Only my wonderful beta, subversa, may tend to Severus' boo-boo!
The sun was twinkling through the dense branches of the fir trees, sending its narrow beams through the air and filtering to the earth. A slight fog filled the hollows and drifted across the ground; morning dew hung on leaves and blades of the grass. A finch sang its merry morning song. A tangled mass of bloody robes covered the beat-up body of Severus, who lay on his stomach in the centre of the clearing.
Waking, Severus moaned in response to the pain in his side. Dried blood blazed a dark trail from his right ear across his bruised, hollow cheek; more dried blood from his broken nose covered his mouth. He ran his tongue over his lips, noticing a deep cut. Turning onto his back; another stab of pain shot through his beaten body. Severus pressed a hand to the side of his rib cage, feeling two broken ribs moving under his touch. He attempted to steady his ragged breathing, trying to draw only very shallow breaths. Slowly, with one arm, he pushed off the ground, still clutching his side.
Half staggering, half crawling, Severus approached the next tree, only to fall down against its trunk. He rested his head against the mossy bark and closed his eyes. He moved his hand across his chest to feel for more broken ribs but only discovered a large tear in his robes. Pulling on the cloth, he discovered that it stuck to his skin firmly. Severus tugged hard, then yelled out as yet another shot of pain surged through his body. Twittering birds flew out of the branches of the tree beneath which he had collapsed. Under his robes there was a deep gash on his lean torso; ripping the cloth away had reopened the dried wound.
Moving very slowly, Severus groped in his pockets for his wand. A muffled sigh escaped his crusted lips as he found it; he had feared to find it broken. He pulled it out and, pointing it to his ribs, muttered a pain-relieving spell. For now it would have to suffice; the only healing spell Severus knew was how to cure Sectumsempra. He did not dare try it on his own wounds, not knowing what had hit him the previous night; for all he knew, he would do more damage than good. He prodded his chest with his left hand. Only when he was numb to the touch and it no longer hurt to breathe, he was content. The pain from the minor wounds he could deal with.
Severus looked about. His right cheekbone felt hot and throbbing; he could hardly see through the swollen eyelid. Even though he could not remember exactly how he had gotten into this clearing, he remembered the previous night's events. He chuckled darkly. Indeed, the Dark Lord was not a man to cross wands with. But unlike Regulus Black, Severus must have been too valuable to be killed yet. The nightly roughing up was meant as a warning; Lucius had left no doubt about that.
'Fuck all,' Severus hissed as he pushed off the ground. He looked up into the branches of the trees. Even though the morning light was shining through, he did not see the sun. He began pushing his way through the brambles and thorn bushes, getting his robes tangled in them as he went. Because he did not know where he was, Severus dared not risk Apparating away just yet. He could misjudge his destination, and with the state he was in, he was at a high risk for splinching himself. There was no need to put himself in any more danger; he needed rest first.
The ground appeared to sink away behind the next bush. Severus looked over the low branches and saw a steep, narrow path sloping downhill through more thorn bushes. He recognized the place as being close to Hogsmeade. Hills rose on the other side of the small valley; he could have sworn he saw the silhouette of the Shrieking Shack through the morning mist.
Severus staggered through the bush, unaware of the muddy ground. He slipped in the mud and landed on his back, the impact of his head colliding with the ground sounding in his ears. Darkness clouded his vision; he passed out.
Severus only woke when slight drizzle had set in. The cooling effect of the droplets on his face relieved some of the still throbbing sensation from his eye. A small wind picked up. He shivered. Rubbing the back of his head, he sat up.
Severus peeked over the top of the brambles surrounding him. Turning his head left and right, the sounds around him seemed oddly muffled. He stuck a finger in his right ear, to clear the obstruction impairing his hearing, only to find nothing but dried blood. He put his flat hand against the shell of his ear and took it away again. Still, he heard nothing. Severus repeated the movement three, four, five times. Eventually, he began slapping his ear forcefully, but still did not hear a sound. With the final clap, a high-pitched ringing accompanied by a stab of pain, as if a white-hot blade had been inserted into his ear, shot through his head. He had the odd sensation that his skull had been split in two by his own hand. Still, he heard nothing with his right ear, except for the ringing sound which slowly died, leaving only silence.
