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A Tangled Web (Post-DH)



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Old April 29th, 2007, 6:48 am
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A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

This DH canon compliant story tells the story behind the story in the series, beginning with the events at the end of OotP. I hope to continue it through the end of DH. This is a post-DH rewrite an earlier fic. Since I made some incorrect guesses about the events which occurred between OotP and HBP, this rewrite includes plenty of new material. However, parts of it will seem very familiar to those who have read the original. It is also well past the point at which the original left off.

The Potterverse and all the wonderful characters in it are of course the creations and property of J. K. Rowling. I am merely borrowing them to have a bit of fun.

As always, I would love to read the opinions of anyone who reads the story. Your comments, criticisms, and compliments on my feedback thread would be most appreciated.

***
A Tangled Web


Author's Note: I would like to add a special disclaimer. This chapter includes a scene which appeared in OotP, "Out of the Fire". The spoken dialogue in that one scene is therefore all Rowling's.

Chapter 1: A Trap is Set

The dungeon Potions laboratory was chilly and damp despite the warm June day outside, and lit only by magical light from torches hung in the age-tarnished metal brackets set at regular intervals along the walls. Severus Snape, standing over a bubbling cauldron of bright-red potion, squinted at his own miniscule handwriting on a parchment unrolled to his right. Was that digit a five or a six? He straightened, rubbing the bridge of his hooked nose. Six, obviously. With the ingredients he had already added, an odd number of stirs made no sense. Picking up his wand, he was about to begin the next step in the process when there was an urgent knock on the door.

Severus swore under his breath. With OWL and NEWT exams in progress, his teaching load was somewhat lighter than usual. Obviously, it was too much to expect to have an afternoon to himself before the end of term, though….

“Come in!” he called out.

The heavy oak door opened to reveal Draco Malfoy, fifth year prefect of Slytherin House. The last time Malfoy had intruded on his private time had involved a half-dead student stuck in a toilet, Severus recalled, a matter that had left the current Headmistress out of her depth. It was not very clear to Severus what, if anything, the woman was qualified to handle. This matter seemed likely to be of a similarly serious nature, for Draco’s usually perfectly groomed blond hair was slightly askew, his pale face flushed, and he was breathing heavily, as though he had come in a hurry.

“Ah, Draco,” Severus said smoothly. “Do come in. I have just been working out some details of a potion I plan to present in my NEWT class.”

Draco glanced over at the cauldron with some interest, and then regretfully back at Severus.

“Professor Snape, sir,” he said, a bit breathless, “Professor Umbridge has asked to see you in her office.”

Severus inwardly cursed the new Headmistress. He had better things to do with his time than endeavor (or seem to endeavor) to meet her whims. Unfortunately, he could not ignore the woman. He moved back towards the cauldron to bank the flames. Umbridge would have an emergency at such a touchy stage in the process.

“Sir…” Draco trailed off. “She says it is urgent,” he added.

“Very well, Draco, I am coming,” Severus said. “I feel confident that the Headmistress can spare the time I need to ensure the building does not burn down while I deal with the newest crisis.”

Draco grinned, acknowledging Severus’s wit, and waited for his Head of House to set things to rights on the workbench and leave.

“So, Draco,” Severus asked as they walked towards Umbridge’s office, “what is the nature of today’s emergency?”

“It’s Potter, sir,” Draco said, a satisfied smirk on his face as he contemplated the trouble in which Potter had apparently landed himself.

“Potter,” Severus repeated dismissively. His stomach twisted, whether from worry, or loathing, he could not have said himself. The boy had a talent for trouble. “What has the ‘Boy Who Lived’ gotten up to now?”

“Professor Umbridge caught him trespassing in her office,” Draco said gleefully. “Apparently he was trying to speak with someone using her Floo. She thinks it might be Dumbledore!”

Severus resisted the urge to correct Draco’s failure to use the Headmaster’s proper title. Dumbledore was, for the moment, a fugitive from justice. A state of affairs from which the Dark Lord and his supporters, Severus himself included, would be expected to take no little satisfaction.

“And you just happened to be nearby?” Severus asked.

He listened distractedly to Draco’s boastful account of the Inquisitorial Squad’s role in the capture not only of Potter, but also of his little gang of Gryffindors, his accomplices in the break-in. What they thought they were playing at, he could not fathom. If this really was an attempt to contact Dumbledore, Severus was going to wring Potter’s neck himself rather than leaving that pleasure to Umbridge. Potter ought to have come to him if there was a serious reason to contact Dumbledore. He could contact Dumbledore with no risk of exposing Dumbledore’s location, and no risk of expulsion for Potter.

“Well done, Draco,” Severus commented as Draco ceased his explanations.

Malfoy smiled and opened the door to Umbridge’s office. Severus followed him inside, taking the scene in rapidly.

“You wanted to see me, Headmistress?” said Severus, keeping his face black and his stance casual in a display of his complete indifference to the situation.

“Ah, Professor Snape,” said Umbridge, standing up with a broad, insincere smile. “Yes, I would like another bottle of Veritaserum, as quick as you can, please.”

That was certainly not going to happen, Severus decided instantly.

“You took my last bottle to interrogate Potter,” he said, looking at her with mock concern. Well, she believed she had, anyway. Evidently, she knew no more of Potions than of the subject she taught. “Surely you did not use it all? I told you that three drops would be sufficient.”

The stupid woman had the grace to look embarrassed.

“You can make some more, can’t you?” she said, her voice suddenly sweet and girlish.

If she proceeded to bat her eyelashes at him, he might just do something he would later regret.

“Certainly,” said Severus with a smirk. “It takes a full moon-cycle to mature, so I should have it ready for you in around a month.”

“A month?” Umbridge squawked, dropping her pretense at sweetness in her anger. “A month? But I need it this evening, Snape! I have just found Potter using my fire to communicate with a person or persons unknown!”

“Really?” said Severus, looking over at Potter with some interest. Would the idiot boy realize he was addressing the question to him?

“Well, it doesn’t surprise me,” he continued, his eyes still on Harry. “Potter has never shown much inclination to follow school rules.”

Potter met his gaze unflinchingly, his face commendably blank. A highly unlikely scenario swam into view in his mind as Severus employed his Legilimency. He saw Sirius Black, in the Hall of Prophecy, under torture by the Dark Lord. How Potter thought this might occur without anyone noticing in a place as busy as the Ministry, on a workday afternoon, Severus could not quite understand.

“I wish to interrogate him!” repeated Umbridge angrily, and Severus looked back at her now openly furious face.

Hopefully, Potter would realize his looking away meant that he had received the message.

“I wish you to provide me with a potion that will force him to tell me the truth!” she demanded.

“I have already told you,” said Severus smoothly, “that I have no further stocks of Veritaserum. Unless you wish to poison Potter - and I assure you I would have the greatest sympathy with you if you did - I cannot help you. The only trouble is that most venoms act too fast to give the victim much time for truth-telling.”

Severus looked back at Potter, who was staring at him intently. Apparently still hoping to communicate, alas. Well, Umbridge would at least serve to prevent him from doing anything rash.

“You are on probation!” shrieked Professor Umbridge, and Severus looked back at her, his eyebrows raised. “You are being deliberately unhelpful! I expected better, Lucius Malfoy always speaks most highly of you! Now get out of my office!”

Probation, with a week of term left. Now there was a threat to conjure with, Severus thought to himself. He gave her an ironic bow and turned to leave.

“He’s got Padfoot!” Potter shouted. “He’s got Padfoot at the place where it’s hidden!”

Severus stopped, with his hand on the door handle. Blast the boy; surely, even Potter would understand that he could not acknowledge any of these attempts at communication openly?

“Padfoot?” cried Professor Umbridge, looking eagerly from Harry to Severus. “What is Padfoot? Where what is hidden? What does he mean, Snape?”

Severus looked back at Potter.

“I have no idea,” said Severus coldly. “Potter, when I want nonsense shouted at me I shall give you a Babbling Beverage. And Crabbe, loosen your hold a little. If Longbottom suffocates it will mean a lot of tedious paperwork and I am afraid I shall have to mention it on your reference if ever you apply for a job.”

He closed the door behind him with a snap, before Potter could start naming names or Umbridge could fire him, and swept away down the corridor towards the Entrance Hall. Umbridge and the Inquisitorial Squad had Potter well in hand, but just in case there was something to the vision Potter had shown him, Severus had to investigate.

A visit to Order Headquarters was, lamentably, unavoidable. He could no more use the Floo than could Potter, since the Headmistress’s fire was the only one not monitored by the Ministry. There was no one else he could send in his stead, as he was the only member of the Order remaining at Hogwarts. And he was most certainly not going to send a Patronus message to Black. The prospect held considerably less appeal than speaking to the man in person, and that was saying a lot.

On his way to the Entrance Hall, Severus considered his next move. At this time of day, someone might see him leaving the castle. He preferred not to make it obvious that he was leaving the grounds entirely. He would dip into the Forest and skirt along it to get close to the gates. On his way back, assuming, as seemed likely, that he would not be compelled to stay and organize a rescue mission for Black, he could stop to collect some fresh ingredients for Veritaserum to explain his absence, in case anyone asked. Neither the first, nor, he was sure, the last time he would be missing supper over one of Potter’s boneheaded escapades.

***

So, how did you like it? Let me know here!


__________________
The Sorting Hat says I belong in Slytherin.



“Death is the only pure, beautiful conclusion of a great passion.”-D. H. Lawrence

All was well.


Avatar by nerwende, signature art by sigune, used with permission.

Last edited by arithmancer; October 14th, 2008 at 6:35 am. Reason: Rewrite of story!
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  #2  
Old December 7th, 2007, 6:48 am
arithmancer's Avatar
arithmancer  Undisclosed.gif arithmancer is offline
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Thanks to Fleur du Mal, who has graciously consented to be my beta reader, for her useful suggestions.

The comments, criticisms, and compliments of my readers on my feedback thread would be most appreciated.

***

Chapter 2: The Bait is Taken

As soon as he passed the massive, wrought-iron gates of Hogwarts, Severus spun on his heel and Disapparated. He appeared in a small patch of grass in the middle of a square surrounded by rather derelict houses. Looking about him quickly, he ascertained that no Muggles were in sight, and then strode over to Number 12. It was easily recognizable by the distinctive serpent doorknocker on its battered, black front door. Tapping the door once with his wand, he cast the counterspell to undo all the locks and spells that held it shut. After a number of clicks and clacks, Severus heard the chain clatter and the door swung open. He stepped inside swiftly and shut the door behind him.

By the dim light of the old-fashioned gas lamps, Severus made his way silently down the long entrance hallway, careful to avoid the small, rickety table and umbrella stand. His efforts at stealth met with success; the curtained portrait of Mrs. Black remained silent as he swept past it. Reaching the end of the hall, he opened the door before him. The bottom of the staircase was lost in the gloom. Apparently, the master of the house was not in the kitchen. Probably upstairs, drinking, he thought with a sneer.

Severus headed up the stairs to the first floor, passing by the collection of House Elves’ heads mounted on the wall. As he began to ascend the next flight of stairs, he heard Black’s voice from above.

“Curse it, Bucky! I’m sorry, but you must hold still!”

Following the sound of Black’s voice led Severus into the hallway outside the room in which Buckbeak, Black’s pet hippogriff, lived. Looking inside, he saw Black kneeling beside the massive beast, intent on the task of applying a vividly green salve to an ugly gash along the hippogriff’s hind leg. The animal did not seem to appreciate these ministrations; it tossed its head and kicked irritably, causing Black to tumble back to avoid the dangerous-looking hoof.

Severus leaned on the doorjamb, enjoying the sight.

Picking himself up off the floor, Black finally noticed his presence.

“Snivellus!” he exclaimed, flushing darkly. “What are you doing here?”

“Chasing a wild goose of Potter’s,” Severus replied curtly. Drawing his wand, he stepped into the room. “It might help to close the wound up first.”

“Keep away from Bucky!” Black exclaimed.

The great beast hopped on three legs, turning to face Severus, who stopped in his tracks, abruptly grateful that his wand was out. Black stepped up to the beast, a hand caressing the feathers of its massive neck.

“I repeat, why are you here?” Black demanded.

Severus sneered at him. “Potter sent me after you.”

“What nonsense is this?” Black asked angrily.

“The boy was sent a vision by the Dark Lord,” Severus replied levelly, keeping his eyes on Buckbeak. “He believed you had been captured, and was apprehended by Umbridge while trying to use her Floo.”

The beast seemed to be picking up on Black’s hostility; it snapped its beak threateningly, stretching its neck toward Severus. If Black intended his caresses to have a restraining effect on the animal, a supposition Severus was beginning to doubt, they seemed to be having the opposite effect.

“A vision?” Black repeated heatedly. “Weren’t you supposed to stop him having these visions?”

“Success at Occlumency requires, above all, practice,” Severus replied waspishly. “Potter’s inflated notions of himself-”

“Don’t you dare blame Harry!” Sirius said, taking a step towards him and reaching for his wand. The hippogriff limped a step closer as well.

Retreat into the hallway was clearly indicated; he was now within the beast’s reach. However, the thought of retreating before Black and his pet, when he had faced the Dark Lord and his enormous, man-eating snake, rankled. He settled on a compromise - at least he’d take the last word…

Severus stood his ground, his lip curling. “As my assistance with your hippogriff is not wanted, and my assistance with your rescue from the Dark Lord is, sadly, not needed, I have work to do,” he said, then turned on his heel and Disapparated in a swirl of black robes.

After arriving back at the school gates, Severus headed into the Forest, in the direction of a particular glade where magical plants he would need to harvest were he actually to make Veritaserum thrived. As he walked, he summoned a container in which to carry them back.

The shadows in the forest were lengthening when Severus headed back to the castle with a basketful of potion ingredients. As he entered, he glanced into the Great Hall, empty and pristine after the evening meal. Opening the door beside the large marble staircase, he descended into the dungeons and headed for the laboratory. Umbridge would doubtless be keeping Potter in detention into the wee hours of the night. After the interview that Potter had granted the Quibbler, in which he had described the Dark Lord’s return, the woman positively foamed at the mouth about him. Which meant Potter, anyway, would not be disturbing his researches further.

Upon reflection, Severus decided it was a good thing that he had planned to be up late anyway – in the event Potter remained convinced of the danger to Black after his detention, Severus could set him straight. If Potter were unable to find him to learn how he had acted on Potter’s secret messages, he might make another ill-advised attempt at communication with Order headquarters.

With some satisfaction, Severus rekindled the flame under the potion he had left when Draco had fetched him. Since he did have the necessary ingredients, he also started a second cauldron heating, in which to begin the long process of brewing Veritaserum, not that his stores of that potion were actually low, and a kettle of water. He could have some tea with biscuits from a tin he kept on hand for times when he was too deeply involved in work to break for a proper meal.

The new shortcut he was trying, Severus realized some time later, was not working out as he had envisioned. The potion had changed consistency on him unexpectedly. Lost in thought, he wandered over to the shelf where he kept his favorite references. He ran a long, slender finger over their spines until he saw the one he wanted. Lifting it off the shelf, he sat down on a stool beside the workbench and started leafing through the book, looking for the article he remembered. He had scribbled a page of notes, when he heard a tentative knock on the door. Checking his watch, he saw it was quite late.

He set his book down and walked over. Opening the door, he beheld not Potter, as he had half expected, but the snub-nosed face of Pansy Parkinson, the fifth year Slytherin prefect. She had no business out of the dormitory this far past curfew. The slightly fearful, slightly worried look on that face suggested she was well aware of this, and of the unpleasant consequences that might follow.

“Professor Snape?” she began hesitantly.

“Yes, Miss Parkinson?” Severus inquired quietly, raising an eyebrow. “What is it that you are doing here at this hour?”

“Sir? I was worried about Draco,” she said softly.

“How so?” Severus asked somewhat sharply. Draco had been with Umbridge. What was there to worry about?

“He and some others are missing,” she said in a tremulous voice. “Nott and Blaise are down in the Common Room, but Draco, along with Crabbe and Goyle, haven’t been seen since before supper. Neither has Millicent,” Miss Parkinson explained.

“I see. You were right to come to me, Miss Parkinson,” Severus replied smoothly. What the devil was the woman thinking, keeping his students so late? Keeping Potter in detention after finding him in her office, he could see, but his Slytherins? He returned to the workbench and turned down the flames under the cauldron of Veritaserum.

“So, you’ll look for them?” Pansy asked.

“Miss Parkinson, I know where they may be found,” Severus told her. “I suggest you return to the dormitory. They should be back shortly,” he added as he swept past her into the corridor.

For a moment she looked like she might argue the point, but she thought better of it.

“Yes, Professor Snape,” she agreed. He watched for a moment as she headed off towards the entrance to the Slytherin Common Room, then left for Umbridge’s office.

Once there, he knocked briskly on the door.

“Come in!” he heard.

None of the voices on the other side of the door sounded at all like the girlish tones of the High Inquisitor. Puzzled, Severus grabbed the handle and realized that the door was locked. His instincts told him that something was wrong. Drawing his wand, he blew the door open, not wishing to deal with the variety of security spells Umbridge had doubtless ordered to be placed on her office. If she was indeed inside, he might regret his haste, but he would have bet that neither she, nor Potter, were there any longer.

Inside, in various states of hexedness and disrepair, were the members of the Inquisitorial Squad. With a quick Finite Incantatem, he banished most of the spells. The exception proved to be the trademark hex of Miss Weasley, to which Malfoy has fallen victim. A second wave of his wand eliminated that problem as well. Goyle, he saw, was lying motionless on the floor behind Umbridge’s desk. Severus dropped to his knees beside him.

“What happened to him?” he asked, looking up at Draco, the student most likely to provide a cogent account of the evening’s events.

“Longbottom’s Impediment Jinx threw him against the wall, and one of those big plates landed on his head,” Draco explained.

Severus regarded the heavy shards of the plate, decorated with a maudlin depiction of a wide-eyed kitten, with disfavor. Reassured that it was safe to move the boy, he cast a quick Rennervate to bring him to. The falling plate had left a gash on his forehead, he saw. Goyle might be dizzy for a while.

“Crabbe!” Severus ordered. “Take Goyle to the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey should have a look at his head.” Though privately, Severus doubted any damage could penetrate that thick skull.

Crabbe helped his friend up as Severus rose to his feet. He saw that Draco had retrieved everyone’s wands while he had tended to Goyle, and gave Crabbe and Goyle theirs before they left. Severus ran a critical eye over the rest, before deciding they all looked well enough.

“Alright, back to the dormitory, the rest of you,” Severus ordered. “Miss Bulstrode, if you would, let Miss Parkinson know that Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle have been found as well. Draco, stay for a moment.”

Draco’s fair skin flushed, with embarrassment at the predicament in which Severus had found him, Severus presumed.

“So, Draco, what happened here after I left?” Severus asked. “Where are Umbridge and the other students?”

“Professor Umbridge was angry. She threatened Potter,” he said.

“Threatened?” Severus asked quietly.

“With the Cruciatus Curse,” Draco said.

Severus did not care for the slightly regretful look Draco gave him as he named the curse, though it did reassure him that Umbridge had not carried out her threat. He very much doubted Malfoy would speak so casually of it, had he actually seen it performed.

“And?” Severus prompted.

“Granger begged her not to,” Draco recounted. “She confessed that Potter and the others had been trying to contact Dumbledore, to let him know they were done making some sort of weapon for him.”

“I see,” Severus said neutrally. There was assuredly no such weapon at Hogwarts. Miss Granger, it seemed, had employed her talent for prevarication. Not that Professor Umbridge was a particularly difficult mark.

“Then Professor Umbridge made her and Potter go and show her the weapon,” Draco said, “and ordered us to stay here and guard the others.”

“And where did Miss Granger lead Professor Umbridge?” Severus asked.

“I saw them walking towards the forest,” Draco said.

“And shortly thereafter the other four disarmed you all and followed?” Severus guessed.

Draco nodded, his head hanging.

“Thank you, Draco. That will be all. Miss Parkinson is waiting for you in the Common Room, I feel sure,” Severus said, heading out the door.

“Sir, will you be going after them?” Draco asked, falling into step beside him.

“I am certainly not going to permit six students to wander about in the Forbidden Forest at night,” Severus retorted.

“They may have attacked Professor Umbridge, sir,” Draco said carefully.

“I have drawn the same conclusion, Draco,” Severus agreed. He had reached the Entrance Hall. Answering the unspoken concern implicit in Draco’s remark, he added with some asperity, “I am not Professor Umbridge.”

Draco swallowed, but essayed one more question.

“Sir, I did some thinking while-you know,” he began.

“Yes?” Severus asked sharply, impatient to leave. It was now completely clear to him that his first priority must be to alert the Order to the possibility that Potter had left for the Ministry. He had been missing for hours, quite possibly without the supervision of Dolores Umbridge. The Dark Lord had made his move to lure Potter to the Hall of Prophecy tonight. If the Order appeared there, it would badly dent, if not blow, Severus’s cover as a spy. Potter could be arriving there right now, though, right into the waiting arms of Death Eaters. It was a necessary risk.

“About what Potter shouted at you, just as you left the office,” Draco added.

“Indeed?” Severus said neutrally. He would have greatly preferred that Draco not figure out the clue, but since he was bringing it up, perhaps Severus could try to turn it to his advantage.

“Padfoot. That’s the Grim. A large black dog,” Draco said meaningfully.

“Clever, Draco,” Severus said, interrupting before Draco could complete his thought. “Very clever. I, on the other hand, have no idea what Potter was babbling about,” Severus continued. His voice dripped with sarcasm as he added, with a meaningful look at Draco, “As I shall most regretfully explain to Dumbledore, in the unlikely event the question ever arises.”

Malfoy gave him a long look, and nodded his head in satisfaction.

“Back to the dormitory, then, Draco,” Severus said briskly.

“Yes, sir,” Draco said. “Good night, Professor.”

“Good night, Draco,” Severus said, heading out of the castle. Under cover of darkness, Severus made his way directly and at top speed to the gates and the limits of the school’s Anti-Apparition wards. Potter could already be in mortal danger, and with the limited information he had, it was possible that every second mattered.

***

So, how did you like it? Let me know here!


__________________
The Sorting Hat says I belong in Slytherin.



“Death is the only pure, beautiful conclusion of a great passion.”-D. H. Lawrence

All was well.


Avatar by nerwende, signature art by sigune, used with permission.
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  #3  
Old December 14th, 2007, 8:33 pm
arithmancer's Avatar
arithmancer  Undisclosed.gif arithmancer is offline
Assistant to Professor Snape
 
Joined: 5246 days
Location: The Hogwarts Boathouse
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Thanks to Fleur du Mal, my beta reader, for her useful suggestions.

The comments, criticisms, and compliments of my readers on my feedback thread would be most appreciated.

***

Chapter 3: The Warning

As soon as he was able, Severus Apparated directly onto the doorstep of 12 Grimmauld Place, trusting that the ill-lit entryway would hide his sudden appearance from the Muggle neighbors. He waited impatiently as the door yielded to his unlocking spell, and burst through it into the hallway pausing only to cast a quick, silent “Langlock” on the portrait of Walburga Black. He was in no mood to tiptoe, and her reaction to his arrival would doubtless waste time. Reaching the door to the cellar, he threw it open and proceeded down into the cozily lit basement kitchen two steps at a time.

“Albus? Is that you?” Severus heard the voice of Remus Lupin.

“It’s Snape,” said the gruff voice of Alastor Moody, whom Severus could now see sitting at the table with his back to the stairs.

“Dumbledore is expected?” Severus asked urgently.

“You again?!” Black exclaimed.

“Shortly,” Shacklebolt answered from his seat at the table. Severus appreciated the quick response. The other occupants of the table, Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks, were looking up at him in surprise.

“Yes, Black,” Severus replied curtly. “Potter is missing. I fear he may have hared off to the Ministry with his friends in a misguided attempt to rescue you.”

“You mean you didn’t tell him-” Black rose to his feet with such violence that he knocked over the chair on which he had been sitting.

“I could hardly waltz into the presence of Dolores Umbridge and tell him I had seen you,” Severus replied with a sneer. “Potter could be at the Department of Mysteries now, and there are likely Death Eaters there to meet him.”

A collective gasp ran about the room, and the rest rose to their feet.

Severus continued, “Black, stay here and tell Dumbledore what I suspect, the rest should go to the Ministry without delay-”

“We’ll do it, Severus,” Lupin said from across the table. Nymphadora looked at him admiringly, and nodded her agreement.

“Why don’t you stay and tell Dumbledore?” Black asked belligerently. “Since, naturally, you are not going to come along?” he added his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Because I only suspect Potter is there,” Severus replied curtly. “Alternatively, he could be lost in the Forbidden Forest, and I am the logical person to look for him there.”

“He’s right, Black,” Shacklebolt agreed. “And you are the logical one to stay here. If they spot you at the Ministry, there could be hell to pay. Alright, everyone-”

“You will excuse me, then,” Severus said. Shacklebolt and Moody were already outlining a plan to Apparate into the Ministry. Lupin was speaking urgently to Black in an undertone, and Severus had to resist the urge to say something cutting. The thought of Potter, either alone in the Forest, or at the Ministry walking into a Death Eater ambush, sufficed to dissuade him from such a needless waste of time. Satisfied a rescue mission to the Ministry would shortly be on its way, he turned on his heel and Disapparated.

Once back on the Hogwarts grounds, Severus headed straight for the Forbidden Forest. He had no idea where Miss Granger might have thought it best to lead Umbridge, so he was going to have to check each of the many meandering forest paths until he came across the missing students or some indication of where they might be. It had seemed logical to start with the path he considered the most dangerous – the one that led to the lair of Hagrid’s Acromantula friend and his now-enormous brood. Severus had followed that path to this spot, but he was having some difficulty accounting for what he now beheld.

He stood at the edge of a clearing in the Forbidden Forest. Before him, nosing in the grass, stood a few of the thestrals in the school’s herd. This was rather curious behavior for carnivores, but it seemed explicable in light of the large quantity of spent and broken arrows that littered the clearing. Centaurs had fought here earlier tonight. In the aftermath of a battle, there would be blood on the ground. This raised the question of whom or what the centaurs had fought. Across the clearing, by the light of the stars and moon, Severus could see a trail of smashed and uprooted trees. Centaurs had not caused that. It suggested nothing smaller than a dragon, or a giant, an issue to take up with Hagrid at some point.

It strained credulity to suppose that so unusual an event had no connection to the disappearance of Potter and his gang, but he saw no sign of them now. Had the creature that had left the trail of bent and broken trees in its wake harmed them? Had the centaurs captured them? The centaurs should know. If he went on foot, he would likely end up sharing that fate, he realized, though the presence of the thestrals gave him the option of riding.

As Severus approached the one standing nearest to him slowly, it sidled away. Taking the silver knife he used in potion making out from inside his robes, he drew it across his left forearm, leaving a shallow cut that started to ooze blood. The thestral raised its head, and its nostrils widened as it picked up the smell of fresh blood. Interested now, it approached him to lick his arm. He swung himself onto its back, wound his left hand into its long mane, and directed it to the centaurs’ settlement. His stomach lurched and his left hand tightened convulsively as the beast sprang upwards and with steady beats of its powerful wings, rose up over the trees. Severus, however, did not admire the view. He was too busy staying on the beast. While falling off it held no danger for him, he recognized a mount might have other uses in the event the centaurs proved hostile to him.

As the thestral reached a height that suited it, Severus relaxed his grip on its mane. After a minute or two of flight, the thestral began to descend. Looking down, he saw, far below him, the campfires of the centaurs. As the thestral spiraled downwards, Severus was not surprised to note that there was a great deal of activity despite the lateness of the hour, especially around a large fire at the center of the encampment. He directed the thestral to land a short distance away from the fires. A centaur galloped up, arrow nocked and aimed at him. The guard must have seen him flying overhead, Severus deduced. Instinctively, he tightened his grip on the wand he held in his right hand. He kept it lowered, though, not wishing to be provocative.

“Who are you, wizard, and why are you trespassing on our territory?” the centaur challenged him.

“I am Professor Severus Snape, a teacher of Hogwarts School,” Severus identified himself clearly. “I am seeking students who may be lost in the forest. In my search, I saw evidence of a battle, and blood spilled. I wish to ascertain whether the students were involved, and see to them if they are injured.”

“You think we are savages, to leave injured foals unattended? Or do you merely believe us ignorant of healing?” the guard demanded, his expression indignant.

“Neither,” Severus replied, keeping his voice level in spite of his rising annoyance. “I know well that your people are familiar with the healing properties of plants, and would not leave an injured captive untended, let alone a child. Their well-being, however, is my responsibility.”

“You have broken our laws by coming here!” the guard said.

“I regret the necessity,” Severus said. “I have no desire to trespass on your territory and break your laws, and would not have considered such a course of action, were it not for the possible danger to students under my care.”

“Your excuses will not sway me! We will take you captive and let our leader deal with you,” the centaur declared.

Centaurs had no love for humans, Severus recalled, but surely, this one was unusually hostile. He had made no hostile move, and had provided an excuse for his presence that even they ought to accept, if with ill grace. Something about the night’s events must not be sitting well with them.

“If the students I seek are already captive within your camp, I will surrender my wand willingly, and make whatever restitution your leader requires for our trespass,” Severus said. The prospect did not particularly appeal to him, but he was well aware of his own limitations. Fighting off a herd of angry centaurs to rescue their captives without risking serious injury to anyone involved was beyond him. As a fellow captive, he would be in a position to disabuse Potter of any notion that Black needed rescue, anyway.

“Hmm, you at least have some notion of the proper way to address a centaur,” the guard said grudgingly. “Unlike your so-called Headmistress.”

“You have seen Dolores Umbridge, then?” Severus asked urgently. That explained the attitude, anyway. An encounter with her would not leave anyone well disposed towards Hogwarts staff.

“Indeed, I have, and you will be joining her,” the centaur replied.

“What about the boy and girl who were with her?” Severus asked. “I cannot surrender if the children are not here. I am the only one looking for them.”

“Then we will take you by force, for they ran away into the forest at our approach,” said a voice behind him. Severus turned the thestral, which bucked nervously. Three more centaurs had arrived to encircle him.

However, the new arrival had provided all the information he wanted. Neither Potter nor Granger were here, and they had given Umbridge the slip. Focusing his will, Severus cast a spell and his wand gave off an extremely bright flash of light. At the same time, he dug his heels hard into the thestral’s sides. The beast threw itself upwards with a violence that nearly unseated Severus. The centaurs, blinded as Severus himself was by the dazzling magical light, failed to adjust their aim as the thestral took to the air, and the first flight of arrows missed.

Severus, bent low and clinging to the thestral’s neck with his left arm where he had been thrown by his mount’s ascent, cast Disarming Charms down at random as the thestral rose. He heard a bowstring twang as it snapped, and its owner yelled an imprecation up at him. The thestral whinnied in pain, and an arrow whistled past Severus’s head as the centaurs shot their second flight of arrows. Still leaning down, he cast a Shield Charm in the direction of the ground. The beast redoubled its efforts to distance them from the centaurs. Abruptly its efforts flagged, and Severus saw that an arrow had evaded his charm and lodged itself in the heavy muscles around the creature’s shoulder. He yanked it free and ran his wand along the bleeding wound, closing it with a muttered incantation. Eased, the thestral rose higher. Severus leaned back down and cast another Shield Charm as the next flight of arrows rose into the air. They bounced off harmlessly and the thestral sped away over the trees, finally out of reach of the centaurs.

Back in the clearing, Severus slid off and examined the damage the creature had sustained. A long scrape along one flank he quickly healed with another incantation. The arrow lodged in the upper hind leg was more worrisome. Severus Petrified the thestral to keep it still, and took a closer look. Luckily, the arrow had glanced off a bone and the tip had not penetrated deeply. He pulled the arrow free and closed the wound with a final incantation, before unfreezing the thestral. It walked gingerly over towards its fellows.

Having tended to his mount, Severus took stock of what he had learned. Umbridge, along with Granger and Potter, had encountered the centaurs, and the students had gotten away. Yet, apparently, they had not taken advantage of Umbridge’s capture to return to the school. Severus checked his watch. Yes, even with the side trip to the encampment, if he left now, he could be back at the castle in far less time than Potter and his gang had been missing. Yet none of them had turned up. After dropping the problem of Black in his lap earlier that evening, Potter had not even bothered to check back with him to learn what he had done about it.

Severus knew why, of course. With his usual arrogance, Potter had decided to handle the matter himself, to take on the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters in the company of five other schoolchildren. The presence of the thestrals, attracted by the carnage (a mystery for another day), had provided Potter with the means to travel to the Ministry, and he had gone.

His decision to contact the Order as soon as he had shed Draco had proved correct, anyway, Severus realized. The Order really was needed. Even now, a battle probably raged in the Department of Mysteries. What did this mean for him? Obviously, the Dark Lord would want to know how the Order had gotten there. He might be summoned at any time. Failure to appear tonight would be as good as an admission of guilt. He would go if he had to, act blithely unaware, and claim ignorance of the Order’s activity if asked. But not of Potter’s fears, he reminded himself. Draco had connected Potter’s cryptic remark to Black, which could eventually reach the Dark Lord’s ears.

While he waited, should he go back to the school? There was, after all, the small chance that his reasoning was incorrect and Potter had not used the thestrals. Yet if Potter had simply returned to the castle more slowly than he expected, surely their paths would have crossed.

Further, he realized, the forest was his alibi. If he had no idea of the night’s events aside from the disappearance of Umbridge with Potter, searching the forest for them would be his logical move. It behooved him to stay there, and play his role, until one of his masters called for him.

***

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  #4  
Old December 24th, 2007, 6:22 am
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Chapter 4: The Dark Lord’s Wrath

Voldemort had returned from the Ministry beside himself with fury. The Prophecy was destroyed, Potter and the old fool yet lived, and no less a personage than Fudge himself had seen him. His followers, weak, worthless fools all, deserved the worst he could hand out. Bellatrix, Lucius, and those they led, deserved punishment for their failure to seize the Prophecy when his planning and efforts had placed it within their grasp.

Though the blame might lie elsewhere. According to information that Snape himself had helped provide, he had been the only member of the so-called Order of the Phoenix present at Hogwarts that afternoon. Nonetheless, when Potter had left the school, help had arrived for him. The time was coming, perhaps, to remove all doubt surrounding the loyalties of his spy.

Only three of those he had sent to the Ministry had come at his call, and stood before him waiting to hear his will. The others he had sent to the Ministry were missing; whether too afraid to face him, or so inept they had been captured, he would ascertain later. Neither flight nor prison would long preserve Malfoy from the punishment he so richly deserved for this new failure. Voldemort already had an inkling how this might be accomplished in Lucius’ absence. The other Death Eaters he had summoned stood behind them, watching, doubtless grateful not to have attracted his attention.

Voldemort scanned the frightened, downcast faces of the trio standing together before him, in front of the others, allowing his eyes to rest on each guilty party in turn. They had failed him, had failed to provide him with the prophecy orb he had plotted to obtain all year. He should kill them, weak, worthless fools all, but followers had their uses, and the unfortunate truth was that these included one of the best he had.

“I am waiting for an explanation, my friends,” he said quietly, and watched them flinch at his words. None found the courage to address him, so he allowed the silence to linger, increasing their fear and dread. The room grew quiet, except for the breathing of his Death Eaters, made harsh and loud by the emotion he inspired. Which was as it should be.

He paced back and forth in front of the empty marble fireplace a few times, savoring the moment, but also choosing to draw it out just long enough to heighten the fear, before spinning and stopping in front of one of them. A woman, tall for her sex, but still shorter than he, her usually proud bearing notably absent. Her head was bowed like those of the others, and, this close, he could see that she was trembling in fear.

