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Regulus crept through the dungeon corridors that led up to the Entrance Hall. He was horribly sober. In fact, he felt as though he'd just knocked back seven pints of Sobering Solution. All the alcohol in the world couldn't soften this chilling clarity. He felt as though he'd be sober for the rest of his life. And that wouldn't be hard, if Snape got hold of him tonight, because 'the rest of his life' would span for about five excruciating minutes.

And, as if that weren't enough, strange magic was bubbling under his skin, striking discordant notes amidst the fear. He had spent the evening sitting in his armchair in the common-room, rigid with terror, while new sensations flooded through him. Other people's voices were suddenly difficult to tune out. They filled him with a kind of reckless warmth. He couldn't read, or do his homework, or even concentrate on being frightened, while they were around him. It was as though his consciousness had sent out feelers in every direction, and they were sending back all this information which he hadn't asked for, but which was nevertheless winding its way into his soul.  

He found himself wanting to get involved, wanting to find out more about them. He said 'bless you' when Jen Morgan sneezed. He watched a first-year struggling conscientiously with her Transfiguration homework, and found himself dying to go over and help her out. He watched Margot Holloway casting wistful glances at a group of chattering girls, and felt her loneliness as though it was his own.

It was like he could suddenly read. All at once, he found himself able to interpret the behaviour of these strange creatures, and care what it meant.  

He'd had to get out of there. Severus would be sure to look for him in the common-room anyway. At first, he had thought the crowd might afford him some protection, but, thinking about it, Snape was probably angry enough to curse him in front of a whole army of witnesses now.  It didn't matter where he was.

He reached the Entrance Hall, where torches were burning low in their brackets in the walls. He had a sudden, gloomy premonition that he wouldn't reach the doors before Snape swept down on him like a vampire bat, but it wasn't Snape that stopped him in his tracks and drew him backwards. It was his awareness that, just on the edge of his vision, a torch had gone out.

No, it didn't go out; it just… disappeared. The fire wasn't extinguished; it was just overpowered. Because blackness was inching across the walls like paint dripping horizontally. It was sliding over everything, wrapping itself around the torch-brackets, coating the chandelier. A glimmering, glossy black that poured down the marble staircase and spread over the ceiling. The portraits' inhabitants ran out of the side of their frames when the blackness started to inch across their canvas.

Eventually, this darkness eclipsed the chandelier. It coated the torches one by one. The flames still remained, but they were black and motionless. But it wasn't real. The torches were still burning merrily for everyone else – even for the chalk-white apparition at the centre of the darkness.  

Regulus groaned. This was what he'd been hoping to avoid – being in his trance-state when Severus confronted him. Snape's magic was immense. It didn't have a character – or even a shape – of its own; it didn't burn itself into your retinas the way Voldemort's magic did. It blended in with the shadows and crept about silently, always while he appeared to be concentrating on something else. And, most of all, it searched. It paid attention. It sought out guilt and lies and weaknesses.

And tonight, he was obviously in a state of heightened sensitivity. Tonight, his magic was everywhere. And there wasn't a trace of that vibrant, rain-forest green.

Everything in the hallway – apart from Snape's face, and a constricting circle around Regulus's feet – was black now. It was all converging on him, lapping across the floor towards his shoes.  

Regulus wondered what would happen when the spreading darkness reached him. He could imagine it wrapping itself around his throat and throttling him, or plunging into his open mouth and pulling out his internal organs, holding them triumphantly in front of his eyes while the life trickled out of him.

But Snape wasn't aware of it. Snape didn't think he'd even started dishing out the punishment yet.

Regulus closed his eyes – the darkness on the inside of his eyelids was brighter than the one he'd just shut out – and fervently hoped that the fear would bring on a fatal heart-attack before Severus started speaking.

This confrontation was necessary, Narcissa had explained. One last push, she'd said. And then it's over. Severus becomes a vegetable, the mudblood stops impersonating her betters, and your little Catherine-Wheel girl is safe for another five or six years, until she comes to our world – by which time, the Dark Lord will have taken over, and wizard society will no longer have a place for scum like her. But, don't worry, Regulus – by that time, she'll be all grown-up, and she won't look so snub-nosed and cute anymore. You'll see her for the animal she is then.

Nobody had ever told her so, of course, but Narcissa wasn't very good at reassuring people. She probably started out with the right idea in mind, but she couldn't help elaborating.

"Hello, Regulus," said the pale-faced boy, from whom the darkness spread out like gigantic, over-arching wings, cramped even under the high ceiling of the Entrance Hall.

"Look, I told you, I don't know anything!" Regulus shouted.

"That much," said Snape, "is abundantly clear. Nasty, sneaky and poisonous as you are, Regulus, you're not the brains of any operation. I don't need you to talk. I don't even need you to scream – although, believe me, you will. I'm not interested in your reasons; only your punishment."

"I saved her life," Regulus repeated, without much hope.

"That doesn't work if you were the one who endangered her life in the first place, idiot."

"It does," he protested. "Saving her life wasn't part of the plan. I could have pretended I was even more useless with matches than I really was. I could have said I was going to get help, and then just gone back to the common-room to put my feet up. I could have left her to die on the floor of the Hospital Wing."

Severus leapt at him, slamming him up against the stone wall and punching him, hard, in the stomach.  

Pain had a different flavour too, with the mudblood's magic coursing through him. He had stubbed his toe earlier, and it was like being buried under an avalanche of pain. On the other hand, sinking into his deep, leather armchair, or taking a sip of elf-made wine (things that he'd always taken for granted) now filled him with so much bliss that it was difficult to refrain from moaning. How did the mudblood stand it? Feelings were so much more intense for her.

