The Sugar Quill
Author: AmyWeatherwax  Story: A Snapefic  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

To Love Without Return

A Snapefic

 

By AmyWeatherwax

 

 

Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns Snape & co, but anything not nailed down is mine (and anything I can pry loose is not nailed down).

Note: This was written a while before OotP came out, so I threw in the new terms JK uses for magic involving the mind but left my original descriptions as I had written them. It kinda works.

Lyrics by Metallica.

With thanks to my beta-readers – GorgeousWeasleyBoy and TrolleyTiger.  50 housepoints each (but the House Cup still goes to Ravenclaw).

 

 

Prologue

 

‘All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone’  – J. Austen

 

On my seventeenth birthday my mother, quite out of the blue, decided to impart on me the sum of her witch’s wordly wisdom.  As I stood looking at myself in the mirror in my brand new formal robes, she said, ‘Margaret, my dear . . there is a lot of unrequited love in this world’ (she never was one to wrap things in cotton wool).  I looked rather sadly at the reflection of the short, brown-haired, unremarkable girl in front of me and knew at once that her words were true.  For me this discovery hadn’t taken age and wisdom, nor even some broad-shouldered Hogwarts Quidditch captain, just one dark-eyed Potions master who didn’t know I was alive.

 

As a coda she added, ‘And never dance with tall men because you’ll look ridiculous.’

 

_____________

 
Learning

(In which there is teenage angst, exam revision and gratuitous mentions of Charlie Weasley)

 

I'll tear me open, make you gone
No longer will you hurt anyone
And the fear still shapes me

So hold me, until it sleeps . .

 

Of course, as a Ravenclaw I could never admit my feelings for the universally detested Slytherin housemaster to anyone.  Besides, I didn’t go in for those girly chats that kept my dorm-mates awake long into the night.  When pressed by them as to my preferences I would fall back on a safe choice like Charlie Weasley.  The sighs that followed this name and discussions of ‘Do you think he’d ever fancy me?’ could always be relied on to divert their attention from me.

 

What’s more, if I had ever been foolish enough to confide to anyone the subject of my silly daydreams I could not have answered their very first question:  Why? 

 

Those Slytherin girls could certainly find a few reasons, but an icy demeanour and the habit of unfairly punishing students from all the other houses didn’t do a lot for me.   

 

The fact that he was the only male member of staff under fifty might have contributed to my interested at first, but it would have quickly been forgotten, especially after I had come to know the underwhelming charms of his personality, if not for one thing.

 

Two things, actually.  His eyes.  They were like dark pools to his soul -  at times so hard and blank, at others so fathomless they reminded me of the dangerous waters in the slate quarries of my home - dark depths that tempted the unwary to explore, so cold that you would freeze before you drowned, sinking down and down into black caverns never to be recovered.

 

Again and again I’d try to persuade myself to banish all thoughts of him from my mind.  To forget what was after all only a silly schoolgirl crush.  And then he’d raise his eyes from his desk and I’d be lost once more.

 

I would like to tell you that my confused, guilty feelings went the natural way of such things, that some handsome seventh year Ravenclaw boy finally noticed me and after he realised my hidden beauty and passionate nature kissed me to my senses behind the broomsheds.  However, instead of this pink-hazed eventuality, malicious Fate instead chose to teach me her own lesson about life.

 

Studying for our N.E.W.Ts had brought the Ravenclaw seventh-years closer than before and though we spent many hours crowded around a book-cluttered table in the common room, groaning as we tried to cram more obscure facts into our heads, we laughed more that year than any other.  Boys did notice me, though mainly as someone who took the best notes in class and didn’t mind doing spell-checking charms on their essays.

 

I did not spend Potions class daydreaming over Snape.  In seventh year such inattentiveness to the complex and dangerous mixtures we brewed was extremely ill-advised, as we had weekly unpleasant proof.  Students running from the dungeon in various states of discomfort was not uncommon.  I had of course silently vowed that I would rather die than draw such embarrassing attention to myself.

 

In the weeks leading up to our final exams the teachers went quite mad – every class involved tests and mock essay papers.  Every seventh-year had dark circles under their eyes and tempers were frayed.  Into this tense atmosphere Snape threw his last pre-exam test: to make a Veritaserum Potion.  The class groaned as one – we would be lucky to finish in time for supper, but at least it was doubtful we’d get this notoriously difficult potion in the actual exam as well – Snape wasn’t that kind.

 

The Ravenclaw boy I was working with picked up the ladle and stirred our shared cauldron, waiting for me to finish skinning a Doxie before adding it to the brew.  A Beater on the house Quidditch team, he generally ignored me unless he wanted help with his homework, but had protected me from his friends’ teasing more than once, so I didn’t much mind his reliance on my potion-making skills. 

 

The small cauldron danced and bubbled with a myriad of changing colours as we added the long list of ingredients.  The resulting liquid was of course required to be colourless and ours had only just shimmered and reached that final stage when Snape snapped, ‘Time’s up!’, making me jump.  I felt heat rise into my cheeks as my sudden movement drew his hard gaze towards our bench.  He stalked closer and peered into the cauldron.  I kept my eyes fixed on the stained wood of the bench.

 

‘Well, Miss Hyssop, as yours is at least the right colour you can be the first to test your creation.’  My stomach flipped over at being singled out in this way.  ‘We shall hope that you prepared it correctly and won’t suffer any of the unpleasant side-effects that occur when this is not the case.’ 

 

My eyes had risen involuntarily as he spoke and were shocked to find his face so close as he leaned over the workbench towards me.  Were his words mocking or a sincere wish?  His voice seemed less biting than usual, but I couldn’t read the message held in his shadowed eyes.

 

I cursed myself inwardly for standing there like a creature transfixed by oncoming headlights.  The rest of the class looked on, fascinated, and I knew I wasn’t going to get any help from them.  As one of the few who had never had a potion backfire on me they were clearly waiting to see if this would be my time to join the brotherhood of the less fortunate.

 

He stood over me, the tall black shadow of Fate. ‘One sip will suffice.’  I could recognise a challenge when I heard one and some inner well of pride steadied my hand as I lifted the ladleful of steaming potion to my lips.

 

It ran down my throat like iced water.

 

Everyone held their breath, waiting to see if I would change colour, or form, or possibly explode.  ‘Well,’ his voice cut through the expectant hush, ‘Someone ask her a question.’  He needn’t sound quite so disappointed that I was still all in one piece!

 

A blonde Hufflepuff girl who spent most of her life flicking her hair back and forth in a vacuous manner, opened her mouth first, ‘What’s your middle name, Meg?’

 

‘Yeah, what does the ‘A’ stand for?’ chipped in one of her cronies.

 

Obviously I had made my disdain for them far too apparent, I sighed.  I had never, would never, reveal that embarrassment of a name to anyone . . a name which was currently rising up my throat and forcing its way out through my lips in an unstoppable strangled gulp.  ‘Agrimony,’ I gasped and clamped my mouth shut again in shock.

 

There was a murmur of laughter.  The next two questions came at once, the class obviously warming to the task. Lucy, a Ravenclaw, asked, ‘Do you really like Charlie Weasley?’  The giggles this produced were cut through by a Hufflepuff boy calling, ‘What colour knickers are you wearing?’.

 

Snape looked at him warningly, but it was too late.  ‘He’s a great Quidditch player, but I don’t fancy him . . Red,’ I answered in a rush, turning the same shade as the outed underwear.

 

As the sniggering reaction again ran round the classroom I felt increasingly trapped amongst a pack of circling wolves.  I looked up at my potions partner, my face pleading for support.  He was looking at me as if for the first time, ‘So who do you like, Meg?’ 

 

The question was asked with no more than mild curiosity, and as he looked at the betrayed expression in my eyes he realised his error and shook his head, waving his hands as if that could take the question back.  But it couldn’t and the answer was again trying to vomit itself out of my throat.  My hands flew to my mouth, clamping down hard, while my eyes darted towards Snape, who’d been standing apparently completely unconcerned as things got out of hand around him.   I took one look at his uninterested expression and knew I would rather die than reveal that my answer was his name.

