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Title: Advanced Potion-Making
Author: fire_everything
Beta, cheerleader and all-around facilitator: brighty18
Artists: lilmisblack (banner), niccc (all other art)
Pairing: Snape/Lily
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Authorial presumption, profanity, magical dub-con, mild kink, possibly disturbing reproductive issues/procedures, angst, excessive length
Word Count: Um…shorter than Half-Blood Prince?
Summary: Nineteen-year-old Snape’s post-Hogwarts life is going surprisingly well. He has gainful employment, valued skills, a place of his own, a political affiliation, a mentor he admires, and hard-won freedom from several past relationships that tormented him. But he also has stubbornly lingering feelings for his estranged friend Lily Evans, an unquenchable hatred for her fiancé James Potter, and a continuing compulsion to tamper with and improve perfectly adequate potions recipes. When these three conditions come together one fateful day, Snape undertakes a potions experiment that will irrevocably change several people’s lives for better and worse.
Author’s Note: At one point while reading Deathly Hallows, I actually thought the book was going to end with the twist that serves as this story’s central plot point. When it didn’t, this corrective fic became necessary.
Special Note: Due to the unusual length and complexity of this fic, it will be posted in multiple parts. (Chapters 1-4 can be found here: This post includes Chapter 5, "The Reversal." Subsequent chapters will be posted as they become ready, and will appear as new posts in your friends lists, so that readers who want to continue following the fic as it progresses will be automatically alerted to the appearance of new installments.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all characters, places, objects, ideas, and related material are the property of JK Rowling and her various publishing entities. Neither the author, the artists, nor the [personal profile] marauderbigbang are in any way making a monetary profit from this posting.

Chapter 5: The Reversal

When Snape returned to consciousness, he was lying on his back on what felt like a slab of stone. He felt strange: his mind was at peace, but the peace seemed artificial, imposed; somewhere underneath it, he knew there was something terribly, catastrophically wrong. Dragging himself back to the waking world, he forced himself to open his eyes.

When he saw the black stone wall beside him, it all came back instantly. He suddenly felt cold to his core, as if his blood itself had hardened into ice and could no longer circulate.

“Severus.” The cold feeling receded a little.

The voice was familiar to him, but something in the tone was odd. Snape turned his head and saw Albus Dumbledore sitting beside him. Solid black stone walls, devoid of any marking or decoration, surrounded them on all sides.

Snape sat up abruptly. As he did so, the wall behind Dumbledore shifted and shimmered; Snape could suddenly see into the empty space beyond, which seemed to be some sort of corridor. The next moment, however, the space was no longer empty; Snape saw the floating hem of a black robe flutter into view, and gasped. The coldness rolled back over him. But even as he watched, waiting for his fears to be confirmed, the space became a solid stone wall again. The room now felt even smaller than before, and Snape gasped again, as though the air in the room was being sucked away.

Though his back had been turned, Dumbledore seemed aware of what had happened too, for he rose to his feet, saying, “Excuse me for a moment.” He went to the wall and, as Snape watched, walked right through it.

Snape stared at the wall, and soon he could see through it to the corridor again. He got up and stumbled toward the open space, but as soon as he reached his fingers out to touch it, the wall became solid stone again. A moment later, Dumbledore walked effortlessly back through the wall, emerging right next to the place where Snape stood.

“I’m in Azkaban,” said Snape tonelessly.

“Yes,” said Dumbledore. His face was still and somber, and it occurred to Snape how unusual this was. Even in incongruous moments – times when Snape had been called into his office for some misdemeanor, for instance – the headmaster’s face was always mobile and often mischievous, the nimble play of his thoughts almost constantly visible in his expression. Now that face was nearly as stony as the walls around them.

“The wave of cold you felt washing over you just now was due to the presence of dementors nearby,” said Dumbledore, confirming what Snape had already guessed. “There are several of them on patrol here among the holding cells. I have already asked them to cease patrolling while we talk, and keep their distance, but dementors do not respond well to orders. I was forced to go out just now and cast the Patronus Charm to keep them away.”

Snape thought for a brief, hopeful moment of his own Patronus, the fiercely protective wolverine, then realized that of course he would never be able to summon it here. Half the point of this place was that one was completely powerless to ward off its evils. And of course his wand would have been confiscated upon his arrest, although he did not remember the Aurors saying anything about it. Snape felt for it anyway. As he confirmed its absence, he wondered with a chill whether it had already been destroyed.

“Your wand, incidentally,” said Dumbledore, as if Snape had spoken this last thought aloud, “is being held by the Auror Office until your trial is over.”

Snape’s insides seized up with fear at the thought of being tried. “Will they destroy it then?” he asked, not wanting to know the answer.

“That will depend on the trial’s outcome,” said Dumbledore. “But let us sit down.” Snape looked back toward the thing he had been lying on when he awoke, and saw with surprise that it was dressed like a comfortable-looking bed, with a blanket folded down to reveal a sheet and pillow. But as he sat back down on it, the bedding vanished instantly; it became, just as it had been at first, a slab of cold, naked stone.

Next to the bed was a stool that also appeared to be made of stone; it was on this stool that Dumbledore had been sitting at first, and the headmaster now resumed his seat there. Snape wondered, however, if the hard-looking stool was in reality padded and comfortable – though for Dumbledore only, of course, not for him.

Snape turned to look at the wall behind Dumbledore. It was still shifting and changing every few seconds. Thankfully, there were no dementors visible on the other side of it now.

“The wall is always solid, isn’t it,” said Snape, not phrasing the words as a question. “For me, I mean,” he added, “not for you. I can see right through it sometimes, but it’s an illusion.”

“It is a spell, placed there for the purpose of driving inmates more quickly to insanity and despair,” said Dumbledore bluntly. “It presents the momentary illusion of freedom, of course, and then takes it away. I would advise your keeping your eyes away from it. In fact, let us change our places.”

He produced his wand and waved it, and without either of them having moved, Snape found that the Illusioned wall was now in back of of him. Dumbledore was now facing toward it instead, while Snape gazed past the headmaster at unchangingly solid black stone.

“Severus,” Dumbledore began in a grave voice, “I have been to see your mother in St. Mungo’s.”

Snape’s stomach suddenly felt as if he had just swallowed a Bludger whole. He could not bear to imagine what Eileen must be thinking and feeling right now. He hoped the doctors were giving her loads of sedative and Forgetfulness Potion.

“How is she?” he found the voice to ask.

“Her bones are entirely mended, but she is not at all well, as you might imagine,” said Dumbledore. “She told me everything that happened – or rather, since I wished to spare her the pain of retelling it, she consented to let me view her memory of this morning’s events.”

Snape was not entirely sure what Dumbledore meant when he spoke of viewing Eileen’s memory, but at that moment he was more concerned with a different matter.

“This morning’s events?” he said anxiously. “How long have I been here?” It felt like weeks, months, seasons.

