Ever More Tightly Bound

Damn it, Albus, you will stay with me! Snape roared, though the room stayed quiet aside from the sound of the Potions master throwing open a cabinet to his parlous vials.

"Severus," the Headmaster groaned weakly from the nearby bench where Snape had laid him mere moments before. So much pain, he sent directly to Snape's mind, now laid open and porous as a sponge to Dumbledore's Legilimency.

I know, Snape snapped, sending bottles soaring through the air to Albus' side. He descended on Albus like a fearless bird to a scarecrow, his wand flicking right and left as he spat commands, spells and obscenities. The Headmaster's hand was a hideous glow of burned flesh, the ring on his finger lodged with malevolence. Severus glared at the hunk of metal before pouring a viscous fluid into a wide, silver spoon. He stood behind Albus, gently cradling the older wizard's neck and head with one hand while bringing the utensil carefully to Albus' lips.

Drink this, he insisted, the cavernous furrows above his eyebrows relaxing only slightly once he saw Albus swallow. That should slow the bilium from seeping further.

Snape took precious seconds to lower Albus' head back to the hard surface before stepping in front of the injured hand. Tentatively, he arced his wand over the fiery digits, wincing as the air crackled with Dark energy. Standing ramrod-straight, Snape closed his eyes and sought deeply within himself for a memory of joy. He settled instead for a feeling of pride when he'd discovered he'd received the prestigious Paraclesus award in Potions. He murmured words of supplication and entreaty as a dank thread of smoke drifted up from the charred skin, forming a sinuous shifting cloud. With a guttural snarl, Snape aimed his wand at the vapour and yelled, "Expellianima!" An incardine light shot through the haze and continued over Albus' body, blazing into the far stone wall and forming a blood-coloured stain. There was an angry hissing sound as the smoke dissipated. Taking no time to congratulate himself, Snape stormed over to a locked and warded armoire, brandishing his wand at it as though to cast an Unforgivable. The doors flung open wide, clattering on their hinges.

"Murtlap. Deliquesce of nettle. Wormwood," he ground out, snatching the items from their shelves. There was little grace to his movements as he prepared the salve; with the force of a hurricane his robes swirled around him. Ingredients, measuring devices, and utensils were sucked in then dropped helter-skelter like detritus after a storm.

Albus' hand was eased into a marble bowl, the grievous injury allowed to soak in the most potent essence Snape could create in the greatest haste. At last he paused, breathing heavily through his nose, his palms anchored to the bench. After several deep breaths, he lifted his left hand to cautiously brush the hair out of Albus' eyes.

The Headmaster's breathing changed, becoming shallow and troubled.

"You soul-sucking son of Seketh," Snape swore at Voldemort. He probed Albus' mind, racing through the recent memories to discover what had happened. Albus' thoughts were becoming muted; he tottered on the knife edge between the living and the abyss. There was nothing else for it; if Snape performed the spell to infuse Albus with some of his magic, Albus' renewal would be as unobtrusive as a thundering stampede of patronuses through a Death Eater ritual. On the other hand, destroying a Horcrux wasn't exactly a subtle act.

Snape thought for an instant of the relieved look in Albus' eyes each time he returned after being summoned by the Dark Lord, and made up his mind. He was no Healer; once stabilised, Poppy would need to care for the more superficial injuries — the caking blood at his temple, the internal wounds Snape sensed but couldn't afford to tend to — but what needed his immediate focus was the older wizard's magic itself, which may have been mortally affected.

Snape locked the classroom door and cast a magic-dampening ward inside the perimeter of the room. The one person who would've been most likely to chastise him for unnecessary magic in the castle was now prone before him and barely breathing, but Snape had learned ages ago that caution was sacrosanct for survival. He paused to collect himself, marveling at why it was that some of the most powerful magic required the least amount of preparation, so unlike Potions. Wary of Albus' injuries, Snape murmured a spell so that Albus' robes fell open, leaving exposed his pale abdomen and heaving chest with its low tangle of white hair. Turning the wand on himself, within seconds Snape's own robes vanished and reappeared in a nearby pile, leaving him clad only in his trousers, shoes and socks. Timing, intent and raw emotion provided the three-point base for the spell. Snape quieted his mind, focusing on pulling his own magic to the surface, to be drawn from him as blood for a transfusion.

Speaking the words of an ancient binding ritual, Snape used his wand to draw a figure eight on his own chest, the image gleaming silver. Once complete, he did the same on Albus, who was gasping like a fish trapped on land. The eternity symbol glowed a sickly green. Keeping his wand on Albus' body, Snape switched hands, grasping at a nearby abandoned knife. He straightened his left arm and cut a triangle inside his elbow so that red trails began trickling down his forearm, over his Dark Mark. The blood collection was messy, but he didn't need much. A small spoonful was placed at the ailing man's lips, whose face was ashen. Snape tipped the fluid in, making sure some went down Albus' throat.

