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The Dementors were showing him the worst moment of his life, but it was now. Reality was oddly concentrated. Every sound had an echo, because it was being played inside his head a few seconds before it arrived through his ears.

Lily was lying on the ice, her dark red hair spread out around her head like a puddle of blood. Her breathing was faltering. Not many people lived through Dementor attacks; the shock was too much for them. Body and soul couldn’t be parted without a lot of metaphysical jarring and tearing. Most people never even regained consciousness - or whatever passed for consciousness, when you had no soul.   

Severus was aware of the Dementors behind him, shifting awkwardly – perhaps exchanging glances, as though unsure what to do next. But that was impossible. Dementors couldn’t feel awkwardness; they didn’t have eyes to glance, and they always knew what to do next. Feed.

And yet they were keeping their distance from him. Maybe it was because of the spreading numbness. All his feelings were dulled, although his senses were sharpened. He knew where all the threats were. He could hear the ice cracking, from the heat of the battle in the Archives above – smell the acrid smoke left by the Foe Fire. He could feel his heart thudding, feel the blood hurtling sluggishly through his veins – but even that had been slowed down. Even that was pausing awkwardly like the Dementors, shuffling through his blood-vessels in acute embarrassment – as though it was unsuited to the solemnity of the occasion.

Lily was going to die tonight, just as Caladrius had said. It didn’t matter who she wanted. It didn’t matter that James Potter had mountains of Galleons and his own fan-club of squealing girls. It had never mattered.  

He could feel everything and nothing. There was no anger, or fear, or even cold. Snape’s constant frustration with the world had disappeared, leaving him blinking and bewildered in its sudden absence. He felt as though he’d been pushing a rock up a mountain with every ounce of his strength – gritting his teeth, tearing his sinews – and then it had suddenly vanished. He was trapped in the serene moment before he fell forward onto his face. He’d been trying so hard, so hard, and now it was pointless.

Maybe the Dementors weren’t sure whether they could feed on him in this state. Maybe there was nothing to feed on. It stood to reason that Occlumency could block Dementor attacks. If you could conceal your memories from a powerful Dark Wizard, then you could certainly hide them from a magical creature – even if these creatures were messengers from God, ‘dark-robed angels’ as Idris Mulligan had so colourfully put it. Severus doubted they were that, anyway. He had seen angels in books, and they didn’t tend to favour the rotting, eyeless look.    

He couldn’t control his Occlumency state anymore. Those bars of striped light on his bedroom ceiling – the ones that he used to hypnotize himself into indifference – were permanently before his eyes. The world had tiger stripes – and appropriately, too, because he was starting to feel like a stalking predator. Even here, in this moment of oblivion, he realized how terrifying he would be, without feelings, without anger or tenderness holding him back. He realized he could make people pay for this. If he had to see Lily lying on the ice, with splayed hair and faltering breathing, every time he closed his eyes, then he was going to make sure nobody else in the world ever forgot it, either.   

There were steps on the icy staircase leading down from the Archives. Severus, peering through a haze of grief, didn’t recognize the shoes. He supposed only the winner of the battle in the Archives could have made it this far, and he knew instinctively that it was not Dumbledore.

Dimly, he felt the pressure of a hand on his shoulder, and recognized the long, spidery-white fingers of the Dark Lord.

“She was lucky,” Voldemort said. “If I had got hold of her, her death would have been much more painful.”

Severus said nothing. He could feel his usual reactions working, but from a long way away. He was aware of the prickles of anger and fear that Voldemort’s last comment had sent shivering through him, but dimly, as though through a fog. Everything was too far away. Even Voldemort couldn’t hurt him now. The only person who could have bridged the distance between Snape’s free-floating mind and his shivering body was lying lifeless on the ice in front of him.   

“Narcissa has told me that you were here to protect me from Idris Mulligan – and that you took the girl, thinking she might be a useful hostage,” the Dark Lord went on. “An admirable self-sacrifice, Severus, but your foolishness must still be punished. However flattering your devotion may be, your lack of trust is distinctly unflattering.”

