“Sev, you have to get to bed.” Lily told him, trying unsuccessfully to lift him from the floor. “Come on, love, let’s get you in bed. Then I can give you potions and get you out of those filthy robes.” She tried putting his arm about her shoulders and heaving, but he was twice her size and not helping her any. She sagged back to the ground. “Severus!”
He opened his eyes then, they were black pits of despair and she felt as if she had taken a sucker punch to the gut upon looking at them. “Let me lie here on the floor, Lily. It’s where I belong now.” His voice was cold, emotionless.
“Sev, don’t be ridiculous! I’m not leaving you here like . . .like a piece of trash!”
He laughed once, bitterly. “Why not? It’s what I am now. What this has made me.” He thrust out his arm, with its blackened brand.
“No! That’s nothing but a tattoo! That’s all!” she insisted, blinking back tears.
“I can feel the darkness, Lily . . .it’s eating me up inside, like a poison in my blood . . .” he hissed. He grimaced in pain.
“No! No it’s not. Quit groveling on the floor, dammit!” Lily made her voice hard and sharp, trying to get her husband to find his pride and courage again. She had never seen him so desperate, so utterly lost, so downtrodden, not even when he had been on the receiving end of Tobias’ temper and had been whipped till he bled.
Severus’ head lolled upon her shoulder, his cheeks flushed with fever. His apathy terrified her. She wished she could call Eileen to help, but she didn’t dare. No one could know about their role as spies, or what had happened to him this night. She sucked in a breath. “Fine! If you won’t help yourself, dammit, then I’ll have to help you!” She summoned her wand and pointed it at her husband. “Mobilicorpus!”
Severus was levitated to a horizontal position and floated into their bedroom. She directed the spell to place him on the bed. Sorrel woke from her nap and came over to investigate. She began meowing and nuzzling her comatose master in distress.
“I know. I know. He’s really sick and hurt, but I’m going to make him better. I promise, Sorrel! I promise!” Lily sniffled. “Stay by him, okay? I’ll be back.”
She hurried from the room, leaving Sorrel purring upon Sev’s chest worriedly.
Lily returned with several potions and a basin with cool water and a cloth. She quickly banished his Death Eater attire, wishing she could just burn it, but he would need it for the next meeting. “Filthy rags!” she spat, throwing the robes into a corner of the room.
She stripped him down to his briefs and started to gently sponge away the sweat and dirt that striped his skin. Normally, she would have been aroused by the sight of his naked body, but not tonight. Tonight she was nurse, not lover, and his skin burned with a fire that frightened her half to death. A dozen times she rinsed out the water in the basin before it ran clear and then she cast a Quick Dry charm over him. He was shivering and groaning by then, and she placed a pajama top on him and tugged the covers over him.
His hair was damp with sweat, she rinsed it with the rest of the water and then dried it as well, tying it back from his face. His teeth began to chatter. “Sev, wake up! Wake up, dearheart! I need you to take a potion.”
He muttered something and half-opened his eyes. “Lily . . .so hot . . .why . . .?”
“You’re sick, Sev. I think . . .whatever foul magic he used on you made you sick,” she stroked his forehead. “I need you to take some potions for me.”
She helped him sit up, and gave him a strong Fever Reducer and a Pain Reliever. Then she smoothed some Burn Paste upon the wretched black Mark, which was radiating heat and small red lines. She shuddered upon looking at it. A poison in my blood, her husband had said. It even looked like an infected wound, she thought darkly and once again she cursed the maker of it.
He made as if to cover it and winced. “Don’t look . . .don’t . . .” he rasped, unable to bear her condemnation, shame and loathing filled him, bitter as bile, that he was now so repulsive.
She gently drew his hand away. “It’s all right, Sev . . .”
“No, it’s not! It’s not all right! It’ll never be all right!” he shouted. “Don’t you see? Don’t you understand? He’s tainted me! That thing on my arm . . .is how he can summon me to his side . . .I can feel him through it . . .” He turned away to hide his tears. “Go away, Lily. Just leave. Leave me to the dark, for I am damned.”
“No! No you’re not! Don’t ever say that!” she whispered fiercely, kissing his forehead. “You’re not one of them and you never will be. You’re my husband, and I love you! And I’ll stay till you’re well.”
He slipped back into the gray realm somewhere between sleep and dreams, pain and exhaustion sending him there for several hours. Lily slept beside him, though her sleep was restless too, broken by her waking every so often to check on him.
In spite of the potions, his body still burned with fever, as his body and magic fought the intrusion of dark magic into his system. She dosed him again, hoping this time they would have an effect, for he could not go on with the dangerously high fever he was running.
