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Wax, Glass, Venom.

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One could not look at Lucius Malfoy and fail to discern that he was a Proud Man. He wore his entitlement like mantle and crown; his blood was the best, his lands the richest. His power and influence sprawled so far and wide that there was neither treasure nor trifle to be had in any corner of the world, but a whim could have it brought to him within a day. Law and Politics both flexed when Malfoy bent his will upon them, winding the needy, the greedy, and the ambitious neatly into his web of favors and friends.

He chose his allies wisely, crafted their ambition into his wealth and their cunning into his power. He applied his taste and strategy to the business and crafted a family as elegant as himself, framing his importance with their beauty. Then he set the careful arrangement against the lush tapestry of the Dark Lord's favour, where they shone like platinum and diamonds and pearls. And Malfoy knew by the sidelong looks beneath the not-quite-expressionless masks of his fellows, that he was a wizard much admired, much envied, and much desired.

Which was just exactly as he chose to have it.

Still he knew that a careless man lost quickly what power he might gain, and so Malfoy took care and constant care that his influence should not wane. He watched the Death Eaters with a raptor's focus; ever vigilant to the subtleties, to the hints and undercurrents of power around the Great Man they served. Steel-eyed, he watched for anything to glean fore-warning of change, any edge he might use to further his reach and confound his foes.

There had been rivals toppled from within before, of course. The Lestranges, for instance -- set upon a fool's pointless errand, at the other end of which well-informed aurors lay in wait for them. The keepers of Azkaban had ground down their sanity until all that remained of that once-potent force was a madwoman with glittering eyes and two shambling brothers with ghosts where once their eyes had been.

And when Malfoy looked upon them, he smiled where no smile could be seen.

And when the Rat summoned their Great Man back into form and flesh, Malfoy took particular care with him -- after all, gratitude can blind even Great Men to a wizard's real failings. His delight was profound, therefore, to find the Rat a coward through and through, and as pliant under wandpoint as the greenest Hogwarts first-year. No threat, this little man, for even as their Great Man held him close, he paid the Rat no real respect, trusted him with no meaningful tasks, rewarded his fawning devotion with scorn, and in no way fed the little man's ambition. Why, the Rat complained, often the Great Man seemed to forget he was there entirely.

And Malfoy knew just how useful such a forgotten wizard could be; a Rat in the walls, a mirror into the Great Man's unguarded moments. A weather glass whispering its secrets into the only ear wise enough to listen.

"Tell me," said Malfoy to the Rat late one night, "who amongst the Death Eaters does the Great Man trust most?"

"Why, me of course," and the Rat yawned, for he was well-fed and too full of drink to equivocate, "he hardly worries about me at all."

"Who," Malfoy's voice was ice and steel, "besides you. For Crouch is dead and the Lestranges all mad -- surely there is no Death Eater upon whom our Lord relies more than I."

"There is Snape," the Rat replied with a shiver.

"Nonsense."

"It's true," the Rat insisted, "for it is Snape who watches the Great Man's Enemy, who gives warning of his plots, and saps the strength and the will of the Old Man's chosen. The Great Man knows his blade lies close to his foe's heart and he favours Snape fondly indeed."

And again Malfoy scoffed. "Any crow can croak doom and gloom, any spy can dribble crumbs and make it look a feast. The man is a horror to behold, with skin pale as tallow and hair like greasy soot. His nose is like a barren crag, his face holds all the beauty of a cold slap, and worse he is to smell for the fumes of his foul cauldrons!"

And wisely, perhaps, the Rat said nothing.

But in the days that followed, Malfoy thought hard upon the Rat's words, and those words did fester like a carbuncle in his heart. For the Great Man did seem often to speak of the Potioner when Death Eaters answered his call, and he did seem to summon the man to his presence alone rather more than any other was summoned. And if Snape was ugly, well his face was masked before the Great Man anyway. And if he smelled, well surely the Great Man's wand could spell any odour away for as long as it might take Snape to cement his standing -- to steal the regard that Malfoy deserved.