He raised his wand. Severus wasn’t looking at him, but he see could the shadow that the Dark Lord cast on the wall of the ice-cave, and he watched with mild curiosity as the wand was brought down, and the word 'Crucio' rang through the cave.   

Snape felt as though he was underwater. There was a roaring in his ears, and his nerves were on fire with exquisite agony – it made shapes blossom out of the dark, on the inside of his eye-lids. But he couldn’t tell if this was connected to Voldemort’s Curse. The Cruciatus Curse was just a light to see the pain by.

But, with the light on, he realized how immense it was. A barren, Lily-less wasteland stretching as far as the eye could see, like some kind of black-and-white desert.

The shadow on the wall lifted its wand and the light clicked out, but now that Severus had seen the extent of the emptiness, he could feel it pressing in on him from all sides.

“Come and see me again,” the Dark Lord purred, “if you escape Dumbledore. I will have work for you to do.”

And then he slithered off. The Dementors drew back from him reverentially. Snape stopped watching after that, but in the state of heightened sensory awareness that had descended on him, he heard every one of those light, deft little footsteps as they retreated across the ice. Voldemort hardly seemed to weigh anything at all.  

He could feel his anger hovering overhead like a half-departed soul, and he tried to call it back, because he didn’t know what he was supposed to do without it. It was frightening. Everything had always seemed clear and certain when he was angry. This was right, and this was wrong. These people were bastards, and they were going to pay for it.

When it didn’t return, he tried to manufacture it – tried to clench his fists and grind his teeth – tried to think about Potter, or his father, or Dumbledore – but everything had come loose. All his feelings had unraveled.  

He passed a dry tongue over his parched lips and tried to move them – but what he was going to say, and what good it was going to do, he couldn’t imagine.

Unconsciousness had been beckoning to him all night; he’d managed to cling on through cold, confusion, Cruciatus Curses, cigarette-burns and punches, but now there was no point holding on. There was nothing to stay awake for.

The darkness was pressing down on his shoulders, driving his knees into the ice. But he had two words – and, even though they had lost all meaning, he liked their sound. They had a nice sound. Come back. Come back. It sounded like cracking ice.

And, in the dimness outside of sleep, he could almost swear they were an incantation. He was almost sure there was magic flowing down his arms, to the place where his wand should have been. But the wand wasn’t there. Something clammy and stirring was nestled in his palm instead.

Snape fell forward onto his elbows the better to examine it. He was dizzy that high up anyway. Much better to be next to the cooling, numbing ice, where the world couldn’t do so much spinning.      

What was it? It was pale as the ice, but stubbornly warm. Somebody’s hand. Severus was not used to holding people’s hands. He could only think that it was his mother’s – that he was back on those dreary muggle zebra crossings, being told to look left, look right, and look left again.

“But couldn’t you just stop the cars with an Impediment Jinx?” he’d objected.

“Don’t be clever, Severus.”   

But no, this hand was delicate – it wasn’t callused and scratched, like his mother’s – it wasn’t stained with nicotine or bleach. This one had long fingers and bitten-down nails. These hands belonged to someone artistic, but nervous. His eyes followed them down to the arms – clad in a tattered school shirt – and along the arms to the shoulder. The way the wet fabric clung to the skin made him pause for an instant, but he couldn’t recognize the feeling that was paralyzing him. It was familiar and yet somehow disturbing. It was like anger, certainly. It was like the feeling of wanting to hex or punch someone – he was sure he wanted to do something to the owner of this torso – he just didn’t know what it was.

Oh, well. He’d come back to that bit. Next there was a neck, and then a pair of bright eyes blooming out of the darkness, and an expression that nobody without a soul would be capable of.

“Oh Sev,” she whispered. “Are you OK? I’m sorry – I thought he’d go away if I pretended to be dead, but I didn’t realize he’d - ,” she faltered and scowled as she contemplated the end of that sentence.

