The Sugar Quill
Author: JK Ashavah (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Phoenix and The Serpent  Chapter: Chapter One: The Battle
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.


Disclaimer: I do not own the characters, places or situations of the Harry Potter universe, nor am I affiliated with those who do (J. K. Rowling, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, Scholastic Books and Warner Brothers). I am making no money from this fic.

Summary: Every day a battle takes place within you between good and evil. The phoenix and the serpent are fighting inside, each struggling to be the one that emerges triumphant, clutching your soul. Welcome to my world.


Part One: The Battle

The cold, blank faces of my companions were all that greeted me as the familiar dark clearing slowly appeared, changing gradually from blackness into startling clarity. Glancing quickly at my surroundings, my eyes flicking around their ring from behind my cold, impassive mask, I saw that my fellow Death Eaters were quicker than I was; I was the last to Apparate into the close circle. Yet again.

I turned and strode quickly to my place, keeping my eyes downcast in the accepted manner, showing my supposed contrition to my lord. I quickly found my place amongst the cold, faceless mass of the Death Eaters and stood obediently, the eyes behind my expressionless mask flicking around the circle, observing the stances and actions of my companions. That is something I have become skilled at. Observing without being observed. Melting into the background. Hiding in corners. Watching, always watching.

Lucius Malfoy was worried. After my long years of association with him, I have become able to recognise his moods with a surprising accuracy; he would be startled to realise that anyone could read him when he tried to be incomprehensible. Little does he truly know about me. If he really knew me, he would have been much more careful.

When Lucius was worried, it was time for me to be worried too. I learned that almost immediately. I learned so much so quickly. It makes sense, I suppose. After all, if you live in constant fear of death, you're going to try and get all the information you can, to keep yourself alive. That's simply survival instinct.

I flicked my gaze around the gathered Death Eaters, watching for any signs of unease amongst the others. It was there, to be easily found if I only looked. Avery was shifting nervously in his spot; Wormtail, constantly fidgeting while his eyes roamed the circle as mine did; Crabbe and Goyle stood in their positions next to Lucius, uncertainty showing in their stances. All was not well with my companions.

Lord Voldemort stepped forward. Lucius shifted nervously in his place, another sign of his unease.

"So," my lord began, his voice high-pitched and as cold as Hell. I say as cold as Hell because that is what it would be to me, like that of the Vikings hundreds of years ago: the deepest, coldest extremity of an icy world. I could not help, even then, shivering at the sound of Voldemort's speech. He is exactly like a serpent. A serpent I have devoted my life to.

"You have failed me. All of you." A shudder ran through the circle, and I knew what was foremost in each Death Eater's mind. The same thing as in mine. The Cruciatus curse, or the final, terrible Avada Kedavra. "Do you deny it?" Voldemort hissed, his red, livid eyes searching the eyes and souls of each of his servants.

"I am sorry, my lord! The boy is too well guarded!" Avery fell to his knees, crying out, begging for his pitiful skin to be saved. He would have done better to remain silent. That is almost always so.

"Too well guarded, Avery?" Voldemort asked, his voice high and mocking as he turned those empty, pitiless eyes on his servant. Avery cringed, and Voldemort raised his wand. I closed my eyes so I would not have to see Avery's pain yet again. I heard the word from my lord, and the Death Eater's scream chilled my blood.

"Do not make excuses!" Voldemort hissed. "Is it possible that the Muggle-lover Dumbledore is too much for you?" Contempt was plain in his voice, and I felt a shudder run through the circle like a ripple through a disturbed pond, growing as it reached each frightened member of the ring. Lord Voldemort watched silently, an unpleasant smile playing across his face. He seemed pleased at the fear he was instilling in his followers. Suddenly he turned, in a swirl of black.

"You!" He pointed his long, cold finger straight at me. Blood pounded in my ears, and my muscles began to tremble. I could feel my heartbeat rising and hear the sharp hissing of my quickened breathing. Whenever I was required to act my part as a Death Eater, it was the same. Sweat, nerves and most terrible, fear. "You know his actions! Tell us his movements!"

