Who: Severus Snape, Blaise Zabini, and Stan (from the Knight Bus)
Where: The Ministry of Magic and Blaise's home
Summary: Snape is taking care of an injured Blaise when secrets from the past are revealed.
Watch for: The fastest apparation in history.
It was almost time.
The creature had waited for days for this chance, knowing that it was just a matter of time before the humans lost interest and left him alone. And, as with most humans, they would eventually under-estimate him and let their guard down. Which was precisely when it would attack.
It happened so quickly that the creature almost wasn't ready. The one that had been in charge of him all week left for the evening, and forgot to put the final wards into place. Whether he thought that four wards were enough, the creature didn't know. Nor did it care. It just waited until the door to the rest of the floor shut, then burst through the magical shields.
Ignoring the pain that shot across its body as the last of the magic ran across his flesh, it crashed through the wooden door and out of the office of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Rushing past the only person present, who was nearly asleep at his post, the creature made its way quickly down the darkened corridors, its legs making clicking sounds on the marble floors.
There were always strange sounds coming from the Office of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Sometimes those sounds were made by wizards upon learning there was a shortfall in Doxy Dust or Niffler Nuggets, and sometimes they were growls uttered by Aurors at the word that whatever vicious beastie they'd just dragged in would be studied rather than exterminated.
But evenings were quiet. The visitors and Aurors had gone, and the staff had seen their charges fed, bedded, and locked up tight before heading home themselves. At least, that was the theory.
Blaise Zabini, in need of peace, quiet, and as much overtime as he could get, was working late when he heard the crash down the hall. Frowning, he rose, automatically checking wand and dagger as he moved toward the door. A disturbing clicking greeted him as he reached it, and he gripped the hilts of both weapons as he looked outside.
A survivor of more than one term of Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures class, Blaise had seen some pretty ugly things, but what skittered down the hall toward him made a Blast-Ended Skrewt look almost as good as a Veela. It was big, having to keep its many legs pulled in to avoid the walls. A scorpion-like cross between acromantula and some kind of snake, where the stinger would curve up over the back was a sinuous serpent's head, its cobra hood flared wide. Swaying back and forth, the head tasted the air with a forked tongue.
The creature could hear the night watchman somewhere behind him, shouting something that was almost unintelligible. It didn't speak or understand English nearly as well as its relative, the acromantula. Nor did it understand most Parseltongue like the boomslang. That was soon discovered upon its creation, when Lord Voldemort had attempted to tame it and had nearly gotten bitten.
The resulting beating was one of the main reasons that the creature no longer trusted humans.
Ignoring the stunning spells that were being sent in its direction, the creature continued along its path. Its only interest was escaping this prison and making its way to freedom. Unfortunately, there was someone that was standing between it and that plan. A young man who seemed far too calm and collected, given the circumstances.
The creature skidded to a halt in front of him, its entire body poised to strike out at the first sign of trouble. However, even at its impressive height, the young man didn't seem at all cowed. Which could only mean one thing.
The human was going to have to be dealt with.
In the sudden quiet caused by the creature's halt and his own abandonment of a rapid-fire series of hexes and curses that had simply bounced off its chitinous scales, Blaise could hear the now-wide-awake guard making a break for it. Hopefully, the man would have the wit to send help. Eventually. But for now it was just Blaise and the beast.
Blaise took the moments offered to study his opponent. It had the resistance to magic of a giant or dragon -- and no eyes that he could recognize as such to target. That meant his best -- if not only -- option was gutting it.
Slipping his wand into his belt, Blaise dropped into a crouch, drawing a smaller, leaf-shaped blade from his boot. It was a throwing knife, but it had an edge, and he was going to need every edge he could get. Still half-crouched, he pivoted sideways, blades gleaming in the hallway light as he waited his chance.
The minute the human moved, the creature reared up even more. Baring its fangs, it let out a hiss of warning. However, the moment it saw the knife, it immediately knew that a battle was inevitable. So, dropping down as many legs as it could without taking out part of the wall or risking getting stuck, it made certain that its balance was spot-on. Then, moving so quickly that it was nearly a blur to the untrained eye, it struck.
Its teeth still bared, it took a snip at the human, missing his midsection by no more than a few inches. It could hear someone else approaching as it drew back and instinctively knew that it needed to end this battle now, or risk having to fight two at once.
Taking a step back to allow itself enough room to maneuver, it struck out again. This time, it aimed for the neck area though. It didn't want to risk the blade getting close to its only vulnerable area -- its underbelly.
Blaise spun like a dervish, one arm going high to draw a blade screeching across descending neck scales, the other going low to guide him as he hurled himself at the creature in a tumbling dive. Tucking his legs in over his own underbelly, he rolled into a forest of legs, light almost blotted out by the hulking body of the monster.
The creature let out a shriek as the knife dug in to its scales. While it didn't cause any damage, it still certainly hurt. And it was more than enough to anger it.
Jumping backward, it crashed into the wall. As large chunks of stone crumbled behind it, it brought its head down and sunk its teeth into the side of its attacker. Raising its head, the human firmly clamped within its jaw, it twisted sideways and released. It was still swallowing the man's blood as he was tossed down the hallway.
Fire burned through his veins. Venom, Blaise realized as he twisted automatically in midair, reducing his impact with the floor to bruising rather than shattering, and letting the momentum roll him back to his feet. For half a heartbeat he stood there, swaying even in a crouch, getting his bearings. The spider-serpent had turned away to face whoever approached thinking its previous opponent mauled, poisoned, and therefore downed. But it hadn't reckoned on an opponent who'd grown up with the disciplinary lash of Cruciatus. Snarling silently, Blaise lifted his consciousness clear of the pain with a mixture of will and rage. He didn't have long ... so he wouldn't take long. A gulp of air, and he came in again.