When he straightened up, there was a punch to the jaw which sent his head crashing against the wall. And, while bright spots of light burst in front of his eyes, Regulus thought he felt the texture of the air change.

You could always smell Narcissa before you could see her. That hemlock and vanilla perfume crept around corners, and announced her presence like a herald. For all her subtlety and decorum, she was as overpowering to the senses as her sister, albeit in a much more pleasant way.

She was so white and shiny against the black Entrance Hall that she looked like a Patronus. She was wearing a silk dressing-gown, with all that silvery hair spilling loose over it, and her feet were bare against the flagstones.

"Let him go now," she said, and she must have been jabbing a wand into Snape's back, because his grip on Regulus loosened slightly.

Regulus watched her eyes as she squinted at the back of Snape's head. Was she scared? She couldn't see the black hallway. She didn't know how far Snape's magic stretched. She didn't know that it was creeping up her porcelain-white shins as she spoke.

She couldn't have hoped to take him by surprise. He was listening with the whole room. His consciousness was spread out in every direction. But Regulus supposed she didn't know that. If she did, would she still be so steely and determined? Probably. She was Narcissa, after all. Her mind tended to gloss over inconvenient details like the power of her enemies.

Still pinning Regulus to the wall with one long-fingered hand, Snape reached back and grabbed her wand, just as she uttered the word "Stupefy". The spell missed him, and ricocheted around the hallway like a red comet, finally earthing itself in the black canvas of a painting, which fell off the wall because it couldn't swoon.

"Believe me, Narcissa," Snape growled, grabbing her arm and yanking her forward, so that she crashed into the wall beside Regulus, "I hadn't forgotten about you. I was building up to you, as befits the exalted dignity of a daughter of the House of Black." Somehow, Snape could be sarcastic and furious at the same time. In fact, the more furious he became, the more sarcastic he got.  

"She deserved it!" Narcissa shouted. And Regulus was impressed that the painful collision with the wall hadn't sapped her spirit. Apparently, bruises only made her angrier. "Filthy little mudblood, trying to be one of us, thinking she could steal from my ancestors - ,"

Snape cut across her. "You know, everyone says your family has idiot sons but remarkably astute daughters. Your generation has somewhat let the side down, so why don't you make up for it now by being smart enough to shut the fuck up?"

Narcissa fell silent. But, for just a fraction of a second, her eyes glanced upwards. It could easily have been mistaken for a gesture of exasperation, or the beginnings of a fainting fit, but Regulus knew his cousin: she was made of steel and she could keep her temper with Bellatrix. She wasn't going to faint or roll her eyes.

Slowly, his brain still fizzing with pain, he followed her gaze. It was difficult to see against the black hallway, but hovering just a few inches above Snape's head was a small, dark stone. And it was drawing silvery-white strands of memory up from Snape's head. They looked like static hairs clinging to a hairbrush.  

Regulus watched, entranced – convinced that he could see images reflected in those glimmering strands. He got a definite impression of bright-green eyes and blood-red hair. But then he was shutting his eyes tightly to keep out the painful white light, and dust was showering them, and Narcissa was gasping as though she'd just been doused in cold water.

"Out of bed in the middle of the night and fighting," said a mild, delighted voice. "I shall have to ask the three of you to re-enact this scene at an instructional assembly for the first-years. I've never seen so many rules broken in such a short space of time. I knew it already, of course, but it seems the Slytherins' reputation for ingenuity is thoroughly well-deserved."

Regulus groaned. He didn't want to open his eyes. Dumbledore's presence was a mixed blessing in a crisis. It meant you weren't going to die, but you invariably wished you were.

"Narcissa, you seem to have been inadvertently using Petrified Lethe to absorb Severus's memories," the old man went on. "While I'm sure it's a mistake anyone could have made, I am interested in hearing how you managed to smuggle the stone into the castle. I believe it appears on Mr. Filch's list of Banned Items no fewer than seven times. He has even underlined it."

When Regulus unwillingly opened his eyes, the stone above Snape's head was gone, but a familiar-looking black rubble was littering the flagstoned floor. Some of it was sprinkled thickly over Snape's shoulders and hair.

Dumbledore was standing half-way up the marble staircase, holding his wand nonchalantly in one hand. If it had been a gun, it would have been smoking.

The headmaster interpreted Narcissa's furious silence the right way. "Regrettably, circumstances did not permit me to confiscate the item. No doubt you will manage to lay your hands on another one."

Narcissa found her voice. "They cost hundreds of Galleons!" she shouted.

"That would be mere pocket-money to a Malfoy." Dumbledore gave her a twinkly-eyed smile and added. "Congratulations, by the way. I understand the wedding is back on?"

Narcissa just glared at him.

"Perhaps we should continue this discussion in my office?" he asked pleasantly. "I was just thinking of making some hot chocolate and, since nobody seems to be tired…"

There were detentions, and Severus hadn't expected to be excluded from them. Dumbledore was making a show of being fair. They had all been out of their beds, he said. They had all been trying to hurt each other – with the possible exception of Regulus, who had just been trying to stay conscious.

The fact that Severus could have ended up as a mindless vegetable didn't seem to worry Dumbledore.  Unlike Madam Pomfrey, he was secretly delighted by the lengths his students would go to to hurt each other. Severus supposed, when you were put in charge of a bunch of murderous animals, you could react in one of two ways. You could snap and sneer at them, or you could develop an academic interest in their viciousness. Dumbledore had always said that, even after you leave, Hogwarts keeps on teaching you. It was an idea that Severus had sneered at, until now.

