Just a short note: This takes place after the events of Voldemort's return in GoF, but there are some glimpses into the past which are in brackets.
For all Joy wants Eternity
Severus Snape, Potions Master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, former Death Eater, spy against the Dark for more than sixteen years now, stood motionless in the very middle of the living room of his private quarters in Hogwarts Castle. With his eyes closed, his head slightly tilted back, so the black hair that fell down his shoulders joined the hood of the long, heavy cloak he was clad in, he seemed to be patiently waiting for something, relaxed, totally at peace.
But if some watcher had taken a closer look, they would probably have noticed the signs of strain in the striking features: The tense muscles of the lower jaw and the lips that formed an even thinner line than they usually did told their own story. One glance at the left hand that clutched a mask carved of dark wood, with slightly shivering fingers white against the black cloth of the cloak, would have been enough to make everybody realize that this man was consumed by tension. He was far from being patient. Far from being at peace.
There was no watcher, though.
Severus didn't know himself what he was waiting for. After all, the decision had been made, not just tonight, but for some years already. What had happened up in the hospital wing about fifteen minutes ago had only opened the door to what he had been waiting for ever since the Dark Lord had disappeared. There was nothing to ponder on anymore; it was so very clear what he had to do. It had been clear for a very long time.
"...Severus, you know what I must ask you to do..."
The vision of Albus's face, slight traces of fear, fear for him, Severus, in his eyes, flickered through the former Death Eater's inner view. The sound of their parting words still echoed through his head.
"...if you are ready...if you are prepared..."
Of course he was ready. And he was more than prepared. *This* was the final part of the way he had chosen to walk that one night...
[...more than sixteen years ago. After he had recovered enough to leave the castle where he had killed and had been taken by Voldemort, both for the first time in his life. After he had Apparated to Hogsmeade, shivering from shock and from the cold of the night. After he had reached the Shrieking Shack, had made it through the secret passage and past the Whomping Willow. After he had entered the Castle for the first time since his graduation three years ago, after he had broken down at Dumbledore's feet, sopping wet from the night's rain, scarcely responsive from the night's events, his robes still stained with blood, sweat and cum, despite the pouring rain. His head still bursting with the reawakened sounds of the screams of the first person he had ever killed.
And upon his chest Voldemort's sign burned, only a few hours old, and it seemed to reach for his very heart with searing acid fingers.
Severus never knew, for he had never asked, how long he had already been there when he finally woke up from his collapse, in the hospital wing. Some potion they must have given him still numbed his feeling and thinking, but there are some memories that can't be eliminated by draughts or relieved by soothing spells. So when Severus regained consciousness that afternoon, he was greeted by the visions that would never leave him again as long as he lived: The violated corpse of a young witch at his feet, and the gleaming eyes of a giant snake, right in front of him, ready to attack. Terror, pain and death had flooded from his hands that night of his first kill, only to return, making him receive pain and terror. He had the dim feeling that he was at the beginning of a deadly vicious circle he would never be able to escape again once it completely embraced him. And the voices of protest, those whispers that had insistently condemned his actions of the last night he could remember, they had become cries, rocketing through his head, loudly, clearly screaming their message to him. Making sure not to be ignored this time.
Here at Hogwarts, far from the charismatic influence of his Master, in the soothing and peaceful atmosphere of his youth, and confronted with nothing but the visions of his horrible deeds and experiences as an adult, a new kind of awareness seemed to wake in Severus. A realization that always had been there, that had remained unnoticed so far nonetheless, and that now seized the opportunity with both hands to engrave its message deep into his consciousness and never let go again.
So Severus finally had been ready to listen to those voices that had plainly called him what he had become: A filthy killer and undignified plaything for his Master's perverted needs. Source and recipient of violence and horror. Center of his very own cycle of receiving and distributing cruelty.
Someone he had *never* wanted to be, not for all the ambition and devotion in the world.
So when Albus Dumbledore not only believed that he had turned from the Dark, but also granted Severus the chance to prove his honest change of mind, displaying a kind of trust in his former student and just converted Death Eater Severus could hardly believe, how could he help but give his assent to the Headmaster's daring suggestion? He became a spy...]
...and he still was one, now, more than sixteen years after.