“Bellatrix!” he addressed her. “Perhaps you will explain to me how Dumbledore and his Order came to be at the Ministry? I had thought,” he said, then paused to look around at the others, lest any begin to feel safe now that he had selected a target, “that a party of my Death Eaters would suffice to overpower the virtual Squib that mans the night desk at the Ministry, and a single Order guard?”

“Have mercy, My Lord,” she cried out fearfully. “We have failed you. But truly, we carried out your orders as planned; you can ask any of us.”

“How so?”

“The Ministry guard we Stunned, Obliviated, and locked in a closet for cleaning supplies,” Bellatrix said, looking pleadingly up at her master. “The Order guard we overwhelmed immediately; she had no opportunity to send any message. Since we were able to take her alive, we thought she might prove useful, and sent my companions away with her,” she finished. As she spoke, she indicated the squat man and woman standing with her, before gesturing at the magically bound, unconscious woman sitting propped against the wall.

“Then how, I repeat, did Dumbledore come to be at the Ministry?” Voldemort demanded.

The captive Order member would doubtless confirm Bellatrix’s story, but Voldemort had no desire to provide her with that reassurance at present. Her story, doubtless true, raised an issue he would need to deal with later, he reflected, that of Snape. If Snape’s information was to be trusted, he had been the only Order member left at the school yesterday. With the Ministry’s grip on Owl and Floo communication, confirmed by Malfoy through his contacts, Potter should not have been able to reach anyone outside the school. Yet the Order had arrived.

“I…I don’t know,” Bellatrix replied in a tremulous voice into the silence that had followed his question.

“Then perhaps you can explain to me instead why you did not obtain the Prophecy from Potter the moment he had it? His mind is as an open book before my powers – I saw it break, far from the Hall of Prophecy,” Voldemort said.

“Lucius-” she began.

“Lucius is not here, Bellatrix!” Voldemort said dangerously. “I asked you.”

She fell to her knees, reaching for the hem of his robes. “Master, please – I tried –”

Voldemort raised his wand and pointed it down at her.

“Crucio!” he said clearly.

She shrieked and writhed on the floor under the influence of his spell. For a few glorious moments, he allowed the anger he felt, that Dumbledore had not fallen to his Killing Curse, that Potter had eluded him, that his plan had failed, course through him unchecked, its wildness lending power to his magic and bringing the woman at his feet to new heights of agony. Regretfully, he at length raised his wand and stepped away from the sobbing, shivering heap that still reached, vainly, for his robe. Others were to blame at least as much as she, and he could use her to impose upon them a measure of the punishment they, too, deserved.

The door to the room swung open, revealing Nagini’s triangular head. The noise must have attracted her. Voldemort watched as she slithered into the room, past the quivering Bellatrix, and arranged herself at the foot of one of the two armchairs that flanked the fireplace. As always, he found himself soothed by watching the grace and power of her movements, a fitting, living symbol of the House whose last heir he was.

“This failure,” he said, addressing all present, “has brought upon us the next phase of our operations, for my return will shortly be public knowledge. We have planned for this day, my friends, and you know your duties. Leave now to alert the others, and be ready to carry out your roles when called upon!”

A chorus of assent from those who had watched the little drama play out met his declaration. One by one, they approached him to make their obeisance and back away before Disapparating. So, with some trepidation, did the Carrows, departing with their bound prisoner in tow. Soon, only the woman on the floor remained, sobbing quietly. Voldemort seated himself in the armchair Nagini had chosen, and allowed her to place her head in his lap.

He stroked the snake’s jewel-like head idly and considered the woman before him. Whether Lucius would be sent away to Azkaban or was in hiding, she would doubtless be keeping her sister company frequently. Her sister – and her nephew. Lucius had dared trifle with a Horcrux – a guarantee of Voldemort’s immortality. It was time to turn the tables on Lucius, and see how he liked it. A son was the closest a wizard lacking the skill and the ambition to create a Horcrux could get to personal immortality. A paltry substitute, but not everyone had his power and his ambition, he reflected.

“Sit up!” he ordered her sharply.

Awkwardly she rose to her hands and knees and sat back on her heels. She raised her tear-streaked face to his, without quite daring to let her reddened eyes rest on his face.

“You have been spending a good deal of time at Malfoy Manor,” he said.

“Yes, my lord,” she answered quickly, her voice hoarse.

“What can you tell me of your nephew?” Voldemort asked.

“Draco?” she asked, surprised. “I have not seen him since he was a baby, Master,” she added.

“His parents speak of him, do they not?” he asked her sharply.

“Oh, yes, Master. Yes, they do,” she agreed hastily. “My sister is quite proud of him – he is an excellent student, a House prefect, she says, and a Quidditch player too.”

Her babbling, doubtless a consequence of the fear her punishment had inspired, annoyed him. He allowed himself a moment to enjoy the smooth feel of Nagini’s scales under his hand before replying.

“Do I look like that fat fool Fudge? I am not looking to hire him as a paper-pusher, Bellatrix!” Voldemort said.

“Oh, no, Master, of course not,” Bellatrix replied. “His parents have raised him to a proper understanding the importance of blood. Narcissa has mentioned his rivalry with the Potter boy - Draco despises him, for his Mudblood and blood-traitor friends, and his closeness to Dumbledore. His sympathies lie with us.”

“And his skills?”

“He has the talent of his Black forebears,” she replied. “I fear his training may have been neglected, Narcissa does dote on him. It was a source of friction between her and her husband.”

“Young Malfoy is in his seventeenth year, an adult in all but name,” Voldemort said. “I bid you bring him to me. I trust you can find the words to convince him.”

“Yes, my lord. I will bring him as you ask,” she replied, bowing her head submissively. “He will be returning home in a week.”

“Very well. See that you do, and do not try my patience. You may go now,” he said.

She bowed her head again, and then crawled up to him to kiss the hem of his robe. He watched impassively as she struggled up to her feet and Disapparated.

Soon young Malfoy would become his youngest follower. The possibilities of this development brought a smile to his lipless face. Another Death Eater at Dumbledore’s school. Perhaps, if her nephew was all Bellatrix suggested, the old man might even find himself forced to kill the boy, despite his pretensions of superiority. If the old fool refused, then the boy’s failure would be his to punish. He would make sure Bellatrix shared her knowledge of young Malfoy’s difficulties with her sister. It would be a pity if Lucius missed the lesson; fortunately, his wife could keep him informed.

Of course, the old man had to go, eventually. He had stepped between Lord Voldemort and his prey. Worse, he, Lord Voldemort, had tried to kill him – Dumbledore was marked for death. In the aftermath of whatever mess young Malfoy created, Voldemort would learn whether he truly had another follower at Hogwarts.



***

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  #5  
Old January 7th, 2008, 4:37 am
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Chapter 5: Good News and Bad

Severus picked his way blearily along a forest path back towards the castle. The night had passed with no word from Dumbledore or the Dark Lord, and with no further signs of Potter in the forest. The latter had not concerned him overmuch, for he had grown increasingly certain that Potter had flown to the Ministry by thestral. The former had plagued him all night, as he endlessly revisited the same fevered speculations. When had Potter arrived? When had the Order? How long could a battle have raged? Knowing the futility of it, yet unable to stop himself, he had marshaled arguments explaining the silence from both sides. Did it mean he had acted in time? That he had failed?

He had kept his fears at bay initially, by reminding himself that such things could indeed take time. But by even the most generous estimate he had constructed in the dead of night, whatever had happened, it must have been over before dawn. The golden morning sunshine streaming through the branches overhead hurt his weary eyes, but it was as nothing compared to the dread of what he might learn shortly, when he returned to the castle.

“Good morning, Severus!” he heard, and looked up to see Dumbledore, hastening up the path towards him. He saw with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, that Dumbledore’s expression was grave.

As Severus raised his eyes from the path, Albus took in the dark circles under his eyes, and the bits of leaf and twig that adorned his hair and rumpled, bloodstained black robes.

“Good morning, Albus,” Severus replied, forcing himself to comply with the expected niceties rather than jumping straight to the question that had occupied him all night.

“Kingsley led me to believe I might find you here, scouring the Forest for Harry,” Albus said.

“Potter went to the Ministry, I presume,” Severus said, his own nocturnal activities being, in his view, evident at a glance.

Albus confirmed this with a solemn nod.

“Did – did the Order make it to the Ministry in time?” he asked. .

The black eyes fixed him with a mute appeal. Dumbledore realized, with a jolt of surprise, that Severus had not heard of the night’s events. Dumbledore pushed his own curiosity aside for the nonce; it would not be right to keep Severus in suspense any longer, especially in light of the part he had played in averting the disaster that might have been.

“The Order were in time, Severus,” Albus told him with a slight smile. There had been losses overnight, true. What could have happened, had Snape not realized Harry had left for the Ministry, did not bear thinking on. “Harry and the others are all safe, though Miss Granger fell victim to a powerful curse, and Mr. Weasley sustained a serious injury – they are in the infirmary. The prophecy shattered, unheard, and eleven Death Eaters, Lucius Malfoy among them, are in Ministry custody. Lord Voldemort himself came as the battle turned against him, and Fudge himself saw this. I am, therefore, back at Hogwarts, acknowledged to have been correct in my claims about Voldemort’s return.”

“Eleven in custody, and the prophecy destroyed!” Severus repeated. That was quite a victory. So why the grave expression? The answer had to be other losses. “How did the Order fare?” he asked.

Dumbledore’s voice was grave. “Emmeline Vance is missing. She was not at her post when the others arrived. Sirius Black is dead. He was killed as he battled Bellatrix Lestrange, the only Death Eater to escape.”

“Black?” Severus exclaimed, surprised. “I thought he would stay behind, to apprise you of events once you arrived at Headquarters.”

So, Black was dead, Severus thought. He had once believed this to be the thing he desired above all others. When Black had proved not to be the villain all had believed him to be, Severus had accepted the facts, but it had not made him any fonder of the man. Faced with the actuality of his death, Severus was not sure what to feel. He realized he was not following Dumbledore’s response.

“No, I learned what had happened from Kreacher, the House Elf,” Dumbledore was explaining. Severus refocused his attention on the Headmaster.

“Kreacher actually spoke to Harry as he Flooed to check on Sirius, and told him Sirius had left the house,” Dumbledore continued. “He has been cooperating with Narcissa Malfoy in this.”

So Potter’s departure had been a hair less idiotic than Severus had at first believed – he had, at least, some reason to suppose Black in danger. Though what Potter thought he would have done about it alone…Severus shook his head. Lack of sleep was making him think in circles.

“Vance and Black,” Severus repeated. “Despite the Order’s losses, it was a fiasco for the Dark Lord.”

“You had not heard?” Albus asked, feeling he could now satisfy his own curiosity. “I had hoped you might have some definite news regarding Emmeline Vance.”

“No,” Severus said, shaking his head. “Once I confirmed to my satisfaction that Potter had truly left, I expected I would be summoned sometime tonight. Yet I have felt nothing.”

“Surely, Lord Voldemort will want to know how the Order came to be at the Ministry,” Albus said. It was a sign of the extent of Snape’s exhaustion, Albus supposed, that this time he shuddered visibly at the name.

“Indeed,” Severus agreed. “I anticipated a summons all night, and had planned to feign ignorance. My warning is not something he would forgive, especially given how badly things ended for him. If pressed, I might have offered some reasonable hypothesis – a guard who sent a warning, or the like.”

“No one heard anything from Emmeline,” Dumbledore said gravely.

“Well, yes, now I know that,” Severus agreed. “I will have to invent a definite answer anyway, since the Dark Lord is sure to summon me sooner rather than later. Now that we have met, he will expect me to know what happened. Coincidence seems the safest bet. How about – someone, let’s say Shacklebolt, went late to the Ministry, to fetch something from his office. For some reason he checked on Vance, found her absent, and gathered the Order.”

“The night guard was found by Aurors, Stunned, and locked in a closet,” Dumbledore said. “You can claim that Kingsley noticed his absence, and this was why he checked on Emmeline. Kingsley is a good choice, he was actually at Headquarters for some time that night, and so only people already aware of your role in events could break the alibi. This story does not increase your exposure. But do you think Voldemort will believe it?”

Severus rubbed the bridge of his nose, considering the question.

“I don’t know whether this newest suspicious circumstance will swing the balance decisively,” Severus replied. “I believe the Dark Lord remains of two minds about me. Perhaps if I could provide some evidence of action on his behalf….”

His voice trailed off, as his sleep-deprived brain, still giddy with relief, failed to provide an immediate suggestion. Perhaps it was fortunate that the Dark Lord had not summoned him, he thought disgustedly. Albus, he saw, was also lost in thought.

“What about the failure of Potter’s Occlumency lessons?” Severus said, as an idea finally suggested itself. “He does not know about them, but as they failed to prevent the night’s events, I may as well claim credit for that failure.”

“Do it, if you believe it will help,” Dumbledore agreed. “Actually, it is a good way to insert some misinformation. I have in mind that memory you told me you saw in Harry’s mind, of Voldemort speaking to Rookwood. You could present it as a valuable discovery, that Harry is able to access his thoughts without his knowledge.”

“I have been insisting steadfastly on the boy’s utter mediocrity,” Severus objected.

“Voldemort must be aware of the link they share,” Dumbledore said. “He knows even he could not enter the mind of a person miles away from him, under ordinary circumstances. He should recognize that this may also work in Harry’s favor. It could inspire Voldemort to block Harry out, which would in turn prevent him from entering Harry’s mind.”

Severus nodded curtly.

“Very well. I must go see what I can do about extracting Dolores Umbridge from a doubtless irate herd of centaurs,” Dumbledore said. “I suggest you return to the castle and have a strong cup of tea before classes.”

“Oh, you know already,” Severus said. Of course, Albus had doubtless already spoken to Potter, who would know the exact circumstances of her capture. “While you are at it, offer the centaurs my excuses. I may have destroyed a couple of their bows earlier tonight. Of course, you might point out that they caused potentially serious injuries to a thestral in the school’s herd. I hope your return means Hagrid will be back as well. He should really take a look at that hind leg; I’m no expert on the anatomy of thestrals.”

“You weren’t, by any chance, riding the thestral in question, Severus?” Dumbledore asked, with a twinkle in his eyes.

“I was,” Severus confirmed. “My first guess based on what I found in the forest was that Potter and the others had been captured. I did not fancy trying to escape a herd of centaurs on foot.”

“Fair enough. If they complain, I shall object to their attempt to make a pincushion out of one of my teachers,” Dumbledore said. “Well, I have a busy day ahead of me after I deal with Dolores Umbridge, and you need to get back to the castle. Do clean up a bit before class – you are liable to scare your students in your present state.”

Severus did not doubt it. “I will,” he replied with a curl of his lip, as Dumbledore walked off briskly towards the centaurs’ encampment. Severus turned on his heel and strode back towards the castle.

***

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Old January 13th, 2008, 6:02 am
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Chapter 6: The Dark Lord’s Plan

Saturday night found Severus back in the dungeon laboratory, carefully filling bottles with freshly made potions and lining them up neatly on a tray to take up to Madam Pomfrey the following day. Granger’s injury required the administration of no less than ten potions daily, and while most of them were stocked in the infirmary’s stores, Madam Pomfrey had, naturally enough, not expected that she would need enough to cope with the aftermath of a battle against Death Eaters. Severus had spent the better part of the day replacing those, and in larger quantities than previously envisioned by the mediwitch.

Nor was this the only additional work that the fallout from Thursday night had created for him, Severus reflected. As the task at hand required less than his full attention, his mind ran over the things he still needed to get done before the end of the school year. It had fallen to Severus, as Theodore Nott’s Head of House, to arrange matters for the boy following the arrest of his father. Fortunately, it seemed that an aunt, Theodore’s deceased mother’s sister, was willing to accept guardianship of her nephew until his majority, or his father’s release from Azkaban. But Severus still needed an owl from her formally confirming her intentions before he put the boy on the train back to London.

The whirlwind of activity had left the laboratory rather worse for wear – the workbench was spattered with liquids in assorted colors, a dusting of dry potion ingredients covered its surface and the floor below, and various tins and jars of ingredients were arrayed on the shelf above, that needed to be returned to their locations in the storage closet. And in the morning there was another potion to make – for one of the ten potions Granger was taking had to be made fresh. Finally, with the last week of term beginning, there was end-of-year grading to finish up.

A searing pain, shocking in its intensity despite long familiarity, suddenly burned on the inside of Severus’s left forearm: the Dark Lord’s summons. He set the long-necked bottle in his right hand carefully in its place, before striding rapidly out of the room, pausing only to grab a hooded cloak off the hook next to the door.

His mind, moments ago cataloguing the mundane demands on his attention, must shift to other priorities now, Severus knew; his continued usefulness surely depended on the performance he was about to give. As he made his way out of the castle, Severus reminded himself of his immediate goals. Sell the Dark Lord of the story he had made up with Dumbledore to explain the Order’s rescue of Potter, convince the Dark Lord of the danger of continuing to enter Potter’s mind, and see whether it remained in his power to save Emmeline Vance, who had found herself in the wrong place at he wrong time as a result of information he had provided to the Order. Though if she yet lived, Severus doubted it was in a condition even the best Healers at St. Mungo’s could do much to improve….

Clenching his fists and jaw, he pushed the feelings this last chain of thought invited ruthlessly aside, though he could not slow the rapid beating of his heart. He passed the main doors of the castle without breaking his stride, swung the cloak over his shoulders, and raised the hood over his head. As he descended the stone steps beyond the front doors of the castle, he forced his ragged breathing to slow as he fought to make his mind the blank slate he needed it to be before he began the careful construction of the tissue of lies and truth that must serve to divert the Dark Lord’s suspicions.

Once of out the gate, he spun on his heel and Disapparated, as always ignorant of the destination to which the Dark Mark would pull him. He Apparated into the presence of the Dark Lord, stopped himself awkwardly in mid-spin, and dropped immediately to his knees, head bowed.

“Master, I have come at your call,” he said.

He waited, motionless, for the Dark Lord to respond. He had not managed to see yet whether others were present, but recognized the location by the familiar pattern of the faded Oriental rug, all that he could see at the moment.

“You know why you are here,” Voldemort said quietly.

“Yes, My Lord,” Severus agreed, keeping his head bowed. “You wish to know what I have learned from Dumbledore of the events at the Ministry last Thursday night, and of the aftermath.”

“You were at Hogwarts that night,” Voldemort stated.

“Indeed, Master,” Severus said.

“You knew Potter had left the school,” Voldemort said, his eyes flashing dangerously.

“It seemed likely he would try, after receiving the vision you sent, Master,” Severus explained. “Potter spoke of it to me that afternoon.”

“Where was this?” Voldemort asked.

Severus raised his head to face the Dark Lord, inwardly steeling himself as the slit-pupilled eyes, their reddish glow an indication of anger the Dark Lord was not yet revealing, met his own.

“My Lord, he was caught by Dolores Umbridge trying to use the Floo in her office,” he said, allowing the Dark Lord to see his memory of the little scene. “Potter spoke of the vision in obscure terms; only two people present besides his little gang understood anything, as far as I know.”

“Who was the other?” Voldemort asked.

“Draco Malfoy, My Lord. He confided to me later that he realized Potter was talking about his godfather,” Severus supplied.

“Could young Malfoy have communicated with someone else?” Voldemort asked, his voice eager.

It seemed the Dark Lord wanted to blame Draco for this. Doubtless an expression of his continuing anger at Lucius. Recent events could only have increased his anger, Severus knew, and Lucius himself was for the time being out of reach, having been arrested and sent to Azkaban by the Ministry. He hastened to disabuse the Dark Lord of the notion. If nothing else, his own quickness to clear others ought to suggest his consciousness of his own innocence…and the thought of encouraging the Dark Lord’s anger at a student in his care, one he had seen grow up from infancy, sickened him.

“You think Draco sent word to Dumbledore, Master?” Severus asked. As he spoke, he sensed the touch of the Dark Lord’s mind on his, sorting through images of the Slytherins in Umbridge’s office, and his conversation with Draco in the hallway. “That’s not possible. Potter’s gang hexed him and locked him in Umbridge’s office, where he remained until I rescued him. Afterwards, he went to the dormitory for the night.”

“Perhaps you sent word to Dumbledore,” Voldemort said.

It had not taken long for him to bring them to the point. Severus felt the blood drain from his face, and as his weakness had betrayed it anyway, he permitted his expression to reflect his fear for the first time in the conversation. “I, Master?” he asked, his voice hoarse, barely more than a whisper.

“How else did the Order come to be at the Ministry?” Voldemort asked. His eyes narrowed as he gazed intently at Severus, awaiting his response.

“You think they were sent by me!” Severus said, as though horrified realization had suddenly dawned, the words pouring out of his mouth. “No, My Lord, no. Over the past months, I have worked to further your plans. After all I have done, I consider myself fortunate to have managed to convince Dumbledore that I never figured out Potter’s cryptic warning.”

A memory of his meeting with Dumbledore following the Ministry disaster would have to serve, and Severus allowed the Dark Lord to see it.

“I gave you no orders regarding my plans, Snape,” Voldemort said. “How, then, do you claim you have furthered them?”

“Dumbledore sensed your presence in Potter’s mind, on an occasion shortly before Christmas,” Severus explained. “He feared your influence on the boy, and ordered me to teach him Occlumency. I could not refuse the order, yet I knew this would not be your will, Master. You could never have lured Potter away if he had learned.”

He spoke with all the sincerity he could muster, and allowed the Dark Lord to read the truth of his words. It always helped to have some truth on which to anchor the lies.

“You sabotaged the lessons and Dumbledore never suspected you?” Voldemort asked.

“I was fortunate in my student, Master,” Severus replied smoothly. “He has no more talent for Occlumency than he has for any other subject, and has the arrogance to suppose he does not need to do anything I suggest. He never practiced on his own, nor could he hide this fact from Dumbledore, when I complained of it.”

He called up a sampling of memories, of Potter yelling petulantly at him in his office or sulking at him uncooperatively, and faced the Dark Lord’s probing gaze unflinchingly. A long silence ensued as the Dark Lord weighed the story.

“Then why was the Order there?” Voldemort asked.

Severus wondered whether this meant that his claim of innocence had been accepted.

“Rotten luck, I gather,” Severus said bitterly, “though Dumbledore called it good fortune. The Auror Shacklebolt, an Order member, made a late visit to his office,” he continued. “Not finding the Ministry’s night guard at his post, he thought to check on Emmeline Vance. She was the Order’s guard by the Department of Mysteries. Finding her gone as well, Shacklebolt went to Headquarters, led the Order members present back to the Ministry, and notified Dumbledore. Vance is still missing, Dumbledore tells me.”

It would prove a dangerous lie if Shacklebolt ever fell into the wrong hands, Severus reflected. Another risk made necessary by Potter’s escapade, for the truth would be unforgivable in the eyes of the Dark Lord, who had bent his energies on the problem of gaining the prophecy for a year only to lose it in the end. Fortunately Shacklebolt was reputed a skilled fighter and not very likely to be taken alive. This was why Severus had chosen him, naturally.

“Dumbledore can read the newspaper to learn more of Vance,” the Dark Lord said with a cold laugh that sent a shiver down Severus’s spine.

He curled his lip in the expected response to the sally, though his stomach twisted inside him. That did not sound good. Though, as she had been missing for forty-eight hours, confirmation that she was in the Dark Lord’s hands was no surprise.

“So, you pretended ignorance to Dumbledore,” Voldemort said.

“Yes, My Lord,” Severus explained. “Dumbledore was impressed with the evidence of my devotion to the safety of the Potter brat when he found me in the forest early Friday morning, tired, bedraggled, and oh so worried. It made him that much more amenable to my tale of woe once he asked why I had not warned him of Potter’s vision.”

Silence fell, as Voldemort’s eyes bored into Snape. He waited for the decision. Would he be believed? Would the Dark Lord’s inability to catch him in a lie permit him to slip out once more?

“Enough about that matter,” Voldemort said, finally. “Before you leave, have you anything further to report?”

“There is something, My Lord,” Severus said, mindful of Dumbledore’s request. “I learned something you should know regarding the Potter boy over the past months.”

Voldemort’s face grew intent, and he fixed his glowing red eyes on Severus’s face. Severus again made eye contact.

“I saw a memory of Potter’s, during his Occlumency lessons,” Snape recounted. “A memory of Rookwood, kneeling before you as I am now, in this very room.”

“Rookwood’s face was in the newspapers with the others,” Voldemort said dismissively.

Severus concentrated, trying to recall what he had seen in Potter’s mind. He raised his eyes to Voldemort’s.

“Here, Master, is what I saw,” he said. “I believed it to have been a true memory of yours, for Potter has not seen this room, surely?”

He could feel the Dark Lord’s gaze boring into him, and after the Dark Lord withdrew his probing, Severus saw his snakelike eyes had widened in surprise at what he had seen.

“In addition, My Lord, there was one time he caught me off guard and managed to see a few of my memories,” Severus added. “Nothing important, childhood reminiscences, but surprising nonetheless. It suggests that what little talent he has for mental magic lies in Legilimency.”

Voldemort nodded his head in consideration.

Encouraged by this reception, Severus ventured, “If Potter manages to blunder into something significant, My Lord…the connection might prove to be a double-edged sword.” He paused for a moment, then added for good measure, “I doubt even Potter would fall for an implanted vision again.” He had done what he could with Dumbledore’s idea. It certainly looked as though the Dark Lord was taking this seriously.

“Indeed, perhaps I have gained what I could already,” Voldemort said. “So, what has Dumbledore been up to since?”

“Master, as I believe you know, he resumed his position at Hogwarts Friday morning. After inquiring about my actions that night, he confirmed the arrest of eleven of the twelve Death Eaters present at the Ministry, all but Bellatrix, as well as the death of Black, the disappearance of Vance, and the proof of your return. I know him to have met with Fudge today, though I know not about what. He seemed ill disposed, at supper tonight. His orders for me are to learn what I may of changes to your plans, now that your return is public knowledge, and to seek news of Vance.”

Voldemort listened to this account without interrupting it.

“Very well. You may confirm we have captured her, that my plans to infiltrate the Ministry proceed apace, and that he may expect my Death Eaters to cease the restraint which I had imposed on them while my return was in doubt.”

“I am pleased to hear it, My Lord,” Severus said smoothly, “and to provide what information I may glean from the Order to assist-”

“The details of these plans need not concern you, as your post remains Hogwarts,” Voldemort said coldly. “Dumbledore, too, ought to accept that as a reason for you not to know the particulars.”

Severus nodded his head, as a nagging worry began to take root in his thoughts. His post at Hogwarts would logically preclude his active participation in Imperiusing Ministry officials and the like, but Voldemort knew well that the Order had members at the Ministry. His information, at least, ought to have been sought, unless…

“I have, however, made a new plan which does concern Hogwarts, and thus, you,” Voldemort continued, and Severus hastily focused his full attention on this change of subject. “You are to speak of it to nobody, least of all to Dumbledore.”

“I would be pleased to assist,” Severus said silkily, covering his moment of distraction.

“Your assistance is not needed at present,” Voldemort said. “I will secure the services of another at Hogwarts.”

At present? Did the Dark Lord mean that his assistance might be required later? And who was this other person?

“I would not, however, have you inadvertently interfere with the mission, as you did with Quirrell’s,” Voldemort added.

“I had no idea –” Severus began.

“Which is why I am fully informing you of young Malfoy’s task, so you can be sure to stay out of his way,” Voldemort interrupted. “I have decided he is to kill Albus Dumbledore.”

For a moment Severus’s face registered his shock. That Voldemort would like to rid himself of his adversary was no surprise, but expecting Draco to succeed at such a task was ridiculous.

With a sinking feeling, Severus realized The Dark Lord did not mean Draco to succeed. Draco had no chance acting openly, and secretly – it still seemed unlikely. And of course, Draco would not now have the advantage of surprise, though this argument was hardly one Severus could present to the Dark Lord.

“He will surely fail!” Severus exclaimed. “Alone, untrained, against a powerful and skilled wizard nearly ten times his age?”

“His aunt can train him over the summer,” Voldemort said.

“With all due respect to Bellatrix, My Lord-”

“Are you questioning me, Snape?” Voldemort said dangerously.

Severus bowed his head in submission. “Never, Master,” he replied softly.

“I want you to keep your hands clean for the present. If Draco succeeds you may remain at Hogwarts and continue to serve me as a spy,” Voldemort said.

“And if he fails, My Lord?” Severus asked. It sounded as though the Dark Lord did not expect him to stay around if Draco failed.

“That would be unfortunate,” said Voldemort. “I suppose I would have to take other measures.”

Severus’s stomach churned as he realized what those other measures might be, as he suspected he was meant to realize. Draco would fail, he and his parents would suffer the Dark Lord’s wrath, and the task would fall to him. If he was not to assist Draco, he did not need to know Draco’s mission-a simple order to stay out of Draco’s way would have sufficed. And yet the Dark Lord had just told him. It was a test. He could fail it by preventing Draco’s assassination attempt. On the other hand, if Draco failed, he would fail it when he did not himself carry out the order. His time as a spy was running out.


***

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Last edited by arithmancer; May 14th, 2010 at 4:26 am.
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Old January 22nd, 2008, 6:41 am
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arithmancer  Undisclosed.gif arithmancer is offline
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Author’s Note: This chapter includes a scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 38, “The Second War Begins”. The dialogue in that scene is therefore all Rowling’s.

+++

Chapter 7: The Problem of Draco

One of the potions Granger’s injury required needed to be made fresh daily. It was this that had occupied Severus Sunday after breakfast. A glance at the clear, amber liquid in the cauldron assured him that he was finished. Taking a small bottle off the shelf, Severus carefully ladled it into the bottle and stoppered it, before tucking it into an inside pocket of his robes.

He extinguished the flame under the cauldron, and spent a few minutes cleaning out the cauldron, putting his ingredients away in the proper places in the cupboard, and sweeping up bits of ingredients and spilled potion with a flick of his wand before heading up the stairs to Madam Pomfrey’s office. As he climbed the stairs to the Entrance Hall and opened the door, he heard Potter’s voice.

“…I expect they will,” Severus heard. “Still, at least everyone knows what scumbags they are now.”

As Severus stepped through the door, he saw Potter whip his wand out and train it on Malfoy. Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle, he saw now, were the intended targets of Potter's remark, and it did not require any context to understand that the "scumbags" to whom Potter referred, however justifiably, were the fathers of those boys. Malfoy's hand had flown towards his pocket, but Potter’s quickness, which reminded Severus unpleasantly of his father’s at the same age, was too much for Draco. Crabbe and Goyle, Severus noted without surprise, did not even react.

“Potter!” Severus said, pitching his voice to carry across the Entrance Hall.

Potter turned toward him, wearing a mulish expression.

“What are you doing, Potter?” Severus asked coldly, as he walked up to the group of boys.

“I’m trying to decide what curse to use on Malfoy, sir,” said Potter. His rare use of proper address only served to underline his cheek, as the boy doubtless intended, judging from the hostility of his tone and look

Severus held his gaze, but as angry images of the boy’s godfather started swimming in the boy’s mind, Severus broke eye contact.

“Put that wand away at once,” he said curtly. “Ten points from Gryff-”

He had looked up towards the giant hourglasses on the walls, to observe the effect of his taking of points. Severus smiled, as he saw that no rubies remained in the glass.

“Ah. I see there are no longer any points left in the Gryffindor hourglass to take away. In that case, Potter, we will simply have to-”

“Add some more?”

Professor McGonagall stood framed by the open doorway to the castle. She was leaning heavily on a walking stick, he saw, but it appeared that her injury had healed sufficiently that it had not prevented her from ascending the stairs to the castle’s entrance. Her tartan carpetbag was clutched in her other hand, and her face showed no sign of strain from the long walk to the castle. Having noted these particulars, Severus was pleased to conclude that her recovery was nearly complete.

“Professor McGonagall!” he said, striding forward to greet her. "Out of St Mungo's, I see!”

“Yes, Professor Snape,” said Minerva, as she shrugged off her traveling cloak. “I’m quite as good as new. You two - Crabbe – Goyle –”

She beckoned them with her stick, and they shuffled awkwardly towards her at her command.

“Here,” she said, thrusting her things at the boys, “take these up to my office for me.”

They turned without a word and stumped away together in the direction of her office.

“Right then,” said Minerva, as she observed the status of the Gryffindor hourglass, with considerably less amusement at the sight. “Well, I think Potter and his friends ought to have fifty points apiece for alerting the world to the return of You-Know-Who! What say you, Professor Snape?”

“What?” blurted Severus, caught off-guard by this suggestion. She intended to ]reward the boy for his reckless and unnecessary escapade? He could have been killed! Surely, even a Gryffindor could see…. Evidently not. “Oh - well - I suppose…” he said resignedly.

“So that’s fifty each for Potter, the two Weasleys, Longbottom and Miss Granger,” said Minerva, and rubies cascaded into the bottom bulb of Gryffindor's glass. “Oh - and fifty for Miss Lovegood, I suppose,” she added as an afterthought. A number of sapphires fell into Ravenclaw's glass. “Now, you wanted to take ten from Mr. Potter, I think, Professor Snape - so there we are…” Ten rubies rose back up into the top glass.

“Well, Potter, Malfoy, I think you ought to be outside on a glorious day like this,” she continued.

Potter thrust his wand back into his robes and headed out the door without a backward glance. Severus was not sad to see him go. Since he had learned of the Dark Lord’s plans for Draco, he had hoped for a chance to sound the boy out before the end of term.

“A word with you, Malfoy,” Severus said, as Draco sought to follow Potter’s example. “If you will excuse us, Professor McGonagall.”

“Certainly, Professor Snape,” she said with a smile. “I shall go put away the things your students were kind enough to take up for me.”

As she headed for the marble staircase, Draco stood in the open doorway looking resentful as he watched Minerva ascend to the first floor, her stick clunking rhythmically on the steps. Severus joined him in the entryway.

He glanced down at Draco, reminding himself to choose his words carefully. If it was still possible to keep the boy from entangling himself in the Dark Lord’s plans, this might be his only opportunity to do it. His thoughts were interrupted.

"Potter is insufferable. He was gloating about putting my father in jail!" Draco said in a fierce undertone.

"Nonetheless, Draco, it was not prudent to go looking for a fight with Potter under the circumstances," Severus replied just as quietly.

"The circumstances? You mean my father in jail? I'm not ashamed of it!" Draco retorted, rather too vehemently for Severus to believe the sincerity of the sentiment thus expressed.

Praising Lucius's service did not appeal, and would not serve anyway, Snape decided. His goal was to keep the boy from following the father's footsteps.

"Potter is, for the time being, the darling of the press and the public," Severus replied with a quelling look. "You have your reasons not to care for him, but there is no call to advertise them."

"Before, nobody was supposed to know that…that he had returned," Draco objected. "Now-"

"Things are likely to heat up, yes," Severus confirmed. "Though not at Hogwarts. Dumbledore and the Ministry will see to it. You'd do best to keep your head down and focus on your education-"

"My father fought!" Draco interrupted.

"Lucius is a fully qualified and highly skilled wizard," Severus pointed out reasonably. "Yet even he failed in his mission-”

Draco flushed.

"He failed, because he did not know Dumbledore was coming! Isn't knowing that your job?!" he blurted out angrily.

"How could I know, with Dumbledore on the run from the Ministry?" Severus asked pointedly. "Lucius would give you the same advice if he could, Draco."

"That's easy for you to say, with him in jail," Draco retorted. "You're not my father-"

He stopped and gave a little wave of his hand. Severus turned, and saw Crabbe and Goyle approaching the top of the marble staircase.

Draco took a step towards them as they began stumping back down the stairs, and Severus grasped his arm. Draco jerked free and said in a loud whisper, "You think you're his favorite, now that my father is in jail, and I should take your advice. But my father'll be freed, and then you'll see…."

