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Down The Rabbit Hole

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Severus was falling, falling down in the darkness. It seemed to go on forever, as if there was no ending. He didn’t even truly know if he was falling, as to fall implied a start and ending. He was existing, drifting. Maybe downwards, or maybe not. It was strange, a dreamy sensation. Was he falling down through a darkened universe or falling asleep, he wondered idly. His thoughts felt abstract, distant, almost as if someone else was thinking them for him.

He felt a strange sense of confusion wash over him when he found himself on hard ground, as if he had forgotten what it felt like to not be suspended in the air, floating aimlessly. All around him loomed giant, multi-coloured mushrooms. It was almost as if it were a forest. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a white rabbit in a waistcoat dash past, and lacking anything better to do he started walking in that direction. Weaving through the mushrooms, he thought he saw a smile, hovering in the air, but when he turned to look it had faded.

The forest was beautiful, in its own odd way. Severus had always rather liked mushrooms, and these came in all the colours of the rainbow. He felt tiny, but it didn’t fill him with fear that it might have. Instead, he felt enchanted. Awed, he touched the stem of a small mushroom, the cap of which was almost within his reach, if he stood on desperate tip-toes.

He walked onwards, lost but unconcerned. Eventually, his feet led him to a clearing. There, in the middle was a large table with many, varied chairs. The table itself was covered in assorted tea cups, on all manner of mismatching saucers. There were teapots, scattered around in amongst the cups and saucers. Curiously, he looked around, but there was no one in sight. Cautiously, he moved forward to rest a hand on a teapot. It was cold. He touched a teacup, full to the brim of tea. It was piping hot, nearly scalding his delicate fingers with the heat. Intrigued, he tested all the teapots. All of them were cold. The teacups, however, varied in temperature from near frozen to near boiling.

Curious, he looked around, wandering all the way round the table. There was no one. The whole place was eerily quiet, utterly deserted. Once again, from the corner of his eye he thought he saw a flash of white. He turned, startled, and saw a white rabbit’s tail just disappearing from his field of view. With nothing better to do, he followed in that direction. It was no worse a tactic than wandering aimlessly.

As he walked through the clearing, he tripped over a root. Mushrooms didn’t have roots, as far as he knew, but it was most definitely a root. He fell, and he seemed to fall further than to the ground. When he scrambled to his feet, he felt as if everything around him had changed. He couldn’t remember the castle in front of him, nor the flamingoes that regarded him with curious eyes.

A woman in glorious red was standing before him, tall and imposing. She looked down at him, clearly unimpressed. On her head was an elaborate crown, as red as her clothing. Severus could see what looked like animate playing cards, seemingly painting the roses of the rose bushes surrounding the lawns they were standing on, carefully transforming the elegant white roses to red.

“You dare to interrupt our croquet game?” the Red Queen asked, anger colouring her cold voice. Severus shook his head, stepping backwards, only to trip over a flamingo. It flapped at him, tangling it’s long legs and fluttering wings with his own limbs. This was starting to feel familiar. It was almost expected when the Queen started to shriek, calling for his head. The playing cards surrounded him, falling on top of him and the poor flamingo like sheets of parchment cascading down, inefficient but annoying, all but burying him.

He was lost in Wonderland he thought clearly, and he was jerked sharply up, out of the cards, suspended in the air by his ankle. He floundered, a sudden panic overcoming him. This was unlike the dreamy calm of moments before, a brutal awakening from a pleasant if surreal dream. His robes were falling down, over his face. He could hear Potter and Black, laughing. The words seemed almost indistinct. He was disorientated, lost. He remembered his wand, the thoughts coming through like treacle. The words washed over him, sensations distant yet intrusive, barely aware of what he was saying himself. It was a relief when he was finally released, out of their power, and fell to the ground.

He lay there for a moment, and then Cafall’s wet nose was nuzzling against his cheek and he turned to bury his face in the soft white fur. He clung to his beloved dog, his only friend in the whole world. Cafall whined sympathetically, showing himself to be as perceptive as ever. Slowly, Severus raised his head to the greenery of Dysynni Valley. As far as the eye could see, green hills stretched and sloped in dramatic glory.

