Disclaimer: All characters from the Harry Potter universe belong to J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury Publishing, Scholastic Inc., AOL/Time Warner and associated companies. No offence, legal or otherwise, is intended by the online publication of this story. Neither is profit. Make love, not lawsuits!
Notes: A glimpse into the young Severus Snape's initiation as a Death Eater, as well as his motivations for joining Voldemort in the first place. (Do note that key members of the Order might be working with Muggles... hence it is possible for 'Inspector Weasley', Arthur Weasley's father, to make an appearance.)
Safe From Harm
Rain traced silver streaks against the sky. Smoke billowed from the ruins, almost indistinguishable from the gray of the clouds. Magic still shimmered around shattered stone and wood, prickling Severus' nerves painfully. The neon sign above his head flickered. In the distance, he could hear approaching sirens. Ambulance? No, police...
Blood seeped through his robes to pool on the ground. He stared in fascination at crimson slowly darkening the water. The sirens grew closer, and a corner of Severus' mind managed to find the ability to think. I need to get out of here, he thought to himself. Out...
He staggered upright, clutching his injured arm. Blood loss made him sway, but he managed to make it out of the alley--feet slipping on rain-slicked stone. His black robes clung to him, heavy with water. Black hair was plastered to his face. The world felt wrong--every sound approaching him as if through a thickening amber, muffled as if by cotton. A warm trickle of blood pricked his left temple. I have to get out of here.
He didn't look back to see the bodies of dead Muggles littering the alley, each face a rictus of terror--eyes no more than empty glass now, mirroring the flickering of a neon sign.
Mission accomplished. Bile rose in his throat. He stretched out his hand to steady himself before he fell again. The stone beneath his palm was cold and wet--and stained with red once his fingers left it.
* * *
It had been a tough night. John lit his cigarette and exhaled out of his taxi's open window. The sun had risen about an hour ago--a typically gray London morning, cold with the promise of drizzle. Not too many customers last night--he wondered if it was a personal grudge that the manager always handed him the night shifts. Oh, well. Another bloody hour an' I'm out of here. Nice, warm bed...
The back door of the cab clicked open, and a dark shape settled into the seat behind him, breathing harshly. He smelt the heaviness of wet cloth. John smiled. Well, at least the rain got him customers.
'Where'd ye like to go?'
There was a silence. The harsh breathing continued. Finally an address was muttered--the voice strangely thick and deep.
'Righty-O!' Another early-morning drunk. At least this one seemed courteous.
But then John made a mistake. As he angled the rear-view mirror, he got a glimpse of his passenger. Long dark hair clinging to a pale, wet face. Hard black eyes glazed with pain. And red. Red. Streaks of red along the clenched jaw. Red clumping black hair behind the left ear. Red dripping from the heavy, wet sleeve. Red staining the shaking fingers.
'Fuckin' Hell!' John's shout imploded in the little car. A moment of thick silence--then a frantic muttering began. 'We have to get you to a hospital... fuck... we have to...'
Something cold and hard pressed into the back of his neck.
The dark voice spoke again--taut with both danger and pain. 'If you take me anywhere but where I asked, you won't live to tell of it.' The words were clipped--cold and sharp with true intent.
John's fingers clenched on the steering wheel, trembling. His knuckles were white. Somewhere in his mind a voice laughed hysterically. This is what you get for the night shift, Johnny boy! This is what you get--
'Drive.' The pressure on his neck increased. John didn't dare to look into the rear-view mirror again--he knew, with sickening clarity, what the cold weight against him was. A gun. A bloody, fucking, ruddy gun...
'Oh--OK, sir. OK.' His voice was trembling, and sounded more like a whisper. But John didn't dare repeat himself. He turned the key and heard his car rumble into life. We'll get through this together, love... He shifted gears, and the cab lurched into motion.
There was a pained gasp behind him, but the pressure at his neck didn't waver. '--Faster--' This bit out between clenched teeth.
John pressed the accelerator further. The small car was quickly filling with the scent of blood.
* * *
At last the familiar street came into sight. Severus blinked, trying to focus. Everything was blurring... Each jolt of the car sent a stab of pain through him. The torn skin of his arm scraped against his robe. Blood was congealing now that he was out of the rain. Where was the portkey?...