And so Malfoy cast the bright edge of his mind at the problem, and being a clever man, he soon knew the answer. A whispered doubt here, a muttered reservation there -- Malfoy had built half his empire upon the strength of gossip and a timely galleon, after all. And it ought to have been simple; the man was a study in confusion and contrast, a homely sphinx with riddles standing plain and teasingly behind his too-sharp, too-hungry eyes.

But when months of rumours failed to take root, and when every gathering of Death Eaters saw the Potioner slinking closer and closer to the Great Man's bosom, Malfoy began to realize that he was not as patient as he had supposed himself to be.

"The traitor will cost us all," he said to his son upon one balmy evening when the night was short, but very dark. "He cannot be trusted, he MUST not be trusted, and yet the Great Man does so. My son, you must destroy him before he brings us to ruin!"

"I, father?" Draco replied, voice cracking to betray his nerves. "But he is powerful, and I am only-"

"You are a Death Eater, boy, and a Malfoy -- and he is only a treacherous pedagogue with a split tongue and a slick mien. Now," and he drew the boy close under his arm, where the beating of his young heart was like a tickle along his own ribs, "there will be a raid upon the Ministry in two night's time. I will arrange it that you shall be paired with Snape, guarding his back as he guards yours. Lead him deep, and when you are alone, kill him."

"But father!"

"No suspicion will fall upon you, for it will be supposed that you are at school, and should any ask after you, there are those who will swear you were there."

"But father!"

"And Our Lord will suppose that Snape fell when the aurors appeared to defend the Ministry. You have always been lucky and he will be glad to have only lost one follower when you tell your tale of near-disaster."

And the boy's heart did stagger in its racing gallop, so Malfoy stroked a finger along the fine, tight-held jaw, turned those eyes like mirrors up to meet his own. "It will take but two words, my son," he murmured. "Two words which you have known for years, and then this threat to your home and hearth will fall. The traitor will whisper his poison into Our Lord's ears no more. Surely you can manage that?"

And the boy trembled, and he swallowed, and then he nodded.

"Good," Malfoy replied, proud and hungry as he thumbed open the softness of the boy's lip, "and when it is done, bring me his mask that I may know in my heart you have saved us from this threat."

And what reply the boy might have made was lost in murmur, but Malfoy would not have listened anyway.

~*~

An owl brought Malfoy a bone-white mask the next day. No letter accompanied it, but he needed none -- he had been at the Ministry himself that night and the aurors had indeed appeared to defend their territory. And though his own plans had, regrettably, been foiled by the Madwoman Lestrange and the Great Man's insufferable Enemy, he received his private triumph with no little satisfaction.

He languished in bemused isolation, secure in the knowledge of his irreplaceable value, and more than a little smug as he imagined his foe's end. He fondled the mask -- spelled small and discrete, so as to be hidden in the palm of a hand -- and imagined how it had been. His thumb rolled over the inside of the lips, and he imagined Snape's final breath escaping in a chuff of surprise. He stroked the empty eye-holes and imagined tears leaking from blind, staring eyes. He held the mask to his nose and, breathing deeply, imagined he could catch the subtle perfume of perfect despair lingering within.

And triumphant, Malfoy faced his gaolers with a sphinx's smile.

Until the Rat came to him again -- sent by the Great Man to entice the prison's guardians from their work with treaty and rewards the like of which only a Great Man had wit to offer or stomach to ensure. The little man came to Malfoy, slipped into his mean cell as the spectral guards drifted across the icy waters, and there, as in days past, they shared their news.

"I shall not be long here now," Malfoy smiled, and the Rat nodded. "I knew Our Lord would not long allow his greatest asset to languish here, for he is not such a wastrel as that. He needs me now more than ever."

"Actually," said the Rat, "you are rather compromised, Lucius. It will be hard for you to serve as you had done, now that your arm has been exposed to the world."