Snape had been finishing up the final tests on the latest potion he'd created when the door to his office had flung open and someone had entered. Spinning around, his wand was in his hand and a hex was partially past his lips before he even registered that it was the night watchman for the Office of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures from two floors below. Putting his wand away, Snape had listened with virtual detachment as the man gasped and wheezed his way through an explanation for the intrusion. Finally, though, what he was being told registered.
The creature that Voldemort had created nearly two years ago was loose.
Immediately moving to his stocks, Snape pulled out several bottles that were full of the antidote to the creature's venom. He normally would have taken them to the Magical Creatures office before he'd left, as the potion expired after twenty-four hours and they constantly needed to keep some in stock, just in case.
Once he made certain that he had enough to treat someone who might be infected, Snape made his way to the stairs. Taking them a few at a time, he reached the forth floor just in time to see Blaise Zabini go soaring down the far end of the corridor. And, just as Snape realized that the young man appeared to be injured, the creature was facing him, its fangs glistening with venom, saliva, and what he could only assume was blood.
The creature heard Blaise's approach ... a split-second too late. As the head revolved to strike, he was already disappearing beneath, his slide aided, in bitter irony, by the venom, saliva, and blood already spilled. Rolling onto his uninjured side, the young wizard looked up. A seam of pale, softer scales ran along the body directly above him. The throwing knife was tossed aside and he gripped the dagger with both hands, bracing his shoulders against the floor to thrust and slash with all his remaining strength.
Snape watched, his wand steadily trained on the creature, as it arched up and let out a howl that sent chills along the man's spine. Unable to see around, over, or under the creature, Snape could only assume that Blaise had managed to find a weak spot and, as any good warrior and Slytherin would do, was exploiting it to the best of his ability.
A few seconds later, the creature raised up far enough that it was only upright by its hind legs. Through its flailing front legs, Snape was able to see Blaise, his dagger being tightly gripped, tearing through the underbelly. Flesh, blood, and guts were seeping from a long gash that was running virtually from head to torso. Then, as if in slow motion, the creature lost its battle with gravity, and toppled backward.
Its legs continued moving for a few more moments, even as it stopped its screams of pain and anger. Finally, once it was completely still, Snape put away his wand and moved toward the injured Blaise.
Covered head to foot in ichor, the searing of the venom becoming undeniable, Blaise tried to get to his feet in a lake of his opponent's and his own body fluids. His best efforts brought him only to his knees and there he knelt, swearing in four languages because it left him no breath to scream.
At first, Snape was cautiously approaching the young man. He didn't want to startle him and run a risk of being hexed or physically attacked. However, once Blaise was on his knees and Snape was able to see just how pale he already was from the work of the venom, he tossed caution aside.
Stepping through the waste that was still oozing from the creature, Snape paused in front of his former student. Crouching down, he looked the young man in the eye, wanting to judge how much time he had before Blaise began suffering the delirium that came with the poison. Realizing that there wasn't much time left, he quickly pulled a bottle of the antidote from his robes and, uncorking it, showed it to the still-swearing Blaise.
"Mr. Zabini, this is the antidote to the venom that you currently have coursing through your bloodstream. It is imperative that you drink this all, and immediately. Do you still have enough strength to hold the bottle yourself or do you require assistance?" he asked, not bothering to work on the wording of his statement in his head first.
Now was not the time for word games.
Blaise's eyes fixed first on his former teacher's face, then tracked to the bottle. Something was plucking at him through the pain, like a whirlpool trying to drag him down, and he fought to keep his head above water. Snape. He clung to the name, the recognition, like the lifeline it was. Stiffly, his fingers uncurled, letting the dagger clatter to the marble floor. His hands were shaking as he lifted them and he laced them tightly around the bottle, bringing it to his lips. It would taste vile, a small part of him knew -- and it didn't matter a damn.
Throwing back his head, he tossed it down.
Snape watched with admiration as Blaise fought through the pain to administer the antidote to himself. However, that was only the first in a series of potions that the young man would need to ingest over the next six hours, not to mention a salve that needed to be applied directly to the wound every hour.
Gently taking the empty bottle from the man's hands, he put it back in the folds of his robes and rose to his feet. Silently, he held out a hand. "Come along, Mr. Zabini. We need to get you home before the temporary paralysis reaches your legs," he said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Blaise gripped the offered hand, regrettably smearing gore all over it. Thus steadied, he looked around blearily, finally spotting the dagger right in front of him. Taking it up in his free hand, he began another search, this time for a few square inches of clean robe to wipe it on. None to be found, he tore off a shred of cloth and twirled it around the blade before shoving it into his belt.
Finally, he got his legs beneath him and, largely dragged by Snape, made it to his feet. The world spun, and he fought a wave of nausea and vertigo with limited success. His throat was raw, and his blood roared in his ears, but he managed to whisper, "Thank you ... sir."
Snape nodded, gently grasping the young man's elbow as he began to stumble once again. "There's no need to thank me, Blaise," he said calmly. Then, he began moving toward the exit, making certain to keep his pace slow. "However, I do ask that you try to refrain from passing out until we've at least exited the building. Maneuvering a body through these hallways would not be a pleasant endeavor." Pausing at the lift, he said a silent thanks to whoever was watching out that the doors opened instantly and, within moments, they were on their way to the bottom floor.
Taking a moment to glance at the young wizard, Snape wondered what had prompted him to fight the creature. Most of his former students would have simply walked away, allowing the creature to escape and create havoc and destruction. Of course, the sooner he remembered that Blaise wasn't most other former students, the less he would be shocked by his actions.