He woke twice during the late morning, coughing and then vomiting violently. Painful spasms wracked him and she held the basin and his head until he was through, then she gave him spoonfuls of a stomach soother and some warm tea.
His eyes were glazed and he whispered through cracked lips, “Sorry . . .”
“Shhh. You have nothing to be sorry for, Sev. You can’t help it if you’re sick.” She wiped his face with a cool damp cloth. “Rest now, love. Sleep.”
She applied more paste to the Mark and this time she wrapped it in a clean bandage. Then, when she was sure he was sleeping again, went into the bathroom and took a hot shower, since she couldn’t sleep, and the hot water mingled with the tears upon her cheeks as she cried. She had never seen Severus in so much agony and her heart was torn in two over it.
“God damn you, Dumbledore! It’s your fault he’s in this position, made a . . .a slave to a monster! Goddamn you, old man! Do you even know what you’ve done? I wish you could see it!” she sobbed.
She could hear him moaning even over the rush of the shower and she quickly hurried out. Wrapped in a warm nightrobe, she crawled in beside him and curled next to him. He whimpered and clung to her, his face buried in the crook of her neck, and she felt the warmth of his tears as he wept silently in his sleep.
She began to stroke his hair, unmindful of the heat he still emitted, and then she began to sing the lullaby her mother used to sing to her when she was small and sick. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word. Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird . . .”
She knew if he’d been awake he would have been mortified, but he was still somewhere in the realm of sleep and all he heard was the tone of her voice and not the words themselves. That seemed to relax him and he settled into a deeper sleep.
She shifted, pillowing her head upon his shoulder, and slept as well.
The next morning dawned fair and sunny, a sharp contrast to last night, and Lily started to hope that Severus might be getting better. But then she took his temperature and saw it was still high.
She gave him another round of potions, and cautiously unwrapped his arm. The skin about the Dark Mark was red and blistered, as if it had been thrust into a fire. She began to put ice on it, figuring it couldn’t hurt.
He remained semi-conscious throughout the day, sometimes insisting she not help him, but Lily always ignored him. She knew his low self-esteem came from his troubled childhood, and it reared its head in times like these, when he felt he was undeserving of kindness or compassion. Tobias had hammered into him that because he was a freak, and a mouthy one at that, he did not deserve love, only the back of his hand. She suspected his meeting with Voldemort had probably brought back some memories he’d rather not dwell on. Were the others who had been given the Mark sick like this as well? But no, they had embraced the darkness, and welcomed Voldemort’s magic into them. Severus had not. His spirit fought the Mark and that was why he was so dreadfully sick, for when two magics war within one, the body suffers. And for that, she could do nothing.
Save be there to hold and comfort him when the nightmares overwhelmed him.
Severus drifted in a twilight world between awake and asleep, for his dreams were the stuff of horror shows and he didn’t wish to recall them, and awake he was feverish and in pain, his arm throbbed like seven hells, and he felt guilty for making Lily take care of him. She should have been taking a walk in the fresh air or brewing a potion, not stuck at his bedside. And the Mark . . .the Mark had infested his spirit and tainted it, he did not want her to get too close, lest he somehow taint her as well.
But she refused to leave, even when he had the strength to order her away. She stayed, giving him potions and chicken broth, wiping his brow with a cool cloth, holding him when he drifted off to sleep and then woke screaming as the demons from his childhood and school assaulted him. Much as he despised himself for the weakness, he needed her touch and her voice, it was a soothing balm to his wounded spirit, and he craved it liked a burned man does water. Her presence filled him with light and beat back the insidious seductive voice of the dark magic, which promised him all if only he would surrender and serve Voldemort.
Never! I shall never surrender and become one of yours! You might have Marked me, Riddle, but only on the outside. Inside, I am free of you! I am not a dark wizard! I am not!
For that was one of his greatest fears—that he could somehow be turned because of the Mark, and so he fought with every last bit of magic to keep that from happening. He could still feel the scraping of Voldemort’s mind against his, and he retreated behind his Occlumency shields and hid in the shadows like a scared little boy.
He remained that way for the entire weekend, and Lily fretted herself to a sliver, for she didn’t want to leave him home alone while she went to work on Monday. She did Floo the Academy and let them know that her husband was ill and so would not be attending class that day. The professor gave her classwork for Severus to complete and said he hoped he would get better soon.
Then she recalled the only other witch who knew the truth about her spying activities and called Cindy Graves. “Cin, I need to talk to you right away, come over to my place.”