And then he saw it--in front of a Muggle house with the number '73' on it. 'Stop,' he hissed, pressing his wand against the driver's neck once more. 'Stop now.'
* * *
The sun was higher now. About seven in the morning, perhaps. Cold sweat made John's collar stick to him. His fingers still clutched the steering wheel in a death-grip. The man had told him to stop, and he had stopped. But the gun at his neck hadn't moved.
He's deciding whether to kill me, John realized. Get rid of his witness... The hard pressure against his neck was trembling in indecision. John fixed his eyes on the dashboard. He couldn't breathe--felt his chest burn as he held in air. It thickened within him with the scent of the other's blood, until he could taste it on his tongue. Oh, God...
The gun hadn't moved. John didn't speak. He didn't have a wife; he didn't have family. He thought of his friends at work--thought of the barkeeper who laughed with him on Saturdays. The nice girl at the local dairy, whom he'd never worked up the guts to ask out. Her favourite dress was yellow, with small brown flowers on it. It barely reached her knees. Oh, God. His chest was tight with pain. The gun didn't move. Shoot, dammit! Get it over with!
And then the door clicked open. John jerked in surprise. The gun wasn't there!
The tall shadow stumbled out of the back seat. Footsteps--unsteady, limping--could be heard crunching the roadside gravel. John dared to look up.
And was startled to see--the man wore a cloak. No, a robe. Black, and obviously thick with water. He couldn't see the man's gun, probably hidden in there somewhere. His gait was unsteady. Weak enough to make John wonder if he could keep walking much longer. How much has he bled?...
Wait--the man had stopped. In front of a... mailbox?! Number 73, John noted dimly. He's mad. Absolutely starkers. Checking the bloody post after nearly killing me--nearly dying himself...
But what happened next startled him most of all. The man opened the letterbox, and thrust his hand inside as if looking for something. His thin mouth moved, but John couldn't hear the words, and then--
--A blinding flash of light.
John ducked under the dashboard with a yelp--his first thought being--Bomb! It's a bomb!
But there was only an echoing silence. Slowly, his hands shaking, John raised his head to peer over the steering wheel.
The man had gone. In his place was a mere puff of smoke--dark as the man himself had been. The mailbox stood unperturbed, raindrops still glistening on its metal face.
John gaped, his mouth open in disbelief. The only sign of the man's presence was a stain of blood--a slowly-drying slash of red across the number '73'.
* * *
August 16, 1979
Rachel Billington reports for The London Times.
Fifteen Killed in Mysterious Explosion, Taxi Driver Tells Strange Tales
Experts have still been unable to uncover the cause of the mysterious explosion that resulted in the deaths of fifteen people, including five women and two children, in central London yesterday morning. They have only managed to clock the time of the explosion at shortly after dawn, at about 5:07 a.m. The current suspect is a strange, cloaked man seen to be leaving the vicinity of the explosion before the police arrived. The witness is a taxi driver by the name of John Sheppard, who is currently undergoing counselling for severe trauma.
It remains unclear whether the testimony of Mr. Sheppard is dependable. While he has been able to point out various bloodstains in his taxi and near a suburban mailbox which match some of the blood found at the scene of the explosion, many aspects of his testimony seem to be the product of mental instability.
The terrorist apparently used Mr. Sheppard's taxi to escape the crime scene, bloodied and severely injured. He threatened Mr. Sheppard with a gun to ensure his cooperation, and directed the taxi driver to an outer suburban address. The police have not disclosed this location, although sources tell us that Mr. Sheppard remembers the man stopping before a letterbox numbered '73'.
It is here than Mr. Sheppard's testimony becomes truly strange. Apparently, after inserting his hand into the mailbox and muttering a few words, the suspect simply disappeared. A flash of light and a puff of smoke, as in a children's fairy-tale. This is what resulted in Mr. Sheppard's extensive counselling . Some of the police psychologists theorize that it is simply a form of post-traumatic stress, but others believe Mr. Sheppard to be truly ill. This is yet another complication in an already difficult case where physical evidence of any gunpowder or explosive compound has been notoriously hard to find. The only logical correlation is the blood of the suspect found at the scene and in Mr. Sheppard's car, as well as on the mailbox in question. This is the only factor that adds weight to Mr. Sheppard's testimony, although other aspects of his statement (such as the suspect's having shoulder-length black hair and black eyes) are called into question due to his mental instability.