 

Tears started into my eyes as I fought the inexorable power of the spell.  Strange gulping noises came from my tightly smothered mouth and my mind whirled crazily around the fact that the answer no longer seemed true when it was his impassable bulk that was blocking my escape.

 

He looked down at my struggles impassively, ‘Oh, come now, Miss Hyssop.  I’m sure nobody’s that interested anyway.’  I must have turned from red to purple at his tone as he added sharply, ‘Don’t be stupid, girl! You’ll make yourself ill.’

 

I wished very much that I could uncover my mouth and laugh in his face at the full irony of his words.  His casual insult opened my eyes, breaking my stupid heart in the most brutal way.  He was so close I was surprised he didn’t hear the noise it made as it shattered inside me.  However, the pain was so intense it reinforced my free will for a few last precious seconds and I pushed past him and ran for the door.  The sea of surprised faces didn’t register, nor the burning in my arms as I yanked open the heavy door.  My headlong flight continued until I had reached the furthest end of the dungeon corridor.  I stopped then in the flickering torch-lit darkness and leant my pounding head against the cool wall. 

 

‘Severus Snape.’  My answer was a whisper against the uncaring stone.

 

__________________

 

Teaching

(In which there is grown-up and growling angst in the Restricted Section)

 

Where do I take this pain of mine?
I run, but it stays right by my side 
So tear me open, pour me out
There's things inside that scream and shout
And the pain still hates me
So hold me, until it sleeps
 

‘Nothing is wasted, nothing is ever wasted.’ – Ursula Le Guin

 

‘It’s been too quiet recently.  It troubles me . . Oh, I know there are some who think we should be grateful, but we won a battle only, not the war.  The longer trouble brews, the more trouble it becomes I find.’  Dumbledore was standing behind his desk as he spoke, absently stroking Fawkes’ beautiful, patient head. 

 

I tried to concentrate on his words and not on the fact that the man who had been at the centre of my adolescent dreams would soon walk into this very room.  Never mind that I was now a sensible twenty-six and had obviously got over it and had some very nice relationships with some very nice young wizards, thank you very much.

 

There was a noise at the door behind me.  Dumbledore looked up, ‘Ah, come in, Severus.  Thank you for answering my summons so promptly.’

 

I could not have turned to look at him even if someone had pointed a curse-loaded wand at me, but in an instant he was next to me, drawing his black robes around him.

 

‘You have no doubt heard that we have a new staff member joining us this term,’ Dumbledore continued.  ‘This is Miss Margaret Hyssop.  She will be assisting both Madam Pomfrey and Professor Sprout.  She comes to us from St Mungo’s.’ Dumbledore looked hard at the professor from beneath his bushy brows, but the man beside me did not respond.  I glanced at his profile, the strong nose and firmly set lips made my heart jolt with the shock of the familiar. 

 

When he continued to stand in silence I addressed the headmaster myself, ‘I believe Professor Snape is wondering why you are telling him this, Headmaster.’

 

‘He should not be.  I have discussed sending for a mind healer from St Mungo’s several times.’

 

‘I don’t remember it being a discussion,’ Snape’s tone was mutinous.

 

‘Severus, I knew when I sent you back to Voldemort that it would be a difficult and dangerous path.  I did not foresee how long you would have to bear the burden.’  Snape made a small movement of denial, but Dumbledore waved a hand, ‘Do not worry, Severus.  Miss Hyssop is to be trusted with your secrets.  She is here to help you.’

 

At that Snape turned his head to stare down at me, dislike and disbelief mixing unflatteringly with the wariness on his face.

 

I held his gaze, but the icy glitter of his eyes’ tunnel-like depths were rousing too many foolish memories in me and my eyelids fluttered weakly down.

 

Having dismissed me with one look he turned back to Dumbledore, ‘I do not need any help.  My mind is perfectly sound.  Thank you, Headmaster.’ 

 

The last was merely a request to leave and Dumbledore nodded slightly.  The Potions Master left in a swirl of black robes and without a backward glance.

 

I breathed in slowly, only just realising the tension coursing through my body.  I had felt that sharing the same yard of carpet with the glowering Potions Master was too intimate, and yet to help him I would have to step under that dark cloud that he carried around with him.  And, more dauntingly, first convince him to let me do it.

 

‘I’m sorry about that, Margaret. I didn’t expect him to be a willing patient, but I felt I had to call you.’

 

‘I don’t think the words ‘willing’ and ‘patient’ could ever be applied to Professor Snape,’ I replied cuttingly, slightly forgetting who I was talking to.

 

A smile flickered across the headmaster’s serious face.  ‘Will you stay and try?’

 

I thought of Snape when I had known him as my teacher and the face I had looked into a few moments before.  He may have been grim and unsmiling then but the new lines of strain around his mouth told their own tale and the dark eyes were hollow and haunted.  I set my chin and knew my answer, ‘Of course, Headmaster.’

 

______________

 

I walked down the long dungeon corridor towards the Potions classroom, the chill from the stone walls and the unmistakable bitter smell bringing memories of schooldays rushing back. 

 

I had left Snape alone during my first week, spending my time getting to know the greenhouses and sharing duties in the Hospital Wing with Madam Pomfrey.  But the delivery of some fresh Dogwood root now brought me to his door.

 

The door was open and through the arch I could see his head bent over a book on his desk.  I knocked lightly and he glanced up briefly, his expression wary and unwelcoming.

 

‘Come in.’

 

‘Thank you, Professor.’  I walked to the bench at the front of the class and set down the basket.  ‘Dogwood.  Making a secrets binding potion this afternoon?’

 

‘Yes,’ the reply was rude in its brevity, but then he softened it by adding, ‘Well remembered.’  He looked up from the book. ‘But you were always excellent with potions.  I can’t understand why you chose to go to St Mungo’s.  Healing sick minds is a thankless task.  Most serious cases never recover.’

 

I looked at him in surprise, trying to absorb both his praise and his criticism.  Few outside St Mungo’s understood what I did, fewer still had actually seen the distressing effect a lost or broken mind had on our long-term patients and their families.

 

‘Perhaps,’ I said, ‘But we have helped many other patients and there is always hope.’  He frowned at me disbelievingly and I found myself explaining, ‘I went to St Mungo’s to do Potions research originally, but they discovered I had some talent in Legilimency and Occlumency - their healing uses, that is - so of course they wished to train me.’

 

‘Talent?  I’d call it a curse,’ he stood up, adding to the challenge in his voice. ‘Or do you enjoy other people’s nightmares?’

 

There seemed to be no reply to that, so I remained silent, trying to fathom his tone. Although his question was merely an attempt to get rid of me, his mention of nightmares at least acknowledged the problem I was here to help him with.

 

‘Don’t look at me like that, woman!’ he suddenly snapped.

 

‘Like what?’ I asked, genuinely confused.

 

‘As if you want to save me.  I don’t want to be saved.  I can’t be saved. Go back to your hospital where they want do-gooders like you.’

 

His voice was harsh with dislike, but I refused to retreat.  I dealt with irrational patients all the time and he was quite clearly being irrational.  In fact his logic struck me as so absurd that I actually smiled into his furious face, ‘But, Professor, I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t a do-gooder too.’

 

My words sounded cold and mocking, but it was too late to reclaim them.  They hung hard and heartless in the air between us for a never-ending moment, then he turned on his heel and walked away. 

 

I looked down at my hands, spread unconsciously on the bench for support, and cursed my insensitive words, my childish reaction to his goading.  Where was my professional cool now?

 

____________

 

I had not imagined that this would be easy, but it was only my sense of humour that stopped me from screaming with frustration at the man.  It certainly would surprise the diners in the Great Hall, I reflected, as Snape spent another mealtime avoiding looking at me or any of the air particles within three feet of me.  He also avoided meeting me in the staff room, the Hospital Wing, and the corridors.  Our one crossing of paths on a flight of stairs resulted in him using a surprised group of third year girls for cover until he could escape.  Big brave Severus.  Good thing I had absolutely no feelings in this case to be insulted.