“About half an hour,” said Dumbledore. Snape felt a wave of sickness wash over him.

It must have shown in his face, for Dumbledore reached into a sort of knapsack at his feet that Snape had not noticed before, and produced a large bar of chocolate.

“Have a piece,” he said. “It will help keep your strength up as we talk.” Snape unwrapped the chocolate, broke off a corner of it, and put it in his mouth, though he did not feel the least bit hungry. He wondered how he was to keep his strength up after they talked, but perhaps it was a moot point. Perhaps, in the future, he would cease to care about keeping his strength up.

“I know from your mother’s memory,” resumed Dumbledore, “exactly how you came to cast the Cruciatus Curse on your father. Everything he said and did, everything your mother said and did, everything that led up to that point, including your father’s debt and the night he spent in jail.”

Snape closed his eyes and felt himself sinking. Tobias had spent one night in jail, but he would be here for the rest of his life.

“Severus,” said Dumbledore, touching his arm suddenly, “it is not a foregone conclusion that you will be here for the rest of your life.” Again he seemed to know exactly what Snape had been thinking.

“The Unforgivable Curses each carry a mandatory life sentence in this place, yes,” continued the headmaster, “but there are several circumstances in your case which may soften that blow. Chief among these, of course, is your age. You are not yet a legal adult, and the Wizengamot will have to take that factor into consideration when they sentence you.”

The partial comfort that this idea brought to Snape was immediately dispelled by the word “sentence.”

“Is there any chance I won’t have to serve time here?” asked Snape, though he felt sure he already knew the answer.

“No, Severus, there is no chance of that,” said Dumbledore heavily. “You may escape a life sentence, but you will certainly do some time here. I am aware of no legal precedents that suggest anything else.”

“But I was provoked!” cried Snape, realizing too late that Tobias had used those exact words a year ago to justify attacking his wife and son. He cringed, waiting for Dumbledore to repeat what he had told Tobias last summer: it was his job to resist provocation.

But Dumbledore surprised him. “I know you were,” he said, in a voice closer to kindness than any he had yet used. “Your father harmed you physically and humiliated you—”

Snape suddenly realized that he was no longer in physical pain. He put his hand to his nose, which did not hurt; then he put a finger into his mouth to feel for damage there, but found none.

“Your nose, which was broken, has been mended,” confirmed Dumbledore, “and the three teeth that your father knocked out have been restored. You were given a mild sedative as well, of which you might have felt the effects upon waking several minutes ago. The Aurors called a mediwizard to follow you here after they saw the condition you were in. There ought to be a full-time medical staff on call in this place; heaven knows they need one. But even medical generosity and selflessness have their limits: no humane doctor could bear to work here all the time.”

Dumbledore paused, then continued where he had left off a few moments before. “Your father, as I was saying, harmed and humiliated you, and he injured your mother in a particularly cruel way, a way that was both petty and sadistic.

“His behavior to both of you was disgusting,” added Dumbledore with surprising vehemence, “and I well understand why you reacted as you did. I understand it better than you know, Severus. The Wizengamot, too, may view your situation with a certain degree of sympathy.

“But the Unforgivable Curses are called Unforgivable for a reason. The pain of the Cruciatus Curse is beyond what a human being can endure for more than a few seconds – worse even than the pain your father inflicted on you and your mother. I cannot fully excuse what you did.”

Snape abruptly ceased to believe that Dumbledore could read his mind, for if he could, he would never have said such a thing. “It was more than just today!” Snape cried. “It’s gone on for years and years! He hates us both, he’s always hated us. He hates us for being magical, but he turns round and punishes us because he can’t exploit our magic. He’s tried to kill us in every way he could without actually taking our lives.”

“I know,” said Dumbledore simply, surprising Snape again. “And yet I cannot come between you and your punishment. As I did last year” – Snape felt an unwilling twinge of guilt at this reminder of the headmaster’s previous intervention on his behalf —“I will do everything legitimately within my power to convince the rest of the Wizengamot, of which I am a member, that they should be as lenient as the law will allow, even though I am no longer your headmaster.”

The realization of what this last sentence meant tore into Snape’s heart like a blunt knife. Of course he could never go back to Hogwarts; he would have known this even without the Aurors saying so. But this comparatively minor punishment almost seemed to him a worse fate than a life sentence in Azkaban. Hogwarts was everything; without it, what kind of life could there be for him? He might escape eternity in Azkaban, but what good could that do him without Hogwarts? He would be a nonentity, an outcast, a person without family, community or credentials; his life would be a prison whose walls were invisible but real, much like the Illusioned wall of his cell. He closed his eyes and twisted his mouth in a desperate bid to keep from crying.

“I did warn you that your place at school might be in jeopardy, Severus,” he heard Dumbledore say. “I am sorry that you did not, or could not, heed that warning.” At the touch of severity in the headmaster’s voice, Snape looked up angrily, all thought of tears forgotten. It was not until many years later that it would occur to Snape that perhaps these words had been Dumbledore’s way of doing him a small favor.

“That is all I will say on that subject, however,” said Dumbledore in a different tone, “now or ever again. You are hardly in need of further punishment from me, and it is no longer my place to give it to you anyway.”

“What am I going to do now?” said Snape.

“Wait,” said Dumbledore simply. “Wait for your trial date to be decided upon, then wait for your trial. Do not think beyond that; it will be a good exercise for you. Your future in this place depends, above all else, on your ability to control your own thinking. To think, at the times when it can do you some good, and to cease thinking when it cannot. And perhaps most importantly of all,” he added, “to learn which times are which.” He reached again for the knapsack on the floor at his feet.

“Because you are not, at present, under sentence, the rules which govern you are somewhat less strict than for other prisoners,” said Dumbledore. “You are allowed, for instance, a few personal effects.”

He drew out a substantial role of parchment, a new quill and a large bottle of ink. “These are for when you wish to think,” he said, and laid each item in turn on Snape’s bed.

Dumbledore reached into the the bag again. “This,” he continued, “is for when you do not wish to think.” He pulled out a book and handed it to Snape. It was Quidditch through the Ages, by Kennilworthy Whisp.

“I hate Quidditch!” exclaimed Snape.

“Your mother told me as much,” said Dumbledore. “That is why I chose this particular book.”

“What do you mean?” asked Snape.

Dumbledore replied, “Remember, this book is not for thinking. It is for not thinking. In that endeavor, it will help you.”

“Is that the only book that’s in there?” Snape asked, looking toward the knapsack.

“Yes,” said Dumbledore. “I could have brought others; for instance, I could have brought the sixth-year textbooks for Defence Against the Dark Arts or Potions.” Snape looked up at him eagerly; he had already looked ahead in his mother’s old copies of those textbooks, and been excited at the thought of covering the material in them in class. Then he froze, realizing: he would never take those classes, never use those books. He turned away from Dumbledore, screwing up his face again.

“Do you understand now why I did not choose those books?” asked Dumbledore, and Snape nodded mutely.