With fingers that shivered barely noticeably, Severus lifted the wooden mask he hadn't worn for fourteen years up to his face. The slightly musty smell and the dark that swallowed his vision, except for the limited view through the narrow eye-slits, were horribly familiar. They were the perceptions that haunted him at night, and even if it had been years now since he had last hidden his true emotions behind that piece of dead, unfeeling wood, he knew what it felt like to wear it, what it meant to wear it, almost as if he had put it down for the last time just yesterday.
The spells to keep the mask in place in front of his facefell from his mouth as if he had learnt them by heart only a night ago. Well, there had been a time when dressing for secret meetings had become second nature to him. Once you've learnt something...
Closing his eyes, he felt the magical fastenings lock in place around his head. Slowly, Severus's hands moved down again, perfectly steady now, almost carefully sinking back to lightly touch the black cloth of his cloak where it fell down at his thighs. All that now could have told who it was standing there in the middle of the room, was the black hair that framed the carved, wooden face, and the long, pale fingers that seemed to slowly caress the dark cloak. Severus forced himself to stop even those minimal movements, becoming a statue of merciless darkness. There was no room for the luxury of showing anything like nervousness. Nor uncertainty. Nor fear. And it didn't make any difference whether he actually didn't feel anything but exactly that. No matter how calm Severus might appear right now, he was sure that his chest could not possibly be able to keep from bursting from all those seething emotions running amok inside of him. He felt his heart swelling, drumming against his ribcage, ready to blast it now with any of its thundering beats, to rip open the twice-marked skin that covered it...
[...it had been almost exactly half a year after the night he had rejoined Dumbledore. Almost exactly six months after he had returned again to the Dark Lord, a secret weapon of the Light this time. Almost twenty-four weeks of a most realistic performance as a Death Eater. Precisely 182 days of destroying, burning, torturing and killing had passed, before Severus had been summoned to Voldemort very late at night once more. Right after the Slytherin in Dumbledore's service had entered the room, he had known what was awaiting him. Actually, Severus had been expecting Voldemort to use him again any day since he had returned to him and truly begun his career as a spy. But until that night, the Dark Lord hadn't even touched him, and even though Severus had been extremely grateful for that, he had also known that he wouldn't be that lucky forever.
And he had been right.
It was the twinge somewhere on his chest that had woken him the next morning. There had not been much he could recall of that night, only blurry visions of snakes, flames and red eyes, and a stabbing pain that blazed between his buttocks. Hurt and totally exhausted, Severus had found himself in the room assigned to him in the large building Voldemort used as some kind of headquarter; he was even lying on his small pallet, and someone must have taken the trouble to spread a blanket over him. But Severus didn't pay attention to any of this when he jumped up on a sudden impulse, ignoring the pain and exhaustion he felt, and more or less lunged in front of the mirror that hung on the wall opposite of where his pallet was. A tight fist of fear crushed his guts when he dared look up at the silvery surface.
Fine, red lines, still slightly glittering with a moist sheen. Still burning with the Snake's venom and the Dark Lord's semen. Accusingly staring back at him.
The second mark on his chest. To the right of his heart.
Never during the following months did Severus mention anything about the two different patterns that now flanked his heart in the frequent and detailed reports he sent to Dumbledore. These two most alarming secrets on his chest remained untold, and his new life as a spy went on as it had before. The war was reaching a decisive phase then, Voldemort and his Death Eaters, among them Severus, terrorized the wizarding and the Muggle world like they never had before, and it looked like there was nothing much that could be done to stop them. And through the strangling horror of that time, Severus had had the feeling that all of it was running towards a terrible pinnacle. He had simply *known* that the Dark Lord was about to strike out for the crucial blow, but he had had no reliable information, no real evidence, no knowledge...and all his apprehensions, as strong and urgent as they were, had been absolutely unverifiable. Because of his ignorance, the Light had been blind, deaf, bound and helpless...and all the time he had felt it coming, getting closer...
And then it had happened.
Three days before the anniversary of Severus's first murder, two of his former schoolmates died. Another went to Azkaban for life as a traitor and killer. A baby that should have died became the boy who lived - and the Dark Lord vanished.
It had been over. For the time being...]