"Bah! Spoken like a man of small imagination. We serve a Great Man, Rat, and a Great Man knows when his servant has many more functions to serve. Besides," and here Malfoy smiled his sphinx's smile, "he has nobody else now that Snape is dead, has he?"

"Snape? But Snape isn't dead," the Rat replied.

"What," Malfoy asked very carefully, for he was certain he could not have heard true. "did you say?"

"He isn't," said the Rat from the other side of the cell door -- for he was a canny creature, always the first to sense danger, and quick to seek shelter. "Our Lord summoned him just yesterday and received from him this scent I wear, which gives me command of the dementors here. Soon every Death Eater will bear the same, and --"

"No, Snape died at the Ministry," Malfoy explained carefully. "He fell when the aurors came."

"He lives, Malfoy. And he was not at the Ministry that night," the Rat assured him warily. "The Toad kept him at the school until long after the raid was finished. Snape lives and he prospers in the Great Man's eyes."

And when Malfoy knew he had been betrayed, he fell into such a rage as not even the North Sea could match for depth of cold or height of fury. The Rat sought the better part of valor and followed his spectral army into the misty night rather than face the wrath of his erstwhile ally. He left Malfoy to shout at the icy wind alone.

None now remain who may bear witness to the means Malfoy employed in his escape from the island fortress. He was a wealthy man, and so many believe he bribed some key-bearer who came once the dementors had been missed. But he was an influential man, and so many believe that blackmail opened his cell door. But he was also a powerful wizard and there are those who swear that the chill of his heart cracked wide the stones and made solid floes of the very waves, so that he had only to walk the strait to Scotland in measured, inexorable strides.

One thing is certain, however; the first Death Eater to know of Malfoy's escape was his son.

"Tell me why you have betrayed me," he whispered into the pale, quivering shell of the boy's ear. "Tell me how it is that my enemy has prospered while I lay imprisoned, and you have done nothing to set me free!" And his grip drew in on the slender neck, and clenched in rage. "Tell me whose mask you sent to me, coward!"

And what reply the boy might have made was lost in gurgle, but Malfoy would not have listened anyway.

~*~

Lucius Malfoy betook himself then to a deep and a secret place -- a place where lay the darkest of magics and direst of curses; the spoor of demons and the spawn of monsters and every foul thing laid out in that place for the hand of him unafraid to make use of them. And in his envy and his rage, Malfoy had just such a hand.

And he took with him the heart of his son, and brewed from it such a potion as would allow him to take, for the space of one hour's time, the seeming of the treacherous boy. And took to himself the venoms of the serpent and the toad, of the bog-weed and the black spring berry, of the red fungus and the cold white stone. And the poison which he brewed therefrom was subtle and deadly and strangely sweet, and the mice and rats which he summoned nibbled it willingly and died at once.

And all the while his sorcery bubbled and cursed to itself in the darkness, the world moved on in the bright places above him. Months, perhaps, or years went on -- he had no means to tell. Children learned spells and charms, potions and hexes; politicians equivocated; spies whispered and strategists plotted while the soldiers fought a war decades in the making. From time to time, the mark upon his arm would burn and Malfoy would think upon the Great Man and the masked followers who would be appearing before Him in answer to the summons.

But he did not abandon his work. Not until he could come with news of his rival's destruction would he answer that call -- not until he could return in triumph, his moment chosen carefully, his entrance a perfection of dramatic timing. Malfoy played it out, staged it this way and that against the darkness that filled him, until he could recite the whole, and picture without effort the look of glowing regard that would suffuse the Great Man's face when he, The Malfoy appeared from the shadows to save Him in His moment of need.

Yes. It was worth a bit of patience, such a look. And anyway -- his revenge was nearly complete; it wanted only one thing; one tricky, slick and changeable thing; fragile and brittle and brightly sharp; smooth and without colour, and cold, very cold.

Glass, it wanted. And it did not take a Potions Master to brew that.