Severus watched, his heart heavy, as Draco rejoined his friends. Easier prey for the Dark Lord would be hard to find, alas. The boy wanted revenge, and had no conception of the dangers that awaited him, from the side at which he would so eagerly throw himself. With a sigh, he headed up towards Madam Pomfrey’s office.

+++

Locket, ring, cup, snake … Albus recited the list to himself, yet again, as he ran his finger absently over Fawkes’s crest. The Phoenix, perched gently on his forearm, crooned softly, a calming sound. His feathers shimmered in the light of the afternoon sun that streamed in through the tall window. Any, or, hideous thought, all, of these items, Albus deemed, would be considered worthy of housing a fragment of his soul by Lord Voldemort. Ever since Harry had destroyed the diary, an object Albus did not doubt had been a Horcrux of Voldemort, and not the only one, Albus had pursued his researches into Tom Riddle’s past, seeking clues as to what other objects he might have made Horcruxes, and where they might be hidden. With Voldemort’s return official, and a second reign of terror sure to start soon, it was past time for Albus to move into the next stage of his plan – the actual location and destruction of the remaining Horcruxes.

The difficulty, of course, was making sure he destroyed then all before he told Harry the final, dreadful truth he must one day learn. Albus hoped the boy might survive the removal of that final piece of Voldemort’s soul, but whether or not he did, it was too awful to consider that he might send the boy to his possible death, only to discover that Voldemort remained immortal still. The information Albus needed to discover, urgently, was how many there had been.

He even knew the most likely source of that information, the only other person he had managed to discover who was aware of Tom Riddle’s interest in Horcruxes. Horace Slughorn was in greater danger than ever now that Voldemort was free to act openly. That he might be killed before he could be persuaded to divulge the true memory, without the omissions and alterations he had so obviously made to it to make himself look better in the one he had shared with Albus, was a nagging fear. Dumbledore could only hope to protect Slughorn here, at Hogwarts. Which meant bringing him back to teach Potions. And that meant moving Snape to DADA.

Just for a year, Albus reminded himself. He would make that explicit in the offer – Severus could resume Potions the following year. Yet how to ask him to take the position? The secret of Voldemort’s Horcruxes was one Albus would not share with anyone, however reliable they had proved themselves. Albus deemed himself more capable than any for the task, and its discovery could end all hope of ending Voldemort. A wizard who had already made more than one Horcrux could not be expected to hesitate to make more, should his danger become known to him. No, he would find and destroy them all himself.

Albus’s eyes twinkled as the answer came to him. Just in time, for there was a firm knock on the door that was probably Severus, come to report on yesterday’s meeting with the Dark Lord.

“Come in!” Albus called, as he walked over to return Fawkes to his perch. The golden bird fluted, then fluttered his wings and stuck his beak into his water bowl to drink.

Severus stepped in and closed the door behind him, waiting for Dumbledore to finish.

“So, Severus, you have news for me?” Albus asked, after they had exchanged greetings.

“Yes, I was called to the Dark Lord last night,” Severus replied, standing as he waited for the Headmaster to take his seat behind the desk.

“Did you receive any indications regarding the fate of Emmeline Vance?” Dumbledore asked the question, though three days after her disappearance, he had little doubt what the answer would be.

“I can confirm that she was captured, and I believe she is being held in the very house I was in,” Severus replied. “I expect her to be killed, eventually, as the Dark Lord joked of your reading of her fate in the papers.”

His tone was calm, but Albus saw that he curled and uncurled the fingers of his left hand as he spoke.

“And you do not know where this house is,” Dumbledore commented as he lowered himself into his chair, his face grave.

Severus confirmed this with a reluctant shake of his head, and sat down in his accustomed seat in front of the desk.

“Would you say that your story regarding Thursday night’s events was accepted?” Dumbledore asked, after a heavy silence.

“I am not certain,” Severus replied, “though the Dark Lord said nothing to indicate he doubts it.”

“Did you bring up the Occlumency lessons as you intended?” Dumbledore inquired.

“Yes, I did, and I followed your suggestion. He was skeptical, but when I shared Potter’s memory of Rookwood with him, it gave him pause,” Severus reported.

“That is good news, anyway,” Dumbledore commented.

“Yes, we may hope he will stay out of Potter’s thoughts,” Severus agreed.

“And have you learned aught of his plans?” Dumbledore asked.

“The Dark Lord hinted there would be Death Eater attacks, now that his return is made public. And he confirmed that he plans to continue his subversion of the Ministry,” Severus said, “though he shared no details of any plans for this with me. It is true that he envisions no role for me in this plan, yet I sensed his silence might betoken a lack of faith.”

Albus sighed. “And the Ministry is ripe for the picking. We can but try to do what little we may to delay these plans, and prepare for the very real possibility that he will succeed in taking it over, then. Was there any other reason you feel you are suspected?”

“Indeed, yes,” Severus replied. “He told me of a new plan.”

Albus’s eyes grew more intent.

“He intends to have Draco Malfoy kill you next year, Albus,” Severus went on.

“You say Voldemort was not convinced by your story,” Dumbledore commented. “Yet, he has entrusted you with the information that Draco is to kill me?”

“Ostensibly, I was told in order to keep me out of Draco’s way,” Severus replied. “In truth, I believe he wants to see what I will do with the knowledge. Quirrell was mentioned.”

“I see,” Dumbledore said. He sat in thoughtful silence for a few moments.

“This is unwelcome news,” he said finally. “How best to handle it will require some thought…for which it appears, fortunately, that we have the time. We need to work out a way to deal with Draco, without showing your hand,” Dumbledore said. “We should give some thought to how we might accomplish this. What is the plan? How is Draco to kill me?”

“I received no details,” Severus answered. “My own orders are simply to stay out of Draco’s way. The Dark Lord did mention, however, his expectation that Bellatrix will be training the boy, so I presume she will be assisting him.”

“Then that must be your top priority,” Albus said. “You will need to learn his plans so that we can make ours accordingly. Perhaps you should approach the boy over the summer.”

“That may prove difficult,” Severus said, remembering the conversation in the Entrance Hall. “It would have been easy with Lucius around; he would expect me to help.”

“Nonetheless-”

“Oh, I will work on it,” Severus assured him.

“Excellent, I leave it up to you,” Dumbledore said.

“I still have some small hopes for the Ministry, as well,” Dumbledore went on. “Fudge is shortsighted and too concerned with public opinion, but I should be able to persuade him, or his successor, to increased security measures to prevent persons or dangerous materials from being brought into the school. This ought to help us to delay the implementation of any plan Bellatrix and Draco might make.”

As the Headmaster laid out his ideas, Severus wondered what it was that made him feel so reluctant to play his role in it. He considered briefly, and then it dawned on him. Draco. He could hardly let the boy kill Dumbledore; it was his duty to worm his way into Draco’s confidence and use what he learned to foil his plans.

Yet, he knew what the price of failure would be for Draco. He had betrayed fellow Death Eaters to unpleasant fates before, Severus reminded himself sternly: Lucius and the others, all in Azkaban because of his warning, Rosier, killed by Aurors while resisting arrest, Karkaroff, though the latter had managed to get himself out of Azkaban, Travers…. The list of names made him no happier.

“Severus?” Albus asked, noting Snape’s lengthy failure to respond. “Do you see a problem with my idea?”

“No,” Severus replied stiffly.

“You do,” Albus contradicted him. “And I want to know what it is.”

“The Dark Lord will kill Draco if he fails,” Severus said. “But as I will certainly not stand by and allow him to kill you, I will simply have to learn to live with that.”

Albus’s face relaxed into a smile.

“I would not wish you to learn any such thing, Severus,” he said gently. “It was your inability to live with another death that brought you to me in the first place. I, too, am concerned about Draco,” he continued. “He may accept the assignment eagerly, but he will learn that killing is not as easy as he supposes. Yet, if we do nothing for him, in the end his choices will be to murder or die. This is why I intend to give him a third choice, when the time comes. I will offer sanctuary to Draco and his parents.”

“So this plan of yours is merely to protect my cover, since Draco’s disappearance over the summer would certainly be suspicious?” Severus asked.

“Yes,” Dumbledore agreed, “not to mention that Draco would doubtless decline the offer at this point.”

“Surely there are ways around that?” Severus asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Since we must wait anyway,” Albus said, “I would have the boy choose freely.”

Severus nodded his head.

“Very well, is that, then, all you have to report?” Albus asked.

Severus nodded again.

“There is a matter I need to discuss with you,” Albus said. “It concerns my perpetual difficulty with filling the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.”

Severus raised an eyebrow and waited for Dumbledore to continue.

“Severus, have you ever wondered why I would not give you the Defense Against the Dark Arts position?”

Severus shrugged.

“It was part of my cover story, I assumed,” he replied, “an indication that you still suspect me of devotion to the Dark Arts. It has served me well, on occasion.”

“Yet you could teach the class,” Dumbledore observed.

“Of course,” Severus replied confidently. He frowned as he added, “It has not, however, escaped my notice that people who accept that position end up regretting it. I harbor no secret longing for it, and would be content to continue as Potions Master.”

“The superstitions that have grown up around the position are indeed well founded,” Dumbledore explained. “The position was cursed – by Voldemort himself. The holder of the position is always, by one means or another, forced to leave by the end of the year. For this reason, the appointment would be for only one year. You could move back to Potions next year.”

“I suppose this is why you asked Moody to come for a year?” Severus asked sardonically.

“Well, yes, that did not work out too well,” Dumbledore conceded. “You, of course, are already believed by Voldemort to be his, so Alastor’s fate, at least, is one we can expect you to avoid. Though I don’t want to understate the risk, Severus,” Dumbledore said.

“I am asking you to take the position, Severus, because of Voldemort’s inroads into the Ministry. Their last appointment, with no input from him, was enough of a disaster, depriving most students of a year of learning; what if next year’s is under his control?”

Severus paled. The possibilities inherent in such a scenario had nearly played themselves out two years ago, when Barty Crouch had succeeded in delivering Potter to the Dark Lord. Even after Potter’s remarkable escape, Crouch had nearly succeeded in killing the boy himself. The stuff of nightmares…Severus recalled the recent bad ends of others who had taken the job. Possession by the Dark Lord, death, permanent memory loss, abduction and imprisonment under the Imperius Curse, the Dementor’s Kiss-discovery by the Dark Lord of his ongoing betrayal could mean any or all of those, and was a risk he was already taking.

“You’ll do it, then,” Albus said with a smile.

Severus gave a curt nod.

***

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  #8  
Old January 26th, 2008, 6:08 am
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Chapter 8: The Dark Mark

Draco Malfoy sat alone in his room, his pale brow furrowed and his thin lips drawn down in a frown, staring out a window framed by luxurious drapes. Outside, a brilliant sunset washed the manor’s extensive grounds in a golden light. His head rested on his arms, which in turn rested on the ornate roll-top desk before him, a valuable French antique originally brought to the manor by a Malfoy bride from France in the eighteenth century. Yet for all their beauty, his surroundings, both inside and out, did nothing to distract him from his dark thoughts, which were ever on the events of the previous week.

Harry Potter. How Draco hated the name, the face, everything about the so-called Boy Who Lived. His cold, grey eyes narrowed as he looked down at that hated face, which smirked up at him from a crumpled issue of the Daily Prophet on the desk. Potter had now acquired the additional epithet, “Chosen One”, and the paper hailed him as a hero because he’d been at the Ministry of Magic when He Who Must Not be Named had appeared there. The night that Draco’s father, Lucius Malfoy, had been arrested and sent to Azkaban. Draco picked up the newspaper and crumpled it into a ball again before flinging it across the room.

The blatant favoritism Dumbledore had always shown Potter, Draco’s competition with Potter on the Quidditch pitch, and Potter’s attention-seeking ways, had all fed a heated rivalry between him and Draco at school. Nevertheless, Draco realized now that in the past, he had only thought he hated Potter. This was the real thing.

Draco remembered with discomfiture his trip yesterday on the Hogwarts Express. With his friends Crabbe and Goyle, he had gone to tell Potter just what he thought of him. They had wound up stuffed onto a luggage rack, hexed into immobility by a group of Potter’s followers. This had given him a long time to think. He realized how stupid he had been, to approach Potter as he had. His anger had been about no schoolboy spat. Potter had helped to put Draco’s father in jail, because there was a war on, and Potter was on the other side. The proper revenge for what Potter had done was not a well-chosen insult or particularly effective hex. It was to help make sure that Potter could not do it again, that he, Dumbledore, and all their blood-traitor and Mudblood allies lost. Draco was still in school, and nearly a year from his majority, but from now on, he would act with that end in mind.

A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.

“Go away, Mother!” Draco yelled in irritation.

“Draco?” a woman’s voice said. It was not his mother’s. Draco flushed.

“Sorry, Aunt Bella. Come in,” he invited her.

He rose hastily to his feet to greet his aunt. Draco barely knew her, having met her for the first time since his infancy only yesterday. Of course, he knew her story, and knew of her boldness in support of the pureblood cause. Until the past spring, she had been in Azkaban prison, serving a life sentence for her actions in support of the Dark Lord.

The door opened to reveal his aunt, a tall, slender woman about his father’s age. With her bone structure and dark coloring, she ought to have been strikingly beautiful, but the long stay in Azkaban her devotion to her cause had won her had aged her beyond her years. The thought renewed Draco’s concern about his father. He had to remind himself that Lucius's sentence was for a shorter term, and the Dementors were no longer guarding the prison.

His aunt entered, stepping over the balled up copy of the Prophet without comment. Draco offered her a seat on the armchair in the corner across from his bed. Once she had seated herself, he turned his chair around to face her and sat back down as well.

“Cissy has told me of your argument this morning,” Bella began.

“So she sent you up here to talk me around to her view?” Draco asked defiantly.

“No, Draco, I came here of my own accord,” Bella replied, “though your mother loves you, and is hurt that you are avoiding her. You could have joined us for luncheon.” Her voice held a note of reproach.

“So, you are here to talk me around,” Draco said with a pout.

“No, Draco,” his aunt contradicted him. “I just don’t like to see Cissy sad. She misses your father and needs your support-”

“But-” Draco interrupted.

“Hear me out!” Bella snapped, her voice commanding.

Her voice, and the stiffening of her spine as she grew angry with his interruptions, transformed the haggard woman in front of him into the aunt he had imagined, when he heard tales of her actions in the first war. For the first time Draco could picture her leading Death Eaters in a fight. He nodded his head and resolved not to interrupt her again. She regarded him for a moment. When he maintained his silence, she continued.

“At the same time,” Bella said, “Cissy is not ready to face what is apparent to me. You are not a boy anymore. You are on the verge of adulthood, ready to act and think for yourself.

“I understand how you feel. I felt much the same way you do, as a young witch. I was eager to go out into the world and accomplish things, to contribute to the struggle, to prove my worth. Cissy tells me that you too are resolved to become a Death Eater, like your father, once you finish school.”

“Yes, I am,” Draco said. “Dumbledore sickens me. Potter is responsible for putting my father in jail. Nothing I can do at school will make up for that. Winning a Quidditch match, or getting a better grade, or making a joke at his expense – what a waste of time.”

“You are right, Draco,” his aunt agreed. “Those are childish things, and it is a credit to you that you see it. So you are resolved, then, to be a Death Eater?”

“Yes, Aunt Bella,” Draco said firmly.

“It is a great and glorious thing, Draco,” Bella said, her eyes shining. “We are the Dark Lord’s closest and most trusted companions, and we struggle together for the victory of our cause. But, you must understand, it is also a difficult and dangerous path. We are fighting a war. It is necessary to follow orders, and there is the possibility of danger, even death.”

“I know,” Draco said. “My father is in jail!” Reminded uncomfortably of the reason that his aunt was a stranger to him, he added, “And I know … what happened to you. I want to do it anyway.”

“Draco, this makes me proud to be your aunt,” Bella said. “I was hoping to hear this, when I came up to the room, because I have a very serious question for you.”

“Yes?” Draco asked.

“You say you would become a Death Eater once you finish school,” Bella said. “Is it your wish to wait? Or do you believe that the Dark Lord would not take you now?”

“I’m not a fully qualified wizard yet,” Draco said, remembering his conversation with Professor Snape. “I couldn’t become a Death Eater!”

“It is not a matter of qualification, a NEWT here or there, Draco,” Bella replied. “We are not the Ministry, to push around dry bits of paper and judge a man’s value by them. Those papers will only prove that you have applied yourself to learn the magic that is in your blood. The Dark Lord values loyalty, and magical talent. Your faithful service is all he asks. Your magical talent requires no proof – the blood of the Malfoys, and of the Blacks, flows in your veins, and he knows the value of it.”

“You’re not saying … I should join now?” Draco asked, his eyes wide with shock.

“That is your decision to make, Draco,” Bella said seriously. “I came to tell you that the Dark Lord has spoken of you to me. If you would join us, he will have you.”

“I will do it,” Draco breathed.

“Very well. I can arrange to take you to him,” Bella said.

***

Draco met his aunt as they had agreed, the following night, in the dungeon room where she hid out when the manor had unreliable visitors. She was waiting for him, hooded and cloaked, her wand out, and its tip glowing brightly. As he came down the stairs, she threw open the door to the secret passage that led out of her hiding place to an outbuilding beyond the edges of Malfoy Manor’s anti-Apparition wards. Draco followed her, feeling some trepidation now. He had never before defied his mother regarding any important matter, and the grave look on his aunt’s face drove home the seriousness of the situation.

“Aunt Bella, where are we going?” he asked her.

“The location is a secret known to very few, Draco. It is not that I do not trust you – I do. There are ways, however, that others might learn secrets from you, against your will, or even without your knowing,” she explained. “I will be teaching you more about that, this summer.”

“Then how will we get there?” Draco inquired.

“Apparition,” Bella answered. “I can perform side-along Apparition with you. Apparition is another skill you will need as a Death Eater, and one I can begin to teach you over the summer as well.”

“What will happen tonight?” Draco asked, his voice quavering slightly. He was resolved, he reminded himself, but this business of attending a secret meeting in an unknown location with the world’s most feared wizard was starting to seem just slightly alarming.

“That is a natural question to ask, and I can give you some answers, Draco,” Bella said reassuringly. “I, too, asked such questions before my initiation.

“I don’t know exactly what will occur. I can tell you what happened to me,” his aunt explained. “I arrived with my sponsor and we stayed back while the Dark Lord spoke to the others present, for the uninitiated may not overhear Death Eater business. Then I was brought forward to meet the Dark Lord. He spoke to me, and I affirmed I wished to join him. Then I received the Mark.”

Bella threw back the long, loose sleeve of her robe and moved her wand to illuminate her bared forearm. In its light, Draco saw a black tattoo of a snake slithering through the mouth of a skull. His aunt’s heavy-lidded eyes seemed to glow as she recalled the moment, and her lips drew back in a smile.

Shaking her sleeve down over her arm, Bella turned and walked on. Draco walked behind her as she continued her explanation.

“I should warn you: that will be painful,” she continued. “Know that we have all gone through it: your father, your uncle, all of us. It is the sign of our dedication and our strength of will. Nor is there any shame if you cry out – it is an honor that you have been invited.”

Draco felt his stomach knotting with dread as he considered her words. Pain frightened him. Surely, it would be no worse than some of his past injuries. Yet something about the way his aunt had spoken of it suggested otherwise. In a bid to strengthen his resolve, he thought of his father, who had undergone the same ordeal. His father would want him to do it, and to be strong. Of course, his father would not see it….

The thought of his father in Azkaban brought back the anger and humiliation of hearing the news, and especially of that awful train ride home, displacing the fear. He would have his revenge on Potter and Dumbledore, and joining the Dark Lord was the first step. If it meant he had to suffer the pain of receiving the Dark Mark, so be it. He would do what it took.

He hastened his steps, for he had fallen behind his aunt in his musings. She had reached the trapdoor and was waiting for him. Proffering her forearm, she instructed him, “Get a good, tight grip on my arm and hold on.”

Draco did as she asked. Abruptly, it felt as though she was trying to twist free of his grasp. He tightened his grip, and found himself in total darkness. It felt as though he were being squeezed under tons of earth and rock.

The awful feeling of compression ceased suddenly and he found himself gratefully breathing in lungfuls of pine-scented air. He was standing with his aunt on a forested hillside. Below a white light glimmered between the trees. Bella set off for the source of the light and Draco followed. As they neared, Draco could see it came from a ruined stone building. Magical lanterns hung at intervals above the jagged remnants of the walls, which were decorated with writing and crudely drawn figures in a seemingly random assortment of colors.

Inside stood a handful of cloaked and hooded figures. Beyond them, Draco caught his first glimpse of the Dark Lord. He was standing on a crumbling stone platform, an enormous snake coiled about his feet as he addressed his followers. Bellatrix indicated they should stop and wait short of the pile of rocks Draco guessed must once have been a staircase.

They stood too far away to hear what was being said, but Draco could see the power of the speaker. His audience was rapt, attentive to every gesture and movement of his body. The black hood the Dark Lord wore hid his face from Draco at this distance, but the pure, bleached bone whiteness of his hands and the unnatural length of his fingers were unlike those of anyone that Draco had ever seen. It suggested that the tales Draco had heard about his use of Dark Magic on himself contained more than a grain of truth. As the Dark Lord turned his head, the opening of his hood for a short moment faced Draco directly, and it seemed to him that something gleamed redly in its depths. A shiver ran down his spine, but Draco chased the fear away by reminding himself, again, why he was here.

He and Bella stood silently for a few minutes. Then a few of the Death Eaters present approached the Dark Lord and knelt to kiss his hem, before rising and leaving the building.

“Bring the candidate forward,” the Dark Lord said. His voice was high and cold, and abruptly quite audible, though he seemed not to have raised his voice. Draco realized he must have flinched, as Bella patted his left shoulder reassuringly. She guided him forward, her hand on his left upper arm, rather in the manner of a father giving away the bride.

Draco found himself standing in front of the Dark Lord. At the sight of the Dark Lord’s face, the fear and doubt he has been keeping at bay rose up again. The skin of his face, white as milk, was twisted into a semblance of a smile. Above his lipless mouth, twin slits took the place of a nose, and above that – Draco saw now that he had not imagined that reddish glow. Resolutely, though he could feel his hands trembling, he forced himself to meet those glowing scarlet eyes. Their pupils, he could see now, were long slits like those of a snake’s eyes. He hoped the fear and revulsion he felt at the Dark Lord’s appearance did not show clearly on his face.

“Draco Malfoy,” the Dark Lord said in ringing tones. “Your father fell captive in my service. Your aunt vouches for you. I therefore extend to you my invitation. Will you pledge your loyalty to me, and become a Death Eater?”

“Yes, My Lord,” Draco replied quietly. He felt a moment of relief that he had managed to keep his voice from faltering.

“Then receive my mark,” the Dark Lord said.

“Here, hold my hand,” Bellatrix whispered in his ear.

Draco extended his forearm, palm up, and allowed his aunt to grasp his hand. She gave him a reassuring squeeze. One of the others placed his hands on Draco’s shoulders.

With an eldritch, lipless smile, the Dark Lord drew his wand and gripped it tightly in his right hand. His eyes glowed redly as he stabbed it down into the tender flesh of Draco’s inner arm. Draco suddenly felt his upper arms pinned to his sides. He heard himself cry out in shock and pain despite his resolve to appear strong. It was unlike anything in his past experience. If no one had been holding him, he felt sure that his knees would have buckled. He could not keep low moans from escaping past his clenched teeth.

Draco looked down at bunched up muscles of his forearm, which had tensed as he gripped Bella’s hand convulsively in response to the pain. A faint outline of the skull and snake symbol of the Dark Lord was visible. How long would this continue? He wondered. A drop of water landed on his arm, and Draco realized he was weeping. The pain went on, seeming endless, as the mark gradually darkened, until it burned a solid, deep black.

The Dark Lord withdrew his wand, and the pain lessened somewhat, though it still burned. Draco sagged in the grip of the man behind him. Bella, a triumphant smile on her face, raised the hand Draco still clasped over her head to display his forearm as the man turned him around to face the others. Behind them, the Dark Lord spoke.

“Welcome our newest comrade, my friends,” he said.

A cheer arose from all present. It was done, Draco realized. The momentary trepidation he had felt as the permanence of this decision sank in gave way to a wash of pride as the others welcomed him – as one of them, an equal, an adult, a comrade-in-arms.

As Draco basked in the glow of his new adult status, Bella led him away while the Dark Lord dismissed the others.

“We will stay – the Dark Lord would speak with us privately after the others leave,”
Bella told him.

One by one, each approached their master and kissed the hem of his robe. Draco made a mental note of how they did this and the words they said, determined to get it right when his turn came. As the last of the others left, the Dark Lord beckoned them back to him.

“Young Malfoy, Bella tells me that you would strike a blow for the cause,” he said.

“Yes, Master,” Draco replied, inclining his head respectfully as he had seen the others do while he watched the meeting with Bella.

“That is well, for I have an important assignment for you,” Voldemort said. “Too much is made of youth, its weakness and innocence, by soft-hearted fools. I wish to exploit this. That you will be returning to school in the fall only suits you better to the task I have in mind. I would have you kill Albus Dumbledore.”

Draco stared at the Dark Lord in shock. His Aunt Bella, standing beside him, gasped. Apparently, this assignment was news to her as well.

Kill Dumbledore? If the Prophet was to be believed (it probably exaggerated) he had single-handedly rounded up eleven Death Eaters just a week ago. His father had been among them, so it was Dumbledore’s fault that he was in jail, Draco reminded himself firmly. That he wanted to kill Dumbledore, though, seemed beside the point – surely he had no chance of success.

“I – I do find it a worthy mission, Master,” he managed to get out.

“I do not expect you to kill him in a wizard’s duel, boy!” Voldemort said, his eyes flashing redly.

Draco could see that his hesitation had angered the Dark Lord. He nodded his understanding and strove to conceal the dreadful certainty he felt that he would never succeed.

“Neither do I expect you to do it alone, without training, or on the first day of the school year,” Voldemort continued. “Your aunt will teach you over the summer. And she may enlist the assistance of others, if it is needed.”

“Yes, My Lord,” Bella spoke up. “I will gladly undertake to train my nephew.”

“Very well,” Voldemort said. Turning back to Draco, he said, “Remember, you are to speak to no one but your aunt about this mission.”

“I will not breathe a word, My Lord!” Draco assured him.

“You may tell your parents, naturally,” the Dark Lord said with a smile. “Their loyalty is not in doubt. I would not have your mother wondering what her son and her sister are planning behind her back.”

Draco listened attentively to the Dark Lord’s words, if only to keep his mind off the dread his assignment inspired. He would have time to learn, and to plan, he told himself. He would not have to do it alone. Aunt Bella would help, and other Death Eaters. His battle to keep the doubt at bay suffered a blow as he realized that he would almost certainly have to do it at Hogwarts, where the Death Eaters could not get in. He recognized, with a sinking feeling, that it would still come down to him alone….

Suddenly it came to him that he had heard something, somewhere quite recently, that might have bearing on the problem. Montague’s story, that he’d heard in the hospital wing, that was it. He had said something about half-leaving Hogwarts and Apparating back, after those red-haired goons had stuffed him into Filch’s broken Vanishing Cabinet. If he could work out a way to do this in reverse, he could bring in Death Eaters to help him!

“If you are careful and cunning, your status as a student will gain you the element of surprise – see that you use it wisely,” Voldemort added.

“Yes, My Lord,” Draco said firmly, looking him in the eyes. “I will make my plans carefully.”

He needed to talk to Montague again, to work out the details, but suddenly the mission was looking like something he could actually accomplish. He began to feel a bit of excitement at the prospect. He had not dreamed, even after he had agreed to come with his aunt, how important his new role would be.

“You are considering your plans already?” Voldemort asked, a hint of a smile playing about his mouth. The Dark Lord was pleased, with him!

“My lord, I have an idea how your orders may be accomplished,” Draco said, “though it will require some research.”

“I will expect to hear of your progress, then,” Voldemort replied. “And now, you may leave.”

“Yes, Master,” Draco replied. Feeling awkward at the unfamiliar ritual, Draco dropped to his knees as he had seen the others do, and brought the hem of the Dark Lord’s robe to his mouth. He rose and backed away, to await his aunt, for he could not Apparate on his own.

***

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  #9  
Old February 3rd, 2008, 7:45 am
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Author’s Note: This chapter includes a scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ch. 33, “The Prince’s Tale”. The dialogue in that scene is therefore all Rowling’s. In addition, I would like to thank my beta-reader Fleur du Mal for her insightful comments on this chapter. I feel her suggestions led to a big improvement.

Chapter 9: The Ring

Soundlessly, Albus Apparated to a spot directly in front of the weathered old signpost he had only ever seen in Bob Ogden’s memories. A crow, startled by his sudden appearance, squawked and took wing, revealing the faded inscription that indicated the direction and distance to the village of Little Hangleton. Had Muggles been present to witness this occurrence, they might well have been as startled as that bird, Albus reflected with a smile. His pointed purple velvet hat, spangled robes, and waist length, snowy white beard were rather out of place in this quiet country lane.

When dealing with the Ministry, though, it could not hurt to look one’s best. Unfortunately, neither his impeccable dress nor his forceful arguments seemed to have any effect on Rufus, who remained convinced that a public relations campaign with Harry as its figurehead was the solution to all of the Ministry’s problems, which were many. Albus winced, remembering the sight of Amelia Bones’s body, which Scrimgeour had shown him, ostensibly to seek his expertise, though the attempt to manipulate his emotions had been transparent to Albus. At least they had managed to come to some agreement about security measures for the school, Albus consoled himself as he turned in the direction indicated and started walking.

The road turned left and sharply down as Albus remembered, revealing a vista of the Riddle manor and village below it. As the lane turned again, this time to the right, Albus saw where once, there had been a gap in the hedge. The growth there was now barely less thick than the rest of the hedge, but the clinging branches drew aside with a flick of his wand, allowing him to pass unhindered before they closed again behind him.

The dirt track on which Albus now found himself was even narrower than he recalled, the wild hedgerows bordering it showing the neglect of decades, and overgrown with vines. At its end, entirely lost in the deep shadows the tangle of ancient trees beside it cast in the setting sun, lay Albus’s destination. He could scarcely imagine a less welcoming sight. At the time of the removal of the last of the Gaunts to Azkaban, it had already been in a pitiable state, roof tiles falling, moss growing on the walls, and nettles growing rampant around it. Now, there were gaping holes in the roof, and shards of glass hung where once there had been windows. Albus considered it for a moment, considered his best approach, and then cast his first incantation, seeking to uncover the spells he suspected Voldemort had cast on the place.

Wards to prevent Apparition and the use of Portkeys were in place, a protection Albus had expected. Their presence increased his confidence that he had guessed correctly what he would find here.

He did not relish the though of a return trip up the steep, narrow track in the dark, especially if in a moment of carelessness he were to sustain an injury. Cautiously, he approached and began circling the hovel, muttering counterspells. A large barn owl, hooting loudly as it flew out through a gap in the roof, nearly broke his concentration, but with a second circuit, he succeeded in lifting the wards.

He stopped in front of the door and faced it, thinking about his next move. He suspected it was locked, or perhaps set to trap one who opened it improperly. He ran his fingers lightly over the frame, sensing the traces of Voldemort’s magic, mingled with old, unfamiliar signatures. The Gaunts, of course, he decided. They had been the sorts of wizards who would have placed curses on their door to deter unwelcome visitors. Yet Voldemort had entered without difficulty in Morfin’s memory, and that was the clue Albus needed. The family had all been Parselmouths.

With a flick of his wand, he conjured the book he wanted, and flipped through it looking for the right page. There, spelled out phonetically, was (he hoped) the correct Parseltongue for “Open”. After sending it back to the shelf off which he had conjured it, he attempted to pronounce the unlikely combination of sounds he had seen in the book, his wand held at the ready in case his attempts set off a curse. Nothing happened, but Albus persisted, repeating the syllables several times, varying the rhythm, and attempting to give them greater sibilance. Abruptly, the door rewarded his efforts and swung open, revealing the interior of the house.

Cautiously, Albus stepped over the threshold and stopped just inside. The stone floor and walls of the main room were filthy with bird droppings – the owl that had startled him must be one of a long line that had made the house its home after Morfin’s arrest. Roof tiles littered the floor, and the armchair, still standing beside the cold fireplace, looked to be the abode of a family of mice. A less likely place to find a treasure, Albus could not imagine, yet the addition of Voldemort’s spell to the protections on the door confirmed his surmise that indeed, one of the Horcruxes must lie hidden here.

Dropping to his knees, Albus lightly ran his fingers over the stones adjacent to the one on which he knelt. Each of them bore the traces of Voldemort’s magic. Muttering incantations, Albus focused his attention on the one directly in front of him. Despite his efforts, he could neither dispel whatever magic permeated it, nor see a mechanism for passing it safely. He sat back on his heels and toyed with the puzzle for a moment, then reached over to the next row of stones. With a smile, he realized that the stone he now touched was free of the enchantment. It was a child’s game of stepping stones Tom would have him play, then. Rising to his feet, he stepped carefully over the cursed stones and onto the one he had determined was safe.

Suddenly, a figure came flying out of a dark corner right at him, nearly startling him into a potentially costly misstep. For a moment, Amelia Bones stood before him, her face twisted in the grimace of pain and terror he had seen on it at the Ministry earlier that day, before changing into a look of reproach. For a moment, he remembered her as a young girl, representing Hufflepuff in a Debate Society contest, her passion for justice evident even then, before he shook his head to clear it of his memories. So, Voldemort had thrown in another challenge. It would behoove him to keep his focus.

Albus squatted down, to seek the next safe spot to step, and another figure sailed out at him. The haggard, once handsome face of Sirius Black smiled mockingly down at him, just as he had smiled at his cousin in the moment of his death, before he too, glared accusingly at Albus. A memory rose unbidden, of Sirius at Harry’s bedside…and there was the stone he sought. As he stepped forward onto it, poor Cedric popped out from somewhere, his face bearing a look of mild surprise that turned to blame, and Albus mentally shoved a memory of his beaming face as he led Cho Chang onto the dance floor aside and resumed his task.

As he worked his way into the house, the dead of Voldemort’s first rise to power assailed him. First Lily, her arms flung wide, and a ghostly tear running down her face before she pointed an accusing finger at him, James, his face twisted in anger and so like Harry’s… the McKinnons in rapid succession, the Prewett brothers…ruthlessly he forced his mind back to the task, aware that he was making progress. He was penetrating further into the house and closer to his goal. A goal, he reminded himself, which would bring him that much closer to preventing another such reign of terror.

The sequence of uncursed stones had led him in a meandering path through the main room, through the first of the back rooms, and into the second. He wiped his brow and took a pair of deep breaths, for the effort of keeping his feet together and keeping his balance in the warm July evening was telling on him. Suddenly, an apparition appeared which for the first time struck fear into his heart. A man he had not even known, but a man whose death he remembered clearly, his young face grimly determined as he went to the aid of his leader, his dark robes marked with the sign of the Hallows. Grindelwald’s sign.

For Albus suddenly realized how far into his past he had journeyed, and whose accusing eyes he might consequently behold, if he did not finish his task quickly. He waved his wand and muttered incantations, seeking the possible hiding place he sought. It was under a paving stone below the remnants of a bed, he saw, as a white light flared out from there, showing him what he sought.

As quickly as he could he stepped onto the next stone and sought for another, Vanishing the remains of the decrepit bed. A family of mice scurried away, squeaking, into the dark corners, and the ghostly face of Friedrich Herrmann, a victim of Grindelwald, floated by. His goal was nearly within reach. With a flick of his wand, he lifted the concealing stone and levitated it out the window. The light of his wand revealed his quarry – the ring Riddle had taken from his uncle Morfin.