“Sure, Lil. What’s the matter? You look like you’ve ridden to hell and back on a broken broomstick,” said her friend, who was dressed casually in leaf green pants and a white tunic with a darker green robe. She quickly stepped through the flames.
“I sort of have,” Lily said.
Once Cindy was standing in her den and the Floo deactivated, Lily whispered, “Severus . . .was summoned two nights ago to a meeting where he was . . .forced to take the Dark Mark . . .he came home half out of his head with pain and fever.”
Cindy put a hand over her mouth. “Oh, blessed Merlin, Lily! Is he going to be okay? I’m so sorry!”
Lily’s eyes filled with tears and she threw herself into Cindy’s arms and cried. “I don’t know! He’s so sick, he keeps saying the Mark is poisoning him, and I don’t know what to do . . .I’m afraid he might . . .”
Cindy hugged her. “He won’t die, Lil. You mustn’t think that. He’s stronger than you know.”
“But he’s had a high fever for days now . . .I keep giving him Fever Reducers and they only work some of the time . . .”
“Hmmm . . .his magic must be fighting them too.”
“I have to go to work in an hour and I just can’t leave him like that . . .”
“I’ll take care of him. I’ll dunk him in a tub of ice water if need be,” Cindy said. “That’s what my mum did when my brother had a fever that wouldn’t break.”
Lily nodded, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. “You just want a chance to see him naked.”
“Can you blame me? You’re always saying how sexy he is, and I haven’t seen Reg in months!”
Lily managed a smile at her friend’s teasing. “Look, but don’t touch. Err . . .well, only touch what’s absolutely necessary . . .” She dissolved into giggles after realizing how absolutely awful that had sounded. “You know what I mean, Graves!”
“Uh huh.” Cindy’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “Go on, girl, don’t worry about a thing. I have the situation well in hand . . .uh . . .”
Lily was still smiling when she went and kissed her husband goodbye and told him Cindy would be here to get him anything he might need.
Cindy came and gave him more potions, and seeing he was mostly awake, said sternly, “Severus Snape, are you going to lie about in that bed all week, or are you going to get off your lazy bum and get better? You need to get well, before Lily worries herself to death and ends up a ghost.”
“No, but she will be if she keeps fretting over you.”
“I told her not to . . .”
“Ha! And since when has Lily ever done what anyone told her? You and her, Sev, you’re two stubborn rockheads,” Cindy snorted.
“Did she tell you . . .?”
“Yes,” her face fell, and she gave him a sympathetic look. “But it’s done and over with and you have to quit fighting it and just get well. I know it’s hard, but Lily needs you, Sev.”
“She’d be better off without me.”
“Snape, I ought to belt you one for that!” Cindy snapped. “You’re the best thing to ever happen to her and if you don’t know that by now than you’re a bloody imbecile!” She rose to her feet, thrusting a half a cup of soup at him. “You want to lie down and die, fine! But I never figured you for a coward.” Then she left him alone, hoping that her ploy had worked and she hadn’t made things worse. Sometimes making a man angry gave him the will to fight harder and heal quicker.
Fifteen minutes later, she heard the shower start running.
She hid a grin. Guess Mum was right. Sometimes a man just needs a good kick in the arse to make him stop feeling sorry for himself.
When Lily came home from work, she found Severus sitting up in bed, drinking tea and eating tomato soup with goldfish crackers on a tray across his knees, while Cindy amused him with stories about her hellion brood of siblings, who could make a cat weep, among other things.
He was still pale and his eyes had dark bruises under them, but he was eating and talking again, which was a vast improvement over the other days. She practically jumped on him. “Hi, sweetheart! You look like you’re feeling better!” She leaned over to kiss him.
“I am. Much better.”
“Your forehead’s not burning up anymore. How’s the arm?”
“Hurts every now and again, but I’ll live.”
“Do you need me to put on more salve or maybe—”
He put a finger to her lips. “What I need, little oracle, is for you to sit down right here next to me and tell me how your day was.”
“It was a typical day at the theater, you know. Except when this bunch of rotten kids came in—”
He patted the blanket next to him. “Sit here. You can lean on me while you talk. I have it on very good authority that I make a good pillow.” He winked at her and smirked.
Lily climbed on the bed and snuggled close to him. “Cin, you must be the best Healer ever!”
“Uh . . well . . .” her friend seemed embarrassed. “I just . . .”
“Knocked some sense into my thick head,” Severus supplied. “Now, you were saying . . .?”
Severus slowly recovered after that and even managed to go back to class two days later. The thin red streaks on his arm started to fade and the Mark hurt less and less. His good mood lasted until the weekend, when Eileen dropped by with Jess for Sunday dinner.
