Disclaimer: This story is based on characters created by JK Rowling. About 95 % of the concepts in this story belong to her and/or Bloomsbury, Scholastic, Warner Bros., et al who make a hell of a lot of money out of this. No copyright infringement is intended.
The following characters, however, are mine, mine, mine! A few more or less major characters, namely Rick Allen, Aurora Shade, Seth Malfoy, Chloe Lestrange, Susan Laveau and a few others. My OC Sariss Electra Ravon (which has, apart from her first name, only a few Mary-Sue-ish tendencies *grins*) and Oberon, the raven, are also mine. Stupid bird wanted to be mentioned here… ;-)

Pure desperation during the loooooooong wait for Book Five led me to write this story.


By Sariss

Prologue: Prelude to Tragedy

"And here we have six missing Death Eaters…
three dead in my service. One, too cowardly to return…
he will pay. One, who I believe has left me forever…
he will be killed, of course…"

The Goblet of Fire: Chapter 33—The Death Eaters

"Severus," said Dumbledore, turning to Snape,
"you know what I must ask you to do. If you are ready…
if you are prepared…"

"I am," said Snape.

The Goblet of Fire: Chapter 36—The Parting of the Ways

Deep down in the dungeons of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Severus Snape, the Potions master, awoke with a start. Another nightmare. No, not really a nightmare. In the case of Severus Snape, nightmares tended to be rather memories than imaginations of the subconscious mind.

He ran his hands over his face, wiping away the thin layer of sweat that covered his cheeks and his forehead. Then he checked the clock—five thirty in the morning. The Dreamless Sleep Potion had obviously worn off. He remembered the dream as clearly as the events that had caused the ever-recurring nightmare… How could he ever forget them when not even in his sleep he was safe from the memories that kept chasing each other inside his mind?

Severus Snape took a look at his left forearm. He couldn't see what was there—it was too dark in his chambers to see—but he didn't need light to know that the Dark Mark was blazing there, livid, burnt deep into his skin by the most powerful Dark wizard of the twentieth century, the Dark Lord himself, more than eighteen years ago. It had faded, yes, but then it had come back again, the skull with the snake protruding from its mouth. It had come back when the age of the Second Darkness had begun.

Two years ago, everything had started anew after the end of the Triwizard Tournament. It had happened on 24th June 1995…

That very day—or rather night—the Dark Lord had risen again…

And Fudge, this incompetent idiot of a Minister for Magic, hadn't believed a single word of what the Potter boy had said. The boy had survived his encounter with the Dark Lord—barely; and not unscathed either. Voldemort had used his blood to strengthen his new body—a hideous shell it was. But Severus should find this out quite a while later…

Fudge had ignored the obvious. If he didn't believe Potter, then he should at least have believed the evidence that was burning on Severus Snape's left forearm. The Dark Mark—clearly visible it was once again, as it had not been for fourteen years. The Mark that showed that he had been a Death Eater once, in a dark time that he'd rather forget… And Fudge had denied everything. That idiot was still in denial! After all that had happened in the meantime. He would still deny it when the Dark Lord himself stood right before him and pointed his wand at Fudge's chest to mutter and perform the Killing curse. Perhaps he wouldn't even die from it. After all, for him the Dark Lord didn't exist any more, so why die from a curse hurled at him by someone who didn't exist? Severus thought mirthlessly.

Dumbledore, however, had read the signs right. He had gathered the ones that were loyal to the cause around him to fight the Dark Lord once again. And Severus had done as he had asked of him. He'd thought he'd been prepared to do it, he really did… and he had said so. But he hadn't been prepared after all. Yet, he'd done as requested. He'd done everything that had been necessary to achieve the ultimate goal: Being welcomed back into the Dark Lord's fold with open arms. Into his Inner Circle.

