The silver whisper of a moon echoed over Snape Manor and fell silent behind clouds. The wood surrounding the manor was deep and dangerous. Young Severus knew the forest, and knew that he did not want to be out in it, at night. He was not afraid. He simply did not want to die. He was almost eleven. Life improved at eleven. Eleven year olds went away to school, only to return for the summers. Severus knew this was true. He had read all about it in a book, called Hogwarts: A History.
Though it was very dark, he dared not risk a Lumos. Finally he found what he was looking for by its smell, Mentha Piperita, more commonly known as peppermint. Severus quickly gathered what he needed into a small basket and returned the way he had come. He entered the manor silently and headed for the dungeons. One level underground, he stepped through a doorway into his small workroom.
Severus worked quickly pulverizing the white yarrow, adding it bit by bit, stirring carefully clockwise. He then chopped the elder flowers, and added them to the brew. Next into the cauldron went the sliced peppermint leaves, and last the feverfew powder. He decreased the heat. The potion got three slow stirs counterclockwise. Severus smiled as the liquid turned milky white. He cast a cooling spell and decanted the potion into three bottles, sliding each into a different pocket in his robes, so that he would not rattle when he walked.
He walked down one more level, then came to a large cast iron door set into a stone wall. In darkness, he descended a long twisting stone staircase into the main dungeon, eventually he could hear moaning. The smell was very strong now. He briefly considered casting a cleaning spell. He could not risk it. He crawled carefully to the small frail body lying naked, manacled and chained. Careful not to touch the chains, charmed to syphon off magic, he placed a hand under the hot neck, tilting the head forward slightly.
"Is it poison?" The small voice asked, brittle as dry leaves.
"For your fever, Mother."
She turned her face away.
"Make me poison, Severus. I beg of you. Please, do this. If you love me, release me from this living death."
"Mother. All right. I'll try tomorrow. But only if you drink this now."
She swallowed the potion and fell unconscious. He cradled her head and lowered it gently to the stone floor. He ran his long fingers over her matted hair.
"Tomorrow, Mother," he whispered softly.
Severus performed a cleaning spell on himself as he left the dungeon. He needed books. He had never made a poison before. He hoped he could make something painless and quick, with the ingredients he had or could find. He wished he had an idea of how much time he had. Severus knew his father had a mistress. He knew that when his father went out at night, he went to her. Sometimes he spent all night. Sometimes he returned almost immediately. He had already been gone nearly three hours.
Severus relaxed a bit when he entered the library. He would get punished for being there, of course. However, in his father's eyes, it was a minor offense, no worse than being seen anywhere else in the house. Being heard was far worse. Severus knew the best books were on the top shelves. He did not make the mistake of casting 'Accio book on poisons'. The time he attempted 'Accio potions book', the library had rained on him, knocking him out cold. His father had come home and cast Crucio on him until he was conscious again. Then, when Severus had trouble even standing, his father made him put every book back in its proper place. It was a lesson well learned.
Instead Severus transfigured a ladder from a book about mountain climbing, vaguely wondering which of his Squib ancestors had been the optimist in the family. He soon found two books that looked promising. One identified local herbs. The other was called, To Sleep, Perchance to Die, one of many works by Thadeus Crenshaw, the renown Potions Master, to whom Severus had once sent a very enthusiastic letter, but had never received a reply. Severus removed two similar looking books from the lower shelves to replace the two that he had taken from the top. Should his father look for a book on the top shelf, Severus would be dead, or wishing he were. Should his father simply enter the library, nothing would look amiss. He ended the spell and returned the mountain climbing book to its place.
Severus spent the rest of the evening in his room, reading by wand light. He came to the conclusion that he was unable to brew a painless, fast acting poison from the available ingredients. Even a slow and painful poison would be difficult, though perhaps not impossible. Nevertheless, he did have a plan.
The next morning, Severus rose before dawn. He crept past his father's room, to check to see that he had come home. Severus heard snoring when he pressed his ear to the door. Confident his father would sleep for a few more hours, Severus left the house to search the forest once again.
When dawn broke, he found what he was looking for immediately. He collected a large quantity of the dark green herb, and went back to his workroom.
Severus brought the cauldron to a boil, added the fresh picked, lightly bruised, wormwood, then let the cauldron cool. When the infusion was tepid, he strained the liquid through cheesecloth into a large bowl, then added the powdered root of asphodel. The potion changed from emerald green to a clear honey color. Severus decanted the draught into several small bottles, putting each into a different pocket. When he was finished, before he cleaned his work station, he brought the cauldron spoon to his tongue, just tasting.
Severus went to the kitchens where the house-elves ignored him completely. He took the large teapot his father favored, and filled it with cold water. He scooped loose orange pekoe into a large tea ball and closed it with the catch. He brought the water in the teapot to a rolling boil, then dropped in the tea ball. After about five minutes, he poured three bottles, about fifteen doses, of the Draught of Living Death into the teapot, and put on the lid. He charmed the pot to stay hot.
"Take that to my father when he wakes. Don't mention that I made the tea, unless he specifically asks, of course."
The house-elves said nothing, because they were under orders never to speak to Severus. One stepped forward, held the hem of her pillow case, and curtsied. One by one, every house-elf present made some small gesture, a bow, two hands pressed together, a nod of the head, a smile, it was all silent, and deeply respectful, and the first time they had ever taken any notice of him at all. One house-elf conjured a small table and a chair. One took his hand and led him to it. Severus sat. They brought him a glass of milk, then some warm oatmeal with dried currents, then pumpkin juice and sausages.
He ate, then put his napkin on the table. "Thank you," he said to no house-elf in particular.
Severus just sat there. Finally, one house-elf sqeaked. The house-elf and the tea service disappeared. Severus continued to sit. Some of the house-elves looked worried. One walked around in circles. One tugged as if trying to remove its own hand.
"May I have some toast?"
The house-elves looked immediately relieved and started hustling about with purpose again. They brought him a mountain of toast and butter, pear preserves, marmalade, lemon curd, potted ginger, clotted cream, more pumpkin juice. Severus ate a slice of toast dry, taking small bites and chewing it very slowly. He took a sip of juice. The house-elf returned, pulling his ear, spanking himself with his other hand. He beat his head on the wall twice, then said in the most frightened, pitiful voice imaginable,
"Young Master? Him is sleeping!"
Severus ran upstairs to his father's room.
His father was sleeping, still holding a teacup. Severus took the teacup out of his hand and gave it to one of the house-elves, who were mostly standing about. He used the mobilicorpus spell to move his father downstairs. The house-elves followed him. He continued on, all the way down to the dungeons. He set his father down beside his mother, in her filth.
"Can you undo these manacles?"
The manacles and leg irons immediately fell away.
"Put them on him."
The manacles and leg irons reattached to his father. Severus rested his hand on his mother's arm. She felt terribly cold. He pulled his hand back.
"Take my mother upstairs. Clean her. Make her comfortable in her own bed. Look after her."
The house-elves and his mother disappeared. Severus stared down at him. He was still sleeping peacefully. He wondered if his father had been kind to his mistress. He wondered if she might miss him.
Severus walked back up the steps. When he reached the top, he closed the cast iron door behind him. Then he transfigured the door into solid stone that looked no different from the rest of the wall. No. No one could ever tell that there had been a door. Then again, perhaps there never was one.