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Chapter 30 : Dark Hostage
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Harry didn’t sleep; he didn’t dare to do so. He closed his eyes and pretended to until a knock came on the door to Ron’s room. Hermione entered and Harry sat up during the whispering, which halted when they noticed he was awake.
“Harry, how are you?” Hermione asked with great feeling. “I told Kingsley Shacklebolt that you have been fine the last few days, and that I would know if you were truly in that much difficulty.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, grateful for her support. He slipped on his glasses and looked her frazzled self over while thinking that he probably appeared similarly.
She sat on the edge of the bed. “So you had this dream . . . ?” she prompted in that way of hers.
“It wasn’t a dream; I don’t think,” Harry said. “I have been getting glimpses of what Voldemort has been doing, but I wasn’t certain that it was him until now, but it’s been going on for a while.” Harry told her about his dreams of the Dursley fire and the Borgin & Burkes vault. She sat with her brow low, mind working furiously. “Oh, and there was this thing Draco said that I didn’t pay much attention to until this comment of Treddleson’s.”
“Who’s that?” Ron asked. He had turned his desk chair around to sit in it backwards and was resting his chin on the chair back. He had to lift his head to talk, but set it back down immediately.
“He was an old Death Eater I apprehended today. One of the one’s from the first war that never got out ‘til now. He said that Voldemort strangely protected that old broken watch that he stole from the vault. Draco wanted some similar things back that Merton had purchased from his mother because he was afraid his father would find out they had been sold. Things that stored power, according to him: an inkwell and a seal. And this was back when there wasn’t any expectation that Lucius would be escaping. Draco really was scared of his father’s reaction should he find them gone, so they must have been more important than they appeared, just like the watch.” Harry glanced around the room, at the Quidditch posters. The corners of some of them were peeling off the wall, making the figures on them twist awkwardly as they flew about. “There’s something to all of this, but I don’t know what it is,” Harry said in frustration.
“Have you seen these objects?” Hermione asked. She didn’t sound terribly optimistic that she could help with understanding things, more as though she was asking by rote.
Harry shook his head. “No. I don’t remember the watch clearly from the dream when he stole it. Borgin said it wasn’t anything special, really.” He rubbed his eyes, and admitted something that scared him. “This last dream was different. I was caught inside of it. Before, I was just observing as though Voldemort didn’t know I was there. This time he had a hold of me somehow. I don’t know how he did that. I was stuck half-way between him and Nagini.”
Harry’s friends glanced at each other. “You’ve always had this connection, Harry. It’s probably the same one.”
Harry pulled the duvet up and slid down under it for comfort. “I have to kill him. I have to kill him soon.”
Hermione said to Ron, “I’m going back to my flat for a few books. See what I can find.”
“There are books here too, you know,” Ron pointed out, sounding insulted.
Harry closed his eyes without bothering to remove his glasses and the lamplight lowered before Ron settled onto his bed. When Harry opened his eyes, he found that Ron had his wand out and was tapping it on his leg. “Do you want mine?” Harry asked.
“My wand.” Harry reached for his wand and tossed it to his friend. “I don’t want you to think I might hurt you.”
“It’s not that,” Ron assured him, although it didn’t sound terribly truthful. He put Harry’s wand on the corner of the desk nearer to himself. “I’ll toss it to you if you need it. Promise.”
Harry stared at the cracked and peeling ceiling of Ron’s room. He wished that he only had the Dark Plane to worry about. Before, he couldn’t have fathomed that things could grow to be so much worse.
Hermione returned and took up a position at the other end of Ron’s bed. A stack of heavy books formed between the two of them as she finished paging through them. Harry finally took his glasses off and closed his eyes again, trying to drift without actually falling asleep. This had the unfortunate side-effect of revealing all of the shadows to him as though he had stepped inside of a gathering of them. Harry pondered why he could see them at all, something he had not wondered about for a very long time. Just like that snake of his, replayed in Harry’s head. Always knew everything she did. Harry’s brow furrowed over his closed eyes. He had a feeling that when he figured this out, he was not going to like the resulting revelation very much.
Whispering and page turning kept Harry company for several hours. A light knock on the door preceded Shacklebolt’s return. Another figure swept in before him and gestured for the others to leave. Hermione frantically marked her pages and scrambled off of the bed. Ron had to be woken, but he groggily departed as well.
“Severus,” Harry greeted his guardian with intense gratitude.
Harry’s gratitude was acute enough that it appeared to give Snape pause in the middle of Silencing and Imperturbing the door. “Your letters did not give me any warning that you were in such difficulty,” he said, sounding less chastening and more undone.
“I was fine,” Harry argued. “I just had a bad dream . . . that probably wasn’t one . . . so they sent me off.” Harry rubbed his irritated scar. “I’m trying to figure some things out. And I’m afraid to sleep.”
Snape reached into his robe pocket and placed a small bottle with a frosted glass stopper on the corner of the desk. He sat on the edge of the bed and considered Harry. “I brought you something for that; hence the reason for my delay. I concocted that specifically. It will only allow you to repeat a very old dream, which hopefully you can do safely. I fear cutting you off from all dreams, given your extreme need for rest.”
“Thanks,” Harry said.
Snape’s hair fell forward as he dipped his head, deep in thought.
“You should be resting for tomorrow,” Harry said.
“I am actually contemplating if it is possible for me to remain.”
“McGonagall know that?” Harry asked.
“We were in the midst of final preparations when Kingsley arrived, in fact. Minerva convinced him to return as well to assist, given our lack of highly qualified personnel. It is difficult to protect a train, especially one that is warded in strange ways that we have lost track of, something I have been attempting to research today while proctoring examinations.” His eyes roamed over Harry’s face. “But enough about the school’s plans. How are you doing?”
“I needed to Occlude my mind quite severely to get free from this dream . . . or vision, or whatever it was, that I had this evening.” Harry explained. Hoping for some insight that would give him hope for next time, he said, “It was like I was snared, or on a lead, and could be dragged into Voldemort’s mind and kept there.”
“Could you determine where he was?” Snape asked.
Harry shook his head. “It looked like a small drawing room with old furniture and bad artwork.”
“Does not sound familiar; I’m afraid,” Snape said. He lifted his chin and with a twitch of his lip, said, “You do seem all right.”
“I am,” Harry assured him. But then rubbing his hands over one another, he added, “But I’m getting a little scared. I’ve gotten lucky with avoiding turning into him . . .” Or something worse, he thought to himself. “But it’s getting harder.” He took a deep breath.
“You are stronger than him, Harry. I am certain of that,” Snape said with confidence.
