Severus had barely returned home, when a knock sounded at his door, indicating that it must be a wizard or witch visiting him. Muggles usually rang the doorbell, in the rare case they decided to bother him. Unfortunately, the selection of possible visitors was pretty slim and he liked none of the options presenting themselves in front of him. Still, ignoring the knocking was not an option, as he would only make himself suspicious and considering his precarious situation that was simply not an option.
With heavy steps, he walked towards the door and opened it. In front of it was the almost last person he wanted to see in this world, accompanied by her less crazy, once beautiful sister Narcissa. Merlin, help him. This wasn’t just a casual visit.
“Narcissa, Bella,” he greeted the two women neutrally and stepped aside. “Do come in.”
He led the two women into his living room. Narcissa followed him with a nervous expression on her face, while Bellatrix took in his simple quarters with a gleeful look in her grey eyes. There were only a handful of reasons for those women to visit him and none of them was particularly appealing.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?" he finally asked after having offered them a place on the sofa and found that they preferred to stand. Narcissa was pacing the room nervously, while her sister's eyes were focussed on him, studying him like a tiger was watching its prey.
“I know I should not be here,” Narcissa started while finally stopping in front of him. She looked at him with a desperate expression in her eyes. “But I came to seek out your help, Severus.”
He looked at her with his head inclined in faked interest. “Is that so,” he said, focussing his eyes on her sister, who had started to go through his things. “Put it down Bella, we mustn’t touch what isn’t ours.”
The woman looked at him with a sneer, but Severus ignored her and returned his attention to Narcissa. From the corner of his eye, he could indeed see Bella putting the old trinket down, she had dared to touch.
“What kind of help is it you came to seek from me then?”
At that, the woman looked at him with something akin to panic. "The Dark Lord…" she started, her voice quivering with fear and probably unshed tears. “He gave Draco a task, a task he’ll never be able to accomplish. I know I shouldn’t even speak about this, as the Dark Lord has forbidden…”
He interrupted her with a dark expression. “If the Dark Lord has forbidden to speak about this, then you should not do so.”
He could feel Bellatrix’ eyes on him, could see her biting her lip in anticipation. Something was wrong here, he thought, as he could literally feel the invisible traps being placed all around him. There was no way those two were here without his master’s knowledge and if one considered Bella’s impatient behaviour this most likely meant that he was in serious trouble.
“I know Severus,” Narcissa said, staring at him with huge eyes. "But Draco is just a boy. There is no way he can kill a wizard, like Albus Dumbledore.”
“He wasn’t supposed to know this,” her sister hissed, staring at her sister with a reproachful look in her eyes. “The Dark Lord has honoured you and your family by giving Draco such an important task, can’t you see this Cissy?”
The blonde woman shook her head, her eyes never leaving his. “Please Severus, you must help him. Promise me you will do it, if Draco is not able to,” she said, her voice suddenly winning strength.
“You want me to kill Albus Dumbledore, even though I’m not even supposed to know of Draco's task?” he asked back, his eyebrow raised questioningly at the woman. “What makes you believe I will accept such a task, against the Dark Lord’s wishes I might add?”
“Draco is your godson, Severus,” Narcissa continued, staring at him like this was all the explanation he needed. It probably would have been, if he had any feelings for that boy. He looked at her with a stony expression on his face. He could see it clearly now, the way that was lying in front of him. This visit was nothing but a test, not by Bella or Narcissa, but probably by the Dark Lord himself. They expected him to accept the task, to kill the Headmaster, who was unbeknownst to them already dying from a curse that would slowly be eating him away. Dumbledore would want him to accept. He would prefer a clean and quick death instead of withering away by that blasted curse. The action would cement Severus's position within Voldemort's ranks and ensure that the bastard would be brought down one day. Albus would have loved the plan.
A few weeks back Severus would not even have hesitated to do it, as he no longer cared about himself or anybody for that matter. But now… Suddenly he saw Miss Granger's eyes, beaming at him with gratefulness. He saw her cursed flesh, remembered the feeling of her skin and the smell of her hair. He remembered their lively discussion and imagined that many more such encounters could follow in the future, given the chance. And suddenly he realized that he wanted this, whatever this was. With the strange connection between them he could finally have something like happiness in his life, maybe not love, but with a bit of luck, camaraderie or even friendship. Killing Dumbledore would take this all away from him, as there was no way she would not hate him afterwards. He realized that being hated by her would probably rip him apart, not only because her Magic would probably punish him for such a betrayal, but because he had somehow already gotten attached to the girl. When had that happened?
Severus stared at the blond witch in front of him with a cold expression. "Draco might be my godson, Narcissa, but I will never betray my master, not even for him," he said, knowing that he would probably come to regret his words soon. But it did not matter, not when he was faced with the prospect of losing what he didn't even know he wanted until now. Merlin, help him!
“I told you, you were wasting your time, Cissy,” Bellatrix hissed and stared at him with small eyes. “I told you he is a traitor. Refusing to kill Dumbledore only showed what I knew all along: Severus Snape is a dirty little traitor - a traitor that has gotten himself attached to a dirty little mudblood once more.”
Severus felt his innards freeze, realizing that he had indeed made a grave mistake.
“Yes, I have watched you, Severus, seen you visiting that little mudblood-whore,” Bella said, a gleeful smile on his face, while he started to circle him like the predator he was. “I’ve waited so long for this, I have watched you without finding proof for what you were. But I can’t say it wasn’t worth it, as I will enjoy killing that little slut before your eyes, before handing you over to the master.”