To Severus, it was not the night of the return of terror.Tonight, the real terror would only begin for him. And he was going to give himself over to it. Knowingly, carefully preparing for it. For his final submission. Reaching out to a small table beside him, he took hold of a pair of gloves, as dark as his cloak, his hair, his eyes.
The black leather he slipped his right hand into felt as it always had. It was cool and smooth, and it fit perfectly, like a second skin. A small shudder whispered down Severus's spine. It wasn't right, it shouldn't be that way, it shouldn't feel that good to wear those gloves, they should be warm and sticky with blood and sweat, they should be dripping with the numberless tears they had wiped from painfully contorted faces with those cruel parodies of soothing gestures.
But they didn't. The black leather wrapped pleasantly around his fingers and hands, stained with death as it was. Ready to continue protecting the skin of their owner from ever being touched by blood, cold sweat or tears. Ready to commit more crimes in the name of the Dark. To complete the instruments of terror that were Severus's hands. Those hands from which violence would begin to flow one more time, as one part of the cycle of cruelty, the distributing part. And as far as the receiving aspect was concerned...
Severus's glance was drawn to one of the many bookcases in his rooms. He couldn't really see it, for he had made certain arrangements to make sure to not stare at the book all the time, not to read the passages over and over again, as if that could ever help him to escape from the words that had changed his life...
[...that day in the library.
It had been his first year as a teacher at Hogwarts, the first year of what Albus had called "a normal life - as far as this is possible after all that happened". He had offered the job of Potions Master to Severus right after the trial that had led to the conclusion that the former Death Eater did not have to go back to Azkaban, where Severus had spent some weeks after his apprehension by Alastor Moody. It had been Albus who had moved heaven and earth to make the ministry schedule the trial against his spy as soon as possible, to say nothing of the passionate speech with which he convinced the jury to let Severus go. It was a condition of the consent, though, that the former Death Eater agreed to be under Albus's supervision from now on, just in case. Just to "keep a watchful eye" on him.
Severus never really found out what it had been in the end that made him accept Albus's offer of becoming the next Potions Master at Hogwarts. Certainly it hadn't been any ambition to be a teacher; even though he knew that there were not many wizards or witches in the country that wouldn't have had to capitulate against his knowledge and skills when it came to potions - he had, for a lot of reasons, no desire at all to deal with their children. Not on a professional, nor on any other level.
But after all, the castle had already been a kind of home to him when he still had been a student. So why not make a virtue of necessity? Why not repay Albus for all that he had done for him? Why not actually try to begin a new life, a normal life, as far as was possible after all that had happened?
When he really thought about it, though, Severus could hardly keep back the suspicion that his agreement to Albus's offer had been due to nothing other than having had no other choice, of being indebted, of duty, of guilt. Better being a teacher at Hogwarts than going back to his cell in Azkaban. Better repaying his debts to Dumbledore than owing him for the rest of his life.
He didn't like those thoughts. Not at all.
The new job had been a really big change for Severus, and anything but easy in the beginning. The daily contact with people was difficult enough for him, who had always preferred to resort to solitude. The fact that almost everybody he had to deal with at Hogwarts, from the First Years up to the teachers, had sustained losses in their families and among their friends during the war didn't make things easier. At the beginning of the time he spent in the castle, there were very few people who at least tried to approach him without the mixture of doubt, reproach and contempt he received from most of the wizards, witches and students he met or had to live under the same roof with. Not that he had expected anybody to treat him any better. He himself knew best what he had done, what it was people despised him for.
He started to avoid them whenever he could. Spent a lot of time in his Potions laboratory, in his rooms, out at a secret place by the lake he had already used as a refuge during his school days.
But most of all, he fled to the library when things became too much for him.
It had been an evening as usual. After he had spent most of the night reading in a chair in the Restricted Section, growing more tired minute by minute, Severus had just been putting a very old book about the Dark Arts that was already close to disintegration back onto the shelf, when it had slipped from the grip of his tired fingers. Cursing himself for his carelessness, he just managed to catch it before it hit the ground, but a few of its pages had fallen out in the process and slowly fluttered to the floor.
And after it had slipped from Severus's hands, hands that had been shivering heavily with shock, for the second time that evening, the book crashed down to the ground beside the loose pieces of parchment.
