For all Joy wants Eternity
Severus couldn't think of any place more appropriate for what was coming - nor for what had already happened some hours ago.
The dull ambience of a cemetery at night was unerringly gripping for him, as soon as he had broken out of the claustrophobic feeling the squeezing tightness of Apparating always aroused within him. The usual urge to immediately take in as much of his surroundings as possible made him scan, smell and *feel* the adjacencies automatically-in an almost traditional reflex, a tribute to the most uncomfortable sensation of having burst into a place and situation totally unacquainted to him.
And Severus didn't like *any* of his perceptions during the attempt to make himself familiar with the setting this time.
High, black trees were surrounding him, along with gravestones, weathered marble statues and the iron remains of artfully ornamented fences that once must have framed graves and small, now mostly ruinous chapels. The moon that strangely illuminated whitish stone, modelling the soft outlines of angels and tombstones, but also the knobby ones of trees draped with lichens, created an atmosphere of eerie serenity.
Severus took his time, carefully thinking about what to do next. There was not the slightest hint of any living soul around, but he knew all too well that relying on a first impression like that would be nothing but purest stupidity. Even for him it would be extremely difficult to detect a Death Eater if that one didn't want to be found, and he was far from underrating his former 'fellows' just now, of all moments. Unpleasant surprises were the very last thing he needed.
After some more moments of careful consideration, Severus finally made up his mind and started to move. Slowly, carefully searching the shadows that surrounded him, he began to make his way towards a rather big marble angel that stood at the edge of some kind of glade and would provide a much better survey of the scene, but also guarantee a certain shielding from unwanted observers or stealthy curse-attacks.
He didn't even make it halfway there.
"Who would have thought that you would still manage to astonish me, sweet Snow White?"
The sudden sound of that voice which seemed to come from every direction at one time froze Severus into place, and momentarily, his body seemed to simply refuse to work at all; he didn't feel, he couldn't think, not to mention move. For that split second, the world had come to a halt. Severus felt like the only thing that still stirred, in quick, almost spasmodic twitches, the only thing that still was audible because of its exploding, echoing thunders, was his very own heart, and anything else must have turned into stone, must have capitulated, leaving nothing but that pulsating, overflowing organ. The universe had been reduced to a small piece of erratically jerking flesh and pouring, gurgling blood...
And then, that moment was over.
Severus felt his legs again, which were about to give way, the sweat that seemed to cover every square inch of his skin, his tongue that had turned into some foreign body inside his deserted mouth, his hands that clutched the heavy cloth of his cloak but still shivered badly.
The world was back. *His* world was back, his real life, the life he had sacrificed to the Dark Lord. The last fourteen years had been nothing but a cruelly treacherous illusion of having escaped, and even though he had *known* that there was no real escape as long as Voldemort had not truly disappeared, Severus had hoped for that dream to be real so very badly...just to be violently shaken awake now, to face the finality of his decision one more time, to accept all of the consequences that could possibly follow his joining Voldemort years ago.
All of the consequences...
Behind his mask, Severus closed his eyes.
* "...if you are ready...if you are prepared..." *
No, a weak voice in his head pleaded, for the gentleness of the unicorns all over the world, he wasn't! Not prepared to face him, not prepared to hear that voice again, to say nothing of that hated pet name, he was not prepared to play another round of hide and seek with his life at stake. He wasn't ready for this confrontation, he wasn't ready for the most likely outcome, not at all...
"You were and still are a source of most pleasant surprises, Severus. I have to confess that the last thing I expected tonight was your appearance."
The former Death Eater who was now able to detect the direction that voice, coloured with amusement, was coming from, forced himself to open his eyes again. And the very next moment a tall, cloaked and hooded figure emerged from behind a huge tombstone right in front of him, abruptly ending Severus's panicky musings. Standing face to face with the Dark Lord again seemed to finally cut off all the double agent's connections to the relative peace and hope the past fourteen years represented. Severus felt the totally inappropriate urge to laugh out loud. So he was not ready yet, eh? How could he have ever thought that for him, this could be a question of being ready or not! As if he of all people had any right at all to resort to trivialities like that. For him, there were no choices in this situation. There were only two decisions that counted in his life, two decisions that would always terminate every single one of his actions. He once had chosen to join the Inner Circle and he had made up his mind to do anything in his power to destroy all it represented afterwards. It had been clear that one day, it had to come to this. There had to be a time he would not be able to convince the Dark Lord of his loyalty anymore. There had to be a day he'd die at his former Master's hands.