~*~

On feet too small, Malfoy took himself down into the shadows and chill and dank of the Enemy's castle, and with hands too soft, he tapped upon the dungeon door. In a voice too meek, he begged entrance into the Potions Master's sanctuary, and with eyes too pale and too wet, beseeched the cold man for his trust.

"For I had to go," he pleaded, making himself seem afraid and desperate, "my father, he took me, held me captive and forced me to his will," and tears sprang to Malfoy's eyes, and his voice quavered with the lie, "I have defied him with my escape and now the Great Man's trust in me is broken." Malfoy fell to his knees, took hold of Snape's robe and pressed it to his trembling lips. "Have mercy upon me, Sir," he begged, seething within the fastness of his heart that he should so prostrate himself before the homely man, "for if you will not protect me, I shall have nowhere in the world left to go!"

And Snape did raise him up, and Snape did fetch him food and drink and potions for calming and for healing and for gentle rest. But Malfoy refused them all, turning wide, hungry eyes to the man as though he were not uglier than any gargoyle. And with dainty, soft hands, Malfoy stripped away the youthful clothing he wore, laying bare the milky skin beneath. And with lips soft and gleaming a glassy pout, he made plain the goods he had to offer in trade for the dark man's protection.

But Snape stepped away, caught his narrow shoulders in hands like the stained claws of a carrion crow. "Leave off, Mr. Malfoy," he said, and his voice was cold as a worm, "I will have none of that from you."

"But…" Malfoy blinked his son's silver eyes, "am I not fair?"

"You are fair, boy. Fair as a sweet apple in the depths of winter. But I will not have you."

"But…" Malfoy smoothed his son's ivory hair, "am I not powerful, with my bloodline so pure, and my pockets so deep? Can I not bring you comfort and rapture now beyond your grasp?" And he trailed his fingers so white and so slim, along the sallow skin to where Snape's lips pinched into a scowl. And yes, the flesh of those lips did soften at his touch, though the hard, dark eyes did not.

"You are rich, boy. Your blood is pure and your magic strong, but your gold will not sway me; I will not have you."

"But…" Malfoy pressed lithe and close and tight along Snape's body, smiling to find Potioner's manhood straining and eager beneath those coarse black robes, "you do want me, and I want you -- to be taken by you, pierced and possessed and mastered by your touch. My body will yield to you, and I will take you deeply in, to keep away the dungeon's cold."

"No," Snape said, but his fingers curled, tight and tempted around Malfoy's shoulders.

"Then let me taste of you," Malfoy palmed Snape's erection, stroked it as though he loved it, "that my mouth might recall your manhood's weight and length and power, and comfort me in my loneliness."

"No," Snape said, but his voice had a tremour, and his black eyes smouldered, "I will not have you. Leave off now, or else I shall pitch you naked into the lake, where you may make your obscene declarations to the giant squid!" And he thrust Malfoy from him.

And startled, Malfoy stumbled and fell. And furious, Malfoy summoned his wand to his hand. But the Potion's Master had his own wand pointed, and his black eyes were wary. "Then…" Malfoy let fall his weapon and his pride and glanced upward through pale eyelashes, "please Sir, if you will not have me, nor give me anything of yourself to hold, I beg you this single kindness: one kiss. One only." And rising to his knees, Malfoy took Snape's cold, potion-stained hand and pressed it to his son's soft cheek. "And if you choose it, afterward take even the memory away from me, only… please, let me not face my fate without even a touch of your lips."

"A kiss," said Snape, and raised him to his feet.

"One only," Malfoy said, bringing his shining lips close.

"One only," Snape agreed, and lowered his head to taste what sweetness Malfoy offered him. And when he had kissed those plump, apple-blush lips, he stepped away, slipping his tongue out to taste his own lip. "Sweet," he said as even the colour of tallow drained from his ugly face, "too sweet…"

And saying so, he fell dead.