“You think so?” he asked, finding those words ringing through him.
Snape nodded. “Do not forget how you defeated him the last time.”
“I trapped him the last time. He’s trying to do the same to me now.” Harry flipped his toes around under the duvet for a strained moment. “Why am I so close to him?” he asked.
“You simply are.” Snape tilted his head back, revealing his sharp brow from behind his hair. “When he tried to kill you . . .” he faded out.
“I’m like Nagini,” Harry said into the space left by Snape’s hesitation.
“What makes you say that?”
“Treddleson said that, when I told him that I didn’t need to see his mark, that I knew he was a Death Eater already just by his presence.”
“Treddleson.” Snape exhaled. “There is a name I have not heard in a very long time. One of the earliest of Voldemort’s followers, joined about the same time as Avery. Never seemed quite serious in his worship of Voldemort, despite, or perhaps because of, their personal association. It was as though he joined him out of boredom or something.”
“I have a piece of him in me,” Harry said. “A piece of Voldemort. So does Nagini.” Harry rubbed his scar again. “I don’t want to become him,” he said fiercely.
“Harry . . .”
“Promise me you won’t let me,” Harry demanded in a low tone. He needed to be reassured that the damage he could cause could only go so far.
“I will never abandon you to that fate, anymore than I would abandon you to your other dark powers,” Snape assured him. “I will not give up on you, but I will also not allow you to betray that which you hold dear. Is that what you need to hear?”
Harry nodded. Prickles chased over his chest and back since he trusted absolutely that Snape understood the implications of what he was promising.
“You should get going,” Harry said.
“You will be all right?” Snape asked.
“Yes,” Harry said with confidence that he found easier than expected.
Snape stood, shaking his robes straight. Before he could reach the door, partly blocked by the foot of Harry’s bed, Harry said, “Severus, I think I’ve forgiven you.”
Snape’s glance, which showed his attention to be mostly inward despite the importance of Harry’s words, led Harry to say, “You haven’t forgiven yourself, have you?”
Snape, head lowered, face in shadow because his back was to the lamp, said, “It is far more complicated than that.”
“In what way?” Harry asked, pushing the duvet down to lean forward.
“I cannot change the past, but I do deeply regret hurting you. I feel I may have pushed you into the difficulties you are having now.”
Harry puzzled this. “Voldemort is pushing me into this,” he said, confused.
Snape turned his head partly, but not completely, in Harry’s direction. After a long hesitation, he said, “If he is indeed a separate entity, that is.”
Harry’s face heated. He jumped up onto his knees on the sagging mattress, his quick movements limited uncomfortably by his narrow, borrowed pyjamas. “You believe I’m Voldemort?” Harry demanded in a horrified whisper.
“I believe nothing. The possibility has entered my mind,” Snape countered.
“How could you imag-”
Snape spun on him, dark eyes glittering in the lamplight. “You cannot expect me to protect you fully from yourself without considering every possibility.” This made Harry close his mouth around his next appalled exclamation. Snape calmed as well. “It has been painful to consider it, but as you said yourself not moments ago, you do have part of him in you.”
Harry dropped his gaze, alarm and depression trying to take hold.
“Harry,” Snape prompted, and then repeated himself when Harry didn’t move except to scrub impatiently at scar. Snape approached and rubbed Harry’s upper arms to get him to respond.
Harry said, “Mr. Weasley thinks that too, doesn’t he?” His voice sounded lonely to his own ears, which added to the burden on his state of mind. Snape’s grip tightened to a painful level, which forced Harry’s gaze to meet his.
“Harry, I trust absolutely in what is in your heart . . .”
“You sound like Dumbledore again,” Harry accused.
“What I mean to say, in more . . . dry terms . . .” Snape said with an annoyed tone. “Is that I trust that you do not intend to be dark. Whether you are being disturbed by forces within or without does not really matter.”
“Yes, it does,” Harry argued. “If he’s . . . out there somewhere . . . I can kill him again. If he’s in my head, what am I going to do?”
Snape’s hands gripped his arms harder. “He is in your head now. That is my point. Whether he has a physical manifestation or not, does not alter that.” Snape’s hands released him. “You must deal with him inside of your head AND kill him in either case.”
Sounding alone again, Harry asked, “How do I do that?”
“I don’t know,” Snape admitted.
“And if I don’t do that. Does that mean he is going to keep coming back?”
“I don’t know . . .” Snape faded out and added reluctantly, “But it seems likely.”
Harry dropped back onto his pillow, too exhausted to properly take that in, prompting Snape to sit beside him and reach for the potion. “Drink this.”
Harry tiredly sat back up again and accepted the unstoppered bottle. He stared dismally into the distorted depths of the decorative glass. “You promise?” he asked without looking up.
“Yes, I promise. Drink up or I will feed that to you directly.”
Harry swallowed the potion and handed the bottle back before immediately falling forward into his adoptive father, who put an arm around him, which was the last thing Harry perceived before morpheus took him.
Ginny Weasley trudged up the turning staircase. At the top, the door was open but the occupants of the office: the Headmistress and Professors Lupin, Vector, Cawley, and Flitwick, turned to her in surprise.
“What can I do for you, Ms. Weasley. I am quite certain I changed the password.” Her hands were on her hips and she sounded miffed.
“Only took three guesses, ma’am,” Ginny explained, “to figure out the new one.”
“I changed to an entirely new theme,” McGonagall pointed out, sounding extra annoyed about being thwarted.
“Coffee is not much of a theme change from tea, Professor,” Ginny pointed out, not caring about this and wanting to move on to her real topic. “I want to know if I can travel with the Hogwarts Express tomorrow.”
“You are to stay here, Ms. Weasley. I thought that was quite clear.”
“I know that I have to stay here, but can’t I come back? My friends will all be on the train tomorrow. It’s all of our last ride and . . . and I want to help keep an eye on everyone.”
McGonagall sat down and opened the drawer of her desk. “You will remain here, Ms. Weasley. I have assured your parents that you will be here, safe and sound.”
“Is anyone else going to be here?” Ginny asked, doubtful about their preparations.
McGonagall pulled open a different drawer and rummaged a bit. “Hagrid will be guarding the grounds. Professor Sprout will be guarding the rare and dangerous plants in the greenhouses. We considered simply destroying them, but do not have the heart to. Of course, Mr. Filch will be here.”
“Wonderful,” Ginny uttered too quietly to be overheard.
McGonagall found what she was looking for and came around the desk. “Since you will be the only student left at the school for rest of the school year, you may have this.” She held out a badge that read Head Girl.