And for some years he had known that Voldemort's punishment could be even worse.
Severus could *feel* the malicious smile, the red, hot glance his former Master sent his way. The Dark Lord did not come closer, though. Leaning lazily against the tombstone beside him, one hand gently tracing the outlines of its carvings, he continued to simply watch the man in front of him. Severus, who had fought down the impulse to turn and run as well as accepted the inevitability of the situation by then, knew that it was not his turn to re-open the conversation either. It was his turn to wait.
So he waited.
Until Voldemort finally decided to speak again, in a voice that almost sounded...dreamy.
"You see, I'm a little bit at a loss, my dear Severus. Tonight, as you might be able to imagine, there were a lot of my Death Eaters returning to their Lord. And even though every single one of them has deeply disappointed me for several reasons, there wasn't one who has voluntarily spent the last years under the influence of that Muggle-loving fool Dumbledore. There wasn't one who has passed his precious and unsurpassed knowledge to the children of my enemies - and even to Mudbloods. There wasn't one among my Death Eaters who was openly supported by Albus Dumbledore during his trial after my so-called downfall..."
Voldemort's voice trailed off. He slightly bent his head to one side...and without any warning at all, suddenly started to approach the paralysed Severus in a strange and unbelievably fast mixture of gliding and walking.
"There wasn't one who was *late* tonight, Severus." The Dark Lord's words were nothing but a piercing threat now. "Not one who refused to demonstrate his humility. To make a long story short: There wasn't one guilty of all the treacherous acts you have burdened yourself with, but still, only the fact that I do *need* them kept me from giving in to the overwhelming urge to let at least some of them pay with their lives for failing me."
On his last words, Voldemort had come to a halt only inches away from his former servant, spitting his icy, sardonic whisper into the cool air between them.
"I don't think I have to repeat what you are guilty of, my proud Slytherin. I'm also quite positive that you're very aware of the fact that I don't need you in the slightest. So, tell me, sweet, lovely Snow White: What do *you* think I am supposed to do with you?"
Severus knew that he could just as well be standing in front of the Dark Lord without a mask, a hood or a heavy cloak, which would perhaps hide his true emotions from most of the wizarding world, but never from his former Master. The Dark Mark alone would be enough of a connection between them to allow Voldemort to read Severus's feelings like an open book, but there were also the first two symbols of the bonding ritual that linked them even more deeply. So the Dark Lord was certainly aware of the chilling fear that made his former servant shiver underneath his mask. Still, the old reflex to obediently answer Voldemort's questions, in combination with the determination to seize the only chance of justifying the trust Dumbledore had put in him with both hands made Severus able to finally speak. Forcing himself to hold Voldemort's gaze, he silently prayed for his voice not to give away too much of his terror.
"My Lord, I know that there's no sense in trying to refute anything of which you just accused me. Every word of your reproach was most unfortunately true, and I don't intend to insult my Master with feeble attempts at defending myself when there is no way to do so." He broke off, partly because he hoped to find *any* reaction to his words in Voldemort's features, partly because he wanted to delay the inevitable for as long as he could. But Voldemort's face, barely visible beneath his hood, remained inexpressive, and he would have to go there in the end anyway, so what was the use in putting it off? Severus swallowed all of his fear and went on.
"Still I hope that my Lord can think of some opportunity he could offer me as a chance to prove that my true loyalties have never changed. Since I won't be able to find the words that could give testimony of my true and unshakable devotion to you, my Lord, maybe my actions could."
Severus's heart leapt to his throat and dived back down to his stomach. He had done it.
He had *actually* done it.
"Do you really think there is anything you could do that would make me believe in you again, Severus?"
The velvet tone in Voldemort's voice told Severus that his former Master had immediately understood what the opportunity was that he had been talking about. But most obviously, the Dark Lord did not intend to let his former servant off the hook just like that.
"You know, my *faithful* servant, I find it really difficult to think of something that could restore the trust you and I once shared."
With one bony finger laid on his non-existent lips in a playful gesture and his brow knitted exaggeratedly, Voldemort's sarcastic performance of thinking hard came across just as provocatively as the Dark Lord had planned it to. With a small, resigned sigh, he shrugged and flashed a most cruel smile at the man who stood before him.