Worried at how silent the young man was being, Snape glanced at him. He was pale, his skin glistening with sweat. And it was obvious he was fighting the pain as best he could. As the doors slid open, revealing the deserted first floor, Snape once again spoke, knowing that any type of conversation would help keep the young man focused.
"Come along, Blaise."
Gently leading him out of the lift and toward the front doors of the Ministry, Snape was so busy observing him that he didn't even realize that he'd called him Blaise not once, but twice, in the past five minutes. It was, perhaps, the only two times he'd ever called him by his given name.
The pain of the venom had abated somewhat, driven back by the Potion Master's antidote, but Blaise could feel it like a pressure just outside his perceptions. The world around him was vague, Snape the only clear reality, and he concentrated with all the powers of trained observation that made him a precision Apparator on the older man's voice and the feel of his arm. A faint scent of herbs and strange powders clung to Snape's clothes, and Blaise fought to make it out through the gore stench that filled his own nostrils.
Snape had spoken of home. The doors were ahead, the Floo hearths behind. Didn't matter, his tiny garret had no fireplace. The little room drifted in and out of focus in his mind, hard as he tried to pin it down. "Can't Apparate," he said, unaware he'd spoken aloud.
Snape nodded, having already assumed as much. They also had no portkey, and flying was simply out of the question. Which left two options. The first one was traveling via floo powder. However, even if Blaise's home had a fireplace, Snape was loath to send the young man hurtling through the Floo system in his condition. Which only left the Knight Bus.
"Very well," he murmured, more to himself than to the young wizard beside him. Pulling out his wand, he hesitated. Best to clean them up a bit before summoning the bus.
Waving his wand at Blaise, he murmured a cleaning spell. Once his robes were back to their virtual immaculate condition, Snape did the same to his own. Then, convinced they were as clean as they were going to get without the aid of water and large amounts of soap, he stuck out his wand and waited.
Less than a second later, there was a loud BANG and Snape's grip on Blaise tightened. Slowly, the doors opened and a young man leapt out. "Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for..."
Rolling his eyes, Snape interrupted him. "Yes, yes, we're both more than aware what your purpose is. As you can see, we are in need of immediate assistance. Now, kindly step aside so we may enter," he practically growled.
The conductor glanced at the two of them, and then paused. Slowly, all the color drained from his face. "O-Of course," he murmured, stepping aside. "Woss your names?" Seeing the dark look Snape shot at him, he shook his head. "Never mind. Doesn't matter no way."
Knight Bus. Blaise registered the hard-to-miss vehicle and automatically began fishing in his pockets. A few knuts and a sickle came to light, cradled in the palm of his hand.
Helping Blaise up the stairs, Snape suddenly realized he had no idea where the young man lived. Obviously the Zabini Estate had been taken by the Ministry, as had so many other Death Eater's homes. And, considering Blaise's mother hadn't been seen since she left so many years ago, he assumed the young man wasn't staying with her. Sighing, he glanced at him. "Where do you live, Blaise?" he asked, his tone far gentler than the one he normally used. A few seconds later, Blaise murmured his response and Snape nodded, turning his attention once more to the pale conductor. "Diagon Alley."
Stan nodded, licking his suddenly dry lips. He'd seen a lot of things while working on the Knight Bus. But he hadn't seen someone in such bad condition before...at least, not since the end of the war. "That'll be five knuts," he finally said, shaking himself out of his shock. He had a job to do, and obviously they couldn't afford to stand around all night.
Blaise leaned against Snape for balance as he tried to count out the requisite number of coins. Five knuts, five fingers, he could do this. Finally dropping some approximation into the man's palm, he went back to concentrating on standing upright unsupported -- forgetting the Bus' trademark takeoffs.
Snape absently handed over the money as well, then gently grasped Blaise by the elbow. As quick as he could manage, he followed Stan to their beds. However, instead of settling on his own, he focused his attention on sitting Blaise down before the bus pulled away. Fortunately, Stan seemed to realize that tossing an injured man onto the floor was not the brightest idea, so he waited until the young wizard was situated before telling the driver to go.
Gripping the railing tightly, Snape remained upright as the bus took off once more. His attention was focused on Blaise, watching as the momentum sent the young man practically sliding off the other side of the bed. Quickly, he placed his hand on his shoulder, keeping him steady.
"Where, precisely, in Diagon Alley do you live, Blaise?" he asked, partially because he was curious which direction they should go in once exiting the bus, and partially because he wanted to keep the other man talking.
Blaise swallowed. His body hadn't gone off the bed, but it felt like his stomach had. "Fortescue's," he whispered. "Over Fortescue's."
Snape nodded. "Very well. We should be there in a moment." As soon as the words left his mouth, the bus came to a screeching halt, Diagon Alley looming before it. Wordlessly, he helped Blaise rise back to his feet, keeping an arm around him so the young man didn't fall over with the effort. Nodding at Stan, who was finally starting to regain his coloring, Snape slowly made his way down the stairs and into the cool night air.
Once they were a few steps away, there was another deafening BANG, and the Knight Bus was gone. Looking around, Snape began walking toward their destination, his fingers pressing against Blaise's wrist as he absently kept track of his pulse.
Blaise drew in deep breaths, the chill of the night air helping to revive him. With his free hand, he fished out his key, having it ready to let them both in when they arrived at the shuttered ice cream parlor. "Stairs," he said, opening the door, "in the back."
It seemed to take hours, the short, now familiar to him trip through the parlor and up the stairs. At the top, the hallway stretched away into the distance, his door just visible at the far end.
Remembering he wasn't alone, Blaise drew his wand and waved off the wards.
