There was total silence.
Severus had been called a vampire all year long, but to be called it by a Vampire Prince, in the middle of the Forbidden Forest, at night, changed things, somehow.
‘My genetic blood-line that is, but you will truly be my family after you have joined us,’ Vlad went on, gliding over to Severus and putting a hand on his shoulder.
Severus did a double-take as he did so.
The Ghost Potion had finally worn off. His hour was up, and he was suddenly very, very solid indeed.
Severus suppressed a shiver as he looked into the pale face of Vlad the Second.
‘Why would you want someone like me to join you?’ Severus asked him.
‘You are unhappy, bullied, and poor,’ Vlad said in a surprisingly kind voice, ‘We are taking pity on you. We’ve been watching you all the time we’ve been sharing your bat’s body. We share your feelings of injustice and pain,’
He surveyed Severus like a step-father would his new step-son.
‘No one would dare bully you if you had our powers,’ Vlad continued, ‘You would become rich and popular at command, and together, we shall bring about peace and unity to this divided world, after we have peopled it with vampires,’
Severus felt completely thrown.
This was not what he had expected at all.
He had bracing himself, all evening, and most the night, for a bloody battle in which someone might die.
Yet here was the world’s once most feared vampire saying that he wanted to adopt him.
For the first time, Severus saw why Lucius was so interested in these people, and he felt a twinge of anger towards those who were against them.
But before he leapt into anyone’s arms, there was something vital he had to know.
‘Where are my friends?’ Severus asked.
Vlad signalled to the other three.
They turned and beckoned to something Severus couldn’t see.
Then, he gasped as Potter and Lucius appeared through the trees, walking in unison like they were soldiers marching at command.
Romana and Lilith raised their hands, and Potter and Lucius stopped before them.
Severus was spooked by their faces.
Their eyes were glazed, and their expressions were blank. Neither did they seem to recognise him, or even know he was there.
Clearly, they had both been hypnotised, but Severus controlled himself before speaking.
‘And where is the third boy, Lupin?’ he asked Vlad.
‘He ran off before we could hypnotise him,’ Vlad answered.
‘He was a coward, I suspect,’
Vlad gazed at Severus, steadily, as he said this, and Severus gazed back, unflinching.
This was a test, of his courage and his loyalty.
But Severus thought of Lily, and he knew where his loyalties lay, but how to fool Vlad?
Severus faked a look of regret, hanging his head.
‘I just wish that my mother had told me about you,’ he said.
Vlad nodded, looking sympathetic.
‘Your Muggle father would never have let her, we understand, Severus,’ Mary, or rather, Romana the vampiress said, kindly.
‘It is likely that she didn’t know,’ Radu went on, ‘Wizards are biased,’
‘Yes,’ Severus said, shortly, but what he thought was, and so are you.
‘So you’ve made your decision?’ Vlad asked, smiling.
Severus paused, thinking, and weighing his chances.
There were four vampires, Vlad, Radu, Romana and Lilith, and only one of him.
Lucius and Potter were hypnotised, and Lupin was missing.
Severus had his wand. No good as he was out-numbered, and a pocket-full of empty vials. Empty, except for the Draught of Living Death, which he only intended to use if all hope was lost, and he wanted to die a peaceful death.
Severus felt an irresistible calm drift over him just then, as if all worries and fears had been removed from him.
You will be good, Severus, if you become a vampire, said the soothing voices of the vampires in his mind, you will be a good person ... you will be loved ... and you will belong.
Severus felt comforted by the vampires, because the voices were his family.
My mum is my family, answered his own voice at the back of his head.
I belong with her, and with Lily, and Lucius, and Bellatrix.
But the vampires pushed harder, insisting that he belonged with them, and he melted toward them.
Irresistibly, Severus extended his wrists, and the voices all drew in gasps.
‘You accept our invitation?’ Vlad asked.
‘I do,’ Severus answered, dreamily.
No! I don’t want to bite me!
‘You wish to become a vampire?’ Romana breathed, her chest heaving.
‘Yes, and you may all drink from me. In fact, as your new Prince, I wish for nothing less,’
Stop them, Severus!
Severus’ heart was hammering, but his mind was lost in a pink fog.
The vampires drew near, irresistibly, and their fangs elongated before Severus’ eyes.
Severus whipped away from the vampires, and yelled, ‘Expelliarmus!’
Radu the Handsome was thrown against a tree-trunk, and he landed, cat-like on the ground, snarling like an enraged wild-cat.
‘You dare attack us!’ Romana shrieked, ‘you little brat!’
She raised a hand with claws like an eagle’s, but Vlad restrained her in a flash.
‘Keep your hands of my boy,’ he hissed.
