letting his instincts weaken.

"Well, well, well," Bellatrix said, stepping into the room. "What have we here?"

The terror and guilt in Draco's eyes were enough to make Severus want to wince, but then the boy surprised him by going blank and calm. "Aunt Bella - "

She ignored him, strolling closer, and Severus could see the madness glinting in her gaze, the malevolent mix of hatred and obsession that had made her one of Voldemort's most dangerous followers. "An intruder. How unfortunate."

He regarded her without moving, or displaying fear; showing belly to Madam Lestrange merely invited her to rip it out. "Bellatrix. How charming to see you again."

Her face creased in alarm and rage, and in an instant she was next to him, wand digging into the soft flesh beneath his chin. "How do you know my name?"

And there was the first definitive proof of Draco's absurd claim, the back of Severus' mind told him. She doesn't know who I am.

"Because we've met before," he said forcefully, using the same sharp emphasis he had always needed to get a point across to her.

Her breath hissed in his ear, and then the wand snapped abruptly away, though it was still pointed at him as she stepped back. "Wait…wait…I know your face. I've seen your face. Long ago." She tapped her chin with her fingers, eyes lighting with malicious glee. "You! You're the famous one, the hero, Severus Snape! But how old you've become."

Bellatrix stepped back again, and Severus willed Draco to pull out his own wand and simply stun the woman, but the boy seemed paralysed himself, huddled in his chair. "You're dead," Bellatrix informed him, smiling like a shark. "It was you who was responsible for the Dark Lord's ruin. I'll just even things up, shall I?"

Severus tensed, wondering if even his reflexes could save him against her speed, but Draco spoke, pitching his voice to carry. "Don't! He's on our side."

Bellatrix hesitated, and Draco gestured, his gaze boring into Severus'. "Show her. Show her the Mark."

He almost refused, maddened Death notwithstanding. He understood the deception Draco was trying to play, but he'd thought it was all behind him at last, the one benefit of survival the fact that he need not play a part any longer.

Vain hope.

Wearily, disgust at the old deceit made new again, Severus undid the buttons of his cuff and sleeve and rolled them both up, exposing the Dark Mark embedded in his arm. It was quiescent now, its spells all shattered, but the sight still made him faintly ill, the ugly darkness improving his pale skin not at all.

Bellatrix stared at it for a long moment, and then her scream of laughter made Severus hide a flinch. "Brilliant! The Hero is a Death Eater!"

Behind her, Draco's eyes closed in relief. Severus sat back, miming relaxation and lacing his voice with boredom. "Obviously. Are you satisfied?"

Bellatrix's laughter cut off and was replaced with suspicion. "But how did you get in? No one gets past my wards."

"I was here all along." Severus lidded his eyes and dropped, with nauseating ease, into deception. "I do visit old friends on occasion, you know." He rolled his sleeve back down, looking away as if she weren't worth his attention. "If your toadies couldn't find me, I suggest you have a word with them."

The lie was absurd, of course, but he knew - had known - Bellatrix very well; he'd had to, to survive her. She had some peculiar blind spots, and in pursuit of a goal could be extremely narrow-minded. It could be used to advantage.

Bellatrix hissed again, her rage fortunately focused elsewhere this time, but she still had him in her sights. "Wand," she said.

Everything in him rebelled, but Severus knew there was little choice. She had the drop on him, and if he refused she would either stun him and claim it anyway, or kill him out of hand. He produced his and let her take it, trying not to feel as if she contaminated it with her touch.

"I wouldn't use it," he cautioned grimly. "It will take severe exception."

Bellatrix sneered, but he saw uncertainty flicker across her face as she tucked his wand away. Then hers was pointed at Draco. "Tell him what we need," she demanded. "If he's not useful there's no reason to keep him around."

And with that she was gone, striding out in a flurry of ragged skirt and tangled hair.

The very air seemed cleaner. Draco took a deep breath and let it out, sagging. Severus relaxed fractionally, though the awareness of his missing wand was an almost physical ache. For the moment, though, there was nothing he could do about it.

"I'm sorry," Draco whispered miserably. "I never - "

Severus cut him off. "It's done." He supposed he should be angry, but he hated traps as much as the Dark Lord had enjoyed them, and Draco was in one again. "What is it that she wants?"