 

I had resolved not to approach him for a while, hoping that this was professional wisdom and not cowardice, but his appearance one evening at dinner swept this plan completely out of my head.  He came in late, black robes neat as ever, but his face was grey and slightly feverish.  The few members of staff who nodded at him didn’t appear to notice anything amiss, but he pushed the food around his plate and rose to leave as suddenly as he came in.  After a few beats I followed.

 

His hurried tread led to the Library, deserted at this time of the day.  I slipped in quietly after him and saw the back of his robes flick around the corner into the Restricted Section.

 

I stepped softly amongst the high bookcases peering anxiously along the branching aisles.  He was neither reading nor searching for a book when I found him, but standing motionless, his back against a row of leather-bound potions texts, eyes closed and head bowed.

 

He spoke at my footfall but did not look up, ‘Go away.  Please.’

 

I was taken aback, not at his blunt request, but the raw note in his voice.  Perhaps it was wrong to intrude on his few moments of solitude.

 

‘I’m sorry.’  I looked at the pale face hidden under the falling locks of hair and recalled the obliviousness of his dinner companions to the distress that was so clear to me.  Some solitude was peace, some was desolation.  ‘But I can’t.’

 

He smiled, head still bowed, but it was a smile devoid of joy or humour, ‘I wish you would.  You don’t want to know me, Miss Hyssop.’ 

 

‘I do,’ my voice was barely a murmur.

 

‘No, you don’t!’ His head snapped sideways and Snape’s eyes flashed as he spoke through gritted teeth, ‘It’s dangerous to know me.  Don’t you understand?’

 

I was suddenly sick of these games. ‘Don’t treat me like a child, Severus!  I know the situation perfectly well,’ I retorted, stepping closer.

 

In a sudden fluid motion that left me breathless he grabbed me and pulled me around, pushing my back against the bookcase, his grip bruising my upper arms.  He had never seemed so tall as this, glowering down at me, his eyes glittering with anger, which I could stand, and hatred, which I couldn’t.

 

‘If you won’t listen, there are ways I can make you understand.’ I expected him to yell at me again, but his voice sunk to a low, dangerous hiss.  It was infinitely more frightening, but I was determined not to show him that.

 

‘I understand you’re trying to scare me away.’  My voice was almost steady.

 

‘Damn right I am.’  He slid his hand up my arm.  A shiver passed through me as his fingers encircled my throat, the cool touch branding my skin.  I was aware of his long legs pressing against my own through the heavy robes, the hard edges of the shelves cutting into my back and thighs.

 

He leant down until his lips almost brushed my ear and the world narrowed to the sound of his low soft voice, ‘You cannot begin to imagine the things I have done in the service of my Master, Margaret.  What makes you think I would not do similar things to you?’

 

I tried to swallow, but under his hand my throat had gone dry. ‘Because you are a good man, Severus.’  I cursed the weakness that made my voice a whisper.

 

His lip curled in mockery. ‘Oh, am I? Are you so sure?’  He tightened his grip until it was a painful pressure on my windpipe.  I willed myself to remain passive in his arms, but I felt a tremor run through me as I stared up into his haunted, angry face.

 

I didn’t reply.  My hands lay uselessly on his chest, where I had raised them to push him away.  Was I content to dance these same steps again and again?  Me advancing, him backing away, until I felt like a stupid faithful dog forever trailing after him.

 

He took my silence for defeat and released me.  As he turned away I saw disgust written clearly on his features.  It hurt me more than his hands could ever do and suddenly I knew that whatever else he chose to throw at me that was one thing I would not take.

 

He had reached the end of the aisle and would soon be gone.  I took a deep breath and spoke a stilling spell.  He stopped, but remained stubbornly facing away from me.

 

I broke the pregnant silence. ‘Everything you’ve said is true, Severus,’ I started in my best calming tone.

 

‘Everything?’

 

For once it was not a challenge, merely a question, and I fumbled for a moment, put off my mental stride, ‘Well . . I can’t remember everything.  I- I mean all the shouting and the growling makes it difficult to concentrate on the words sometimes.’ Had I really just said that to his face?

 

‘Really?’ He didn’t explode, but seemed to give the problem some serious thought.  He turned then and asked in a quiet, emotionless voice, ‘May I go now?’

 

‘No.’ There was a pleasurable rush of power as I said the word.  Here I have you, Snape, now I’m the one who is going to make you face the truth.  I lifted my chin as the dark, unworthy thought flickered through my mind and looked at the man in front of me.  Tired . . he looked so tired.  Worn to the bone with all the lying and the hating and the hiding.  Life had been cruel to him and now I was going to throw more cruelty into his tired face.

 

I muttered a soundproofing charm as I walked forward. The Library was most likely empty, but I was not so cruel that I would let anyone hear this.  My voice was steady. This was my game now, my dance, my steps.

 

‘Do you want to fall into darkness, Severus?  Because you are falling, I can feel it.  It fills the air around you, follows you wherever you go.’  His eyes were cloaked behind the blackness of his hair, I couldn’t read them. ‘I may not know where you’ve walked, but I know what has followed you back.’ He looked up at that.  Was that hope in his eyes?  It wouldn’t stay there for long. 

 

‘You’ve been wearing too many masks, Severus. Do you know which one is you anymore?’ My voice was deliberately hard.  He had to understand now.  If he didn’t it was already too late.

 

‘What about your dreams, Severus? Or are they all nightmares, full of shadows and whispers?  Do you hear the whispers when you’re awake? Can you hear them now?’ 

 

He backed away as I fired the questions at him coldly, his face growing greyer at each word.  I gripped my wand.  This was the most dangerous time.  There was a part of him that belonged to the Dark Lord and if he lost the struggle to control it he would fight back without a second thought. 

 

Time slowed in the narrow space between the ancient books and I saw us as if from a great height, a small witch and a wizard with darkness coiled round his heart.  This was not my game.  The bones had been cast by other, more powerful hands, I merely watched to see where they would fall.

 

The Fates chose and Snape slumped down against the shelves, shivering and defeated.

 

I looked down at him and shivered too.  The darkness that surrounded him beckoned me in.  Break him like he broke you, it said, make him suffer.  His pain slid sweetly down my throat, filling me with power.  The darkness he had turned from sought to take me in his place.  Then the drugging draught hit a cold, hard lump in my stomach - held there in secret all these years I discovered it again.  It was foolish and hopeless, but as it chased away the bitter magic that had encircled my mind I knew that in the end it was not wasted . . I loved him. 

 

Whatever black spell crept through me fled in an instant and I was beside him, on my knees on the cold floor, wrapping my arms around his shoulders not worrying or caring this time about rejection.  I stroked his back, whispering soothing nonsense in his ear as fierce tremors passed through him. 

 

He shook but made no sound, that vestige of his rigid control still functioning despite his torment. As his inner demons lost this unnervingly silent battle his body stilled against mine, but he did not draw away. 

 

Doubt and embarrassment began to work on my mind once more, but I silenced their little voices for a moment with a healer’s brisk efficiency:  ‘Give me your hands, they’ll be cold.’  They were, like ice.  I shifted to face him and rubbed them between my own, noticing how small mine looked against his long scarred fingers.

 

He also watched the light rhythmic touch of my hands on his own and eventually spoke.  ‘All right.  You can do whatever it is you do.  You can . . help me.’  He was not so defeated that he didn’t grimace over the word, I noted, and was glad.

 

I looked cautiously into his face, ‘You didn’t answer my first question,’ I said quietly.

 

‘What was that?  All the growling made it difficult to concentrate on the words,’ his tone was teasing, though gruff as if unused to saying anything lightly.

 

I smiled, happy for once to be mocked by him and regretted having to bring the tension back into his relaxing body. But I had to ask it again.

 

‘Do you want the darkness?’ 