 

Triumph filled Malfoy's breast then, even as his shape began to buckle and stretch, shedding the dead boy's seeming at last. The pain of it could not fade the mirth that stretched his face and made his teeth glitter in the candlelight. He stood, naked and proud over his fallen foe and two words fell like cruel diamonds from his lips, "I win."

But no sooner had he said the words than alarms whooped and screeched and shattered the dungeon's silence. The fire in the grate leapt wild with a roar, and the flames turned from gold to green. Quick as a cat, Malfoy ducked into an open cupboard, just moments before the Old Man and his allies poured into the room, appalled to find the ugly man so fallen.

"Snape," they cried and clutched their wands. "Snape is dead!" And the noise of their grief drowned out the quiet snick of the cupboard door locking. From within though, Malfoy could hear the spell take hold, and he cursed silently the luck which would so betray him. For his wand lay outside the cupboard and his clothes likewise, and though his arm ached with the urge to join his Lord, he dared not make a noise as the dead man's room filled up with teachers. All he could do was watch through a crack in the door as they lifted Snape up and lay him out upon his bed.

"Still," he thought to himself as the Old Man leaned and mumbled above the corpse, "it is a satisfaction to see ones enemies fall to despair. I must remember to tell the Rat of my triumph..."

"Snape is not dead," said the Old Man, straightening with twinkling eyes. "He is very nearly so, but Merlin be praised, he clings to life yet."

Silent in his cupboard, Malfoy cursed.

"Is it his heritage," cried one, "the blood of ancient lamia preserving him?"

"Is it his bezoar," asked another, "for they are proof against all poison."

"The magic castle's wards?"

"Has he hidden his heart away in a duck's egg?"

"Is he just too cursed stubborn to die?"

Malfoy thought that last might be truth, but wanted only for the chance to try again and make sure. For he was stubborn himself, and rather thought his tenacity would prevail, if only he could get his hands around the Potions Master's throat.

"I believe that he is protected by True Love," the Old Man pronounced at last, "For Death cannot sever it, as we all do know. Come now," he said, and clapped his hands together. "We will make him safe as may be here in this place. We will cast our charms and our wards to strengthen the bond of soul to body until True Love may return to set him free."

"And if he should fail?"

The Old Man's eyes brightened with tears. "Then Death will unite them, no matter what we may do. Come now," and he clapped his hands, "Who will be the first?"

"I will weave spells about Snape and stop the blood in his veins," said the witch in white, "that the poison may push him no closer to death's cold embrace." And she did.

And near came a witch both tall and severe, who lay a charm of whirling gold upon the fallen man's breast. "I will stop Snape's time," she said, and settled her spectacles, "And he will bide in this state unchanged until we know the means to save him."

And up stepped two wizards, one wizened and pale, another owlish and round, and they said, "We will build up a wall of mirrors and glass and baffling charms around Snape, that the villain who has brought him to this pass may not return to complete his mischief." And they did, filling the dull dungeon with glittering magic and razor sharp spells and baffling sums to eldritch equations which Malfoy shivered to see.

And another, tall and broad as an oak came near, wiping tears from his eyes as he declared, "I will go to the forest, bring back the bones of rare beasts never seen by the eyes of men, for the Unicorn is proof against all poisons, and I have seen them there." And so he went.

And close behind him came another, round and apple cheeked, with the smell of the earth to her hands. "I will fetch wild briar roses with tangled canes and vicious thorns, and I will set them at his foot and at his head to catch and crush and rake out the eyes of any foe who dares to come near." And she went too, leaving only the oldest and the tallest and the most powerful of the wizards behind in the room -- the Old Man himself.

A trembling hand did he lay across the almost-corpse's brow, and a bright tear rolled along his nose to splash upon the magical glass. "Oh, my dear boy," Malfoy heard him murmur, "my poor, dear boy, what a pass you have come to. Best that you sleep though, best that you dream on Death's doorstep through these last hours while your potion works its will, and the Evil One's faithful fall prey to it. Here, at least, you may dream safe from that Dark Mark you bear. The Evil One will not steal you away when his doom comes upon him."

