The Sugar Quill
Author: Robin (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Death Before Dishonor  Chapter: Chapter 3: Risks Worth Taking
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Chapter Two: Darkness Encroaching

Death Before Dishonor

 

 

Chapter Three:  Risks Worth Taking

 

            Snape Apparated, heart racing.  He never prayed, but at the moment he was sorely tempted.  Dumbledore, you had better have succeeded… Upon seeing him, Wormtail jumped, which the Death Eater took as a good sign.  Scowling, Snape snarled, “Where’s the boy?”

            “He’s…he’s not here,” Pettigrew squeaked.

            “What?” Snape thundered, inwardly singing the praises of Albus Dumbledore.  That old man never ceases to astonish me.  Now he just had to keep himself alive.

            Wormtail winched as Snape stared at him.  Although he’d been properly…chastised for his late return to the fold, Severus Snape had quickly regained his old position in the Death Eater hierarchy: third only to Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort himself.  His efficiency and coldness had made that possible in an unbelievably short amount of time that he knew many of his fellow Death Eaters despised him for, but no one brewed potions as quickly or flawlessly as Snape, and few could kill with so little care.  Once again, he had proved that while the Dark Lord was partial to the heartless, he especially favored those who acted without any emotion at all.

            Wormtail, though, pitiful and miserable creature that he was, had just learned that being emotionless still left him with one hell of a temper.

            “They…the Dursleys are gone…Severus,” Wormtail stuttered.

            “Don’t call me that,” he snapped.  “Where?”

            “I don’t know…”

            “You don’t know?” Snape mocked him.

            “He doesn’t know what?” Lucius Malfoy had Apparated into the room with a pop and had heard the last sentence.

            Snape turned lazily toward his old classmate, letting irritation and a hint of fury color his features.  “Potter’s relatives are gone, Lucius,” he replied.  “And so is the boy.”

            Wormtail flinched again at the fury on Malfoy’s face, but Snape stood his ground without fear.  Such was his trademark.  They never suspected him, because he showed no fear—not even to Voldemort.  Or, at least no more than he had to, anyway.

            “You lost Potter?” Lucius demanded.

            “They left sometime yesterday,” Wormtail whispered.  “I did not see them go…”

            Snape watched Lucius’ mouth drop open.  It was one of the few times he had ever seen the smooth-talking Slytherin at a loss for words, and he knew that Malfoy’s mind was working anxiously at how to deflect the blame from himself, the highest ranking Death Eater assigned to the task.

            In the silence, though, other Death Eaters were appearing: Crabbe, Goyle, Nott, Macnair, and Avery.  They stared from Malfoy to Snape and to the cowering Wormtail, knowing something was wrong, but afraid to ask.  However, as the stillness stretched forward, Wormtail spoke, mistaking Malfoy’s silence for hesitation.

            “Please…there was nothing I could—”

            “Crucio!”  Snape did not even tell him to shut up.  He just lifted his wand and let the curse fly without any of the anger or glee the others would have demonstrated.  The act was vintage Snape the Death Eater, but slightly painful for a man who might have regretted it had he allowed himself to feel.

            Several of the others shuddered quietly as Wormtail writhed upon the ground, screaming, and left there longer than Malfoy would have made him suffer.  Finally, Malfoy cleared his throat.

            “Severus… You’re going to wake up the neighbors,” Lucius said with more amusement than admonishment in his voice.

            Snape scowled, and waited a split second longer before releasing Wormtail from the curse.  “Ask me how much I care.”

            With two strides, he reached Wormtail’s side.  Grabbing him by the shoulder, Snape dragged the whimpering Death Eater to his feet.  He dragged the other forward, spitting his words out with contempt.  “Let’s go, Wormtail.”

            “Where…?” the other sobbed.

            “You get to tell our Master about your failure,” Severus snarled.

            “No…”

            He pulled Wormtail’s face close and breathed the words right in his face.  “Oh, yes.  Your failure, your explanation.  You really want to argue with me?”

            “No…!”

            Abruptly, he turned away from the shivering Death Eater.  “Shall we, Lucius?”

            “Indeed.”  Malfoy did not look happy, but at least he agreed.  “The rest of you will accompany us.”