And these were the demons that still haunted him; they haunted him every time he closed his eyes. Evil memories…

July 1995

Severus Snape clenched his teeth together to keep himself from crying out loud as, once more, the Dark Lord yelled "Crucio!" and Severus once again fell to the ground, his body writhing and twitching in pain. He had almost forgotten what it had felt like; it had been a very long time since this had happened the last time, more than fifteen years ago.

"Finite Incantatem!" Voldemort shouted.

"Forgive me, my Lord. Have mercy on your loyal servant," Severus murmured in a shaky voice, gasping for breath, trying to scramble to his knees, willing his body to obey, and bending to kiss the hem of the Dark Lord's robes. "I've been a coward. I feared to be discovered had I returned to you at your calling."

"Yes, yes. You would have aroused suspicions, I understand," Voldemort said.

Severus' sigh of relief stuck in his throat as the Dark Lord whispered, "Crucio" in a voice as though he were saying something like, "And another Butterbeer…"

Snape tried not to think about the pain, blocking it out, ignoring it somehow—but he couldn't. Thousands of white-hot knives seemed to slice through his body, piercing his heart, his lungs, his intestines… Yet, he did not scream. Do not show weakness when facing He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the man the people of the wizarding world feared so much that they were so very reluctant to speak his real name out loud as if it would bring him directly into their midst as soon as they mentioned it—Voldemort.

The pain suddenly stopped. Severus hadn't even heard Voldemort utter the words that would stop the torture. He scrambled to his knees again, once again kissing the hem of the Dark Lord's robes, whispering, "Thank you, my Lord."

It was tradition to do so. A cruel, humiliating ritual it was to be forced to thank the Dark Lord for inflicting pain on you, making you writhe in pain at his feet, having this sneering, snakelike face staring down at you, hearing this evil, high-pitched cackle that hadn't vanished with his old body. Somehow, he seemed not to be able to speak in a somewhat normal voice, a voice that was kind to the ear.

Even his voice had been deformed by the Evil that was inside of him…

"You may rise now, Severus," Voldemort said as though it was the most generous thing one could ever be granted.

"Thank you, my Lord."

"You have shown much self-control, my servant."

"Thank you, my Lord," Snape repeated mechanically.

"However," the Dark Lord raised his voice. "I ask of you one last token of your devotion to me and my cause. Having accomplished the task I set you, you will be welcomed back to your former position, by my side, amongst my most trusted servants…"

"Anything you wish me to do, my Lord, it shall be done," Severus forced out trying not to sound too disgusted. The tone of the Dark Lord's voice had given his intentions away—and surely, there it came:

"Bring me the traitor! Bring me Igor Karkaroff!"

"My Lord," Snape said quietly. "It will be most difficult to find him. As it has not escaped your superior knowledge, he fled as soon as he got word of your return…"

"It is indeed so, Severus. That's why I do not set you a timeframe. However, if I were you… I would try not to take too much time…"

"I understand, my Lord."

"Do you?"

"Yes, my Lord, and I thank you most subserviently for entrusting me with a matter as important as this," Snape said, bowing deeply, an action that had the advantage of hiding his face that was by now contorted with disgust. He quickly forced his features into a cold, indifferent expression again.

"You are good with words, Severus. You have always been."

"Thank you, my Lord."

"And now leave and fulfil your task as I asked you to."

Asked. More likely commanded, ordered, forced perhaps…

Severus bowed once more, thanked Voldemort again and retreated slowly.

End of August 1995

Snape pushed Karkaroff forward so that he fell to his knees in front of the Dark Lord.

"Igor. Did you really think you could escape my wrath?" Voldemort hissed casually, as though he were talking to a disobedient child.

"My Lord…" Karkaroff said pleadingly.

"Silence!" Voldemort roared. "You betrayed me—don't even try to deny it. I know. I have eyes and ears everywhere in the wizarding world, you should know that as well as everybody else here. You know what is the punishment for treachery, don't you?"

"My Lord—" Karkaroff tried once again to speak to his former master.