"But giving up is not part of my design...and I love *riddles*, as you know. Besides, I have the feeling that you will be able to give me a helping hand with this, won't you, Severus?" Leaning in a little closer, the Dark Lord let his red gaze drill deeply into Severus's black eyes. "Oh, come on, my *Death Eater*, all I need is a little hint..."
It was most difficult for Severus to think with Voldemort so close to his face that the Dark Lord filled all of his limited visual field. His former Master was playing with him now, with claws drawn in, and Severus could tell from the gleaming in those red eyes that his opponent was thoroughly enjoying himself. He also knew that telling the Dark Lord what he wanted to hear was the only possible way to end this most dangerous game he had begun by bringing up the unfinished ritual, even if he hadn't explicitly mentioned it yet...and he didn't think he would be able to, either. Calling a spade a spade would be like actually suggesting it, like *asking* for it even, it would be the final treason against his body, his soul, his being... And it was exactly what Voldemort wanted from him.
But even more importantly, it was the only possible way to keep up his position as a spy among the Dark Lord's Death Eaters and thus it was the only chance to fulfil what he had once sworn to himself: That he would do anything in his power to destroy all the Dark Mark represented, and also the only possible way not to disappoint Dumbledore and let him down. No, this was *his* chance, and this would be his sacrifice.
He closed his eyes. This was no time for scruples.
"My Lord..." Oh, but was it time for being scared, for being as scared as...
"My Lord, three times does the charm."
He prayed that this would be enough, that Voldemort would be satisfied, that he wouldn't demand more of a humiliation.
A skeletal hand sank down on Severus's chest, right over his heart which violently slammed against those thin fingers. An almost gracious smile greeted Severus when he looked up to meet Voldemort's glance in a last, desperate demonstration of his Slytherin pride. The Dark Lord's free hand gestured, and the former Death Eater felt his mask slipping from the magical grip which had held it in place before it fell to the ground. A second gesture, and the heavy hood slid back to Severus's shoulders, letting strands of his hair fall into his face.
Voldemort took a small step back, never taking his eyes from the face in front of him. The hand on the former Death Eater's chest came up to Severus's face, pushing back the black hair in an oddly gentle way. Two bony fingers came to rest on pale skin, caressingly tracing the cheek bone, only stopping when they reached slightly parted, trembling lips. "Yes..." Stroking Severus's mouth from one corner to the other and back again, another smile deepened on the Dark Lord's face. "Yes, I think I could indeed accept your suggestion as a proof for your unwavering faith, sweet Snow White."
Voldemort laid both of his hands on Severus' shoulders and began to slowly spin him around, letting his scrutinizing gaze wander over the still cloaked body he soon would possess.
"You haven't changed much, my dear Severus - it would have been a shame if you had." Only when his former Death Eater's back faced the Dark Lord for the second time, did surprisingly strong hands stop Severus from turning any further. "But I promise you that after this night, *everything* will have changed - for good."
The wild drumming of the blood in his ears kept Severus from hearing Voldemort's few words in Parseltongue, but not from witnessing how Nagini emerged from the surrounding shadows, gracefully winding her way through low branches and leaves, coming closer with merciless litheness. While he was staring paralysed at his approaching doom, Severus scarcely noticed the Dark Lord's hands pushing his cloak off his shoulders and working their way under his robes.
So this was it. Tonight, he would lose it all. His body, his pride, the last wretched remnants of self-esteem. He would lose it to the man who had been his fate so far, and who would be so from this night on for eternity. He had given himself over to Voldemort of his own free will for the second time in his life, and this time, there would be no return, no Albus Dumbledore to save him, no simple decision to get back what once had been his. This would be irrevocable, unalterable, and absolute, and it would be forever.
If somebody had been in the cemetery and accidentally thrown a glance towards a certain glade almost an hour later, they would have probably been able to see a naked man lying at the feet of a large marble angel, and maybe they would have noticed his chest that was marked with three symbols in shimmering, thin, blood-red lines, one right above his heart, the other two left and right of it. But most likely the other man on the scene, cloaked and hooded, would have been too fast in putting a dark robe over the naked body to allow anybody a closer sight. And considering the most unbelievable fact that this hooded man disappeared into nothingness shortly afterward, most assuredly nobody would have remembered the gentle, loving gesture with which he placed a kiss on the other man's brow before he left.
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