 

I knew the answer, but would he let himself admit it?

 

He looked at me, old pain carved deep into his face,  ‘No. Yes. Maybe.’ 

 

_____________________________

 

Hurting

(In which there is angst and gratuitous chocolate mousse)

 

Just like the curse, just like the stray
You feed it once, and now it stays
So tear me open, but beware
There’s things inside without a care
And the dirt still stains me
So wash me, until I'm clean

 

The sharp sense of falling left me dizzy and slightly sick as it always did.  Snape was still breathing heavily, more used to shutting out others from his mind than opening it so completely.  The fire in his study had burned low in its grate and I shivered, rubbing my arms, willing the nausea to pass.

 

He stirred and moved to stoke up the fire a little, but did not speak.  It was best to leave him to regain his privacy, his sense of self that could feel violated after a mind walking.

 

Some minds were like houses with a hundred rooms needing tidied; patients who had suffered the Unforgivable Curses could have minds like an unravelled tapestry, pieces of patterns with the connections all lost, disorienting and heart-rending for the healer; Snape’s mind had been hard to walk, harder to return from.  A mind like a dark tower, where guilt and regret filled the air making it difficult to breathe and each memory was a cell, a trap bereft of hope.  Duty drove him, never love.  Though there was love there, for Dumbledore, one of the twin masters of his fate.  But he hoped for nothing, neither expecting nor looking for a bright end to the darkness and torment.  The man was his own Dementor. 

 

Now there was an idea, I thought, as the sickness receded and I held my chilled fingers towards the fresh bright flames.  I rang the little bell on the table beside me and a house-elf appeared.

 

‘How may I serve you, Mistress Margaret?’ he squeaked.

 

‘I’m sorry to disturb you so late, um, Lani, is it?’  The elf nodded enthusiastically. ‘But could we have some tea and something with chocolate in it, if you have anything.’  I looked at Snape in case he wanted to add anything, but he shook his head.

 

The elf vanished with a pop and reappeared a moment later with a large tray.  There was a pot of tea and plate of chocolate muffins, and two large dishes of chocolate mousse.

 

‘Oh, you shouldn’t have . .’ I began to the elf, but he bowed happily and disappeared again.  To Snape I said, ‘Have some chocolate, you’ll feel better.’

 

Snape looked at the over-sweet collection in disgust and strode off to rummage in a corner cupboard.  I shrugged mentally and poured myself some tea.  He returned with a bottle of amber liquid and a glass and remained standing, staring into the fire while I nibbled meditatively on a small piece of muffin. 

 

After a while he cleared his throat. ‘My head feels . . better.’ He glanced over and his gaze was unsettled, wondering.  My breath caught at seeing such naked emotion on his face, then, as if a shutter had fallen, his expression hardened, ‘Though no doubt your head feels worse.  Did my mind shock you, Miss Hyssop?’

 

The words were spoken mockingly, but I also understood their challenge.  He wanted me to admit that I was disgusted by the bitter darkness I had seen in him, by the wicked follies of his past, the dark magics he had used, the violent acts.  Would cold triumph light his eyes if I agreed that the fight was lost, that he was lost?  

 

‘No,’ I said stubbornly.

 

He was quiet for a moment, then said in a different voice,  ‘I feel . . odd’

 

‘You’re right, you do feel odd.’

 

My attempt at levity irritated him and he continued sharply, ‘Why are you helping me?’

 

‘Because you’re very important to the work of the Order.’ 

 

‘Knowing what you know and with your gift . . if V- my Master - should ever get his hands on you . .’ he clenched his fist where it rested on the mantelpiece and did not continue the thought.

 

I bridled at his implication that I was a danger to the Order, ‘I’ve been trained to withstand the Imperius Curse.’

 

He looked at me closely then, studying my resolute little face, the teacup held so primly between my small hands.  It was ridiculous to say such things when one was sitting in a comfy chair in the impregnable safety of Hogwarts, I knew, but he finished his inspection and nodded, ‘Yes, perhaps you could.  I’d never seen anyone withstand the effects of Veritaserum for as long as you did, that time.’

 

I nearly choked on my tea and put the cup down quickly, but he barely noticed.  He had downed his drink and poured another, staring at the flames and rubbing his forehead in an unconscious circling motion as if trying to still a humming in his mind. 

 

Suddenly he slammed the glass down on the mantel, shoved one hand back through his hair and swore softly.  I jumped at the loud bang and catching the movement he turned and glowered down at me.  ‘Don’t sit there cowering as if I were a Boggart, woman.  You made my brain itch – do something about it!’

 

I noticed with wilful amusement that he crossed and uncrossed his arms several times while he spoke, then, unable to remain still, he began to pace back and forth on the dark rug.

 

‘Have some chocolate,’ I repeated.

 

‘That’s the sum total of your medical advice?’ he asked scathingly.

 

‘Yes!’ I snapped, irritated that my professional qualifications were still being called into question.  ‘Now sit down and eat something, or I’ll tie you to that chair and force-feed you chocolate mousse.’

 

Snape happened to reach the end of his carpet furrow and turn back to towards me just as I said this.  He immediately stilled, eyes widening in surprise.  A strange heat sparked in their depths and was gone so quickly I thought I’d imagined it.

 

‘Um, or you can just stick to the alcohol.  Alcohol’s also good in these cases,’ I backtracked hurriedly.

 

He dragged his interested gaze away from my blushing face, looked at the bottle still in his hand and then came over to the tray.  Like a small boy considering his first cockroach cluster he looked down at the mousse, dipped one finger into the frothy dessert then carefully licked at it.  He immediately grimaced and took a swig from the bottle to wash away the taste.  ‘Too sweet’ he grunted, looking down at me. 

 

My mouth was hanging open.  I couldn’t help it.  Maybe the twitching restlessness that had infected him was also affecting me, for the sight of his lips closing around the chocolaty mess on his finger had set off fireworks in intimate parts of my body.

 

I held my breath as the silence lengthened, then wetted my lips with my tongue to speak.  This time the black fire in his gaze could not be mistaken as it immediately focussed on my mouth.  The room suddenly seemed very small.

 

He leant forward to set down the bottle and steadied himself with one hand on the arm of my chair.  As my eyes travelled up the tailored black cloth to the hard planes of his face his other arm came down, trapping me in a Snape-made cage.  I watched transfixed as his face descended ever closer.  Under the shadow of his hair his face held an awful tension.  I fought to breathe through the fluttering of fear and desire in my chest.  Our eyes met and the surface of his mind surged and broke against my own in a dreadful static roar.  Startled, I quickly closed off the contact, but his features still showed the battle inside, the continuous unravelling and re-ravelling of the will that held the beasts inside him in check. What animal of anger or pain had stalked me across the room?  It looked at me now, it dared me to run.  But something held me.  Snape cupped my head and his mouth descended like a bird of prey diving on its frozen victim. 

 

I shivered as his warm breath touched my face and his lips met mine with a bruising pressure, their full, curved strength moving, claiming.  He tasted of whisky and chocolate, dimly I felt a strand of his hair brush my cheek, sweet with the smell of woodsmoke.  As I responded to his kiss he made a sound low in his throat.  I found my hands closing around his wrists as if holding onto the only anchor that now existed.

 

When he lifted his head and stepped back my overloaded senses reeled with loss.  He looked down at my flushed face and said coolly, cruelly, ‘Did they teach that at St Mungo’s?’

 

The controlled quality of his voice confused me more than the words.  Wasn’t he feeling how I was feeling?  Of course not.  Reality washed over me with the icy taste of a truth serum.  I had seen his mind.  Others had already taken what he was, what he had to give, and left him with little.  What comfort I could give him would be received without warmth and probably with the same grimace as he swallowed the chocolate. 

 

I willed myself to my feet.  I had made it to the door on shaky legs and was fumbling with the catch, when a hand covered mine.  His right arm framed my shoulder, holding the door shut, trapping me against the hard surface.  I felt the length of his body inches from my back.  His breath stirred my hair as he bent his head.