"However, this will not happen too soon, I can promise you that. You will suffer before you die. And you will scream for me…" Lord Voldemort's voice had dropped to a whisper as he trailed off.

And the Dark Lord started hurling curses at Karkaroff, not just the Cruciatus Curse, which would have been painful enough, but much more creative curses; curses that made him bleed, tore his robes, sliced through his skin. Severus had never seen something like this before… The Dark Lord had always used only the Cruciatus Curse, an elegant way of torture, he had thought. Since he had returned, he had become even more cruel and vicious than he had ever been before… This was madness.

Severus watched, a completely blank expression on his face, as Karkaroff was being tortured, as he writhed on the ground in pain, as he screamed. Horrible noises could be heard. Never had Karkaroff made only a single sound when he had been put under the Cruciatus Curse—but now he did. He screamed as though he could save himself by doing so. But it wouldn't save him…

It wouldn't save Severus either. He was doomed. By letting this happen—no, by being the reason for this to happen!—he'd doomed himself to hell. Hell on Earth. He knew he wouldn't sleep any more after this. He knew what was to come, what was expected of him…

The Dark Lord would command him to do it as soon as he lost interest in the bloody—yet still alive—mess that was Igor Karkaroff.

"Finite Incantatem!" Voldemort shouted, stepping closer to the barely alive figure on the ground. "That is the punishment" (for emphasis, he pointed his wand at Karkaroff, which was totally unnecessary, thought Severus), "I intend to inflict upon everyone who only tries to betray me—Look at him! Closely! All of you! Let this be imprinted into your memory as a constant reminder of the fate every single one of you will meet should they dare to betray the Dark Lord!"

Severus swallowed. Hard. Fortunately for him, he had his face hidden by the hood. A standard—and useful—accessory when you were a Death Eater, which—Severus had to remind himself constantly of this—he was not.

"Severus! Step closer," the Dark Lord said now, and Severus obeyed. "What is your wish, master?"

"You did well. I am proud of you. You have proven your loyalty to me. I am grateful—yet there is one more thing that I want you to do."

"Yes, master."

"You already know it, don't you?" the Dark Lord asked.

"I… suspect it, my Lord."

"You suspect it, Severus. Well then, what do you think I want you to do?"

"Kill him," Severus whispered.

"If I asked this of you… would you?"

Severus knew what Voldemort was implying. Perhaps Severus Snape, the Death Eater, a presumably loyal servant of the Dark Lord, was a coward; perhaps he'd try to back out, now that it had come this far. Perhaps he did not really intend to return to his side? He had said that Severus had proven his loyalty… Yet he was not as easy to convince that this was not just an act (which it was). He might just try to determine if Severus still was… up to it…

"I will do anything you ask of me, my Lord," he replied, his voice as firm and evil sounding as he could ever manage.

"Prove it. Kill him. Finish it now!" the Dark Lord snarled.

Karkaroff hadn't said a single word all the time. Yet now he spoke up, his voice a hoarse whisper, hoarse from screaming. "Yes, Severus," he said, "finish it now. I will see you again" (he coughed, blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth as he did so), "in Hell."

"Severus," Voldemort prompted, indicating Karkaroff to Snape as though he had opened a door and beckoned a guest in, "the incantation."

And Severus drew his wand and looked at it. Only for a second. Yet, to him it seemed like an eternity. This wand had not performed an Unforgivable Curse for at least twelve years… no, for quite some time longer than that… Time was indeed fleeting… And now he would use it to cast the worst of the Unforgivables—the Killing Curse.

Snape stepped forward and stretched out his wand so that it pointed to Karkaroff who was looking at him, knowing that he would die—and accepting it. Death could be a blessing. And after this torture it probably was…

Karkaroff closed his eyes now, awaiting the curse to strike him down.