And unseen, Malfoy caught his breath. So the carrion crow was traitor after all! He was right, had been right all along. The Great Man's favorite was false to the core, and he had been right to kill him. Only to learn of such a thing too late... No! The Old Man was mad, of course. Whatever Snape's treachery had been, that handful of teachers and toddlers and lame, grey warriors could not possibly prevail. What place had a simple brewer's poison against the Great Man's wit and will, before which Death itself had yielded its tenure?

The Great Man would crush their champions once Malfoy returned to his side... Together they would drive the lot of them, from the Old Man to his puling, child-Hero into the muddy depths of history and burn this rocky ground clean once and for all! If only the door would yield...

But still the magical cabinet held Malfoy in check, and still his wand lay beneath Snape's mirrored bier -- beyond all hope of touch or summons. And still, still the Old Fool prattled on over the silent, ugly man. Dementors and Dark Lords and foolish boys with Hero's swords; such fairy tales as the desperate will weave to comfort themselves when they are lost. Lucius paid it no heed whatsoever, but seethed in his prison and wished in vain for thick socks.

"Rest now, Severus," the Old Man said at last, "No hand will touch you, no spell will reach you, no voice disturb your rest but for one who loves you as I do... or perhaps even better." And the old wizard slipped his palm along a glittering plane of glass so the scarlet welled up quick and bright in the cut. Drops rained down in slow deliberation as querulous palm turned into clenched fist over the bier. "Only love, Severus," he said, "I swear it."

And even locked down in his cramped and dusty prison, Malfoy felt the blood magic take hold, setting Snape's death still farther from Malfoy's grasp. But he did not let himself despair as the Old Man left. After all, Snape was ugly -- hook nosed and greasy as a carrion bird, with crooked teeth and spiteful eye and withering scorn for all who met it. No one could love such a one as that.

"Once more your plans come to naught," he murmured after the Old Man's absent shadow as he prodded at the locked cupboard door, "for Snape is little better than dead and buried under all that glass. I need only break away from this place, and rejoin my Lord in his victory. My work here will finish itself when your treacherous gargoyle dies of neglect in this coffin of glass."

But the lock did not yield, no matter how he twisted it, and the door did not splinter, no matter how he kicked at it, and the cupboard did not totter over and smash upon the stones, no matter which way he hurled himself within. Exhausted at last, Malfoy could only curl himself upon the chilly floor and glower at his foe, so very close, yet so far beyond his power.

Gradually, sleep overtook Malfoy, and in that sleep came dreams. Perhaps they were inspired by the Old Man's half-heard mumblings. Or perhaps the cramped cupboard with its chill and dank smells stirred up his memories of gaol. Or perhaps his thwarted revenge took shadowy shape and made war and struggle behind his closed eyes. Whatever the reason, Malfoy dreamed of the Great Man striding tall and fierce across the field of battle, awful and inexorable with his Death Eaters at his side.

Even asleep, Malfoy's breast burned with rage that it should be not himself, but instead the Rat who stood at the Great Man's right hand. Facing them, Champion Child stood trembling, as if to bar the way with a sword near as big as he was himself and only his tattered teachers and frightened playmates to stand, brave as billy-goats at his side. Why, even the Mad Lestranges were sane enough to laugh at that threat.

For the Great Man's army was more terrible by far; not only wizards and witches with fearsome enchantments, not only trolls and ogres, oh no. At the Death Eater's heels massed terrible, hungry specters; Dementors that sucked the life and heat and joy from the air even as they sucked the roses from the childrens' cheeks. Despair dimmed their shining eyes, and the ragged band shivered as the Great Man raised his wand -- and dreaming, Malfoy's arm gave a fiercely longing ache.