“I won’t let him hurt you,” Severus affirmed to Cafall, tangling his arms once more around his dog, his fingers buried deep into the soft white fur. Cafall leant into the embrace, before jerking sharply away.

Will, his round face showing exertion from the climb, appeared huffing in Severus’s field of vision. Cafall and Severus faced him, both of them poised for trouble, though Will held no threat. He was exhausted from the physical strain, his illness having robbed him of whatever strength he may have previously had. His convalescence was far from over. Even had he been fighting fit, Will had been nothing but kind, though Severus was not used to kindness or friends. He was more used to the loneliness of the landscape, time spent with no one but Cafall for company.

The greyness of the weather seemed oppressive, the clouds drawing themselves over head casting shadows much like the way Caradog Pritchard’s threats cast their dark shadows over Cafall’s life and Severus’s heart. Will looked at them, his gentle eyes showing a hint of age far beyond his years.

“It wasn’t Cafall,” Severus said angrily, the terror and fury that no one seemed inclined to believe him clear in his wild eyes, a sense of deja vu in all that he felt, “Cafall would never kill a sheep,”

“I know,” Will said soothingly, reaching out a hand to pat the dog softly, the gesture calming the owner as much as the dog, “It’s the Dark,”

Will sat down on the grass besides Severus with a sigh, drawing in deep breaths. He gazed around the stark crags if the valley, almost as if he were trying to remember something just out of reach. Something of his quest, Severus guessed, something of the eternal battle against the Dark that Severus was being drawn into. Or maybe still wondering what to make of Severus, as people often did. Will had sensed him to be nothing of the Dark, but at the same time that he was nothing of the Light had seemed strange to Will. Severus was used to people reacting to him with fear and confusion, unsure what to make of him and preferring to avoid him. But that interlude on the gentle hills was a moment of calm in the gathering storm.

It could have been an eternity later, that Will once more came up the hills to Severus, so much had changed. For Will, the quest had been completed and the Light was pleased with the ongoing campaign against the Dark. For Severus, lying on the green hills no longer with Cafall but by his grave, there was no pleasure in having helped. Instead his thoughts were full of grieving resentment, at the darkness that Will had brought into his life, the way he had been co-opted into service and entangled against his will. Whenever he closed his eyes, he could still see the moment Caradog Pritchard raised his gun and shot Cafall, the way the red bloods stained the beautiful white fur, the gaping hole opening in the dog’s chest.

Will’s gentle manner, his sympathies were no comfort against the magnitude of Severus’s loss. If not for the Light’s quest, the Dark would not have stirred. If not for the Dark, the shadowy influences that consumed Caradog Pritcher would not have driven him to such rage. If not for the warring Light and Dark, there would have been no reason for Cafall to die.

“I don’t care,” Severus said, his words cutting Will off, bitter and full of heartbreak that might never ease, “I hate your Light and your Dark, I don’t care about your fight, it brings nothing but misery. You brought them here and they took my Cafall,”

His eyes were red and sore from tears that felt like they would never stop, a mourning that had no end. Will, perceptive enough to know he was not wanted, but still desperate to ease the suffering of his friend agonised over what words he could find to provide even a modicum of comfort. Severus raised himself slightly from the ground, kneeling now before Will. Looking up almost beseechingly into his eyes, begging for something he couldn’t even comprehend. He knew that the Dark was Rising, he could see that and now they were all caught in the dark plans of the Grey King, trapped and despairing.

Tears blurred his vision, his grief still overwhelming. When he had blinked them away, he was still kneeling on the ground but before him was a man wearing dark robes. Severus held his left arm out, his inner forearm exposed, as the man before him gripped his wrist tightly with a vice-like strength. The man was handsome, though in a terrifying way. There was nothing kind about his face, and his eyes almost seemed to have a touch of red to the irises.

Voldemort touched his wand to Severus’s arm, and simultaneously an agonising pain and a dark stain spread out from the tip. Severus caught himself, the tears of his grief still threatening to fall, further choked by this new, physical agony. The writhing blackness formed itself into a skull, a snake slithering from it’s open mouth, and the wand was withdrawn. Severus stood up, a marked Death Eater.