 

‘Running away?’ he murmured softly.  I shivered again.  His voice was like dark silk in my ear. ‘I thought you were trying to save me.’ 

 

He was mocking me again, but his fingers were communicating their own message, drawing warm circles around my wrist.  His grip closed and, obeying the inexorable pressure he was exerting on my arm, I turned slowly to face him. 

 

The second kiss was a battle. His lips were hard and angry on mine, demanding that I fear him, that I reject him - but I gripped the front of his robes, leaning into the embrace.  He tasted of grief.

 

After a time he raised his head and said, his voice tight, ‘My Master will summon me again tomorrow night.’ 

 

I knew what he was asking and replied steadily, ‘If you wish to come to me after, I will be in my rooms.’

 

He nodded and released me at once.  I lifted the latch, escaped into the cool corridor and heard the door close behind me.  For a moment I stood frozen, staring at the rough stones under my hand, reflecting that this was not the first time I had stood between these cold and ancient walls with secrets I could tell no one.  Well, the walls would keep my secrets as they had before, I thought, and headed back to the warm castle above with purpose in my step.

________________________

 

Losing

(In which Margaret learns something about Snape’s loyalties and her own)

 

So tell me why you've chosen me
Don't want your grip, don't want your greed
I'll tear me open, make you gone
No more can you hurt anyone
And the fear still shakes me

So hold me, until it sleeps

 

I stood at the entrance to the Hospital Wing, leaning wearily against the stone archway and looking into the quiet ward.  A few candles burned to stave off the inky blackness of the winter night outside the high windows which was occasionally punctuated by a flurry of icy flakes.

 

I was thinking of Snape and our last meeting.  The weeks had passed and I had watched him go to the Dark Lord and take his place in the Death Eater circle again and again, reading his summonings and returnings by the lines around his mouth, the angle of his bent neck.  His return would bring the knock on my door and again I would walk the corridors of his mind, walk amongst the things that tormented him, and try to restore to him the clarity he needed.  To give him peace was beyond even my skill.  Perhaps it was something he had never had.   It was also something that he stole from me every time he kissed me in the warm darkness of my study, taking back the control he lost when I walked amongst his secrets.

 

I dragged my mind back to our last meeting and the worry that was holding me here in the dark - I had found a locked door in Snape’s mind. 

 

It was so well hidden I could have passed it several times before and not realised he was keeping something from me.  This was serious.  I was less surprised that Snape had the ability to conceal such a thing, he was, after all, a skilled Occlumens, than that my personal feelings had apparently begun to cloud my judgment.  What did that locked and secret place contain?  It was the unpleasant answers to that question that currently held my heart in an icy grip of fear.  What if that closed door concealed where his true loyalties lay?  I knew I should have gone to Dumbledore the moment I made my discovery, but something held me back.  To turn accusing eyes on the man who had struggled so hard, at such personal risk, to protect us, would be a cruel betrayal if my suspicions were nothing.  Or was I more afraid of the other possibility – that Snape’s true Master was the Dark Lord, that I had not prevented his fall into darkness - that the hands which had touched me would soon be turned against us?  That he would soon be gone from Hogwarts . . or would be dead.

 

Soon I would climb the winding stairs to the headmaster’s study and obediently share my fears, though guilt would weight my every step as I broke the confessor’s ancient bond of secrecy.  But now I stood frozen, wretched and alone, watching the peaceful sleeping faces of Madam Pomfrey’s patients, wishing futilely for another choice, a different path.  A peaceful life without He Who Must Not Be Named, even if that meant I would never have felt Snape’s arms around me, his cool lips on my neck, his eyes speaking to me alone – even if they only spoke of pain and hunger.

 

‘Margaret.’

 

I jumped at the low voice in my ear and stumbled back against his chest.  His hand came up to my arm to steady me and I wondered vaguely how he had materialised so silently behind me.  My name sounded odd on his lips and I realised he had never used it before.  I turned to face him, heart thudding in my chest.

 

He wore a great black travelling cloak over his robes and his face looked menacing in the dim light.  My previous concerns rushed through my mind as he towered over me, grim and silent, his grip tightening painfully.  The usual awareness of him coursing through my blood was joined by a sudden jolt of fear.

 

A sound behind us made me glance back into the ward.  Madam Pomfrey had come out of her office to check on her patients.  She looked at us with faint surprise.  I could speak to her, I thought, think of an excuse to escape into her office, but I did nothing.  Snape nodded at her politely, slid his hand down to my wrist and lead me unresistingly away.

 

He pulled me through the empty passageways at his usual swift stride.  I had to half-run behind him to keep up and prevent him yanking my arm off, his fingers an iron manacle around my wrist.  At the entrance to the dungeon levels panic kicked usefully into my numb brain and I hung back.  He dragged me on a few more paces before realising my resistance.

 

He turned impatiently, ‘What is the matter?’  I saw him peer at me.  My fear was clear on my face and his impatience turned to surprise, then an expression of crushing defeat.  When he spoke again his voice was dull, ‘So. You finally realised what I am.’ 

 

My stomach turned over.  I gaped stupidly at him unsure of what he meant.  Did his words confirm my suspicious?  Had he betrayed us?  Yet he looked as if I had kicked him. 

 

He smiled humourlessly at my lack of reply.

 

Dropping my hand as if it scalded him, he began to roll up his sleeve.  I stared at him in confusion and he took me by the shoulder, pulling me over to the circle of torchlight at the Library door.  I looked down. On the pale skin of his forearm dark lines moved and flickered.  ‘Look!’ he demanded roughly, almost shaking me, ‘My Master is summoning me.  I wear his mark. I belong to him.  How could you let me touch you?’

 

His eyes burned with fevered pain.  It came to me with a surge of shame that it did not matter to me anyway to which master he belonged.  The urge to comfort him, to hold him, was too strong within me to care.  Without hesitation I closed the narrow gap between us, running my hands up to his shoulders.  I leant into him, wrapping my arms around his tense frame - determined to show him just how little he disgusted me.  Standing on tiptoes I pressed a kiss to the hollow of his throat, unable to reach higher. 

 

His pulse hammered wildly there, belying the rigid control of his body, and he made a small sound as my lips caressed the warm skin over the telling beat.  He bent his head and let me run my fingertips slowly over one pale cheekbone as his eyes bored intensely into mine.  Then he caught my hand, staring at the bruises already showing on my wrist.  Lifting the marks to his mouth he did not kiss as much as swear softly against my skin, but my eyes fluttered closed at the cool delicious touch.

 

I heard him curse louder and he pulled me with him through the Library door.  In a shadowy corner of the Restricted Section he stopped and pulled me towards him. Tangling one hand in my hair he pulled back my head to roughly capture my mouth.  As he stamped his kiss upon me I tasted blood, sweet and coppery, but didn’t draw back.  He folded me more securely into his arms but I flinched as something brushed my skin with a freezing touch – the Dark Mark on his forearm.

 

He lifted his head at my shudder.  There was shame in his eyes, shame and guilt and self-loathing.  I was afraid he would push me away, but instead he gripped me tighter for a moment, ‘Margaret,’ he growled against my hair, ‘I must go.’

 

He drew back, but in the darkness and musty quiet of the books the distance that always existed between us, that he retreated to after all our meetings, did not seem so great.  My hands rested easily on his forearms as his rested on my waist.  ‘Will you return?’ I asked quietly to his chest, unwilling to look up.

 

‘I do not know.’

 

I nodded.  There was nothing else to be said. 

 

The ghost of a kiss brushed across my forehead and he was gone, his strong tread echoing across the empty room, silenced by the quiet closing of the Library door.

 

I sank to the floor, wrapping my arms around my waist to hoard the warmth he had left in me against the cold night.

 

________________________________

 

Finding

(Bad things happen, good things happen, gratuitous use is made of Dumbledore’s twinkly eyes.)

 

It grips you, so hold me
It stains you, so hold me
It hates you, so hold me
It holds you, so hold me
Until it sleeps ...