Ginny peered at it dubiously, but accepted and pocketed it. She wasn’t going to be bought off so easily. “Where’s Professor Snape?”
“On an errand,” McGonagall replied, moving back around to her chair. The other professors gathered closer as though they all wished to return to their planning. A map of Scotland lay out on the desk, heavily stained and annotated.
“Harry all right?” Ginny asked.
“What makes you think his errand involved Mr. Potter?” McGonagall asked flatly.
“It’s the only thing that would draw him away at a time like this,” Ginny pointed out.
“Go back to your tower Ms. Weasley.”
Ginny sighed and, fingering the badge in her pocket, strolled slowly back to the staircases. You always have options, she thought decisively. The worst that could happen to her if she got caught was that they would make her stay here for yet another month’s detention. If they all survived long enough to enforce it, she would worry about it then.
Harry woke with the sun streaming over him from high in the sky. He blinked at the grey duvet cover and unfamiliar room and sat up. Across from him, Hermione sat on Ron’s bed, which had been neatly made. She was reading from a thin book propped on her bent knees.
“Harry, you’re finally awake,” she said.
Harry nodded. His limbs felt leaden as though he had slept too long. His wand wasn’t lying on the desk where he had last seen it. He glanced around but didn’t want to cause suspicion by asking where it was. Instead, he watched her with strange interest. He studied the fine, delicate edge of her jaw just above where her jugular vein pulsed. The soft curve of her neck, delicate as well, and remarkably fragile. Harry stood still, suspended by the stalemate within him. Appalled, frantic and determined all at once, although none of this showed on the outside.
Hermione glanced up again when he didn’t move. “Harry?” she prompted and lifted her wand from the bed beside her. When Harry still didn’t move, she said, “Sit back down,” in a wavering voice that tried to sound commanding. “Harry.”
Harry turned his head to look back at the bed that he had already forgotten was there. He was feeling bizarrely elated and expectant about something.
“Harry, so help me, I’m going to toss you back onto it if you don’t move.”
Her fear was getting through to both halves of him, feeding queer pleasure to the dark half but giving his true self clearer determination. He sat down on the bed and looked around as though he couldn’t remember the objects in the room. They didn’t match the other room he could see, which he now perceived to be larger than he had previously thought. It was just narrow, but quite long. All of the tall drapes along one wall were pulled closed making it feel cave-like.
Hermione bit her lip and pushed her book aside. “I found something in this old book of Mrs. Weasley’s but I want to tell it to you, not Voldemort.”
Harry glanced around, wondering again where his wand was. He should be able to feel it, he thought, he could feel everything else that belonged to him.
Hermione kept talking. “I think we let you sleep too long. Professor Snape believed that potion would keep you out of trouble, but maybe it wore off while you slept.” After another pause, she asked, “Harry are you in there at all?”
The emotional pain in her voice jolted him out of his inner terror, which was a good part of what was holding him prisoner. His shoulder jerked and he blinked rapidly. “Yeah, I’m here.” Severe chills made his limbs painful. He rubbed his arms. Only one room now filled his vision. “Don’t . . . drop your guard again,” he said, horrified at what his other self had apparently been contemplating.
The door opened and Ron stepped in, carrying more books. “Harry’s awake,” he said, cheerfully.
“Harry and company are awake, yes,” Hermione stated grimly.
“I think it’s just me now,” Harry said.
Ron glanced between the two of them and lost his cheerfulness. “Have a book to read, then.”
Harry accepted the dusty, leather-covered volume and asked, “What time is it?”
“Almost ten.” Hermione supplied, which explained the bright sun. “I found something, though, if you want to discuss it.”
“Sure,” Harry said. Snape’s voice telling him that he was stronger than this was replaying in his mind, bolstering him. He had to be stronger than this; it wasn’t a matter of choice. Both of his friends stared wide-eyed at him. Hermione moved first.
“This book . . .” She held it up so that the gold lettering Fiendish Wizards of the First Half of the Second Millennium was visible to Harry. “ . . . has a description of a wizard by the name of Septimus. He terrified Naples in the eleventh century. According to this book, he came back from the dead three times before being killed for good. By that time he had scores of worshippers who thought it was some kind of Roman God or something.” She sounded derisive. After flipping back and forth between the pages, she said, “Ah, yeah, here. Says here he had stored part of himself in a brass censer. He tore his soul in half with some kind of dark spell and stored half of it away.” She held up the book that showed someone with something resembling spiky cotton balled on the end of a wand, held up in front of his chest. “They think he killed his father as part of the spell.” She looked up at Harry. “What if Voldemort did that?”
“You mean the things Malfoy was supposed to keep safe? You think they were so that Voldemort could always come back?” Harry said, sounding distracted because he was thinking. “Like Riddle’s diary . . . that had part of him in it too before I destroyed it. Like Nagini.” After a pause, he added more quietly, “Like me.”
Ron and Hermione glanced at each other. Ron said, “We don’t know that, Harry. What else does it say?” he prompted Hermione.
Hermione reluctantly went on, “It says . . . the only way they could kill Septimus was by destroying the censer in a Caeruleus Fire, which is a magical fire that is especially hot. When they melted it down the normal way, it didn’t seem to destroy its magical properties. They called it a Crux Horridus, or ‘dreadful cross’ because the censer had been taken from a church.”
They sat in their respective, deep silences until Ron stood up. “Harry could probably use some breakfast. Can’t face Horcruxes on an empty stomach. Come on.”
In the kitchen, Molly Weasley and Mrs. Longbottom were chatting amiably. “Harry dear,” Mrs. Weasley said in affectionate greeting. “You don’t look any less grim this morning it seems.”
Barely aware of what he was doing, Harry took a seat, which made his borrowed pyjamas bind. Ron asked, “Is there a bit of breakfast for Harry?”
“Of course.” As she assembled things, she said, “A nice young lady came to check how you were early this morning, Harry . . .”
“Who?” Hermione asked for him before he could get around to it.
“Hm, didn’t catch her name. Attractive young lady, tall, with shoulder-length brown hair.”
“Kerry Ann?” Harry asked, wishing he could be at the Ministry to help. Moody’s and Whitley’s memorials were supposed to be today, although they would be small and short in the interest of security. Perhaps Harry would be allowed to return for Munz’s, whenever that may be. Harry’s mood darkened at the thought.
“She said her name was Kerry Ann,” Grandmother Longbottom said. She was folding the newspaper casually and slowly but then moving to sit upon it.
Harry’s eyes narrowed. “What’s with that?”