It was as he had thought. He had felt sure that for the ancestral home of his mother, Riddle would pick one of the two heirlooms of her family. Myrtle Watkins, wearing her usual aggrieved expression and glasses, floated by next, but he ignored her, thinking desperately. One of the stones next to the place of concealment must be safe, he had covered most of the ground available, and he could not longer remember whom he had known, who might have died earlier than Miss Watkins and yet later than….

He leapt onto what must be the right stone, and stooped down to pick up the ring in his left hand with his handkerchief. A white mist was coalescing in the doorway, thickening, taking on the form of a child not yet full-grown, and Albus looked away desperately and his eyes fell on the ring he held. He nearly dropped it in his shock. The large black stone set in the crudely wrought gold bore clearly the mark of the Deathly Hallows. The apparition of his sister approached, her face suffused with gentle reproach, and he wanted more than anything to explain to her, to apologize, to hear her speak again, if only… and he realized then, exactly what it was that he held. Without hesitation, he slipped the ring onto a finger of his right hand, and the apparition disappeared. A true vision of Ariana did not appear to replace the apparition, however; instead, a pain such as he had seldom felt before suffused his finger, and he screamed. Looking down, he realized in horror what he ought to have remembered all along. The ring was still a Horcrux, and Riddle’s final protection on it was a curse to which he had completely opened himself by his imprudent wearing of the ring.

Focusing his will, he took the Elder Wand in his left hand, and cast the most potent countercurse he could muster, praying as never before that the power of the wand would suffice. Fumbling awkwardly in his pocket with the cursed hand, for he would not surrender his wand, he took out the Portkey he had prepared before starting out, and activated it, grateful for the precaution he had taken previously of dispelling the enchantment that would have prevented its use.

Albus landed, gasping with the continuing pain of his hand, on the floor of his office. The barrier his counterspell had formed was dissolving already, just in the time it had taken to Portkey back to the school. He needed help, but first he must destroy the Horcrux. He fought to raise himself, but a dizziness on top of the pain made him clumsy, and he staggered drunkenly to his chair. Grateful for its weight, which prevented him from knocking it over, he leaned on its high back for support as he reached to take down the sword that hung on the wall behind it. His choice to destroy the Horcrux before seeing to his injury would suffice to make it work, he hoped fervently.

As he dropped the cursed ring onto his desk, out of the black stone there rose a bubble, which grew until it became a figure of Ariana, grotesquely rooted to his desk.

“Albus, is that you, my brother?” she spoke, and smiled shyly at him. An expression he had, in truth, seen but rarely, for while she lived, he had not taken the time to seek her out on her good days to spend time with her. He froze, looking on her with amazed gratitude, and his grip on the sword loosened.

“You are weeping, Albus,” she said tenderly. “Don’t cry. There is no need.”

The sword fell to the floor with a clang from his nerveless fingers.

“Ariana,” he sobbed. “I…I’m sorry. So sorry-”

“Hush now,” she said soothingly, raising a finger to her lips.

He looked up at her, smiling down at him with an expression uncannily like his mother’s, in the good, old days before Ariana’s illness, full of love and hope and joy, and he wanted nothing more than to sit down and just look at her, drink in the sight of her. Could she truly have forgiven him for his callous neglect of her, for her death? Could he doubt it, this vision of his fondest wish come true? This was too easy, this was a lie, a voice in his head warned him, and, with a sob, he bent down for the fallen sword and grasped it with both hands.

“Would you kill me again, Albus?” the Ariana-bubble said softly, spreading her hands wide in mute appeal.

Raising the sword’s hilt above his head, Albus drove it down onto the ring, his heart pierced by the shrill screaming of his sister’s voice in his ears. The stone cracked with a sound that rang like a gunshot in the enclosed space of the tower room, and the vision winked out, the horrible sound of its screams fading to silence. Spent, tears streaming down his face, Dumbledore dropped the sword down onto his desk and collapsed onto the chair. He lacked the energy to raise his hand to look at it, but the curse was spreading. He could feel it now, like a viscous liquid fire, engulfing his finger and spreading down into his hand. He scrabbled blindly for his wand, for he could no longer focus his eyes.

In growing desperation, he realized what his death now might mean. In his pride, his overconfidence, he had told no one of the Horcruxes, had shared his research on them with no one – he would be leaving Harry, unknowing, to fight a wizard made immortal. Then his fingers closed on the wand.

“Expecto Patronum!” he croaked, as his mind formed a message and destination, and then the wand slipped from his nerveless hand to the floor as the room went dark.

***

Severus Snape sat at his desk in his dungeon office. He yawned as he double-checked his sums on the budget for replacement Potions ingredients that he wanted to submit to Professor McGonagall the following morning. He’d inventoried his supply cabinets that day, owing to Dumbledore’s request he stay around.

The Headmaster wanted to meet with him, after an errand, the nature of which he had obviously been at pains to conceal, Severus recalled. He did not mind staying at Hogwarts, since the alternative would have been to spend the night at home with his unwanted guest. It was the mystery that irritated him. If the matter could have no conceivable connection to their meeting, why mention it? And if on the contrary it did…how did the old man expect him to be of service while leaving him in the dark?

Suddenly, behind him, he heard the Headmaster, speaking in a strained voice, “Severus!”

Rising and turning about in alarm, he saw the silvery Phoenix Patronus of Dumbledore. The Headmaster had indicated he would stop by upon his return, but Severus had expected this would involve meeting in person.

“I’m back. I need you…my office,” the familiar voice croaked.

The unnatural timbre of the messenger’s voice suggested Dumbledore needed his help urgently. Severus reached for the tin of Floo powder above the fireplace in his office and grabbed a handful.

“The Headmaster’s Office!” he spoke clearly, as he threw the powder in and stepped into the green flames that shot up in the empty fireplace.

Severus spun out of the fireplace into the Headmaster’s office, and the green flames winked out behind him as he steadied himself. Before him, he saw the back of the Headmaster’s thronelike chair, and Dumbledore himself, his body slumped over the armrest so that his right arm dangled freely.

“Headmaster!” he said, but received no response.

His heart in his throat, Severus hurried around the chair, horrified to behold the unnatural, waxy pallor of the Headmaster’s face and his uncharacteristically disheveled appearance. Quickly and efficiently, he reached for Dumbledore’s neck and felt for his pulse, while his eyes scanned Dumbledore’s body, seeking an explanation for his condition.

The relief Severus felt at finding a pulse, however weak and slow, changed rapidly to dismay at the sight of Albus’s ring finger. It was blackened and burned, and as Severus focused his attention on this alarming sight, he saw tendrils of darkness creeping into the hand and other fingers.

To buy time, he whipped out his wand and cast a quick "Ennervate!” He was gratified to see Albus stir ever so slightly.

A gold ring he had never seen before, with a massive, cracked black stone set in it, lay before Dumbledore’s body on the desk. A sword encrusted with rubies lay beside it.
Severus cast revealing spells on the two objects. The ring, as the blackened ring finger had led him to suspect, was the vector of a powerful curse, a curse that defied his attempts to identify its precise nature. He judged it might be a novel curse invented specifically for the protection of this artifact. The ruby-encrusted sword, though clearly also a magical artifact of some power, he judged not relevant to his immediate problem. Nor, he told himself firmly, was the question that intruded forcibly on his consciousness, of why Albus had taken the risk of wearing the cursed ring in the first place.

After making a hasty mental inventory of his store of potions, Severus flicked his wand and summoned the potion he judged best-suited to the nature of the curse and the symptoms he had observed. While he waited for its arrival, he knelt on the floor beside the headmaster and began to mutter countercurses, seeking to reverse the spread of the unknown curse. The black tendrils persisted in their incursions, as Severus tried every counterspell he could dredge from his memory, with little success. The pulse in the wrist held by the fingers of his left hand remained weak and slow, and the Headmaster’s entire hand was turning black.

As the bottle of glowing golden potion floated into the room, Severus pointed his wand instead at Dumbledore’s wrist, above the farthest incursion of the curse damage, and began to mutter a potent blocking spell, that should prevent the curse from spreading further. He set Dumbledore’s hand down carefully on the armrest to free his left hand, and plucked the little bottle out of the air, all the while continuing his spell work with his wand hand. He forced the little crystal stopper out of the bottle with his left thumb, so that it fell to the floor and shattered with a musical tinkle that Severus ignored. He pushed the Headmaster’s head back to open his mouth and poured the thick golden potion down Albus’s throat, continuing to murmur the blocking spell.

Severus waited anxiously for a few moments. Then his patient’s eyes opened, and color began creeping back into his face.

“Why,” the question he had forced to the back of his mind as he concentrated on the task at hand burst out of him, “why did you put on that ring? It carries a curse, surely you realized that. Why even touch it?”

Albus grimaced, remembering his recent experience in the Gaunt house.

“I…was a fool. Sorely tempted…”

Even Severus could tell that it was not the ring’s aesthetic qualities that had formed the basis of the temptation.

“Tempted by what?” he demanded.

A fair question, Albus allowed, but the secret of the Hallows was not one he would entrust to a man he sent to face Voldemort on a regular basis. He did not answer.

“It is a miracle you managed to return here!” Severus exclaimed, increasingly irritated at the lack of response. Did Albus not understand how fortunate he was to have survived the consequences of this ‘temptation’? “That ring carried a curse of extraordinary power, to contain it is all we can hope for; I have trapped the curse in one hand for the time being-”

The Headmaster raised his blackened, useless hand and examined it dispassionately. It was as Severus said – the curse was contained for some short time at least. He had avoided the worst-case scenario he had imagined. He would have time to pass on his knowledge of the Horcruxes.

“You have done very well, Severus,” Albus said. He kept his voice calm as he asked the question that would determine how well he might prepare Harry before the end. “How long do you think I have?”

Severus thought for a moment, weighing what he knew of such curses against the likely efficacy of the treatment he had provided. He had done well, he recognized, to accomplish as much as he had. This did nothing to relieve the sense of inadequacy that the knowledge of his failure engendered, for Albus faced a death sentence. The curse was too powerful, he had started too late, and there was nothing he could now do to cure it.

“I cannot tell. Maybe a year. There is no halting such a spell forever. It will spread eventually; it is the sort of curse that strengthens over time.” He was inwardly pleased to have matched Albus’s conversational tone.

Albus smiled at him, unable to hide entirely his relief at the news. He would have time to tell Harry of the Horcruxes properly, then. He could pass on to him all he had learned, and guide him to an independent understanding of the problem.

“I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus,” Albus said, and knew it for the simple truth as he spoke.

“If you had only summoned me a little earlier, I might have been able to do more, buy you more time!” said Severus. The compliment had brought his anger back to the surface. If he was so bleeding useful to have around, why had Dumbledore not sought his help immediately, when it would have done the most good? Why had he not been given advance notice that he might need to treat an injury of this nature? He looked down at the broken ring and the sword. “Did you think that breaking the ring would break the curse?”

“Something like that...I was delirious, no doubt….” Albus replied evasively.

The keen observation and logical mind that made Severus a spymaster’s dream had its price when it came to keeping his own secrets. It was time to change the subject, Albus decided. The certainty of his own death within the year altered his view of another problem. He’d been considering, since his last conversation with Severus, how best to rescue Draco Malfoy, while retaining Severus in Voldemort’s favor and remaining alive at the same time.

Remaining alive and undefeated, only to die from a curse cast by Lord Voldemort, however, would be nothing less than a disaster now. It would cause the Elder Wand to transfer its loyalty to Voldemort, which might destroy the frail hope of survival for Harry that Albus had clung to ever since Voldemort had dared to take Harry’s blood for his reborn body.

He sat up in his chair, and Severus could see the effort cost him, but he continued in a casual tone, “Well, really, that makes matters much more straightforward.”

Severus looked at him, uncomprehending. Certainly, Dumbledore contracting a fatal curse did wonders for simplifying everyone’s life. He kept this sarcastic observation to himself, however.

“I refer to the plan Lord Voldemort is revolving around me,” Albus clarified. “His plan to have the poor Malfoy boy murder me.”

Severus sat down in the guest chair across from the Headmaster’s desk, as he had done so often in the past five years. He wanted to say more about the hand, but Albus stopped him with a gesture. Scowling, Severus explained instead, “The Dark Lord does not expect Draco to succeed. This is merely punishment for Lucius’s recent failures. Slow torture for Draco’s parents, while they watch him fail and pay the price.”

“In short, the boy has a death sentence pronounced upon him as surely as I have,” said Dumbledore. He wanted to be sure that he understood the situation fully before putting his solution before Severus. “Now, I would have thought the natural successor to the job, once Draco fails, is yourself?”

Severus thought back to his recent conversation with the Dark Lord, about “other measures”. There could be little doubt.

“That, I think, is the Dark Lord’s plan,” he confirmed.

“Lord Voldemort foresees a moment in the near future when he will not need a spy at Hogwarts?” Dumbledore asked.

“He believes the school will soon be in his grasp, yes,” Severus replied. With both elements of his plan accomplished, with Dumbledore gone and the Ministry under his control, the Dark Lord would be able to do as he wished at Hogwarts, Severus reflected with dismay.

“And if it does fall into his grasp,” said Dumbledore casually, “I have your word that you will do all in your power to protect the students of Hogwarts?”

Severus nodded stiffly. He would, of course, but as Head of Slytherin, he was best situated to protect those students who would likely need it least.

“Good,” Albus said, pleased at Severus’s quick agreement. “Now then. Your first priority will be to discover what Draco is up to. A frightened teenage boy is a danger to others as well as to himself. Offer him help and guidance, he ought to accept, he likes you-”

“-much less since his father has lost favor,” Severus interrupted, remembering his conversation with the boy on the final Sunday of the school term. “Draco blames me; he thinks I have usurped Lucius’s position.”

“All the same, try,” Albus said. “I am concerned less for myself than for accidental victims of whatever schemes might occur to the boy. Ultimately, of course, there is only one thing to be done if we are to save him from Lord Voldemort’s wrath.”

Severus raised his eyebrows in disbelief and asked in a sardonic tone, “Are you intending to let him kill you?”

“Certainly not. You must kill me,” Albus replied. For, barring a fortunate accident or illness on which he dared not rest his hopes, a death he arranged was the only way that remained for him to die undefeated, and extinguish the threat the wand posed to Harry.

Severus looked across the desk at the man whose life he had just saved, if only for a year. To take it away again… the idea was unthinkable. Unbearable. A silence fell, interrupted only by the clicking of Fawkes’s beak. It was ridiculous for him even to have to respond to such a suggestion, Severus fumed inwardly, but Albus continued to regard him calmly, as though he had made a perfectly reasonable request.

“Would you like me to do it now?” asked Severus finally, his voice heavy with irony. “Or would you like a few moments to compose an epitaph?”

“Oh, not quite yet,” said Albus with a smile. He had rather suspected Severus would not jump on the idea. “I daresay the moment will present itself in due course. Given what has happened tonight,” he indicated his withered hand, a reminder of the changed circumstances, before continuing, “we can be sure that it will happen within a year.”

“If you don’t mind dying,” said Severus roughly, “why not let Draco do it?”

“The boy’s soul is not yet so damaged,” Dumbledore explained. “I would not have it ripped apart on my account.”

“And my soul, Dumbledore? Mine?” Severus blurted out, the words tumbling from his mouth in his distress before his mind could assemble the words to phrase a more refined objection. Albus knew the full enormity of his transgressions, knew he was no innocent. Even so, how could he so casually ask a murder of him?

“You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation,” said Dumbledore. “I ask this one great favor of you, Severus, because death is coming for me as surely as the Chudley Cannons will finish bottom of this year’s league. I confess I should prefer a quick, painless exit to the protracted and messy affair it will be if, for instance, Greyback is involved – I hear Voldemort has recruited him? Or dear Bellatrix, who likes to play with her food before she eats it.”

Albus’s tone was light, but his blue eyes regarded Severus intently. The picture these words painted in his mind was all too credible, and with the details his memory could supply, it was too horrible to contemplate. It was not precisely a murder that Albus was asking of him, then, though it would have all the semblance of one. Could he cast the Killing Curse, accept the favor of the Dark Lord, and face the scorn of all who had not yet succumbed to the Dark Lord? This last was no more than he deserved, for the blood he had on his hands, Severus reminded himself bitterly. Yet Albus had hired him, had enlisted him to protect Potter, and had kept his secret…. He gave another curt nod. He would do it.

“Thank you, Severus…” Albus said quietly, and leaned his head back against his chair. He felt abruptly a weariness beyond measure, from which even the immense relief he felt at having avoided the complete ruin of all his plans could not buoy him.

Severus rose quickly from his chair and approached, wand drawn, to check on the condition of the arm. The barrier was in place and showed no deterioration, he ascertained quickly. The Headmaster’s sudden weakness must be due to fatigue after a long day, exacerbated by the effects of the curse. He summoned a potion for dreamless sleep from his office.

Albus submitted to this treatment, content to let his mind drift as Severus examined him. He drank the potion Severus offered him without argument, and agreed he would be getting himself to bed immediately. The further details of his revised plans, he could work out later. Severus had given him the time he needed.

***

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  #10  
Old February 9th, 2008, 5:49 am
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Chapter 10: A Distressing Discovery

Bright morning sunlight peeked around the heavy drapes on the French doors to the bedroom’s balcony, dimly lighting the enormous room. A finger of light reached even to the tousled golden hair strewn over one of the satin-covered pillows on the bed. Its owner stirred, groaned softly in protest, and rolled over away from the window, her body wriggling through force of habit to snuggle against the familiar warmth of her sleeping husband.

Rolling over onto her stomach instead, Narcissa awakened enough to remember that, of course, Lucius was not there. It was now precisely two weeks since the Ministry of Magic had notified her of his arrest, on a morning much like this one. In person. By a team of Ministry busybodies who had proceeded to turn her home upside down without so much as a ‘by your leave’ and walk off with any number of articles they deemed ‘potentially dangerous’. Potentially salable, was more like it, Narcissa fumed. It was only to be expected, with the riff-raff that the Ministry was hiring these days. At least Bellatrix had not yet returned at that point, or Merlin knows what they might have dared.

It had served as a useful reminder of why her husband chose to fight. Someone, somehow, ought to stem the flow of these parvenus from the Muggle world. Narcissa’s nose wrinkled in distaste. Though privately (very privately) she wondered whether the Dark Lord was really the man with the right vision and plans to achieve that goal. Certainly, since his rise to prominence and later disappearance, if anything the influence of Muggle-lovers such as Dumbledore had grown, and even fewer of the old, true Wizarding families wielded the great influence that ought to be their due.

Joining the Dark Lord had certainly done her family no good. Her husband was in jail, and disgraced, her sister a fugitive from the law, and now her son was clamoring to join as well. As though the Dark Lord would accept the service of a sixteen year old! It had, she realized even as she had said it, been a mistake to state this so bluntly to Draco, however. No sixteen-year-old boy wished to be rescued from an embarrassing predicament by his mother and then reminded of his youth. He was naturally angry and upset over Lucius’s arrest too, and humiliated over the state in which she had found him on the train.

She had resolved to drop the subject, since time was on her side. In two years, a lot could happen to change Draco’s mind. If he retained his resolve, she could worry about it as the end of his schooling neared. Indeed, since their argument upon his return from school, he seemed to have accepted the reality she had pointed out to him, though he was still spending too much time alone in solitary pursuits. Perhaps she would urge him at breakfast to arrange to visit a friend, or invite someone over.

Thus resolved, she sat up and reached for the wand she kept in the drawer of the little table at her bedside. With a flick she threw the drapes open, allowing the morning sunlight to bathe the room in a golden glow. She set her wand down and took out her hairbrush, setting about the task of untangling and smoothing her hair.

Following several minutes of work, she rose, satisfied for the moment. She took a long shower and dried her hair with a quick spell. Then, with her towel wrapped around her body, she walked into the wardrobe and spent some time selecting the right robes to wear. Something light, it promised to be a hot day. And something nice, she needed to be in her best spirits to try to raise Draco’s as well. His moping about the manor was doubtless an expression of his worries regarding his father, and the sensitivity of an adolescent to the notoriety his family had attained. His resolve to follow his father’s footsteps indicated he in no way disapproved of his father’s choices, but that did not mean he would relish going out in public where people might point him out as the son of an imprisoned Death Eater…

Resolutely, she dismissed such thoughts and changed into her selection. Walking back out, she faced the full-length, gold-edged mirror on an ornate stand that she consulted for this purpose. She smoothed the robe over her hips and stomach, turning slightly as she did so, and decided that it would do.

Next, she seated herself at her dressing table and took a hard look at her face. A dusting of powder helped to lessen the appearance of fine lines around her eyes and the corners of her mouth. A touch of color on her cheeks and lips, and some cream applied to the skin around her eyes to reduce puffiness, and she passed muster. Not bad for the mother of a sixteen-year old, she decided, smiling. Not too broadly, though, that emphasized the lines, she reminded herself. Finally, the hair. A pair of newly silver strands she quickly charmed back to their original gold. A couple more quick passes with a brush, and she was ready to face the world.

After making her bed with a flick of her wand, she walked out of the room and down to the kitchen, where she found, as usual, that she had managed to get there ahead of Draco and Bella. Bella, of course, had to sleep in that dark dungeon in case any of those insufferable meddlers from the Ministry showed up again on some pretext or another. Draco, for his part, exhibited the nocturnal behavior that seemed an inevitable part of adolescence. Narcissa was glad of it; she would consider it poor hospitality and worse mothering, were she to leave her sister and son to fend for themselves. She suppressed a twinge of regret for the family’s lost House Elf as she lit a fire and started a kettle going.

By the time Bella and Draco had made their way to the kitchen as well, she had breakfast on the table. The meal passed in idle chatter, though Narcissa did manage to slip in the suggestion that Draco get out to see his friends. Draco, to her relief, did not fight the suggestion. Rather, he accepted it with alacrity, obtaining her permission to visit his Quidditch teammate Montague the following day. She had not realized they had become such fast friends.

As Draco and Bella cleared away the dishes, Narcissa reminded them of her plans for the day. She had an appointment at Gringotts before lunch, and an invitation to tea with a fellow member of the St. Mungo’s Auxiliary Board. To her surprise, Draco turned down her suggestion that they lunch together in Diagon Alley and do some shopping afterwards. Since he had agreed to go out the following day, however, she did not press the point. Best to let him get back to normal, or as close to normal as could be managed under the circumstances, at his own pace, she thought to herself, as she took her leave and set out for Diagon Alley.

***

After supper, Narcissa and Draco went to the library, as had been the habit in their household for years. It was the time of day that she felt her husband’s absence the most strongly. This had been their family time, when she and Lucius caught up on the events in their lives, and she might read aloud a letter from Draco at school.

Draco sat down in an armchair next to the Wizarding Wireless and turned it on to catch a Quidditch match, while Narcissa sat behind Lucius’s desk to read and respond to her Owl post, and tried to ignore Bella. Her restless pacing about the library was irritating, and Narcissa hoped that she would sit down with the newspaper or find a book soon. The ringing of the bell that signified someone had opened the front gates interrupted her thoughts.

“Bella!” Narcissa exclaimed. Her sister did not need to be told twice. She hurried out of the room and, presumably, towards her hidden bedchamber in the dungeon. Narcissa carefully adjusted her robe and hair. At this hour, the unexpected guest was doubtless an emissary of the Ministry of Magic, on a mission of harassment. Whoever it was would find her cool, collected, and perfectly groomed, she resolved.

When the doorbell rang, she rose and walked unhurriedly to the front door. Draco, she saw, followed her, looking a trifle nervous. He had his wand out. She peeked through the window in one door and gasped in surprise at the sight of a cloaked, hooded figure in a mask, with a couple more behind.

“Death Eaters!” she hissed at Draco, who lowered his wand at the news. “Go fetch Bella, please.”

Narcissa flung open the door, and the man she had seen stepped aside. A tall, thin figure swept past him and into the manor. She blanched as he threw back his hood. Those features, seen on rare occasions in the past, were unforgettable and unmistakable.

“My Lord!” she exclaimed in alarm. Remembering herself, she bobbed a quick curtsy and added more smoothly, “You honor our home.”

“Mrs. Malfoy,” the Dark Lord said with an answering nod, his high, cold voice echoing in the vaulted ceiling of the entrance hall.

To Narcissa’s relief, the others stepped inside quickly in their master’s wake, and she shut the door behind them. The front steps of Malfoy Manor were far enough distant not to fear the gaze of curious neighbors; nonetheless, Narcissa did not relish the thought of the Dark Lord and his escorts loitering outside her door. She debated whether to offer them refreshment while Draco went for Bellatrix. Would the Dark Lord consider it presumptuous, or perceive a failure to offer as a slight? Yet again Narcissa wished she had Lucius back at home. He would know how to handle this.

As she turned her back to the now-closed door, she saw that Draco had dropped to a knee, and the Dark Lord stood directly in front of him.

“Master,” Draco said, inclining his head respectfully.

“Rise, my servant,” the Dark Lord responded.

Narcissa abruptly felt lightheaded, and fell heavily back against the door with an audible thud. She righted herself, and saw that the Dark Lord looking from her to Draco, a horrible facsimile of a smile twisting his lipless mouth.

“Draco, Draco,” he said with a shake of his head. “Can it be that you and Bella have not shared this week’s developments with your mother yet?

“Mrs. Malfoy,” the Dark Lord continued, turning to face her fully, “I made it quite clear to him that as wife, sister, and mother of Death Eaters, you deserve to know.”

The delicate emphasis he placed on the word mother did not escape Narcissa. She had understood what passed between the Dark Lord and her son correctly, then. Draco had taken the Mark, incredible though it seemed to her that the Dark Lord would desire it, or that her son would do so against her expressed wishes. The shock of it robbed her of words; though she recognized that she ought to respond with some appropriate pleasantry, none came to her. She swayed and steadied herself with a hand raised to the door beside her.

“Your mother looks unwell,” the Dark Lord said to Draco. “Why don’t you help her to the library, and then we will join Bella?” He fixed Narcissa with a look that made her feel like a mouse cornered by a cat. She was beginning to suspect that there was more going on here than a courtesy visit.

“Thank you, My Lord,” she replied weakly.

Draco walked up to her with a worried glance, and she forced her face into a semblance of a smile and accepted his extended arm. If he remained unafraid, she did not wish to infect him with her fears. She would be strong for him, she resolved, as the party moved to the library.

The two Death Eaters, who had remained masked, stationed themselves outside the library door as Draco escorted his mother to her favorite chair and the Dark Lord followed, leaning on the back of the chair behind Lucius’s desk. The Dark Lord glanced down at the desk at the unfinished letter she had left there.

“I see I interrupted you as you were writing a letter,” the Dark Lord commented. “I had hoped you would have already written Lucius to let him know of my continuing interest in his family.”

“I must be discreet, My Lord,” Narcissa replied, “as my Owls are probably read by Aurors. But I shall say what I may of the week’s events, since that is your wish.”

“Indeed, it is my wish. You are, of course, not to breathe a word to anyone else of what you learn tonight,” he said. “Draco’s orders are very secret, and the consequences should anyone learn of them, to your son and to you, might be…most unfortunate.”

A chill ran down Narcissa’s back, for the Dark Lord’s casual tone as he made his threat suggested he would not hesitate to make good on it should she disobey.

“Of course, My Lord,” she said softly.

“I wish Lucius to know that, despite his failure, he is not forgotten,” Voldemort added. His slit-pupilled eyes gazed fixedly at her, and she caught herself trembling again.

Narcissa nodded her head and swallowed, steeling herself to respond. Had she imagined it, or had those snake-like eyes glowed with scarlet fire when he spoke of Lucius’s failure? “I will do as you command, My Lord,” she said. “I am sure Lucius will be proud, to hear Draco is following in his footsteps,” she added, amazed that she managed to keep her voice steady.

“Proud,” the Dark Lord echoed her, a hint of a smile playing about his lips. “Very well, then. Come, Draco,” he said, and moved towards the door. Narcissa rose to her feet.

“Farewell, My Lord,” she said as they left. She wanted very much to know Draco’s orders. As soon as her unexpected guests left, she could demand answers, but for now, all she could do was wait, the dread inspired by the news churning her stomach. Surely, it was nothing too difficult or dangerous. He was only a child, still…

The moment she saw the door to the library open, she leapt out of her chair. Remembering herself, she asked, “Has he left?”

“Yes, Mother,” Draco replied.

“So, what is this assignment no one wants to tell me about?” Narcissa said, rounding on her sister the moment she knew her unexpected visitors had left.

“Mother-” Draco interjected.

“Draco, go upstairs to your room!” Narcissa ordered sharply.

“But-” Draco said.

“NOW!” Narcissa shrieked. Draco pouted, but thought better of saying anything and headed up the stairs towards his bedroom.

“Cissy, why don’t we go sit down in the kitchen and have some tea,” Bella suggested soothingly.

“I don’t want any blasted tea, I want answers!” Narcissa exclaimed angrily. “What…is…the…plan?”

“I will be helping Draco-” Bellatrix began hesitantly.

“You had better be!” Narcissa replied. While this was apparently the Dark Lord’s idea, Bella must have acted as the go-between. Draco would have had no idea how to find the Dark Lord without Bella’s assistance.

“It is a great honor, Cissy. And the boy is serious-”

“Tell me NOW, Bella. I mean it,” Narcissa said, her voice dropping to a dangerous growl.

“The Dark Lord has ordered Draco to kill Dumbledore,” Bellatrix explained.

Narcissa stared at her sister, at a loss for words. Draco? To kill Albus Dumbledore?

“Why?” Narcissa whispered, finally finding her voice. “Why Draco?” This made even less sense than making Draco a Death Eater in the first place.

“Cissy, Dumbledore will never suspect a student-” Bella began.

“He has no chance!” Narcissa exclaimed. That the Dark Lord wanted Dumbledore killed she could believe, but he could not possibly expect Draco to succeed at such a mission. She remembered the impressions she had received that the Dark Lord was toying with her, and an alarming explanation suggested itself. Could this be an attempt to punish Lucius through his family?

“Draco is working on an idea, and I will be helping-” Bella began.

“You?” Narcissa interrupted heatedly. “You are a wanted criminal, and you are here. Not at Hogwarts. And what help could you give, anyway? You are highly skilled, I do not doubt this is why you alone escaped while even Lucius was captured, but against Dumbledore escape is all you could hope to do.”

“It should not be a battle-”

“Battle is what you are best at!” Narcissa exclaimed. “This task calls for subtlety and stealth...” Narcissa trailed off.

If only Lucius were around…but he was not. She asked herself what he would do in her place, and abruptly the answer came to her. There was someone perfect for the job, someone already at Hogwarts. She spun on her heel and strode to the cloakroom, to fetch her black hooded cloak. Tossing it around her shoulders, she headed for the dungeons and the secret passage out of the manor. She did not care to be seen leaving, in the event her guests tarried on the grounds. As she halted in front of the tapestry that marked the entrance to Bella’s hiding place, a slightly breathless Bella, also wearing a cloak, caught up to her.

“Cissy, where are you going?” Bellatrix asked.

“Snape,” she replied succinctly, as the hidden door in the wall slid open on her command. As she descended the narrow staircase, she drew her wand to light her path.

“But the Dark Lord has ordered us not to speak of it!” Bella said.

“He has also ordered my son to kill Albus Dumbledore,” Narcissa countered. “I know what failure would mean for Draco, Bella.”

“Snape can’t help you, Narcissa,” Bellatrix argued as she followed Narcissa into the narrow passageway.

“Can’t?” Narcissa said. “I think he can. An undetectable poison, or a slow acting curse, are both well within his power – and he is in a position to administer either, as well.”

“If the Dark Lord wanted Snape to do it, he would have ordered it, Cissy!” Bellatrix argued.

“Bella, the Dark Lord wants Dumbledore dead,” Narcissa said. “I do not care what else he wants. I want Draco to succeed, and I will do whatever it takes to achieve it.”

“Narcissa, Snape won’t do it,” Bellatrix insisted. “He is always finding excuses-”

“I won’t know until I have asked, Bella,” Narcissa said resolutely, as a wave of her wand lifted the trapdoor above, revealing a patch of night sky. She doused her wand and clambered up out of the hole. She stood still for a moment, remembering what Lucius had told her about Snape’s home and fixing it in her mind. Pulling up her hood, Narcissa Disapparated.

As the crushing sensation of Apparition receded, Narcissa found herself in an unfamiliar location. Peering about her through the chilly mist that drifted over the river, Narcissa ascertained that she had arrived on the correct side, and began a rapid ascent up the riverbank in the direction of the tall chimney that loomed over the rows of houses below it.

Shortly she heard a loud pop, and then her sister’s voice, urging her to wait. A flash of green light momentarily lighted Narcissa’s way, and she turned back for a moment.

“Just a fox,” Bella said. “I thought perhaps an Auror – Cissy, wait!”

Narcissa continued up the bank. As she gained the road at the top, Bellatrix caught up with her. They stood for a moment, Narcissa scanning the rows of brick houses, alike in their decrepitude, for the alley she sought.

“He lives here?” Bella asked contemptuously. “Here? In this Muggle dunghill? We must be the first of our kind to set foot-”

Narcissa quickly crossed the narrow cobbled street and darted into the alley.

“Cissy, wait!” Bellatrix said.

Narcissa continued, ignoring her sister’s protests as she mentally recited Lucius’s description to herself. Abruptly her upper arm was seized from behind, and she was swung around to face Bella.

“Cissy, you must not do this, you can’t trust him-”

“The Dark Lord trusts him, doesn’t he?” Narcissa asked.

“The Dark Lord is…I believe…mistaken,” Bella said, her words broken up as she took quick, short breaths. She looked about furtively before continuing. “In any case, we were told not to speak of the plan to anyone. This is a betrayal of the Dark Lord’s-”

Since it was quite clear to Narcissa that Bella would even have implied Lucius was untrustworthy if Narcissa tolerated such a thing in her house, she was certainly not going to be guided by her sister’s doubtless excessive suspicions of Snape when she so desperately needed his help.

Angered, she snarled, “Let go, Bella!” She drew her wand and pointed it in Bella’s face.

Bella laughed. “Cissy, your own sister? You wouldn’t-”

“There is nothing I would not do anymore!” Narcissa said, as she brought her wand down on Bella’s hand with a nonverbal burning hex. As Bella released her, Narcissa rushed ahead.

“Narcissa!” Bella exclaimed.

Ignoring her sister’s pained protest, Narcissa continued into the maze of narrow, ill-lit, filthy streets. Before long, she stood before the sign for Spinner’s End. Turning into that street, Narcissa walked down to the last house, noted with satisfaction the light in one window, and knocked on its door. Bella caught up to her before anyone came to answer, and they stood there together, breathing heavily from their exertions.

Author’s Note: This chapter included a scene from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Ch. 2, “Spinner's End”. The dialogue in that scene is therefore all Rowling’s.

***

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  #11  
Old February 19th, 2008, 6:35 am
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arithmancer  Undisclosed.gif arithmancer is offline
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Author’s Note:
This chapter is primarily a scene from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Ch. 2, “Spinner's End”, retold from Severus Snape’s point of view. The dialogue is therefore almost entirely Rowling’s. Also, I am traveling on business this week, and going on a vacation next week – so the next chapter may not be out on my usual schedule. Thanks to all for your patience.

Chapter 11: Spinner’s End

Severus sat in his armchair, his feet up on the rickety table in front of him. He was leafing through a book he had taken off one of the shelves that completely covered the walls of his tiny sitting room. The dim light cast by the candles in the lamp above was giving him a headache. Worse, he itched to make some notations about ideas he had for extending Dumbledore’s life, but it was simply not a thing he could leave lying about the house, even under magical concealment. The little rat might sniff it out, and gain insight into the true nature of Dumbledore’s injury. Not that he was making any progress, on that front, or on the little problem of Draco Malfoy. Perhaps he could at least solve the problem of his eyestrain, he thought, rising to get more candles from the kitchen.