Then that yew wand fell, the ghastly wraiths rose like a wave to block the weak Northern sun... then they crashed into the Death Eaters' midst, and Malfoy groaned in his sleep. The specters raged through the Great Man's chosen like wolves through spring lambs, clutching the witches and wizards close in icy embrace, pressing murderous kisses to their faces. And neither the trolls, nor the ogres, nor their white masks could save them.

It was dreadful to witness, and cold to the bone in his unforgiving bed, Malfoy tossed and cried out at the sight, and recalled how in another tiny cell, not very long ago, the Rat had boasted to him of a potion with which the Death Eaters could control the dementor spectres. A potion made by Snape. A potion made with the Great Man's own blood.

And in his dream -- for he knew it could only be a dream -- the spectral army surrounded the Great Man when no more of his chosen could rise up to defend him. But the Great man did not yield. Though his enemies sent baneful silver beasts to herd the specters toward their prey, though the chill of the haunts weighed upon his bold heart, he did not yield.

No, he fought them to the end and he destroyed many, but at the last, their numbers were too great, and the siren lure of his blood was too sweet. The dementors prevailed, and they kissed Him Who Had Been Greater Than Death, and they drank away his soul though the merest sip of it burned each one to a wailing wisp of steam. They kissed the Great Man mindless as the horrid silver menagerie circled them in.

And then in his dream -- in his impossible, awful dream, Malfoy saw the Champion Child come near, a silver stag before him, driving a path through the shadowy, sated spectres. The boy, who was perhaps not so much a boy, really, stood over the great man's empty shell, looked deep into the eyes of the vacant, staring thing that had once held a Dark Lord's power… and he smiled. And dreaming, Malfoy gave a shiver to see such a smile.

Then the Champion raised high that Hero's sword and brought the blade down in a mighty arc --

And Malfoy awoke with a groan, to find he was clutching his left hand to his breast, and quaking with chill. "It is not so," he murmured to himself. "It was not so, Madb grant that it should never be so!" But the Mark on his arm was a very quiet thing, and in the stillness of Snape's cupboard, Malfoy could not make himself be certain.

His reverie was sundered by a great sound -- a shattering sound, as of iron bands splitting wide, or a million mirrors smashing to dust. Springing up, Malfoy put his eye to the crack in the cupboard door and gasped aloud. For there, in the dungeon doorway stood the Champion, with dark hair wild, and green eyes bright, and the long sword of the Hero at his side. He looked not so much a child at all now, Malfoy frowned to realize.

The Champion raised up his wand, and the briars, which had filled up the room in the long lonely cold of the night, bowed aside like an army of thorny dementors, quivering as he stepped, light as a stag through their arching boughs. And within the leafy bower, Malfoy could see that Snape's crystal bier was no more than a drift of sparkling dust, and he smiled.

For it was no secret thing that the Champion hated the Potions Master. Even his own treacherous son had brought Malfoy tales of screaming rows and cutting insults, of leaden glowers and stony silences between the two. No milksop love charm could stand against such legendary hate as that which Malfoy could see burning in those eyes. The Hero would murder Snape with that ancient sword, and Malfoy would watch. And it would be almost as good as having done it himself.

The sword sprang ringing from its sheath, and seemed to gleam with a bloody light (though Malfoy supposed it might have been reflections of the hearthfire) as the Champion lay the point on the Potions Master's still breast. "You did it, Severus," the young man said, and his voice was tight. "We've won, and it's all your fault. Won't you wake up and gloat?"

But Snape said nothing.

The sword moved, but only a little -- hardly enough to kill -- before lifting again, a golden, whirring charm dangling from its point. "There," the Champion said, and tossed charm and sword into the briars, "your time is freed. Won't you wake and call me a fool for disturbing you?"

But Snape said nothing.

And so it went, with the Champion stripping away Snapes' protections one by one, daring the nearly-dead man to stop him, to berate him, to resist in any way. A strange sort of dance for hatred to take, Malfoy pouted, for while he had patience when he needed it, he had also waited a very long time in the cupboard, and was getting a cramp.