He was tired, and the rage was still welling up from the pit of his stomach, blurring his vision, and filling his head with fantasies of revenge. But he couldn't do anything about it now. He drank his hot chocolate, even though his churning emotions made it taste like ash. And he let Dumbledore's whimsically-delivered lecture wash over him. You're all Slytherins. You should be pulling together. I will be speaking to Professor Slughorn in the morning about your attitude. Dear god, was he still expecting a reaction to these tired old phrases? Perhaps he was just saying them for the sake of something to say. Perhaps the detentions were just a decoy, and sleep deprivation was to be their real punishment.  

"Narcissa, since it is Mr. Filch's rules that you have broken, you will serve your detentions with him," said Dumbledore gravely. "I would like to believe you had no idea what you were doing. If you had ever seen the victim of a memory stone, I am convinced you would not wish its effects on anyone."

"How nice for you," Snape muttered.  

"Where did you get it?" Dumbledore went on, ignoring him.

"I inherited it," said Narcissa primly. "That's not against the law. It is a time-honoured tradition of the Black Family to experiment with advanced and dangerous magic."

"It is also," said one of the portraits to Dumbledore's left, "a time-honoured tradition of the Black Family to not get caught."

There was a pause, while everyone except Dumbledore – who seemed to have been expecting this – turned to look at the interrupter. The plaque under the portrait announced that he was Phineas Nigellus Black. Severus knew him from the numerous detentions he'd spent in here. He and Dumbledore had devised a good-cop, bad-cop system of interrogation. But it didn't work on Severus, because the idea of a 'good cop' was inconceivable to him. For Severus, it was 'bad cop' and 'worse cop', and he changed his mind frequently about which was which.

"You've been taking advice from other family portraits, haven't you, my dear?" Phineas Nigellus went on.

"I beg your pardon," said Narcissa coldly, "but did the Headmaster ask for your opinion?"

And that was the brilliance of it. Students found themselves begging for Dumbledore's judgements. Dumbledore got to play the good cop, even though he was the only one in the castle with any real power. He was good-cop, jailor, judge, jury and executioner, but people only saw the whimsical, twinkly-eyed old man. You carried out his orders under the assumption that you'd got off lightly.

And even Narcissa was falling for it!

"I think," said Dumbledore diplomatically, "that I would like to speak to each of you in turn." He glanced at Regulus, who – alone of the three – was white-faced and swaying. "Perhaps you should go to bed, Regulus," he added, in a gentler tone. "I will advise you of your detentions in the morning."

Regulus gave him a grateful nod and avoided everyone's eyes, including those of the portraits, as he trooped out.

"He's not well, Dumbledore," said another of the portraits, Dylis Derwent, (Headmistress 1741-1768). "All trace of the poison is gone, I'll grant you. If he still had Jincan in his system, he'd be a vivid green colour by now, but there's definitely something wrong. Looks like magical overdose to me."

"What will it do?"

"Well, it'll speed up his metabolism, for one thing. He'll get very thin, very hot, and very restless."

Narcissa snorted, but Dumbledore ignored her. "Anything else?" he prompted.

"Almost certainly, but I couldn't tell you what. Magical overdose is a bit like possession. He's absorbed magic that isn't his, and exactly what it will do to him depends upon the nature of the magic he's absorbed, or the emotional state he's in when he uses it. But you should definitely keep an eye on him."

Dumbledore nodded, and turned his eyes on Narcissa, who was looking at Dylis Derwent with open scorn.  

"Will you wait outside while I speak to Severus, Narcissa? We will not be long."

This was another tactical ploy, and Severus knew it. There was another portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black in the room outside the office, and he never missed the opportunity of scolding the students who were made to wait there.

Some ex-headmasters found it hard to take a back-seat, even after death. Most were glad of a chance to put their feet up and watch the drama unfold, but Phineas Nigellus could never refrain from volunteering information about how he would have done things.

Dumbledore solved this problem diplomatically, by installing a second portrait of Phineas in the room outside his office, where he could scold students at liberty while Dumbledore himself enjoyed a hot mug of cocoa.

It worked well, most of the time. With Phineas Nigellus in the lobby, nobody had the opportunity to come up with an alibi or listen at Dumbledore's door. Students were always shaken by the time they were admitted to Dumbledore's presence and his judgements, however insane, always seemed lenient when compared with Phineas's.

When the door closed behind Narcissa, Dumbledore motioned him into a seat, but Severus remained standing.

"They crippled Lily Evans, and all you can do is give them detention?" he asked, in a hollow voice.

"As to that, we have no proof," said Dumbledore. He held up a hand to stem Snape's protests, and continued. "I want to know everything before I act, Severus. There is too much here that I don't understand."

"What's hard to understand?" Snape demanded. "They're vicious idiots! They did it because she's muggle-born, and because someone who looked like her burnt all Narcissa's sodding dresses!"  

"Narcissa is blackmailing Regulus."  

"Oh, come on," said Snape. "This is Regulus we're talking about. She probably just threatened to hide his supply of Firewhisky, or get him thrown off the Quidditch team."

Dumbledore seemed puzzled for a moment. "Can she do that?"

"She's Narcissa Black," said Severus wearily. "Soon to be Narcissa Malfoy. In Slytherin House, she can do anything she wants."  

Dumbledore sighed. "I have been thinking about Lily's condition," he said, passing a weary hand across his forehead. "There is a piece of… highly experimental… magic we could try. But I shall need Madam Pomfrey. Kindly direct your inexhaustible energy towards curing her, rather than threatening my students."

Snape gave him a brittle smile. "I can do both."

"I daresay you can, but you will not," said Dumbledore firmly. "Quite apart from anything else, I want to keep injuries to a minimum until I can find a new matron for the Hospital Wing."