Severus took a deep breath. "Avada Kedavra!" he said. The flash of green light shot out of the tip of his wand, struck Karkaroff in the chest and with a dull thud he dropped to the ground—dead as a doornail. So simple it was. Snape could feel a rush of power surging through his body, enveloping him, making him feel… No, no this must not happen again. This was not him! He would not let himself be overwhelmed by the hunger for power… or the thirst for revenge… or the fact that it had felt so very good as he had killed Karkaroff only a few seconds ago…

On the other hand, he felt the familiar tug in his chest that accompanied the Killing Curse. The fist that clenched around his insides… A feeling as though his soul were twisted and squeezed by the devil himself, ready to claim it.

Still, he wanted more of this, but he knew he must not give in. Not this time. He had to fight this before he became addicted to it, once again, which would lead to death and suffering—and after some time he would realize again that this was but an illusion… And when he did, there would not be another chance. Dumbledore had given him a second chance already. No one would offer him a third, Severus was sure of that. And so he focused on this thought, drawing strength from it, enough strength so he could now look up and into the Dark Lord's face and not give away anything about his inner struggle.

"You apparently haven't forgotten. A well-performed curse it was, my loyal servant."

"Thank you, my Lord," Severus muttered mechanically, glad that his voice sounded submissive of its own accord.

"Welcome back, Severus. Once again you stand by my side."

"Thank you, my Lord," Snape repeated. Why did it seem to him that this was the only sentence he'd uttered for the last couple of hours?

"You're dismissed, Severus," the Dark Lord finally said, and Severus inwardly breathed a sigh of relief that he was allowed to leave at last.

He bowed before the Dark Lord; he suddenly felt nauseous, but he had to withstand the urge of throwing up. It would not do to show weakness now, if he was to go through with all of this…

Severus Snape Disapparated and found himself in Hogsmeade, near the Shrieking Shack. As soon as he had appeared, he was so violently sick that it took him a while to recover from it. He felt so very empty—not just physically but also mentally. Finally managing to scramble to his feet again, he headed in direction of Hogwarts; but instead of transfiguring the pencil he had turned his broomstick into earlier back into its original shape, he decided to return to Hogwarts on foot. He needed to think or rather not think; he was confused; his mind in complete disarray; his body shaking.

He knew he had done it for a good purpose: to overthrow the Dark Lord and bring justice to him and his followers. Justice. The first crime Tom Riddle had committed had been a deed of justice—the murder of his Muggle father who had abandoned Tom's mother, so that, when she died Tom had to grow up in a Muggle orphanage.

Justice to him and his followers… I, too, am one of his followers. I'll fly to him when he summons me—again; I'll act like one of them—again. How long will it take until I start thinking like one of them—again?

Completely lost in his thoughts, Severus almost started when he realized he had already reached the gates of Hogwarts Castle; the castle itself looming high above him only a short distance away. However, its windows were lighted as though it wanted to welcome him back. Hogwarts, Severus Snape's only safe haven…

After entering Hogwarts Castle, he immediately went to the dungeons. He couldn't face Dumbledore just yet; he had to settle down a bit first. Severus entered the Potions dungeon. School would start in a few days, he realized as his eyes scanned the classroom quickly. Soon this room would be filled with students—some of them potential future Death Eaters, some of them certain future Death Eaters… Most of the latter Severus knew already since their fathers—and, in some cases, their mothers, too—were among the Dark Lord's supporters. Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Nott… All of them had sons who were in Slytherin House, Severus Snape's house.

Severus walked towards the sink; the gargoyle seemed to sneer at him as Severus bent and splashed a gush of ice-cold water in his face. And again. And again… Then, as his hands felt as though they were slowly turning to ice, his face equally cold and freezing, he looked into the mirror above the gargoyle's head. His eyes met the ones of his reflection. It said nothing. It only looked back at him as if he were looking into a Muggle mirror… After a few seconds, however, the face in the mirror closed its eyes for a moment, shook its head sadly and intoned the very words Severus Snape had been thinking all the way up to Hogwarts, "What have you done?" Severus could have sworn he'd heard it say his name before he smashed the mirror with his fist. He drew back and hit his reflection full in the face. The glass shattered, small pieces of it pierced his skin, drawing blood. He did not even feel the pain because his hands were still so cold from the icy water…

Resting his hands on the rim of the stone sink, he screwed his eyes shut and sighed deeply, painfully…

Then, taking a deep breath, he straightened himself. Now he was ready.