 

I stood in Greenhouse Two the next evening, gazing absently at the plant I was handling and in very great danger of having my fingers snapped off by it.  Outside the snow had ceased falling and a full moon shone on the white expanses of the castle grounds.  Dinner would soon be over, but I hadn’t wanted to sit in the bright hall surrounded by rowdy children.  I could not blame them for their cheer, when it was to guard that safety and happiness that the few fought in secrecy and danger. In the land of happily ever after live those who aren’t.  I sighed, wondering where that grim thought had come from, and gathered up my basket to return to the castle.

 

I drew up the hood of my cloak against the chill night air and trudged through the thick snow up to a small door.  The staff entrance lead into the dungeon passages and saved a long, wet journey around the outer walls.  Letting myself in with a word of unlocking I noticed another set of footprints in the crisp snow, large and quite recent.  I knew that Severus often used this entrance in his comings and goings, but damped down the sudden jump in my heartbeat, refusing to read too much into a few marks in the snow.  It could be any member of staff using the convenient shortcut.

 

I stamped my feet, dusting the flagstones with white crystals, and headed along the passageway.  As I turned the corner I caught a familiar flick of black robes ahead and this time the pounding in my chest could not be denied. He had come back to us! He was safe!

 

I hurried up the steps after him and found the Entrance Hall crowded with students coming out of dinner.  Weaving my way through the throng I caught up with the tall dark figure just as he met Dumbledore, who was good-humouredly shooing the last Hufflepuffs out of the great doorway.

 

‘Headmaster,’ he said, his voice sounding harsh and rather urgent, ‘I must speak with you privately.’

 

Dumbledore’s expression became grave and he nodded.  He was about to move away when he spotted me hovering anxiously in the background, ‘Ah, Margaret.  Severus, why don’t you accompany Miss Hyssop to the, er, Hospital Wing and I will see you later in my study.’  I suspected him of twinkling his eyes at us rather meaningfully and wondered whether Madam Pomfrey had said anything to him.  Although he was embarrassingly good at knowing everything that went on in the school, however well-guarded pupils or teachers thought their secrets were.  I smiled gratefully at him as Snape turned towards me and he left us together.

 

The first thing I noticed was that he looked extremely irritated.  He looked down his nose at me for a moment.  ‘The Hospital Wing,’ he said rather coldly, as if reminding me of my task.

 

‘Yes,’ I said, rather confused at his manner, ‘let’s walk through the courtyard.’  It would give us some privacy to talk on the way.

 

‘Very well.’

 

He walked beside me in silence as students trailed off to their common rooms around us.  When we reached the cloister door he held it open for me and we stepped out into the sweet cold air.

 

I glanced sideways at his face, painted silver and black in the moonlight.  Why did he suddenly seem a stranger to me once more?  I pressed my lips together in irritation – why had I expected anything different? 

 

A rustle and a sharp squeal broke the strained silence and I started with fright, clutching at his sleeve, then laughed at my foolishness.  It was just a hunting owl catching its unlucky dinner.  He had glanced sharply round as I touched him, and I looked up at him, embarrassed, ‘I’m sorry.’  I searched his blank expression.  Was it just my imagination or was something wrong . . more wrong than the usual, that was.  ‘Severus . .’ I began, wondering what to say, then my voice caught in my throat.  Something was missing from his eyes as he looked at me.  The tiny burning light that was always there whether he was mocking me, or yelling at me, or, well, . . kissing me.

 

This was not my imagination.  This was not Snape.

 

The realisation came so quickly I could not mask the discovery.  Whoever this man was, he read it in my face and black anger rushed across his borrowed features.

 

‘Damn you, you stupid little chit!  You should have left me with Dumbledore.  Now I’ll have to leave my task undone.’  A hand curled round my neck and slammed down on my mouth before I could cry out, while the other waved a dark sign in the air.  A broom descended in a rush of cold air.  He pulled me onto it in front of him and kicked off.  A heartbeat later we were high above the silvered roofs. 

 

As soon as we were out of shouting distance he uncovered my mouth and his hand searched obscenely through my robes for my wand, ‘I’m going to make you very sorry.’  His voice was silky in my ear and Snape’s no longer.  I turned my head and saw the black hair turn to silver, the dark familiar eyes and brows pale, and I was looking into a cruel face I had only ever seen from a distance. 

 

Lucius Malfoy smiled as he let my wand fall from his hand and it tumbled away to the icy lake far far below. 

 

_______________

 

I stumbled as we Apparated in a rush and hard boards met my feet, but Lucius held me upright, his fingers biting cruelly into my upper arm.  We seemed to be in a great hall lit by flaming torches along the walls.  In the centre, black evil-smelling smoke rose from a huge verdigris incense burner that stood on legs like tortured snakes.  I blinked as the acrid smoke clouded my vision.

 

A voice spoke from the shadows, ‘Welcome.’ 

 

I shivered.  The voice sounded like dry bones scraping against stone.  My eyes adjusting to the dim light, I could make out a semi-circle of dark-robed figures flanking a throne around which the shadows seemed to gather more thickly. 

 

I knew who this was, of course, though until now he had been nothing more to me than a whispered threat, an echoing memory, an icy touch in the minds I had walked.  But the dread of this hidden figure was nothing to the surge of fear I felt when I saw the figure who stood bound before him. 

 

His robes and shirt hung open.  My eyes widened at the marks across his bare chest, burn-blackened and edged with dried blood, their regular pattern viciously deliberate.  As Lucius brought me to his side I could see his face in the gloom, he looked paler than usual and across one cheek was another ugly burn.  Yet despite the fiery green threads that held his wrists behind him he stood tall and proud, his hair was drawn back like Lucius’ with a black ribbon, his expression a Death Eater mask of cold disdain.  Snape didn’t spare me a glance.

 

Voldemort’s dry voice spoke from the shadows once more, ‘So, Lucius, you have failed to kill Dumbledore.  Yet you doubted my trusted spy’s loyalty for the very same failure.’  His words made me realise, with a small sting of relief amongst the over-setting fear, that I had interrupted Lucius not in an attempt to learn of the headmaster’s intentions, but in an attempt on his life.  I would thank the Fates later for Dumbledore’s romantic fancies if they also deigned to get me out of this mess.

 

Lucius bowed low, ‘Snape has had many opportunities, my Master,’ he said, at once accusing and obsequious, ‘yet he has still not proved his loyalty with this one small task. However . . I have brought back this . . girl . . from Hogwarts.  Perhaps she will be useful in testing him.’

 

He thrust me forward as he spoke. 

 

‘Indeed.  Such . . entertainments bore me, Lucius.  And Snape, as you know, has already passed my tests of loyalty,’ the voice rasped coldly and my eyes were drawn again to Snape’s wounds.

 

‘Yes, Master. But I believe she may be his.’  He took my chin between thumb and finger and searched my frightened eyes. 

 

I thought of the small acts with which I had betrayed myself – the touch on his arm, the emotion in my voice.  And now they would use me against him. ‘I am nothing to him,’ I said, my voice almost steady.   

 

‘Oh really?’  Lucius drew his wand and waved it at Snape’s bonds which fell away.  Then he pushed me towards him.

 

‘Kill her.’

 

Snape’s shuttered eyelids flickered, ‘Master?’ he said, directing the question to the dark throne, ‘She has mind walking skills.  She could be useful if put under the Imperius Curse.’ 

 

His voice held no more interest than mild query, but Lucius’ lip curled in vicious triumph, ‘You see, My Lord, he wishes to save her.’

 

Snape drew his wand, icy anger on his face as he looked over my head at Lucius.  My head was spinning a little with the dark fumes and I wondered wildly if I should get out of the way before they started duelling.

 

‘Enough!’ the voice croaked with authority, ‘Let this be done with and Snape will be ours without doubt. . . Imperio!  Snape’s head snapped round to look at the throne.  ‘Now, kill the girl.’