Severus felt a lurch of nausea in his empty stomach. "She's as replaceable as everyone else, isn't she?"

Dumbledore didn't even bother to sigh this time. He was angry. When he spoke, every syllable echoed with finality. "Send in Narcissa on your way out," he said.

When Snape got outside Dumbledore's office, he shut the door carefully before turning to Narcissa. She had turned her back to the portrait of Phineas Nigellus, and her arms were folded in an attitude of haughty expectation.  

She had gathered together all the scraps of defiance she had left, like a woman in rags frantically trying to protect her modesty. It had been very artfully arranged – it almost looked like she'd done it on purpose – but Severus knew better.

"Regulus is going to die, is he?" she asked coolly.

"Not as fast as you," said Snape.

Narcissa raised her eyebrows, in a last-ditch attempt at scorn. "Are you going to curse me, then, Severus?"

He gave her a politely puzzled frown. "I did that about three hours ago."  

Her complacent smile flickered, but she soon hitched it back in place. "I didn't see you."

"That's because I didn't need to be there. I didn't need eye-contact, touch, or even a sample of your hair or fingernails. I just needed to be nauseated by you, and you make that reassuringly easy."

"What did you do?"

"You'll find out."

Her voice turned flinty. "I'll find out because you'll tell me," she intoned.

Severus hesitated at the top of the spiral staircase, his dark eyes glittering. It was good to see her lose all that pure-blood dignity.

"Alright," he said at last. "It is a beautiful piece of magic, and it would be a shame if you didn't appreciate it. I mean, you've got weeks – months even – to appreciate it, but I know how slow you can be about things that don't involve make-up or dresses."

Narcissa gave him one of her defiant looks – complete with upturned chin and elegantly swept-back hair – but she couldn't hide the fear. With the memory stone gone, and Regulus in danger of exploding at any moment, she was running out of defences. Calling in Malfoy was a last resort. She couldn't bear to let the man who had recently dumped her and sold her wifely inheritance for eight sickles know that she needed his help.

Snape licked his lips, and leaned closer to her. "Over the next few weeks," he murmured, "you're going to disappear. When you try to talk to people, they'll feel a nip of frost in the air – maybe smell that overpowering perfume – and then walk right by you. You'll be voiceless and invisible. Nobody will be able to see your carefully-arranged bangles, or your sleeked-back hair. Nobody will be able to hear your shallow gossip, manipulative hints or snooty put-downs. You won't be able bribe or brain-wash people anymore. You'll have to rely on your own pathetic magic to get things done. And we all know you're about as close to a muggle with a wand as it's possible to be. You would never have got into Hogwarts if you hadn't belonged to an influential, pure-blood family. You needed trickery and poison and weeks of planning to steal Lily's magic, but all I have to do, in order to steal yours, is hide away your pretty face. In a few days, everyone will see exactly what I see when they look at you – which is absolutely nothing."  

He leaned closer, until he was drowning in hemlock and vanilla perfume, and watching the dead grey eyes light up with horror.

"It'll be slow, Narcissa, so enjoy having a presence in the world while you can. Before long, you'll be the living ghost of Hogwarts, stealing food from other people's plates because the House Elves won't know you're there to feed you. Not even the other ghosts will be able to see you. Not even a Sneakoscope will be able to detect you. You'll be as insignificant to the rest of the world as you are to me. So enjoy your last few hours of consequence. Put on your best dress. Kiss Malfoy goodbye. Shout at your underlings for all you're worth. Because, when you dwindle into insignificance, neither Malfoy, nor the dresses, nor the underlings, will miss you."

And he left her at the top of the spiral staircase. Phineas Nigellus was giving him a strange look as he passed – as though a cockroach he'd been watching had just stood up and performed a flawless Summoning Charm. Severus got that look of unflattering surprise from teachers a lot, so he didn't take any notice of it.  

Not many people knew it – to people like Potter, magic was all loud bangs and coloured lights – but, for a decent curse, you needed language. You had to tell your victims exactly what was going to happen to them, and then give it some time to sink in. That was why Voldemort talked so much – Severus had always thought it was arrogance, or clumsiness, but the dastardly monologue was actually half the attack. Dark magic was fuelled by fear, so it would always work better if you created atmosphere before you unleashed it.

The actual cursing was fiddly. There were a lot of preparatory calculations, but Snape's mind had danced over them in seconds. He was in that state of lucid calm which always succeeded moments of heightened emotion for him. The ice-cube at the centre of his brain was back, and, as if in revenge for being ousted, it was colonizing the rest of his body. He could feel ice-crystals forming under his skin.

He made his way back to the Hospital Wing, and found Lily sleeping. He spent a few minutes watching the motion of her breathing. He tried to mimic it, the way he'd once mimicked her heart-beat when he'd been so exhausted that his internal organs simply hadn't known what else to do.

Then he went into Madam Pomfrey's Office, leaving the door ajar so that he could hear her if she called to him, and started brewing a Sleeping Draught.

It was actually more like conducting a Sleeping Draught. The ingredients of this potion flowed together so naturally that all they needed was a light touch to direct them. His long, thin fingers almost blurred over the cauldron, as he chopped mandrakes, counted Beetle's Eyes, measured out drops of Armadillo bile. A lot of inexperienced potion-makers made the mistake of stirring too often. They didn't know when to keep their hands to themselves. But Severus floated above the scene like the potion-fumes. He was patience made flesh.

When it was finished, he took a goblet-full of the potion and wandered back to Lily's bedside. She was frowning as she slept. There was an anxious crease between her eyebrows.