No one moved. Hermione was biting her lip. “You don’t want to see it, Harry.”
Ron appeared angry. “Ought to know who talks to that woman by now. Registered Animagus or not, she sure gets around.” Hermione elbowed him.
“What’s Skeeter printed this time?” Harry asked.
Hermione took the paper from Mrs. Longbottom and held it out to Harry. “There’s nothing for it,” she argued to Ron’s appalled expression. “Harry can handle it,” she stated with the kind of certainty that implies the speaker intends it to be true by invocation.
Harry unfolded the paper. Wizard Hero Suspected of Dark Wizardry the headline read. Relieved of Duty at the Ministry’s Most Dire Time, was printed slightly smaller just below that. “Who does talk to her?” Harry asked, keeping his emotions at bay by feeling numb only. The photograph was one of him from the DV-Day festivities. He looked displeased and he was gesturing with his wand, but it was just careful selection of the specific photograph from what must have been hundreds taken that day. He had been happy that day, nothing like this photo.
He folded the paper without bothering to read more. Mrs. Weasley set a plate before him containing four rashers of bacon and a tall stack of toast.
“Thanks,” Harry said. “Everyone else is gone?”
“They’re helping escort the Hogwarts Express,” Mrs. Weasley said.
Harry was glad to hear that. “Ginny’s not coming home, though,” he said, remembering her last letter in which she seemed to think that given the situation, her detention should have been altered. Instead, the situation seemed to have hardened everyone into doing just as they had intended to previously.
“No,” Molly said, sitting down at his left elbow with her mug of tea before her. “I’m glad she will be safe at the castle. The girl gets ideas in her head, let me tell you.”
“She wants to be an Auror,” Harry stated. Mrs. Weasley spit out her tea, which Harry ignored, saying, “She ought to have ideas. They’re what keeps you alive when things get bad.”
“Arthur said nothing of this,” Molly said, turning red in her cheeks and forehead.
“He doesn’t know,” Harry said. “Reginald Rodgers accepted her application to take the tests.” Harry felt a pure and clean kind of anger seep through him. His own anger, bouyed by his own personal history of frustration. “She won the dueling tournament, why shouldn’t she be able to apply for an apprenticeship?”
“She even beat out Professor Snape,” Ron pointed out.
This caught his mother’s attention. “Did you know about her applying?”
Ron shook his head rapidly. “No.”
Molly’s attention came back Harry’s way. “You’ve been encouraging her in this,” she accused.
“I heard about it from Tonks, but I think Ginny should do as she likes,” Harry said, turning to his plate, which was growing cold.
“She’s not your only daughter,” Molly said with a hint of deeper hurt.
Harry glanced at Ron, who appeared quite pained. “I don’t have any daughters,” Harry pointed out.
“That he knows of,” Ron tossed out as a tease. Harry shot him a dismayed look in return.
“So, you haven’t been encouraging her?” Molly asked, sounding saddened.
“My trainer apparently has been. Take it up with him.”
Mrs. Weasley appeared determined to do just that. “Girl cannot stay out of trouble,” she complained.
The object of their musings was, at that moment, sitting in the rear compartment of the second to last car of the Hogwarts Express. She had applied a minor disguise of changing her hair to blonde, which made the Professors and her brothers glance over her as they strode up and down the train. This worked as long as Ginny turned her face away in time, and her friends signaled well in advance of her needing to do so.
Three hours had past. They had eaten their fill from the cart and now lounged lazily in their seats in the manner of people with nothing much to do for the day.
The sun made the landscape more interesting than usual, and Ginny leaned against the window and stared out. She did this until something about the rhythm of the train changed. It was as though they were going up a steep hill, even though the terrain had flattened out into low rolling hills where the track was on a path laid out perfectly flat. When her brothers ran by towards the front of the train, Ginny followed. She slapped her Head Girl badge on her chest and pulled out her wand. Her brothers stopped before the next interlink between the carriages and leaned out to peer ahead.
Bill started upon seeing his sister there. “Charlie, Ginny’s here,” he said, as though telling on her.
“So?” Charlie said. He glanced at his sister. “If you avoid telling mum, that’d be good.” He leaned out again. “What’s going on up there? I should have brought a dragon along. McGonagall wasn’t keen on the idea but now I really need one to actually get up there since Apparition’s out.
Ginny squeezed in between them to lean out as well. The train was definitely slowing. It rounded a broad bend and the great scarlet engine and coal tender curved to the left before slipping beyond the trees. The huffs of steam slowed as the train did. The track straightened out again and their view ahead grew less useful.
“Wonder what’s up with the engine?” Bill asked.
Fred and Neville came through the interconnect. “George’s extendable eye says no one is driving. Hi, Ginny.” They all tried to lean out at once. Fred said to Ginny, “Better not let the teachers see you; they’re coming this way.”
“I don’t plan to.” She jumped up onto the carriage window and leapt away as a hawk. A few hard flaps later, the train extended snake-like beneath her as she veered side to side to fly slow yet stay aloft. She dove down into the rear of the engine and regained her real form. The small compartment was empty except for the two coal-dust-blackened house-elves that cowered in the rear. The air smelt of grease and hot metal.
“Where’s the engineer?” Ginny demanded.
The elf on the left put a soot-stained arm over her head as though Ginny might attack her. Ginny rolled her eyes and looked out of the scratched and dingy window that offered a view forward along the big cylinder of the boiler. One had to step to the other window to see out the front on the other side. The space between the windows held assorted levers and dials attached to long pipes coming out of the floor. The controls were ad hoc and oddly fanciful. Some of the levers were painted red, dissuading one from using them. The nearest gauge read Brake Vacuum, which made very little sense. The only dial that did make sense, the speedometer, was slowly falling to zero.
“How do you drive this thing?” Ginny asked aloud.
“Master not allow us to touch anything,” one of the elves offered piteously.
“Where did Master go?” Ginny demanded. The elves cowered more. The track snaked gently and began to rise. They slowed more and finally came to a stop before rolling gently backward fifty yards. Ginny wondered if she should pull the lever marked brake, but the train came to a reluctant stop on its own.
The surrounding forest below the tracks lay in silence. No towns or any habitation were visible. The crunch of boots on gravel sounded, approaching the engine, followed by the electric arc of a spell and someone swearing. Ginny Obsfucated herself and peered out toward the rear. Professors Lupin, Cawley, and Vector were jumping between the coal tender and the first carriage for protection. A spell arc sizzled on the other side. Ginny peered out that way and saw hooded figures emerging from the trees. They emerged in twos and threes, spread far apart to make them impossible to hit all at once. Ginny looked out the first side and sure enough, there were twenty more, many more than there were total in escaped Death Eaters. They either had recruited quickly or were using Dopplegangers.