He walked down the stairs, pushing the door open and stepping out into the sunlit garden. Barefoot, he wandered across the lawns, marvelling at the way the grounds stretched out as far as the eye could see. He headed towards the walled garden, in search of Hatty. He wandered calmly, confident that no one could see him except for her, enjoying the sensation of damp grass tickling the soles of his feet.

He found Hatty hiding behind a bush, avoiding her cousins and aunt as always. She seemed older now than she had been last night, but she still smiled a wide smile at seeing him. They crawled through the bushes, past the flower beds and vegetable patch to sit underneath a plum tree. She talked a little of her parents again, who had been a King and Queen, though Severus suspected that this was make-believe. Her aunt and cousins did little to make her feel like a welcomed member of the family.

She drew out from her hiding place a bow and a quiver of arrows, inviting him to share in her secret. He’d explained how to construct the bow, and he could tell that she had done a good job. She shot the arrows, aiming amongst the foliage and once the quiver was spent, running through the thickets to collect the fallen arrows to start over. Severus was not afraid to laugh in delight at her antics, safe in the knowledge that no one would hear him, just as no one but Hatty could see him. Their next project was to be a treehouse, with Hatty dreaming of a glorious structure with real windows to be made in one of the trees, and he left her to return to his bed in the house.

Another night when the clock struck thirteen, he found the garden covered in snow, in deepest winter. Wandering across the snow drifts that had been the lawn, he searched as always for Hatty, finding her eventually in amongst the thick hedges of the labyrinth of the walled garden, dreaming of skating. She was older still, no longer a young girl but verging on an adult woman, but still she greeted him with a wide smile.

“Oh Severus, it’s been so long,” she lamented, “But I’m still so glad to see you. You seem… thiner…” Severus was confused by that, and she had to explain, “Less substantial, as if you’re less here,” she tried, but it made no sense to him, why would he be fading away from her.

She tried to persuade him to go skating with her, asking whether he had any skates, and he had an idea, “Hatty, promise me something,” he said, “Promise me that you’ll leave your skates in your secret place, please?” he asked and she promised him, confused.

Turning, he ran back to the house, back into the night and crept quietly upstairs. In the false bottom of the old wardrobe, he found her skates, ancient but still serviceable. Before he could return to where he had left her, he bumped into Hatty again, and she smiled at him as she strained to make him out.

“I’m going skating, Cousin James is taking me into town,” she told him, and he was glad to have the skates in his hand. Shadowing her, he slipped into the carriage and out once again when they were at the lake, its frozen waters spreading out a glistening crystal. Sharing excited grins, as if they were children together once more, Severus and Hatty laced up their skates and glided across the ice, heading towards Ely.

The next night when the clock struck thirteen, as it did for his Midnight Garden, he half remembered that he’d read this story before. He opened the door, but it was dark, night time like it should have been, unlike all the other nights. Disorientated, he stepped out, almost calling out “Hatty,” but realising that the magic was gone and Hatty was his playmate no more.

He stumbled, almost falling to his knees with a sense of grief and loss, but he regained his footing. Before him on the hill stood Dumbledore, imposing and intimidating, a fearful sight.

“Please,” Severus begged, his thoughts consumed by his long lost friend, “Please,”

For Lily he would do anything, throw himself at anyone’s mercy, no matter how pitiful. Nothing else mattered but her safety. Her son’s life was beyond his meagre power to protect, marked out as a target, but if there was any chance to spare at least Lily he would do anything. He would always love her, his dear friend, even if she no longer loved him. Friendships could last for eternity, the ties binding their ways through time, never lessened or weakened by erosion but held firm by deep love.

Begging, pleading, selling what little was left of his soul to a new master, he finally felt some hope that Lily could be protected. If anyone could save her it was Dumbledore, and it mattered nothing to Severus how low he had sunk in the man’s regard.