By the time they had reached the door that led to Blaise's home, Snape was becoming concerned. Not only was Blaise beginning to tremble under the strain of walking, but he was also being extremely silent -- even for him. Finally, the key turned in the lock and the door opened, revealing a small, dark apartment.
Without waiting, Snape pulled out his wand and lit the few candles in the room with one wave. Glancing around, he noted the bed in the corner and, wasting no time, lead Blaise to it. It was only once the young wizard was lying down that Snape took a moment to properly take in his surroundings.
It was a small room, little more than an exaggerated storage space. Tucked up under the rafters, the walls sloped down to either side. At the far end was a dormer window, the night beyond looking even darker and colder now that the candles were lit. Inside, though warm, could most flatteringly be described as spartan. The narrow bed, a rickety desk with a ladder-back chair, a coat rack comprised the furniture. The floor and walls were bare.
Snape tried his best to hide his shock. However, the simple fact that Blaise Zabini, the only heir to the former Zabini fortune, was living in such a place was nearly too much for him to take and he was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion.
How could it have come to this? How could someone with such a bright future have taken such a drastic fall in society?
Oh, granted, Snape understood that the Ministry had confiscated the Zabini Estate. They'd done the same with most of the property of the convicted Death Eaters. However, Blaise hadn't been a follower of Voldemort. In fact, from what Snape had been able to tell during the young man's time at Hogwarts, he had only been interested in one thing -- becoming an Auror.
So, how could the Ministry allow someone like Blaise, who had made the correct choices, live in such squalor? Furthermore, what could Snape do to change it?
Shaking his head, the man forced his thoughts away from the path they were heading down. He was no longer Blaise's Head of House. It wasn't his responsibility to save every Slytherin that came alone. He hadn't the time or the energy to even attempt it. No, it was best for him to just focus on what needed to be done in the here and now. Primarily, that involved helping Blaise regain his health. So, turning his attention back to the young man on the bed, he asked, "How are you feeling?"
Slowly, Blaise began to pull off his robes and the shirt beneath. "Dizzy. Hard to think." His blood and the snake-spider's, unaffected by the clothes-cleaning spell, streaked his chest, bringing well-defined muscles into sharp relief.
Snape nodded slowly. Moving across the room, he gathered the basin and pitcher of water that was in the corner and brought it back to the bed. "The wound needs to be cleansed before the salve can be added," he explained, although he was more than certain Blaise would have already known that. "Lie down and turn so the wound is facing me."
While he waited, he waved his wand over the water and murmured a spell to heat it up. Then, he soaked the towel with the now-warm liquid and rung it out.
Two torn puncture wounds marked the left side of his chest. Bracing himself against the counterpane, Blaise turned onto his right side. "What was ... that thing?"
As he gently ran the cloth across the wounds, Snape tried to think of the best way to explain what it was that Blaise had engaged in battle with. Finally, he opted for the truth, somehow knowing that Blaise would know if he withheld anything. "It was an abomination," he stated, his voice virtually emotionless. "It's a hybrid of an acromantula and a boomslang and was created at the Dark Lord's insistence. Unfortunately, it neither understood English nor Parseltongue, and was therefore deemed useless and used for practices of torture."
Dipping the rag in the bowl, he watched as the water became tinged with pink. Returning his attention to the wound, he took a moment of silence to listen to Blaise's breathing. Relieved that the young man didn't seem to be having any difficulties in that area, he began speaking again.
"It was captured not too long ago, having escaped its confinement during one of the final raids on a Death Eater camp. The Ministry, rather than destroy it as they should have done, felt that it should be studied." He didn't bother keeping the bitterness out of his voice at that last comment.
Now convinced that the wound was as cleansed as it could be, he put down the rag and pulled out a bottle of the salve. Uncorking it, he began spreading it across the area.
Blaise snorted, then winced at the movement and held still beneath Snape's hands. "Well, it's destroyed now." He swallowed, silent for a time, then asked quietly, "How ... bad is the poison?"
Snape sighed, recapping the salve and placing it back in his robes. "The venom is extremely poisonous if not treated immediately. However, considering how soon after the attack you received the antidote, you should suffer no ill effects. Although, until the poison is completely out of your system, you will most likely begin to run a high fever and possibly become delirious. You will also be noticeably weaker for the next few days. And, in some cases, temporary paralysis of the limbs occurs for anywhere from twelve to forty-eight hours."
Pulling out his wand, Snape stated, "Accio chair." Once it had slid to him he turned it so it faced the bed and sat down. "Now, it is best if you try to rest. I will let you know when it is time to take some more of the antidote." However, something told him that Blaise wasn't going to fall asleep as easily as that.
Despite himself, Blaise shuddered at the thought of paralysis. Swallowing again, he eased himself into a slightly more comfortable position as a sudden thought occurred to him. "Will I be in trouble for killing it?"
Snape's eyes widened at that question. Why in the world would he think he'd be in trouble for defending himself? Then, it occurred to him. Why wouldn't he think that? He was the son of an infamous Death Eater. He had a blemish on his name that would most likely follow him to the grave. He'd just killed a creature that was under Ministry protection.
And the only witness to the event was his former Head of House.
Shaking his head, the man replied, "While I can't speak for the Ministry, I find it extremely difficult to believe that you would be faulted for saving your own life. The creature was clearly a danger and you did what you had to do, nothing less. However, I will speak with the head of the department tomorrow, just to make certain that nothing else is said about it."
Looking around the room once again, Snape took in his surroundings. "Do you have anything to drink? It is important that you consume fluids while the antidote fights the venom. Otherwise, you could become dehydrated and create an entirely new set of complications."
