Chapter 1 : Death's Other Kingdom
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It is a land of the blind, the deaf. They pass by with grey faces, too afraid to acknowledge the spectre of Death. He pursues them down alleys, invades their very bedrooms, black cloak caressing their flesh. A green light fractures the darkness. Then fading. Falling. An empty shell striking the solid earth.
They never see his face. Only the eyes. Black. Resolute.
He watches as their dreams shatter, their hopes slashed open, bleeding, ignorant of the scars that encircled the shadow where his heart had been. He kills and kills again as though to fill that hole, to consume them with a Dementor’s kiss, lips yearning for the sweet taste of souls. The green light reflects upon eyes of every shade, but it is not enough. Their souls turn to sawdust in his mouth and he flees. The hunger remains.
A pane of glass reveals a flash of skin. A skull’s face, all ivory and corners, framed by a rough fringe of hair.
Death is only a man.
Some say it does not do to dwell in dreams, but what of nightmares? The world between with no escape. The only world he had known.
He remembers the place they told him was home. A place of the father, all voice and fists, his mother a mere shadow, all but faded against his father’s consuming flame. How it had changed when he, that once-pathetic boy, found himself taller, stronger, gripping in his hand the symbol of magical might. How the useless old man had cowered! One simple spell made those limbs suffer, made the voice scream for mercy.
Some say there are fates worse than death.
He left the room, the house, the street, without a word. Let his mother deal with the rest, if she cared. She had chosen that life, and he has chosen his.
Gone were the insults and insinuations. Gone were the flying limbs and blood-stained floor. Gone were all his childish dreams of stars like emeralds wrapped in flame. He had faltered—once, twice, always—and the stars had turned away, leaving him enveloped in a shroud of night. A burning, chilling night that devoured his soul even as it gave him life. A new story, all his own.
That night he touched the door of a new home—a real home. The things he had heard of this place and of its master! The things he still longed to know charged through his veins as he was led by the minion down the long, dark corridor, down through the catacombs, down into hell itself where the Dark Lord sat on his burnished throne.
A face as pale as his own glanced up at their approach. Eyes as black and sunken as his gazed back. And both knew what they had found.
The minion whispered the strange, awkward boy’s name in his master’s ear. All the while, the Dark Lord could not look away from the long limbs and ivory flesh. A perfect medium forged in an imperfect mould. But a reflection nonetheless. Yes, he saw himself there, boiling with talent and rage. The boy lacked only in its facade. But Death needn’t have a pleasant face. The Dark Lord liked to keep that for himself, a Lucifer among his burnt and fallen army.
He liked the thought of keeping his boy too.
The boy’s name was sweet on his tongue. “Come forward, Severus, and sit by me.”
The boy did not lower his gaze. He did not bow and scrape. Only a twitch below one eye revealed the state of his emotions, the fear, the wonder, the anticipation. Otherwise he remained still, a study in repression. He had swallowed his soul. (All that remains are snatches of light, of green and red and flowers and laughter. Fragments of a life thrust away by a single word.)
“Yes, my lord.”
With that, Severus Snape became the Dark Lord’s man.
The ice-blown lane is an instrument to the wind. Cold hollow notes clash with the whimperings of the huddled creature in the corner. When it moves, revealing a human face twisted in fear, Severus feels his stomach drop. The likeness is maddening. Grizzled cheeks. Sunken eyes. Poorly-healed cleft lip. He might have imagined it, imprinting his father’s face onto every victim, attaining his revenge not once, but a million times over.
The creature raises its hand, eyes little more than stars in the city’s twilight glow.
“Please,” it whispers.
He shudders. Hesitates. There are cracks in his veneer. So few can match the depth of shadow in a Dark Lord’s soul.
Kill it, whispers the voice in his head. Kill them all.
A voice not his own.
When the green light fills the alley, reflecting off crystals of ice, he sees that the face is not the one he sought. No more than an illusion. His father has been dead this last long year, a drunken lump drowned in the brook, poisoning the waters of Severus’s once-refuge, where there still lingers memories of butterflies floating across silkwhite skin, flashes of red against a sea of rustling grass.