There was a knock on the door. Severus listened for a moment. Sure enough, he heard a creak in the floor above him, doubtless caused by Wormtail on his way to investigate. After putting the book back in its proper spot, Severus drew his wand and approached the door to his house. Opening it just a crack, he saw two cloaked and hooded figures standing on his doorstep. For a split second, he debated his options; then the figure in front threw back its hood, revealing the pale face and long blond hair of Narcissa Malfoy. Tucking the wand back out of sight, he opened the door wider.

“Narcissa! What a pleasant surprise!” he exclaimed, quite sincerely. It seemed the puzzle of how best to approach her had just solved itself.

“Severus,” she said quietly, her voice tense, “May I speak to you? It’s urgent.”

“But of course,” he replied smoothly, stepping out of the way so that she and her companion might enter.

The latter greeted him with a terse, “Snape.”

“Bellatrix,” he responded. The voice and attitude were unmistakable. Doubtless, she was there to impress upon Narcissa the inadvisability of associating with so unreliable and unworthy a personage as himself. The thought brought a mocking smile to his face.

With a gesture, he invited his unexpected guests to take a seat on the threadbare sofa. Unexpected they certainly were, yet there could be little doubt Narcissa’s reason for coming involved Draco’s assignment. Their relations were not such that he might expect a casual visit from her. If he were going to set Bellatrix’s doubts to rest and assure his continued good standing with the Malfoys, he would have to start now.

“So, what can I do for you?” Severus asked, settling himself in the armchair across from the sofa on which Narcissa was sitting.

Her hands betrayed her agitation. She held them clasped in her lap in a vain attempt to hide the tremors that shook them. Bellatrix had not accepted his invitation to sit down; she stood behind her sister and glared down at him.

“We … we are alone, aren’t we?” Narcissa asked nervously.

It would be best to disabuse her of that notion, Severus thought.

“Yes, of course. Well, Wormtail’s here, but we’re not counting vermin, are we?” he replied.

With his wand, he opened the door to the stairs. No surprise there – while Severus had invited his guests to step inside, Wormtail had made his way down to the foot of the stairs to listen to the conversation.

“As you have clearly realized, we have guests,” Severus said to him.

Wormtail crept in and attempted to ingratiate himself with the company. Severus sent him back to the kitchen to fetch wine. It was the one perquisite of an otherwise abysmal living arrangement, so Severus was exploiting it to the fullest. He knew, and Peter knew that he knew, that Peter’s primary assignment was to report on him to the Dark Lord. Nevertheless, as the Dark Lord had assigned Wormtail to assist him, Severus insisted he do so.

Once Wormtail had brought the wine, Severus dismissed him, before rising to fill glasses for his guests. Narcissa murmured her thanks. To his amusement, Bellatrix continued to glower, though she did accept the glass he offered her.

Severus raised his own glass.

“The Dark Lord,” he said, and drained it to the bottom.

The sisters followed his example. Given the toast he had proposed, they could hardly do otherwise.

Once he refilled their glasses, Narcissa returned to the subject.

“Severus, I’m sorry to come here like this, but I had to see you. I think you are the only one who can help me-”

Severus interrupted her with a gesture and cast a spell, expecting it to find Wormtail with his ear pressed to the door again. With a squeal, Wormtail retreated rapidly up the stairs.

“My apologies,” said Severus. “He has lately taken to listening at doors; I don’t know what he means by it…. You were saying, Narcissa?”

There, that ought to make clear to her she could not expect what she said to escape the Dark Lord’s notice. It seemed the message was received, for she took a long shuddering breath to steady her nerve before starting again.

“Severus, I know I ought not to be here, I have been told to say nothing to anyone, but-”

“Then you ought to hold your tongue!” Bellatrix interrupted, her face contorted into a snarl. “Particularly in present company!”

Severus was well aware of Bellatrix’s oft-stated views on him. In her eyes, he was the least trustworthy of the non-Azkaban Death Eaters. The Dark Lord had not chosen, apparently, to communicate the explanation he had accepted of Severus’s actions in the long years of his absence, an omission that galled Severus, for it limited his access to other Death Eaters and the information he might glean from them. As this was hardly an objection he could make to the Dark Lord, it remained a problem, which Draco’s assignment made more urgent. Bellatrix’s visit provided an opportunity of sorts, and her statement was as good an opening as any for the discussion he wanted to have.

“’Present company’?” he repeated in a mocking tone. “And what am I to understand by that, Bellatrix?”

“That I don’t trust you, Snape, as you very well know!” she answered heatedly.

Narcissa sobbed and covered her face with her hands. Severus set down his glass and sat back with a relaxed air. He smiled up at Bellatrix, before taking a moment to reassure Narcissa that she would have her chance to speak her piece.

“Narcissa, I think we ought to hear what Bellatrix is bursting to say; it will save tedious interruptions. Well, continue, Bellatrix,” he added to her. “Why is it that you do not trust me?”

“A hundred reasons!” she declared loudly, striding out from behind the sofa and slamming her glass down onto the table.

As Bellatrix launched into an impassioned listing of a long series of questions, Severus listened calmly. When she paused for breath, her color was high and her chest was rising and falling rapidly. The wine, together with his calm and amusement, were having precisely the intended effect. Severus smiled, making sure she saw it. It would only serve to irritate her further; just what he wanted. After pointing out the obvious, that he must have satisfied the Dark Lord on all of the points she mentioned, he embarked on those same explanations. It was much easier, this time around.

As he spoke, Severus glanced over and saw that Narcissa had recovered her composure somewhat, and now appeared to be following the discussion. This was all to the good. It was fortunate that he was addressing Bellatrix’s suspicions in front of Narcissa: she was also hearing the explanation, which would make it harder for Bellatrix to twist his words and influence Narcissa against him once they left. He wrapped up the explanation of his actions during the Dark Lord’s absence by explaining that his late return to the graveyard had protected his cover as a spy.

“But what use have you been?” Bella asked with a sneer. “What useful information have we had from you?”

“My information has been conveyed directly to the Dark Lord," Severus answered, knowing that would rankle, especially now. “If he chooses not to share it with you-”

“He shares everything with me!” insisted Bellatrix angrily. “He calls me his most loyal, his most faithful-”

“Does he?” Severus asked, in a tone suggestive of disbelief. “Does he still, after the fiasco at the Ministry?”

“That was not my fault!” said Bellatrix, flushing. “The Dark Lord has, in the past, entrusted me with his most precious – if Lucius hadn’t –”

“Don’t you dare-don’t you dare blame my husband!” Narcissa interrupted in a low and deadly voice, raising her eyes to Bellatrix.

She had picked a most inopportune moment to interfere, Severus lamented inwardly; he saw no chance now of returning to that very suggestive ‘most precious’. He played peacemaker instead, to get the exchange with Bellatrix back on track.

“There is no point apportioning blame. What is done is done,” he said smoothly.

“But not by you!” Bellatrix exclaimed, furious. “No, you were once again absent while the rest of us ran dangers, were you not, Snape?”

This was a dangerous line for the discussion to take, for his contribution to the debacle that Bellatrix had just tried to blame on Lucius was rather greater than she realized.

“My orders were to stay behind,” he said calmly. “Perhaps you disagree with the Dark Lord; perhaps you think Dumbledore would not have noticed if I had joined forces with the Death Eaters against the Order of the Phoenix?” His lip curled, and he could not resist adding, “And – forgive me – you speak of dangers…you were facing six teenagers, were you not?”

The final barb hit home, and, happily, set Bellatrix off onto a new subject.

“They were joined, as you very well know, by half of the Order before long!” Bellatrix snarled. “And, while we are on the subject of the Order, you still claim you cannot reveal the whereabouts of their headquarters, don’t you?”

“I am not the Secret Keeper; I cannot speak the name of the place,” Severus replied reasonably. “You understand how the enchantment works, I think? The Dark Lord is satisfied with the information I have passed him on the Order. It led, as perhaps you have guessed, to the recent capture and murder of Emmeline Vance, and it certainly helped dispose of Sirius Black, though I give you full credit for finishing him off.”

He inclined his head and raised his glass to her, a gesture that entirely failed to placate her.

“You are avoiding my last question, Snape,” Bellatrix accused. “Harry Potter. You could have killed him at any point in the past five years. You have not done it. Why?”

“Have you discussed this matter with the Dark Lord?” asked Severus.

“He…lately, we…I am asking you, Snape!” Bellatrix said. Her confusion could not have made it clearer that she was currently out of favor. He bit back a rejoinder to that effect. The conversation was beginning to remind him unpleasantly of a first-year Potions lecture. Bellatrix despised him, and this conversation would do nothing to change that, yet it was important that she walk away understanding the answers to all her questions, and truly seeing that she lacked indisputable facts on which to base her suspicions.

Curbing his impatience, Severus outlined the reasons he had given Voldemort. He was dependent on Dumbledore’s protection to stay out of Azkaban, he had been curious about the boy’s survival, until longer acquaintance had shown him to be mediocre at best.

“I have done my utmost to have him thrown out of Hogwarts, where I believe he scarcely belongs, but kill him, or allow him to be killed in front of me? I would have been a fool to risk it with Dumbledore close at hand,” Severus concluded.

“And through all this we are supposed to believe Dumbledore never suspected you?” asked Bellatrix. “He has no idea of your true allegiance, he trusts you implicitly still?”

“I have played my part well,” replied Severus. “And you overlook Dumbledore’s greatest weakness: He has to believe the best of people. I spun him a tale of deepest remorse when I joined his staff, fresh from my Death Eater days, and he embraced me with open arms-though, as I say, never allowing me nearer the Dark Arts than he could help. Dumbledore has been a great wizard-”

Bellatrix snorted, expressing her disagreement with that assessment.

“-oh yes, he has,” Severus contradicted her, “the Dark Lord acknowledges it. I am pleased to say, however, that Dumbledore is growing old. The duel with the Dark Lord last month shook him. He has since sustained a serious injury because his reactions are slower than they once were. But through all these years, he has never stopped trusting Severus Snape, and therein lies my great value to the Dark Lord.”

This, finally, silenced Bellatrix. The answers to her questions had not made her happy, but it appeared she had spent all her ammunition. Reasoned discussion could not be expected to get him more than her grudging acquiescence – he had done what he could. Taking advantage of Bellatrix’s silence, Severus turned to her sister.

“Now…you came to ask me for help, Narcissa?” he inquired.

Narcissa looked up at him, her face eloquent with despair. As their eyes met, he caught a flash of memory, a single image. He recognized the location – the library at Malfoy Manor, as well as the actors: Narcissa, seated on the edge of her chair, in the very robe she wore now, her face a pale, still mask, Draco, standing behind his mother’s chair and looking down at her worriedly, and the Dark Lord, his eyes seeming to glow red and his face betraying a hint of cruel amusement as he gazed down upon them. Severus’s stomach twisted. Of course, having devised an ingenious means to torture Lucius and his family even while Lucius was in Azkaban, the Dark Lord would take the trouble to ascertain it was working.

“Yes, Severus. I – I think you are the only one who can help me. I have nowhere else to turn. Lucius is in jail and…”

She closed her eyes as tears seeped from beneath her eyelids.

“The Dark Lord has forbidden me to speak of it,” Narcissa resumed her explanation. “He wishes none to know of the plan. It is…very secret. But-”

“If he has forbidden it, you ought not to speak,” said Severus at once. “The Dark Lord’s word is law.”

Narcissa gasped in shock, and her eyes flew open. Severus was pleased to see that Bellatrix, at least, looked satisfied for the first time during the visit, for the admonition was entirely for her benefit. She, and Wormtail as well, if he had managed to overhear, could report only that his response to Narcissa was all anyone could ask of a loyal Death Eater.

“There!” Bellatrix crowed. “Even Snape says so: You were told not to talk, so hold your silence!”

As she spoke, Severus rose to his feet and strode to the window, composing his thoughts. He did want Narcissa to speak, but in a way that incriminated neither of them. As his mind raced, he peered though the curtains in a show of his respect for the importance of the secret, and then closed them again with a jerk. He turned around to face Narcissa, frowning.

“It so happens that I know of the plan,” he said quietly. “I am one of the few the Dark Lord has told. Nonetheless, had I not been in on the secret, Narcissa, you would have been guilty of great treachery to the Dark Lord.” Since he did know, she could now speak of it without violating her orders to keep it secret.

“I thought you must know about it!” said Narcissa. “He trusts you so, Severus….”

She might have thought so. The relief in her voice now that he had confirmed his knowledge of the plan, though, suggested that she had come resolved to disobey a direct order the Dark Lord had given her in person, if it had proved necessary. Not a thing to undertake lightly. He found himself reluctantly impressed by the lengths to which she was willing to go for her son.

“You know about the plan?” said Bellatrix, outraged. “You know?”

“Certainly,” said Severus. Let her chew on that evidence of the Dark Lord’s trust!

“But what help do you require, Narcissa?” he asked. “If you are imagining I can persuade the Dark Lord to change his mind, I am afraid there is no hope, none at all.”

That was, regrettably, the plain truth. He had tried as much as he dared already, during his own meeting with the Dark Lord.

“Severus,” she whispered. “My son…my only son…” The redness of her eyes as tears continued to run down her cheeks only served to emphasize their unnatural paleness.

“Draco should be proud,” Bellatrix interrupted. “The Dark Lord is granting him a great honor. And I will say this for Draco: He isn’t shrinking away from his duty, he seems glad of a chance to prove himself, excited at the prospect-”

Narcissa, pushed over the edge by this display of indifference, began to cry in earnest. She kept her eyes on Snape, gazing up at him in mute appeal.

“That’s because he is sixteen and has no idea what lies in store!” she exclaimed through her tears. “Why, Severus? Why my son? It is too dangerous! This is vengeance for Lucius’s mistake, I know it!”

Severus said nothing. She understood, then. He looked away from her tears. Her situation was every bit as horrible as she believed; he could not bring himself to offer her meaningless words of reassurance, and he was as powerless as she was to shift the Dark Lord from his determination to punish Lucius.

“That’s why he’s chosen Draco, isn’t it?” she persisted. “To punish Lucius?”

“If Draco succeeds,” said Severus, still averting his eyes, “he will be honored above all others.” A highly unlikely event, that would be, as she doubtless understood all too well…. Indeed, the suggestion did not budge her – she launched into yet another appeal for his intercession.

“The Dark Lord will not be persuaded, and I am not stupid enough to attempt it,” said Severus flatly. This had gone on long enough. Leaving her with any hope that Draco might be spared this ordeal would be doing her no favors. “I cannot pretend that the Dark Lord is not angry with Lucius. Lucius was supposed to be in charge. He got himself captured, along with many others, and failed to retrieve the prophecy into the bargain. Yes, the Dark Lord is angry, Narcissa, very angry indeed.”

“Then I am right, he has chosen Draco in revenge!” cried Narcissa. “He does not mean him to succeed, he wants him to be killed trying!”

Severus did not confirm the obvious, remaining silent. Narcissa stood up and staggered over to him, seizing the front of his robes. Raising her tearstained face to his, her tears falling onto his chest, she gasped, “You could do it. You could do it, instead of Draco, Severus. You would succeed, of course you would, and he would reward you beyond all of us-”

Indeed, he could. In fact, he would be doing it. Looking down into her eyes, red and swollen from crying, he said slowly, “He intends me to do it in the end, I think. But he is determined that Draco should try first. You see, in the unlikely event that Draco succeeds, I shall be able to remain at Hogwarts a little longer fulfilling my useful role as a spy.”

“In other words, it doesn’t matter to him if Draco is killed!” Narcissa exclaimed.

“The Dark Lord is very angry,” Severus repeated in a low voice. “He failed to hear the prophecy. You know as well as I do, Narcissa, that he does not forgive easily.”

She crumpled and fell to the floor at his feet.

“My only son---my only son…” she sobbed.

“You should be proud!” said Bellatrix ruthlessly. “If I had sons, I would be glad to give them up to the service of the Dark Lord!”

Now there was a helpful interjection, Severus thought in disgust. Narcissa gave a little scream of despair and clutched at her hair. He could not lay her fears to rest with the truth of Dumbledore’s plan, that would be beyond foolish. Neither could he sit back and condemn her to an indefinite extension of her agony, when it was within his power to offer her some reassurance, at least. Severus bent down over her and lifted her onto the sofa. He then poured her more wine and forced it into her hands.

“Narcissa, that’s enough,” he said firmly. “Drink this. Listen to me.”

She quieted a little; slopping wine down herself, she took a shaky sip.

“It might be possible…for me to help Draco,” Severus said.

Her blue eyes huge in the deathly pallor of her face, she seized on the suggestion with all the desperation of a drowning man reaching for a lifeline.

“Severus – oh, Severus – you would help him?” she pleaded. “Would you look after him, see he comes to no harm?”

“I can try,” he agreed.

She flung away her glass in a passion; it slid across the table as she slid back off the sofa to kneel at Snape’s feet. Seizing his hand in both of hers, she pressed her lips to it.

“If you are there to protect him…Severus, will you swear it? Will you make the Unbreakable Vow?” she asked.

“The Unbreakable Vow?” he repeated, playing for precious seconds while he considered the unexpected request.

Bellatrix, however, let out a cackle of triumphant laughter.

“Aren’t you listening, Narcissa? Oh, he’ll try, I’m sure….” she said sarcastically. “The usual empty words, the usual slithering out of action…oh, on the Dark Lord’s orders, of course!”

Severus fixed his eyes upon Narcissa’s, recognizing the fervent hope in them as he strove to consider rationally what she was asking of him. To help Draco, to look after him, to see he came to no harm – all this he could do, while furthering the plans Dumbledore had made for the boy. Not to mention that agreeing had its benefits. Narcissa would walk away reassured, content to leave the problem in his hands. Otherwise, she might remain a loose cannon he would have to manage along with Draco to ensure nothing untoward occurred before Dumbledore’s time came. Bellatrix would have proof of his loyalties now, in a form she could not doubt, a favorable outcome that all his talk had not accomplished. Finally, he would have a cast-iron reason to involve himself in Draco’s plans without raising fresh suspicions about his loyalties. It was risky, of course, but, he judged, worth it.

“Certainly, Narcissa, I shall make the Unbreakable Vow,” he said quietly. “Perhaps your sister will consent to be our Bonder.”

Bellatrix gaped at them as he knelt down in front of Narcissa. Beneath Bellatrix’s astonished gaze, they clasped right hands.

“You will need your wand, Bellatrix,” Severus reminded her.

She drew it, still seemingly unable to believe what she was witnessing.

“And you will need to move a little closer,” he added.

She stepped forward and stood over them, placing the tip of her wand on their linked hands. Narcissa began her statement of the terms.

“Will you, Severus, watch over my son, Draco, as he attempts to fulfill the Dark Lord’s wishes?” she asked.

“I will,” said Severus. He certainly planned to in any case, to make sure Draco’s plans did not harm others.

A thin tongue of brilliant flame issued from the wand and wound its way around their hands. As Narcissa began her statement of the second clause, it glowed like a red-hot wire.

“And will you, to the best of your ability, protect him from harm?” she asked.

“I will,” Severus replied.

A second tongue of flame shot from the wand. It wove itself about the first, making a fine, glowing chain.

“And, should it prove necessary…if it seems Draco will fail…” whispered Narcissa.

Severus’s hand twitched as it struck him that a simple request for help should surely not induce this sudden attack of hesitancy. But he did not withdraw it from her grasp, for she would not possibly ask for more than he had previously agreed to do.

“Will you carry out the deed that the Dark Lord has ordered Draco to perform?” she finished.

Bellatrix watched, her wand upon their clasped hands, her eyes wide, as he hesitated for a moment. He thought he might rather die than carry it out and live with the memory, but of course, unbeknownst to his companions, he was already committed to this final, most troubling clause of the Vow.

“I will,” said Severus.

The final tongue of flame shot from Bellatrix’s wand, braided itself with the others, and bound itself thickly around their clasped hands, like a rope, like a fiery snake.

Narcissa looked down at their hands, and then back up at him, an expression of incredulous joy on her face. Bellatrix, finally recovering from her shock, stepped back and tucked the wand away in her robes. The glowing bonds that joined him and Narcissa grew fainter, and then seemed to sink into their skins.

Severus rose smoothly to his feet, and then helped Narcissa up to hers.

“Oh, Severus, however can I thank you?” she exclaimed. “I could not have borne it, imagining the dangers Draco faced alone; I should have gone mad. Knowing that you will be there for him is such a relief.”

Bellatrix was looking at him, her eyes narrowing.

“You are quite welcome, Narcissa,” Severus replied silkily. “I am pleased to have alleviated your concerns.”

“Narcissa, he only agreed because he wants the credit-” Bellatrix began.

“I’ve heard enough from you tonight!” Narcissa snapped at her sister. “If Draco succeeds, there will be quite enough credit to go around. And if he fails,” her voice faltered, but then her gaze fell on Severus, and she finished, “I do not care who gets the credit, so long as Draco is safe!”

“Indeed, Narcissa,” Severus said, “it is not seemly for us to bicker amongst ourselves.”

He retrieved the wineglasses and refilled them, and then handed them to his guests. Raising his own, he added, “We are on the same side, we serve the same Master, and we are united by a common goal. To success!”

“To success!” Narcissa and Bellatrix repeated, raising their glasses in turn.

***

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  #12  
Old March 10th, 2008, 7:24 am
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arithmancer  Undisclosed.gif arithmancer is offline
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Author’s Note: I apologize for the interference of my RL with this story. I hope that I am now back on track for a bit.

Chapter 12: Ollivander

The aftermath of his injury had been a busy time for Albus. In the days that followed, he had hashed out new protections for the school with Snape, to address the danger posed by Draco and his mission. Regular and lengthy visits with Scrimgeour at the Ministry were a constant drain on his attention. He had also since made arrangements for Harry and escorted him to the Burrow, convinced Slughorn to resume teaching Potions at Hogwarts, was reviewing the many memories he had collected of people who had known Voldemort in his past, and continued his Horcrux researches. He was also learning to live with the injury.

His disastrous encounter with the Resurrection Stone remained fresh in his memory, a mistake for which he could not forgive himself, because of what it must mean for Harry. Withal he was satisfied that his plan to have Harry find and eliminate the remaining Horcruxes was the best he could salvage from the situation, though the task should have been his. He could but strive to teach Harry as much as possible, and learn as much as possible to pass on, in the year that remained to him.

It was the Deathly Hallows that still caused him disquiet, a new and unexpected element in his plans. Harry was the already the master of the Cloak, as he had been since his first year at school. Now Albus had the other two. He could pass them to Harry, after his death. Yet, admirable though Harry was, Albus wondered if he could resist the temptation to misuse the Stone. He recalled the boy’s fascination with his parents in the Mirror of Erised. The fresh wound of Sirius’s death, also, was clearly affecting him, Albus had seen it when he met the boy, and that would be followed, this year, with the unexpected loss of Albus himself. How to give him the Stone was a matter of some delicacy, though he already had some ideas….

This left one more problem for his consideration. Albus leaned back in the thronelike chair behind his desk in the Headmaster’s office, and steepled his fingers, gazing down at his wand, which lay on his desk next to a silver ink pot and empty teacup. Scarcely over a foot long, no wider than his finger, it did not look perilous. The Elder Wand. If ever Voldemort learned of its existence, he would not rest until he possessed it. Albus knew that the lure of its power would prove irresistible.

Its trail had grown cold, over the course of decades, yet people still lived who could give Voldemort the clues that would enable him to find it. Albus straightened, as a fresh difficulty dawned on him. Voldemort, for his own reasons, would surely be seeking out the very person from whom Albus himself had learned that the wandmaker Gregorovitch had possessed the wand. From whom else would Voldemort seek to learn why his wand had failed him in his duel with Harry, if not from Ollivander, who had made both wands?

From Gregorovitch, who yet lived, to Gellert who likewise lived, the trail could be followed, and would lead Voldemort to him. And from him, to Severus, who could have no idea of this particular danger among the many he faced. This consequence of his plan to neutralize the wand had not previously occurred to him. He could change the plan, he thought to himself. Tell Severus he had reconsidered, but what would he do instead?

He was still dying, and still of Voldemort’s curse. Allowing a Death Eater to kill him would not solve the problem, his murderer would win the wand, and since Voldemort would not hesitate to go after any of the others, he would thus become master of the wand in turn. An even less acceptable outcome. Perhaps the whole mess might even be over, before Voldemort found it…

Sternly, Albus told himself to cease engaging in wishful thinking. The matter bore further thought; he certainly had no solution to it at present. However, if it was a delay he wanted, there was a way to keep the information from Voldemort. At least until after his own death, and if he were lucky, for some time thereafter. Pleased by this new idea, Albus withdrew a sheet of parchment from one of his desk drawers and placed it before him. He dipped his quill into the inkpot, he began to write.

***

The tavern door opened, but the bright sunlight outside made only slight inroads on the gloom of the interior. It could scarce compete with the clouds of cigarette smoke and thick glass windows coated in what seemed the dust and grime of decades. An old man walked in, and stopped to look around, his wide silver eyes seeking something in the gloom. The suit, in a conservative color and a cut that had gone out of style half a century ago, drew some attention from the rather more casually dressed Muggles at the bar and tables near the door. Naturally, his guest was not up on the latest Muggle fashions, Albus thought with a smile. His own purple Hawaiian shirt, while a tad flamboyant, suited the weather and the ambience far better. Albus raised his uninjured hand and. Ollivander returned the gesture and headed straight for the back of the tavern where Albus was sitting.

“Dumbledore!” Ollivander greeted him, and Albus rose. Ollivander extended his hand, visibly taken aback at the blackened, shriveled appearance of Albus’s hand, though he did take it and grasp it in a weak handshake. He then seated himself on the other side of the rickety, scarred wooden table.

“Ollivander!” Albus replied, sitting back down as well. “Nothing to worry about,” he added with a little wave of his right hand. “Just a little reminder that my reflexes are not what they once were,” he added with a sigh.

“I do hope you have your reasons for making me come here,” Ollivander replied, glancing about the seedy interior of the tavern with a look of disfavor. “So, how is old Fawkes? Any chance he has another feather to contribute?” Ollivander asked, curving his lips in a smile that did not quite reach his eyes.

“No, I’m afraid I don’t have another feather for you,” Albus replied. “He is well, though, thank you. And how is your business this summer?”

“My busiest time of year is coming soon, as you well know,” Ollivander replied. “All the new first-years will be wanting their first wands. Though I did sell one to an older student, this morning. The Longbottom boy - a neat, bendy little wand, cherry and unicorn hair, nine and one half inches. He lost his previous wand fighting Death Eaters at the Ministry last month, as Augusta was quick to tell me.”

Ollivander gave him a meaningful glance, but Albus ignored this obvious attempt to fish for more information on the Ministry battle, which remained the subject of much fervid speculation among the wizard population.

Their small talk was interrupted by the barman, who approached their table to take Ollivander’s order.

Ollivander glanced somewhat dubiously at the half-filled glass sitting in front of Dumbledore, but then, with a look of resignation, said, “I’ll have what he’s having.”

“Another for you?” the barman asked Dumbledore.

“No, thank you,” Albus replied.

The barman left to get a second glass of ale.

“I can’t say I’m too sorry not to have another feather from you, Dumbledore,” Ollivander said, breaking the brief silence that ensued after the barman’s interruption. “I am not at all sure I would want to fashion another wand of such a feather, considering how the others have turned out. I hope you have a good reason for dragging an old man out to this wizard-forsaken spot, when we both have perfectly nice places of business in which we could have met instead.”

“I think you will agree, once we have spoken, that my precautions were prudent,” Albus said. “What I have to say, in fact, does touch on Fawkes, and your business.”

“So, what is it that you have to say to me, that you could not simply tell me in the back room of my shop or entrust to an owl?”

“My dear Ollivander, let me begin with a story. The characters are not unknown to you, and the outline created a sensation this past year when published in the Quibbler. I believe you will find it of interest.”

“Very well, since I have dragged myself out here, I’ll hear it.”

Albus glanced over and saw the barman filling a glass from the tap behind the bar. He watched as the man returned to the table and placed the glass in front of Ollivander without comment, and then turned away. Ollivander picked up the glass and wrinkled his nose slightly, then took a sip. Sighing, he put it back down and gave Albus his full attention.

“Slightly more than a year ago,” Albus began, “the wizard who now styles himself Lord Voldemort, with the assistance of his followers, enacted a powerful ritual of Dark Magic, thereby restoring to himself a complete semblance of life.”

Ollivander had paled slightly at the name, but now nodded his head with apparent calm and had another sip of his ale. This much of the story was widely known, thanks to Harry’s interview with Rita Skeeter.

After taking a drink from his own glass, Albus continued, “Voldemort desired, as his first act upon his return to full power, to demonstrate to his Death Eaters that Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, has no special powers and poses no threat to his dominance. To this end, he forced the boy to duel him. You can imagine without my assistance, I suppose, what this entailed for poor Harry.”

“Indeed,” Ollivander murmured, his expression somber.

“And then, once he tired of this sport, Voldemort cast the Killing Curse at the boy,” Albus finished.

“But the boy is still-” Ollivander’s objection died unfinished. He leaned back with a self-satisfied smile, his silver eyes seeming to gleam in the dim light of the tavern.

“You know where this is going, I see,” Albus said. “The twin cores. Harry in that same moment attempted a Disarming Charm, and the wands refused to work against one another. Harry was able to take advantage of this occurrence to escape back to Hogwarts with his life, and this tale.”

“Remarkable,” Ollivander said. “Is there, then, something further you seek to learn about the two wands from me? It is matter of some interest to me, and great rarity, of which you speak.”

“Not I,” Albus replied. “For the past year, Voldemort has been biding his time, exploiting the unwillingness of the Ministry to credit Harry’s claim of his return. This has recently changed, as a glance at the front page of the Daily Prophet would no doubt convince you. Do you doubt that a top priority for him will be to learn why it was that his wand failed?”

Ollivander shook his head.

“Do you doubt from whom he will seek the answer?”

The blood seemed to run out of Ollivander’s face as Albus spoke, and his eyes grew even wider. With a trembling hand, he brought the glass to his lips and took a great gulp, slopping a bit of the ale on his tie. After setting the glass back down, he took a deep breath.

“Why...why are you telling me this? What do you want me to do?” Ollivander asked, his voice quavering despite his evident effort to control his fear.

“I see you recognize the threat this poses to you,” Albus said. “As, obviously, it also threatens Harry. Our interests coincide in this. I no more wish to see Voldemort ask you these questions, than you do. If you will accept my help, I could help you hide from him.”

“Hide?” Ollivander echoed him in surprise. “Where?”

“We can work that out together,” Albus said. “I doubt the location much matters. If you have a preference, I can help to add protections to the hiding place of your choice. I also have a suggestion or two to make, if you have no ideas. But you will need to truly disappear. The Ministry and casual acquaintances must have no idea of your location, or Voldemort will find you. Naturally, your shop cannot remain open.”

“My – my shop? But then, what will I do?” Ollivander asked dazedly.

“Have no illusions - if they could get to Amelia Bones in her home, they can certainly get to you in Diagon Alley,” Albus replied. “Even if I had people to spare to stand guard over you – what surer way could we choose to advertise to Voldemort that the two of us have something of importance that we wish to hide from him?”

“True, true,” Ollivander agreed.

He shook his head and was quiet for a while, seemingly absorbing the news. Albus sat in silence, sipping his ale.

Finally, Ollivander spoke again, sounding more composed. “I suppose, at my age, I was past due for retirement anyway. So, when shall I go?”

“The sooner, the better,” Albus replied. “And while you make any necessary preparations, you would be well advised to stay on your guard.”

“I see,” Ollivander said, nodding his head emphatically in agreement. “Yes, the sooner, the better. I do not wish to leave my wands behind – I know them all, their cores, the trees whence I obtained their wood, and the labor of their making. Call me sentimental, but as I have had no children of my own, so those children of my mind and hands are dear to me. And if this cursed war ends in my lifetime, I might wish to return to my work. I would need a few days, to move them, and find a new place to live.”

“So you could aim for this weekend?” Albus asked.

“Yes,” Ollivander said with a nod of his head. “I’ll close the shop tonight, move the wands, and then make new living arrangements. I even have an idea of the place. My late wife, God rest her soul, was, as you know, of Muggle stock. We had spoken, idly, before her death, of retiring one day to Walberswick, a seaside village where she had spent some happy childhood vacations, and which we occasionally visited. Would a cottage rented from Muggles there, be sufficiently inconspicuous?”

“Yes, that sounds eminently suitable, though you might consider investing in some more current Muggle clothes. You will be able to make the arrangements yourself?” Albus asked.

“I’ll manage, yes,” Ollivander said.

“Very well. Let us meet in the main square of the village this Sunday at noon,” Albus said. “I can help with additional protective spells. Until then, I recommend we stay away from one another, lest anyone get suspicious of our plans.”

“I’ll do that,” Ollivander agreed.

“And now, I have other business to attend to,” Albus said, pulling out his wallet and counting out Muggle money he had acquired for this purpose to pay for the drinks. “Farewell,” he added as he got to his feet.

Albus saw Ollivander wave vaguely in his direction and mumble a response, then turned and left.

***

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“Death is the only pure, beautiful conclusion of a great passion.”-D. H. Lawrence

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Last edited by arithmancer; March 10th, 2008 at 5:42 pm.
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  #13  
Old March 15th, 2008, 11:24 pm
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arithmancer  Undisclosed.gif arithmancer is offline
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Author's Note: Yes, this is one of my shorter chapters. In my defense, it was originally combined with a shorter version of Chapter 12, which grew unexpectedly into a chapter in its own right thanks to the excellenet suggestions of my beta, Fleur du mal.

The next chapter is considerably longer already.


***

Chapter 13: Unexpected Visitors

Severus stood over a cauldron in the cramped, dingy kitchen of his home. It hung over a brazier he had set up on the ancient, scarred linoleum floor. Its pattern could only faintly be discerned under decades of grime and scorch marks that suggested this was not the first time the floor had been so abused. A few rays of sunlight peeked in around the ancient, yellowed and cracked shade that had kept away the gaze of curious neighbors, and still served now to keep the chance wandering Muggle from seeing something he ought not to see. A candlestick completed the illumination. From the dish into which he had carefully measured the required quantity of powdered newt skin, Severus took a pinch and tossed it into the bubbling cauldron of Veritaserum antidote in preparation. He stirred the potion counterclockwise with his wand until the powder dissolved, and then he gave one clockwise stir. As he reached for another pinch of the powder, he heard a loud knock on his door. Grabbing the powder, he tossed it into the cauldron and again began to stir. The knocking was repeated, even more loudly.

“Wormtail!” Severus exclaimed loudly. “The door!”

“But-” Severus heard through the door to the sitting room.

“Now,” Severus demanded. Irritated at the necessity of interrupting his work, he removed his wand from the potion and caused the door to fly open. Wormtail looked as though he might object again, but thought better of it as Severus glared at him, and walked over to open the door a crack.

“Come in, come in!” he said to Severus’s unknown guest. Two cloaked figures stepped through the door. “Good morning-”

“Wormtail, why don’t you take my guests’ cloaks,” Severus called through the kitchen door. Giving the cauldron a final stir, he turned the fire down to leave the potion at a low simmer and went to greet the new arrivals.

“Good morning, Snape,” said the taller of his two guests. The second, a man Severus did not recognize, had refused to relinquish his cloak to Wormtail. He was leaning, huddled, against a bookshelf next to the door.

“Yaxley! An unexpected pleasure,” Severus replied. “What is it that brings you here?”

And how, he wondered privately, had Yaxley found the place? This must be the first fruit of his Vow with Narcissa.

“It’s Gibbon, here,” Yaxley replied, indicating his companion. “Got into a spot of trouble last night with an Auror patrol. Whatever they hit him with is pretty odd; the Aurors’ll have a description of the injury passed to St. Mungo’s. I hoped it might wear off overnight.”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“I can take a look, at any rate,” Severus offered. “You, Gibbon – do you know what it was they hit you with?” he asked, turning to the stranger. The short, stocky man shook his head in denial.