Ginny scanned to try to spot the duplicates but could not, given that they all looked more or less alike in their hooded black robes. The engineer was pushed forward into view, easy to spot in his broad, pin-striped overalls and tiny matching cap.
The teachers leapt back onto the open platform of the first of the passenger carriages. McGonagall stood, propping open the door to the inside with her foot.
“Couldn’t get to the engine,” Lupin said.
“No matter,” McGonagall said grimly, “We know where the engineer is now. All of you down!” She shouted behind her at the students, who were creeping out of their compartments to peer out the side windows. They slunk back with worried expressions. The carriage rocked as a spell struck it and a window shattered. A few students screamed.
“That will keep them down,” Vector said.
A voice called out from the trees, “We have what you want. We are prepared to make a trade.”
“We don’t deal with the likes of you, Malfoy,” McGonagall muttered, but a searing spell took out the platform rail and sliced open the coal tender, letting coal dust leach onto the ground. “That will burn easily, won’t it?” she asked no one in particular.
“Explosive, in fact, if there is enough of it,” Snape pointed out from behind her. “All of you,” he said loudly to the students. “Out of this car and into the next. Leave your things behind,” he snarled to one Hufflepuff in particular who stopped to gather her things. “GO!”
A mad scramble ensued. Snape rushed ahead to the next coupling and vestibule and found Bill and Charlie Weasley there, making their way forward as well as Shacklebolt, who was counting the figures on each side of the train. “A couple I am certain are Dopplegangers, but it is- Severus?”
“Protect the exodus from this car,” he commanded and strode back into the first car.
Shacklebolt took up a defensive position on one side of the vestibule at the open window; the Weasley brothers did the same on the other side. Professor Greer elbowed one of the twins aside and gamely returned fire when it came their way. Fred muttered something to his brother along the lines of the teachers being tougher than he remembered.
Snape strode up and down, assuring himself that the carriage had emptied. Pointed hats and sweets were spilled onto the floor. He flipped a first-year Transfiguration book out of his way with his toe.
McGonagall, still standing in the doorway nearest the tender said, “I tried to send an alarm by silver message, but I do not think it has got through.”
The train rocked again, metal groaning. A voice shouted, “You have one of two choices. Either we get even by destroying the train, but that is messy and some of our allies’ children are on board. Or you give us what we want.”
“Which would be?” McGonagall breathed in annoyance.
Snape gave her a derisive glance as Malfoy’s voice called out, “Give us our traitor and we will let the train go.”
Lupin and one of the Weasley twins joined them on the platform, looking ready to do battle without compromise. Professor Greer came up behind him with a remarkably similar expression. McGonagall’s face compressed in anger, but she appeared less hopeful. Snape stared out at the figures holding the engineer. The tall one on the left would be Malfoy and the other, MacNair most likely. His knowledgeable eyes scanned the assembled. The thin, narrow-shouldered one twenty feet to the right: Bellatrix and to her left . . . Avery, most likely. Another blast rang out and glass shattered across the compartment behind them.
Snape stepped out so that he was visible on the platform. The lead figure lowered his wand marginally. “Well, Severus. Good of you to join us.”
Snape took a step toward the mangled gate. “Severus, what are you doing?” McGonagall asked, grabbing his arm. “If anything happens to you, Harry will not forgive me.”
“I am doing what Harry would be doing if he were here,” Snape pointed out smartly. Her grip loosened.
“We are not going to wait patiently.” Malfoy gestured with his voluminous sleeve and Bellatrix let loose a spell aimed low that made the carriages screech as though alive and under torture.
Snape took another small step even though McGonagall still had a grip on the fabric of his cuff.
“If we can hold out, reinforcements will arrive,” Lupin whispered harshly. “Kingsley messaged for them . . . but couldn’t give them an exact location.”
Malfoy shouted, “The next shot will render the train immovable.” He held up his hand as though ready to give the signal.
“Give me your bracelet,” Snape uttered under his breath. McGonagall moved quickly. Warm metal pressed into Snape’s palm just seconds later. Moving with casual stealth, he tried to slip it on, but it was much too small. He dropped it into his pocket instead. “Warn Richard away, obviously, as soon as you can,” Snape said, thinking ahead now with alarm to the portkey being used by the wrong person.
“I already sent him to his sister’s,” McGonagall said as she followed Snape down the metal steps to the gravel bed of the tracks. Snape stepped forward a few yards, wand up. Lupin followed as well, before Snape waved him back. Lupin appeared grim and almost blameful; Snape got a glimpse of his thoughts, which were for how very distressed Harry would be to learn of what was happening.
Snape turned to face his former colleagues. “Release him,” he ordered, meaning the engineer.
The man was pushed forward a few feet where he stumbled before climbing the slope a few feet. He was caught with a tether spell a few steps farther and fell forward onto his beefy pink hands.
“Lower your wand, or he progresses no farther,” Malfoy said.
From the engine, Ginny painfully watched the delicate dance of the exchange. She counted the Death Eaters on each side of the tracks yet again, wishing she could be certain which were real. She sent a narrow Pea Shooter spell at one she was certain had not moved, but it flinched and looked about for someone to retaliate at.
The exchange moved closer to completion. The round-bellied engineer shuffled forward farther, almost even with Professor Snape, and Professor Snape lowered his wand to point at the ground. The engineer stepped forward again. McGonagall and Lupin stood at the edge of the gravel bed of the track, looking grave. Professor Greer stepped down beside them, looking dangerous. Ginny half-wished she could see her really let loose on this lot.
From her angle, Ginny spotted a hooded figure shifting sideways behind another so as to not be seen. Moving, it appeared to her, to get in position for a clear shot at the engineer as soon as he was beyond the cluster of Death Eaters. The figures stepped forward again and the engineer looked ready to bolt for safety. Ginny launched herself out of the window, dropping like a rock and landing hard on her just-tranfigured feet at the engineer’s back, wand out with a block just as the Cutting Curse lanced out.
Spells were exchanged in very close quarters and Professor Snape lost his wand to a Whip Charm because he could not raise it in time. Ginny pushed her charge toward the engine compartment. Snape’s rapier-sharp features turned to her. She had made her choice, the only one she could really live with, but she still hated it. “Harry’s going to kill me,” she said to him. His strangely level, black-eyed look was going to haunt her for a very long time, she feared.