He turns away from the dead man. Another blighted spot on a blighted world.
His master’s voice still rings in his ears. Another ghost—paler, stronger—of waxwork fingers running down his forearm, along the edge of his jaw where black hairs burst from greasy pores. How real is the touch, a perpetual closeness that continues to amaze him. No one before, no one again, has regarded him so highly. No one has ever wanted him.
Shoved into corners and mud puddles, he has never known what it means to have meaning.
Now he passes corners, grinds his heels into mud puddles.
The voice has faded, but the sensations remain.
He wakes one morning, muscles clamped, the nightmare squeezing the breath from his lungs. There is dried blood on his lip, but he cannot be certain whether it is from the dream or his master’s mouth, pressing hard against his own, teeth gnashing at soft tissue. There is such hunger in the Dark Lord’s caress, and each time Severus responds in kind. Love has always been a hunger. Unsatiated. Unsubstantiated.
He has only known how to want, never asking why.
I want you to love me. I want your eyes to never look away. I want all of you, every breath, every thought.
So he dreams of bloodred hair streaming over ivory flesh, of the green flash of Death’s curse against the moon, that great eye that witnesses his every crime.
How she must judge him.
But in these lost years of his life he cannot trouble himself to think long of her. She too had chosen. Had chosen wrong. She will see, yes. She will know her error and then... and then...
The threadbare blanket pools at his hips as he stares at the ceiling, his lips curved into a smile, the nightmare no more than a smear of blood on his tongue. He did not need her, or any of them. How miserable they had made his life, making him feel so small and insignificant when really it was he—he!—who had the most to offer, who could have ruled them all with one twist of his wand. (What was done once could be done again.)
But now he had another. One who understood, who trusted him completely, who told him the greatest of secrets, that he—the Dark Lord himself—was likewise the child of a Muggle. A cruel, heartless, filthy Muggle (all were the same) who had unwittingly bred his own doom, a son who knew all the shades of the darkness, a child raised in the shadow of hate.
The days are few that they are together, when they tear at their pleasures as the clock ticks with death’s hollow rattle. Daylight will seep through a gap in the curtains, painting lines of gold across the curled bodies, illuminating the dust that fills the stale air, catching in his throat until the thin lips take hold of his again. As the light fades, there are no lingering kisses, no whispered words. The only tender caresses are the Dark Lord’s fingers running along his every nerve, every place of remote sensitivity, until his awareness is brought to such an excruciating point that there is only those conquering hands. Every breath, every thought—
(Two birds of a feather are they.)
If the others know, he does not care. Let them think what they will behind their sweaty masks. Let them envy. Let them imagine. They are nothing (compared) to him.
He watches as his master’s flesh takes on a starker pallor, blue veins bright against the greying matter that barely seems to register his touch. Even the half-immortal soul grows weary with drawn-out battles, the losses on the other side still insufficient to satisfy. There is nothing that can satisfy but death, death and annihilation. Courage may be their saint, determination their saviour, but they will soon fall beneath the Dark Lord’s heel.
All mortals fall before Death.
Yet it is not his task to enter into battle. That is left for the true fanatics, those who like the barbarians of old run headlong into the paths of curses without fear. No, it is instead for him to create fear, to tread in silence and kill them as they sleep. Whole families vanish by the midnight hour, faces he once knew recognizing him in the final flash of green that rips souls from bodies. One even says his name.
The moon watches with a waning face, green eyes streaming with tears.
He keeps his eyes on the ground.
He cherishes the memory of rejection. What would his master say? Yes, it had been a moment of strength, the truth bursting from his lips at long last. Too many years of thrall to a false idol all torn to pieces in an instant. He had revealed his true self. The self he must now be.
As the night pales, he slips into the bed, goosepimples on his arms, as the sun rises, stained with blood.