            There were murmurs, but not of disagreement.  The only one amongst them who ever dared disagree with Malfoy was Snape, and he had started this whole thing.  Personally, the Hogwarts Potions Master had no pity for any of the lot; they had chosen Voldemort.  They could deal with his inevitable temper tantrum.

            After all, misery loved company.

 

            Several hours later, Snape found himself alone with Voldemort, a situation he liked not at all.  He was shaking slightly, but trying to control it; pain was nothing he had not encountered before, and the present amount was far less than he had experienced the day before, after failing to convince Dumbledore to walk into a trap of the Dark Lord’s making.  Voldemort had not expected success, of course, but that hadn’t made the punishment any lighter.  In fact, Severus wondered momentarily if that had only made it worse.

The Dark Lord had dismissed the others: most, as incompetents, and Lucius was off to see what he could discover of Potter’s whereabouts.  Wormtail, of course, was still on the floor less than ten feet away from the Dark Lord and his servant, but he was finally unconscious.  While Snape still felt no pity for him, he knew that the other’s present state was a blessing.  His own experience of twenty-four hours before was nothing in comparison to what Wormtail had just been through.

“Dumbledore…” Voldemort hissed quietly.  “How do you suppose he knew, Severus?”

“I am not sure, My Lord,” Snape replied carefully.  “But I believe that he received a letter from Potter…” He jerked his head contemptuously in Wormtail’s direction.  “That fool was not as careful as he should have been.”  Thank goodness.

It was also a very good thing that Dumbledore had shown him the letter that Remus Lupin had forwarded to him, the letter where Harry told Black of his suspicions…hopefully, as the Headmaster had said, it would give him enough evidence to deflect suspicion completely onto Wormtail.

“I see…” Snape waited silently for Voldemort to continue, concentrating on controlling his breathing and appearing like nothing more than a loyal Death Eater, devoted to his master’s plans.  He wasn’t especially concerned for his own safety—he knew that he’d be found out eventually, and was equally certain that when that day came, he would die in agony—but he was worried about betrayal.  His own betrayal.  Having forsaken Voldemort years before for Dumbledore’s cause, he could only fear for what information the Dark Lord might torture out of him.  And he could only hope to do some good while he was still alive.

“So he is at Hogwarts.”

“No, My Lord,” Snape replied honestly.  “He was not there when I left, and I doubt he is now.  Dumbledore did not retrieve the boy himself.  He is currently meeting with the Minister of Magic, and could not have done so.  I do not think Potter is with him, My Lord.”

“Where, then?”

Snape shivered as cold red eyes burned over him, and made an intensive study of the toes of his own boots.  “I do not know, My Lord.”

Voldemort hissed, and Snape braced himself for pain that never came.  “Go back to Hogwarts.  See what you can learn from that Muggle-lover when he returns.”

“Yes, My Lord.”

“Dumbledore still trusts you, Severus?”

“Impeccably, My Lord,” Snape replied, letting a sneer creep into his voice.  “He believes I am a changed man.”

Voldemort laughed, and Snape was glad that he could not read minds.  I am a changed man.  “Good…good…” the Dark Lord smiled.  “Lucius tells me that you were a tad…overenthusiastic earlier this evening?”

Snape bowed his head.  “I live to serve, Master, and am disappointed when others do not do the same.”

“Very well.”  Another chuckle.  “Go.”

Snape knelt to kiss the hem of Voldemort’s robes and then made his retreat.

 

“Harry?”  Sirius bent over his godson, wishing that it were not still dark outside, but knowing that they had to leave.  They had spent the night in a Muggle hotel after he’d transfigured both his and Harry’s clothing into something Muggles would wear and transfigured their brooms into inconspicuous suitcases.  Fleeing from the law had given Sirius a healthy respect for keeping up appearances—and a rather strong basis of knowledge about the “normal” world.  Hell, he could even have used a telephone if he really wanted to, and would have managed not to let even Vernon Dursley realize that he was a wizard.

Running from the law, though, had also taught him that getting an early start could mean the difference between freedom and prison—or, in this case, the difference between life and death.  Gently, he shook the boy again.  “Harry?”