 

Snape took my elbow and drew me to him.  I looked down.  His wand was held to my heart.  I wondered if I would see the green light of the darkest curse before I died.  Perhaps he held me close so I wouldn’t feel it.  I knew that even if he was not being controlled by the curse he would have to do this.  It would be death to both of us if he did not.  I hoped he could forgive himself when it was done.  Yet who would be there to comfort him if he ever went back to Dumbledore?

 

I thought all this and also only of the warm weight of his hand on my arm.  His lips opened to form the words.  I looked up into his eyes and the world went black.

 

_____________

 

Healing
(In which monsters lurk)
 
I'll tear me open, make you gone
No longer will you hurt anyone
And the fear still shapes me

So hold me, until it sleeps . .

 

A cold and painful lifetime later the darkness rolled back.  I slowly opened my eyes and closed them again quickly when the bright gleam from too many candles jolted my aching head.  I could hear a muttered but obviously animated exchange occurring somewhere near my feet. I opened my eyes wide enough to establish that I was alive and I was in the Hospital Wing.

 

‘Miss Hyssop,’ said Dumbledore, for it was he who had been arguing with Professor McGonagall at the foot of my bed, ‘I am very glad to see that you are awake.’

 

I sat up slowly, my mouth dry as dust.  My mind whirled stupidly, then cold dread settled in my stomach.  If I was back at Hogwarts apparently safe and sound, then Severus . . ?  I could not think the question, could not ask it.  Let me live in ignorance, I pleaded silently, however terrified and sick it may be making me feel it is better than knowing that he is gone forever.

 

McGonagall must have seen some of my distress for she moved to my side, ‘Margaret, you are quite safe now. Do not worry.’

 

I looked up and the warm concern in her eyes made tears I had held back for so long cloud my vision.  I had to know. ‘S-Severus?’ I asked, unable to say more.

 

‘Oh, my dear, he’s . . .’ her eyes slid away from my face, ‘You must have Apparated in the Forest, you were both quite frozen.  He carried you up to the castle, but . .’ she trailed off and I saw she was looking at a dark heap on the next bed. 

 

He lay sprawled across it, pale and unmoving, the livid burn dark on his cheek, his chest now wrapped in bandages.  I crossed the space on unsteady legs and sank to my knees beside him.  ‘Severus . . Oh, please no.’ His hand was cold as ice as I caught it between my own.  I stared down at his beautiful familiar face, unconsciousness relaxing its lines of pain.  I wanted to touch his cheek, summon back warm life into that pale stillness. 

 

‘He won’t wake?’ I asked, knowing that they must have already tried.  Madam Pomfrey shook her head, her face troubled.  I knew what I must do. I took a deep breath and dropped my forehead against his cold hand.  Through the vague rushing blur I heard Dumbledore bark, ‘No, Margaret!’

 

. . . I opened my eyes to darkness.  There were rough-hewn stones under my hand, slimy with moisture.  I concentrated hard, willing a little light to show my surroundings – no spell would work in here.  A dim glow grew around me and I saw I was in a cold, airless passageway which stretched, straight and doorless.  Well, I would follow it.

 

Time pulled out as I walked, the air steadily growing colder, hurting my throat and lungs more with each breath.  The walls seemed to press closer.  Clearly I was not welcome here.  My feet hesitated.  Perhaps it was not right to invade his mind like this when he was not aware of my presence.  Yet how could I leave and return to the physical world where he lay motionless on that bed, his body living, but his spirit lost?

 

As I paused I heard a sound, low and half-formed, barely even an echo, but in an instant I was hurrying towards it, further along the featureless passage.  At last I came to a low archway where steps twisted down into a deeper darkness.  The low grunting sound came again, rising like a broken sob from the depths.  My feet flew down the steps and I stumbled, scraping my leg on the rough stone.  Dizzy, I reached the bottom tread and my hands fell against an iron door, pulling away with a gasp, my fingers ice-burnt by the frost-blossomed metal.  Something lurched in my stomach as the brief contact sent the door swinging open.  Doors as thick as that one were usually put there for a reason.  Again I hesitated.   Then through the widening gap I saw a ragged figure crouched in a corner, its dark head bowed in pain. 

 

I stepped forward without thinking.  I would have run straight to him, but the moment I stepped through the doorway I was gasping with cold and my eyes blurred with stinging tears.  I felt as if my very bones were locked in ice.  It washed over me and through me, sapping all my hope and purpose.  The fear that had carried me to this place, fear for Severus, fear of what the Dark Lord might have done to his mind, sank away - replaced by a more selfish emotion: terror for myself.  I looked around the room I had so unthinkingly entered.  It was a tiny box, a stone cell where dull chains hung from iron rings.  They rattled as the figure in the corner looked up at me and growled.  Behind matted, dirty hair its eyes gleamed with a feral light.  I knew I must turn and run, but the room’s cold despair gripped me and I watched frozen as the thing launched itself at me, howling.  I fell back underneath it, my shoulders pinned to the hard floor, and staring up at its face I saw Snape’s face, ugly and deformed with hate and rage.  The twisted lips opened and he shouted through the growing noise in my head, ‘I killed you. I killed you. Now leave me alone!’

 

His fingers felt like claws on my neck. ‘No, Severus, please, no . .’ I gasped, but I could barely hear myself.  Then there was only whirling, roiling blackness.  I could see nothing, understand nothing.  There was only this storm that filled the world, filled my eyes and ears and mouth with fear and grief.  The Snape/beast thing dissolved into the darkness.  I opened my mouth to shout, but the storm threw the words back down my throat and they only called through my mind, ‘Where are you? Where are you?’ . . .

 

I felt a sickening jolt and was back in myself.

 

A voice spoke huskily near my head, ‘Where- ?’

 

‘You are in the Hospital Wing, Professor Snape,’ Madam Pomfrey’s voice was warm with relief. 

 

‘You managed to return both yourself and Miss Hyssop safely to Hogwarts,’ Dumbledore continued. 

 

Snape stirred and looked down, finding himself impeded by a small witch who clung uninvited to his side.  His brows drew together and he shrank away from me, hastily disentangling his hand from my grasp.  I wondered whether he remembered my intrusion into his unconscious mind. 

 

Snape struggled to sit up and Dumbledore moved to touch him soothingly on the shoulder, ‘There, there, Severus.  You’ve had a busy time.  Get some rest now. You deserve it.’

 

Snape sank back, closing his eyes.  ‘Deserve it!’ he repeated quietly, as if mocking himself.

 

With his eyes still closed he spoke again, his tone neutral, ‘Miss Hyssop is well?’

 

His question seemed to ignore the fact that I was mere inches away, still kneeling by his side, but the others looked at me to answer.  ‘Quite well, Severus,’ I managed in a soft voice that barely belonged to me.

 

He half-opened his eyes at that and said, ‘Margaret,’ making my name a growl in his throat, but then turned his head away as if willing me to disappear.  If I had any strength in my legs I might have, but my whole body felt numb.  I couldn’t understand his reaction to me.  At least the anger I had seen in his mind made sense – it was well-deserved for my stupidity in allowing Lucius to take me so easily, to try and use me against him.  My foolishness that had meant he had to . . that he .  . What had he done?  I remembered the words.  I had heard him speak them in that dark thick air, felt their breath warm against my cheek . . Avada . .

 

He must have turned his head back towards me while I stared blankly, the moment replaying in my head.  I said without meaning to, ‘I remember . .’ 

 

He grimaced, his eyes meeting mine in a dead smile of understanding, ‘Yes,’ he said.  Then he looked away, denying me once more.  He spoke to the others, ‘You see, Headmaster, I did not try to save her.  I tried to kill her.’

 

Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall looked shocked, but Dumbledore replied quietly, ‘Yet she is still here, Severus.’

 

‘It’s all right.  I know you had to do it,’ I said, willing him to listen, wanting to make the others understand.

 

‘It wasn’t the Imperius Curse, Margaret.  I can fight that.’