McGonagall and Lupin joined her in protecting the engineer as he hauled his bulk up into the compartment. “Let’s get this train moving, Mr. Stillingfleet,” she said.
Moments later, steam hissed as levers were moved. The red handle under the window was turned all the way clockwise. The doors to the firehole irised open and flames could be heard roaring deep inside. The elves shoveled coal in and the doors snapped closed. McGonagall was asking where Flitwick was, since he was supposed to be guarding the engine. The engineer grunted something negative and grim sounding.
Beside the train, a spell lashed out and Snape fell. Ginny leapt down from the engine as it began to slide forward but at that moment, the robed figures disappeared. Their Dopplegangers faded more slowly, but seconds later the clearing between the tracks and the forest was deserted.
“Ms. Weasley!” McGonagall shouted as the black metal monstrosity pulled away.
“Ginny!” Someone in the next carriage called out. It sounded like one of her brothers. “Ginny come on!” The voice grew farther away as the wall of the carriages rushed by behind her, ever faster. Ginny took flight and landed easily on the platform of the second carriage, between Bill and Shacklebolt. She reluctantly turned back into herself, finding her bird form to be a desired escape right at that moment. They all appeared very grim. Fred and George said, “Come on, help us patrol and check for injuries; we don’t know anyone’s names.”
“Someone should tell Harry,” Ginny insisted.
“McGonagall slipped Snape her portkey,” George said. “And Harry’s at the Burrow, relieved of duty because he can’t keep You-Know-Who out of his head well enough anymore.”
Ginny stared at him. “I thought the Prophet was lying.”
Shacklebolt shook his head. “Maybe shouldn’t stress him until we’re sure Snape doesn’t get away,” George went on. “Come on. Help us with patrol.”
Ginny followed her brothers; her shoulders slumped and heart frustrated.
Harry sat in the sunny dining room of the Burrow, his friends across the table from him. Ron was bent over his wizard chess set, contemplating his next move. His fallen pieces lay at his elbow, twitching occasionally.
“Sure you aren’t throwing the match?” Harry asked.
“I haven’t played in a long time,” Ron insisted in an annoyed enough tone that Harry believed him.
Harry wondered what was happening at the Ministry. He wondered where Voldemort was. Sitting still when he knew he was running out of time grew increasingly difficult for him as the morning wore on. Mrs. Weasley began making lunch and asked Ron to run out to the green grocers. The chirp of the birds and the wind rustling in the trees emanating from the open door made Harry wish things were different and that he could enjoy the beautiful day just for itself.
Harry pulled the chess board closer. The bishop turned and used his long sword to swat at his fingers as though he were trying to cheat. Harry bent over the board so Hermione wouldn’t notice when he closed his eyes and held them that way. The shadows in his mind were nearly all together and nearly all distant. Some stragglers still floated about, but there was a definite higher concentration of them now.
Harry opened his eyes and stared at the bishop, who was now crossing his arms, broadsword dangling confidently in his tiny fingers. His heavy brow was raised in suspicion, which Harry could discern given his close proximity. Harry shifted his hand toward the board and the chessman expertly grabbed his sword tightly and poked the back of Harry’s hand, right on the scar Umbridge had given him. Harry thought this a bit insolent. That emotion gave him a glimpse of something very unexpected. Harry jerked his hand away before it could get poked again and the vision faded as he took this action. Harry blinked at the sunlight glittering off of the shiny white and black pieces as they shifted as though impatient for the game to continue.
Harry wanted to deny what he thought he had seen. It brought up old, scarred pain from Sirius and for many breaths that was all Harry could think about: the pain of being fooled and paying dearly for it. But his adult mind took over and made him rethink the vision his younger self tried to dismiss: the very familiar profile, half hidden in poorly-kempt shoulder-length hair, struggling to rise from the floor.
Had he really seen Snape in Voldemort’s vision or was it someone similar in appearance? Was he simply being fooled the same as last time? Harry tilted his head back to rest on the hard wood of the chair back. He was terrified of closing his eyes again and knowing for certain, because literally anything could rise in him if it were. Harry had no idea what would happen to him if he were faced for certain with losing Snape that way.
Harry had to risk it, though; he had no choice. Across from him, Hermione’s sunlit hair fell about her bent head. Her face held such an intense look of concentration, focused on her book, that he assumed she would not notice him for several minutes.
Harry closed his eyes and very carefully let the vision in again. Holding his terror at bay as he did so was one of the most difficult things he had ever done. But he had to hide it, or Voldemort would have him.
Severus Snape regained consciousness and pushed himself to his knees only to be dropped again by a Crucio that made him writhe in an irrational effort to escape his own body. He gasped for air in its wake and stared at the complicated pattern in the faded rug beneath his hands as he gathered his wits, grateful that he had not cried out.
“Master,” Lucius Malfoy’s saccharine-laden voice dribbled. “We have brought the traitor who aided your last downfall.”
The robed figures surrounding Snape parted at this. Snape starred in confusion at the sparkling, lemon-yellow-bright patent leather shoes that approached, apparently aided by Greyback, who wore no shoes since no one manufactured shoes for half-clawed feet.
Malfoy grabbed Snape by the hair and tossed him forward. “Are you bowing to your Lord and master, Severus?” he demanded with sick glee.
Snape raised his gaze while simultaneously feeling for the bracelet in his pocket with his elbow so as to not give away what he was doing. He blinked in surprise and lost himself at the sight before him.
“Lockhart?” Snape uttered in bewilderment. The man’s trademark golden locks had thinned considerably, leaving merely a grim halo around his freckled bald head. His eyes, however, where unmistakeably red and slitted.
Slowly and dreamily the bizarre figure stated, “He has a portkey in his pocket.”
Snape ducked his head too late and cringed. A blasting curse knocked him to the floor before he could reach into his pocket for one chance at using the key. By the time he again floated up to consciousness, Malfoy was dangling the bracelet before him. He sat back in a worn overstuffed chair and flipped the golden hoop around his index finger.
“You would have needed a wand to use it in any event,” Malfoy pointed out as a taunt. “A poor hope, at best.” He started to pocket it, but instead tossed it to Bellatrix who was standing across from him. “See that Headmistress McGonagall deeply regrets assisting our disloyal subject, would you? That appeared to be her house I visited.”
Bellatrix smiled and slipped the bracelet onto her wrist, admiring it in a mocking girlish fashion.
Malfoy crossed his legs and said, “I am so terribly disappointed you have not attempted to Apparate, Severus. I laid the barriers myself and they are my most dreadful to date.”
Snape pushed himself a little straighter, saying, “As though I could have forgotten how you did things . . .”