The suspect's blood has yet to be identified. All other blood found in the area of the explosion belonged to the victims. The only sample of blood that did not belong to the victims was the one that matched the samples from Mr. Sheppard's car seat and the mailbox numbered '73'. It stands to reason that, despite a doubtful witness, the owner of this blood sample is the one responsible for the atrocity.
One more man was seen near the area before the blast, although he is not considered a suspect. This was an aged man, with a long grey beard and moon-shaped spectacles and otherwise with the appearance of a homeless person. Suspicions were aroused that he was related to the blast, because he was dressed in the same peculiar style of cloak that the suspect allegedly wore. Despite this, the police has vehemently denied any involvement this man might have with the explosion. Chief Inspector Michael Weasley says that he is unable to disclose the evidence that proves the old man's innocence. Following this was Inspector Weasley's cryptic comment that 'He might have saved more lives by thwarting the one responsible.' The police are now denying this statement, although one of our dependable sources reports having distinctly overheard Inspector Weasley making this comment to a friend in front of his home. The police continue to deny the statement, and the old man seems to have disappeared as surely as the dark-haired suspect.
One can only hope that, in the midst of this confusion and apparent lack of publicly available evidence, the true culprit be found. The lives of fifteen innocent civilians are yet to be avenged, and their families yet to be compensated.
If this attack was politically motivated, experts hope that the culprit will come forward and claim responsibility, thus putting an end to the near-impossible hunt for clues at the crime scene. If not, then it remains highly unlikely that the strange, cloaked man responsible for the atrocity will ever be found.
Unless he strikes again.
* * *
Softness cradled him. Light brushed across his eyes tentatively, a feather of yellow and orange. But Severus didn't open his eyes. His mind was a comforting fog--he couldn't think. A part of him wondered if this was a spell, but that part was quickly smothered by the thickening blanket. I don't... want to remember. I don't...
There was no pain in this strange new world. There seemed to be the shadow of a memory here, of blood and rain and glass... but when he chased it, it disappeared... another vanishing shape in this darkening fog.
He realized he was crying. Why...?
'Shh...' A quiet whisper of breath against his forehead, a warm hand smoothing his brow.
Severus didn't need to ask who this was. Didn't have to open his eyes to meet the deep, unflinching grey of the other's, lit with light. He knew only the warm arms encircling him, achingly familiar. Long, pale hair spilled across his face--fresh and cool with the scent of summer grass. The soft mouth that descended on his with a savior's grace, warm and salt and beautiful.
The name slipped quietly from his lips, drawing a smile from the mouth against his. 'You did very well today, Severus.' The warm hand moved from his face to his back, holding him close. 'You did so well...'
'Lucius--I can't--I can't--' I can't do this again, Severus wanted to say. I can't do this ever again. Those dead, open eyes reflecting the flickering of neon... Not so different, after all... Not so different from our own.
'Shh...' The same silken voice again, the same mouth pressing a kiss against his eyes, another and then another, kissing away the tears. 'Of course you can, Severus. Of course you can.'
The words seemed to come into the fog of Severus' mind with a silver light. I can... A flash of blood and rain tore through him, and he jerked. Fresh sobs wracked him, and the arms around him tightened. The fog in his mind thickened as if in response.
'Of course you can, and you will.' The voice gentled. 'I'm here now, Severus. I'm here... You passed the test, Severus. I'm here.'
You're here... Severus felt the fog pulling him down again, with the command 'Rest now' somehow echoing in it. It filled his mind with the same silver light. Soft light... pulling him down... The arms around him loosened, but didn't let go. That warm mouth was brushing over his face gently, barely touching. Eyes... forehead... lips. Over and over again, never stopping, softer each time. You're here, Severus thought again, and the silver light grew to a beautiful thread that pulled him in. Deep into sleep where the grey of those eyes flickered like light under water, where the smooth voice formed silver words to guide him. Yes, within these arms... only within these arms did he feel so safe.
Safe from harm.