Severus saw her whipping out her wand, striking it in his direction like a snake attacking its victim. Time seemed to slow down for him, his brain still contemplating her promise while his body already started to react. He dodged Bellatrix's curse with a fluent motion, the bookshelf behind him erupting from the impact of the witch's Unforgivable. Killing her would have been the safest thing for him to do, as it would protect his secret and more importantly Hermione. But as soon as he spoke the first curse, Narcissa would turn against him as well and there was no way in hell of him killing an innocent woman. Severus Snape was not a killer, the Dark Lord hadn't made him one and neither would fucking Bellatrix Lestrange.
Unfortunately for Bellatrix, Severus was a Slytherin at heart and he had long ago planned for things going south. With him being a spy in Voldemort’s ranks he had always considered the need for getting out at a moment’s notice and he had long ago prepared for that possibility. One word from his lips was enough to activate the portkey, he always wore in the form of an invisible bracelet around his wrist. He was whisked away a moment later, leaving behind a murderous Bellatrix Lestrange and her wide-eyed sister.
Severus landed on the floor of the house, he had set up for himself a long time ago. He'd never planned to actually use it, to turn his back on the Dark Lord, because doing so was downright suicidal. It would only be a matter of minutes until the Dark Lord learned of his betrayal and that's when the hunt for him and his torture would begin. There was no defecting from the Dark Lord, no hiding, at least not for long. Karkarov had learned this the hard way. The Dark Mark ensured that his master always knew where he was, which would make it easy to find him, once he had been sufficiently tortured through his connection with the Dark Lord. When his former master called him through the Dark Mark, it had mostly been a short, unpleasant burning, but over the time he had learned that Voldemort could inflict as much pain as he wanted to. He had seen other Death Eaters wind themselves on the floor, begging for mercy, as they had only done under the Cruciatus, which did not bode well for his immediate future. Severus had to get rid of that damned Mark and soon, because he did not fancy such a fate. He had suffered his fair share of torture and I did not plan on bearing another round.
But there was really no pretty way of doing so. A few years ago he had tried to develop a potion that could burn the Mark and the connected spell out of his body. But as quitting his role as a spy never had really been an option, he had never actually brewed the potion, just noted the recipe somewhere in one of his notebooks. Brewing it now would take too long, as he barely had any time left as it was.
Severus cursed. He'd have to do something, now, and the only thing that would work and came into his mind was cutting off his left arm. Even though he could seal the wound and regrow his arm with a potion later this would hurt a lot . And brewing this potion would take time, probably weeks that he would have to live one-handed. Still, it didn't matter. Severus had withstood torture and he was sure he could take the pain and still cast the necessary healing spells afterwards. It wasn't like he had much of a choice anyway.
He took out his wand and weighed it in his right hand. There wasn't any reason for him to stall this, he thought. He could do this. And with a deep breath, he aimed his wand at his left arm, right below his shoulder.
It was about an hour later when Severus dragged his sorry arse into Dumbledore's office at Hogwarts. His body was feeling numb from the amount of pain and healing potions he had drowned and he guessed he should regard himself lucky that he didn't splinch himself while apparating in his almost drunk state. But somehow he managed, probably due to years of experience, some of it gained while he could barely hold himself up from the pain the Dark Lord had inflicted on him during a meeting.
Dumbledore sat behind his desk when he stumbled into the man’s office, his blue eyes serious and somehow old. The man looked at him with a grave expression on his face and Severus could see his eyes travel towards the part of his body that was now lacking his left arm.
“Do you have her?” the man asked, his voice sounding strangely hopeful. Still, Severus could not really contemplate what he was saying, probably due to his intoxicated state.
“Have her? Who are you talking about, Albus?” he found himself asking and saw the man’s face turn confused. Again he found the man’s scrutinizing gaze on himself, before he finally said:
“I’m talking about Miss Granger, of course. I hoped you might have felt something from her and gotten her out in time.”
"Gotten her out?" Severus found himself repeating, before his head started contemplating Albus's words. And then it dawned on him, that Bellatrix might have actually taken a detour before going back to her master. He looked at the man in horror. How could he have forgotten about the girl and Bellatrix's tread concerning Miss Granger?
“What happened?” he asked, his voice strangely hoarse, while he felt his intestines clench in fear. Dear gods have mercy, he prayed, awaiting the Headmaster's words.
He could see the man's gaze turn pitiful. "About ten minutes ago I received the news that the Dark Mark was spotted in the sky above a muggle home," he said gravely. He didn't have to say any more. Severus knew that the house was Miss Granger's house as he knew that Bellatrix had been the one casting the Dark Mark. What else had she been casting? Was the girl even still alive? "The message has come directly from Tonks, so it can be trusted. It is Miss Granger's house. Nymphadora says it has been destroyed but there was no evidence of the elder Grangers or the girl, which is why I hoped you got them out in time.”
Severus stared at the man in front of him, while his legs threatened to buckle from the misery that slowly took hold of him. He’d done it again, he had mucked things up. If he had only told the girl they would have found a better way to keep contact, so that he wouldn’t have to fly to her home - repeatedly. Severus had been the one painting a target on her back before showing the mad Black-sister exactly where to find her prey. Merlin, he was going to be sick! If something happened to the girl, he was never going to forgive himself, or even look into the mirror again. Because his own face was the last he wanted to see right now.
“Now, now, my boy. We won’t give up hope just yet,” Albus said, his voice soothing. Do sit down and tell me what happened to you. Maybe we can figure out what happened to your girl," he said and Severus didn't even feel like correcting the old man in his wording. Instead, he took a deep breath and told his story, Albus listening to him with calm, blue eyes.