“True,” Malfoy cooed. “Yet another reason to take you into our circle as fast as possible.”
Snape stared at the figure in the other chair; the one gazing raptly at the fire. “How . . . ?” he asked.
“How was our glorious Lord returned to us?” Malfoy finished for him. This got the other chair’s occupant’s attention. Voldemort né Lockhart turned slowly to stare at Snape instead. Snape carefully Occluded his mind this time, still greatly pained by his earlier lapse that had lost him the portkey.
Malfoy tugged on the servant’s bell beside the hearth using a spell so that he would not have to bother standing to reach. An elf appeared a moment later, bowing repeatedly.
“Bring me my pipe,” Malfoy ordered, and as the elf disappeared, he aimed a hex at the creature with a laugh. “We have an inept wizard by the name of Maurdant Merton to thank for that, according to his associate, whom we have been attempting to recruit as he seems the pathetically subservient type. Merton himself escaped our grasp with the help of a surprisingly vicious second associate. During their bumbling about with spells they could not comprehend, they used prior possessions of our Dark Lord’s—that should not have fallen into their hands, but it was fortuitous that they did—to recreate him thusly.”
Voldemort still stared at Snape. Snape had the very odd sense that the Dark Lord was trying to remember him.
Malfoy went on, “I should not be so harsh with them as they did have the good luck to stumble upon the means of creating an entirely new kind of cursed object, the stash of which we have made good use of.”
“We must create more,” the red-eyed visage beside him said. “I know how.”
“Uh, yes. Yes, of course, Master.”
Snape looked between them. “You have promoted yourself, Lucius. What do MacNair and Avery think of that?”
The elf reappeared with a freshly lit pipe. It presented it with a bow and promptly disappeared again. “They are out taking care of a little necessary task. There is much to be done.” He puffed vigorously.
“Yes, you look terribly busy,” Snape offered with clear sarcasm.
Malfoy’s wand came up and although Snape tried to leap to the side, the Crucio caught him and all he could do for the subsequent minute was claw at his chest and resist screaming. When the curse let up, Malfoy said, “Your death is going to be exceedingly slow, I promise you. It will be days after you are crying and pleading for it. Days after you offer up that awful boy you call your son. I look forward to it, I must say.”
“That will never happen,” Snape whispered, clearly determined. The curse fell again.
Broom-riding witches and wizards swooped down upon the Hogwarts Express. From where she bent over a second-year Slytherin with a bad cut over his eye, Ginny turned to watch them pace the train just beyond the windows. The boy didn’t trust a mere fellow student to heal it, so she was applying a plaster to it. A rush of excitement swept through the carriage at the sight outside.
Ginny hurried to finish and joined the teachers and other guards in the first carriage just as the train came to a brake-squealing halt. McGonagall stepped into the carriage from the front just as Ginny did from the rear. Her brothers had been set guarding the doors, and given Ginny’s fierce expression, didn’t resist her entry.
“We received Kingsley’s message,” Tonks was saying. She glanced around. “Looks like you tangled with a rather angry someone.” The other Ministry witches and wizards with her were from the Beast Division. They sported fire-proof wire-bristle brooms and shackling equipment dangled and clanked on their belts.
“They took Professor Snape,” Ginny blurted out.
“We know,” Tonks stated. “Kingsley sent that in a followup message.”
“Have you heard from Severus?” McGonagall asked.
Tonks shook her head. “Someone should tell Harry,” Ginny insisted, more quietly than her last assertion, given that she did not desire to get on Tonks’ bad side.
Tonks nodded in sad agreement. To Shacklebolt, she said, “Can they spare you if I leave Aldrich and the others with the train?”
McGonagall looked over the motley group of animal control people. One had a baby India Black dragon on her shoulder, albeit muzzled. She said, “They seemed satisfied with what they obtained from us, unfortunately. We can probably spare Kingsley at this point.” She gazed pointedly at Ginny. “Ms. Weasley, you will remain here with me.”
Harry stood, unaware that his gaze was decidedly distant.
“Harry?” Hermione demanded. She held her wand out before her and stood also; although she made the poor decision to straighten her chair. Beside her, Grandma Longbottom’s hands were busy knitting and she couldn’t pick up her wand without juggling her needles first.
Mrs. Weasley asked, “What’s the trouble, dear?”
“Harry is . . . fading again.”
“I’m here,” Harry said. “I have to go. Where is my wand?”
“We’re not supposed to let you have it,” Hermione patiently explained.
“This is me, Hermione, not him,” Harry said. “I need my wand.”
“Harry dear,” Mrs. Weasley said, coming up behind him. “Have a seat, I’ll fix you a little calming tea.”
Harry spun on her and snapped, “Don’t call me ‘Harry dear’ when you are suggesting I let my life be destroyed.”
“It isn’t as bad as all that,” Mrs. Weasley insisted.
Harry balled his fists to keep from doing more with them. “He has Severus. Voldemort does. He’s torturing him right now.”
Hermione said, “Are you certain, Harry? This isn’t like last time, is it?”
Harry slumped slightly. It was remarkably like last time, except Snape’s face wasn’t bloodied the way the vision of Sirius’ had been. He writhed almost exactly the same way, though, and he wasn’t screaming . . . yet. “I think this is real,” Harry said.
The sound of Apparition could be heard in the distant field. “Let’s see who that is,” Mrs. Weasley insisted, pulling her wand and going to the door. “Looks like Tonks.”
They waited for her approach. To Harry the time passed interminably, giving his emotions plenty of time to gouge his heart out. Just before Tonks reached the door, Harry said, “Please, Hermione.”
“I don’t have it, Harry. I think they failed to tell me where they hid it because they figured I’d probably hand it over to you.”
Harry’s whole body twinged. The door opened. Tonks stepped in, ignoring the greetings. She looked at Harry and said, “Looks like you already know.”
Harry dropped his head. Hermione asked, “So, Voldemort does have Professor Snape?”
“Death Eaters held the Express hostage until he gave himself up. Minerva slipped him her portkey but he must not have been able to use it.” She took a few steps closer. “Harry . . . do you know where they are? Have you been seeing this?”
“I’ve been seeing it, but I don’t know where they are. Voldemort doesn’t know where he is,” Harry said bleakly. “Nagini certainly doesn’t know where she is and she’s the other one I can see out of.”
“If you get any hints, send someone with a message, all right?” Tonks said, tossing her cloak forward over her shoulder in a dismissive manner as though ready to depart again already.