"Just the pitcher." Blaise motioned with his fingers. "I fill it at the water closet down the hall."
Snape frowned. That wouldn't do. He wasn't about to have Blaise drink from a pitcher that had just been used to clean his wounds, regardless of how clean the pitcher was made in between. Standing up, he drew his robes about himself.
"I'll be back in a moment. Remain here and try to refrain from moving," he ordered. Then, picturing the edge of Snape Manor in his mind, he apparated with a loud pop! to the area. Walking quickly, he entered his home and immediately summoned for a house elf. The moment the creature appeared, he began issuing more orders.
"Prepare some food as well as several containers of water, immediately," he stated. The elf nodded, disappeared, and returned a few moments later with the requested items. Taking them, Snape eyed the creature.
"I will be gone for the remainder of the evening. See to it that the cleaning continues in my absence." As an after thought, he picked up a book on the table beside him and placed it in his robes. Shrinking the food and drink, he placed them in his pocket. Then, with another pop! he disapparated back to Diagon Alley and the room Blaise Zabini called home.
Blaise started at the crack of Apparation, rolling to slide one hand under the pillow before he recognized his former teacher, now doctor. The tension across his shoulders eased and he lay back again.
Snape pulled the items from his pocket and, waving his wand over them, returned them to their original size. Settling down in the chair once more, he pulled out a glass and a bottle of fresh water. Pouring some into the glass, he held it to Blaise's lips. "Drink," he ordered.
Blaise automatically tried to sit up and hold the glass.
Snape sighed, gently pushing the young man back onto the bed. "Do not attempt to sit up, Mr. Zabini. You will need all the strength you can muster in the coming hours. Now, simply take a drink. I am perfectly capable of holding the glass for you."
Once Blaise had complied, albeit reluctantly, Snape set the glass on the floor and sat back in his chair. "Let me know when your appetite returns. I have brought some food," he said softly. Then, he pulled out his book and began attempting to read.
However, after a few moments of reading the same sentence repeatedly, and still having no clue as to what it said, he closed the book with a sigh. Eyeing the young man closely, he debated with himself about whether or not to ask the question that had been plaguing him since first arriving at this sparten room.
Finally, his curiosity won out, which was highly unusual for him, and he questioned, "Why is it you are staying here? Certainly there is some place that your family has that the Ministry either did not know about or didn't find worthy of confiscating."
Blaise's lips twisted. "The Tuscany villa, the Venetian townhouse, the Italian Ministero took for reparations." Sighing, he looked up at the ceiling. "The Ministry here ... was very thorough."
Snape knew this was probably the time to remain silent. Obviously this wasn't a discussion that Blaise wanted to have. And he most especially probably didn't want to have it while weak. However, there was a part of Snape that was urging him to use this situation to his advantage. After all, how else could he hope to learn things that otherwise Blaise would keep tightly guarded? And there were many things he wanted to know.
Starting with Blaise's mother.
"I see. And what of your mother's family? As far as I know, none of them were involved with the Dark Lord. In fact, they were all rather strong supporters of the Ministry during their peak. Have they offered you no assistance?" he questioned.
He forced himself not to come out and directly ask about Blaise's mother. He had a fairly good idea what had happened to her, having known Raphael Zabini for quite some time. He was not the type of man that took kindly to being made a fool. And, by leaving, his pregnant bride had done just that.
Blaise was silent for a long time. But, just when Snape might've thought he'd fallen asleep -- or worse -- he spoke. "My mother is dead."
The silence that filled the small room was almost deafening in its intensity. Snape felt as though he'd been struck, the words echoing around in his mind. Almost instantly, he wanted to remind the young man that he'd asked about his mother's family, not her in particular. However, it was obvious that, where Blaise was concerned, they were one in the same. She was gone and, with her, went any possible connection to her family. So, instead Snape merely nodded his head and pulled a bottle of the antidote from his robes. "It's time to take another dose," he said simply.
Blaise grimaced. The stuff really was vile. But he could feel the pain pressing in again, and the dizziness increased with every heartbeat.
Drawing in and releasing a deep breath, he managed to lever himself up onto his elbows, though the effort made his head pulse and spin. So weak. It was maddening -- and terrifying. Snape loomed above him, a dark shape silhouetted against the candlelight and, as much as he trusted the man, the poison worked darkness in his blood. His fingers flexed against the sheets, craving the hilt of the knife beneath the pillow.
Snape noticed a flicker in the young man's eyes and idly wondered if he should perhaps remove any weapons that may be nearby, in case Blaise decided he was a threat rather than an ally. However, the more he thought about it, the more he decided that it would probably not be a good idea to attempt to take away the young man's only means of defending himself. That could very easily make him even more dangerous, much as a wild animal becomes when it feels trapped.
So, instead he merely moved slowly and surely, certain not to make any sudden movements that might startle him. Holding the bottle to his lips, Snape watched as Blaise drank it down, trying in vain not to grimace at the taste. Unfortunately, much like the Wolfsbane, adding any sort of sweetener to the concoction rendered it ineffective.
Once the bottle was empty, Snape placed it on the floor beside the water glass. Sitting back in his chair, he tried to come up with some topic of conversation that could gauge where the young man was mentally, without being too intrusive.
After a few moments, he finally commented, "I expect an owl will arrive here come morning, requesting your presence at the Ministry. If the night watchman also informed the proper channels that he summoned me, I will most likely be requested as well." It wasn't a question, but it was the only thing he could think of that didn't dredge up painful memories of a past that was best forgotten.
Blaise lay back again, trying to relax. Despite its taste, the antidote potion was like a cool tide flowing through his body, driving back the venom's fires -- and the wordless whisperings that had started in the room's quiet corners. Snape's voice helped, drowning them out. "I will ... be there?" he asked, only half a question.