“There is more for you here, Severus,” Dumbledore continued. He brought out another chocolate bar as large as the first.

“This is to help keep your strength up,” he said. “I would advise you to eat it sparingly, however. There is no telling how long it may take your case to come to trial, though I will do all I can to speed up the process. And this,” he said at last, “is for when you cannot bear thinking, but cannot keep yourself from doing so.” He withdrew a small bottle of purple liquid that Snape recognized immediately: Sleeping Potion.

“No doubt you already know this,” said Dumbledore, “but I will say it anyway: this stuff will take you to a place of dreamless sleep for the full length of a night. But you should use it only in conditions of the greatest need. You must do your best to train your mind to do without such crutches for the time to come. In any case, there is much less of it than there is of the chocolate.”

Snape stared at Dumbledore. He knew he should say thank you, but he found he could not honestly feel thankful for very much just then.

“There is no need to thank me, Severus,” said Dumbledore, just as if Snape had spoken, “but you are welcome anyway.”

Snape stared again, then thought of something else. “Can I have visitors?”

“You are permitted three short audiences with visitors per week until your case comes to trial,” said Dumbledore.

But Snape had been thinking, and now he shook his head. “On second thought, I don’t think my mother should come here,” said Snape. “It would upset her too much.” Although this was perfectly true, he also thought seeing his mother would upset him too much.

To add to his misery, he had just thought about Lily for the first time since casting the Cruciatus Curse. She would never visit him here, nor should she. He ought to be to her now as someone dead, and as that thought came over him, he wished that he was. He put his hand on the cover of Quidditch through the Ages; he could already see what Dumbledore meant about the value of not thinking.

“I will speak to your mother tomorrow and see how she is,” said Dumbledore. “If we both feel it is a good thing for her to come, she will do so. If we do not, I will come instead.”

Snape nodded, not knowing what to say.

“Severus, I must leave you soon,” said Dumbledore. “Visiting hours are very strictly limited here. Do you think that you have what you need to make it through the afternoon and night?”

“I don’t know,” said Snape.

“A wise answer,” said Dumbledore. “I do not know either, but you have a strong mind, and I think you will do as well as anyone could under the circumstances.” He stood up and walked toward the Illusioned wall, which was suddenly in front of him again.

“Good luck, Severus, and remember that tomorrow will follow tonight, here as everywhere else,” said the headmaster. Snape nodded, but he was already beginning to think that that, indeed, was part of his problem.

“Goodbye, Severus,” said Dumbledore, and vanished through the Illusioned wall. Snape sat staring at the place where he had disappeared, waiting for the wall to become transparent again; but by the time it did, Dumbledore had gone.

Almost immediately the dementors began patrolling again, judging by the waves of coldness that gripped Snape at regular but unpredictable intervals. In an attempt to keep warm, he got up and began pacing back and forth in the small cell.

The problem with this, as Snape soon discovered, was that every time he turned to face the Illusioned wall, it became transparent and showed him a dementor hovering right on the other side, as if it had stopped in its patrol in order to stare (if one could use that word about a creature with no eyes) directly at Snape. The first time this happened, he froze in horror, but the creature did not advance, only loomed there waiting. Eventually Snape remembered that there was a wall between him and it – but perhaps dementors could get through walls if they wanted to? Terrifying as it was, he saw no choice but to turn his back on the thing and keep pacing. He began closing his eyes before he turned toward the Illusioned wall, and found that it helped.

He paced until he was too tired to continue, then sat down on the stone slab and tried to read; but he had to stop and clench his whole body in self-protection every time one of those cold waves rolled over him. In between these moments, he read all about the history of Quidditch.

Soon Snape had come to hate the game more than he ever had in his life before. He hated its triviality, its unoriginality, its violent impulses disguised as innocent fun, its boosterism, its stupid rivalries, its hypocritical attitude of superiority over Muggle sports when it was scarcely any different from them. He hated Kennilworthy Whisp too, for caring so much about this ridiculous game. But he also loved him, for Kennilworthy Whisp made Snape almost feel that there was a good side to being in Azkaban, where at least he would not have to play Quidditch, watch Quidditch, or hear people talk about Quidditch. Dumbledore had been right. Snape then began hating Dumbledore for always being right, or at least always thinking he was, and also began to love him for allowing Snape to hate him so.

He read all day and into the night – at least, it must have been hours, for he read the entire book and started over again. He remembered at one point that he had a pocket watch in his robes, and pulled it out, but it had stopped. Probably, Snape thought, that was what happened to all clocks and watches in this place. At one point he looked up and saw that a tray of what he supposed to be food had been placed just inside the threshold of his cell. The meal consisted of a bowl of grayish sludge and a glass of grayish water; it would have looked foul even to someone who was hungry. Nevertheless, Snape knew he ought to eat it; who knew when the next meal would come? He turned back to the book, intending to eat when he felt a little hungrier; but the next time he looked up, the tray and everything on it had vanished.

Scarcely caring about the loss of the sludge, he read on until he was too tired to keep his eyes open. Was it night? He was not sure; there were no windows in the cell, and the light never dimmed or went out in the corridor outside. Nor did there seem to be any means of making the inside of his cell darker.

He had already noticed with consternation that there did not seem to be a proper toilet or sink in his cell. Rather, there was a sort of ceramic basin fixed near the floor on one wall whose purpose he could not ascertain. It had a spigot like a sink, but no faucets to control water flow; it had a tank like a toilet, but no seat or means of flushing. He could no longer avoid his need to urinate, however, and this device seemed to be the only receptacle available. At least it was situated at a convenient height for the purpose.

As soon as Snape unzipped his trousers, however, the basin slid higher up the wall, coming to rest at about chest height from the floor. Only by clambering onto the stone slab would he now have any hope of being able to reach the basin. He did so, and after positioning himself unstably on his toes, he achieved an angle from which urination would at least be possible, though not at all comfortable.

As soon as he began urinating, however, the basin started to slide down the wall again; disoriented, he lost his balance and nearly tumbled off the stone slab. After finishing, he tried to evacuate the basin wandlessly with a Vanishing Spell, but was not surprised to find that nothing happened; he supposed that all inmates of this place were essentially rendered Squibs for the duration of their imprisonment. He bent down and tried to find a means of flushing the device, but instead soapy water began flowing from the spigot. Not knowing when he would next have the opportunity to wash his hands, Snape stuck them under the water. When it stopped flowing a moment later, the basin was filled with a mixture of soapy water and urine which was disgusting to look at. Snape turned away from it; with any luck it would eventually disappear as the food had.

Exhausted, he lay down and closed his eyes, but then the screaming started.