He lay back down, not minding the drizzle turning to rain. His cloak soaked up the water, drenching him with cold. Severus breathed in and out, listening to the dripping sounds, but only with his left ear. A shiver ran through his weakened body; he fell asleep.
When he woke again, air cold as ice pierced his lungs; he coughed. Severus opened his eyes. A clear night sky was looking down on him. He could make out the constellation of Leo. Reminded of his former fellow Death Eater, Regulus Black, he croaked, Cheers mate.' A rattling cough shook his body. 'What did you do to annoy the Dark Lord? I never knew why he did send me after you. You died too quickly to tell me.' A dark grin distorted his thin lips. 'As for me,' he coughed, 'I want to save Evans. It appears that he does not approve.' He laughed, kicking the ground with the heels of his heavy boots, sounding to himself like a madman.
Another bout of a hacking cough came over him, shaking him severely. It felt as if he were coughing up his lung, piece by piece. After a long while, Severus lay still, clutching patches of wet grass with both hands. 'Lily,' he whispered.
The day before, he had approached her at her house in Godric's Hollow against explicit orders from the Dark Lord. Her child would prove to be her downfall. He had known it ever since he had found out it was a boy she had given birth to. The Potters had escaped the Dark Lord three times unharmed; about a year before, Lily had given birth to their child. Severus had heard she had named the boy Harry. How very common; it must have been her Muggle heritage interfering with her good sense. It all fit the prophecy. The damned prophecy he had overheard at the Hog's Head; the damned prophecy he had told to the Dark Lord the very same evening, in the hope of being valued above all the other Death Eaters.
Severus had tried to convince Lily to leave Potter and the boy behind to save her life. Instead, she had thrown the door shut in his face after she had yelled at him yelled as she had never done before, 'How dare you demand such a horrendous thing from me!' Her face was contorted with rage.
He had tried to reason with her, offering his help. Only Severus knew enough about the movements of the Death Eaters and the Dark Lord to save her life now. Potter and his child would be hunted for the rest of their lives. Why should she not abandon them? Staying with them only meant her certain death. She could leave them and find a safe life together with him, Severus. Surely it only proved his love that he was willing to run away from it all with her. If only he could move her out of harm's way. At that point, she had slapped him hard in the face before shouting her final words, 'You could give me nothing I already have. You know nothing of love, much less the love of a mother for her son!'
The image of her silhouette being swallowed by the depths of her house passed through his mind. It defied reason how things could have gone so wrong. Ever since that fateful night in the Shrieking Shack, when Potter pulled him back from the werewolf, his life had been a spiral downward into living hell. He turned over on his stomach, resting his face against the cool, muddy ground, his lank hair falling over his eyes.
Severus lay contemplating the odds. He knew that Lily would not leave her family. The Potters were said to be in hiding, but one could hardly call it that as long as they still lived in their little cottage in Godric's Hollow and even a Death Eater such as he could just walk up to it without any difficulty. He had to get her out of there somehow. And now, with a spy among Dumbledore's ranks, Lily was as good as dead already. She, however, did not believe him, had even laughed it off when he had told her yesterday.
Lily had asked him about the mysterious double-crosser, but Severus could not give her a name. He only knew that someone was handing out dead-sure information to the Dark Lord; in the past year, Severus had been in a number of the bloodiest attacks and killings ever since he had joined the movement. At first, he had liked the power that went along with the fear he helped spread over the entire wizarding world. Only when the Dark Lord had heard about the prophecy and learnt about Lily's pregnancy, had the death-spiral begun to spin ever faster and ever closer to the Potters.