Snape snorted, shaking his head. "Somehow I highly doubt it. No, I will reply to the summons, explaining the situation. The Ministry can postpone their investigation until you are fully recovered," he replied, his voice leaving no room for argument.
The part of him that had fought tooth and nail to protect his students when he'd taught at Hogwarts was coming to the surface. He may not be able to help Blaise Zabini with the lot he'd been dealt in life, but he'd be damned if he stood by and did nothing while the Ministry attempted to crucify the young wizard.
Picking up the book, he paused once again. His dark gaze swept over Blaise, his mind searching for something else to discuss, something that didn't have anything to do with politics, family, or any other potentially volatile subject. However, as before, he drew another blank. Finally, he asked, "I am curious. Why did you feel the need to engage that creature in battle? Why not leave it to the night watchman. It is, after all, his job."
Blaise considered that. At the time, he'd simply acted, not much thinking about why. Snape's question was one he'd now been asking himself, but he found it hard to put the answer into thoughts, let alone words. "The watchman," he said, "was no Auror."
Snape raised an eyebrow at the unexpected reply. Almost immediately, he wanted to remind the young man that he was no Auror, either. However, even though it was the truth, he couldn't bring himself to say the words. He remembered all-too-well the Blaise Zabini of fifth year. A young man who, when forced to come to Snape and announce his plans for the future, had stated on no uncertain terms that he was going to become just that -- an Auror.
At the time, Snape hadn't the heart to tell him that he would most likely never make it. Not because he wasn't good enough. In fact, Blaise would probably be a much-needed asset to that faction of the Ministry. No, the reason he knew the young wizard would most likely never achieve his dream was much simpler -- Blaise was the child of a Death Eater. And, as such, the Ministry would never allow him the opportunity to become one of their elite.
Snape still carried guilt with him over that encounter. He'd been handed the perfect opportunity to gently bring the young Blaise back to reality, and had said nothing. For that, he would never forgive himself.
Sighing heavily, the man finally spoke again. "Yes, well, it was still a foolish thing to do. The next time you decide to brawl with a creature that you know virtually nothing about, I suggest you at least have a larger weapon on hand," he couldn't help but chastise the young wizard. Some habits died hard, it seemed.
Blaise flashed a small, but genuine, smile. "Yes, sir." He was silent for a time. "Foolish, yes." Another pause. "But right?"
The man nodded slightly. "Yes," he admitted softly. "It was the right thing to do. Had the creature escaped the building..." He allowed his voice to trail off, not needing nor wanting to think about the carnage that would have occurred.
Folding his hands, he placed them in his lap. "Still, if you wish to do the 'right' thing in the future, may I suggest some volunteer work rebuilding demolished buildings. Or perhaps assisting some old hag with her purchases. It is far less dangerous...in most cases, at least."
Looking around, he allowed the silence to surround them for a while. In his mind, he was remembering a time when he never thought he'd hear of a Slytherin wanting to do the right thing. Of course, he could also remember vividly another time when he was loath to do the same. Shaking himself out of his mental wanderings, he suddenly noticed that Blaise's breathing seemed to have grown slightly shallower. Frowning, he turned his attention back to the young man.
Working to keep the concern from his voice, he questioned, "And how are you feeling now, Blaise?" This time, he used the given name on purpose, believing he would respond faster.
Blaise licked his lips. "Hot and clammy, at the same time. Thirsty."
Snape picked up the glass of water. Pouring some more of the cool liquid into it, he used his free arm to support the back of the young man's neck as he gently raised his head. Then, he held the glass to his lips. Once Blaise had taken his fill of drink, Snape moved back to his seat and put the glass back on the floor. "It appears that your fever is currently on the rise. That does mean that the antidote is working, however unpleasant it may seem."
Pausing for a moment, he debated his next course of action. Then, as if inspiration had struck, he questioned, "As I am currently under the assumption that your goal in life is to work at the Apparation Testing Center, what would you like to do?" Snape waited with virtual baited breath for the answer, wondering if the young man was still harboring hopes of becoming an Auror, or if he's since set his sight on something else.
"I want ... " his voice petered out and he drew a breath, trying again. "I was trained to war. I want to be the best." Of course. He's a Slytherin.
"And what makes you think you aren't already?" The question was out of his mouth before Snape knew what he was asking. Silently, he cursed himself. While he certainly wanted to get to know the real Blaise Zabini, he hadn't intended on making the young man answer difficult questions in his condition.
Still, the question had been asked and all he could now was wait for a response, if any came.
Blaise licked his lips again, mentally thanking even the scant practice his journal had given him in putting thoughts into words. "Best isn't an end, it's a ... means. It's a way of life. Are you the best Potion Master?"
Snape raised an eyebrow at this question. Instantly, he knew the answer.
If he were the best, he would have already found the cure for the Cruciatus Curse. He would have found a way to make the Wolfsbane stronger so it only needed to be taken once a month instead of an entire week.
If he were the best, he would have found a way to bring Albus Dumbledore back.
Shaking his head, his voice remained steady even as his mind whirled dangerously on the edge of total lack of control. "Of course not. However, I do not feel the need to be the best Potions Mater, either. It is merely what I do for a living, not the entire sum of who I am." Silently, he acknowledged that it took him many, many years to learn that lesson.
Pouring himself a glass of water, he allowed the cool liquid to slide down his suddenly dry throat while thinking of something else to say. "However, the fact that you are currently working at a job that is obviously not assisting you in reaching your goal seems rather counter-productive."