The first scream made him jump; it seemed to come from right next to his ear. He sat bolt upright, but there was no one there. The screams died down, then started up again: piteous, agonized, inhuman wails. As they went on and on, they sounded more and more like the screams of his mother when Tobias had smashed her face and wrists against the wall of their kitchen; then the sound was like the wail of despair his mother had made when she heard him cast the Cruciatus Curse; then it was like the deranged, animal cries Tobias had made while Snape held him fast in the beam of red light…

Then the screams ceased to be any of these things, but simply became the screams of dozens, hundreds, thousands of other prisoners around him, all tortured by their own consciences or nightmares, all trapped here forever with no escape, no comfort, and no hope.

“Shut up!” Snape shouted back at the top of his lungs, but the screams joined together, became a mass of high, shrill, inhuman sound, the sound of unsustainable, unendurable suffering that nevertheless sustained itself and endured. He grabbed the book and walked to and fro, reading aloud from Kennilworthy Whisp as loudly as he could, but then the light abruptly went out in his cell. He tossed the book in what he thought was the direction of the stone slab and kept walking, repeating the last sentence he had read: “It is advisable, too, to play at night.”

“It is advisable, too, to play at night,” Snape said over and over again as he walked. “It is advisable, too, to play at night.”

He recited this line until his throat was parched and his voice cracked, but still the screams kept coming. He walked until he could no longer stand, until he collapsed against the wall, and still the screams kept coming…He knew then that he would probably never be able to sleep for two minutes together while he was here, and that by the time this night ended he would have lost his mind…that is, if it was night at all, and if nights ever ended in this place.

* * *

Yet at some point he must have slept, for he was suddenly aware that his eyes, now open, had been closed a few moments before.

He was lying on the floor of the cell, and the stone was cold, but it was not the sort of marrow-deep cold that the dementors brought with them. He sat up.

Something else was different: the Illusioned wall was no longer shifting between solid stone and the appearance of open space. It was now transparent all the time. No dementors were visible in the corridor outside; indeed, there was no sign of life or movement at all. The screams had stopped; it was completely silent. Snape stared around him cautiously. He did not trust any of these new changes, not one bit. He must proceed carefully.

Before he could come to any decision about what to do, he heard footsteps sounding in the corridor. Snape knew, of course, that dementors, lacking feet, made no sound when they moved, but he was frightened nonetheless. He backed into the stone slab and sat down, his heart pounding.

Relief poured over him when he saw that the owner of the footsteps was Dumbledore. Yet even from a distance, Snape perceived immediately that something was wrong: the headmaster’s face was cast in deep shadow. Snape wondered if something had happened to his mother.

Dumbledore passed over the threshold of the cell, and strangely enough, this time he seemed to need no magical assistance whatsoever, as if there had been no wall there at all. The headmaster stood just inside the cell, looking most troubled.

“What is it?” Snape said nervously.

“You are free, Severus,” said Dumbledore grimly.

What?” said Snape. He wondered suddenly if perhaps Dumbledore’s entire presence there were another illusion, another trick of the prison to tease its inmates out of their sanity.

“You are free,” Dumbledore repeated. “You are free to leave this place right now.”

“I don’t believe you,” said Snape firmly, determined not to be taken in by whatever game the prison was playing.

“I scarcely believe it myself,” said Dumbledore. “Nevertheless, it is true.” Yet he still looked terribly troubled.

“What do you mean?” said Snape, a little shaken by the continuing realism of this particular illusion.

“The charge against you has been dropped,” said Dumbledore. “Or rather, to be strictly accurate, it has been wiped out of existence.”

Snape stared at him dumbly, too startled to think of arguing.

“This morning I went to the records library of the Wizengamot,” said Dumbledore. “I asked for the records of all underage wizards and witches who have ever been arrested for casting one of the Unforgivable Curses, beginning with yours. But the Wizengamot did not have a record for you. In fact, they had never heard of you.

“I was mystified, as you might imagine. I went straight to the Auror Office and looked for your arrest record there. But I found nothing in your file more recent than the court record from your hearing last summer.

“One by one, I sought out each of the four Aurors who came to arrest you yesterday. One by one, they told me they knew nothing about it. They did not recognize your name, and each of them said that he or she had made no arrests at all yesterday, for Unforgivable curses or anything else. Each of them was convinced I had confused them with someone else.

“I then went to St. Mungo’s and spoke to the three medical personnel who attended to your mother yesterday and witnessed your arrest. All three of them denied ever having been to your home, seen you, or provided aid to your mother. There is no record of your mother’s having been admitted to St. Mungo’s yesterday, so I could not even question the doctors who treated her.

“I then went to your home. Your mother was there, with her nose and wrists mended, and her health exactly what it was two days ago. I asked her how she was, and said I had heard she might have had some trouble recently concerning her husband.

“‘Funny you should ask me that, Professor,’ she said. ‘I did have, two days ago. He’d rung up a hundred-pound pub tab that he had no means of paying, and they arrested him for it. But when he got to the jail, the police sent him straight home again. They told me that ‘a good Samaritan’ had paid off the entire debt, and that Tobias’ record was clear. I’ve no idea who it might have been, and it bothers me that I’ll never know who did it. Though I’m not sure whether I ought to thank them or curse them.’”

Snape stared, unable to believe any of this, but also unable to close his ears to Dumbledore’s story.

“Finally I returned to Hogwarts. Yesterday morning, when you were arrested and simultaneously expelled from school, I received immediate notice of both facts from the Ministry, shortly after the event took place. I quickly made a copy of the notice, filed it, and took the original with me when I came to see you here. That original has vanished from the pocket of my robes in which I kept it – a pocket upon which I had placed a security charm to prevent the accidental loss or theft of its contents. The copy I filed – again in a secure place, locked and charmed – has also vanished.

“In short, Severus, all public record and all public memory of your arrest has been erased, exactly as if it had never happened,” concluded Dumbledore, looking suddenly older and more tired than Snape had ever seen him look. “Azkaban has no record of your ever having been incarcerated here, and if you step over this threshold now” – he looked down at it– “you should find the wall offers you no resistance. In fact—” Dumbledore took a closer look at something on the ground, then bent down to pick it up— “I believe this is yours.”

Dumbledore handed the object to Snape. It was his wand.

Snape took it, gripped it tightly, and came over to the threshold of his cell. Trembling a little, he put out his foot. He still rather expected it to smash into hard stone.

But it landed easily on the other side of the threshold. Dumbledore was right; the wall had gone. Snape followed with the rest of his body, then quickly looked up and down the corridor. No other person or thing besides themselves was about; he could see into several adjacent cells, and all were empty.

“How…?” Snape stammered. He turned back to the headmaster, who still stood just inside the cell, his face wearing a funereal expression. Snape could not understand why Dumbledore should be so downcast at this miraculous news. Was he frustrated by the miscarriage of justice it represented? Perhaps that was it, thought Snape; yet Dumbledore did not even seem angry, only strangely despairing.

“Why has this happened?” asked Snape. “Has there been some sort of time warp?”