In the end, it all came down to Severus. It would be his fault alone that had brought death upon Lily. He had pushed her away from him in their sixth year pushed her straight into the arms of that wretched Potter. Of course, Potter had looked the perfect hero after that fateful prank. Lily may not have known of the heinous plan, but how could she not have seen it for what it was? A set-up to lure her into the strong arms of that pretty boy, Potter.
Severus was shaken by the rattling cough in his lungs. His throat burned; there was a faint taste of blood in his mouth. He ran a trembling hand over his gritty face. Somehow, he had to find a way to contact the other side, drawing their attention to the danger Lily and her family were in. She would not part from them, but at least she would be safe. He would suffer another beating if the Dark Lord found out he had meddled again. Severus would even face death gladly, if only Lily was out of harm's way. Severus could wait for her; he was patient. Eventually, she would see who had been the one person constantly striving to keep her safe.
Only, how did one contact the enemy without drawing attention to either side's awareness that it was Severus who dished out the information? He had to find a way that ensured his survival long enough to inform them. It would be best if he spoke directly to Dumbledore. The old Headmaster could be trusted. In fact, he had been the only teacher Severus had ever trusted all through his years at Hogwarts. Even though he did not teach anymore, Dumbledore had been the only member of the staff who inspired insurmountable trust in all of the students. But in dark times like these, it was all but impossible to approach him without attracting the notice of a third party.
Severus sat up. He hugged his knees to his torso, staring into the darkness. Down the hill, to his left, there was a glimmer of light upon water. Severus remembered a small lake at the outskirts of Hogsmeade. Only once he had come out to that place. It was on one of the few Hogsmeade weekends in his sixth year; Lily had told him about the place. Together, they had spent an entire day at the lake, undisturbed by the Gryffindor bullies. It was the only time they had ever shared an entire day outside the constricting walls of the Hogwarts dungeons.
Severus stood up and Apparated to the lake.
Turning his head in every direction, Severus made sure that no one was about. He slipped out of his torn robes and walked into the cold water. His skin prickled; when the water reached his hip, Severus drew a deep breath and dived under. The gash across his chest burnt painfully; there must have been several cuts on his hands, too, as they hurt likewise. Sputtering, his head reappeared above the surface. The water around him glistened under the feeble starlight. Vigorously, Severus rubbed the dirt and blood from his body and face.
He walked back to the edge of the lake, shaking with cold. Retrieving his wand, Severus muttered a drying charm. He sat on the ground, checking his robes for the various holes and tears, whispering an occasional Reparo. Eventually, Severus put his clothes back on. He cast a final glance around the dark place, trying to remember what that one afternoon by the lake had felt like. He did not succeed in conjuring up the particular emotion.
Severus coughed; not only his throat ached, but he could feel the bout rippling through his entire body. He clutched his wand tightly in his right hand and Apparated from the place.
With a crack that cut through the night, Severus appeared at the other side of Hogsmeade, far enough outside the village as not to alert the wizarding folk to his presence. Without a sound, he slinked down a path and around corners of houses towards the Hog's Head. He picked up a pebble from the ground and threw it against a window. There was the telling sound of small stone against glass. Severus looked up, but nothing happened.
While bending down to search the ground for another pebble, the door of the pub was thrust open and he found himself being wrestled to the ground. A pair of wiry hands pinned his arms down; a pointed knee was placed onto his chest. The muscles in Severus' body spasmed and he coiled under the merciless pressure against his chest. He felt how the gash had begun bleeding again, covering his body with warm blood. The pressure was lifted, but the tight grip on both his arms was not relieved. Severus rolled onto his side as best as he could, pulling his knees up; he was shaken by another coughing bout. Tears of pain streamed down his hollow cheeks. Once he was able to breathe again normally, Severus recognized the old, bearded face staring down at him.
'Please, I need to talk to your brother,' he croaked, 'I need to talk to the Headmaster.'
Before Severus passed out, he felt how Aberforth's old, but strong hands had lifted him up and dragged him off the pavement and into the pub.
A/N: This one-shot could serve as a prequel to 'Behind Closed Doors'.