I could not possibly refuse. Stepping forward from my place in the ring and into open space, encircled by my fellow Death Eaters, I prepared to speak, mentally rehearsing my role.

"The ..." The word barely escaped my lips. I cleared my throat, took a deep breath and continued, hoping for my voice to remain steady. "He is calling the Order of the Phoenix together more often. Through careful observation of their movements," I kept my eyes downcast for safety; though I could see no real benefit to it, it felt more secure, "I have seen that they are indeed on our trail, but they have not uncovered our plans on Harry Potter's life or to release the Dementors."

Voldemort laughed.

"So, even with your incompetence," he said, addressing the entire circle, "we are not discovered. See to it," he hissed sharply, "that you do not fail again. Be gone!"

Lucius met my eyes across the ring. With a feeling of trepidation, I knew I would have to wait for him to speak with me. Still trembling from my encounter with the Dark Lord, I waited until he strode to my side.

"So, Potter's protection has not yet been altered?"

I shook my head, carefully avoiding Lucius' gaze while trying to avoid his suspicion. I pride myself on avoiding suspicion, both from him and others. That's another survival skill I have acquired.

"Good. You have done well. Do not fail me." Lucius spoke the last sentence with an icy threat clear in his tone. He sponsored me into the Death Eaters; he fears he will lose face if I fail, and well I knwo it. The number of times I had to endure the Cruciatus Curse from him because of failure ... I do not know. I've lost count.

"Yes, sir," I said respectfully, inclining my head slightly. I watched as Lucius Apparated away, then turned myself to do the same. He was probably expecting me at his mansion. I, however, had other plans. I tore off my mask, hiding it deep within my cloak so I would not be conspicuous where I was going. Then I turned and Apparated. But not to Malfoy Manor. No. The serpent had not won me over.

* * *

Hogsmeade was the same as it ever was. It's hardly likely that it would have changed just on account of the disruptions in my life, but it was still strange to see something that remained unaltered when my entire life had changed so dramatically since Lord Voldemort was resurrected.

A peaceful stroll through the streets of Hogsmeade would have been wonderful. I, however, had no time for such pleasures. Without even knowing the time, I could tell I was already rather late; Lord Voldemort's meeting had delayed my plans for the day. He, of course, took precedence over anything else I may have wanted to do - would you rather live out a lovely, relaxing day or save your own life?

I walked quickly through the town, glancing nervously from side to side. Luckily, a young man in a black cloak and robes did not stand out among the people of the town. Evading notice, I wound my way to Hogwarts and slipped inside the castle.

Drawing the dark hood over my head, hiding my face, I wove through the maze of corridors that I still remembered from my own time there, until I finally reached Dumbledore's office. Whispering the password, I watched as the gargoyle leapt aside. I crept silently up the staircase, listening carefully for sounds of the meeting.

"Lucius Malfoy is planning ... What, we cannot tell." The voice that filtered quietly to me through the door was one I recognised - Nouvelle, the Defence professor, an ex-Auror, and quite capable, even if she despised me. As I reached the top, I heard another voice - Remus Lupin's.

"As Professor Nouvelle says, Death Eater activity has been slowly increasing. They are scheming, but we cannot tell to what ends."

I reached out my hand, rapping sharply on the door.

"Password!" Another voice I knew. The Head of the Aurors' Office.

"Never disturb a burning phoenix," I muttered through the timber, and the door opened. I stepped into the room.

The atmosphere in Dumbledore's office was far from that in the tight ring of cruel Death Eaters. Members of the Order of the Phoenix were either seated in chairs or sprawled on most available surfaces. The portraits of previous headmasters and mistresses seemed unable to sleep; they were all awake, and several were surveying the ragtag company assembled in the office with an air of disapproval.