He wondered what she was dreaming about: whether she was rehearsing the speech she would make to her friends when she said goodbye – or the speech her sister would demand when she turned up on the doorstep of the Evans's house in Manchester. That pinched, boney face was going to look so triumphant…

Severus shuddered. He couldn't let her go back to all that spite and servility. All he needed to do, he thought, as he raised the warm goblet to his lips, was stay conscious. While he was asleep. It was called lucid dreaming. People did it all the time. Potter probably swaggered through his own subconscious as though it was a theme-park. In his weaselly little dreams, he could probably creep up to the Gryffindor girls' dormitory and - .

Okay, this isn't helping. She's still going to be here when you wake up.

He drank the Sleeping Draught with a shudder of distaste. It wasn't that it tasted bad – it just tasted of giving up. Severus hated having consciousness snatched away from him, no matter how tired he was. Your enemies could take advantage of the tiniest lapse in concentration. It had always been that way in Spinner's End, when his rowing parents had fallen silent, and he'd felt sleep clustering like fog at the sides of his head. It was so sweetly enticing, but he hadn't wanted to give in to it. What if they started up again? What if, the next time he woke up, his mother was dead? What good was sleep to all the people who depended on you?  

Severus had pushed against all that softness, until he could almost do with it entirely. He had trained himself to survive, and keep his wits, on the briefest snatches of sleep. The taste of a sleeping draught after all that training threw his body into a state of panic. Rigidly, he lay back in the bed beside Lily's and stared at the ceiling. In a few minutes, he was going to be helpless. Were the protective spells on the Hospital Wing going to hold? Well, Potter wouldn't be able to get in, even if Voldemort could. Severus was surprised, and slightly disgusted, to realize that this thought comforted him.  

He shut his eyes, wondering whether you could resist the effects of a Sleeping Draught if you really tried, and opened them to find himself walking across a chequered black-and-white floor in a hall of snowy-white marble.

And there it was. The circle of Death Eaters, jeering and spitting and baying for blood. The red-haired girl in the centre, being kicked and thumped, as she was pushed from one side of the circle to the other.

Bella, lashing out with her scuffed leather ankle-boots. Regulus cracking his knuckles. Macnair fingering the axe in his belt while he slapped Lily with his free hand. He could see it all in slow-motion, even though his heart was shuddering – as it always did – with every punch or kick visited upon Lily.

And he realized that it was like Occlumency. It wasn't about keeping your enemies out, but about keeping them guessing.

He was glad, now, that he had this trial to wade through. He needed to hurt someone right now. He needed to make someone suffer, without stopping to terrify or question them. And here they were, hurting his Lily. As angry as he felt, he couldn't keep the smile off his face. It was as though Potter, alone and wandless and grinning like a gerbil, had just wandered into his line of fire.

He raised his wand with eerily steady hands and whispered: "Reducto."  

It was wonderful. The Death Eaters turned and watched, with gaping mouths, as the curse came hurtling towards them. When it hit, they were blasted to pieces – the molecules of their bodies scattered like black sand in a hurricane.

It's really a dream, he thought dispassionately. Human bodies were too soggy to crumble like that at the touch of a Reductor Curse. It was only a dream, but that didn't mean he couldn't enjoy it.

When the dust cleared, the only person still standing was an eight year-old girl with baby-blonde curls, who was no longer looking bored.

"That was…cool," said Elsa Valance.

Snape ignored her. His Reductor curse had sailed harmlessly over Lily, but she had fallen anyway, perhaps blown over by the force of the exploding Death Eaters. He knelt beside her, conjured a pillow out of thin air, and slipped it under her head. Then he could think. Not till then.

Elsa Valance was hovering nearby, fidgeting with impatience. Severus liked to frustrate people – it was his only revenge for the constant exasperation he had to suffer every day – so he took his time making Lily comfortable before he looked up at her. "Can you take me to Madam Pomfrey now?"

She pouted. "I've been waiting to! You kept waking up whenever you saw me!"

"Well, I'm ready now."

"I've got loads to tell you!" she babbled excitedly. "I can see into her dreams properly now. At first, it was just a load of white light, but now it's a whole world! With ice-creams! And there's someone else in there with her – a man with a big nose and a moustache – and he's like me, he's not part of the dream. He's a… a nightmare tourist, like I am. It's really weird! It's the weirdest nightmare I ever seen. There aint no monsters, or bad men, just sad people, walking around, being sad. I've been waiting for you to tell me what to do for ages!"

"Well, first I need to see it," he said, summoning all the patience he could muster. "Does Madam Pomfrey know you're there?"

"Yeah, she does, now. But she don't ever speak to me." Elsa shrugged. "To tell the truth, she don't speak to many people. I think she's scared. There ain't nothing to be scared of, s'far as I can see, but she's still scared. It's weird!"

"Yes," said Snape, with a cold smile. "You said."

Elsa Valance wasn't completely oblivious. She was Bruiser's daughter, after all. She sniffed and said: "Well, it is. I can get us in through the door there, but you got to promise you'll help her. She gave us hot chocolate when we came out of the ice," she added, as though this was proof of virtue that couldn't be argued with.

Severus concentrated, not on the sense of the remark, but the grammar.

"We?" he asked.

"Me and Jonah."

"Yes," he said slowly, giving her a suspicious look. "It's always 'me and Jonah', isn't it?"  

He was staring at the pendant around her neck – and cursing himself for not noticing it before. It looked for all the world like an enameled green eye. He had seen that shade of green before, staring up at him through the ice in the Viceberg.

"That's your brother's eye," he said, trying to keep his voice as expressionless as possible.

