The Sugar Quill
Author: Montavilla  Story: One of Those Potter Nights  Chapter: Chapter 2--Darkness
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Chapter Two--Darkness

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.


Chapter Two--Darkness


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.


Gathering 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.


Snape waited 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, please," she begged. "It was not my fault! It was Lucius who lost the prophecy! I was the one who killed--!"


Snape watched 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.


Finally, the 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 you?"


"A 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 and 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?"


"I know 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."


"And you 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 resentment.


"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.


Voldemort's hand 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."


"The loss of the prophecy is hard, my Lord, but--"


"I was seen."


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.


"I was seen!" Voldemort screamed.


Snape swayed and little specks of light started dancing before his eyes.


Voldemort began pacing again.


"By this 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."


"My Lord? What it is you require?"


"Without Dumbledore, the Order will crumble into factions. The child will be without protection--you have been a loyal and useful servant, Severus."


"My Lord 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.


"You 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."


Snape clenched 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."


Lord Voldemort studied him closely, his tilting head making his resemblence to a snake more pronounced than usual. His tongue flickered briefly.


"How interesting you are, Severus. Any other person would have denied that emotion to me, fearing my displeasure."


"It is useless to lie to you, my Lord. If I differ from the others, it is in that sure knowledge."


Voldemort pondered a moment. "If you fail, I lose a valuable spy. Even if you succeed, there is great risk that you will be discovered."


"The risk 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.


"Malfoy has a son, does he not?" Snape did not reply. Voldemort repeated the question, "Does he not?" Snape flinched.


"Yes, my 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 Slytherin."


"Sixteen? 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 Eaters.


"Very 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?"


"My Lord?" Snape spoke with great hesitation. "My Lord, should you trust a child with such an important task?"


Voldemort 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."


"The Dark 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 yet--"


"Silence." There was silence.


Then there was pain.


Finally, from far away, he heard the Dark Lord say, "You may go."


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