“Severus, let us leave this place,” said Dumbledore, again with that mysterious unhappiness. “You are in no danger of being reincarcerated, and yet this is an unhealthy place in which to linger. Let us go. Since you are underage, you must Side-Along Apparate with me. I will take you home. Do you have your things?”

Time warp or no time warp, Snape was not about to step back inside that cell. He raised his wand, glad to have a chance of further testing the apparent restoration of his freedom.

Accio chocolate!” he called, and sure enough, the two chocolate bars (which he had managed not to touch since Dumbledore’s departure the day before) flew toward him. He then summoned the knapsack and dropped the chocolate into it. The sleeping potion, the writing implements, the book all followed, as he successfully summoned each.

Dumbledore left the cell then, and held out his arm to Snape. “I am astonished to find myself saying these words, but: I believe we can Apparate straight out of Azkaban,” said the headmaster. “Are you ready?”

Snape nodded vigorously, and took the offered arm. The next moment that awful pressure, that terrible feeling of being vacuum-packed inside a Muggle tin can, was upon him again.

They materialized seconds later in the entryway of the Snapes’ house in Spinners End. Snape stared around himself in astonishment: they had really done it. They had Apparated out of Azkaban and not a soul nor a Dementor had stopped them. He was free.

“Let us go into the sitting room and talk for a moment,” said Dumbledore.

“It’s a little dusty in there—” began Snape. He had not done any cleaning in the room all summer, hoping that Tobias would continue to consider the room as disused and not enter it for long enough to notice the broken window. Snape stopped in mid-sentence, however, as Dumbledore flipped the switch on the wall and turned on the overhead light: all four bulbs were now burning brightly. As they walked toward the sofa, Snape surreptitiously glanced at the end table and the coffee table: both were entirely free of dust. In fact, they gleamed as if very recently polished.

Dumbledore took the armchair; Snape sat down opposite him on the sofa.

“I still don’t understand,” said Snape. “Was there a time warp?” It was the only thing he knew of that might account for what had happened.

Dumbledore shook his head sadly. “No, Severus. Do you not see? Though part of me is glad you do not see,” he added, seemingly more to himself than to Snape. “Yet you must understand who has done all this.”

Who has done all this?” repeated Snape uncomprehendingly. “Who could’ve done all this?”

“There is only one person in the wizarding world who is both capable of exercising such power and unethical enough to want to do so,” said Dumbledore. “Now do you begin to see?”

And finally, Snape did see. But he did not believe.

“But that’s ridiculous,” exclaimed Snape. “Why would he – why would anyone – want to do this?”

“Only he knows that, Severus,” said Dumbledore. “Though I fear you may learn his reasons all too soon.”

“It’s impossible,” insisted Snape. Yet a warm feeling growing and spreading within him—a feeling of intense happiness, gratitude, admiration, perhaps even love – told him otherwise. His life had been saved. Was it really the Dark Lord who had saved it for him?

Snape suddenly remembered something else, something of the most critical importance. “Does this mean I can come back to Hogwarts?” he asked, unable to keep the hunger out of his voice.

“Of course you may come back,” said Dumbledore, very gravely. “Why should you not come back when by all appearances you were never expelled in the first place?”

Snape expelled a rapid breath, then bent forward and pressed his hands to the sides of his head, as if to keep it from bursting. He could have cried from joy and relief.

Recovering himself, he looked up to find Dumbledore gazing at him. There was something so sad, so piteous in his expression that Snape flinched.

“Severus,” said the headmaster quietly, “I will not pretend I am sorry to see your place at Hogwarts restored to you. But it has been so dearly bought that in the end you may wish your expulsion had been successful.” Snape, however, found it impossible to imagine any circumstances in which he would ever wish such a thing.

Dumbledore rose suddenly. “I must be off,” he said. “You have reminded me that I have Hogwarts business to attend to. The start of term is almost upon us.”

Snape stood up too, not knowing what to say that would not expose the ridiculous extent of his happiness.

“Thank you, sir,” he managed. It was the first time in the last two days that he had addressed Dumbledore as a student would address a headmaster, and for once in his life he was thoroughly glad to do so.

“You are welcome, Severus,” said Dumbledore soberly. “I will see you at school, then, in about a fortnight.”

Snape nodded.

“Enjoy the rest of your holidays,” said Dumbledore. Then, with a pop, he was gone.

Snape sat staring into space for a few moments, until he heard the door of Eileen’s room open. She came out into the hall, then jumped as she passed the sitting room and saw him sitting there. Snape looked her over closely. Her nose, her wrists all appeared intact. She looked just as she had two days ago.

“What are you doing home, Severus?” asked Eileen in confusion. Snape recalled with a jolt that it was the middle of the week; he was supposed to be at work now. He pulled his pocket watch out of his robes; it was running again. The time was nearly half-past noon.

“I forgot my lunch, Mum,” Snape said quickly, rising. “I just came home to get something out of the icebox. I’ve got to be right off again.” His euphoric mood had just been tempered somewhat; he realized that he had not turned up at work for two days in succession, nor had he called in sick. He was sure to be fired as soon as he got to Rankin’s.

To back up his story, he went straight to the kitchen and retrieved a tin of meat from the cupboard and a slice of bread from the breadbox. His mother stood at the doorway watching him.

“Are you all right, Mum?” he asked, looking down at her.

“I’m fine, Severus,” she said with a wan smile. “Or at least, no worse than usual.”

“I’ve got to run,” said Snape, moving toward the door. “See you tonight.”

But once outside he did not run. He was already two days late; what was difference was a few more minutes?

He pulled the tab on the tin, dumped the meat onto the bread, folded it over, and ate it as he walked, thinking mostly of how wonderful it was to be walking through his hated Muggle hometown, eating inferior bread and meat from a Muggle market, knowing he could go where he chose and come home to sleep in his own bed. He had lost his job, but what did that matter? There were only two weeks left in the summer anyway, and after that he would be returning to Hogwarts. Nothing could truly interfere with the satisfaction of that knowledge.

Nevertheless, he thought about his options. It occurred to him that he could simply tell Shankley the truth: he had had a family emergency, his mother had been hospitalized, and in the panic of the situation he had forgotten to call in. Shankley might turn out to be human enough to accept this. If not, which Snape thought was more likely, perhaps he could get some temporary work somewhere else for the remainder of the summer.

As he arrived at Rankin’s and approached the stockroom at the back, he was planning the wording of his explanation to Shankley. He found his boss standing over Marcus Tench as the latter entered some figures in a ledger.

“Don’t round yet, mind you!” Shankley told Tench warningly. “Don’t round till the very last moment. Every penny counts, you know.” Hearing footsteps behind him, he turned.

“Oh, hello, Snape,” said Shankley blandly. “You’re a decent hand with figures, aren’t you? You can check over Tench’s work when he’s done, get a second set of eyes on the numbers. In the meantime, there are some boxes out back that need breaking down.”

Snape stared. Was it possible? Had Voldemort even seen to this?