Snape frowned, as though he’d spotted a problem in a Potions experiment, and was trying to work it out.

“But you were so brave,” the soulless girl went on, “and so clever. He was using Legilimency on you, you know – I could feel the magic – but you hid your thoughts even under the Cruciatus Curse.”

She was struggling to sit up, and Severus helped her, unthinkingly. Lily was still babbling but, in between the words, she pressed her lips against any part of his skin she could reach. She didn’t seem aware of what she was doing. It was as though she was using the kisses to help get her balance, or calm herself down.   

Snape’s eyebrows knotted together in puzzlement as her lips brushed against him. He made a sound that was half-way between a sigh and a snarl and staggered backwards, almost falling against the icy wall of the cavern.

He said something, when she stopped talking for long enough to let him, but he wasn’t sure what. Judging by the look on Lily’s face, it had contained a lot of swear-words.

She raised her eyebrows, evidently unimpressed. If she’d been strong enough to keep her balance on her own, she would have folded her arms, in that familiar pose of exasperation.

“Do you really think that’s what I want to hear at romantic moments?” she demanded.

Severus struggled to move his lips. “Is that what this is?” he managed.

She seemed to see his point. “No, I guess not.” To his intense relief, this realization didn’t stop her from kissing him. “Just try and tone down the swearing,” she went on. “If I manage to remember this moment, I don’t want to have to censor it.”

Severus let her kiss him, a bemused smile twisting his thin lips. He didn’t know how to deal with happiness. It was easier to snarl and curse, because that’s what he usually did in moments of extreme emotion. Still, he tried his best not to swear, if only to keep her from getting distracted again. In the brief interval when she’d stopped kissing him, his heightened senses had been screaming out in protest.  

This was as wonderful as the last five minutes had been excruciating. All his sharpened senses – all his raw and throbbing nerves – were suddenly deluged with the feel of her – the warmth, the pressure, and that electrifying ginger-bread smell. Waves of euphoria were crashing over him. He’d gone from the desert to the deep blue sea.     

“I think,” she went on, panting slightly, because talking seemed to be more important than breathing at this stage, “I think that it must have been Guillotine Valance’s memories that the Dementor sucked out. And when Caladrius said I’d die tonight, he was really foreseeing her death, but he didn’t know it, because I was the only one he could see.”

She blinked, smiling, evidently pleased with this interpretation, before her face fell. “Where is Professor Caladrius?”  

“Just sit still,” he muttered, becoming stern, brushing the sweat-soaked hair off her forehead with a movement that was half-tender and half-exasperated. “And be quiet. No questions. No sudden movements. No more rescue-missions or daring stunts. I want at least two weeks of complete silence and inactivity. Everything’s going to be nice and boring and safe. I want it to be just you and me in a darkened room for days.”  

“Can we have a TV in there?” she asked.

Severus just pressed his face against her neck. Gradually, she stopped shivering, and he stopped shaking. He could feel the warmth from his body flowing into her, and the extraordinary calm that she generated flowing into him. It was an exchange, an unspoken compromise. They were refueling each other, as though they’d been designed for this. Water and food and a few blankets would be nice, but he didn’t need any of that yet. Lily was an excellent portable survival kit.

He was torn. He wanted her to be still, but he didn’t want the kissing to stop. He wanted boredom – he wanted life to become like one of Professor Binns’ interminable lectures, with nothing to distract him but her face – and yet something was warning him against letting this time slip away. He felt weak with happiness, and yet energized with desire. God knew where the energy was coming from. Five minutes ago, he couldn’t have imagined even staying conscious for this long. But every cell in his body was telling him that now was not the time to be exhausted. This might never happen again. You cannot afford to be tired now.

More footsteps – these ones were quick, erratic, and punctuated by ragged breathing. Severus dimly recognized the mud-blonde hair and square jaw of Meg Valance tearing towards them, and then a voice shouted.

“Get away from her, you goblin!”