Such a ragtag company. The others all looked so relaxed, so ... at ease, as if they were doing nothing more consequential than simply planning a dinner party, not plotting the downfall of the most terrible Dark wizard in a century. They had expressions ranging from easygoing to slightly concerned, but no one looked particularly perturbed by the feat of defeating Voldemort. They wore clothes that ranged from Bill Weasley's Muggle outfit and his brother Charlie's protective leather to Lupin's patched and Nouvelle's tidy robes. No one was dressed to impress, and there was no uniform. The relaxed air was refreshing.

They were all so different, but they all had something in common. Much as the portraits may have disliked them, the Order of the Phoenix are the most potent weapon Dumbledore has against Lord Voldemort. The force is small and untrained, but in it are the best fighters one could hope to find, each of us selected for commitment, skill and willingness, and each of us a deadly weapon, be it in the field; researching; providing knowledge of curses, hexes and spells; or spying. That was my job.

The order was created in Voldemort's first rise - few people know how or when. Very few people are even aware of its existence. Dumbledore called together a few of his most trusted associates. Few of the earlier members of the order are still in it. Many of them have died, most commonly killed in action.

Slowly, the group grew. Soon it included Lily and James Potter, Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, and for a short while, Peter Pettigrew. Now it has expanded even more, to include the members from the first rising and new recruits. Each member has a code name, and each of them, with the exception of those who operate as spies, has a small piece of jewellery shaped like a phoenix, which has a stone in it that changes colour when they are needed at a meeting. It was all so brilliant, and I was in on it.

Lord Voldemort knew I had access to information about the movements of the Order of the Phoenix. Little did he guess why. Dumbledore would give me scraps of information with which to feed the greedy Dark Lord. It was the most difficult challenge I had ever faced. N.E.W.T.s faded into insignificance; playing Quidditch against Gryffindor was the easiest task imaginable by comparison. Feed Lord Voldemort too much information, and he would grow suspicious of me, as well as knowing the Order's every move. Feed him too little, and he would recognise me as a traitor. That recognition was never one I had looked forward to.

"I apologise for my lateness," I began awkwardly, but Dumbledore waved aside my apologies, gesturing around the crowded office.

"Pull up some floor," Bill Weasley said, smiling at me. I nodded tersely, taking his advice and a place between Lupin and Nouvelle.

"Now." Dumbledore spoke softly, his eyes scanning his troops. "We know that the Death Eaters are planning. Their movements indicate a major action begin carried out. Does anybody," he shot a piercing glance at me, "have any further information?"

Accepting my cue, I stood. Feeling every eye in the room turn to me, I fixed my own gaze on Dumbledore's.

"They have two plans," I began, much calmer than when I was facing Lord Voldemort. After all, Dumbledore was hardly likely to kill me for a simple mistake. "They are plotting to kill Harry Potter, and to break open Azkaban by recruiting the Dementors." There was silence, shattered only by a spluttering noise from the large black dog on the floor that I knew was Sirius Black. Lupin jabbed him with an elbow, and he seemed to regain what little composure he ever had.

"I see," Dumbledore said, his pale blue eyes fixed on mine. He paused for a moment, then searched the gaze of every member of the Order of the Phoenix. I could tell from his expression that he had feared as much, for his eyes were as troubled as the ocean waters in a storm. "Some of you are to continue with your current tasks. However, I would like Jupiter and Lunar to work together to develop ideas to combat the breaking open of Azkaban. Little Tern and Diamond, you are to ensure Harry's protection, by any means possible. Those of you working in the field, do your best to uncover the Death Eaters' plans."

I did not know all the code names, but I knew enough. Black and Lupin were checking out the possibilities for keeping Azkaban safe. It made sense. After all, who knew more about Azkaban than Black? And Nouvelle was one of those nominated to protect Potter. Also sensible. As a professor, and one of Potter's trusted friends, it would be easy for her.

Me? It seemed I was to continue with my previous job, gathering all information I could. Lord Voldemort was always very clever and secretive about his schemes. He told each Death Eater their part individually, so no-one, except perhaps Lucius Malfoy, his right hand man, knew the entire plot.

Lucius was Voldemort's one weakness, and that weakness was one that had to be exploited.

* * *


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