“You weren’t looking for me, were you, Sh—Mr. Shankley?” Snape corrected himself, just in time. “You didn’t miss me?”

“Snape, I don’t mind saying in front of Tench here that you and Morris are the best of a bad lot this summer, but I don’t like you that much,” said Shankley, and walked out of the room.

On the way home from work that evening, Snape finally remembered Tobias. It was a shame in a sense that Voldemort had had his father’s debt paid off, or wiped the barman’s memory or whatever it was he’d done; Snape would have liked to see his father held accountable for something for once in his life. But it was a small price to pay for having his wages in full, Eileen’s bones mended, and – most important of all – every excruciating memory, every painful hint that her son had been marked down to spend perhaps the rest of his life in Azkaban, gone from his mother’s mind forever.

Snape walked into the kitchen, feeling calmer and more equal to the demands of life than he’d done in ages. Upon seeing his father standing there peering into the icebox, however, some of his old nervous hostility returned.

Tobias turned, saw Snape, and visibly flinched.

“Stay away from me!” he cried. “I’m leaving now. Come into the room, but stay where I can see you. Don’t make any sudden moves, and don’t even think of putting your hands in your pockets.”

Snape held up his hands in a sarcastically exaggerated gesture, to show how empty they were. What was this all about?

“I’m leaving now,” repeated Tobias, whose hands were full of food he had just foraged. “Move away from the door and let me out. Don’t come near me.” Snape, not eager to come closer in any case, did as he was requested.

Tobias moved skittishly out the kitchen door; soon Snape heard his feet moving up the stairs. “And keep your boss away from me too!” Tobias yelled, as an afterthought.

“My boss?” said Snape. “What are you talking about?” Had Shankley somehow learned about Eileen after all, and come over to investigate Snape’s whereabouts while he had been away?

“That tall, odd bloke who looks like a vampire!” shouted Tobias, as if it were obvious to whom he was referring. “A fucking menace to society, he is. Keep him well away from me, I’m telling you!”

As it came clear to him what and whom his father meant, Snape almost laughed. Tobias, alone among the witnesses to Snape’s casting of the Cruciatus Curse, had not had his memory modified; on the contrary, he had apparently had it enhanced.

Snape put his head into the hall. “He’s hardly someone I’d give orders to,” he called up the stairs. “On the contrary, he’s a bit of a loose cannon. Nobody can control him. Nobody in their right mind would even try.”

“Get away from me!” screeched Tobias, and ran headlong up the stairs. A piece of cheese bounced back down in his wake, but he did not come back to retrieve it.

The rest of that summer was markedly more pleasant than the beginning. Snape hardly saw his father, who kept to himself and skulked away whenever he saw either Snape or Eileen coming. For his mother was leaving her room a little more often these days: by the last week in August, things had improved so much that on several occasions, Eileen sat in the kitchen all the while that Snape cooked dinner, then remained there to eat a full meal with him. During these times they talked about the coming term at Hogwarts. Eileen said that sixth year had been her favorite year of all.

“The anxiety of the O.W.L.s is all past, and the workload is a little less,” she said. “You’re not worried about the N.E.W.T.s yet, nor do you have to feel sad at the thought of leaving. It’s the perfect time, really.” Snape felt certain he would agree; never in his life before had he been so aware of the preciousness of another year at Hogwarts.

The day before he left for school, Snape made a final round of the house, which he was cleaning for the last time. He made one final discovery: the broken window in the sitting room had been mended.

Snape was standing and staring at the intact glass, marveling at the benficience and attention to detail of the man who had rescued him from a life in hell, when his mother came up behind him.

“He notices everything, doesn’t he?” said Eileen in a pleased voice.

Snape turned sharply. What did his mother know about Voldemort’s recent involvement in their family life? “Who?” he demanded.

“Professor Dumbledore,” said Eileen. “He came to see me earlier this month, just to ask if I was all right, and to make sure Tobias wasn’t bothering me. He remembered everything that had happened last summer, you know; he’s always had an extraordinarily good memory. We talked for a little in this room, and he never said a thing, never let on that he’d seen the window – he probably thought it would embarrass me if he called attention to it. But after he left, I noticed it was mended.”

Snape considered this, and concluded that Eileen was probably right about the source of the repair. It was, Snape thought, completely characteristic of the headmaster: a token gesture of kindness of the sort that won people over to him, yet left the larger problems of their lives unchanged.

* * *

Snape’s sixth year proved to be a bit more of a mixed bag than Eileen’s had evidently been. Just as she had said, following the strain of fifth-year and preparation for the O.W.L.s, the workload became far more manageable. Snape now felt more than comfortable academically, he felt cocky – particularly in Potions (where his knowledge now outstripped Slughorn’s to a noticeable extent; increasingly he cut class in favor of doing his own experiments in the Room of Requirement, showing up mainly to take and ace the exams) and Defence Against the Dark Arts, where his brilliance in the classroom was suddenly complemented by an enhanced extracurricular reputation.

Although they still had not covered Patronuses in class, word had somehow got round that Snape could already conjure one – indeed, that he had done it over a year ago and been punished by the Ministry for it. His Slytherin housemates seemed ambivalent about Patronuses themselves (“They’re really not our kind of thing,” Mulciber had objected, to which Snape had retorted, “I don’t care; I want to know everything"), but they enjoyed the thought of Snape’s flouting underage magical law, getting into a showdown with the Ministry, and coming away with a slap on the wrist – twenty Galleons! Practically pocket money! Across the houses, people were impressed by the level of skill the achievement represented, and it had the final bonus of confusing Gryffindors, something Snape felt was always worth doing.

Snape was not sure how word about his hearing had got out; he figured it must have originated with someone whose parents worked at the Ministry and had heard about it over the family dinner table. It certainly did not seem likely to have come from Lily, who was, if anything, even more adamant than she had been in the spring about not talking to him or having anything to do with him. She refused to make eye contact with him in class and walked away if he made so much as a move in her direction, so it hardly seemed possible that she would be the source of any gossip which might place him in an admiring light. To Snape’s extreme irritation, James Potter was hanging round Lily more and more often this year; his interest in her was now a subject of gossip and discussion well beyond the walls of the Gryffindor common room. Fortunately, she continued to treat him like the annoying insect he was, swatting him away with insults and even a choice hex or two.

Snape continued to think and worry about Eileen after he was back at Hogwarts. Tobias’ unmodified memory of being on the receiving end of the Cruciatus Curse, and the warning visit that Voldemort had apparently paid him later, had certainly seemed to put the fear of God or the Dark Lord into him at the end of the summer, but Snape could not be sure this reform would last. Now that Snape was away, after all, the immediate threat of Tobias’ being cursed again had been removed; Snape remembered all too well how utterly his mother’s second attempt at Repulsing Tobias during that fateful argument had failed. Wasn’t it possible his father would revert to his old, violent habits sooner or later?