“Meg – don’t - ,”

But Lily was too weak to protest. She was being pulled away from Severus, swept up in Meg’s arms and hushed.

“We’re here now. Don’t be frightened. Don’t cry,” croaked Meg, who was not exactly practising what she preached. Her face was slippery with tears. “Padfoot and Prongs noticed you were missing from Slughorn’s party, and they went to Dumbledore.”

“Took their sweet time, didn’t they?” muttered Snape, whose jaw was clenched with anger at the sudden separation. He was skulking around the edge of the ice-cavern, trying to look casual.

“What the hell were you doing here, anyway?” Meg snapped. “We thought you were with the Death Eaters. Padfoot would have clobbered you with a Bat-Bogey Hex, if Dumbledore hadn’t stopped him.”

“’Padfoot’,” Snape sneered, “couldn’t catch me with a Bat Bogey Hex if I was tied to the end of his wand.”

“Well, stick around, Slyther-boy,” she screeched. “He’ll be here soon. And then we’ll see how good at dodging hexes you really are.”

“Why don’t we find out right now?” Snape shouted, pointing his wand at her.  

“Stop it, both of you!” Lily screamed. She had obviously been gathering her strength while they were arguing. That was the good thing about exasperation; it gave you the strength to go on, even while plainly demonstrating that it was pointless.

“Meg, Severus is on our side,” she hissed. “He saved my life, OK?” Her cheeks were pink with their accustomed frustration, and she had stuck out her jaw defiantly. He almost smiled. It was nice to know she could look like that while defending him. It wasn’t just an expression she used while defending her moronic Gryffindor friends.  

Meg’s guilt-ridden tenderness returned at double strength. “Just relax, Lily,” she murmured, obviously more willing to assume that Lily was out of her wits than that Severus was on their side. “We’ll get you home.” She shot him an accusing look, and added: “Padfoot and Prongs are just scraping the last of your buddies off the floor of the Archives. Maybe you’d like to go and see how they’re getting on?”

“Meg - ,” Lily began, but was immediately muffled, because Meg clutched her to her side protectively, making soothing noises.

Severus just glared. “I’m not leaving,” he said.   

Meg turned back to Lily – stroking her hair, and muttering darkly about ‘sneaky Slytherins’ and their ‘unfathomable schemes’.

Severus rummaged in his trouser pockets for the last of the cigarettes he’d been keeping there. It was bent, and there were tobacco fibres poking out of the end, but he lit it anyway, and took a few surly, resentful puffs, because he needed to concentrate on staying calm. He knew what would happen if he hexed Meg Valance. He wasn’t allowed to hex Meg Valance. For starters, Lily would try to get in the way, and she was too weak right now to referee a fight. For another thing, Potter was waiting up there in the Archives, ready to take advantage of anything Severus did to alienate Lily.

“I’m so sorry this happened, Lily,” Meg was muttering. “I’m so sorry you had to face this nightmare with only a Slytherin by your side.”

“Yes, I’d been wondering about that,” said Severus, with bitter brightness. “Why exactly did she have to face this nightmare with only a Slytherin by her side?”

Meg glared at him. “Dumbledore told us to wait. He said something about giving Caladrius a chance.”

“Meg, where is Caladrius?” Lily whispered.

“We don’t know. McGonagall is searching the prison for him.” Meg allowed herself a grim smile. “She wasn’t happy about being ordered away from the fight, I can tell you.”  

“If your ancestors had been less retarded, there might not have been a fight,” Snape muttered resentfully.

“What?”

Lily was glaring at him, shaking her head meaningfully, but this was too tempting a prospect for Severus to resist. “Your psychopathic great-aunt possessed her,” he replied icily, pointing at Lily. “Tried to make her kill Idris Mulligan. And tried to make a deal with the Dark Lord in the process.”

Meg gripped her wand again. “No ancestor of mine would ever make a deal with the Dark Lord!”

Snape just raised his eyebrows.