He walked away, ashamed, pushing his way through the forest, made of coats or trees. Susan joined him, and they crept quietly through the forest. Severus led, gesturing to Susan to tread softly as they kept Aslan in their sights. The lion padded softly through the twilight, powerful and magnificent. His mane caressed almost respectfully by the light breeze, shifting the golden fur in a gentle ripple. As they followed, he seemed to sense them and turned, his kindly eyes catching them, his warm gaze holding them frozen.

Caught and guilty, they slunk forward, showing themselves to him fully. He was not angry, his expression was as loving as ever, but deep inside Severus thought he could sense a strange sadness. The two of them hugged him, and Severus buried his face deep within the thick mane, drawing comfort from the incredible softness. He was worried now, and he could tell that Susan was too.

“Children,” Aslan said, his voice a low rumble, full of power and strength, “Children,” he sighed, softly, the vibrations from his voice resonating through Severus and Susan as they held him.

“Children,” he murmured again, and they drew back, so that they could look him in the face as he spoke to them.

“Children, you may look,” he told them, “I will always be grateful for your company, and to have you walk with me now fills me with joy, dear children, but you must not interfere with what happens. No matter what, you may watch but nothing more. Can you promise me that?”

His tone was so solemn, his expression so serious that both Severus and Susan promised him without question, swearing that they would walk with him now, but stay silent and unmoving as whatever happened happened. Aslan relaxed, still radiating melancholy, but at the same time he exuded the warmest, deepest love that they had ever felt. They walked a little further with him, before he instructed them firmly but kindly that they could go no further.

Reluctantly, they let him walk onwards, towards the Stone Table. Severus and Susan hid in the shadows and watched as Aslan met the White Witch, surrounded by her underlings. With a gracious patience, Aslan submitted to her. They kept quiet, wincing in horror as he was bound by cruel ropes to the Stone Table, the twisting twine digging in mercilessly to his richly coloured fur, harsh enough to cut the flesh and draw drops of flaming red blood. The blood dripped onto the Stone Table, just as the tears dripped from the eyes of Susan and Severus onto the ground beneath their feet.

With Aslan thus bound, the minions grew confident in their movements, mocking and laughing at the powerful lion now under their control. Severus felt a flash of anger at them, jeering at him, but he was as bound by his promise to Aslan as Aslan was bound by his duty that had seen him bound by ropes. He watched in silent horror, Susan trembling with the same shared pain, as the underlings took pleasure in the shaving of Aslan’s glorious mane, the cruel cackles crawling under his skin and twisting at his heart strings to the point that he thought they would knot so tight they could never be untangled. The soft fur fell to the floor, kicked dismissively with a sadistic pleasure by the witch’s minions, covering the earth with a golden carpet, a desecration of sorts.

Aslan, with stoic calm, bore the humiliation without a word. He did not flinch when the witch gestured to her underlings, and a muzzle was brought forth. He did not fight them, allowing them to place it over his jaws. He was powerless, entirely at their mercy and with no way to fight back. Susan took Severus’s hand, and they clung together, watching as silent witnesses at the horror before their eyes. The underlings took great pleasure in their torture of the great lion, now broken and bound like a sacrifice on an alter of cruelty.

The White Witch stepped forward, her sadistic pleasure at Aslan’s subjugation oozing from her every motion, and her minions melted away in a fearful show of respect. In her hand she held a knife, and Severus knew what was to come. He felt helpless, almost wished he could close his eyes and not see anymore, but he felt obliged to watch everything, so as she plunged the knife in Severus watched. The image burned itself into his mind, remaining long after the Witch led her troops away with barely a backwards glance at the corpse on the Stone Table.

With them gone, Severus ran to the abandoned body of Aslan, Susan following behind, their tears splashing to the floor unchecked. They fell on him, clinging to the bloodied fur and stroking the shaved fur. Without a word, they loosened the muzzle, removing it and dropping it to the ground as they stroked his poor face lovingly, their grief coming out in deep heaving sobs, wrenched out from inside with an intense agony. They barely noticed the mice gnawing away at the rope binding him to the Stone Table, consumed in their devastation.