When September came and went without a single letter from Eileen, Snape began to fear the worst. He had begun sending Pascal home every day, whether he had a letter to deliver or not, but the owl kept coming back with his talons empty. Snape wished that there were some magical means of looking in on her, talking to her, assuring himself that she was all right. Even Muggles had their telephones; how could it be that wizards had not invented something far better to serve the same function? The Ministry was still monitoring Eileen’s wand, presumably; perhaps he should contact them to see if they could check up on her, though these days he felt leery of even the slightest unnecessary contact with those people.

By the end of the first week in October, Snape was in such a panic over Eileen’s continuing silence that for two straight nights he hardly slept for worry. On the third night he lay down late, hoping that exhaustion would finally overwhelm his anxiety and allow him to drift off.

It must have worked, for Snape had a dream, a strange and exceedingly vivid dream about his mother. In it, he seemed almost to have become his mother: he was looking out at the house in Spinners End as if through her eyes, and seeing the familiar rooms as she walked through them. What was more, he was privy to her every thought and feeling. She was very weak, and worried that she was getting even worse; she was constantly concerned about money, which was tight again in the wake of Snape’s departure; she was irritated because she had entirely run out of magical ink and was having trouble getting hold even of the Muggle ink which she might use as a substitute. Each week she had sent the Holts’ son to a different store in search of it, but Muggles did not seem to use ink for writing at all anymore, and the boy kept returning with nothing.

Aside from these matters, however, Eileen did not seemed troubled or fearful. She thought of Tobias mostly when she heard him entering or leaving the house, and when she did think about him she seemed calm, secure, unfazed by his comings and goings or his movements about the house.

When Snape woke the next morning, he remembered this dream in incredible detail; but even more striking than the images that remained in his mind was the wonderfully convincing sense the dream left him with that his father was continuing to leave his mother alone, and that she no longer lived in fear of him. He knew that these feelings constituted no proof of anything, and that he ought to find out for sure what was going on at home before he allowed himself to relax, but the dream had already given him an intense sense of relief that he could not entirely talk himself out of.

The next night he had a similar dream: again he looked out at the world through his mother’s eyes, felt her feelings, experienced her thoughts. She had received another letter from her son that morning, the sixth of the term so far, and she had become quite agitated at her inability to answer Snape’s letters. She could not even find a Muggle pen or pencil around the house to use instead of a quill…at that point in her musings, Eileen had suddenly remembered a stationery store on the other side of town, a place she had not set foot in for years. It was an old-fashioned sort of shop; surely they would sell ink there. She would send the Holts’ boy there tomorrow, though it was so far away that she would have to pay him extra for the errand.

Two days later, Snape finally received a letter from his mother. In it she apologized for the long delay in writing back to him, and explained the reason for it: she had been unable to get hold of ink to write with, and after sending the Holts’ son all over creation, she had finally got some Muggle ink from Hanaby’s, the old stationery store across town (she had taken him there a few times as a child, but he probably did not remember…).

This was all intriguing enough, but the letter contained something else that got Snape’s attention: Eileen wrote that she knew it was silly, but she had somehow known or felt for the last few days that he was thinking about her and worrying about her – though perhaps this was really her own mind inventing things, because she herself was concerned about her long silence and the guesses he might make about it.

Just in case, she wanted him to know that she was fine, and he should not worry, truly. She did not know what had come over Tobias at the end of the summer, but he seemed really to have changed. She hardly saw him anymore; he did not even take food out of the icebox these days. She was living off weekly government checks, and though these were scanty, they were enough for one person. All in all, things were much better than they had been.

Snape was still thinking about Eileen’s letter when he entered the History of Magic classroom the next day. The stuff they were covering this term was boring even by the usual standards of this class – trade agreements between wizarding Britain and the rest of Europe, various regulatory acts and tariffs on imported goods, the imposition of unified safety standards on broomsticks, wands and cauldrons – and Snape found his mind wandering back to his mother. He wondered what she was doing at that very moment, and whether it was more interesting than what he was doing…

And suddenly he had his answer. As he sat there in class, he was inside his mother’s head again. She was thinking about Gobstones, wondering what was going on in the professional Gobstones leagues these days, which she had not followed since she had gotten married…She was thinking about starting a subscription to the Daily Prophet; she had never had one at Spinners End for fear of annoying Tobias, but these days he was around so infrequently that she thought it would not matter. The Prophet’s main Gobstones coverage had always been on Saturdays; perhaps she could afford a Saturdays-only subscription…

After that day, Snape found that with determination and effort, he was able to access his mother’s thoughts at will, almost any time he wanted to check up on her. He noticed that it was more difficult to do it at times when he was preoccupied or under strain, and on a few occasions (several of them during a period when Lily and James Potter had been partnered for a series of hexing exercises in Defence Against the Dark Arts, and she had not appeared to hate every minute of it) he had failed altogether.

But for the most part, the process was reliable, and the things Snape saw while doing it were often confirmed in his mother’s letters afterward; for instance, she did begin a Saturdays-only subscription to the Daily Prophet a few weeks after Snape had overheard her thinking about it. By second term, he stopped doing it quite as often: Eileen seemed sometimes to be aware of his presence inside her head, and he did not want her to think he was snooping on her; anyway, he was afraid that one day he might catch his mother thinking about…he did not know what, exactly, but something that would be embarassing to both of them. It was best, he thought, to reserve this new ability of his for situations of real need.

Meanwhile, Snape was hotly anticipating his coming birthday in January. He would finally be seventeen, a legal adult. At last he would be able to do magic at home without worrying about the Ministry; at last he would be able to get his Apparating license, a milestone he was looking forward to even more than most Hogwarts students, he thought. He had never been a particularly skilled flier, and his secondhand broom was a disgrace; anyway, Apparition was much faster than flying. His first-ever Apparition had been extraordinarily unpleasant, it was true, but he thought that was largely due to the awful circumstances in which it had taken place; his second experience with it had been, quite literally, liberating.

But the most important thing of all about turning seventeen was that he could finally, officially join with Voldemort and become a Death Eater. Voldemort had told him he could do so once he was of legal age, but he had not told him how to do so, and Snape was becoming rather concerned about this. He wanted to join up at the earliest possible moment, on his birthday itself if he could; this would show Voldemort that he had passion and initiative. But Voldemort had said nothing about how to contact him when the time came. Perhaps he was supposed to wait for Voldemort to contact him?

His seventeenth birthday, when it finally came, proved disappointing and anticlimactic in every way. He still could not Apparate: it had turned out that Apparition lessons would not be offered at Hogwarts until later in January, after which there would be twelve whole weeks of training to get through before he could get his license. On the chance that Voldemort might pay him another visit, he kept his entire evening open after classes were done, postponing the birthday drinks in Hogsmeade that Mulciber and Avery had invited him out for. But the Dark Lord never appeared, and Snape was now worried that Voldemort would take his failure to contact him in the wrong way.