Thinking solely of commanding Albus to stay alive, he moved his wand to the juncture of the symbol on his chest before moving it slowly back to the Headmaster, ensuring that the grey gossamer thread traversed unbroken the small space to the mirror image on Albus' mottled skin. When the connection was made, Snape was yanked forward as Albus' magic needily tugged at the source of power. Snape felt himself being drained, emptied. His mind and spirit screamed at him to stop, and, with tremendous effort, he wrenched his wand away and fell backwards against the opposite bench. His heart was racing, and his mouth gaped as he panted for breath. He shut his eyes for a moment, reeling at his loss of strength. His rational self commented that he hoped Voldemort didn't summon him soon, as it would take him several days to regain the energies he'd given to Albus. Snape's Occlumency would be a dike wall with a leak, and the Dark Lord's probing would be enough for it to crumble in a torrent of damning knowledge.

Cracking open one eye, Snape pressed two fingers to the spurting vein in his arm and looked at Albus, whose breathing had evened out. The line on his body was now a vibrant jade, pulsing in time with Albus' heartbeat before it faded into his snowy torso and was gone. Snape staggered to a pile of cloths and wrapped one around his elbow.

"Thank you, Severus," Albus croaked, looking at him, the usual twinkle muted in his eyes.

Snape responded with a curt nod before gathering his shirt and robes, fumbling as he dressed himself. The Headmaster's chest rose and fell in a soothing, regular pattern as Severus walked to his fireplace, stubbing his toe against a chair.

"What in Hades am I doing?" he muttered, collapsing to his knees as he fire-called Madam Pomfrey.

"Poppy," he said in a hoarse voice. "Come to my office at once. It's Albus."

She nodded, wide-eyed. Snape only just remembered to disarm the wards before she stepped over the grate seconds later and rushed straight to the Headmaster's side.

"Severus," she said, horrified. "What's hap-"

"Later," Severus interrupted, sounding more businesslike than he felt. "Take him to the Hospital Wing. I'll be up momentarily."

Poppy gave Snape a practised, evaluative scowl as she took in his pallor and shaking hands. "You certainly will be," she said, her voice barbed with authority. She cast Mobilicorpus to get Albus to the fireplace and then they vanished in a swirl of Floo powder.

Snape sagged against a stool, using what little energy he had left to Accio a flask of Firewhiskey and a glass from his chambers. With a tremulous hand, he poured it half full and swallowed the amber liquid, sputtering as the burn hit his throat. He coughed a few times and picked up his wand, feebly resetting the wards. As the warmth of the alcohol eased through him, he collapsed on the rug and sank into unconsciousness.

* * * * *

Several weeks later, Snape looked Albus straight in the eye as he told him of the Unbreakable Vow he'd taken, how it had been necessary in order to keep his cover, but surely—

"Severus," Albus said softly, the acceptance in his voice cutting Snape to the quick. More than ever before, he loathed the Headmaster for sending him out, again and again, and for trusting him. He hated Albus' steadfast belief that Severus would, at all costs, execute what commands had been given to him.

Because, in that, Albus was correct.

"This war doesn't need you as a martyr," Severus seethed, his knuckles white where he clasped his hands tightly in his lap.

"All loyalty involves sacrifice."

Aside from the rustling sound of Fawkes preening his feathers off in the corner, silence settled around them. Snape found his attentions drawn to the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black, who cast a disinterested glance down at him before rolling his eyes in distaste and tending to his fingernails. In a suffocated maelstrom of frustration and resignation, Severus swept to his feet and headed to the door.

"Please keep me appraised of any other developments of interest, Severus."

Snape turned to look over his shoulder. The Headmaster was peering over his half-moon spectacles at a parchment on his desk, a sherbet lemon drop halfway to his mouth.

They will never know. The words resonated in Severus' head even as he felt a gentle nudge attempting entrance, and he instinctively shuttered his mind.

"Of course."

Once in the sanctity of his quarters, Severus clenched his eyes shut, willing the memories of Narcissa's pale, desperate eyes and Dumbledore's wounded voice to leave him. All of it was madness. Surely Snape was raving, Defense Against the Dark Arts appointment aside. He was split, drowning on both sides, and there were none on Merlin's green earth who would have him be whole.

As he began meticulously shredding some boomslang skin, Severus felt his invisible noose inexorably tighten, and he stiffened his back in defiance. Strip after strip he cut, eyes burning with the tears he would never release. He was nothing but a pawn, albeit a cunning one who had nearly made it across the board. He felt a surge of unchecked fury, then surprise as he heard a sound of tinkling glass. Following his instinct, he strode back to his rooms. He scanned the sitting area, where everything seemed to be in order, until he glanced at his chess set. Severus let out a hiss of recognition; one of the pieces had been unwittingly sacrificed in his anger, now a small pile of shards.

"Loyalty is most effective for the living," he mused darkly. With a wave of his wand and a grim smile, the glass vanished.

* * * * *

Author's Notes Written for Amy, who requested a story addressing this sentence of Dumbledore's from HBP, "Horcruxes": I hope I've done it justice, my dear. Merry Christmas.

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