Shuddering and trembling with anguish, Susan took Severus by the hand and drew him away. Severus resisted, unwilling, before relenting and following his sister away from Aslan, towards their camp. He paused, resting against one of the pillars, his eyes still welling with tears as he cursed internally at the fate that intertwined the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that had led them all to Narnia.

He leant against the doorframe, grief robbing him of all strength, wishing to do nothing more but to collapse, to cry and to die. He could barely concentrate on Dumbledore’s words, so vague and abstract, spoken as if from a great distance, from a different time. They seemed distorted, a mangled mess of concepts, of green eyes and a son with Lily’s green eyes. There was nothing but grief, grief haunted by green eyes watching from all over, green eyes that had once been kind to him. A promise to remain loyal, to devote everything to the boy with her eyes, was wrung from him, only faintly aware of the meaning, binding himself once again not knowing what was to come.

He was torn, knowing the futility of the oath yet with no choice but to make the attempt to protect his companions. The bonds held him tightly, held them all hopelessly captive. He despaired, but still he felt a resolution. He could not bear to allow his friends to be sacrificed while he might have some power to save them. A clean, clear death would be far preferable to the reanimation from the dark magic of the Black Cauldron, to being a mindless slave that even death could not free. Morgant he could no longer trust, the betrayal still stinging like a poisoned knife twisting deep, but Severus could not watch his companions be fed to the cauldron.

Eilonwy was fighting her gag, while Fflewddur muttered frightened ramblings to himself, attempting to find some hope in the situation, though there was none. Gurgi and Ellidyr were both unconscious still, lying beaten in their bonds.

“How dare he,” Eilonwy fumed once she’d freed her mouth enough to speak, “To even consider making his own Cauldron-Born and using them against his own people for his own power. I’ll make him pay,”

“If only we could escape,” Severus said, a plan that lacked any finesse. They stood very little chance.

“Yes, I very much agree,” Fflewddur agreed, “But the details are somewhat lacking,”

Severus closed his eyes for a moment, before once more looking at Eilonwy. Her fierce anger and the tangled red-gold hair framing her fear and courage.

“We’ll be killed before we’re given to the cauldron, so any plans to destroy it are hopeless,” Severus said, “But I won’t let you be sacrificed while I can still save you, I’ve made my decision, I’ll swear my loyalty to Morgant,”

Eilonwy was incensed by this, glaring at him and replying, “You must be mad, you’d swear allegiance to such an evil man,”

“I know,” Severus said, annoyed, “But an oath given under such threats of death is not binding, I can give my word without keeping it. That way we may have some precious time,”

“Do you think he’s a fool?” Eilonwy snapped, “He won’t hold his part of the bargain, once you are utterly under his control he’ll simply kill us all, just the same as a Cauldron-warrior,”

“I know,” Severus repeated, “But what else can I do?”

It wasn’t just their lives, set to be sacrificed and used for evil, but everyone else as well, all those who were replying on them to keep the Black Cauldron out of the clutches of darkness. Through the thin fabric of the tent they were held in, Severus could see the shadows of Morgant’s warriors, moving about in formation. He could just about make out the dark shape of the cauldron, it’s gaping maw awaiting sacrifices to convert into undead Cauldron-Born, a mindless army of evil. He closed his eyes, trying to think.

With a determined intake of breath, he opened his eyes, Dark Mark still burning. From deep within his wardrobe he withdrew the Death Eater robes and mask he had reluctantly kept, hidden away out of sight but never out of mind. He ran over the words he would say, the grovelling act, what there was he could give Voldemort to convince him of his loyalty. He calmed his mind, clearing it in preparation for the test it had not had to weather in many years. Confident in his Occlumency, but still feeling underprepared, too much riding on his mental barriers. His life was in immediate danger should they falter or Voldemort be even more unhinged from reality than he had been initially, yet that paled in comparison to the blow that would deal to the Order, to Dumbledore’s machinations, to the chances of Harry Potter’s survival. Quietly, he slipped into the darkened secret passage, to make his way to an Apparition point and even further into the darkness.