To top it all off, he found himself thinking glumly about Lily, whom he had been trying hard to put out of his mind ever since that week when she and James Potter had been hexing partners and Snape had actually heard her laughing – more than once! – at Potter’s witless jokes. This would be the first time since he had turned ten that she would not be with him on his birthday, and he found himself stupidly hoping against hope that she would use the occasion to seek him out and make up with him. It appeared, however, that Lily intended to emulate the Dark Lord in her boycott of Snape’s birthday festivities. The only nice thing to happen all day, in fact, was Pascal’s delivery at breakfast of a set of new quills from Eileen. They were really Muggle novelty items – they had come from Hanaby’s, the Muggle stationery shop – but they worked just as well as wizard-made ones, and he knew she must have set aside money from her grocery budget to get them for him. He was touched.

Apparition lessons finally began on the thirtieth of January, which by rather unkind coincidence was Lily’s birthday. As the students entered the Great Hall, took their places, and were given wooden hoops to use as the hoped-for destinations of their first Apparitions, Snape’s eyes alighted on Lily from halfway across the hall. She was probably having a wonderful birthday: her first gift would probably be a successful Apparition attempt, followed later by a surprise party in the Gryffindor common room, planned and executed by James Potter…

She suddenly turned her head and saw him looking at her. The gesture had obviously been accidental, for she immediately turned her eyes forward again and refused to look back. It was a pointed rebuff, and Snape flushed with anger.

To comfort himself and put Lily out of his mind, Snape began thinking instead of Voldemort. Once he had his license, Snape thought, he would be able to Apparate to meet the Dark Lord and swear loyalty to him. If only he knew where to go!

Their Apparition instructor was a Ministry representative called Juanita Veracruz; according to rumor, her Apparating skills were so advanced that she commuted to her job every morning from her home in Spain. She gave them the three-step mantra they were to follow in their first lesson: “Destination, Determination, Deliberation.” Veracruz made a fuller explanation of each step, but Snape was so lost in thoughts of Voldemort that he missed half her instructions. Anyway, he remembered vividly what it had been like to Apparate out of Azkaban; though Dumbledore had been the one doing the steering, as it were, Snape thought that the headmaster could not possibly have felt greater determination than Snape had to leave that place, or a greater longing to arrive at their destination. For his first solo attempt, he thought, he would try to duplicate his feelings on that earlier occasion, then simply add in a pinch of deliberation.

Veracruz was speaking again, counting down to the group’s first Apparition attempt. “Turn on the spot, feel your way into nothingness, move with deliberation…On my command, now: one…two…three!”

Snape turned on the spot, felt the familiar feeling of intense constriction…and materialized directly in front of Lord Voldemort.

For a moment he was too startled to speak; fortunately, Voldemort took the conversational lead. “Hello, Severus,” he said placidly. He was sitting on a simple wooden chair with his legs crossed and his hands folded in his lap, looking deathly pale but entirely at his ease. His voice, as before, was high, cold and perfectly polite. “Allow me to wish you a belated happy birthday,” he added.

“Sir, where are we?” exclaimed Snape, then flushed self-consciously as he realized what the Dark Lord had just said. “I—thank you very much, sir.”

He looked around; they were in – could it be? – a place he knew all too well. It was a dusky, windowless room in an abandoned wooden building; the few items in it were heavily coated with dust (though Snape felt certain that Voldemort’s chair must have dusted itself off voluntarily in respectful anticipation of the Dark Lord’s sitting down there).

“Excuse me, sir, but what is this place?” asked Snape. “It looks exactly like the Shrieking Shack.“

“The Shrieking Shack?” asked Voldemort. “I did not realize it had that name.”

“I’m sure that’s not its real name -- that’s just what we call it at Hogwarts,” said Snape quickly. “That’s where I was till just a minute ago. How did I get here?”

“You were trying to get somewhere just now, were you not?” asked the Dark Lord.

“Yes, sir,” said Snape. “We’re having our first Apparating lesson back in the Great Hall, you see. But—”

“Then of course the normal enchantment that prevents Apparition out of Hogwarts will have been lifted,” said Voldemort logically. “And we are quite close to Hogwarts, after all.”

“But I wasn’t thinking about the Shrieking Shack at all,” said Snape. “I wasn’t trying to get here."

“Perhaps not,” said Voldemort, “but you were thinking about me, if I am not mistaken.”

“Yes, sir, I was,” said Snape, marveling internally at the Dark Lord’s omniscience. “You see,” he continued eagerly, “ever since I turned seventeen I’ve been trying to figure out how I could see you again.”

Voldemort smiled. “It seems that you found a way, Severus. ‘Destination, Determination, Deliberation,’ as they say.”

“You mean…that’s how I got here?” asked Snape. He was amazed, yet not entirely surprised.

“Perhaps it was a combination of your magic and mine,” said Voldemort. “A sort of Splinching, if you will.” Was this a joke? The Dark Lord seemed to be in rather a good mood; Snape thought this was most auspicious for the communication he wanted to make, so he forged ahead.

“Sir,” said Snape, “the reason I’ve been trying to find you was so that I could tell you…I want to join you. I want to be part of your movement.”

“I am pleased to hear that, Severus,” said Voldemort, “very pleased indeed.” He smiled again, and Snape felt he was sincere. He was thrilled.

“How does it work, sir? I mean, what should I do?” asked Snape.

“Wait,” said Voldemort. “When I am ready, I will call on you.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Snape, hoping Voldemort would be ready very soon.

“Now that you have joined me, Severus,” said Voldemort, “you may use the special form of address that my followers have for me. Perhaps you already know what it is.”

Snape congratulated himself for having asked Mulciber and Avery that very question nearly six months ago. “Thank you, my Lord,” Snape said, feeling as confident as if he were back in Defence Against the Dark Arts class and Voldemort were his professor – Merlin knew, they would probably need a new one soon anyway.

“You are most welcome, Severus,” said Voldemort. “And now, perhaps you should get back to your lesson before you are missed. What was your original destination?”

“A wooden hoop,” said Snape; and instantly he felt squeezed from all sides…A moment later he was back in the Great Hall, standing inside the hoop that had been placed in front of him earlier. Juanita Veracruz was a few paces away, watching and applauding.

“Well done!” she exclaimed. “Rather a long delay, but that sometimes happens at first. And the end result was perfect. Now try it in reverse!” And she walked on down the row of students.

Snape caught the eye of Avery, who was practicing next to him; from the looks of things, Avery had not made it into his hoop yet.

“Where were you?” Avery exclaimed. “We all thought you’d Splinched yourself and died.”

“I’m fine,” said Snape. “I got sort of sidetracked. I ran into someone I knew.”

To be continued…

Special Note:
Due to the unusual length and complexity of this fic, it will be posted in multiple parts. Subsequent chapters will be posted as they become ready, and will appear as new posts in your friends lists, so that readers who want to continue following the fic as it progresses will be automatically alerted to the appearance of new installments.
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