Blaise moved one hand a little. "It's keeping a roof over my head. Food on my table."
Snape resisted the urge to snort. Looking around, he could see no food. Hell, he couldn't even see an actual table. And as for a roof...well, that was being extremely literal. However, he said none of this, not wanting to insult the young man. Instead, he merely nodded his head and murmured, "Of course."
Blaise's hand fell to the bed again. "Winter's coming."
Snape nodded slowly, his mind assuming he was making a connection between winter and need for a roof. "Yes, it is," he replied calmly, uncertain what else to say.
After a few more moments, he suddenly thought of something else. "So, Mr. Zabini, if you feel you were raised for war, why not join the army that is, no doubt, currently recruiting?" He knew that it was a foolish question. However, he was anxious to see what Blaise would say with his defenses temporarily down.
Blaise laughed, but the sound held more bitterness than amusement. "They're not that hard up. ahh." He pressed a hand to his injured side. "Damn."
Pulling out the bottle of salve, Snape waited as Blaise settled down so he could administer it. This time, as he began tending to the wound, he noticed a scar that was on the young man's chest. From the look of it, it wasn't recent -- which meant it hadn't happened at the battle at Hogwarts. Curious, Snape commented, "Interesting scar, Blaise. And here I believed you to be an almost overly-careful person."
Blaise rolled his head to see what Snape was speaking of. A long scar started high up on the left side of his chest, slicing around to end under his left arm. The young man blinked, memory moving behind his eyes. "I was sloppy, sparring with Father." His hand traced the scar.
Snape pressed his lips together tightly to avoid commenting. While he'd never been friends with Raphael, even when they were both on the same side, he certainly hadn't considered him capable of actually hurting his own son.
Well, that wasn't entirely true.
He knew Raphael was more than capable of it...Snape just hadn't believed he would actually do it. However, far be it from him to run the man's name into the ground anymore than it already had been. So, he merely nodded his head.
"I see," he murmured, hoping that Blaise would be too preoccupied with his condition to notice the tone of his voice that he couldn't quite hide.
Blaise's gaze began to unfocus, looking back into the past as poison and fever gnawed at his present. "Have to be alert. Have to be strong."
"Pride and power. Can't yield." He shook his head, almost thrashing on the pillow. "Can't ... "
Snape's muscles tensed as he prepared to hold the young man down if it became necessary. Uncertain what to do in these types of situations, and definitely not at ease trying to offer comfort to others, he felt out of his element. Gently placing his hand on the young man's shoulder, he kept his voice even and soothing as he spoke.
"It's all right, Blaise," he stated. "You are quite safe here. Nothing is going to harm you." Unsure of what else he could do, Snape used his free hand to grasp the cloth and began blotting Blaise's forehead.
After a few moments, when Snape felt certain the young wizard wasn't going to come off the bed, he removed his hand, although he continued murmuring assurances.
Blaise made an odd sound, somewhere between a moan and a cry. "Why?"
Snape frowned, his hand unconsciously squeezing the cloth so tightly that his fingers dug into his palm. Absently, he dropped it back in the bowl, his eyes trained on the young man on the bed. Something told him this wasn't a typical nightmare, nor was it a trick of the mind. No, Blaise was quite obviously going through something else, reliving some memory that obviously haunted him.
Snape knew he should remain silent. If given enough time, the young man would work through it and, with any luck, fall into a dreamless sleep. However, there was something about his tone of voice -- it seemed to be calling to him and Snape couldn't ignore it.
"What is it, Blaise? What do you wish to know?" he asked softly, making certain to keep his voice low enough so as not to wake him. If he was going to pry into his memories he needed to be extremely careful not to get caught. Otherwise, all the trust that Blaise had so freely given would disappear in an instant.
"Shames you ... he shames you. I see you shaking. Why?" He flinched, gasping, and his voice dropped to a harsh whisper. "Why?"
Taking a moment to think, Snape tried to work at the puzzle that Blaise had set before him. It was obvious he was speaking to someone. But who? An idea was bouncing around in his head, staying just out of reach. Shaking his head, he knew he needed more information if he were to discover the truth.
Leaning forward, so he was only a few inches from the young man, he dropped his voice even more. "It's all right," he murmured, wondering if empty words of assurance would perhaps cause him to explain himself further. "There is always a good reason, and this is no exception."
"Fear and pain ... he offers fear and pain. Doesn't have to be." Again, Blaise flinched, shaking his head. This time, he followed with a rapid burst of Italian.
Snape blinked, his mind working to translate the foreign language. Unfortunately, Italian wasn't one of his strong suits, and he was only able to catch a word or two. His brow furrowed, he tried to work out the small amount of English that had been spoken. Fear and pain. He offers fear and pain. The question was -- who?
Snape could think of several people. Raphael certainly fit that description. However, if Blaise were truly reliving a conversation he'd had in the past, who would he be speaking to concerning his father? Deciding that he wasn't speaking of Raphael, Snape immediately moved on to the next person he knew that offered more than his fair share of fear and pain.
Snape froze, a moment of awareness washing over him. Of course. Leaning forward once more, he tried again, "It is not your place to question him," he said, his voice losing its gentleness.
Blaise flinched again, this time seeming to crumple into himself, crying out. "Pater!"
Snape wasn't as shocked as he really should have been, he knew. After all, considering the type of man Raphael was, it should be shocking that anyone, his own son included, cared one iota for him. However, Snape could relate all too well with the younger Zabini. Your parents were your everything, at least until you grew old enough to create your own life. But, even then, they still mattered quite a bit.
And to see your father constantly belittled and abused, all for the sake of a cause that you didn't necessarily support?