“Mmm?”

“It’s time to get up.  We have to go.”

Harry’s eyes suddenly popped open.  “Sirius?”

“Yep.” He smiled slightly.

“I thought I dreamed about you coming…but I guess I didn’t, did I?” Harry grinned and sat up.  “The look on Aunt Petunia’s face when you made the phone shrink…”

Sirius grinned.  “I thought about making your cousin shrink, too, but then I realized that I’d be doing him too much of a favor.”

They laughed together, but after a few moments, Harry sobered.  “Can I ask you a question, Sirius?”

“Sure.”

“Would you have really killed them?  The Dursleys, I mean?” Harry asked quietly.

He’d known this was coming; fortunately, though, the truth was what Harry wanted, and needed, to hear.  “No,” Sirius replied softly.  “I couldn’t take away the only family you have left, Harry.  Even if they are as miserable and disgusting as the Dursleys.”

“Oh.  I’m glad to hear that.”

“That’s because you’re better than them.”  Sirius met his godson’s gaze, and kept it.  “I’m capable of killing, Harry, but not without good reason.  But I won’t let them hurt you, either.”

“Thanks,” Harry said softly.

But he was rather quiet, and Sirius looked at him with concern, afraid that there was something he wasn’t seeing, and very much afraid that there were perhaps several very good reasons to keep the Dursleys out of Harry’s life.  Permanently.  He sat down next to his godson on the hotel room bed.  “Are you all right?”

“Yeah.”

“What about that?” he asked, gesturing at the still evident bruise on Harry’s right cheek.

“It’s nothing.  Not a big deal.”  Harry shrugged, and as Sirius studied him, he realized that Harry wasn’t lying.  Harry really didn’t think it was a big deal at all.

“Does he hit you often?” Sirius asked quietly.

“Sometimes,” the boy admitted.  “Usually only when I make him mad.  Which is a lot.”

A frightening thought occurred to Sirius.  “You know that’s wrong, right?  You realize that isn’t what a normal family is like, don’t you, Harry?”

“Sure,” Harry replied quietly.  “I mean, I guess so.  I’ve never really had a…normal family.”

The sadness in the boy’s voice made Sirius’ heart contract.   He’s just a child… Without conscious thought, Sirius wrapped his right arm around Harry’s shoulders.  But Harry tensed at the touch, and Sirius looked down at him with concern.  “I’m not going to hurt you, Harry,” he whispered.  “I would never hurt you.”

“I know.”  Big green eyes met his own, then, after a moment, wavered slightly.  “I’m just not used to…you know, people hugging me.”

No, I don’t know.  Not like you do, anyway.  Sirius hesitated for a moment before asking, but he had to.  “Has anyone ever?”

Finally, Harry relaxed, leaning his head into Sirius’ shoulder.  “Once,” he mumbled.  “Mrs. Weasley, after the Triwizard Tournament.”

“Oh, Harry…” Sirius trailed off, at a loss for words, so he just wrapped his other arm around his godson and hugged the boy.  He heard the sorrow in Harry’s voice, and knew that there were inescapable demons in his past—no matter how strong Harry Potter was, he would always be haunted by Voldemort’s return and what had happened that day.  Worse, Harry had lived the summer alone, separated from his friends and anyone who could or would understand, which had to make coping even harder.  Sirius knew that Dumbledore had talked to Harry at length about what happened, and had managed to mostly convince the boy that Cedric Diggory’s death wasn’t his fault, but he knew Harry would always feel the pain of a death he could not prevent. 

And he knew that there were some scars that mere eyes could never see.

For long moments they sat together, silently, wrapped up in each other’s arms.  Harry didn’t cry, and Sirius hadn’t expected him to, but he felt the tenseness leave the boy, and felt Harry truly relax for what was probably the first time in months.  Sirius never knew how long they held one another before Harry spoke.

“You know,” he said softly, “the Dursleys aren’t my only family.”

“What?” Sirius stared at him.

“I have you.”

 

 

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Author’s Note:  Please review…even if you hate it.  I know FFN has been down for a while, now, so I’ve posted several chapters at the same time.  Please let me know what you think.  Thanks!  ROBIN

 

 

 

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