Elsa shrugged awkwardly. "He don't like to leave me unguarded," she said.

Snape passed a weary hand over his forehead. "He can see through that?"

"Don't worry," said Elsa cheerfully. "He can't hear us. Although he's getting very good at lip-reading these days. He only agreed to go away to school s'long as I promised to wear the pendant. But none of us expected he'd be able to see into the nightmares I visit."

Severus shuddered at the idea of a first-year Gryffindor who hero-worshipped James Potter being able to see into his nightmares.  

"He don't trust you, see," Elsa went on conversationally. "Dad swears by you, but Jonah thinks you're trouble. So, if it looks like you're not looking after me, he said he'd sneak into the Hospital Wing and smother you in your sleep."

Severus wondered whether Jonah could get through the Shield Charms he'd placed on the Hospital Wing. All he needed to do was be injured, and having only one eye might just qualify.  

"You don't need to worry," said Elsa, giggling. "It's not going to come to that, you silly, because dad swears by you. He's never wrong."

Well, it was too late to go back now. He only had a few hours before dawn, and who knew when he'd be able to come back here again? Snape's exasperated heart was set on the prospect of waking Lily with some good news for once.

He leaned down, so that his face was level with the green-eye pendant, and said, moving his lips very clearly: "You'd better watch out."
Continuing from Bleeding the Witch [link]

Sorry it's long again!

To any artists who read my story, that black hallway with Snape looming at the centre, looking deadly, is one of my dream-illustration scenes (mind you, I have a lot of those, and they're all quite nightmarish to draw! ;))

As always, thank you for reading! :) :hug:
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polkadotpeony Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2011
Agh! The way you describe this entire chapter is just mind-blowing! You are truly an amazing writer. I can picture everything in my head, and everyone so clearly. And how you manage to write each character so perfectly and make non-canon characters so interesting is beyond me. You are very talented. Once you're done with this story I truly hope you write another one. :)

OK, so I loved the beginning with Snape about to kill those two idiots. Then of course Dumbles coming to the rescue was totally unexpected yet absolutely perfect, and good thing he did because I DID NOT want his memories to be stolen.

I just LOVED that Sev cursed Narcissa, and so perfectly too. Such a good curse!

And of course yay for Sev doing everything possible to save Lily. Sigh. I can't get enough of them. :)
ls269 Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2011
:w00t: You write the nicest comments! :hug: You know, after I finish this story, I'm hoping :fingerscrossed: to try writing some original fiction, because I've always wanted to be a writer (it's just only recently that I've gained the confidence to share my work with other people, and I totally have DeviantArt to thank for that!) I'm not sure whether I'll be able to come up with any ideas, though. Whenever I try to come up with my own characters, I can never seem to love them as much as I love J.K. Rowling's!
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner Jun 2, 2010  Professional Artisan Crafter
Dumbledore's presence was a mixed blessing in a crisis. It meant you weren't going to die, but you invariably wished you were.
You really know where to plant a moment of humor in a nerve-wracking scene. :D

Omigosh, an appearance by Phineas! Awesome. :XD:

And, points to Severus for holding his own (verbally) against Dumbledore:
Snape gave him a brittle smile. "I can do both."

I love Snape's reflection on falling asleep. It made me think about when I was little, on the many long car rides my family took. I always felt like I had to stay awake and watch the road through the windshield while my parents drove through the night, as though somehow I could prevent any catastrophes (such as wrecks or jumping deer) if I were awake. It's just little details like that that make it so easy for me to relate to these characters.
ls269 Featured By Owner Jun 2, 2010
I always felt like I had to stay awake and watch the road through the windshield while my parents drove through the night, as though somehow I could prevent any catastrophes (such as wrecks or jumping deer) if I were awake.

I know just what you mean! I could never sleep in cars (although my motive was a bit more selfish! I was afraid that I wouldn't wake up again - it's hard to just sit back and relinquish all consciousness when you don't know what's going to happen while you're gone. I am sooooo Severus! ;))
AnCatDubh Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2010
It made me laugh how you managed to justify Voldemort's incessant blabbering :D I liked the idea though, and it could explain why cunning Slytherins would be good at cursing. And Harry pretty hopeless :D

As much as I wanted to throttle Regulus after what he did, I do feel a bit sorry for him. I'm very curious to see what happens to him with Lily's magic though.

And as others have said, you're using Phineas Nigellus in a great way! I loved the good cop bad cop thing, it is SUCH a Dumbledore thing to do. I like your Dumbledore a lot too.

They are all mad though, aren't they? Regulus, Narcissa, Phineas, what, Dumbledore even seems insane through Severus's eyes. You manage to make the reader share his discomfiture and lack of faith in humans very well (apart from Lily of course - and that is Severus's tragedy really, in canon too. Althoug his judgement does evolve a bit as he gets older, I think.)
ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2010
:hug: Thank you so much! I'm so glad you liked the justification for Voldemort's blabbering (I needed a justification for it, because his evil monologues have cropped up a lot in this story! :giggle: I've been very lazily using them for exposition whenever I need to reveal a lot of information in one go!)

And, yes, the characters are all totally crazy, at least in Sev's eyes (and I've been writing from Sev's perspective for so long that I find it hard to see the world any other way now! ;)) I always think of Sev as the only sane person in an insane world - which is a very lonely title. Poor guy! :(

AnCatDubh Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2010
Haha I think Severus is just as crazy as the others, in his own way :p

I guess the difference is that he actually realises that he's surrounded by absurdity. I find realising the absurd is one of the most difficult things to live with... Really depressing. That's when you build up the shell I guess... I myself don't really know how to build it, so in that sense I find the Snape case a very interesting one. It's funny, I dated a guy with a pretty similar personality, who was constantly angry at the world, and looked down on pretty much everybody else. I don't know how he kept having energy for it, but it kept him going. Pretty tiring to live with, albeit fascinating, because those people are often very intelligent ones. But yeah... frustrated too.