Heading straight for Dumbledore's office, he whispered the password to the gargoyle, which slid to the side, revealing the entrance to the spiral staircase. Severus walked up the staircase, not bothering that it would have brought him up if he had stood still.

As Severus reached to open the door, it was opened from inside. Dumbledore was already expecting him.

"Severus," he said.

"Headmaster," Snape replied, as Dumbledore beckoned him in—a gesture that reminded Severus appallingly of the way the Dark Lord had pointed at Karkaroff shortly before Severus had cast the curse—and indicated for him to sit down in one of the armchairs in front of the fireplace, which Severus did. Dumbledore sat down in another armchair.

"So? What happened?" he prompted the Potions master to speak.

And Snape did speak. He told the headmaster everything. Every single horrible second he reported in detail; the truth and nothing but the truth. He left nothing out and added nothing to the actual events…

"And then, finally!" he said. "I was dismissed. I didn't even need the Portkey you gave me in case I would be discovered or severely injured… The one that would have taken me to the infirmary if I needed to leave quickly…" Dumbledore nodded, apparently fully understanding that Severus was prattling on about ifs and would-have-beens to calm himself a bit after having to relive some of the darkest hours of his entire life.

Severus took a deep breath. "He welcomed me back. I am back in his Inner Circle…"

"You're lucky he didn't kill you, Severus. You're a much better actor than I could ever have hoped. I am just glad that you're on our side."

Severus Snape tossed back a glass of brandy that the headmaster had put onto the small table that stood in the proximity. Until now, he hadn't even realized it had been there. It was a good vintage, but Severus hardly noticed its taste. "I don't think I can stand this much longer—this acting against everything I know is right. It feels like betrayal, which is exactly what it was when I carried out his orders. Karkaroff might not have been an innocent man; hell, of course, he wasn't! But he put a certain amount of trust in me nonetheless; and I handed him over—not only to Voldemort, but to Death. I—"

"I understand, Severus," Dumbledore said calmly, so calmly that it infuriated Snape immensely.

"No, you don't. You don't have the slightest idea!" he shouted.

"It must have been pure unconcealed horror; that much I can see plainly written on your face," the old man continued in his quiet and calm voice.

"You're right about that. But there's more…" Severus said, his voice now barely above a whisper. "I enjoyed it. When I uttered the words—the words that, in essence, doomed me to a life—no, existence—in Azkaban—some sick part of me enjoyed it, and it wanted more. The thrill of power, of utter control—the power over life and death in my hands—surging through my body, was almost more than I could bear… It felt so familiar, so horribly familiar…" His voice trembled as much as he did.

The headmaster was silent. He must be expecting there was more to come. Once Severus really started talking, spilling his soul out in front of him, Dumbledore wouldn't interrupt him. Especially since something like that happened about once in one or two decades. However, Severus had to get rid of all those things that were on his mind; he had to share them to make the burden lighter to bear…

Thus, he spoke again. He had raised his head and looked Dumbledore straight into the eyes. "When I returned after… you know what… I looked into the mirror over the sink in the Potions dungeon; and for the first time in my life—as though a mask had been ripped off my face—I saw myself as the monster that I am, that I've always been. Don't deny it! I always thought I knew who and what I was; but the face—the eyes—that looked back at me—I did not know that man!" He gazed intently at Dumbledore for a few seconds; then he put one hand over his tired eyes and slumped back into the armchair. "I don't know who I am anymore!"