Draco grimaced. "Arithmancers. She wants to…change the mirror somehow, so it'll go to a different world. One where Voldemort didn't die."

"Arithmancy was never one of my strong points." Severus considered the concept; as impossible as the whole thing seemed, it appeared that the safest course would be to assume that events had unfolded as Draco had related. He'd seen a violent madman pull himself back from the grave, after all; what was a world-crossing mirror to that? "Has she considered, I wonder, what will happen if she chooses a world in which she is still alive?"

Draco's eyes widened at the vision, and he choked - half laughter, half horror. Severus permitted himself the merest flicker of a grim smile. "Is your mother all right?"

Draco winced. "I don't know. She stays in her room; Tosk brings her meals there but I don't think she's eating much."

"Bellatrix hasn't harmed her?"

"I don't think so. She keeps us separated, you see." A flash of hate lit Draco's eyes for a moment. "But Mother always did try to humour Aunt Bella. I expect she's doing that now."

Severus nodded. "Perhaps I can see her." And warn her not to expose him. He frowned. "Even if I'm supposed to be dead, I don't understand why Bellatrix didn't recognise me. Surely she's not that far gone."

Draco tapped his fingers on his thigh. "I'm not certain, but going from some of the things they say - this other world they came from, it's like ours but not exactly. I mean to say, it's enough the same that she knows who we are - " His gesture took in the Malfoys in general. " - but she survived the war. Maybe you…aren't you, there."

Severus folded his hands together, thinking hard. "A 'hero', dead, famous enough for her to know my face. 'Responsible for the Dark Lord's ruin'." He shook his head, baffled.

"Sounds almost like Saint Potter," Draco offered, his habitual contempt less than it had been in the past. "Except for the dead part."

"Yes, thank you," Severus returned drily, and Draco actually smiled. "But she also called me 'old' - and while I admit to a certain level of decrepitude, she made it sound as if I, or the me there, perished some time ago."

"I don't know." Draco's smile faded, leaving him looking older than his - what was it now, twenty years? He still seemed absurdly young to Severus. "I'm having enough trouble believing any of this is real."

Severus nodded. "I also. However, we must deal with what is; how it got here can wait." He rose, shaking out the skirts of his coat. "I will attempt to see your mother."

Draco walked out with him. "I'll see if I can get Tosk to set you up a room in my wing," the boy said as they neared the wide central staircase. "There are some things of Father's you can Transmogrify - or I can do it for you, I suppose." He flushed. "Sir, I really am sorry - "

Draco was badly upset if he was apologising this much. Severus shook his head. "Stop. Regret is useless; what we need are solutions." They reached the top of the stairs, and he tilted his head towards the east wing. "I will attempt to reach your mother."

Draco grimaced. "Watch out; her wards bite."

Distant, muffled screams broke the house's hush, and Draco's flush drained away, leaving him almost green. Apparently Bellatrix was chastising her minions for missing Severus in their search.

"Go," Severus told him, and the boy didn't hesitate, hurrying back westwards towards his own suite. Even without his wand, Severus could feel the breath of magic veiling the east corridor, acidic and coldly spiteful, but when he took a cautious step forward it ignored him. They're set for Draco specifically, then.

The carpet was lush, and his feet made no sound. Severus snorted to himself. Regret is useless. The words were old, and bitter; he'd spent most of his life regretting, and still did, even if it didn't gnaw at him the way it once had. In a strange, twisted way, his regret had been very useful indeed.

But not to me.

If he could undo just one thing…his mind ranged over possibilities. His survival, Dumbledore's death, the way he'd handled Potter, the way he'd handled Voldemort, spilling the prophecy…all the way back to a burst of tormented fury on a sunny day. Or did it go back even further, to the first time he'd opened the worn book of Dark spells and begun to read?

And yet, what would have happened if he had made a different choice? Albus had never doubted, never allowed Severus to voice a doubt, but in the end Severus just wasn't certain. He might have won happiness, though in darker times he thought that such a thing was never meant for him.

Or it might have been that the Dark Lord never lost.

The thought had no tinge of triumph or satisfaction about it, just a tired consideration. Would those few fleeting years of joy been enough in the face of the world crashing down?