 

‘I know that, Severus.  You had to do it to show them you were loyal . . for the sake of the Order . . for everyone.  I know.  I shouldn’t have been there.  I’m just a silly little witch who got caught in the wrong place and time.’  It seemed that this truth could apply to my situation in more ways than one.

 

‘Severus,’ Dumbledore said gravely, ‘Am I to understand that Voldemort now knows that your true loyalty is to the Order?’

 

 ‘No.  I did exactly what he wanted.’  As he answered the headmaster grimly, his eyes strayed back to me.  He looked unsure of what he saw.  ‘Lucius.  When he took you. . . He didn’t . . hurt you, did he?’

 

It seemed a crazy question considering what he himself had done, but I knew what he meant. ‘No.’

 

‘Thank God,’ he said.  My heart swelled at the sudden vicious relief in his voice and its possessive tone, but his next words were bleak, ‘But I said those words.  I can’t unsay them.’

 

‘I do not quite understand, Severus,’ Dumbledore interrupted our private trade of misery, ‘What spell did you cast?’

 

The spell.  The curse.  I tried to think of some other way.  There was nothing.  So I said it.  I said it,’ he repeated and I suddenly realised he spoke in grief.  His eyes slid from me in fear as if I were a ghost, as if despite my survival his guilt made me dead to him. 

 

But I was not dead.  I was alive and here and angry.  Angry at the waste of all our energy in fighting the ever-encroaching darkness, the time we must spend merely surviving and not living, and angry, finally, at the waste of emotion I had spent on this stubborn man.

 

Dumbledore caught my impatient gesture as I opened my mouth to say - I never knew what.

 

‘Severus, you say you uttered the most unforgivable of curses?  You directed it at Miss Hyssop?’ he queried rather urgently.

 

‘I could hardly have missed.’  His eyes flicked to me as I involuntarily touched the spot on my breast where his wand had pressed.  We both looked away quickly.

 

‘Then I know of only one reason for the failure of the curse,’ Dumbledore said slowly, watching our two pale faces turn towards him to avoid looking at each other.   Despite his serious expression his eyes twinkled with some private joke. ‘By the laws of nature you cannot wish the destruction of one you love.’

 

There was a breathless silence. 

 

Snape half sat up, frowning.  When his mouth opened I knew his lips were forming a denial.  I would not wait to hear it.  I was too confused, felt too exposed to Dumbledore’s knowing eyes and the interested gazes of Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey.  Snape didn’t love me, he didn’t love anybody.  His heart was a dark cell where a monster sat in chains.  I hated him for making me feel this way, for having the power to hurt me so much.

 

Hate brought me to my feet at last, but before I could turn from the bed a hand shot out and gripped my wrist.

 

‘Don’t!’

 

‘Let me go,’ I ordered brokenly.

 

‘I can’t,’ he didn’t sound very happy about it.

 

Our eyes met then.  His dark gaze burnt into me.

 

‘Margaret.’ I turned my face away, only wanting to escape, but he drew me to him, an arm around my waist, until his bandaged chest was pressed against my resisting back.

 

‘I thought you’d gone . .‘ he said quietly into my shoulder.  The pain in his voice made me instinctively turn to him.  My hand reached for his cheek of its own accord, then stopped, remembering that I hated him.

 

‘I thought you’d gone too.  I mean, I thought maybe you were hiding your true loyalty to Voldemort.’ I said it without apology, barely stumbling over the last word as I concentrated on the bitterness that made me feel hard and strong inside.

 

‘But you still – kissed me.’  His voice was strained.  ‘I held on to that.  When Voldemort - tried to take my mind - tried to break me - I held on to that.  I buried it deep.’

 

I realised he was talking about that locked and secret part of his mind and my body tensed in panic.  Suddenly I didn’t want to hear whatever he was telling me in that dry, bitter voice that mocked his words even as he spoke them.

 

‘I found something to hold on to there.  A light.  I could take it into the darkest places, into Voldemort’s very presence and it wouldn’t go out.  As long as I kept it secret.  And while I held it there wasn’t only . . the darkness.’ 

 

He looked up, straight into my wide eyes and I believe I stopped breathing.

 

‘I tried to drive you away, Margaret.’  I shook my head.  ‘I did!  I took your help and then I pushed you away again.  I didn’t understand that it was you.’  I must have gazed back at him blankly, for he repeated, ‘The light . . was you.’

 

I stared at him for a long moment, unable to speak.  Then the luminous glow that had lit his eyes as he spoke began to fade and he drew back, his hair closing over his face like a curtain hiding the sun.  He gave a short, bitter laugh, ‘It’s too late, isn’t it?’

 

It was ironic. Once, I had fought against a powerful spell to keep my feelings for him hidden, yet now, when he looked at me with hope in his eyes I was gripped in fear and silence.  Perhaps it was too late.  The ghost of his bitter voice whispered in my ears, ‘Don’t be stupid, girl . . It’s dangerous to know me.  Don’t you understand? . . I don’t want to be saved.  I can’t be saved’.  Perhaps at last I did understand - some things can never be healed.  I thought of the thing that had attacked me and said, ‘I found that room in your mind.  It was cold there – so cold.  And you were there . . at least, it looked like you . . you tried to hurt me.’

 

He put a finger under my chin, tipping my head back so we had to look at each other. ‘Margaret, I thought you were dead.  I picked up your body and I brought it back here.  I couldn’t leave you for them.  I couldn’t . .’ he stopped, swallowed, then continued slowly, quietly, looking into my wide eyes and making me accept each word he said: ‘I don’t know what you saw in my head.  I don’t remember where I was.  Everything had gone.  Everything.  Did you bring me back?’  There it was again – the hope in his eyes that was killing me.  I didn’t answer, but he continued anyway, ‘I’ll have to go back.  Voldemort still trusts me.  I’ll have to continue my work for the Order.  Will you help me?’

 

I turned my head aside.  ‘Margaret?’ he sounded uncertain again.  ‘Please.  I need your help.  I need . . you.’  The last word was a low, hopeless murmur.

 

I was afraid of him, for him, I didn’t know anymore.  I willed myself not to look at him again.  If I didn’t then maybe I could go - go and never come back. 

 

But when I looked up it was to meet his dark, despair-filled eyes, and I was sucked into those dangerous, treacherous pools, lost, drowned – just as I had foreseen a long time ago.

 

I took his face between my hands and kissed him.  He was still and tense under my lips for a moment, then, with a long sigh, he drew me against him and buried his face in the sheltering curve of my neck.  As I held him I felt myself sinking, sinking, into warm, embracing depths where a sweet peaceful darkness held us safe . . alone . . together.

 

A long while later I heard a noise behind us and suddenly remembered where we were.  ‘The headmaster!’

 

Snape looked over my shoulder, not letting me draw away, ‘They went away a long time ago. I think Dumbledore knew.’

 

‘Knew what?’

 

‘This -’ his mouth captured mine in a kiss that spoke of things to come, then we lay back, my head tucked against his chest.  Outside the windows the winter storm still raged, but in our small circle of candlelight for a moment there was peace.

 

 

And the fear still shapes me

So hold me, until it sleeps . .

 

 

The End.

 

 

 

(Note to the reader on Margaret’s name:  Agrimony and Hyssop are herbs – the first is used to aid psychic healing and aura cleansing, the second in spells of protection, particularly of the home.  Margaret means ‘pearl’, thus a light in the darkness. )

//
Write a review! PLEASE NOTE: The purpose of reviewing a story or piece of art at the Sugar Quill is to provide comments that will be useful to the author/artist. We encourage you to put a bit of thought into your review before posting. Please be thoughtful and considerate, even if you have legitimate criticism of a story or artwork. (You may click here to read other reviews of this work).
* = Required fields
*Sugar Quill Forums username:
*Sugar Quill Forums password:
If you do not have a Sugar Quill Forums username, please register. Bear in mind that it may take up to 72 hours for your account to be approved. Thank you for your patience!
*Comment:
The Sugar Quill was created by Zsenya and Arabella. For questions, please send us an Owl!

-- Powered by SQ3 : Coded by David : Design by James --