Dumbledore looked thoughtful. "I know it was much to ask of you to humiliate yourself in that way to be welcomed back into Voldemort's fold. The two of us knew what would be asked of you if you got this far; that's why I asked you if you were prepared for what lay ahead of you, remember? You said you were, but—"

"No one in his right mind is prepared for something like that!"

"—but no one in his right mind could ever be really prepared for the mission you underwent on my orders," Dumbledore confirmed. "I'm sorry. You must believe me that I am more sorry than there are words in the English language to express it with. If there had been any other way…"

"I know. You're sorry, I'm sorry, we're all sorry," said Severus with a sigh.

"You should get some sleep, Severus."

"I don't know if I can ever sleep again."

"The tired always fall asleep no matter if they want to or not."

"The problem is staying asleep when your deeds come to haunt you in your dreams. When they do you had better see to it that you don't dream at all." Severus rose and turned towards the door. Dumbledore also stood and reached to squeeze the other man's shoulder reassuringly.

"One day you'll sleep again—without a potion to ward off the dreams."

"A nice fiction…" Severus said darkly.

"You do look very tired, exhausted."

"That might be the case because I am." Severus opened the door.

"Good night, Severus. May the demons not come to haunt you. You did well, even though it does not look and feel like it…"

"Good night, Headmaster," Snape murmured and closed the door behind him. Then he walked down the spiral staircase that led down to the third floor. As the gargoyle moved back into its respective place, Severus sighed. He would have appreciated it if he could have cried now, but he had no tears left. Not for himself. No self-pity, he admonished himself. He had chosen this fate for himself a long time ago without thinking about the fact that the consequences of this choice would affect the greater part of his life as severely as this… Now he had to suffer the consequences. It was terrible… Yet—to Severus Snape—it felt like justice…

These were his thoughts as he descended another flight of stairs, walked along the deserted Defence Against the Dark Arts corridor, then another staircase, another corridor… until he finally reached the Entrance Hall. Only a few moments later he had already rushed down the staircase to the dungeons where his chambers awaited him. Cold and empty. Just as he felt… just as he was.

However, Severus did not go to sleep immediately. He decided that, if he were really going to sleep, the Dark Lord's laughter would not haunt him in his nightmares. Thus, he did not go directly to his rooms but went to the Potions dungeon first—into the classroom adjoining his office—to brew some Dreamless Sleep Potion. Actually, he brewed a great deal more than would be necessary that night. He felt he would need it—tomorrow… and tomorrow… and tomorrow.

And he did.


Quotes and scenes I shamelessly stole ;-) from other people will be credited in an additional chapter right after the epilogue is posted.

If you review—even if it's just a short note like 'I've read it'—, please leave me an e-mail address, so I may thank you properly.

Next chapter:

We leave Severus be for a while and instead switch to present time and to Harry at the Dursleys, get sunburn, meet Dudley's girlfriend and celebrate Harry's birthday.


Author's note: Okay, here I'd like to say thank you to everyone who reviewed the first time around. I'd almost feared this story would go completely unnoticed and unread among that load of HP fics out there. It's good to know when someone made the effort to read all of this. You made me feel so special.

Therefore, big 'thank you's go to (in order of review-appearance):

elvenprincess, antguillotine@cs.com, Deity, SammiSnape, RandomReviewer 84, AmZ (yes, even you), Brina, abcjvc, Blaise A. Snape (whom I made friends with via this story!!!), avaked, /then there's a nameless one…/, flamearrows, aurendel, Lauren, Firebolt 2000, SparkySparkles, Whitefeather, Flik, Me? (The answer to your question is No.), Lady Jeanetta, Ruwentha (I took your suggestions very seriously and carefully revised the parts you mentioned.), Kiwi

I'm so addicted to reading reviews now… You gave me a more than sixty of them already! Thank you! Group hug, guys!!!

Oh, and my secret ambition is having 2000 reviews (lol) by the end of 2003. *hint, hint* LOL! Just so you know. Am I greedy or what? ;-)