To the young man he'd been, Severus was very much afraid that the answer would have been yes.

He shook off the thought as he reached the master suite. The door was half-open, and he rapped lightly on the frame. "Narcissa?"

She was seated in an armchair near the window; the sun was on the other side of the house by now, but in the morning it would flood over her - an odd thought for a pale Malfoy-née-Black, but there were always skin-protection charms. Now, in the diffuse light of afternoon, it took a long moment for her head to turn and her gaze to focus. "Severus."

He stepped into the room without waiting for permission. Narcissa watched him approach, no quirk of curiosity marring her expression, and he frowned. Her stillness was not natural, even for someone so formal and reserved. "I am…sorry for your loss."

She inclined her head slowly, still without changing expression. Narcissa was impeccably groomed, as always, a china doll of perfection, and the tea set on the little table next to her chair was the fitting accent for the lady of the house. But something was wrong, something more than just her sister's malevolent presence.

"Draco is worried about you," Severus said - the truth, but also an experiment. For an instant, a spark lit her eyes.

"Draco," she murmured. "Is he well?"

"For the moment." Severus regarded her, wanting to give her his cover story before Bellatrix appeared, but the spark faded and her face returned to a gently smiling blank.

He dropped to a crouch and grabbed her chin with deliberate force, turning her head so he could look her in the eyes. "Narcissa, what has she done to you?"

She said nothing, offered no resistance; her hands, resting on the arms of the chair, did not so much as tense. Her pupils were normal, Severus noted distantly, and her breath bore no potion's betraying sweetness. A spell, then.

He released her, watching the marks of his grip fade, and straightened. Narcissa looked up at him without any sign of alarm, as if waiting for something, and his stomach roiled with revulsion. Was Bellatrix so far gone as to use Imperio on her own sister? Or was it something a little less powerful?

Without his wand there was no telling.

Nor was there any point in explaining what he and Draco were trying to do. Not only would she not retain the information, she was not capable of betraying them. Or of doing much of anything. Severus suspected that Tosk was responsible for Narcissa's polished state.

Staying would just turn his stomach further. Severus gave her a short nod and left.

He made his way back towards Draco's suite, thinking that it was strange that the incident that had shocked him the most that day was seeing the woman whose fierce protection of her son had compelled him to the Unbreakable Vow reduced to that.

Mirrors. Other worlds. Ha.

The Aurors in that other world, Severus decided, had a lot to answer for in letting Bellatrix escape.

Draco's door was closed, but it swung open when Severus approached, and the boy rose as Severus entered. "Is Mother well?"

"She is...unharmed." Severus grimaced. "Bellatrix has her under some strong spell, I can't tell what without my wand. But she doesn't appear injured, merely barely responsive."

Draco hissed slightly, and Severus gestured him back to his chair. "She asked about you."

The boy sat, still drawn wire-tight but a little of his stress eased. "With Father - dead, she has no one to protect her. Not even me," he added bitterly.

Severus took the other chair. "I take it you have not attempted any aggression towards your aunt?"

"Mother forbade it." Draco's expression hinted at relief along with anger. "She said it was safer just to go along with her."

Severus wondered with some irritation why Narcissa was so determined to keep her son from growing up, and just when Draco would finally begin acting like an adult on his own. Still, in this case - "That's probably wise. She's undoubtedly made use of defensive charms."

Draco nodded. "And her two louts keep watch at night, not that she sleeps much." He touched his bruised eye.

"Have you tried asking Tosk to take a message elsewhere?" It seemed an obvious course of action, but panic could make people make odd choices and Severus did not want to assume anything.

"Yes. He won't. Says he's forbidden." Draco shrugged helplessly. "I don't know why - it may be left over from when Voldemort was here."

"Yet he came to me." Severus steepled his forefingers and pressed them to his lips, thinking.

"I never thought of them as having minds of their own, house-elves," Draco said musingly. "Not until Dobby made a mess of things for Aunt Bella and got Potter and his friends out."

"She killed him, you know." He'd had the story from Minerva, on one of her infrequent visits, but judging from Draco's surprise, he hadn't heard the story.

"Really? That's - " Draco shook his head. "I…I wished then that he'd taken me too."

