phoenix ashes
the path of the serpent (chapter 11)



  by Ejab

Lucius did not sleep well that night. Time and time again he woke up, tossed about, stared at the walls or ceiling and then fell alseep again. Only to wake up some half hour later. Finally, at five in the morning, he admitted defeat and sat up, after being awakened with the same feeling again.

Sighing in annoyance, he put on his darkgreen silk dressing-gown and walked to his study. There he slowly sat down, put the fingertips from both hands to the sides of his head and leaned forward a bit, while supporting himself with his elbows on his desk. He closed his eyes, trying to analyse the gnawing at the back of his mind which kept him from his sleep. Something didn't make sense. Something was just not right. Of course he'd had some flashbacks of Sev being tortured, but not many. Being a Deatheater had trained him to block out most images and feelings. Trained enough to not let this haunt him in his dreams. So that was not it. It was something that had been said. Or rather, that had NOT been said something he just couldn't get his fingers on, but something of great importance

At quite some distance away, Severus woke up just before six o'clock with a false sense of security. Which lasted for about five seconds. The moment he saw his clothes laying at the foot of his bed, his alarmbells went off. What? He never and then it hit him. Immediately a wave of utter terror washed over him. Dumbledore! He had to speak to Dumbledore! He sat up. And with that action came the pain. His whole body screamed about the abuse it had been exposed to. His central nervous system was a bit slow in the uptake but happily joined the party, so that he was able to take two steps before the pain really hit him full force. Damn! The potions master stumbled to his pedestal cupboard, grabbed the two small vials and quickly drank their content.

Within seconds the overall pain subsided to a numb thumping. Taking a deep breath of relief he walked to the bathroom, taking a long shower. Remus had meant well, he never doubted that for a second. A massage would work very well indeed with musclepains and such, but the effects of a Cruciatus were of a different league. To say the least. And normally he would have taken these healing potions the minute he had come back, together with an extremely heavy sleeping potion, and sleep through the painful process of healing and mending. By the time he would wake up, the pain would have practically vanished. Now, on the other hand better take a very strong pain killing potion before going to work, he decided.

Immaculately dressed, and as always in black, he made his way to the Headmaster's office. Once there he mumbled the password ('chocolat frog' this time) and stiffly walked up the stairs as soon as they appeared. Dumbledore surely would be sleeping still - better knock hard.

It never came to that. As soon as he was in front of the door, it opened. Merlin, that man really DID notice everything, didn't he?

"Headmaster?" Severus hesitantly walked in to the office and found Dumbledore standing next to his desk, closing his dressing-gown and yawning slightly. "Forgive me for this early intrusion, Headmaster, but can I please have a word with you?"

"Of course, Severus, of course. Close the door, will you?" Dumbledore smiled. "Can I get you something? Tea, perhaps?"

"Yes, please." Snape took a seat in the appointed chair and watched as the Headmaster,

agonisingly slow, poured them both tea. The potions master remained silent, knowing that this ceremony was Dumbledore's way of preparing for conversation as much as to 'feel' the guest at hand. Especially when that guest was Severus, after returning from Voldemort.

"You were summoned," Dumbledore stated. "I saw you leave." The Headmaster bent forward, clearly forseeing (or should he say 'feeling'?) problems.

"Yes, I was " The potions master took a moment to calm his stomach down. "Forgive me for not reporting to you the minute I came back, but I was not capable to do so." Now that was an understatement, if there ever was any.

"I feared as much. I take it he was very displeased with you?" Dumbledore looked at him with great concern.

"Quite " Snape laughed bitterly. "I am so close to both you and the Potter boy, but never give him any information he can use."

"Ah well, we will have to give him something to work with then," the Headmaster smiled.

"No - not yet, anyway. It would make him very suspicious if all of the sudden I DO have some information, just after he 'complained'."

"But can we wait? Do we have that luxury? Severus?" Dumbledore emphasised his name in such a way that Snape knew - any little white lie or shirking was not acceptable. He broke the eye-contact. There were things the Headmaster did not need to know.