Severus ran for it, but before he even realised what was happening, the vampires were swooping him like vultures, their cloaks wing-like against the deep blue sky.
Just then, Lilith caught his face in both hands, ‘Don’t worry, my sweet,’ she crooned, ‘My name is the same as the one you are closest too, you can trust me,’
Severus felt his body fall limp again as the voice soothed him again.
He shut his eyes and did not feel the fangs pierce his arm.
Three more pairs sank into his skin and the vampires drank from him.
You must stop them, Severus! He thought, frantically, Be brave!
The faces of Lily and his mother swam into view behind his eyes ...
Severus wrenched his arm away with a single, tremendous effort.
He fell backwards and collapsed, gasping for breath, on the ground.
Vlad looked astonished, but he raised a commanding hand as the others made to step forward.
‘Do not drain the Prince!’ Vlad snarled, and they obeyed him.
Severus tried and failed to get up. He felt very dizzy and his arms were heavy.
Then, he turned on one side and threw up onto the grass.
The vampires’ images were swimming, in and out of focus, before him.
They were smacking their lips, looking like they had each finished a divine meal.
A single, vague thought drifted into Severus’ mind, like a small bubble surfacing:
In case you die, take the Draught of Peace.
He reached, numbly, into his pocket, only half aware of what he was doing.
Then, something happened.
All of the vampires screamed in unison, and they doubled-up in agony.
‘Vlad, what’s happening?’ Romana screamed.
‘Something wrong with the boy’s blood!’ Vlad groaned, clutching his stomach.
‘Make it stop!’ Radu yelled, his handsome, blond face pouring sweat.
‘I can’t!’ Vlad gasped.
Lilith was sobbing loudly, and tears of blood trickled down her cheeks.
Vlad gaped at Severus in perfect shock.
‘What are you?’ he shrieked, ‘You are no son of mine! What new blood is this?’
Severus balled the last of his strength together.
‘My blood is half-blood,’ he replied, ‘laced with Liquid Sunshine!’
He raised the empty vial for them to see, and at the bottom they could make out two golden drops twinkling in the dark.
The vampires flailed and shrieked, gnashed their teeth, and screamed.
They attempted one last bid for life by escaping in smoke-form, but it was too late.
The last of their power had been cancelled out by the potion, and they faded into the air in wisps of feeble vapour.
Vlad Dracul the Second and his family were gone for good.
The bodies of the Dragons, no longer sustained by their captors’ life-force, turned instantly into grey dust, which blew away in a gust of wind.
The last of Severus’ energy had gone too, and his head hit the ground as he passed out.
Severus awoke to pure whiteness, and a blurry figure in blue before him.
‘Am I dead?’ Severus breathed.
‘Certainly not,’ the figure replied in a deep, distant echo, ‘not where is so much goodness to be done,’
‘Professor Dumbledore?’ Severus croaked.
‘The same,’ Dumbledore replied, twinkling down at him and putting one hand on the top of his head, ‘Are you alright, dear boy?’
‘Where are the others?’ Severus asked, sitting bolt upright.
‘Relax, Severus, they’re fine. Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Potter have not been bitten, and they arrived at the same time you did, in fact. Mr. Malfoy carried you in on a stretcher. Mr. Lupin is out and about, but I daresay he’ll be with us again soon,’
Severus was still too caught up with the night’s events to ask about Lupin, but he felt concerned about being unconscious while Potter had not been.
‘What did they tell you?’ he asked, nervously.
‘I have heard Mr. Potter’s side of the story,’ Dumbledore replied, ‘and he pretty much made it out that he, you, Mr. Lupin and Mr. Malfoy were kidnapped by vampires and carried off into the Forbidden Forest. He went on to tell me that you had been hypnotised by one of them, which was why you’d been drinking everyone’s blood this year,’
Severus felt his own blood pumping in a silent rage.
He couldn’t have hated Potter more if he tried for this, and he wasn’t about to let him get away with it. He looked quickly at Professor Dumbledore.
‘Do you believe him?’ he asked.
‘I believe,’ Dumbledore said, slowly, ‘that you deserve a fair hearing, and I want to hear your side of the story,’
Severus drew in a deep breath and told Dumbledore everything, including the truth that he and the others broke school rules by leaving their dormitories at night, going into the Forbidden Forest, and going looking for the vampires.
When it came to the fight, Severus checked his arm, showing Dumbledore where he had been bitten and drunk from four ways.
Madame Pomfrey had healed him, and luckily, there were no scars.
‘It happened so fast,’ Severus told him, ‘the fight and the drinking ... It was a rush!’
‘Yes, fights in real life are often fast, and far less victorious,’ Dumbledore said.
‘Tell me about it,’ Severus mumbled, thinking of Potter and Black.