Trapped in his parents' mansion with death and evil breathing down his neck - Severus could see the appeal of escape. "I doubt Potter would have reacted well to that."

Draco snorted. "No doubt. Do you think there's any way to get a message to someone? And who could we contact?" He grimaced, waving a hand at the floor. "Who'd believe us?"

"The Aurors, to start with," Severus answered. "As for the message, Trapped in Malfoy Manor by Death Eaters should be sufficient. But getting the message out is the real issue." He regarded the young man across from him. "Does your father's collection include a Vanishing Cabinet, by chance?"

Draco's mouth twitched in a wry smile. "Unfortunately, no. And I can't leave Mother anyway."

"Mmm." Severus didn't argue; there would be time for that, or trickery, later, when they had something more solid to work with.

Tosk appeared in the middle of the room and bowed. "Guest of the young sir, your room is prepared." Before Severus could do more than nod, the house-elf vanished again.

It's as though he doesn't want to face us. Well, going against the desires of their masters could be painful for house-elves, even if there were spells compelling their resistance. He couldn't blame the creature for wanting to avoid them.

Draco jerked a thumb. "It's the suite next to mine. If you need anything…sometimes I can find Tosk in the kitchens, or you can try Mother's rooms since you can pass the wards."

Severus nodded, and stood. "I will retire, then. This will require some thought."

He was almost to the door when Draco spoke. "I won't apologise again, sir, but - I'm glad you're here."

Severus tilted his head in acknowledgment, and left the boy behind.

xxxx

It was exhausting to be needed again, he reflected later in the dense hush of the guest suite. He had had two years of answering to no one but himself - for the first time in his life, actually - and the freedom had been sweet. But the imperative to protect the children was just too strong, and Draco, despite his age, was no adult.

Life's not fair. You know that quite well.

Without his wand, he could not test the wards. But it finally occurred to him that if Bellatrix had warded the mansion and yet allowed Draco to retain his wand, without doubt the wards were set to do something extremely unpleasant to anyone who struck out against her or her minions. Which was another reason for Draco to leave her be. Wise of you, Narcissa. We shall have to find another way.

In the meantime, he had a puzzle to solve.

Severus hadn't bothered to light the lamps as the sunset faded, and now he sat in the dark. Tosk had brought him a light supper, which sat ignored on the fireside table.

How to get a message out when we can use neither owls nor elves nor our own feet?

He'd always enjoyed a good puzzle, like deconstructing a potion to discover its ingredients, or creating a new charm or hex. Lil - someone had used to tease him, long ago, that he should have been in Ravenclaw instead.

But Slytherin had fit him like a proverbial glove, supple and supporting. Deviousness had been beaten into him at a young age; ambition would be what pulled him from the muck of his childhood.

The Floo network was cut off by Bellatrix's wards, and they could not physically leave the grounds. They could wait, Severus supposed, until she thought she had what she wanted, and vanished back through the mirror - or until someone noticed that the Malfoys had suddenly gone incommunicado.

Certainly no one would come looking for him. Well, no, he had to concede that eventually Minerva might think to wonder why he had been silent so long, but that could be quite a while.

But waiting carried a strong risk that Bellatrix would seriously injure or kill one or more of them in a fit of rage, or simply of boredom. Severus didn't count his own life as particularly valuable, but he would hate to see Draco's promise snuffed out, or for that matter Narcissa slain out of hand.

I've seen enough death already.

The next obvious answer was to cast a Patronus and send it with a message. The idea hadn't occurred to Draco, he was sure; Death Eaters could not produce them, with one glaring exception, and while Draco's current status was debatable, he doubted that the boy ever had cast one.

For that matter, I doubt anyone even tried to teach him. Expecto Patronum was not easy magic.

Severus could cast one still. It had been some time since he had; he'd done it once during his recovery, to be sure that the doe had not left him. But not since.

But without a wand he could cast nothing; and should Draco agree to lend Severus his, he still wasn't certain that he could cast something so supremely personal with a strange wand. The mere idea was distasteful.

And yet…

There was one way he could, in theory, get his wand back. It was a supremely dangerous move, but boldness counted with the Dark Lord's minions. And he'd gambled his life often enough to know the worth of it. Or the lack thereof.

Severus smiled in the darkness, a small and chilly expression. Yes. That will do.