Disclaimer: None of
these characters belong to me. They all belong to J.K. Rowling. I
am thankful to her for allowing everyone to play with them. Thanks to
PirateQueen for beta-reading, Ada Kensington for getting her to, and Reesie for
bugging me to get this posted.
It was over an
hour later that the mark upon his arm started to prick. Snape had been pacing
the area between the Forest and the castle, torn between searching--a fruitless
task, he suspected--and guarding against some more serious attack. The Castle
was woefully vulnerable this night. Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid--they were
all scattered to the fates. With the departure of Umbridge, even such scant
protection as the Ministry afforded was gone.
This is your fault, a voice in Snape's head scolded. Slow, stupid, useless… Why didn't you
figure it out sooner, when you had a chance to stop them leaving? You had one
task… one simple task and you failed at it… He rubbed his forehead wearily.
It came as a
relief to feel the familiar throbbing in his forearm. Whatever it was that
happened was now over. It also meant that Snape had very little time. He walked
quickly to a part of the forest where a large patch of toadstools grew. Pulling
a small wooden box from his robes, he knelt and began picking.
toadstools helped calm and focus his mind. Even better, it was a boring,
repetitive activity. The images could be accessed over and over without
beginning or end. If the Dark Lord looked into his mind, there was no way to
tell how long he had been at this task.
until the mark had turned completely black. Then he gathered all the toadstools
into the box and banished it to his rooms. He hurried through the darkness to
the edge of the gate. Once through it, he Apparated.
There were only
two people in the room. Voldemort and, crouching at his feet, the dark,
crumpled figure of a woman. As Snape arrived, he saw a light flash from
Voldemort's wand. The woman screamed in pain.
please," she begged. "It was not my fault! It was Lucius who lost the
prophecy! I was the one who killed--!"
impassively as the Dark Lord raised his wand again. For some time, there was
nothing but the sound of screaming, broken by sobs. While he waited, he
contemplated the probability that he would be next. He allowed the fear to fill
him. Fear was good. Fear is a weapon, but the Dark Lord was not the only one
who knew how to use it.
wand lowered. The woman lay still upon the floor, beyond pain--at least until
she awoke. Snape knelt. "My Lord," he murmured. "How may I serve
year!" Voldemort raged. "A year I have been trying to retrieve that
prophecy! And the imbecile Malfoy has destroyed it!"
He paced the
room, his robes whipping violently with each turn.
Snape kept his
eyes trained on the ground. Anger at Lucius Malfoy for losing the prophecy
could easily turn to anger at himself. Anger sixteen years old… at Snape's own
error. The error that had started all
this. The error he could never erase.
time again, Albus Dumbledore has blocked my plans," Lord Voldemort
growled. He turned like a cat after a mouse. Severus Snape raised his head to
look into the Dark Lord's face. The red slit-pupil eyes bored into his.
"How, Snape, how was it that his minions arrived so conveniently?"
that he has been guarding the entrance to the department, my Lord," Snape
replied at once. "If he had other safeguards or alarms, he did not share
them with me."
did not alert him?" The eyes
narrowed. Snape felt the Dark Lord's mind brushing his. He relaxed and allowed
it without resistance, although not without a shudder of disgust. Visions of
his hands, gathering and dusting the dirt off toadstools swam through his mind.
The other memories--of Black, of Umbridge, and Potter's clumsy message, stayed
hidden in the background weighed down by feelings of hostility and deep
"I was at
the school, my Lord." Snape's voice lowered with regret.
"Unfortunately, I do not know where the Headmaster has been." He let
a note of bitterness creep in. "He did not trust me enough to inform me,
perhaps he suspected… whatever the reason, he did not trust me. I could not
keep track of his movements."
He bowed his
head. "I have failed you, my Lord. I deserve your punishment." He
allowed memories, sharp with pain and fear, to fill his mind.
flicked impatiently. "You enjoy it too much," he sneered. He paced
back and forth for a few minutes. "My problem is not that child. He is
lucky, and he is strong, but he is a child still. My problem is Dumbledore. I
have suffered his existence too long."
of the prophecy is hard, my Lord, but--"
A cold silence
at the end of that sentence dropped between them and spread out to fill the
room. Inside the silence was utter rage.
seen!" Voldemort screamed.
Snape swayed and
little specks of light started dancing before his eyes.
time tomorrow, the papers will trumpet the news throughout the Wizarding world.
Dumbledore will be back at Hogwarts and more entrenched than ever--" He
wheeled around, his eyes on Snape. "He will be back at Hogwarts."
What it is you require?"
Dumbledore, the Order will crumble into factions. The child will be without
protection--you have been a loyal and useful servant, Severus."
flatters me." A dread that Snape could not deny rose in him. He shut his
eyes, willing it down into the depths of his soul. But he knew that the Dark
Lord had noticed.
hesitate. Why is that?"
Snape let his
breath out in a shuddering sigh and stared at the floor. "The Dark Lord
sees all. Over the years--becoming close in order to learn his secrets--I have
developed an affection for the Headmaster."
his fist over his heart and gritted his teeth. "It is a weakness!" he
cried out bitterly. "A weakness."
He raised his
eyes, now blazing with defiance, to the Dark Lord's face. "Ask me, my
Lord," he said. "Ask and let me prove my loyalty."
studied him closely, his tilting head making his resemblence to a snake more
pronounced than usual. His tongue flickered briefly.
interesting you are, Severus. Any other person would have denied that emotion
to me, fearing my displeasure."
useless to lie to you, my Lord. If I differ from the others, it is in that sure
pondered a moment. "If you fail, I lose a valuable spy. Even if you
succeed, there is great risk that you will be discovered."
is unimportant to me."
"But not to
me," Voldemort said, tapping a finger idly against his wand. "There
is another way. Malfoy has failed me twice now. If he were not on his way to
Azkaban right now, he would be cowering on the floor before me."
Snape glanced at
the woman. It was Bellatrix Lestrange. She was unconscious, but there was no
peace in her face.
a son, does he not?" Snape did not reply. Voldemort repeated the question,
"Does he not?" Snape
Lord. Forgive me. His son is Draco Malfoy. The boy is just sixteen."
Draco's birthday had been three weeks earlier. They had raised a glass to him
in the Common Room. "He is, like his father before him, in the House of
You were not much older when you joined my followers."
Snape nodded. He
let his mind drift back to the resentments he had carried in his sixteenth
year. All the petty hurts and humiliations that had paved his path to the Death
well," Voldemort smiled. "We will pay a visit to the Malfoy house and
see what young Master Draco has to say for himself. No doubt he will be angry
that his father has been captured. And who would suspect a child?"
Lord?" Snape spoke with great hesitation. "My Lord, should you trust
a child with such an important
chuckled low in his throat. "What do you fear, Snape? That he will fail,
or that he might succeed?"
"I fear he
will be unequal to the task. To kill at such a young age--"
"I was no
older when I first killed."
Lord is exceptional, unique. He has always surpassed all others in his
abilities. Draco Malfoy may become a killer in time, but he is not one
There was silence.
Then there was
far away, he heard the Dark Lord say, "You may go."