“Can he speak?” Severus asked Yaxley.

“Yes,” Yaxley replied. “Just keeps complaining of pain, is all. And, well, you’ll see.”

“Let me see it, then,” Severus said, grasping his Gibbon’s upper arm and steering him towards his armchair. “Here, sit down in the chair, the light is better here.”

His visitor sat down as ordered, and allowed Severus to remove his hooded cloak. The left side of his face, neck, and his left hand were a bright, angry red, and tentacle-like growths sprouted in irregular clumps.

With his wand, Severus cut open the left sleeve of the man’s robe and exposed his left arm and shoulder. The curses, for the effect he was seeing was not that of any single curse he had ever encountered, had hit his left shoulder, he could see now, and affected an area around this spot.

“Furnunculus, and something else,” Severus opined. “The first, I’ll fix easily.” Placing his wand on the largest clump of tentacles, he performed a counterjinx, and the tentacles vanished.

His patient cried out in pain.

“My apologies,” Severus said smoothly. “You weren’t supposed to feel anything.”

“Wormtail!” he ordered. “Bring firewhiskey and some glasses.”

Wormtail returned, carrying a tray with a bottle and glasses. Snape poured his patient a generous glassful of firewhiskey and handed it to him.

“Here, drink this,” Severus said as he pushed the glass into Gibbon’s right hand.

‘Thank you,” Gibbon responded in a weak voice. His hand shook and he slopped some of the amber beverage on himself as he took a sip.

“Drink up, man, while I go back into the other room to hunt up something better for the pain,” said Severus.

“Why don’t you sit down and join him?” he suggested to Yaxley. “I might be a few minutes.”

“I have business for the Dark Lord to attend to,” Yaxley said. “You’ll be able deal with this?”

Severus nodded his assurance.

“Then I’d like to leave him in your hands,” Yaxley said.

“I understand,” Snape said with a curl of his lip. “I have an Order meeting tonight, but I’ll have Gibbon straightened out well before that.”

Yaxley and Gibbon both chuckled appreciatively.

“Wormtail, his cloak,” Snape said.

Yaxley allowed Wormtail to place the cloak back on his shoulders, while Gibbon, Severus was pleased to see, was making progress on the firewhiskey.

“Say, Snape, speaking of meetings,” Yaxley said, “A group of us are getting together on the evening of the second, at Selwyn’s. Why don’t you come by? I will let him know to expect you.”

“We’ll see, I might be able to make it,” Severus said, hiding his interest in the invitation. A month ago, Yaxley would not have come by, nor would he have made such an invitation.

“Good day, then, Snape,” Yaxley said as he headed for the door. “And, thank you.”

“Good day,” Severus replied. “I’ll be back,” he said, turning to Gibbon. “You can leave now,” he added to Wormtail, “I shall not require further assistance.”

Wormtail shot him an angry look but retreated up the stairs as Severus headed back into the kitchen. In a storage cupboard over the counter, he found a small vial of a pain-killing potion. Ascertaining first that he was out of Gibbon’s line of sight, he added a drop of Veritaserum from another vial to it, and returned to the sitting room. Gibbon’s glass was now empty, Severus noted with satisfaction.

“Here’s a pain-killing potion,” he said. “Tastes vile, though…ah, yes, the firewhiskey would hide the taste quite nicely.”

Severus poured another generous glass out for his guest, and then added the contents of the vial, swirling the glass to let it all combine.

“There you go, mind you drink it all,” Severus said. Gibbon tossed it back, and Severus could see some of the tension in his upper body melting away.

“That feels better,” Gibbon commented.

“We’ll just wait a little longer for it to finish working before I get rid of the rest of those tentacles,” Severus said. He sat down across from his patient and poured himself a glass as well. Raising his glass, he feigned to notice that his guest’s glass was empty, and refilled it as well.

‘The Dark Lord,” he said, and tossed the glass down

“The Dark Lord,” Gibbon repeated, and followed suit.

Severus refilled both glasses and sat back. The symptoms of a true dose of Veritaserum would rouse suspicions in retrospect, but the combination of three glasses of firewhiskey, a painkilling potion and one drop, ought to be mistaken for inebriation, if he kept the conversation subtle.

“Too bad no one knew the patrol was coming,” Severus said, feigning concern. “It’s a pity Lucius is in Azkaban; he always had useful contacts at the Ministry.”

“Oh, Yaxley don’t do half badly,” Gibbon opined with a smile, as he slid down in the chair a bit. “Not quite as much money to spread around, but he’s a Ministry man, and that helps.”

“I imagine so,” Severus agreed. “He must have some good contacts of his own, mustn’t he?”

Gibbon shrugged. “I s’ppose so.”

Severus cursed inwardly. Gibbon, it seemed, had no idea who these contacts might be. Which was logical, for a foot soldier in Yaxley’s operation, he reminded himself, though it made him no happier. This soiree of Selwyn’s to which Yaxley had just invited him was probably a better bet for having a conversation with someone who knew. Dosing them with Veritaserum was probably not in the cards, however. Perhaps he could learn something about Gibbon’s fellows, at least.

“Bad luck for you, that you were the only one hit,” Severus essayed.

“Yes, curse that Greyback!” Gibbon said, his voice loud, but growing a bit slurred. “He was so riled up me an’ th’ Carrows had to drag him away from the fight. Tha’s when I got hit.”

His arms now hung limply over the sides of the chair. Greyback and the Carrows. No new names there, Severus noted. But the potions were certainly working…

“How are you feeling now?” Severus inquired.

“Not feelin’ a thing,” Gibbon replied, a silly grin on his face. “Bit dizzy, though. Tongue feels all furry-like. And I feel like I might just float away-”

“Good. I’ll get to work, then,” Severus said, cutting into the verbal diarrhea his question had prompted. The Veritaserum had certainly loosened his tongue. Rising, he walked over to Gibbon, and began the process of removing all of the growths.

“Greyback was riled up, you say?” Severus asked. “Then, your mission was not a success?” This would be useful information – if he could learn the target, Dumbledore might be able to deliver a warning before a fresh attack was planned.

The tentacles that had sprouted from Gibbon’s left cheek vanished under Severus’s ministrations. His patient did not even notice.

“What?” Gibbon said with a scowl, “Oh, no, not at all,” he said with a grin, clearly relishing the memory. “Greyback jus’ had hisself such a good time that he did not want to leave.”

Another blind alley – the raid had been a success. Severus moved on to the next clump of tentacles on Gibbon’s neck below his left ear, and Gibbon launched into a fond reminiscence of the night’s activities as he worked. Grateful for the excuse his work provided, Severus focused on the task and tried to let the vivid images evoked by Gibbon’s rambling pass through his mind. He was abruptly grateful for his work at Hogwarts, and the excuse it had provided for him to stay away from more active duties. He’d not actually seen such things since the first war had ended, but he realized as he listened, that this would soon be changing. With the death of Albus Dumbledore, he would have no further excuses, for in the eyes of the Dark Lord and of the world, he would have no more need to hide.

***

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  #14  
Old March 29th, 2008, 6:58 am
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arithmancer  Undisclosed.gif arithmancer is offline
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

And, after a week off for Easter, emergency room visits (nothing serious) and a business trip, the story is back with...

***

Chapter 14: The Order Meets

By the dim light of the old-fashioned gas lamp, Severus made his way silently down the long entrance hallway of 12 Grimmauld Place. He was careful to avoid the small, rickety table and umbrella stand. His efforts at stealth met with success; the curtained portrait of Mrs. Black remained silent as he swept past it. Reaching the end of the hall, he opened the door before him. As he descended the narrow stone staircase beyond, he could hear the hum of conversation rising from the kitchen below.

His arrival went unnoticed be his fellow Order members. The meeting had not yet begun, and he was by no means the last to arrive. He noticed with a twinge of relief that Nymphadora Tonks was already present – Snape had no wish to hear what Mrs. Black might have to say, especially now that she was likely acquainted with the twin facts that her son was dead and her house had been willed to a half-blood.

Minerva, he saw, was already present, and was comparing notes with Arthur Weasley on their recent experiences at St. Mungo’s. Severus walked over and pulled up a chair near them, causing Mrs. Weasley to jump in startlement.

“Professor Snape!” she exclaimed, “Good evening.”

“Good evening, Mrs. Weasley,” he replied, giving her a slight bow. Mr. Weasley and Minerva interrupted their conversation to greet him as well, and then he sat down.

“Have you heard? Arthur has been promoted,” Mrs. Weasley said proudly.

“I had not,” Severus replied.

“He’s now heading the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects, with ten people reporting to him,” Molly explained. “It is a very responsible position.”

“I see,” Severus replied. While the length of the name of Mr. Weasley’s new office was certainly much longer, Severus rather doubted that office was correspondingly more effective. It seemed more likely that this was yet another cosmetic change, implemented more to create the illusion of safety, than with an eye to prevent a takeover by the Dark Lord, the true danger the Ministry faced.

“A lot of it is just getting junk off the market, of course, fake protective amulets and potions and the like,” Mrs. Weasley added, confirming Severus’s opinion. He sneered at the gullibility of his fellow wizards.

“But some dangerous items come up too!” Mrs. Weasley added heatedly. “Why, early this month, Arthur confiscated a box of cursed Sneakoscopes. Just last week, one of his subordinates discovered a protective potion that was actually poisonous. He’s at St. Mungo’s, though they say he may recover in time….” Mrs. Weasley said uncertainly, sounding worried.

“Say, those incidents seemed like something a Death Eater might be behind,” Mrs. Weasley essayed, a few moments later. “You would not happen to know-”

“No,” Severus replied curtly. It galled him that he did not, for her hypothesis was a reasonable one. A few dangerous items put about to increase the sense of panic and danger in the public would be a logical contribution to the destabilization of the Ministry. But his access to his fellow Death Eaters had been limited of late. Though he was working on that problem.

Mrs. Weasley seemed to have run out of comments, and an awkward silence ensued between them. Minerva and Mr. Weasley had moved on to discussing last night’s Death Eater raid in which a young Muggle woman had died, mauled by the notorious werewolf, Greyback. Tonks, with dark circles under her eyes and her face pale under uncharacteristically mousy brown hair, chimed in with a vicious regret that the basta@rd she had cursed had apparently been removed by his fellows.

So she was the Auror whose spells had struck Gibbon. It had been a first-rate curse, Severus had to agree, requiring no little skill to counter, an observation he kept to himself. He listened with Minerva and the Weasleys to her low-voiced account of the scene she had found once she and the other Aurors had driven the Death Eaters away. It was not news to him, as he’d already heard a detailed account, in Gibbon’s potion-aided babbling, of the actions that had created the horror Tonks recounted.

Yet it was worse, somehow, in this company. The others’ exclamations of abhorrence underlined his difference from them. They had not tended the perpetrators, or offered them hospitality. They did not bear the same mark.

Tonks finished her account, looking suspiciously misty-eyed. Mrs. Weasley pulled her chair closer to her and put an arm around Tonks’s shoulder. Whatever she had been planning to say was interrupted by the arrival of Alastor Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt.

“Dumbledore told me that he would be late, and suggested we get started without him,” Moody announced. “Perhaps Kingsley could start us off with a report on the Muggle Minister.”

A chorus of assent greeted this suggestion. All turned towards the tall Auror to listen, while Moody took a seat near the staircase; the better, Severus deduced, to keep his magical eye on the entrance behind him. After a succinct update, indicating the Muggle Minister was believed secure for the moment, Kingsley suggested Tonks should discuss the Auror Office’s plans for patrolling Hogsmeade in the coming school year.

Tonks rose, her eyes still slightly red, though her manner was crisp and professional. She had completed an introduction in which she explained that she was to be one of the Aurors assigned to Hogsmeade, when abruptly she paled and stopped mid sentence, fumbling for her previous train of thought. Mrs. Weasley, with a resentful glance at the staircase, asked her a question in her kindest voice, and this got her back on track.

Severus turned to find the source of Tonks’s consternation and Mrs. Weasley’s displeasure – Lupin had arrived. He took a seat at the far end of the table from Tonks. Severus noted without much interest that he looked rather greyer and shabbier than he remembered, though certainly nothing in his appearance warranted Tonks’s extreme reaction. Lupin was pointedly looking away as she spoke.

As Tonks wrapped up her report, Minerva rose to her feet.

“I suppose, as Albus is not here, that I can update you on the plans for Hogwarts’ security that we are implementing in parallel to the Auror patrols described by Nymphadora,” she began.

Severus doubted he would learn anything new. He and Dumbledore had hashed out the details before Severus had left for the summer, with a focus on making sure they had left no loopholes in the defenses for Draco to exploit.

“We’ve completely revamped the protections, and we’ve added new ones,” Minerva continued. “Albus is also asking for volunteers to patrol the school itself, at times when he feels there is heightened risk.”

“I’d be happy to help out,” Lupin spoke up first. “My time is not spoken for,” he added bitterly.

“I’m posted at Hogsmeade anyway,” Tonks offered. Bill Weasley, Alastor Moody, and Hestia Jones also chimed in with their willingness to help out.

“Thank you all, that’s a good start,” Minerva said, looking pleased. “The Ministry is treating the arrangements as top secret, so I’ll speak to you all separately – we can talk after the meeting.”

“What about my fellow Aurors,” Tonks asked. “It might help to know what is already being covered by the new measures.”

“Anything the Aurors know, Voldemort will surely learn. The Ministry leaks like a sieve,” Lupin objected.

“The Dark Lord will know all about the school’s security measures anyway,” Severus interjected.

“Do you know of a specific leak, Severus?” Minerva asked.

“I helped Dumbledore to design those measures,” Severus stated flatly.

Minerva looked taken aback, and a low murmur went about the table.

“It is my opinion that the protections we have in place cannot be breached without inside assistance,” Severus explained. “I will so inform the Dark Lord.”

“Is it wise to admit your role in thwarting his will in this way?” Minerva wondered.

“He believes he has inside assistance,” Severus pointed out.

“Well,” said Minerva into the awkward silence that greeted the explanation. “In that case, Nymphadora, you might as well share what you learn, if you think it will help.” After a final glance at Severus, she began a quick exposition of the new protections, as Dumbledore came down the stairs.

“Please continue,” he told Minerva with a twinkle of his eyes, as he sat down next to Moody. Severus noticed them whispering as Minerva finished her presentation.

When she took her seat, Albus rose. “Thank you, Minerva,” he said. “Remus, would you bring us up to date on the werewolf situation?”

Severus listened to Lupin’s explanation, then to updates by Bill Weasley on Gringotts and the goblins, and finally to Moody on Dementor attacks and other Death Eater activity. As he had nothing of his own to report, his presence felt pointless, but he made himself attend to the details of the others’ concerns. There was always the possibility he would hear mention of something relevant among the Death Eaters, that he could pass on to Dumbledore.

I:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦: I

Dumbledore left the house with the last group of stragglers from the meeting. Though they had agreed to speak afterwards, Severus was nowhere to be seen. Dumbledore said his farewells to the others and they Disapparated, except for Minerva.

“Albus,” she said, “if I might have a moment of your time….”

This diffident approach was not at all her usual manner. A furrowed brow and clenched jaw clearly indicated something was causing her considerable worry.

As Severus appeared not to have stayed to keep his appointment for some reason, Albus supposed he had a moment to spare.

“Certainly, Minerva,” he replied.

“I…It felt wrong, to bring this up in front of the others,” she began hesitantly. “But, are you sure you can trust Severus?”

“Whatever makes you ask, Minerva?” Albus asked, surprised. She had been genuinely shocked to learn two years ago, of Severus’s Dark Mark, but he thought he’d soothed worries on that score long since.

“He as much as said, Albus, that he would be telling Voldemort all about the school’s magical protections!” Minerva said indignantly.

Albus resisted rubbing the bridge of his nose. This conversation must have taken place before his arrival at the meeting. He thought he had a good idea of how it might have gone. There were any number of ways that Severus might have presented the facts to persuade his audience. It appeared he had chosen none of them.

“He explained himself, I would imagine?” Albus inquired, raising an eyebrow.

“He said it was his opinion that no one could breach the protections from the outside,” she said. “But-”

“That is also my opinion, Minerva,” Albus said.

“Oh! I see,” she said, sounding somewhat reassured. “But if someone inside the school helped….”

“He mentioned that as well, did he?” Albus asked. From the look on her face, he had. Probably in a way that suggested him for that role. “Know that Voldemort has not asked it of him. He believes Severus to be too valuable a spy to expose in such a way. Believe me, our students are safe in Severus’s hands.”

Minerva nodded her head. “I am sorry. You are right, of course. He must play his part, as you say.”

“I am glad to have set your mind at rest on that account. Was that all?” he asked.

“It was,” Minerva replied.

“A very good night to you, then, Minerva,” Albus said.

“Good night, Albus,” she said, and then Disapparated with a faint pop.

As soon as she was gone, Severus stepped out from behind the broken gate of Number 11. So he had merely been waiting for the others to leave, Albus realized. His face betrayed no reaction to the conversation he had undoubtedly just overheard, but there was a nervous tension in his movements that he could not quite hide.

“Ah, Severus, there you are. Shall we discuss your mysterious new development at Hogwarts?” Albus suggested.

“Very well. Shall I meet you at the gates?” Severus asked.

“No need, Severus,” Dumbledore said, casting about him for a suitable object. His eyes caught sight of an empty bottle among the refuse spilling from the overflowing rubbish bins of the neighboring house. “Hand me that bottle, please.”

Severus bent down and picked it up. Holding his wand awkwardly in his hand to avoid aggravating his injury, Dumbledore placed the tip on the bottle and spoke the word, “Portus!” It glowed momentarily with a blue light in Severus’s hand. Then Dumbledore reached for it with his left hand, and the Portkey activated.

The familiar sensations of travel by Portkey ended abruptly as his feet once again hit solid ground, with Severus standing beside him. His office was dark; the only light available was that of the moon and stars. Grasping his wand carefully, Dumbledore drew the curtains with one gesture, then lit the candles in their holders, bathing the room in warm light.

“There, much better,” he commented to Severus. “Please, do take a seat,” he invited, removing the bottle from Snape’s hand and Vanishing it with another wave of his wand.

“Thank you,” Severus said, though he remained standing.

“Can I offer you something to drink? Wine, perhaps, or just a pumpkin juice?” Dumbledore offered.

“No, thank you,” Snape replied.

Dumbledore strode around his desk and sat down himself. Severus’s message had not indicated any urgency to this meeting, which is why they had agreed to meet after the next Order meeting. Yet his manner suggested something was bothering him. Rather than prolonging the tension with further attempts at the social amenities, Dumbledore turned the conversation to business.

“So, what have you learned, Severus?” he asked.

“Not much, yet,” Severus replied, “unless you count confirmation of our suspicions. The development is of a different nature. Upon my return home from Hogwarts, I received a visit from Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange.”

“Regarding Draco’s assignment, I presume?” Albus hazarded.

“It was why Narcissa came, yes,” Severus confirmed. “Bellatrix came along to dissuade her from telling me anything.”

“Did Bellatrix succeed? Or did you manage to persuade Narcissa to broach her concerns with you?” Dumbledore asked.

“Narcissa was beside herself, entirely desperate. Nothing Bellatrix had to say made an impression,” Severus said.

“Why do you suppose that is?” Albus asked.

“I believe she came to me on the heels of a visit from the Dark Lord himself,” Severus explained. “She has figured out that the Dark Lord would not mind if Draco failed and died, and she feels his failure is likely. My assurances I would try to help did not suffice for her, and she asked me to make the Unbreakable Vow.” Snape exhaled.

“And?”

“I agreed,” Severus said.

“It was an eventful evening, I see,” Albus remarked lightly. He saw Severus relaxed slightly at his reaction. “So you are bound to help Draco. That should be manageable. What was the exact wording of the terms?”

“While Draco attempts to carry out his mission,” Severus replied, “I have sworn to watch over him, protect him as well as I am able, and kill you myself in the event he fails.”

Fate, it seemed, had taken a hand in the matter. Changing his mind about Severus’s role in his plans was no longer an option, it seemed.

“As you say, there is nothing in your vow to cause disquiet,” Albus said.

“It seemed worth the trouble,” Severus said. “It certainly reassured Narcissa. In addition, it convinced Bellatrix of my bona fides, something the lengthy discussion that preceded Narcissa’s request, had not.”

“So you and Bellatrix are now reconciled?” Albus asked.

“Hardly,” Severus said with a wry grimace. “No, she has gone from suspecting me of treason, to viewing me as a dangerous competitor for the Dark Lord’s favor. I expect she will still prove an obstacle for me with Draco, but at least I have won Narcissa’s trust, and improved my standing among the other Death Eaters.”

“How so? What you have done is known, then?” Albus asked.

“I’m not sure,” Severus replied candidly. “It seems likely Wormtail could have seen or heard the Vow, he was as usual around when Narcissa came. However, I have other indications that I am viewed with less suspicion,” Severus said.

“Indeed?”

“This morning I was visited by Yaxley, in the company of a Death Eater injured in last night’s raid,” Severus explained. “He sought my assistance for the injured man, Gibbon.”

“Gibbon…,” Albus mused. Some ten years Severus’s senior, he recalled. He’d not been in any way a memorable student. “They would hardly expect to be turned away.”

“True. But Yaxley invited me to a meeting, in exchange for the favor. And also left me alone with Gibbon.” Severus made a sour expression. “Unfortunately Gibbon does not seem to know anything of any use.”

“How so?”

“I dosed him with Veritaserum and firewhiskey under the guise of treating him,” Severus said with a shrug. “He revealed the names of his companions, but they are all known to us – the Carrows, and Greyback. He knows nothing of Yaxley’s Ministry activities of contacts.”

“I see. Nonetheless, the invitation by Yaxley is, as you say, a positive sign. It seems also, that you may have more to report, over the remainder of the summer.”

“I hope it may be so,” Severus agreed.

Dumbledore opened the top drawer of his desk and rummaged around in it, finding a pair of identical Muggle coins left from his meetings with Ollivander. He placed them on his desk and enchanted them with a variant of the Protean Charm.

“In case you should have an urgent need to pass me information,” Albus said. “Meet me on the hilltop when I respond to your call.”

Severus approached the desk and pocketed his coin with a nod of his head. Of their occasional meeting places, the very first place to which he had brought Albus information made the most sense. Hogwarts might be watched, and Albus’s favored Muggle pub might be closed, depending on the hour.

Albus, too, rose to his feet.

“Good night, then, Albus,” Severus said.

“Feel free to use my Floo,” Albus offered.

Severus shook his head. “Wormtail will expect me to be returning from Order headquarters. I’d better Apparate.”

Albus nodded his understanding.

“Good night, Severus,” he replied.

***

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  #15  
Old April 6th, 2008, 10:10 pm
arithmancer's Avatar
arithmancer  Undisclosed.gif arithmancer is offline
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Author’s Note: This chapter includes scenes from the chapter “Draco’s Detour” of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The dialogue in those scenes is therefore all Rowling’s.

Chapter 15: Draco’s Detour

“You have to mean it, Draco,” his aunt said for the umpteenth time. Her exasperation with his difficulties was evident.

He’d done well enough, once he’d gotten he hang of it, killing the cockroaches Aunt Bella had found for him in the dungeons, in earlier lessons. Repulsive creatures that they were: he certainly meant for them to die before they could crawl up to him.

The stray kitten, though, inspired no such revulsion in Draco. It was pitiful – scrawny, underfed, mewling thinly in the cage Bella had conjured for it. Draco knew he’d regret his failure; his aunt’s lessons had a way of turning…unpleasant, when he disappointed her, and he doubted today’s lesson would prove an exception.

He closed his eyes for a moment, reminding himself of why he was doing this. Potter’s mocking face swam before his eyes, and his voice rang in Draco’s ears. “…at least everyone knows what scumbags they are now.”

Extending his wand in the direction of the cage, and opening his eyes at the very last moment to check his aim, he shouted, “Avada Kedavra!

There was a flash of green light, and the kitten slumped instantly to the floor of the cage, one limp, furry little paw sliding out towards him to hang between the bars.

“Much better,” Bellatrix said. “To kill a grown wizard will require even more power, but this you do not lack. Focus, Draco, that is what you need to work on. Know what you want to have happen, concentrate on the desire you feel, and the spell will work for you. When, in the end, you stand before Dumbledore, you must remember you want him dead.”

“Yes, Aunt Bella,” Draco agreed. That should prove no problem, if his plan to ambush the old man worked. If not for Dumbledore, his father would not be in jail. Surely, killing him would be glorious, nothing like this pointless and somehow tawdry destruction of a harmless animal.

“That’s enough practicing for today,” Bellatrix said, and following a single flourish of her wand, the dead cat and its cage vanished.

These lessons had given Draco a new appreciation of how much there remained for him to learn. In addition to her facility with the Dark Arts, both the Unforgivable Curses and an impressive variety of curses, hexes, and jinxes, his aunt performed magic with an amazing speed and facility. Vanishing two objects as she had just done, with one spell – Draco’s mastery of Charms sufficed, barely, for the same feat of Vanishing them together, at least in a good day. His aunt could do it without speaking, or any apparent effort.

“Before we finish up, I want to go over what you will do tomorrow one final time,” Bellatrix said.

Draco shrugged. “We’ve been over this many times already. Mother is taking me shopping. I’ll get away from her and drop in on Borgin. He is to hold the Cabinet in his shop for me indefinitely, and to assist me with instructions for repairing the other one, the one at Hogwarts.”

“You can’t tell him that!” Aunt Bella snapped.

“Of course not, Aunt Bella,” Draco agreed, keeping himself from rolling his eyes with some difficulty.

“He may not take you seriously,” she warned.

“I can show him the Mark,” Draco pointed out, deciding not to remind her she had suggested this herself during a previous discussion.

“Yes, and I think that will help,” she said. “Still, it cannot hurt to make doubly sure. Our plan depends on his cooperation. I will make sure Greyback checks in on him regularly while you are away at school.”

Draco suppressed a shudder at her mention of the notorious werewolf. He was one servant of the Dark Lord Draco did not fancy meeting, ever. “Thank you, Aunt Bella,” he said. “That ought to motivate him.”

“We’ll need to talk Cissy into letting you go,” Bellatrix said, sighing. “I’ll take care of it at dinner.”

“Aunt Bella,” Draco began, hesitating, “I think it might be best if you let me handle my mother.”

“Nonsense,” Bellatrix replied. “I’m sure I can make her see reason.”

“Yes, Aunt Bella,” Draco said with some trepidation. He rather doubted that, himself. He could only hope that he would be able to undo any damage his aunt did with her heavy-handed approach to his mother.

A bell rang, indicating Narcissa was inviting them both up for the evening meal.

o:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦: o


Narcissa returned from tea at Alexia Yaxley’s to a seemingly deserted Malfoy Manor. Doubtless, this meant that Bella and Draco were off in the dungeon again, as they were most days. She missed the familiar sight of Draco engaging in the normal summer activities of a boy his age – playing Quidditch on the front lawn with friends, boating on the pond beyond the extensive gardens that were visible through the kitchen window, or lounging in a hammock in those same gardens, enjoying a book or magazine. It distressed her that her son spent so little time at these pursuits he loved…but she had been defeated by the united front her sister and her son had presented in the face of her objections.

Heaving a sigh, she opened the oven door and flicked her wand at the interior, watching the flames she summoned spring to life. They burned rather too hot and high, naturally. Taking a calming breath, she moderated the flames and shut the door.

Indeed, there was truth to their arguments. The Unbreakable Vow she had extracted from Severus Snape reassured her regarding the success of Draco’s mission, but it did not alter the fact that Draco was now a Death Eater. Nothing would, short of death, his or the Dark Lord’s…Narcissa shied away from that thought. It was not necessary or fruitful to dwell on such thoughts, she reminded herself firmly, now that she had dealt with the immediate danger. A wave of her wand caused the cabinet doors to fly open. A roasting pan and pair of pots floated out and landed on the stove with a reverberating clang.

Still, as a Death Eater, it could only help Draco if he showed a creditable attempt at accomplishing his assigned task. Further, the training Bella was providing should serve Draco well as he took on whatever challenges his chosen course presented him following the death of Dumbledore. It would prepare him for the future he had chosen, and however much Narcissa would have preferred it to wait a couple more years, she recognized that Draco’s own choice had made that impractical.

From a drawer next to the oven, she extracted a parchment with the neatly lettered menus her housekeeping service dropped off every week. She had three options remaining, she noted, and decided on the pheasant, to start the weekend off on a festive note. She had drawn the line at weekends. And tomorrow was not only a Saturday, but a day Narcissa had long anticipated and planned for Draco’s amusement. The annual shopping trip to Diagon Alley had been a special day Lucius and Draco had always shared together, but she would not allow that to spoil her son’s enjoyment. There would be shopping, lunch in a private room at the Leaky Cauldron, and to cap it off, the traditional visit to Quality Quidditch Supplies – she’d give Draco at least that, this summer.

With a wave of her wand, she caused the pheasant, already stuffed and fully cooked for her, to appear in the roasting pan, and placed it in the oven to reheat. The side dishes followed it into their pots, and then into the oven, in short order. Narcissa sat down to wait at the kitchen table, and sipped a restorative glass of firewhiskey as she gazed out at the lovely prospect of the gardens outside the kitchen window.

When the smells coming out of the oven assured her dinner could shortly be served, she rang the bell. Draco and Bella showed up promptly at her summons. Draco had a nervous, tense look to him, and Narcissa abruptly felt doubly glad of the plans she had made. Bella helped her transfer the meal to the table, while Draco set the table.

After they had eaten, and Draco had cleared the dishes away, Narcissa summoned the pudding onto a platter she had placed on the table. Bellatrix poured hot coffee for herself and Cissy, and spoke up.

“Cissy, Draco has some business he ought to take care of tomorrow,” she began. “It would be best for him to go alone-”

“No!” Narcissa cut her off, rather more loudly than was strictly necessary. “These are dangerous times.”

“He’s not a child-” Bella essayed.

“I said, no!” Narcissa repeated.

“Surely, Aunt Bella, we can take care of it some other time,” Draco said, casting what he hoped was a meaningful glance in the direction of his aunt.

“If anything needs to be done at Diagon Alley, I can come along,” Narcissa said.

“Ridiculous!” Bella said heatedly.

“Aunt Bella,” Draco began.

“Bella,” Narcissa said, “you must remember, from our own childhood, the annual trips to Diagon Alley to shop for Hogwarts. Fittings for the most fashionable new robes, new supplies and books and trinkets, and capping it all off, ice cream at Fortescue’s with Mama and Papa for the three of us….” Narcissa trailed off doubtfully, realizing she had broached an unfortunate subject, caught up in her own reminiscences.

Bellatrix scowled at her, but kept her peace.

“Well, I remember,” Narcissa said firmly. “And I am going to give Draco that same day tomorrow. His father cannot be there, but I will not permit you to ruin tomorrow any further. Shopping, lunch, and a trip to Quality Quidditch-”

Draco saw his opportunity, as his mother’s voice quavered ever so slightly. “Thank you, Mother. That sounds wonderful. Though, I would rather not go to … to the broom shop. It was always my special treat with Father.”

Narcissa swallowed a lump in her throat.

“I’ve been thinking myself – you always went to Mademoiselle Violette’s for a beauty treatment while Father and I shopped, and I don’t want to deprive you of that. Why don’t you go directly before lunch, and I can drop in to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes-”

“The Weasleys are filthy blood-traitors!” Aunt Bella interrupted, glaring at Draco in disbelief. Draco stamped on her foot underneath the table.

“I am not proposing to marry their brat of a sister,” Draco sneered. He added, in a pleading tone, “Mother, it is the cool new joke shop everyone at school will be talking about. I can’t be the only one who has never been there. I thought, while you visit Mademoiselle-”

“No. You’re not wandering off alone-” Narcissa began.

“Please?” Draco asked, looking crestfallen. “Mother, it is only a few doors down from Violette’s. You’ll know right where I am, and I promise to be right back, before you are even finished. Please, as a special treat?”

Narcissa looked at her son for a moment, and then at Bella’s stormy expression. She could understand his wish not to share with her the portion of the trip that he had always enjoyed the most with Lucius. And while it held no appeal at all to her, a joke shop was a rather touchingly boyish desire. With a sigh, she conceded. “Very well, Draco.”

Bella shot them astonished look, and Narcissa glared back at her fiercely.

“Thank you, Mother,” Draco said with a smile that warmed her heart.

o:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦: o


Draco stood before the tall mirror in Madam Malkin’s, and tried to ignore the irritatingly fussy robe maker as he evaluated his prospective purchase. The dark green robes were handsome, and suited his pale coloring well enough, he thought to himself. Abruptly he noticed a new image in the mirror. Standing behind him were Potter, Weasley, and their little Mudblood friend.

Draco did not deign to acknowledge their arrival directly.

“If you are wondering what the smell is, Mother, a Mudblood just walked in,” he said instead.

As the newcomers drew their wands, Madam Malkin scurried around from behind the clothes rack and attempted to smooth things over, while Granger whispered something Draco could not make out.

“Yeah, like you’d dare do magic out of school,” sneered Draco as he turned around casually to face them. He saw Granger sported an enormous bruise around her right eye. “Who blacked your eye, Granger? I want to send them flowers,” he added.

“That’s quite enough!” said Madam Malkin, and turned to Draco’s mother. “Madam, please…”

Narcissa strode out from behind the clothes rack as well, casting a look of disgust on Potter and Weasley as she spoke. “Put those away,” she said. “If you attack my son again, I shall ensure that it is the last thing you ever do.”

“Really?” said Potter, stepping towards Narcissa and gazing insolently at her. “Going to get a few Death Eater pals to do us in, are you?”

The proprietress squealed and clutched at her heart in distress.

“Really, you shouldn’t accuse – dangerous thing to say- wands away, please!” she stammered.

Potter ignored her, and Narcissa smiled back at him dangerously. Draco had never felt more proud than when she responded.

“I see that being Dumbledore’s favorite has given you a false sense of security, Harry Potter. But Dumbledore won’t always be there to protect you,” she said.

Potter looked around, a mocking smile on his lips. “Wow…look at that…he’s not here now! So why not have a go? They might be able to find you a double cell in Azkaban with your loser of a husband!”

Draco started angrily towards Potter, but tripped over the too-long robe he was wearing. Weasley laughed.

“Don’t you dare talk to my mother like that, Potter!” Draco snarled.

“It’s all right, Draco,” said Narcissa, resting her hand on his shoulder. “I expect Potter will be reunited with dear Sirius before I am reunited with Lucius.”

Potter raised his wand higher.

“Harry, no!” moaned Granger, grabbing his wand arm and trying to pull it back down. “Think---You mustn’t…You’ll be in such trouble….”

The seamstress was saying something about his sleeve, but Draco was too angry to care. Until he realized, abruptly, that she was reaching to raise his left sleeve.

“Ouch!” he said angrily, and slapped her hand away. “Watch where you’re putting your pins, woman! Mother – I don’t think I want these anymore-”

He pulled them off over his head and tossed them on the floor at Madam Malkin’s feet.

“You’re right, Draco,” his mother said, with a final, withering glance at Granger, “now I know the kind of scum that shops here…. We’ll do better at Twilfitt and Tatting’s.”

Draco followed his mother out the door. The bang as he slammed it behind him helped to alleviate his irritation at unexpected encounter.

He and his mother arrived at Twilfitt and Tatting’s without further incident, and ordered several new school robes, as well as a dark green set of dress robes. Privately Draco thought they looked somewhat less fine than the ones he had tried earlier, but his mother insisted they were better, and he did not care to contradict her.