“Look, we’ll explain all this later,” Lily said soothingly. “Right now, I want to know what happened up there. Who did you fight? Is anyone hurt?”

Severus sulked around the edges of the room, visibly fuming, while Meg delivered her disjointed explanation of events. She broke off every now and then to throw him a suspicious look, but he pretended not to notice. His fists were already itching; all the weariness had evaporated. Hatred could refuel you better than tenderness. Tenderness was probably better for long-term recovery but, if it was just a quick burst of energy you needed, there was nothing like the sudden adrenaline rush of abject loathing.

Meg was describing all the daring stunts that Potter and his gang had performed to get here, and it was filling him with a nervous energy that the smoking cigarette did nothing to soothe. He stalked unhappily around the room, taking in the gigantic Pensieve, and the Fwooper cages with their magically-silenced occupants. Just the sound of Potter’s name ripped through his peace of mind like a set of claws. He felt his fingers curling into tight fists, and realized he was biting down on the cigarette.  

Partly to distract himself, and partly to avoid Meg’s suspicious glances, he stared down at the icy cavern floor. Ash was falling onto it from the end of his hastily-consumed cigarette, and it was making the ice shine a strange, pearly-green.

Or was the green deeper than that? He brushed away the ash absent-mindedly, smearing it into a thin, grey paste across the wet ice.  

It was as though he was looking down through a dirty, cracked window, straight into an open green eye. It could have passed for a patch of moss or lichen, if it hadn’t been so bright – but the electrifying green was unlike anything in nature. He caught himself glancing up at Lily, to check that she was still where he’d left her, being hushed and suffocated by Meg Valance. Both eyes seemed to be in place. That was always reassuring.

But where was this new one coming from? Was there some kind of elaborate system of reflections? Or was there somebody down there? He tried to brush away the filth. Even down here, everything was melting. The Foe Fire creatures seemed to have started a process that couldn’t be reversed. Or maybe it was because the Charms that kept this place frozen had been cast by Idris Mulligan and, now she was gone, all her magic was being unpicked.

Either way, it looked as though the creature in the ice was going to be exhumed eventually.

He gave Meg Valance a nasty smile and murmured. "Maybe we'd better get your 'fearless heroes' down here. After knocking out two eighty year-old Death Eaters like they did, this should be pretty easy for them."  
Continuing from 'Otherworldly' [link]
Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to the story. I really have no excuses to offer. I'm working four days a week now, but most people work five days a week and still manage to find time for their hobbies! I'm just extremely disorganized! Anyway, it was fun to write about Severus again, I've really missed him! :)
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:icon28dragons:
28dragons Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2013
What a clever girl - but she nearly killed Severus with that stunt XD;; it had to be done, though!
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:iconwearesevenstudios:
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner May 14, 2010  Professional Artisan Crafter
Wonderful! :love:

But our heroes can't seem to catch a break, poor kids. I'm eager to hear Dumbledore's response to all this.
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:icondronarron:
dronarron Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009
They were refueling each other, as though they’d been designed for this.

Oh yes, yes.

*clings to him*
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2009
Lol! I am so envious of Lily in this chapter! ;)
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Oh goodness, this was wonderful, and a wonderful momentary break from work today too. I can't wait for the next chapter. You always leave me hanging :eyepopping: :-)
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009
Yay! Thank you, I'm so glad you liked it! Sorry about leaving you hanging, I really need to get back into writing more regularly, so that I don't have these annoyingly long breaks between chapters. It was wonderful writing about Sev again, though - especially as he got to be fuming, sarcastic, broken-hearted and horny all in one chapter! Poor thing, he's been on such an emotional rollercoaster!
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I know, he's going to need a stiff drink and three days straight of sleep after all of this!
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:iconthysilverdoe:
thysilverdoe Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009  Professional Writer
Like always, lovely work. :)
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009
Thank you! :hug: :) I'm just getting back into the habit of writing, after quite a long break, so I'm really glad you liked it! I was afraid it wouldn't make much sense!
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