He stepped through the dark labyrinth, having become accustomed to the darkness. There was no escape. His magic, weakened in the tombs, could not open the door. He had accepted that, but still he moved forward, if not always in body then in spirit. Maybe his quest was foolish, a sign that his youthful ambitions had not been clawed out of him from his arrogant flirtation with dark magic, but it was too late for regrets. He was trapped on this path and no matter what he thought of the decisions that had led him here, he would still be lost in the dark.

He could just about remember the instructions the woman’s voice had given him, a priestess no doubt, observing him from spy holes he couldn’t see. Was she helping him or taunting him, prolonging his death for her amusement and that of her gods? Knowing that he was watched by more than the Nameless Ones was an additional drag on his mental reserves. He was already expending vast amounts of magic to soothe them, to keep them only vaguely aware of his presence. To have his life in the hands of a priestess gave him a hope of salvation it was true, but at the same time it was more likely she would sacrifice him for desecrating the Labyrinth.

He creeped along, repeating the directions over and over to himself. His werelight was faint, barely casting any light from the tip of his staff. He would die without water, his body reminded him with unfortunate practicality. More now than the Treasure Room and the ultimate goal of the lost half of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, he needed food and water. Would his priestess have left him some, in the Painted Room she directed him towards, or was it just a game, taunting him and playing with him for her gods. The Nameless Ones were cruel masters, he thought heavily, recalling darkly his previous encounter with them when he had been so assured of his power, before being torn down to size.

The passages wound on forever, each one seemingly identical to the last yet the priestess had been so confident in her directions she clearly knew each twist by heart. A servant of the Nameless Ones, he pitied her. He paused, lifting his staff, straining the werelight to consider the dark maze. This must be what she had called the Six Ways, Severus thought wearily. Obediently he took the right passageway, his movements slow and lips parched. Dark thoughts came easily in the darkness. He had accepted the darkness within him, acknowledging it and merging it with the more obviously savoury aspects of his spirit. His shadow was a part of him, just as darkness existed in each and every person.

He touched his talisman, the half of the lost Ring of Erreth-Akbe gifted to him, a token that neither the gift-giver nor gifted had understood the significance of at the time. His life had been saved against all the odds, thanks to human kindness that time. The second half would likely cost him his life, both halves of the Ring existing so close to each other and yet so far. So unfulfilled, buried deep in these tombs, never to be seen. Coming to the end of the direction, he regarded the door in front of him, that promised to lead to the Painted Room of The Tombs of Atuan. He pushed it and stepped through.

He stepped out onto the tower, his wand drawn. His eyes fell on Dumbledore, everyone else fading into the background. Their eyes met. All eyes were on them, everyone else was merely a spectator. He had a role to play, the role of Death Eater and soon to be murderer, he knew this and knew there was no alternative. Still, he struggled for an alternative but saw none in the pleading blue eyes, pleading for Severus to fulfil his promise. Pleading for him to damn himself in the name of the Light, sink into the Dark once more for the Light, for him to kill.

“Severus, please,” the words drifted to him, saturated in meaning that Severus could not ignore. Slowly, reluctantly, determinedly he raised his wand. Summoning the emotions for the curse, calm somehow as everything inside shattered, each motion perfectly executed as he performed his role as executioner as he wished for nothing but to flee.

There was no chance for flight though, no matter what he wished for. He was captive here, enchanted as if in a dream or nightmare. He was helplessly in the power of the man before him, his seductive darkness suppurating between them, entangling him in a snare he could never hope to break free from.

He felt weak, he felt enthralled. Every morning he woke, the dreams of the night still gripping him in their tendrils of terror, draining him of strength and health. Every morning he woke a little closer to death. He could feel it starting to snake its way through his veins, no matter the efforts of Dr Van Helsing. Whatever it was he had done, Severus did not know, but it had temporarily restored his health only for it to be drained once more as night fell.

He was not sure if he was asleep or awake, if this was real or a dream. The man stood before him in his bedroom, his presence filling the room with a dark malevolence that penetrated Severus like fangs sinking into his flesh. If only it were just a cruel nightmare, but he felt all too certain that there was more than invented demons here with him.