Pausing, the man frowned. Actually, that was making an assumption on his part. There was no proof that Blaise hadn't supported Voldemort's vision of a 'pure' wizarding world. And, now that he thought about it, there really wasn't any proof that Blaise hadn't supported Voldemort as a leader, either. All that Snape had to go on was a schoolboy's dreams of being an Auror and the lack of a Dark Mark in his forearm.
Realizing that he needed much more information than he'd originally thought before his doubts would be put to rest, Snape tried to decide on his next course of action. Finally, he tapped in to the part of him that he'd always used when speaking to the Gryffindors he'd been forced to teach -- particularly Potter and his sidekicks.
Then, in a snide tone, he hissed, "Who are you to judge his actions? Or mine, for that matter?" It took everything Snape had to ignore the guilt that washed over him as he realized that he was doing something that he hadn't done in years. He was playing mind games with the same gusto as he had in his days as an active Death Eater.
Blaise tensed, breathing going fast and shallow. "Who am I? I'm the one who chooses. I am ... I am the master of my fate." Little did he know he spoke the same words as a Muggle poet a century before.
His head thrashed again on the pillow. Denial? Struggle to escape? "My mind. My body. Will ... not ... squaAARGH." His words scaled up into a scream, body thrashing.
For a moment, Snape worried that Blaise was reacting to the venom. That perhaps the antidote wasn't working as well or quickly as it should be. However, he almost immediately realized that wasn't the case.
No, he'd seen this before. The sound of agony, the arching of the back...he'd been through it enough that he would recognize the symptoms anywhere.
Blaise, in his mind, was suffering the Cruciatus at the hands of his own father.
Instantly, Snape was filled with a blind rage. How dare Raphael use something so barbaric on his own son. And for what? Stating his own independence and questioning things that desperately needed questioning?
"If he wanted a mindless drone to do his bidding he should have invested in a dog," Snape muttered to himself while his brain scrambled with a solution to the problem he'd just created for himself. Now, he was either stuck acting as Raphael until the entire scene played itself out, or he could end the charade now and coax Blaise back to reality. From his perspective, neither option was particularly pleasant.
However, as he watched his former student thrash about in obvious pain, Snape knew he couldn't end it yet. Not until he knew just how far Raphael had gone in teaching his son obedience, and how far Blaise's disapproval of Voldemort went. So, leaning forward once again, his elbows resting on his knees, Snape calmly asked, "You must learn. It is not your place to question. You are to follow, nothing more. Do you understand?"
With any luck, Blaise's answer would tell him the majority of what he wanted to know.
Blaise's voice was faint, but clear. "I will not squander ... what I am."
Snape froze, his eyes widening in shock. He knew those words. Knew them quite well, in fact. He'd spent seven years telling his students that very thing. However, this was the first time he could remember hearing those words repeated back to him, and he didn't know how to react.
He wanted to be proud. Proud that he'd at least reached one student, even if he hadn't believed so at the time. Proud that his carefully constructed words were the one thing Blaise was clinging while suffering both physical and emotional pain. But, at the same time, he was sickened. After all, his teachings had resulted in at least one student suffering the wrath of his father.
How many others had suffered as well? How many of his Slytherins had listened to him, believed in him, and were summarily punished when trying to repeat his lessons to their families?
Shaking his head, Snape knew that now wasn't the time. Later he could, and would, search within himself for a proper response. Now, though, he had to finish what he'd so foolishly begun.
"What you are? And what is that?" he sneered. Remembering the words that his own father had stated to him many times during his own childhood, he added, "You are nothing unless I say otherwise."
"I am Blaise," the young wizard gasped, as he had when even younger. His mother had named him so after Merlin's master; it was the one thing of her Father had never been able to take away. "I ... am ... Blaise."
Snape sighed. It was obvious this was getting him nowhere. And it wasn't as though he hadn't already learned quite a bit. In fact, he had learned more about Blaise in this conversation than perhaps in the entire time he'd known the youth.
Telling himself that it was time to leave well enough alone, he gently touched the young man's shoulder. "Blaise," he said softly. "It is time to wake up. You cannot take another dose while unconscious."
Blaise groaned, trying to fight the delirium. "Father? Am I sick?"
Snape raised an eyebrow. Pushing aside the little voice in his head that was whispering to continue on with the charade, he calmly replied, "Yes. You are most certainly ill. And, while I certainly appreciate the sentiment, I am afraid I am far from your father."
Part of him hoped that Blaise didn't believe him, if only to continue attempting to gleam more information.
Amber-brown eyes struggled to focus, Blaise's breathing gradually slowing, though it remained low and rasping. "Professor?"
Snape nodded, a small smile crossing his face. "Very good, Blaise." Pulling out the final bottle of antidote, he helped the young man drink it. Once finished, he glanced behind him, noticing that the sky was turning red as the sun attempted to rise for another day.
Looking back at the young man lying on the bed, he stated, "It would appear that you are through the worst of it. All that is left now is for you to get a few solid hours of sleep." Raising his eyebrow, he questioned, "I do not need to explain to you the importance of taking a day from work, do I?"
Blaise swallowed. "No sir." He closed his eyes for a long moment, gathering his strength. "Sir?"
Snape raised an eyebrow as he rose to his feet. "Yes?" he questioned, keeping his voice even and void of emotion.
Snape nodded, only able to hide his shock through years of experience. "Think nothing of it, Blaise," he murmured. Then, gathering up the various empty bottles and placing them back in his robes, he tilted his head toward the young man.
"Make certain to rest. I will be most upset if I find out you disobeyed me and decided to go to work." And, with one final look at the small room and a glance at the pale young man in the bed, Snape apparated away.
He purposely left the basket of food and drinks behind.