From one of those pages, a painfully familiar image screamed at Severus. He had recognized it at once, even though it wasn't drawn in the fine red lines he knew, but in thick black bars that were embedded in a background of swirling yellows and oranges.
The first ornament Voldemort had burned his chest with.
The book never made it back onto its shelf. After he had returned to his quarters, clutching the collection of yellowed parchment to his chest as if his life depended on it, Severus had spent the entire night reading, complete bewilderment slowly turning into terrified disbelief, which had gradually changed into all-embracing horror that left him sitting stunned by the fire, staring motionless into the flames, unable to feel or think anymore - but now knowing.
The ritual didn't have a name. There weren't even explicit instructions as to how to perform it, only very well hidden indications, spread through the entire book, and only someone very familiar with the Dark Arts would have been able to put them all together to embody a perverted ceremony of claiming and taking. It was all about submission and possession. Three symbols, representing Fixation, Sacrifice and Eternity were the key. Branded into a body, initialized and established by the rare Naginis' venom and the semen of the claimant, combined with sex and the voluntary consent of the claimed in the beginning, they would bind those persons. It had nothing to do with love, though. This was a purely physical bond - and it would continue to exist for as long as the two of them might live. And to make sure that the marked one would be faithful to his or her owner, the body that bore the three ornaments could never be touched anymore by anyone else. He or she belonged to the claimant. Irrevocably, unalterably, absolutely.
Until death alone would them part.
Severus's life hadn't been the same after he had discovered what the symbols on his chest really meant. He had hidden the book behind some of his own in his living-room and hadn't told anybody about it. He would not have been able to deal with discussing his foolishness on the night it had all began, nor the fact that he had been about to become nothing more than some kind of sex-slave to Voldemort, nor the panic that rose inside him whenever he thought about the Dark Lord's return now. He still was a very useful tool against the remaining traces of the Dark, a precious adviser when it came to prevent Voldemort's attempts to regain his power, and Severus knew that Albus still counted on him to be ready when the Dark Wizard that once had been Tom Riddle would rise again. Letting Dumbledore know about his, Severus's, situation would only have made things even more complicated than they already were.
But more than anything else, Severus wanted to forget about the first two elements of total submission that were burned into his chest. He didn't want to think about the possibility of ever receiving the third, still missing symbol, the symbol of Eternity. He wanted to suppress the few memories he had about the two nights with Voldemort and his snake. And since he was a Slytherin, with determination being a great part of his soul, he more or less managed to do so.
Until some years later, when the baby that should have died, but had become the Boy who lived instead, had arrived at Hogwarts. The person who had defeated Voldemort. Who had made him vanish. Who had kept him from completing his work on Severus. The one the former Death Eater owed it to not to be the personal and lifelong possession of Voldemort yet, who reminded Severus everyday that he was claimed by Voldemort in a way that went much deeper than the Dark Mark did.
Harry Potter's presence at Hogwarts didn't allow him to forget about the incomplete ritual. The boy forced Severus to think about the time of freedom he had, the time Harry had borrowed for him, and about the fact that this time would come to an end as soon as the Dark Lord returned. Voldemort had never been someone to not finish what he once had began, and Harry Potter's scar told the former Death Eater about his fate every time he looked at it. Harry became the representation of Severus's deepest, wildest fears.
How he had hated the boy for that...]
...and now what he had feared for so long had finally happened. Here he was, standing in the middle of his living-room, about to face the completion of what had been initiated more than sixteen years ago.
His decision to return to Voldemort as a double agent for the second time in his life had been settled already. It had been made long before this night, and he would not question, let alone change it. He had thought this through, knowing very well what possibly was awaiting him. All he hoped for was that there was more to his decision than the will to repay debt, in combination with a sense of guilt, loyalty and blind obedience to Dumbledore -and that he would be able to maintain his determination once actually face to face with the Dark Lord.
With a resolute gesture, his gloved hands reached behind his head and drew the large hood far over his wooden-masked face, concealing what had last been the last visible vestige of Severus Snape. He searched his mind for the message the Dark Mark had sent him earlier this evening, found what he was looking for, and knowing where he would have to Apparate turned to leave the dungeons. To leave the castle.
Yes. He was ready. He was prepared.
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