Strong arms caressed his shoulder, stroking his neck, sensual yet ominous. He could smell the sweet scent of decay washing over him, overpowering his sense of smell with the putrid ambrosia. He had noticed that the cloying aroma had started to cling to him too, just as the colour had fallen from his cheeks and all the lustre of his mind had withered.

The Count was speaking, his voice low and mesmerising, so captivating that Severus could not catch the words. They swept over him, drowning him in their succulence, smothering all resistance. He felt enraptured, lost in the dark as his will was moulded to his night-time visitor, passively accepting any violation the Count may desire. Deep inside him, the instinctive fear coiled, writhing round in his belly like a serpent ready to strike. But he was too sedated, transfixed by the dark temptation holding him captive.

The Count pressed closer, his body oozing predation. An ancient instinct tried to scream to him, to tell him to run, but it was stifled by the almost ecstatic attraction holding him fixed in the vampire’s power. He was chained by those mysterious eyes, caged in within the confined of his own mind. He relaxed into the embrace, strong arms wrapping themselves around him like a python slithering over his body with crushing power. Dracula sunk his fangs into his neck, lapping at the blood that poured forth.

Nagini, her powerful body wound around him, plunged her fangs into his neck. He felt his blood gush out, the agony of the moment anaesthetised by the knowledge that he’d not yet completed his mission. Potter was unaware that he carried a horcrux within him, the stark cruel fact penetrating further into his being than mere fangs could. Dying, he knew he was dying, barely aware of Nagini and Voldemort leaving, trapped inside his own personal hell where there was no more hope. Potter would live or die, but either way Voldemort would win and everything had all been for nothing. The Dark had won.

His torment was was stayed by a hand, and familiar green eyes appearing at the edge of his blurring vision. Potter, always where he shouldn’t be, finally in the one place Severus needed him. Summoning the last vestiges of his failing strength, using magic that had never been taught or even theorised, he spilled out the important memories, enough for Potter to trust him, to understand him, to understand what had to be done. To understand that he had done what had to be done and now it was Potter’s turn.

“Look at me,” he begged, the hand grasped in his weakening grip keeping his precarious hold on life clinging on for long enough to finally do his duty. He gazed deep into the emerald green eyes, so much like Lily’s, and almost felt as if she was there too, besides him as his vision faded and everything ceased to be.

He opened his eyes, sitting up abruptly and looking straight into startled green eyes. The library was quiet but crammed with students studying. He glanced around, barely able to take it in, his focus on Lily in front of him.

“You’re alive?” he said, breathlessly and confused, awed and afraid.

She looked alarmed, her affectionately amused expression changing to a worried frown as she said, “Sev? What’s wrong? You’ve been studying too hard…”

He looked down with little interest at the book his head had been rested on, a textbook with accompanying notes for the Defence Against the Dark Arts OWL, his gaze quickly returning to her, sitting beside him, alive. She was giving him a concerned look, seeing directed at him in the flesh made his eyes prick with tears, which judging by the way her concern seemed to deepen she had noticed. She touched his shoulder, the contact giving him reassurance he desperately needed.

“I…” he started, “I think I had a nightmare…”

“You’ve been studying too hard,” Lily repeated, “You don’t need to, you’re going to be just fine. More than fine, there’s really nothing left we could be asked about that you don’t know inside out. Maybe all this studying dark stuff gave you bad dreams?”

He looked at her, still shaking from the memories of what he’d dreamt, a dream that felt like it had lasted decades.

“I dreamt… I dreamt we stopped being friends… You died…?” He tailed off, that was the worst of it, in many ways. The disorientated snippets from novels he could handle better than the dreadful future they had been interspersed with.

Lily frowned, still worried, “Well, that won’t happen,” she told him firmly, leaning in closer and giving him a hug, “Tomorrow,” she said, “Tomorrow after the exam there’ll be no more studying. I’ll be waiting for you afterwards and I won’t even let you fret over every possible answer like you normally do, I will confiscate the question paper. Then, we will spend some time together like best friends and talk. You will relax and have fun, whether you want to or not,”