They do not shine upon him that day. The building quivers with action as young Death sleeps on, shaking with his dreams, uncomforted by the bare walls and cold floor. He huddles against his musty pillow, waiting, but there is nothing. No touch, no voice, only the soft burning of the mark on his arm.
Does the Dark Lord tire of him? He knows that there are secrets, the multitudes to which he is not privy despite—perhaps because of—his place in this bed. Is it his youth, his ignorance? Or is he to become nothing more than a tool of his master’s will? A mere plaything, a slave to bend and break as the Dark Lord pleases, no better than that cowardly boy. It was not at all as he had once dreamed, to be the most trusted, most exalted lieutenant, equal in power, equal in all things.
That is the only reason he waits. The only reason he has given himself, the story he has told and told again, yearning to believe, yearning for that grain of truth he once held in that wonderful, terrible moment by the lake.
Yet there is still an absence, that hollowness that brings the dreams, that sketches lines of frost in his hair.
It is not affection that he feels. He cannot think himself capable of such a disgusting sentiment. One thing to be wanted, another to— to be— The word itself pains him. (How much she loved. How much she must love still, always the undeserving. The sister, the husband, and now the Thing, the destroyer of whatever hope that might have remained in the hollow where his heart should be.)
Hours tick past before a forceful, measured step slows at his door.
When he opens his eyes, those that gaze down at him are red with the blood he has spilled. His vision blurs.
There is no moon that night. The sky is hollow, the village is Hollow, the night is Hallow’s. The rumble of a motorcycle fades as Death creeps into the place of shattered dreams where the colours bleed together, red hair blowing across glassgreen eyes, caught in a draught from a hole in the crumbled wall.
She is hollow too.
But not as he is. Her heart remains whole. It has always been too large, too full (for all but him).
To the last, she protected the Thing. All she had to do was step aside. It would have been so easy— He squeezes his eyes shut.
She made her choice. They always choose another in the end.
And so does he.
The other body lies on its side, its face stained black with drying blood. He kneels beside it, running a long finger along a sticky cheekbone. It had never been warm. A chilled corpse that once stretched beside him, waxwork skin marbled with blue veins, the most perfect work of art. He can remember the slight flutter of life in those veins, the heat of breath against his ear.
“They will never kill me,” the whispered voice echoes in his mind. “One day I may tell you, Severus. One day—”
Something falls onto the waxen cheek, drips to the floor.
He looks up at the sky, blinded by the moon’s light. There is no ocean raining down upon him, only the salted tears of Death, the hollow man.
One day he would claim ignorance of the Dark Lord’s plan. He would say that he had never expected so much death, so much suffering. He would climb to the top of the hill in a frenzy and cry “I never thought he would kill her.”
(I never thought he would die.)
The old man—they were everywhere, fathers, gods, failures—stares down his nose at the grovelling mockery of Death, its hood thrown back to reveal twisted, blighted youth.
“I do not judge you for what you are, merely for what you have done.”
The kneeling figure reaches a long, pale hand to touch the hem of the old man’s robes, which are just as soon wrenched away.
“What must I do?” Severus’s hand waits, extended in supplication.
He can be anything they wish, these old men who rule the world. He can play whatever role pleases them, whatever assures them of his loyalty. Let them fill his soul with new life, a new story. Let them make him seem whole.
The moon looks down upon him. Judging, ever judging.
What will be his story now?
One day, he may even come to believe it.
Author's Note: This story was inspired by the many discussions (some might call them arguments) about Snape and his relationship with Lily. I thought it would be interesting to explore the negative aspects of Snape's character, those aspects that made him a successful Death Eater and, more disturbingly, a murderer.
So I ended up with two questions I wanted to answer: what might have occurred during those "lost years" that Harry didn't see in the Pensieve, those years before Snape hears the prophecy; and why was Voldemort so attached to Snape, readily forgiving him when he didn't do the same for others like Lucius Malfoy. The answers took me in a very unexpected direction, and I'd love to hear what you think of the result!
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