"I don't know, Headmaster " he tried to hide his anxiety by staring at the cup in his hand. "I think I might have bought me at least some time"

"And why is that, Severus?" Dumbledore looked at him with piercing eyes and a stern look. As if he already knew. Damn that old man! He obviously should have looked away earlier.

"Because he wants me to make a potion," he admitted, still staring at the cup in hand. And why had he never noticed that repulsive childish flowery pattern on the Headmaster's tea-set before? Strange how one's own mind could pick up little details like that at the most unexpected times

"And what kind of potion would that be?" The Headmaster really did a very good job at not losing his patience, Snape saw. But then again, losing your patience with Severus Snape was one way of making sure he would close up like an oyster. And Dumbledore would know that all too well, by now.

"Is that really of any importance? What matters is that I bought myself - the Order - valuable time." Snape tried the firm approach. Against his own better judgement. Although he did seem to block his mind successfully this time.

"What kind of potion, Severus?" Dumledore put a hand on his left knee. Encouragement. Or was it insisting?

"To withstand truthserums," Snape sighed, giving in, immediately fearing the question that would come next. Because it would come. Just had to come, judging by the pondering look that now washed over the older man's face. Which slowly but surely changed into bewilderment.

"At the trial Lucius! Did you give Lucius Malfoy a po-"

"Indeed," the potions master said almost casually with a slight hint of triumph, defying the Headmaster with a challenging stare. "And I would do it again any time if need be." He continued the stare. He would be damned if he let the old man get his way this time. Not this time! He already had made enough sacrifices. More than could be asked of anyone! Let him 'feel' that!

"Calm down, Severus, please calm down " The Headmaster patted him on the knee again, still looking upset himself. Snape finally cast his eyes down and took a deep breath. Somehow seeing the confusion on Dumbledore's face alone was rather gratifying.

"Why. Severus? Why? Try to make me understand, please!"

"Because he is mine. Is that so hard to understand? He is mine and I will not allow anyone to take him away from me again! I love him and he loves me! You don't! You OWN me and the part YOU don't own, The Dark Lord does. That has nothing to do with love, that is manipulation an-"

"Don't tell me Lucius does not manipulate you. He practically invented it! And he manipulates you only for HIS sake." There, he did it again, that meddlesome old man - always attempting to control any situation! Not this time! No no no!

"As you all do! But I LOVE his sake. THAT is the difference." Snape said coldly, his tone making very clear that this was the end of the discussion, as far as he was concerned.

"Severus, I " Dumbledore seemed to be speechless for a moment. Now that would be a first! He looked up at his potions master with confusion.

"Don't worry, Headmaster. I still will be your pawn," Snape snarled, trying hard to compose himself again. This was the Headmaster, after all. And he DID owe the man a lot. "I also still believe in and will fight for the same goal as you, without hesitation. Even when it means losing my life in doing so. Just do NOT expect me to give up the one person that keeps me going. Never. Now if you please will excuse me there are urgent matters to attend to."

Dumbledore was an outstanding observer, amongst other things. That is why he noticed the barely visible look of pain flasing through the eyes of his potions master for a brief moment.

"Merlin, Severus, how could I ever forget go see Poppy, she'll be awake by now."

"I will NOT have that woman bully me. I can take care of it myself, thank you."

"It really is a compulsion, isn't it?" The Headmaster all of the sudden chuckled, looking amused now.

"What is?"

"Disliking Poppy."

"It is my aim of life, yes." For the first time that morning Snape's expression softened a bit.

"Severus" Dumbledore rose to his feet and smiled weakly. "I DO care about you. A lot. Pleae do not doubt that for a moment. Ever."

"I know, Headmaster, I know." It was Snape's turn to smile faintly now. And blush a bit. "I also meant what I said even if the way in which I said it was highly inappropiate."

"Go now, my boy go and take some pain killer. Will you still be able to teach?"

"I'm sorry to inform you, but yes, I am." The potions master nodded and left the office, musing if the care of the Headmaster would still be there for long, now he had just realised he had no control over his potions master when it came down to a certain Deatheater.

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