Jess, as was her wont, started laughing and smiling when she caught sight of her elder brother, and holding out her hands for him to pick her up. Her beautiful dark eyes lit up like Roman candles and she squealed at him.
She rapid-fire crawled over to him, dragged herself up on his pant leg and giggled. She could take a few steps holding onto things, but preferred to crawl, as it was quicker.
He bent down automatically to hold her, then he stopped. “Hey, pretty girl. Why don’t you give Lily a kiss?” He picked her up and handed her to Lily.
Jess whined unhappily, for though she loved Lily, it was Sev she wanted. She squirmed and reached out her hands for him. “Sev! Sev!” She had started saying words and one of the first ones had been his name. “Hol’ me!”
“Not right now. I . . .I left something brewing in my lab and need to check on it.” Then he turned and walked swiftly out of the kitchen and down to his lab, wincing as Jess started to wail, “Sevvy no go!”
He sat in the darkness, his hand rubbing the hidden Mark under the sleeve of his shirt, and cursed himself for being a fool and a bastard.
After a few minutes, he heard the door open and Lily call, “Sev? What on earth is the matter with you?”
He did not answer and she flicked on the lights and came over to stand next to him. “Jess is up there bawling her head off because you left and you’re sitting here in the dark? What the blazes is wrong?”
“This!” He thrust his wrist in her face. “This is what’s wrong, Lily! How can I hold her, an innocent little baby, when I have this upon me? I’m tainted . . .not fit to let a child near me . . .”
She opened her mouth to snap at him for being so foolish, but halted when she saw the terrible anguish in his eyes. He truly believed he was tainted and stained with evil. “Oh, Sev! You’re not a leper . . .don’t make yourself into one! You’re not tainted, you’ve fought him and won.”
“Have I? Then why do I still feel so filthy?” He glared at his arm in revulsion.
“You’re not. Merlin’s Grace, Sev, your touch isn’t going to corrupt her. You’re still you, even with the Mark. Outside and inside. She’s your family, Sev, and she loves you.”
“I don’t deserve them, not after what I’ve become.”
Lily shook him hard. “You’re a spy, not a bloody follower of the Dark Lord, Severus! You’re not his creature, no matter what Mark you bear! You’re a decent human being and if you don’t go back in there and hold that baby, I’m going to kick your arse! Can’t you hear her screaming?”
He nodded. Her shrieks tore at his heart.
Then Lily added, “Plus, if you don’t go in there soon, your mum’s going to suspect something’s off and you can’t afford that right now. Go back in there and hug her, Sev! She’ll help keep the bloody melancholy at bay.”
She was right and he knew it. But he could not help feeling polluted and wretched. Still, perhaps she was right. He did need his family and he hated to hurt his little sister that way. He rose to his feet and followed Lily from the lab.
Back in the kitchen, Jess was still crying, but she stopped as soon as she caught sight of him. She held out her arms again. “Sevvy! Sevvy! My Sevvy!”
“What’s all the fuss over, little bug?” He lifted her from his mother’s arms and tossed her into the air. She giggled helplessly. “I’m right here.”
He caught her and she threw her arms about his neck. “My Sevvy!”
He bent his head and breathed in the scent of her hair and murmured, “My Jess. Merlin, little imp, I’ve missed you.”
“’Tiss, Sevvy!” she turned her chubby face with its fine dark hair up to him. “’Tiss ‘ess!” Her lips puckered adorably.
He obeyed, ignoring the savage whisper in the back of his mind that said slaves of the Dark One shouldn’t go around kissing innocent children.
He gave her a sweet kiss on the cheek. “There! That enough?”
“No!” she laughed. “Again! ‘Tiss me again!”
“Again?” he pretended to hide his face.
“Yes! Yes! ‘Tiss again!” She promptly smothered his cheek with kisses.
“No! Not that many!” he pretended to be horrified.
“Dat many!” she ordered, giggling as he tickled her. “Luv Sevvy!”
“I love you too, baby.” He whispered, and he kissed her other cheek, her skin was petal soft. And beneath his shirt, the Mark ached, but he ignored it, concentrating instead upon his beloved sister, whose innocent laughter and bright eyes chased away the shadow of Voldemort and the specters that dogged his footsteps for the moment. This was why he had become a spy, he reminded himself. To protect his friends and family. I’ll do anything to keep you safe, Jess. Anything. He tickled her again and smiled. This was one thing Voldemort could not steal from him, and he felt the Mark fade to a dull throb, as he allowed himself to feel the joy and love of his family once more.