Narcissa arranged for delivery of the robes to the manor once they were finished, and together they headed to Flourish and Blotts for his books. The visit was uneventful, as were stops to the apothecary and Eeylops. Then Draco accompanied his mother to Violette’s and waited for her to be taken to one of the back rooms before leaving.

Pleased with the success of his plan, Draco strode rapidly towards his goal. With hardly a glance for the lurid purple advertisements that covered the windows of Weasleys’, Draco continued on to the entrance of Knockturn Alley and turned in to it. The usual motley crowd he remembered from visits with his father was not in evidence; the place seemed completely deserted, even deader than Diagon Alley had been. It was a bad time to be seen taking an interest in the Dark Arts, he supposed. But that would change soon, he told himself firmly. The Dark Lord would see to it that it would change, and he, Draco, would play an important part!

He stopped for a moment before the familiar exterior of Borgin and Burkes’. The familiar jumbled array of cases full of curios from around the world, bottles, and skulls, was visible through the window. And, among the clutter, stood the large back cabinet that was one of Draco’s goals. Taking a deep breath, he threw open the door.

A bell clanged as he swept inside, and he sauntered lazily over to the counter as he remembered his father doing during their visits together. He rang the bell on the counter and looked about as he waited for Borgin to appear. An intricate necklace of opals caught his eye, and he read the sign underneath it. He had neither the money nor inclination to buy it right at that moment, but it interested him. If a use for such a powerfully cursed item should suggest itself to him, he could acquire it later….

As the oily-haired proprietor of the shop came in from the back room, Draco fixed him with his best reproduction of his father’s look, and said, simply, “Ah, Mr. Borgin.”

The man stopped before the counter and smoothed his hair back, his expression betraying some uncertainty. Draco glared at him, but said nothing further.

“Mr. Malfoy,” Borgin said finally, “how may I be of assistance?”

Draco did not miss the contrast between this and the rather more effusive greetings that had been his father’s due. He supposed, though, that not being addressed as ‘young Master Malfoy’ counted as a victory of sorts.

“Following my father’s example,” Draco said, “I have decided to patronize your shop.”

Borgin’s eyes narrowed at the opening phrase, and Draco saw with satisfaction that the shopkeeper had not missed the potential double meaning it carried.

“I am delighted to hear it, Mr. Malfoy,” Borgin said unctuously. “Perhaps I might interest you in some very reasonably priced items that came in just last week?”

“Not today,” Draco replied. “I am interested in buying that cabinet,” he added, indicating it with a nod of his head.

“Ah, the Vanishing Cabinet, a unique curiosity. Your taste is excellent,” Borgin commented. “Of course, such an item commands a correspondingly high price on the market,” he added. “I wonder –”

“You doubt my ability to pay?” Draco said with a sneer. “The Malfoy family fortune would easily buy your entire inventory, many times over.”

“Of course, Mr. Malfoy, of course,” Borgin replied. “I only thought… never mind what I thought.”

He had only thought Draco did not have access to that fortune, Draco knew, but his manner had convinced the man otherwise. Not that he did, his mother held the purse strings in his father’s absence. However, the Lestrange fortune was impressive in its own right.

Draco nodded with a look of condescension modeled after the one he had seen on his father’s face, in similar dealings.

“The price is three thousand Galleons,” Borgin stated. “A one-of-a-kind artifact such as that commands a high price on the market, you know.”

“Mr. Borgin, I am no more a fool than I am indigent,” Draco replied coldly. “I happen already to own an identical item.”

“In that case-”

“However, the one I have happens to be broken,” Draco interrupted. “I will meet your price, if you engage also to help me repair it. I presume you know how to fix it?”

“Possibly,” said Borgin, his tone hesitant. “I’ll need to see it, though. Why don’t you bring it in to the shop?”

“I can’t,” said Draco. “It’s got to stay put. I just need you to tell me how to do it.”

Borgin licked his lips, looking nervous.

“Well, without seeing it, I must say it would be a very difficult job, perhaps impossible. I couldn’t guarantee anything.”

“No?” Draco said with a sneer. “Perhaps this will make you more confident.”

He took a step closer to the shopkeeper and threw the left sleeve of his forearm back, exposing the Dark Mark on his forearm. The effect on Borgin was most gratifying. He looked terrified.

“Tell anyone, and there will be retribution,” Draco said. “You know Fenrir Greyback? He’s a family friend. He’ll be dropping by from time to time to make sure you’re giving the problem your full attention.”

“There will be no need for-” Borgin began.

“I’ll decide that,” Draco interrupted him. “Well, I’d better be off. And don’t forget to keep that one safe, I’ll need it.”

“Perhaps you’d like to take it now?” Borgin suggested.

“No, of course I wouldn’t, you stupid little man, how would I look carrying that down the street? Just don’t sell it.”

“Of course not…sir,” Borgin said, bowing deeply.

“Not a word to anyone, Borgin, and that includes my mother, understand?”

“Naturally, naturally,” Borgin muttered, and bowed again.

Draco stalked out of the shop and hurried back towards Violette’s. It has worked; his plan was underway. And Borgin had, in the end, paid him the same respect he had accorded his father. Draco had to resist an urge to skip as he turned the corner back into Diagon Alley.

***

Please let me know what you thought at my feedback thread, here! Fenrir Greyback happens to be a close family friend, and he knows who has been reading this thread.


__________________
The Sorting Hat says I belong in Slytherin.



“Death is the only pure, beautiful conclusion of a great passion.”-D. H. Lawrence

All was well.


Avatar by nerwende, signature art by sigune, used with permission.

Last edited by arithmancer; April 6th, 2008 at 11:45 pm.
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Old April 14th, 2008, 7:15 am
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Chapter 16: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The Selwyns lived in a sprawling, cottage-style house on the outskirts of Hogsmeade that looked as though it had been in the family for generations. An antiqued, crudely-carved wooden sign bearing the family name hung over the front porch, and the rest of the exterior was, in Severus’s opinion, unkempt in an equally ostentatious manner. The ivy and occasionally crumbling plaster looked to be deliberately cultivated to underscore the family’s ancient Wizarding roots. A tall wooden fence surrounded the property, offering privacy that would doubtless be appreciated by some on tonight’s guest list.

The House Elf who opened the door for Severus wore a pillowcase turned ivory with age, complementing the house’s appearance. Her hesitancy upon observing he had no invitation had vanished as he curtly announced his name.

“Professor Snape!” she said in a high, fluting voice as she bobbed a deep curtsy. “Master and Mistress Selwyn is most happy to have you, they is!”

Severus removed his cloak by way of reply, and she scurried off to leave it somewhere. It was his first visit to the house, but he had no difficulty finding his way. The hum of loud conversation and music on the Wizarding Wireless led him right into a vast room lit with numerous lanterns. It had doubtless been enlarged for the occasion, for if he was any judge, it ought by rights to have filled the entire ground floor of the house. The House Elf had outdone herself – the white plaster ceiling gleamed in contrast with the dark wooden beams, the brass fixtures shone, and little tables scattered around the sides of the room bore a variety of attractively arranged dishes of food. A large, magical fire roared in the great stone hearth, adding to the ambience, but, blessedly, not to the heat. At the back of the room, French doors stood open to smaller, stone walled courtyard, letting in an evening breeze, and allowing guests access to a fountain dispensing drinks.

As Severus stepped into the room and looked around, an unfamiliar, brown-haired woman approached him.

“Professor Snape!” she said, “Cissy pointed you out to me. I’m Irina Selwyn.”

The accent with which she spoke had betrayed her likely identity to Severus even before she identified herself. Selwyn had attended Durmstrang rather than Hogwarts by his parents’ choice, and had brought a wife home with him.

“Severus Snape,” he responded, shaking the hand she offered. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Selwyn.”

Mrs. Selwyn led her guest over Narcissa and her companions, all familiar faces for Severus. Bellatrix clearly found his presence an unpleasant surprise, judging from the frown she directed at Narcissa, whom she evidently considered responsible for the invitation. She responded to Severus’s polite greeting with a stiff formality that provoked a wry smile. Goyle greeted him with a vise-like handshake. Gibbon was more effusive.

“Snape! Glad you could make it. He really ought to have been a top Healer at St. Mungo’s by now,” he said to the others.” I’ve never had anything quite like his painkilling potion. He really must share the recipe!”

The exact mixture he had administered to Gibbon was not something he wanted to discuss, in present company. “It was nothing special,” he replied.

“It is such a pity, in this country, how the true wizarding talent is underrated,” Irina opined. “Purebloods languish in obscurity while Mudbloods and Half-Bloods-”

Irina broke off abruptly, and shot a confused look at Narcissa, who, it appeared, had jabbed her with an elbow. Narcissa hissed something Severus could not quite hear, but could certainly guess at, into her hostess’s ears.

“I am quite pleased to be of service to the cause at Hogwarts, at Dumbledore’s side,” Severus said into the awkward silence than ensued. “The time is coming soon when we will all reap the rewards of our dedication to it.”

“Well said!” Goyle exclaimed.

“My apologies-” Mrs. Selwyn began, looking flustered.

“A natural mistake, Madam,” Severus interrupted her silkily. “Think no more of it.”

“Oh, but it was silly of me!” she said, fluttering long, probably magically enhanced, eyelashes at Severus. “I know myself that sometimes the magical blood will out. After all, is not the star Chaser Vladislava Ivanova of my hometown Vratsa Vultures a Half-Blood? Her brother attended Durmstrang with me – their grandmother was Muggleborn.”

Mrs. Selwyn succeeded in moving the conversation onto a more neutral topic, to a discussion of the chances of various Continental teams in the European Cup and Quidditch more generally. Severus chimed in with some lukewarm comments regarding Puddlemere United and the chances of Slytherin’s team in the coming year, but his mind was on the other guests in the room. There were many familiar faces, as well as a few unfamiliar ones. People to whom he should try to gain an introduction….

A thorough, though surreptitious, scan showed that neither Selwyn nor Yaxley were present. Most likely, they were in the courtyard, Severus concluded. He thanked Mrs. Selwyn for her welcome and excused himself, pleading a desire for a drink. Goyle, indicating an empty mug, decided to join him.

Goyle and Severus stepped out into the relative cool of the courtyard and approached the enchanted fountain. It stood in front of the far wall, and next to it was a table on which stood pyramids of wineglasses and beer mugs. Severus took a goblet and placed it under a stream of a dark liquid, allowing it to fill partway. By the smell, a red wine, though he could picture Narcissa’s nose wrinkling over the vintage. He took a sip and stepped away from the fountain.

Goyle, meanwhile, had filled his mug with what appeared to be ale, and turned to grill Severus on his son’s chances to play another year on the Quidditch team. Severus answered absently in the affirmative, because Selwyn and Yaxley had come to the fountain behind them, and what he could hear of their conversation interested him far more. Having received sufficient reassurance on his son’s behalf, Goyle finally excused himself, and Severus walked over to meet with his host.

“Good evening, Snape,” said Yaxley cordially, as Severus approached him. “Getting time away from old Dumbledore, are you?”

Selwyn echoed the greeting.

“Good evening,” Severus replied. “Indeed, school is out, and I’m free of the old man.” He added with a sneer, and a delicate emphasis on the last words, “Except for the occasional Order meeting.”

Selwyn s******ed appreciatively. “I’m pleased you could make it,” he said. “We must talk later. You’ll have to excuse me now, I owe Irina a drink,” Selwyn added, indicating the extra glass of wine he held in his left hand.

Severus was not sad to see him go. What he had heard made Yaxley his primary target.

“I wish I had time to spare,” Yaxley complained. “Between the Ministry and the Dark Lord’s business, I could use a spell to create a double.”

“Yes,” Severus said, “I could not help overhearing. A plum opportunity to make a contact at the Ministry has dropped into your lap, but you’ll have to pass it up to go on a raid. It’s surprising your team cannot manage alone.”

“It’s the Carrows. Neither of them has the skill to handle the Dementors,” Yaxley said with a shrug.

Snape curled his lip contemptuously. “I see.”

Yaxley gave him a considering look.

“Say, you would have no trouble…” he observed.

“Certainly not,” Severus agreed, with a touch of indignation.

“And you have free time…” Yaxley said.

“And I certainly cannot butter up your Ministry contact,” Severus said with a little smile. “When is this raid?”

Yaxley guided Severus into the darkest corner of the courtyard, and then replied,
“Two days from now. The Dementors are moving into place, and I cannot keep them there for another night, they’ll be getting restive. I’d planned it for midnight, but that could be changed…”

“What is the objective?” Severus asked.

“A Mudblood, her blood-traitor husband, and their brats,” Yaxley said. “She’s trying to organize what she calls a “defense league” in her area, and mouthing off about the Dark Lord. She needs to be sent a message.”

“Sounds routine,” Severus said in a bored voice. “But as someone must do it, it might as well be me.”

He listened attentively to the particulars Yaxley gave him. What he really wanted to know, the identity of Yaxley’s contact, was, regrettably, not a reasonable thing to ask. But Selwyn knew the name also, Severus reminded himself – he just had to make sure his “later” talk with Selwyn somehow returned to that point….

And it was indeed much later that Severus finally left the Selwyns’ home, his head aching from a glass too many of the mediocre wine Mrs. Selwyn had insisted in pressing on him, and the strain of trying to remember as many of the details as possible to convey to Albus. He Disapparated, reappearing in the meeting place Dumbledore had designated.

The trees were taller now than during his first, nerve-wracking visit to this spot, and in full leaf, rustling gently in the night breeze, but Severus still did not like the place. It was, however, a wiser choice of a place to wait than Spinner’s End. He withdrew the Muggle coin Albus had given him and activated it. As he waited for a response, he paced back and forth between the trees, muttering as he organized the night’s catch of innuendos, names, and hints into a coherent narrative, and occasionally cursing Wormtail under his breath. His fists clenched in impotent anger as he considered that, were it not for Wormtail, he could write it all down while it was still fresh in his mind. But it did not do to dwell on what the world could have been like, were it not for Wormtail….

Abruptly, Albus stood before him.

“Good evening,” Severus greeted him.

“Indeed, it is a lovely evening,” Albus agreed, looking around as thought the matter had escaped him, previously.

“I was at Selwyn’s house this evening,” Severus said. “I have some names and information regarding the Death Eaters’ Ministry activities for you. And I have learned the details of the next Dementor attack the Dark Lord has ordered, in two days’ time.”

“Good!” Albus said. “The attack – will it involve Death Eaters too? I would not send people into an unequal fight, for this.”

“Only the Carrows,” Severus responded.

“Oh, Alastor will be pleased,” Albus said, his eyes twinkling. “He was wanted a success on that front – he’ll send people to take care of it. The specifics and the other information – you have them written down?”

Severus shook his head. “I came straight here.”

“Naturally. Perhaps you could provide a memory?”

“Yes, but it was a long evening. It would take hours to review,” Severus warned.

Albus sighed. “Sadly, time is a commodity I find in short supply, these days,” he said.

He stood silent for a moment, thinking. “You certainly cannot Owl me an account, under the present circumstances. I want no possibility that suspicion could fall upon you…Aha!”

Albus rummaged about his person and pulled a Galleon from his pocket.

“If you write the details down in my office, that will solve your problem, of Peter, and mine, that I haven’t the time to see the memory. I have matters to tend which your summons interrupted. Use the Quick Quotes Quill you will find in the top right drawer, if you please; I’ve modified it to replicate my handwriting. A useful device,” he said with a little wave of his blackened right hand.

Severus nodded his agreement.

Dumbledore drew his wand and tapped the coin, speaking the incantation “Portus!

He handed it to Severus. “Good night, then.”

“Good night,” Severus replied, as he accepted the coin. As his fingers closed around it, the Portkey activated, jerking him abruptly off the hilltop and into a maelstrom of sound and color, away towards Hogwarts.

o:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦: o


Severus checked his watch – the Order should be arriving at any moment. He glanced across the lawn at his companions, whom he could make out dimly in the shadows of the tall hedgerow beyond. One of them gestured at the cottage with a wand and shouted, “Incendio!

It was Amycus, judging from the voice. Alecto followed suit, with a shrill screech of “Incendio!

In moments, bright red and orange flames had sprung up all over the house, and the terrified resident rushed out. With a flick of his own wand, Severus cast a nonverbal “Morsmordre”, so as not to give away his position. A glittering, sickly green skull with a snake issuing from its mouth appeared over the scene.

“It’s the Dark Mark!” yelled the tallest resident of the house, by his voice and paunchy figure, a middle-aged man. “Run for it, I’ll try to hold them!” he added as he drew his wand and looked around for Death Eaters. The woman and two children took off towards the wooded area in which Severus, and the Dementors, had concealed themselves.

A coldness that came from nothing natural crept up his spine, and Severus hastily focused, blocking his mind in a manner he would never dare use in front of the Dark Lord, but which would prevent the Dementors from deviating from their orders by attacking him. The Dementors had noticed that prey was heading their way, and it was past the agreed time. Where was the Order?

The witch was hanging back, a short-legged young child in tow, but she urged the elder of her children on. A Dementor glided out of the shadow of the trees towards the girl, and Severus cursed under his breath, as she fell to the ground, whimpering in terror. Her young, simple emotions, which she would not have learned yet to hide even from ordinary eyes, drew the monster like a beacon.

Her mother saw the danger, and, releasing the plump hand of her younger son, sprinted towards her daughter, placing herself between the Dementor and her child. As Severus watched in horror, it responded as he could have predicted it would: it glided on, preferring the target it had already selected.

“No!” the mother screamed, as she grabbed desperately for it from behind, attempting to stop it by main force.

Severus, surprised to find his wand raised, bit back the incantation that was nearly torn from his throat, as he saw a glimmer of silver light appear. But the Patronus dissipated rather than taking on a shape. In its light, Severus recognized Nymphadora Tonks, her face horrified, as she sprinted towards the girl herself and fought to produce a corporeal Patronus. A spell from behind flew past her face. She spun around to engage the Carrows, the source of the attack.

Meanwhile, Severus saw, the Dementor had stopped in front of the fallen girl. He raised his wand again, deliberately, as it knelt down by her side, the child’ mother still tugging ineffectually on its cloak. Suddenly, in a silver-white flash, the form of a lynx bounded towards the girl and sprang, its jaws closing around the monster’s neck. The Dementor fell back and the lynx Patronus harried it back towards the trees, followed by an enormous silvery shape that, finally, emerged from Tonks’s wand. With a shock of recognition, Severus identified the oversized, canine form, blunt snout, and tufted tail of a werewolf. Tonks’s odd behavior at the Order meeting was now made clear to him.

The mother dropped to her knees, sobbing and cradling the child in her arms. Had he seen the girl reach up, or was that just wishful thinking on his part?

Shaking his head to clear it, he saw the father had joined Tonks, and Severus cast a quick Shield Charm to stop the curse he leveled at Amycus, though he was much inclined to send one of his own curses in that direction. Damn the Carrows for the bloody-minded morons they were, anyway! They had no orders to engage in a fight.

“AURORS! Retreat!” he bellowed as he magnified his voice with a spell, counting on the distortion to prevent his voice from being recognized. Deliberately careless, he Disapparated with an explosive bang, back to the rendezvous point.

To his relief, he shortly heard twin bangs as the Carrows returned to the rendezvous point as well. Removing his mask, Severus stalked up to his companions. Before he could draw breath to tell them just what he thought of their exceeding of their orders, he was forestalled.

“What the hell did you mean, leaving us when we had the two of ‘em outnumbered?” Alecto asked sullenly. “All that hanging about Dumbledore has made you soft.”

“There weren’t any Aurors, Snape,” Amycus added. “Just a neighbor girl showing up.”

Severus fixed Alecto with a stony look. Coldly, he replied, “I hear some useful things, during ‘all that hanging about Dumbledore’. One of them, it so happens, is that the Patronus of Kingsley Shacklebolt takes the form of a lynx. But don’t let me stop you if you’ve a hankering to go back and fight him and his team,” Severus added, with a contemptuous sneer at Amycus. “I doubt there’ll be enough of you left to blow my cover with the Order when they’re done with you.”

“Shacklebolt?” Alecto repeated. The name of one of the Ministry’s top active Aurors clearly gave her pause.

“Why would he be there?” Amycus wondered.

“These Dementor attacks have been happening all summer,” Severus answered with a shrug. “I suppose the Ministry has to look like it is doing something. This must’ve been a random sweep that got lucky.”

“Lucky? Not for us, we’ve blown the assignment,” Amycus spat bitterly on the ground.

“Yaxley told me we were to send a message,” Severus disagreed. “I think it came through loud and clear, whether or not the Dementor got the girl.”

“Heh,” Alecto agreed. “Did you see the mother?” she reminisced, a delighted smile on her face. “She tried to wrestle the Dementor. That’s a new one on me!”

“Mudblood and rock-brained,” Amycus s******ed.

Severus essayed a smirk, his stomach twisting. She’d dared that, whereas he’d feared to cast a simple spell to help. Surely, he had not waited too long….

“You know, it’s lucky Snape here agreed to help Yaxley out,” Alecto said. “We might never have known it was Aurors in time.”

“I think I got that first Auror,” Amycus boasted. Severus refrained from pointing out that the curse had missed Tonks by a good six inches. “Too bad you didn’t try any before you took off, Snape.”

“The next time I see an angry wizard charging you, I’ll remember you’d rather I curse him after he takes you down,” Severus replied. “I had thought you’d prefer me to cast a Shield Charm.”

“I’m sure no offense was meant, Snape,” Alecto said, her voice conciliatory.

“None taken,” he replied insincerely.

Grudgingly, Amycus admitted, “Nice spell work, blocking that curse from across the lawn. I’d thought it was Alecto’s doing.”

Severus repressed a comment on Alecto’s skills in the area of nonverbal spell casting. He should part with the Carrows on good terms. He had made his points – anyone they told, would be able to report that he had extracted the three of them from an unfortunate brush with the Ministry’s Aurors, and saved Amycus from a curse. The lips of Death Eaters coming to Spinner’s End for clandestine treatment of injuries were likely to be that much looser, as a result of the night’s work.

Instead, he acknowledged the thanks with a cordial nod of his head. “It was nothing,” he said. “The two of you will let Yaxley know tomorrow how things went, I presume?”

“Right you are,” Amycus replied.

“Well, I want to wet my whistle after that bit of excitement,” Alecto said to Amycus. “Say, would you care to join us, Snape?” she asked.

That would mean listening to more of her revolting reminiscences, no doubt. What he really wanted to do was to return, oh so carefully, to the vicinity of the burning house and ascertain whether Shacklebolt’s Patronus had come too late. A description of the raid would be in the papers in the morning, he reminded himself sternly. Or the morning after, given the lateness of the hour….

With a shrug of his shoulders, he agreed. “I’ll have one drink, anyway.”

“Off to the Hog’s Head, then?” Amycus suggested.

“As long as we pick a dark corner,” Severus replied. “The barman once threw me out of there. I doubt he wants me back.”

Amycus gave him a long, odd look. Finally, he clapped a meaty paw on Severus’s shoulder and said, with a broad grin, “Thrown out of the Hog’s Head, eh? I think I may have misjudged you. Let’s go.”

They all Apparated to the road outside Hogsmeade, and walked to the Hog’s Head together. Severus and Alecto sat down in a corner, while Amycus fetched a pitcher of ale and three glasses. The conversation proved no more pleasant than he had expected, and turned up nothing of immediate interest. Amycus’s admission, after two glasses of ale, that he fancied joining Severus at Hogwarts, did nothing to improve his mood. Severus was grateful when the pitcher was finally empty, and he could excuse himself.

After leaving the inn, Severus Apparated from the street in Hogsmeade, to the bank of the river. He stood looking out at it, he knew not how long. There was not much to see. The moon glinted on its dark, oily surface, and occasional bits of debris floated by. At least it was familiar. And, while he was thus occupied, he was free of the need to maintain his act of callous indifference to the loathsome acts of which he had been a part that night. Eventually, he turned towards home and the final obstacle that stood between him and the temporary oblivion of sleep. The sitting room was dark, but Severus did not allow himself to hope on that basis. But once he ascended the staircase to his room, the door opposite it remained closed. The time spent at the Hog’s Head with the Carrows, and on the riverbank, had, at least, spared him the necessity of dealing with Wormtail for tonight.

Severus changed into his nightshirt and climbed into bed. Through habit so ingrained it might have been seared into his mind as the Dark Mark was seared into his forearm, he lay back, his eyes staring up at the ceiling that sloped down towards him. Taking deep slow breaths, he made himself relax his body, and made his mind a blank. Then he recalled to mind the worst of the night .His stomach twisted, and his fear of what might have happened, and his shame at his inaction, came flooding back as he remembered the little girl and her mother. This was not a memory he could hide – others shared it. But the emotions – those he had to hide. Painstakingly, he held the image in his mind, and strove for a mask of indifference. Only when he was satisfied with the results did he permit himself to drift off to sleep.

He was standing in a forest alone, at night. In the clearing beyond, a child lay on the grass, screaming her fear in a shrill voice as a Dementor knelt over her. A woman tugged desperately at the Dementor, but it paid her no mind. He struggled to raise his wand, to shout an incantation, to scream, but nothing happened. As the Dementor rose and glided away, the woman turned to face him. Her eyes were the green of sunlight streaming through new leaves, her hair a fall of molten copper, and her expression purest contempt as she looked straight at him. As he struggled again to move or speak, she vanished. Where the child had lain, Severus now saw Potter lying on the grass. A dribble of saliva ran out of the corner of his mouth, and he looked blankly up with an expression Severus had seen before, most recently on the face of Bartemius Crouch, Jr.

Severus awoke sitting up in his bed, his nightshirt damp with sweat. He wondered whether he had screamed, for at the very end of the dream, his paralysis had lifted. Tensely, he listened for any sign Wormtail had heard him. When after a few minutes there was no sign of movement from the other room, Severus put his head back down on his pillow and pulled his blanket over his head in a vain attempt to block out the early morning rays of the sun peeking in around the shade on the window. He drifted in and out of sleep and the minutes seemed to crawl as he waited for the usual time his newspaper was delivered. When it finally arrived, he got up and tossed his old bathrobe on over the nightshirt to go downstairs.

Wormtail was in the sitting room, drinking tea as he perused the morning paper when Severus entered. Dread and relief warred in Severus as he saw the banner headline: “Aurors Halt Dementor Attack”. At least he did not have to wait another day, to learn what had happened.

Lowering the paper to look up at Severus, Wormtail smirked unpleasantly. “I was sorry to read of your rotten luck,” he said insincerely.

“I don’t recall asking for a news update,” Severus replied coldly, and snatched his newspaper from Wormtail’s hands. As he seated himself in his armchair and turned to the story, Severus added, “I’ll thank you to bring me my tea.”

While Wormtail busied himself in the kitchen, Severus skimmed rapidly through the article on the front page and turned quickly to Page 5, where the article continued. A teary-eyed girl still clinging nervously to her mother’s robe waved shyly up at him above the caption, “Stasia Briggs, 8, smiles for our photographer”.

***

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  #17  
Old May 2nd, 2008, 7:52 am
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arithmancer  Undisclosed.gif arithmancer is offline
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Author’s Note: This chapter includes a scene from the chapter “The Slug Club” of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The dialogue in those scenes is therefore all Rowling’s.

Chapter 17: The Hogwarts Express

Draco’s farewell with Aunt Bella had been surprisingly cordial. The rigors of his training had led him to fear her, yet in the final days things went smoothly, and she expressed her concern for his success. Draco attributed this change to his success with Borgin, a success he had achieved alone, for her status as a wanted fugitive precluded her participation except behind the scenes.

His farewell to his mother, he was dreading. She, as he had planned, knew nothing of his early success, and her fears for him were evident. She accompanied him to King’s Cross-, naturally enough since his father was not able to take him. Unlike his father, she fussed over him in a way he found irritating, even a bit embarrassing – helping him with his luggage and owl, and actually seeing him into a compartment, as though some unknown danger lurked on the Hogwarts Express, or as thought he was still a lost little first year student.

With a final hug and a final goodbye, she left, her eyes watering, to Draco’s mortification. He was grateful only that none of his friends had found him yet, so that this display had had no audience.

Moments later, the door opened slightly and Pansy stuck her head in.

“Draco!” she exclaimed, and threw the door wide open. “Come on, let’s go to the Prefects’ car!” she invited him.

As she stood in doorway, Draco could see that her robe clung to her body in strategic locations, which Draco eyed approvingly. She’d done some growing over the summer.

“Hi Pansy!” he returned her greeting. “You go on ahead,” he added languidly.

“I’ll see you later, then?” she persisted.

Draco shrugged. “Nah. Prefect duties – who needs ‘em?”

Pansy looked at him, uncomprehending. “But…we could get into trouble. Professor Snape might even -”

“Let me worry about Snape,” Draco said. “I don’t feel like going.”

“But I haven’t seen you in ages!” Pansy pouted. It emphasized the fullness of her lips in a way Draco always found attractive, though her demands could get irritating.

“I’ll save you a spot here, for when you get back,” Draco said, giving her a pleased smile as he patted the seat next to his.

“Oh, OK, then. I’ll hurry up and get the Prefect nonsense over with quickly,” she said, tossing her head and grinning back at him. Draco rose to get her things, which she had left in the passageway. As he approached, she turned in the doorway to let him get by her, and their eyes met.

“Draco,” she said, raising a hand to his cheek as she looked up at him, “I missed you.”

He stopped and looked down at her upturned face. It seemed she was not too displeased with his decision to let her go on alone. With the slightest trepidation, he leaned his head forward, and her hand slid along the line of his jaw and her fingers twined themselves him his hair. As their lips met, Draco ran his hands down her robe and grasped her hips, pulling her closer to him. She kissed him back with an enthusiasm that seemed to have only increased during their separation over the summer.

A loud thud directly behind Pansy interrupted the reunion. Pansy spun about, and Draco looked up angrily at the source of this distraction. Draco relented, somewhat, when he saw it was Crabbe, who had set down his trunk since it was clearly not possible for him to get into the compartment while Pansy and Draco stood in the doorway. Behind him stood Goyle, neck craned to get a better view. Draco sighed regretfully and returned his friends’ greetings.

“Why don’t you get Pansy’s trunk, and I’ll stow her owl, and then you can move in too,” Draco said.

Pansy moved into the compartment and out of Crabbe’s way as he, with no apparent effort, hefted her trunk and placed it on the luggage rack in accordance with Draco’s suggestion. Draco followed him in carrying the cage in which Pansy’s dainty little Scops owl perched. Crabbe and Goyle brought in their own luggage.

“Well, I had better be off to the Prefects’ car. I’ll be back later!” she said, as she headed for the passageway.

Draco gave her a casual wave and set back down.

The train lurched out of the station, and Draco looked out the window. His mother was still standing on the platform, and gave him a final wave as she saw his face in the window. He resisted the sudden urge to wave back and turned back to his friends.

“Hey, Malfoy,” Goyle said, after he settled himself into a seat. “Crabbe and I have a bet going. Did you make Captain this year?”

Draco felt a stab of annoyance. He had expected Snape would select him as well. He reminded himself that Snape’s choice was doubtless a seventh year, and that he had more serious matters to tend to, anyway. It would be one less reason to see Snape; all the better, since he could manage his more important business without Snape’s interference.

“No,” he replied, with a shrug. “Snape picked a seventh year, I presume.”

“You win, then,” Goyle said, turning to Crabbe.

Crabbe glanced at him without much enthusiasm and continued rummaging in his trunk. He pulled out a comic book and sat down with it, and Goyle turned back to Draco, frowning.

“You should be Captain,” Goyle said staunchly.

Draco was pleased, but he leaned back casually and replied in a light tone, “I’ve got better things to do.”

Neither Crabbe nor Goyle bit at this hint. Instead, Draco and Goyle began catching up on the summer’s activities (heavily edited on Draco’s part) and discussing the coming Quidditch season. Crabbe was quiet, even more so than usual, not chiming as often with the usual monosyllabic agreements Draco expected in response to his conversational sallies. Crabbe’s father, too, had been captured by Dumbledore and sent to Azkaban, Draco remembered. Perhaps this was behind Crabbe’s surliness. If so, maybe Crabbe would be a useful and willing helper, Draco considered. He could not share the objective with Crabbe, that was the Dark Lord’s secret, but perhaps just knowing there was a plan would please him

Draco was prevented from carrying this idea into action by the arrival of Blaise Zabini. After he, too, settled in, he caught the others up on his travels with his mother, and Draco resolved to bring Crabbe and Goyle up to speed later

o:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦: o

Draco sat up as the compartment door slid open. It was Zabini, back from the compartment of the new teacher, Professor Slughorn. The door seemed to stick as Zabini turned to slide it shut behind him, and as he wrestled to the door, he fell clumsily into Goyle’s lap.

“Watch it!” Goyle exclaimed angrily. Crabbe, seated beside him, looked up from his comic and s******ed at the sight of Zabini, fighting awkwardly with the door while trying to disentangle himself from Goyle.

“I can’t help it if the door’s stuck,” Zabini snarled back at Goyle

“Get up!” Goyle insisted with a shove that caused Zabini to collapse back into a heap in Goyle’s lap.

Zabini snarled something under his breath, when suddenly Draco thought he saw something – a flash of white flying upwards towards the luggage rack above his seat. Then it was gone. He must have imagined it.

Goyle slammed the door shut and flung Zabini across the compartment into his empty seat. Zabini glared at him, looking uncharacteristically disheveled.

Crabbe resumed reading his comic, while Draco stretched back out in Pansy’s lap.

“So, Zabini, what did Slughorn want?” Draco asked.

“Just trying to make up to well-connected people,” said Zabini, still looking angrily at Goyle. “Not that he managed to find many.”

“Who else had he invited?” Draco asked, irked by the implication that Slughorn did not consider him sufficiently well-connected to invite.

“McLaggen from Gryffindor,” said Zabini.

No surprise there, Draco noted. He was definitely connected. “Oh yeah, his uncle’s big in the Ministry,” said Draco.

“-someone else called Belby, from Ravenclaw-” Blaise continued.

“Not him, he’s a prat!” said Pansy. Draco was enjoying her caresses too much to risk an argument, so he refrained from pointing out that Belby’s uncle was Britain’s most famous living potioneer.

“-and Longbottom, Potter, and that Weasley girl,” finished Zabini.

Draco sat up abruptly at this news. Professor Slughorn had invited that loser, but not him?

“He invited Longbottom?” Draco exclaimed.

“Well, I assume so, as Longbottom was there,” said Zabini indifferently.

“What’s Longbottom go to interest Slughorn?” Draco asked.

Zabini shrugged his shoulders.

“Potter, precious Potter, obviously he wanted a look at ‘the Chosen One’” sneered Draco, “but that Weasley girl! What’s so special about her?”

“A lot of boys like her,” said Pansy. “Even you think she’s good-looking, don’t you, Blaise, and we all know how hard you are to please!”

“I wouldn’t touch a filthy little blood-traitor like her whatever she looked like,” Zabini replied coldly.

Draco leaned back across her lap. Between Zabini’s comments and his return, Pansy seemed placated. She smiled down at Draco and resumed stroking his hair.

“Well, I pity Slughorn’s taste,” Draco said. “Maybe he’s going a bit senile. Shame, my father always said he was a good wizard in his day. My father used to be a bit of a favorite of his. Slughorn probably hasn’t heard I’m on the train or-”

“I wouldn’t bank on an invitation,” said Zabini. “He asked me about Nott’s father when I first arrived. They used to be old friends, apparently, but when he heard he’d been caught at the Ministry he didn’t look happy, and Nott didn’t get an invitation, did he? I don’t think Slughorn’s interested in Death Eaters.”

Draco forced out a laugh.

“Well, who cares what he’s interested in? What is he, when you come down to it? Just some stupid teacher.” He yawned, to underline his complete lack of interest in the man. “I mean, I might not even be at Hogwarts next year, what’s it matter to me if some fat old has-been likes me or not?”