Anyway why I am rambling like this? I think the bad guy explaining the situation is a pretty common device :D but in your case in never found it to be a problem, I even quite enjoy it to be honest! Keep up the great work!!
ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2010
:hug: :blowkiss: I'm so glad you said that, because there is a long, explanatory conversation in the next chapter! :giggle:

Yes, it must be very depressing to realize that you're surrounded by absurdity - like one of those nightmares where you have no-one to run to, because everyone in the world has turned into a monster! And it must be exhausting to live that way, always expecting the unexpected from people. But I think it must be liberating too. I've always assumed that everyone else knows better than I do, and that makes me very indecisive. At least if you know everyone else is crazy, then you don't have to listen to them and can do your own thing!
AnCatDubh Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2010
also, regulus makes me think of gollum, I like that :D
FlameoftheWest7 Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2010
Loved the description of Snape's creeping, searching magic!

The animosity between Snape and Narcissa is as tense as can be--they are absolutely bristling with rage towards each other, but what I love about these two is how they strive so hard to conceal any emotion! Sev's curse was the ultimate insult and punishment for her--you know she is shaking with terror but she manages to disdain him. I am so curious to see where this story goes!

This made me grin:
"She's Narcissa Black," said Severus wearily. "Soon to be Narcissa Malfoy. In Slytherin House, she can do anything she wants." Dumbledore's comment (after he destroys the stone) about its value being mere pocket money to a Malfoy was perfect--it cripples her from complaining, because it would be admitting that the cost was of any consequence! I also loved Dumbledore's co-interrogation methods with Phineas Nigellus. Great chapter! I'm glad to finally get to read it--I've been in Florida for a week chaperoning teenagers with a church trip, without a computer!
ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2010
:dance: I hope the sunshine made up for the lack of computers! (I also hope the teenagers were not a nightmare to chaperone - but, if it was for a church trip, perhaps they were well-behaved teenagers!)

I enjoy writing the bristling tension between Sev and Narcissa! They're both so sneering and self-contained! :) I'm dreadfully behind with the next chapter (haven't even started it yet!) but there will be more about Narcissa's curse coming soon (soon-ish! ;))
FlameoftheWest7 Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2010
Take your time, and we will love it when it is posted, I'm sure! I am very curious to read about the effects of the curse--but quite worried too, and am anxious to see how she fares!

And thank you, they were wonderful teenagers--very respectful and fun. I love my church's youth group and we had a great time :)
dronarron Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
Dumbledore was standing half-way up the marble staircase, holding his wand nonchalantly in one hand. If it had been a gun, it would have been smoking.

lol, indeed.

phew. I'm really glad Narcissa didn't manage to carry through on her plan this time, although I doubt she'll be stymied for long.

Snape licked his lips, and leaned closer to her. "Over the next few weeks," he murmured, "you're going to disappear.

It's funny that I'm not anywhere near as horrified by this idea as I was by the idea of Narcissa stealing Severus's mind. I ought to be, as really it's the same thing -- taking away that which is most precious -- but I guess it's just because I sympathize with him a priori.

Potter wouldn't be able to get in, even if Voldemort could. Severus was surprised, and slightly disgusted, to realize that this thought comforted him.

ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
Thank you so much for reading! :hug: You know, I'm not as horrified by 'Cissa's curse as I thought I would be either. Taking away her physical presence does kind of make her powerless, because she thrives by influencing and persuading people (and, needless to say, letting people look at her!) But it doesn't seem like an awful punishment, somehow, perhaps because I still have quite a glamorous image of her as she slowly fades away! That girl can't help being glamorous! ;)
Vizen Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
The more I think of Reg, the more I love him. Of course, you can only love Rowling's Regulus, and I love him in each fic I read with him as a protagonist, but in your fic he's wonderful too. He's such a teen and a Black at the same time - a wonderful cocktail :love:

I really enjoy your Narcissa too, she's a powerful character. I wonder if you can change her into Draco's mother later, but it doesn't matter. Maybe Snape's curse will help in the matter...haaa :love: She's just so silly and determined - so Black again ... :)

And, speaking of Blacks, I absolutely adore the mention of dear Phineas in this chapter. I adored Phineas in the books and what we read in DH (that Snape is his idol of course) made me just love him even more tenderly. Haha, Albus is such a great Headmaster, too, isn't he ?

For the illustration... If I could draw what I'd like to (not paying attention to time and abilities) I would draw Regulus and Severus in the Hall first, sure.
ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
:hug: That's very sweet of you, but please don't feel any pressure to draw it, I know you have a lot of responsibilities (and, heaven knows, the scene seems like a nighmare to draw!)