Dumbledore studied at him over his spectacles.
‘I would talk to you about it, Severus,’ he said, lightly.
‘Pardon? I don’t understand,’
‘I would talk to you, if you told me about it,’ Dumbledore said, clearly.
The look he gave Severus now pierced him to the centre, and Severus wondered if Dumbledore knew about all the bullying and name-calling.
Oh don’t be naive, Severus, of course he knows!
‘I am always here to listen,’ Dumbledore said, soothingly, ‘as have been the teachers, Prefects, and Head Boys and Girls, if ever you needed to tell us anything,’
Severus felt himself trembling, but finally, not without difficulty, he opened up.
He told Dumbledore about every time he had been bullied, and how, starting with his father in Spinner’s End, continuing with Potter, Black and the others on the Hogwarts Express, mentioning all the little scuffles in the corridors with other Gryffindors and Ravenclaws (once, even a Hufflepuff second year had tried it on) and ending with Potter and Black.
Dumbledore didn’t speak or ask any questions. He just listened.
When Severus finished, his head had gotten hot, and he was wiping his eyes.
Dumbledore waved his wand, and Conjured a purple tissue box for him.
‘And how did you deal with it?’ the Headmaster asked Severus, gently.
‘I fought back,’ Severus answered, heatedly, ‘I fought back because it wasn’t fair,’
‘You’re absolutely right,’ Dumbledore told him as Severus died his eyes and blew his nose. He waited until Severus was looking better again before going on.
‘Fairness was what those vampires sought out last night, and what they always have been doing for as far back as we can remember. Vlad the Second never knew fairness thanks to the way he was treated by wizards. That is why he was utterly biased about them, and his hatred for us, and Muggles, runs deep. Far deeper than that of the Guild of Dragons,’
‘But he showed me kindness,’ Severus told him, ‘he thought I was one of them ... or he was lying,’ he said, cautiously, not wanting to sound stupid.
But he was also looking at Dumbledore for reassurance.
‘Am I part vampire, Professor?’ he asked, fearfully, when Dumbledore only looked at him.
‘What do you think, Severus?’ Dumbledore asked, as pleasantly as if Severus had just sampled a sandwich he had made for him, and wanted to know if he liked it.
‘I don’t feel like one,’ Severus spluttered, ‘and I don’t behave like one! I just ... well ... I just look a bit like one, but that’s no reason-’
‘And that’s why you are bullied, Severus,’ Dumbledore said, softly, ‘Childish, I know, but that’s because the bullies who call you a vampire are children, Severus, and children grow up,’
‘Yes, they grow up into bigger bullies,’ Severus answered, bitterly.
‘I know they do,’ Dumbledore said, darkly, ‘that’s why I was so anxious for you to be escorted away from your father-’
‘-and over here, to Potter and Black. Great. How things have changed,’ Severus muttered, gloomily.
‘Things have changed, Severus,’ Dumbledore told him, clearly, and he put a hand on Severus’ shoulder.
‘You brought about justice last night. You settled a score by defending yourself and you won! I’m proud of you for that! Vlad would have killed you, Severus, after he found out that you are not his distant relative,’
Severus looked at him very quickly.
‘But that’s what I meant when I asked you if I was a vampire!’
‘Ah, but asking me if you’re a vampire isn’t the same as asking me if you’re the Vampire Prince,’ Dumbledore said, in a reasonable tone, but Severus wasn’t in the mood for eccentricities.
‘Why did Vlad think I’m related to him?’ Severus fumed, ‘And how do you know for sure that I’m not?’
‘Because Vlad the Second didn’t have any children before he possessed Oswald Knight,’ Dumbledore replied, simply.
As Severus continued to look confused, Dumbledore went on to explain.
‘Vampires don’t think of blood-lines the way we do. We know our mothers are our mothers because they gave birth to us. But vampires consider each other family and friends through feeding each other their blood. Do you understand now?’
‘Yes,’ Severus said, slowly, ‘but isn’t that a bit ... dodgy?’
‘Absolutely. And blood alone doesn’t give what we have,’
‘Which is?’ Severus asked.
Severus dropped his eyes and turned his head on one side on his pillow.
Dumbledore looked out the hospital window, and there was a moment of quiet.
‘How’s Lily been?’ Severus asked, quietly.
‘She’s been tearful. She’s been worried sick. And she’s been missing you,’ Dumbledore answered.
Severus smiled, and felt a lump in his throat. He also felt a little glow in his middle, something that would put even Liquid Sunshine to shame.
‘I think that what you deserve right now is a reward, Severus Snape,’ Dumbledore said, kindly, ‘and that reward should be ... let me see ... yes, a thousand points to Slytherin and an Award for Special Services to the School,’
Severus blushed deep red.