“What do you mean, you might not be at Hogwarts next year?” Pansy asked indignantly.

“Well, you never know,” Draco said with a little smile up at her. “I might have – er – moved on to bigger and better things.” Draco was pleased to see Crabbe was now gawping at him along with Goyle. Pansy looked dumbfounded. She resumed stroking his hair as she processed the new information. Even Zabini looked somewhat impressed.

“Do you mean – Him?” she asked finally.

Draco shrugged.

“Mother wants me to complete my education, but personally. I don’t see it as that important these days. I mean, think abut it…. When the Dark Lord takes over, is he going to care how many O.W.L.s or N.E.W.T.s anyone’s got? Of course he isn’t…. It’ll be all about the kind of service he received, the level of devotion he was shown.”

“And you think you’ll be able to do something for him?” asked Zabini, now contemptuous. “Sixteen years and not even fully qualified yet?”

“I’ve just said, haven’t I? Maybe he doesn’t care if I’m qualified. Maybe the job he wants me to do isn’t something that you need to be qualified for,” Draco said quietly.

The effect of his words was most gratifying. Zabini’s expression had changed to doubt and he now looked thoughtful, while Goyle, Crabbe, and Pansy were looking very impressed.

“I can see Hogwarts,” Draco said. “We’d better get our robes on.”

Goyle rose and grabbed his trunk, and Draco heard a quiet gasp of pain from up on the luggage rack. As he added this to the stuck door and the flash of white he had seen when Zabini entered, inspiration struck. Could Potter be up there, wearing an Invisibility Cloak? Draco had figured out he must have one, after an encounter with the latter’s head in Hogsmeade, a few years ago. He’d managed to get Potter into trouble with Snape that time, he recalled. Perhaps his chance to get even with Potter had come even earlier than he expected….

Draco looked up at the luggage rack, fixing the location from which the sound had come in his memory. Then he pulled on his robes and the new cloak his mother had given him before he left. First Goyle, and then Crabbe and Zabini, left the compartment.

“You go on,” Draco said to Pansy. “I just want to check something.”

Draco closed the blinds on the window, and reopened his trunk. Quickly, he pointed his wand at the spot he had heard the gasp, and shouted, “Petrificus Totalus!”

To his immense satisfaction, a moment later he began to see parts of a body rolling off the luggage rack, and then Potter fell before him with a thud onto his Invisibility Cloak, his body still curled up to fit onto the rack.

With a broad smile, Draco addressed Potter. “I thought so. I heard Goyle’s trunk hit you. And I thought I saw something white flash through the air after Zabini came back….
You didn’t hear anything I care about, Potter. But while I’ve got you here…”

Draco raised his foot and brought it down on Potter’s face with a satisfying crunch, and blood spurted everywhere.

“That’s for my father,” he said. “Now, let’s see….”

Draco pulled the cloak out from under Potter, and spread it over him, so that the compartment now again appeared empty but for him. It was time to give Potter a taste of his own medicine, Draco thought grimly. Let him see how he liked riding all the way back to London, injured and immobilized.

“I don’t reckon they’ll find you ‘til the train’s back in London,” he said quietly. “See you around, Potter … or not.” He trod once more on top of Potter and left the compartment.

***

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“Death is the only pure, beautiful conclusion of a great passion.”-D. H. Lawrence

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  #18  
Old October 4th, 2008, 10:50 pm
arithmancer's Avatar
arithmancer  Undisclosed.gif arithmancer is offline
Assistant to Professor Snape
 
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Disclaimer: This chapter includes a scene from the chapter “Snape Victorious” of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The dialogue in that scene is therefore all Rowling’s.

Chapter 18: Snape Victorious

Severus sat at his desk, eyeing with disfavor the copy of the Sunday Daily Prophet that a House Elf had brought along with his breakfast. Stasia Briggs smiled shyly up at him from an in-depth article on the summer’s Death Eater activities as she clung to her mother’s robe. Putting the paper aside, for it would contain nothing he did not already know on that subject, he reached into a drawer from his left for a pile of lesson plans he had drawn up at home and started reading the first one as he sipped his tea.

Two cups of tea and half the pile later, Severus heard a tentative knock on his door. He glanced at his watch, surprised, and it confirmed that the time was still a quarter hour before breakfast would be served in the Great Hall.

“Come in!” he said curtly.

The door opened to reveal the tallish, stout figure of the Muggle Studies teacher. Severus rose as she stepped inside.

“Good morning, Severus!” she said brightly, closing the door behind her. “I’m glad to see you are up and working already. I hesitated to come by this early, but I wanted to speak with you before school starts and, well, you only came in late last night.”

“Good morning, Charity,” he replied, and with a wave of his wand, conjured a guest chair for her use. “Do sit down.”

He waited as she gathered her robes about her and lowered herself into her chair, before resuming his seat. She cast her eyes about, seeming unsure how to begin, and her eyes alit on the newspaper he had left at the front of the desk.

“The attack on the Briggses, such a frightful story,” Charity sighed. “It was reading such stories all summer that gave me the idea I want to discuss with you.”

“Indeed?” Severus asked, puzzled.

“Are you familiar with the Muggle Studies curriculum?” she asked.

“I can’t say that I am,” he replied with a shrug. “It was not a class I elected to take.”

“Naturally,” she said with a smile. “I cover very basic things, I’m sure you know it all. The basics of British Muggle society, the various ways Muggles get things done without magic, that sort of thing.”

“I see,” he replied noncommittally, though he was not at all sure where she was going with this. The subtle emphasis he thought he had heard on the word “you” made him wonder whether it was a direction in which he wanted to go.

“It is useful knowledge, but, well, teaching that Muggle Aurors are called policemen, and Muggles can only fly in airplanes, and the like, seems an inadequate response to what is happening now. I want to make the Muggles real for my students. To make them see they are people, children, just like them.” She paused and looked up at him.

“An admirable idea,” Severus replied. “I am sure Albus would agree.” Without a doubt, so then why was she talking to him about this?

“Oh, I am so pleased you agree,” she said. “You’ll help me, then?”

“I don’t see how you imagine I might be of any assistance,” he said.

“I want to expose my students to personal accounts of what life among Muggles is like,” she said.

“I fear that I don’t have any useful contributions to make on that score,” he replied.

“You must have some experiences you could recount. I was thinking of teaching the students football, to illustrate how the love of sport is common to us all. You’re keen on your House Quidditch team – surely you used to like football?” she asked.

“I did not,” Severus replied firmly. An understatement, that, but he had no wish to belabor the point with Charity. “I suggest you speak to the Heads of the other Houses. I am sure they can suggest Muggleborn students in the upper years that would have all the pleasant stories and enthusiasm for football you could desire.”

“I plan to, Severus,” she replied. “But my students already know their Muggleborn housemates. To have an adult come and speak, a fully qualified wizard who has made his way in the magical world, would have a completely different impact.”

Severus cast about in his mind for a suitable person with whom to distract her from her purpose. What had been the name of that pet of Horace’s ... Cresswell, that was it. “How about bringing in successful wizards from outside the school? You could speak to Horace – Dirk Cresswell, head of the Goblin Liaison Office, is an old friend of his, and a Muggleborn wizard. He might know others, as well.”

“I think you’d be far more interesting, Severus. You’re a wizard’s wizard. Head of Slytherin, expert at Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts… Surely, you have some fond memory of your father, of primary school, of a childhood playmate …”

A vision of two girls on a swing set rose up in his mind’s eye, evoked by her words. “No,” Severus stated flatly. He rose, to cover his confusion, as he fought to compose a more tactfully worded reply.

“I regret that I can be of no help to you with your project, Charity,” he said smoothly, once again in control of himself.

“I see,” she replied, rising as well. She was no longer smiling; her brown eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Very well, Severus. In that case I shall waste no more of your time.”

Charity left his office with a swish of her robes and the door closed silently behind her. Severus picked up his wand and Vanished the chair he had conjured for her. He sat back down and with a single sharp exhalation, returned to his lesson plans.

By mid-morning, he had finished reviewing his plans for the first week. He stowed his papers back in the desk drawer and headed upstairs to his new classroom, the box of supplies he had ordered for it hovering before him as he walked, obedient to every twitch of his wand. As he entered the room, he directed the box to land on the desk in front. He looked about the room, and noted it was mercifully devoid of any decoration by its previous occupant. The extensive decoration of her office, which he’d had the misfortune to visit on a couple of occasions, had apparently satisfied her.

After glancing about appraisingly, he began with the windows. A flick of his wand conjured dark, dusty drapes from a storeroom. Another wave, and they closed over the windows, plunging the room in darkness. He set candles to float in midair to illuminate the bare stone walls between the windows, and hung the first of his pictures on the wall. Satisfied with the effect, he proceeded to hang the rest. After a final glance around, he strode to the back of the room to investigate the cupboard there. Among the detritus left behind by three decades of former Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers, he spotted a new-looking pile of textbooks. Wilbert Slinkhard’s Defensive Magical Theory sat on top of the pile. Severus lifted the books out of the cupboard and turned to find Minerva standing in the doorway.

“Good day, Severus,” she greeted him.

“Good day, Minerva,” he replied, setting the pile of books back down.

“I thought I might find you here,” she said. “I have the Slytherins’ OWL results and this year’s course schedules for you.”

She handed him two scrolls of parchment, which he tucked away inside his robes.

“Thank you,” he replied.

“I spoke with Charity after breakfast,” Minerva said, looking at Severus intently through her square-rimmed glasses.

“You suggested she speak to me,” Severus deduced. “I assure you, my childhood reminiscences of life among Muggles are not at all the thing for her new project.”

“I see,” said Minerva, pursing her lips. She looked around the room, and a small frown, seemingly indicating her disapproval of what she saw, wrinkled her brow.

“I am in the process of redecorating,” Severus said mildly. “I suppose the school will have no objection if I get rid of these?” He waved at the pile of books.

Minerva followed his gesture, and as she recognized the books, her frown deepened. “Certainly not!” she said emphatically.

Severus pointed his wand at the books and Vanished them.

“Oh, Albus wishes to see you directly after luncheon,” Minerva said. “He will be showing you the security measures he has put in place.”

“Very well,” Severus said. “If you see Albus before then, please do let him know I shall come.”

“You will not be at lunch, then, Severus?” she inquired.

“No,” he responded. “My late arrival has left me little time to prepare. I’d better make the most of what time I have left.”

“Then I will see you at the welcoming feast,” Minerva said.

“Yes,” Severus agreed.

‘Until then,” she said, and swept out of the room.

Severus followed shortly, having ascertained nothing else of Umbridge’s remained. He pulled out the class schedules to peruse as he walked back down to his office.

o:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦: o

Severus hurried up the stairs from the dungeons into the Entrance Hall just ahead of the first carriage full of students to arrive from the station. He was not the last teacher to arrive, he saw. The chair to the left of the Headmaster, usually occupied by Professor McGonagall, was still empty, as was the one next to it. Albus noted his questioning gaze at it, and after they exchanged greetings and Severus seated himself at Albus’s right, next to Professor Sinistra, Albus explained,

“Hagrid spent the afternoon visiting his brother, so Minerva is bringing up the first years tonight.”

“Good evening, Severus,” said Slughorn, “Aurora here was just telling me about her brother-in-law, who owns the largest broom manufactory in Eastern Europe.”

“Fascinating,” said Severus insincerely, as he looked around the room. More and more students were filing in, but the ones in which he was most interested were still absent. He participated in a desultory manner in the small talk at the head table and kept his eyes on the doorway. He noticed Granger and Weasley walk in. She appeared, characteristically, to be lecturing her gangly companion about something or other. Potter was nowhere in sight. Nor did he appear as his friends made their way to the Gryffindor table to sit with Weasley’s sister and Longbottom. Severus turned back to the door. Several more groups of students came by, including a giggling Pansy Parkinson in the company, surprisingly, of Blaise Zabini, with Crabbe and Goyle trailing along behind them. Malfoy was nowhere in sight as they all arranged themselves at the Slytherin table, Parkinson ostentatiously saving an empty spot next to herself. So she was expecting Malfoy, Severus deduced. And indeed, he entered shortly afterwards, in the wake of a group of fifth year Ravenclaw students, and sauntered over to the spot Parkinson had saved for him.

However, as the stream of students died down to a trickle, and then ceased altogether, there was still no sign of Potter. Where the devil was he, Severus wondered, as Minerva appeared, leading in the first years to face the assembled student body. She placed the Sorting Hat on a stool and it began its song.

Surely, Potter had made it onto the train, with an Auror escort. If he had not, the school ought to have been notified hours ago… Could he have disappeared from the train somehow? There were Aurors at Hogsmeade Station, as well, Severus reminded himself. They would have noticed the boy’s absence. Doubtless, they were investigating it. He yearned to join them, if only for the pleasure of reading the boy the riot act for pulling such a stunt now, of all times, after what had happened over the summer…

A furtive jab of an elbow into his left side interrupted his thoughts.

“Slytherin!” hissed Albus under his breath.

Indeed, his House’s table was applauding as the first selection into Slytherin House approached the table – a tiny girl, of Asian ancestry, Severus noted, as he joined dutifully in the applause.

“Potter’s missing,” Severus hissed back under cover of the noise.

Albus glanced at him and nodded once. “Nymphadora will handle it,” he whispered, and turned back to the Sorting Ceremony.

Severus felt less certain of that, but dutifully attempted to divide his attention between the doorway to the Entrance Hall, and the Sorting. It did not prove necessary for Albus to prompt him to applaud his students again, but Severus’s unease continued to grow as no word of Potter came.

The final student, a husky blonde who could have by her size been a fourth year, picked up the hat and sat down on the stool.

“Hufflepuff!” the hat shouted, and Severus’s gaze drifted back to the open doorway, where a glint of silver at the doors to the castle caught his eye. It was a Patronus, and one he recognized.

“Patronus from Nymphadora,” Snape hissed to Albus as the Hufflepuff table erupted in cheers. He rose from his chair. “I’ll intercept it.”

Albus nodded his assent. Severus froze the messenger in place in the Entrance Hall and stalked out to join it. The enormous silvery werewolf spoke up as he approached it, Tonks’ high-pitched voice sounding incongruous emanating from that fearsome muzzle.

“Wotcher!” it spoke. “Harry’s fine. I’m taking him up to the castle. You’ll need to come down to the gate and let him in.”

The Patronus winked out of existence. Severus moved back to the doorway and saw Albus raise his hands in greeting. The Great Hall fell silent. For a moment, the Headmaster’s piercing blue eyes met Severus’s, and Severus nodded curtly. The blue eyes twinkled and Albus smiled broadly as he turned away to welcome the students back.

It would take quite some time still before Potter arrived – the Patronus would have traveled far faster than Potter and Tonks could on foot. A part of him wanted to go straight outside and meet the pair halfway, on the road to Hogwarts, despite the likelihood the Auror did indeed have the situation well in hand. He was not entirely at ease with the idea of Tonks as Potter’s only defense, especially without knowing the reason for Potter’s tardiness. Though her message did suggest nothing sinister had occured…he was doubtless overreacting to a boneheaded stunt of Potter’s. He would just walk down to the gate and wait there.

Though standing and waiting and worrying did not appeal either. Instead, Severus turned and went back to his quarters in the dungeon to fetch a traveling cloak. He made a detour to Filch’s office upon returning to the ground floor. It would be an opportunity to see how well the new security procedures were working while he waited for Potter if the caretaker was in. He knocked, and Filch opened the door.

“Professor Snape!” he exclaimed, surprised. “You’re not at the feast.”

“I was hoping to find you here, Mr. Filch. I just stopped by to see how the new security check went,” Severus explained.

“I was just putting away the Secrecy Sensor,” Mr. Filch exclaimed proudly, and pointed to a shelf of assorted Dark Magic detecting gadgets the school had purchased for his use over the summer. “They found a few things, they did, I’ll be reporting the little brats,” he said with a cackle. “Take a look for yourself.”

Severus’s eyes narrowed as he approached an array of objects on Mr. Filch’s desk, each tagged with the name of the student from whom it had been taken. A quick survey of the contents revealed nothing of interest to a high-level practitioner of the Dark Arts, and failed to turn up Malfoy’s name as well. Good, the boy was showing some basic common sense so far…

What Crabbe had planned to do with a shrunken head, Severus did not care to guess. Any use for such an item with which Severus was familiar seemed far beyond Crabbe’s meager skills. Probably it was his idea of appropriate room décor. Asteria Greengrass’s contribution to the collection, Severus decided with a sneer, had been smuggled in for its purported uses in beauty charms. An idea he was sure he could find ways to discourage.

“Well done. I shall be sure to speak with Mr. Crabbe and Miss Greengrass,” he said. "Might I borrow a lantern?”

“Certainly, Professor. What for?” Filch asked.

“A student is coming late to the castle. I shall have to let him in,” Severus explained.

“I should come along with my Secrecy Sensor!” Filch exclaimed, as he reached into the closet for a lantern.

“I’m quite able to handle the matter myself,” Severus replied as he stepped back out the door. “Thank you.”

When he returned to the Entrance Hall, he saw the feast was well under way. He strode out the great oak doors and down the stone steps of the castle. The great iron gates were not visible in the gathering dark, but he presumed based on the message that Tonks and Potter waited for him there. As he got closer, he saw Tonks, her hair the same mousy brown as at the Order meeting over the summer, her face serious, standing alone outside the gate. With a pang, Severus saw that Potter was no longer with her. The mystery of Potter’s continued absence was solved moments later as the boy pulled off his Invisibility Cloak, to glare at him in undisguised loathing.

“Well, well, well,” said Severus, relieved to see him there and apparently, as Tonks had reported, unharmed. He drew his wand and tapped the padlock once. Obedient to his unspoken command, the chains snaked away, and the gates opened with a loud screech.

“Nice of you to turn up, Potter,” Severus continued sardonically, “although you have evidently decided that the wearing of school robes would detract from your appearance.”

“I couldn’t change. I didn’t have my –” Potter began, but Severus interrupted him.

“There is no need to wait, Nymphadora. Potter is quite – ah – safe in my hands.”

“I meant Hagrid to get the message,” she replied, frowning at him.

Severus curled his lip at that. Albus gave the Welcoming speech every year; while Minerva oversaw the Sorting and Hagrid could usually be counted on to bring in the first-years. But of course, she would not contact him, the only Order member at the school free from any official duties that night. He wondered what Lupin had told her about him.

“Hagrid was late for the start-of-term feast, just like Potter here, so I took it instead,” Severus said, answering her unspoken question, as he took a step back to allow Potter to pass through the entrance. “And incidentally, I was interested to see your new Patronus,” he added as the boy swept past him.

Severus closed the gates behind Potter and tapped on the chains with his wand. They slid noisily back into place, again securing the gates against intruders.

“I think you were better off with the old one,” he added. “The new one looks weak.”

As Severus turned to go back to the castle, Potter called back to Tonks over his shoulder.

“Good night! Thanks for…everything.”

“See you, Harry,” she replied.

Severus walked back up towards the castle with Potter beside him. The boy’s hostility was unmistakable. He stared sullenly and fixedly down at the ground as he trudged up the path, not even seeming to acknowledge Severus once he spoke.

“Fifty points from Gryffindor for lateness, I think,” Severus said finally. “And, let me see, another twenty for your Muggle attire. You know, I don’t believe any House has been in negative figures this early in the term: we haven’t even started pudding. You might have set a record, Potter.”

When Potter still did not respond, Severus continued, “I suppose you wanted to make an entrance, did you? And with no flying car, you decided that bursting into the Great Hall halfway through the feast ought to create a dramatic effect.”

They reached the front steps, and Snape caused the doors to swing open. Once they stepped inside, Severus stopped and faced Potter. He saw, with a shock he did not permit to show on his face, that the boy’s face was stained with blood. What was Potter playing at, now? He could see that the blood was dry, and Tonks had said he was fine. But of course, Potter would take any opportunity to play the hero…

“No cloak,” he said. “You can walk in so that everyone sees you, which is what you wanted, I’m sure.”

Potter turned on the spot without a word and marched proudly towards the Gryffindor table at the opposite side of the Great Hall. Severus watched his straight back for a moment, then, with all eyes drawn to Potter, made his own way back to his seat at the staff table.

Author’s Note: Thanks to anyone who has come back to read this chapter! I do hope to continue this story further, and apologize for the protracted intermission and probably sporadic future posting of it. As always, I am most grateful for any feedback you may care to give!


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The Sorting Hat says I belong in Slytherin.



“Death is the only pure, beautiful conclusion of a great passion.”-D. H. Lawrence

All was well.


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  #19  
Old October 14th, 2008, 6:43 am
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arithmancer  Undisclosed.gif arithmancer is offline
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Re: A Tangled Web (Post-DH)

Author's Note: I would like to thank my beta Fleur du mal for saving me from making two separate canon errors in this chapter, one of which would very definitely have come back to bite me later on! And also for an excellent suggestion which I took. While I'm at it, I may as well also thank her for her consistently great level of suggestions and support for me.

Any shortcomings in this fic are definitely my doing. Feel free to tell me about them in my feedback thread. And now back to the fic...

Chapter 19: Start of Term

Severus had awoken early, after a night of fitful sleep brought on, he knew, by the uncertainty recent events had thrown into his life. He was not, as he had for over a decade, doing a final run-though of the Potions classes he would be teaching that day. Instead, he was failing to prepare adequately for Defense Against the Dark Arts classes as he focused on other problems.

He’d had satisfactory interviews with Miss Greengrass and Crabbe last night. Mr. Filch would not be complaining of them again, Severus felt confident, and once word got out, likely not of any other Slytherins, either. His chat with Urquhart likewise went well. He was eager to take up his duties as Quidditch Captain, and would shortly be letting Severus know when he needed to reserve the pitch for tryouts.

No, the interview that had not happened was the one that distracted him from his preparations. Draco had disregarded his invitation to show up. There had been no sign of the hostility he had displayed at the end of the last year in his demeanor, yet he had not, after all, come. Had his casual agreement leaving the feast been for the benefit of his friends, hiding a continuing resentment regarding Lucius’s imprisonment? Or were those friends, not seen for a summer, the reason that had kept Draco away? He would be seeing Draco again at breakfast, when he must distribute schedules to his Slytherins, and discuss NEWT class schedules with the sixth years, he reminded himself, picking up the pile of blank schedules as he left the office to go to breakfast in the Great Hall.

The staff table was emptier than it had been the previous night. Albus was not in evidence; nor were Professors Sinistra, Slughorn, and Trelawney. The former frequently missed breakfast, as the night courses she taught meant she was not obliged to rise in time for first period. Horace was likely eating in his quarters. Trelawney, Severus would have wagered based on the smell of cooking sherry that had wafted off her the previous night, was somewhere dosing herself with a hangover potion.

Minerva looked up at him as he approached the table, and they exchanged greetings as he sat down beside her.

“What is the news on Montague?” she asked once he had filled a cup of tea and put food on his plate.

“He’s out of St. Mungo’s, but not returning to school,” Severus answered her, “so I have named Urquhart to replace him at Captain.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Minerva replied. “A new Captain, it will be interesting to see what he does.”

“I have complete confidence in his ability,” Severus replied.

“Well, may the best team win!” Minerva said.

“That’ll be Gryffindor, with our Harry as Captain!” Hagrid opined from Minerva’s other side. “No offense to yer team,” he added as an afterthought.

“You’d best not count us out,” Snape replied. “The core of our team is very experienced.”

“Your two teams had best keep in mind there are two other Houses at Hogwarts,” Filius chimed in from the other side of the table. “Our new captain plans to implement sophisticated new strategies, and she’ll have the personnel to do it with. I was most impressed with her ideas.”

Pomona looked up from her eggs and toast. “Well said, Filius! Neither should anyone count out Hufflepuff. Though, it matters little which team wins. Quidditch is a fine way for active youngsters to learn teamwork, fair play, and the value of hard work.”

The Heads of House all nodded their heads at Pomona’s comment, but Snape could not resist a glance in Minerva’s direction, and met her challenging glance. He looked back at her, unperturbed by her sharp glance, his lip curling slightly. One thing, it appeared, remained unchanged this year – their annual competition to beat the other in Quidditch was still on. Privately, Severus wondered how the team’s chances would be affected by Draco’s extracurricular challenges, for it was unthinkable that Urquhart would name anyone else Seeker. Draco was a natural flyer. If there were a better among the youngest Slytherins, the edge in experience would still tip the balance heavily in Draco’s favor…

Severus looked out at the Slytherin table and found Draco, surrounded by his group of friends. He appeared to be joking easily with them, provoking a high-pitched giggle from Parkinson with some remark he had just made. He certainly did not look like a man under threat of death…it seemed that Narcissa had not shared her fears with him, and he still looked on his assignment as the honor his aunt termed it.

Hagrid excused himself, and left with a cheery wave in the direction of the Gryffindor table. Severus poured himself a second cup of tea and glanced at the newspaper Filius had open. No new developments, he saw – the front-page articles were yet another fluff piece from the Ministry providing citizens with worthless advice on coping with the dangers posed by the Dark Lord’s resurgence, and another on the start of term at Hogwarts that focused on the new security measures put in place by the Ministry. As he finished his tea, Minerva excused herself to distribute her schedules, and Severus followed her example.

With a pair of quick flicks of his wand, the schedules of his first through fifth years landed in front of them, showing the classes for which they had signed up. They took their papers and trooped out. He briefly discussed with a few seventh years who wished to drop NEWT classes, convincing a pair to stay on for Defense Against the Dark Arts, and allowing a third who had barely scraped an Acceptable from Minerva the previous year to drop Transfiguration. He would doubtless be unable to handle the coursework in the seventh year, with that grade.

Which left the sixth years – he would need to check they had the necessary OWL grades to continue in their chosen subjects. He swiftly approved Millicent’s three selections; she had obviously heeded her results in choosing her classes. Then came Crabbe, who had only managed a single OWL, in Charms. “Professor Flitwick will take you with an A,” Snape told him. “You’d do well to pick up another OWL, though. I suggest you and Goyle retake Defense Against Dark Arts.” Crabbe looked sullen, but nodded his agreement. Goyle, who would continue in Herbology with an Acceptable OWL result, likewise agreed.

Daphne Greengrass needed to be talked out of Divination, for which she did not have the grades. Trelawney expected at least an E from her students. But Severus approved her other selections.

Next was Draco Malfoy. “I was surprised not to see you last night,” Severus commented.

“I was planning to come, Sir” Draco replied smoothly. “But Urquhart mentioned he had Quidditch business with you, and by the time Urquhart got back to the Common Room, it seemed late.”

Since he had no legitimate reason to demand Draco’s presence, Severus demurred. “Very well, Draco. I am sure there will be another occasion for us to chat. So, let me see your proposed class list.”

Draco handed it over. He had asked to sign up for DADA, Charms, Herbology, Arithmancy, and Potions.

Severus nodded as he compared each class with the requisite test result. An O in Potions, no surprise there…

“But I see you have several more high passing grades, Draco!” Severus observed. “Outstanding in History of Magic and Runes, as well as Exceeds Expectations in Transfiguration and Astronomy. You would be welcome to take any of those classes with those grades.”

“I don’t want to continue in those subjects, Professor,” Draco replied. “Five NEWT classes will take a lot of time,” he added.

Time, yes. He’d really much rather Draco had no free time at all, but he could hardly say that.

“Last Spring we spoke concerning your career ambitions,” Severus essayed. “You’d not made a definite choice at that time. Continuing more classes at the NEWT level will keep your options open.”

“There’s plenty I could do with those NEWTs, Sir” Draco said. “I’m not too worried about a career, anyway.”

“I am well aware of your parents’ financial situation,” Severus replied, ‘just as I am aware that they quite rightly have higher expectations for you than to leave school having achieved average qualifications.”

“But I did not bring textbooks for any other classes, Sir,” Draco objected.

Did not bring, Severus noted. There’d been no mention of not buying those texts. Now certain of his advantage, Severus pressed on. “That will not be a problem. I shall Owl your mother, asking her to send the books along to you. In the meantime, I feel sure that your professors or classmates can loan you the texts.”

Draco’s pale face reddened perceptibly. “But History of Magic is a complete waste of time! Even Mother agrees, and Astronomy-”

Severus tapped Draco’s empty schedule with his wand, and the five classes Draco had requested appeared, along with Runes, Astronomy, and Transfiguration.

“Ancient Runes meets first period Mondays, Draco,” Severus commented as he handed the paper over. “You’d better get going if you don’t want to be late.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Draco replied, his lip curling.

Severus acknowledged the less than sincere thanks with a nod and turned to Theo Nott. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Draco waved in a peremptory manner at Crabbe and Goyle, who had been waiting for him, and departed with them at his heels. He shot one backwards glance at Severus as he left the Great Hall.

o:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦:¦: o

The first period of the morning was his class for second-year Hufflepuffs. Severus found them standing around outside the classroom door and let them in. They filed in quickly and fairly quietly, and proceeded to take out their textbooks as he strode towards the front of the class.

“Books away,” Severus announced as he turned to face them. Students hastily put their books back and turned to look at him.

“I have something important to say to you,” he began, “and I would like your undivided attention.”

“The Dark Arts can be sudden or insidious, brutal or subtle,” Severus said, pacing along the front row of desks. Their eyes were following him, he noted with satisfaction. He did have their attention.

“Success in fighting them, therefore,” he continued, turning to walk along one of the side walls, “depends on alertness to the dangers they pose and quick thinking to respond to those dangers. Whether you in the future face human opponents threatening you with Dark spells-” Here he stopped to indicate the picture of a witch suffering the Cruciatus curse. Miss Cleary, the student sitting closest to the picture, paled visibly. “-or Dark creatures,” he continued, indicating a picture depicting the soulless victim of a Dementor, “or other threats,” his hand wave encompassed a pair of pictures depicting victims of curses, “awareness of your surroundings, and of all options available to you, will be the key to survival.”

Severus paused again to survey their reaction. A bit scared, alas. Better that they have warning of the terrors that existed in the world outside the school, because it seemed very likely some of them might encounter such things in the flesh in the not-too-distant future.

“You are, I believe, novices in the art of defensive spell casting. How would you defend against a jinx?” he asked.

Severus swept the room with his eyes, and students turned away. Nobody was willing to risk an answer.

“Stebbins?” Severus asked of a boy sitting in the back row. He was, in Potions, an uninspired student whose greatest strength was the precise (if incredibly slow) following of directions.

“Sir?” the boy said hesitantly.

“Stand up for a moment. You may pick up your wand,” Severus said.

Stebbins, his face betraying some trepidation, did as Severus had ordered.

“Very well. Now, please demonstrate how you would prevent me from jinxing you.”

“Umm, Sir. I would smile, and address you politely and, umm, negotiate,” the boy replied hesitantly.

Severus resisted an urge to swear, loudly and colorfully. The second years would be the worst, he reminded himself; they were the ones who had only had Umbridge. Everyone else would at least have had a year with Crouch, or have nothing to unlearn… Instead, he drew his wand swiftly and pointed it directly at Stebbins, who flinched.

“Yes? Proceed with your demonstration, Mr. Stebbins,” Severus said quietly.

Stebbins paled and swallowed nervously. He contorted his face into a grimace, and said in a hesitant voice, “Please, Professor Snape, Sir, there is no need to jinx me.”

Keeping his wand trained steadily on Stebbins, Severus asked. “Do I look convinced?”

Stebbins shook his head. “No, Sir,” he said in a whisper.

“Perceptive,” Severus said, and was rewarded by a couple of quiet titters coming from behind him. “Have you any alternative ideas?”

Stebbins shook his head, his face reddening.

“Very well. You may sit down,” Severus told him, lowering his wand as he did so.

“Anyone else?”

Leah Abbot, a student seated in the first row, raised her hand hesitantly.

“Miss Abbot?” he asked.

“A jinx could be prevented by a defensive spell, Sir?” she ventured, her inflection making her statement a question.

“Do you have a particular spell in mind, Miss Abbot?” he asked.

“Expelliarmus?” she replied in the same questioning tone.

Well, though she lacked conviction, Miss Abbot did appear to be catching on, Severus was pleased to note.

“Would you care to demonstrate it, Miss Abbot?” he asked.

“It has a characteristic across and down wand motion which ends with the tip of the wand pointed forcefully at the target,” she said with more confidence.

Aha, and she had also read ahead. Apparently, she had more interest in this subject than in Potions, he noted. She’d rarely bothered to do so last year….

“Please rise, Miss Abbot,” he instructed her.

As she did, he took aim at her, holding his wand loosely in his hand. She raised her wand and gripped it tightly, her knuckles whitening. With a nod of his head, he invited her to attempt the spell.

With a hesitant, jerky motion, she executed the wave and shouted “Expelliarmus!” as she stabbed her wand in his direction. As he had known it would before she completed her motion, his wand did not even wiggle. Slowly, with exaggerated motions, Severus began to cast a Jelly-Legs jinx at her head. As the orange jet of light left his wand, she squeaked and dove sideways to avoid it, and the jinx missed her, hitting a picture of a man mauled by an Inferius that hung on the far wall. He cast a nonverbal “Reparo” before the shattered glass inside the frame even began to fall, earning an admiring gasp from the nervously giggling crowd.

Miss Abbot straightened up, looking very frightened.

“Thank you, Miss Abbot. You may sit down,” he told her. “That was a workmanlike demonstration of avoiding a hostile jinx.”

She looked at him uncertainly, decided he was being serious, and sat down looking almost pleased with herself.

“Have you any other suggestions?” he asked the class.

A couple of hands went up this time.

“Yes, Mr. Fellowes?”

“Run away?” he ventured.

“Would you care to try it?” Severus asked, his lip curling.

“Sir, I didn’t mean here, in class. You’d be able to hit me in the back and I couldn’t see what you were trying. I meant, if I saw a Death Eater or something coming from far away…”

“Yes, under some circumstances, your approach would work,” Severus agreed. “Miss Binns?”

“How about deflecting the spell with something solid, like my book bag, Professor?” she ventured.

“That would work against the Jelly-Legs Jinx I aimed at Miss Abbot. I would not recommend it against a Reductor Curse cast by a powerful opponent. However, as this is a course on defensive magic, we shall begin with the spell suggested by Miss Abbot, the Disarming Charm. As she, and Chapter 1 of the text, suggest, the wand motion for this spell goes across, then down, ending in a forceful thrust in the direction of the opponent. It is most important not to stop at any point in the motion prior to its end; this was Miss Abbot’s mistake. Like so.”

Severus slowly demonstrated the proper motion, and led the class through a few repetitions of it.

“You will now pair up, and attempt to disarm your partner,” he ordered.

Much scraping of chairs ensued as the students followed his instructions, and he stepped back to watch. What he saw did not inspire good feelings about the coming year. As he would have expected from a class of Hufflepuffs, they were quite persistent. Unfortunately, this mostly took the form of a willingness to persist in making the same mistake, over and over again. Severus walked around the class, making corrections and repeating his demonstration of the proper motion, without once receiving the reward of success by a student, though a couple looked as though they might be coming close. The lack of practice last year was very telling. If he was going to bring them up to an acceptable standard by the end of the year, they would need a lot more practice.

“Homework for the next class is to practice the Disarming Charm,” Severus announced. “We’ll see if anyone has better luck preventing my jinx next time.”

From the ripple of consternation that accompanied the latter portion of his announcement, Severus decided with a smile that this group would find the time for some practice. Once his students picked up their things and left to go to their next class, Severus strode to the door to open it and admit the sixth year NEWT class, who were waiting in the corridor.

***

As always, I am most grateful for any feedback you may care to give!


__________________
The Sorting Hat says I belong in Slytherin.



“Death is the only pure, beautiful conclusion of a great passion.”-D. H. Lawrence

All was well.


Avatar by nerwende, signature art by sigune, used with permission.

Last edited by arithmancer; October 14th, 2008 at 3:24 pm.
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