You know, I think Phineas Nigellus may well be my favourite HP character (aside from Sev, of course!) The way he talks to stupid, melodramatic, teen Harry in Order of the Phoenix is genius! :) And I like to think his appreciation of the way Sev curses Narcissa in this chapter is the beginning of his respect for Severus. :heart:

I'm so glad you liked the chapter and the characters. :glomp: Narcissa is perhaps a bit too dastardly, it's true, but I like to think she gets softer as she gets older and has a happier family life. (I really like her as a determined, snooty, dastardly girl, though! Slytherins are so much fun to write!)
Vizen Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
... you know - just the fact Phineas was the "most hated Headmaster of the History" until Severus Snape made me love him, to be honest :love:
ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
:giggle: Yes, you've got to be doing something right if those students hate you!
Vizen Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
Absolutely :love:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Enjoyable. I really liked the description Severus gave of the curse he put on Narcissa. That was really quite brilliant!
ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
Thank you! :hug: I was thinking of his 'bewitching the mind and ensnaring the senses' speech, and how he can be so eloquent if he's talking about something he really believes in! (I also like the idea of successful cursing being about language, because it means James Potter would be rubbish at it. He'd be all like: 'Yeah? Well... you're all greasy and... yeah.' :giggle:)
northangel27 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:rofl: When you quoted James there, I was reminded of Harry in the "Harry Potter Puppet Pals - Snape's Diary" episode, where he is writing his own entry into Snape's Diary, and it goes something like, "I'm Severus Snape, and I hate myself because I stink like poop, and I hate Harry Potter even though he's so awesome, and I'm going to kill myself because I'm so stinky, and I hate Harry Potter..." blah, blah, blah... ;-) I was totally hearing that in my head when you did that little James quote. :D
ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
:rofl: Like father, like son! You know, I've never seen the Harry Potter Puppet Pals, but they have distilled Harry and Snape's relationship beautifully there! :)
northangel27 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Here: [link]
ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
:rofl: I'm glad they've preserved Ron's idiocy - that's always reassuring! Lol, poor Sev :heart:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:nod: indeed it is! My husband and I are always quoting lines from this to one another at the oddest times. :)
ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
:giggle: "I asked her to dance, and she asked me to die. Would that I could, Lily, would that I could"

Sigh. They've made Sev very emo in the Puppet Pals!
(1 Reply)
Melorik Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2010

So glad that this chapter is up!

I feel almost like watching a fight, and the guy I'm rooting for just scored a perfect knockout :D. Sev really got Cissa good this time didn't he ;). I wonder exactly how this curse works... I imagine it's something that works best when the victim believes in it power.

Interesting that Sev got saved by DD of all people. I suppose it goes to show that when he has to, the headmaster will interfere. Was he deliberately tailing Sev, knowing that he would go after Reg and Narcissa?

I like the description of Narcissa falling for the good/bad cop routine. Just goes to show that despite how manipulative these kids are, they aren't quite in DD's league are they :p.

And Jonah knows about Sev's nightmare?!... I do hope the kid is smart enough not to share this information with certain quidditch players....

Keep it up!


ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
Thank you! :hug: I'm glad you enjoyed the 'Cissa-cursing! And, yes, I think Dumbledore had a pretty good idea that Sev would go after Narcissa and Regulus. (I still feel terrible for Regulus! Poor, confused boy - he's not having a good week! :()

And I agree, nobody is in Dumbledore's league for manipulative cleverness! He puts Sev and Narcissa to shame! :)
Melorik Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
I do wonder how Sev will handle the knowledge once things have calmed down a bit (if they calm down).

I mean, he just got saved by DD from becoming a vegetable. What's worse... Narcissa was almost able to turn him into a vegetable without him seeing it coming. He really couldn't have known of course, but will he try to find a way to shield his mind from memory manipulation now?

Also, I agree I do sort of feel sorry for Regulus. But from what you've described in this chapter, even Reg understands that Cissa was basically BSing him about saving people. As long as he's actually able to learn from his stupidity.

Interesting that DD chose to finally save him now.... he never seemed to have lifted a finger to save Severus from getting bullied by Potter. Is he trying to, in some way, make up for that mistake? or is Sev just too useful a tool now to let him get magically lobotomized?... or both?

lol.. DD is complex :P
ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
:giggle: I think both, same as you! I think Dumbledore cares for Severus and still manipulates him shamelessly. That's just Dumbledore's way - he sort of manipulates everybody shamelessly, probably under the assumption that they don't know what's good for them! ;)

Will he try to find a way to shield his mind from memory manipulation now? It would be a very Severus way to react... he's very keen on pre-empting any kind of attack. And it would be cool to write more about the magical theory behind memories. I'll give it some thought. Certainly, the idea that Narcissa could have turned him into a vegetable is not going to sit well with him!
Melorik Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
Maybe it would have something to do with Occlumency. By the time of Voldies return in the original story, Severus is pretty much the greatest occlumens alive, and probably in history by the time we get to his death.

In this tale, he's only still 17 though right? ..the way you've written Occlumency, he's incredible at it but so far he's only been able to fool Voldie and others by attaching incriminating memories to other memories that explain them away. He's never actually been able to outright hide/block off his mind.

Maybe the ability to counter memory magic has something to do with the next "level" of Occlumency so to speak. IE, where Sev starts to learn how to build the kind of walls around his mind that outright blocks intrusion altogether. Legilimens can't get any reading at all, and memory charms/spells lose effectiveness because they can't actually get to the memories.

This is just my rough theoretical take on it though. It seems to me that eventually he'll have to get even better with Occlumency to take his spying to the next level :P. But I'm sure you'll come up with a much more personalized explanation for whatever Sev comes up with ;).

Oh, and by the way... I absolutely loved Phineus taunting Narcissa about the "other" portraits. Seeing as how we only see Claudia Black from Cissa's POV, we get the impression that she's this manipulative evil genius type of ancestor. It's nice to get a glimpse of another perspective... perhaps Claudia was not as smart as her portrait lets on?

Oh look.. I've written you another essay ;)


ls269 Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2010
I like the idea of Occlumency being used to block memory charms. Maybe Sev could meet Gilderoy Lockhart and brush off one of his famous mind-mangling memory charms! It's fun brain-storming with readers of this story! And, yes, I'd very much like to hear Phineas Nigellus criticizing Claudia Black. Maybe they'll get together in the same portrait someday and argue! :)
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