But the strange youth's revenge would not be rushed, it seemed, and when finally Snape lay naked and pale as wax against his glittering bed, and the boy's clothes hung alongside his in the briars, Malfoy began to wonder if it would be revenge at all. For the Hero's hands stroked with tenderness, urging a flush across that sallow skin, drawing turgid life to Snape's member and urging it to lie thick and full along his belly. And the Hero's tongue tasted of that ugly flesh as if he had starved for such a feast all his life long.

Trapped and furious, Malfoy wondered if enough of his poison lingered on Snape's lips to kill the wretched brat as well. But though the Champion laved Snape's dusky nipples to pebbled peaks, and trailed bites like rose petals along Snape's white collarbones, and licked every inch of Snape's blood-dark cock until it pulsed and twitched in the scarlet cradle of his mouth… though he kissed Snape everywhere else, of those pale, thin, poisoned lips, the Hero never ventured to taste.

And Snape, damn him and blast him to ashes, sighed, and shifted, and arched, and groaned, and let himself be led from Death's doorstep. But still he did not wake. Not even when his own bitter spend dripped from the Hero's lips, silvered those clever fingers, and slicked the way for him between Snape's long, lax legs.

"I love you," the Champion groaned as he pressed inside. Unseen, Malfoy grit his teeth in fury. "You greasy git, do you hear? I love you, and you're free at last if you but wake!" He drove the command with a mighty thrust that arched Snape's back up off his bed, and seemed to force a groan through his bitter lips. "The victory is yours, and the victor's spoils as well, for I want none of that! I want only you, Severus." Another great thrust, and another, each one an oath, a promise, a cry to heaven. "I. Want. Only. YOU!"

And with a roaring cry, the hero spent himself, and overcome in his passion, he wept. Tears like diamonds filled up his eyes, falling in slow drops upon that ugly face, rolling across the great beakish nose, splattering the knifeblade cheeks, wetting the parted, rosy lips… With a sob, the Hero lowered his face to kiss them.

At last! Malfoy thought, and waited with glee for the youth to die.

Only die he did not.

Instead, Snape kissed him back, winding his long, wiry arms up around the Hero's shoulders, holding him close and pulling him closer, that the two seemed to be one creature formed all of pale skin, black hair, and desire.

And they moved together once more, as though neither had spent himself, as though the force of life itself were pulsing there where their bodies joined, rolling out magic and triumph with the musky smell of their passion. Even raging and silent in his cupboard prison, Malfoy could not help hardening at the sight of them together. Their lips did not part, their kiss did not break -- not until both reared back with a mighty shout, and flying seed caught like pearls on the briar thorns.

"You're late," Snape's voice curled, smug and low as his twisted smile.

"I came as soon as I could!" The boy protested, and Snape laughed and kissed him again.

"You always do." He kissed the boy once more, and once more, neither of them died. "Now where is my wand?"

"What do you need your wand for?" Asked the youth, casting charms to clean away the mess of glass and briar and sweat and spend.

"To get Lucius Malfoy out of the supply cupboard," Snape replied, "before he tries to poison me again."

And for one heartbeat there was silence in the room, but in the next, the cupboard doors smashed wide and Malfoy found himself bound up tight and flung to the cold dungeon floor.

"You shit," the hero bellowed. "You utter shit! You'll pay for what you've done!"

But even naked, bound, and cold, Malfoy was still a Proud Man. He met the Champion's eyes and laughed. "And do you think to exact my penance yourself, boy? Your aurors have neither stomach nor strength for it -- call them here and see! What do you think you can do when not even Azkaban could break me?"

But the boy smiled then, and for a moment it was almost as it had been in Malfoy's terrible dream. He raised his holly wand and pointed it straight at Malfoy's heart. "Azkaban?" the boy said, and his eyes were hard as glass. "Oh no, that's not nearly hot enough for the likes of you!"

And the flames that bloomed with a roar from Malfoy's flesh were the hungry, brilliant green of apples, emeralds, or venom.

~ The End ~