Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR. Dedicated to Valancy.


"Mr. Longbottom," Professor Snape sneered at the nervous seventh year Gryffindor in front of him. "You are validating my inherent distrust of silly wand waving. If you cannot hex an opponent properly, don't bother challenging him to a Wizard's Duel. Twenty points from Gryffindor for being hopeless and another twenty for engaging another student in an illegal activity."

"But what about Malfoy. Sir?" Longbottom was turning pink with anger.

"Ah yes…Mister Malfoy. Twenty points from Slytherin for engaging another student in an illegal activity but I will grant twenty points for the proper casting of a Silencing Curse."

The silver-haired Slytherin smirked at his nemesis and sauntered off wearing a very smug expression on his face.

"You are not fair, Professor Snape and I don't care how many points you have to take away from Gryffindor for my saying so," Longbottom snapped and stormed off.

Professor Snape looked momentarily amused at the outburst.

"Well well…the young lad has a backbone after all. About bloody time…he's going to need it," the older man muttered to himself as he massaged his temples fiercely. The headaches were coming more frequently…a side effect of being Called by the Dark Lord so frequently.

"Nothing a little Reductus poison wouldn't cure," he thought and smirked in the direction of a rather confused suit of armor before setting out for his private chambers.

Moving with stark grace and with his robes billowing gently around him, he navigated the corridors of Hogwarts with the ease and confidence of one who knew its secrets well. Yes, this was his home…his sanctuary.

"My prison," he thought grimly. "A large and elaborate prison…but a prison nonetheless."

He sighed and stopped in front of a stone wall that, to all appearances, looked much the same as any other.

"I am being uncharitable," he whispered. "It is not a prison…it is not Azkaban. That is where I should have gone all those years ago."

Shrugging, he ran a finger along one row of bricks and they shimmered darkly, blurring and reshaping themselves to form a dark oak door with iron fastenings.

Quickly casting the various opening charms with which he protected his privacy, he opened the door, stepped through and disappeared from sight, the wall quickly reforming itself as if it had never been anything else.

He was in a narrow corridor that led to his small suite of rooms that had been his home for many long, lonely years. Pausing for a moment, he admired the carvings on the entrance. They were lovely…elegant serpents sliding endlessly over the worn surface of the door. The eyes (which seemed to look at him with a singularly cunning expression) were inlaid with emeralds and the scales were adorned with lapis lazuli. In the flickering torchlight, it was easy to imagine them to be real.

Professor Snape patted the largest one on the head and it turned into a handle with which he opened the door and stepped into his parlour.

Looking around in grim satisfaction at his living quarters, he walked over to a small cabinet which contained several bottles of various wizarding liquors.

"How shall we sin tonight, I wonder?" He mused aloud as he perused his selection. "Perhaps a small glass of Stonehenge Port? Or an Peruvian Moonflower Brandy? Hmmm…something a bit stronger…ah yes, the very thing. That most intoxicating of liqueurs…Egyptian Lotus Blossom Schnappes. Perfect."

He poured himself a small glass of the violet liquid and went to sit down in a very comfortable wing chair, relaxing for the first time that day.

"To Dumbledore…for trusting me when no one else did," he whispered as he raised the glass in a toast. Taking a small sip, he frowned slightly and raised the glass again. "And to me, in the hopes that I can one day show him that his trust in me was well warranted."

He sipped the drink as he sat in his chair. He looked at the empty fireplace and charmed a fire to start…warmth and light flooding the room, leaving him momentarily dazed. But it quickly passed and he loved to watch the flames flickering over the logs the house elves had brought in during the day.

"Apple wood," he loved the scent…a scent as redolent of autumn as anything.

Glancing around his small parlour, he smiled slightly as he looked over his collection of books…his treasures. Here was a library any Potions Master would give his (or her) eye teeth for.

"Or Miss Granger," he smirked as he envisioned the bushy haired know-it-all gasping with delight as she tried to read three books at once.

He felt slightly restless, despite the headache and, setting the glass down, got up to pace for a bit. This did not settle his nerves in the least. His glance fell on a small closet to the side of the parlour. His lips thinned and he approached the door to the closet and threw it open.

"How I hate the look of you," he snarled as he looked at his Death Eater robes. Feeling particularly savage, he took the robes off of the hanger and slipped them over his customary clothing, shuddering slightly at the slippery, almost serpentine, feel of the fabric. Looking at himself in the mirror, he paled.

"This is how the others see you, Severus," he whispered to his reflection. "This is how they see you regardless of what you do.

His reflection did not reply.

Turning back to the closet, he pulled out the steely mask that completed the accursed costume. Taking a deep breath, he put it on as well and turned to the mirror.

"This is what I was," he murmured. "This is not who I am…but this is how I will always be seen."

He walked towards the mirror and touched it with a trembling hand.

"This is what they see," he whispered now as he looked at his reflection carefully. The light glinted off the surface of the mask in an eerie fashion. He touched the mask, the almost unreal smoothness contrasting with the callouses on his fingers.

He took off the mask and threw it on the ground. Looking back at his reflection, he sighed and ran a hand tiredly through his unruly black hair. Black eyes, full of sorrow, anger, shame and defiance stared back at him.

"It makes no difference whether or not I wear the mask…it is always there, isn't it?"