“I can’t stay here,” Harry insisted in cold horror. “I have to help.” Second by second, his whole body was cycling between numbness and painful tingling he was so keyed up. “Tonks, please don’t do this to me,” he pleaded when she began to put on a resolute face instead of replying.
She came even closer. “Harry, I can’t override Arthur’s orders. If we don’t follow orders the department would be even more chaotic than it already is and we’d be sunk. I promise I’ll come get you if we hear anything, all right?”
Harry didn’t want to show her any more weakness than he just had done. He didn’t nod, but he did retake his seat at the table, where two jagged lines of shiny black chess pieces were arrayed before him. They shifted in anticipation as though noticing his return.
Tonks Disapparated after stepping over to pat him on the shoulder. Mrs. Weasley came over with a teapot that smelled noxiously of valerian root. “I don’t want any,” Harry snapped angrily. Hermione shook her head quickly at Mrs. Weasley and the teapot was carried back to the counter. The room remained tense.
“Wonder where Ron’s got to?” Mrs. Weasley wondered aloud.
“Yeah,” Harry said flatly, “and if you knew he was being tortured by Voldemort you’d just stand there, even if you didn’t know where it was.”
“Harry,” Hermione chastised him.
Mrs. Longbottom’s knitting needles returned to clicking. “Let the boy rant; it’s all he’s got and he deserves a bit of room to do it.”
Harry fell silent, struggling for all kinds of control.
When Snape next raised his head, the red glowing eyes were very close, close enough to startle him. He jerked against the binding around his wrists. His hands had been bound behind him when Malfoy was called away by other duties and could no longer keep a wand on him directly.
The image of Lockhart rose from the chair and with his nearly bald head tilted curiously, crouched on the floor before Snape. He traced a finger along Snape’s jaw. “I remember you,” he said softly. “I am remembering more. You were very loyal to me . . .”
“Not anymore,” Malfoy snapped from where he convened with three others halfway down the room.
Voldemort went on, relentlessly stuck in the rutted path of memory, it seemed. “You told me about the prophecy. I had suspected you were Dumbledore’s man before then.” His lip curled in a disgusted sneer.
Snape suffered a moment of extreme gratitude that this information was not news to him. Between the torture and his already dire situation, it may have been his final undoing.
“I am glad I told you,” Snape insisted in a snarl, which at least hid his agony. “It led to your demise and it will do so again.” He eyed the long wand held before his nose. If his hands weren’t bound it would be his, a tormenting thought.
“I have many servants. You are my servant,” Voldemort insisted, eyes narrowing.
“I was your servant. I am not any longer,” Snape insisted, attracting the attention of the others in the room.
Greyback strode over and pulled Snape’s head back by his hair. “You want that I tear his throat out?” he asked, eyes glowing in anticipation.
“No, far too quick,” Malfoy said. “He is delusional, perhaps the Crucios are getting to his head.” He crouched before Snape. “They don’t fade entirely anymore, do they?” he asked. “Soon, they will barely fade at all.” He stepped back and struck Snape with another one, just to make the point.
When he cancelled it, he bent over his victim and said, “Say that you are his loyal servant and we will let you rest . . . for little while at least.” Snape didn’t respond. He clenched his teeth in fact, which was fortunate since it made it easier too hold in the scream that clawed for release inside him as the next curse cut through him, just as he clawed instinctively for release from his own existence.
“Say it and you will get a rest,” Malfoy promised repeatedly, like a maddening parrot, in between curses from him and others. It hadn’t let up for rather a long while, although Snape was having difficulty keeping track. It could have been two curses or two hundred. They blurred together in a tangle of tearful agony, punctuated by his attempts to burrow through the rug beneath him.
“I will not,” Snape growled. “I am not his servant.”
“There no escaping it, Severus,” Malfoy growled in return, sounding as though he thought Snape dimwitted.
“I. Have. No. Mark.” Snape managed.
The figures in the room who had gathered to watch his breaking all paused at this. Malfoy flipped Snape onto his side with his toe and cancelled the binding on his wrists. Snape was certain this revelation was only going to result in more torture, but he did not care. To him it was the ultimate denial of his previous mistakes. Snape’s arms were leaden and he could barely sit up. He was manhandled to a sitting position on the rug and his arm jerked hard. Someone gasped when his sleeve was pulled back.
“That is impossible,” MacNair said. “How could that be?”
Snape raised his eyes to the speaker and tried to come up with a rejoiner worthy of taking to his grave. “You cannot understand . . . redemption,” he said tiredly over his scratchy throat. His body felt close to giving out and he wryly considered that redemption was about all he had left.
“Make him scream some more, Master,” MacNair said eagerly. “He does not break down when Lucius torments him,” he criticized, garnering a sharp look from his associate.
Voldemort raised his wand and aimed it at Snape’s chest. “He truly betrayed me?” he asked in confusion. A ripple passed through the room. This ground had been covered several times.
“Yes,” Malfoy said with continued patience, very much not in his usual nature.
Voldemort still held back. “Why do I not just make him mine again?”
Snape’s hands were free right now, so he resisted rubbing his forearm at that comment so as to not attract attention to that fact.
“He must be under your will before he is given a mark,” Malfoy explained. “Otherwise he will weaken you rather than adding his strength.”
Snape’s shoulders tried to slump in relief. It required every last ounce of his will to sit there on his feet without moving, hoping for an opportunity to take away one of the wands carried in loose fingers around him.
“We should kill him then,” Voldemort stated in a monotone, “so that he cannot weaken me.”
“He cannot weaken you, Master,” Malfoy assured him. “If you are weakening, perhaps you should sit . . .”
Malfoy fussed over his charge as Voldemort murmured. “I would be stronger . . . where is it . . . the last crux?”
“He is still asking for that?” Greyback demanded. “You said he had quitted it?”
“He had,” Malfoy insisted. “We have them all. Merton used them up. They have been emptied.”
Greyback knelt on one oddly jointed knee and said, “Lord, I, Greyback, the most physically powerful of your servants will fetch what you desire. But you must tell me what it is.”
There was no response. Voldemort simply muttered quietly to himself, eyes narrow and far away. The others in the room also murmured and shook their heads. Only Snape thought he knew what Voldemort referred to. He dropped his gaze to the dreadful diamond pattern woven into the rug, which for the last desperate hours had been his quiet and unchanging companion.
Next: Chapter 31
"Potter," Voldemort uttered, low and long.
"Yes, Master. We will get him," Malfoy said with pleasant reassurance, as though Voldemort were a child.
Snape lifted his head and said, "He will destroy you," with immense confidence, and some version of Harry swallowed hard.
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