“As you all know,” Voldemort began, looking around at his assembled Death Eaters, “the Ministry has been successfully infiltrated and a puppet Minister is now pulling the strings. We’re officially running the country.”
Severus surveyed the impassive faces surrounding him. All of them meticulously avoided eye-contact. Except for Bellatrix who, as always, was watching her Master raptly, hanging onto his every word. She was the epitome of devotion.
“So, there’s really only one order of business left,” Voldemort continued. “And that’s Hogwarts.”
At the mention of the school, all the eyes in the room fell upon Severus. Naturally. Any time the school came up, they turned to him, their spy. He was probably meant to feel honored. But, as the Dark Lord and his followers stared at him, he felt anxious and threatened. In preparation, he carefully sealed off his mind.
“I hear you’re not teaching anymore,” Voldemort said in a dangerously silky voice.
Severus didn’t allow himself to panic. He could get himself out of anything. As long as he was able to trick himself into believing that… Calmly, he answered. “I’m still employed. It’s more of a paid vacation.”
“Well, how… nice. How have you been spending this… vacation?”
Not hunting down and destroying your Horcruxes, Severus thought and then quickly shoved the thought from his mind. “Well, let’s see,” he said, as if trying to remember something trivial. “I went to a couple Quidditch matches.”
Voldemort smiled and, though it was as terrible to behold as usual, it wasn’t especially cruel. Severus knew he had gotten away with it. Easier than he thought it would’ve been.
“And the purpose of this vacation?”
Severus smiled. He had seen that question coming and an answer bubbled to the front of his mind without much difficulty. “Well, I asked for one. I’ve got old Dumbledore wrapped around my finger.”
The dark-clothed mass of Death Eaters around his laughed darkly—Voldemort’s own laugh rose above the din, icier than the rest and higher-pitched.
“I’m glad you’ve been enjoying yourself, Severus,” the Dark Lord drawled, “but your holiday is over. You are instrumental in my scheme, of course… being so close to Dumbledore… and privy to the inner workings of the school…” Voldemort paused and his face twisted into a smile again—this one could only be accurately defined as cruel and sadistic. “But actually, let’s save that for when the time is right. For now… Lucius,” he barked suddenly. The man in question straightened up, at attention. “Remember what I gave to you several months ago? Bring it here.”
Lucius nodded and hurriedly left the room to fulfill his orders. Voldemort sat down and began to make what sounded suspiciously like small-talk with a Death Eater to his right. Severus shook his head. Voldemort never ceased to surprise him. He looked across the table to see that Bellatrix was glaring rather avidly at him. Severus smiled pleasantly at her as he always did. She narrowed her eyes to dark slits.
“You think you’re so important…” she murmured.
Severus raised his eyebrows in amusement. “I was under the impression I was important.”
She leaned forward a little, her long hair falling over the narrow table. He was looking forward to what she was going to say when they were interrupted.
“Where is Lucius?” Voldemort wondered aloud. “Severus, go fetch him for me.”
“We can continue this conversation later?” he said to Bellatrix, standing up. She glowered at him in response. He left the table. Once out of the meeting hall, he realized he didn’t know where Lucius was. He began to wander down one corridor, calling out for him. After a while he stopped, sure that he had gotten lost and considered retracing his steps.
“Severus?” came a voice from behind him. He turned around to see Lucius Malfoy, looking quite distraught.
“Lucius, what are you doing? The Dark—”
“Severus, you’ve got to help me!” He went back into a room and Severus followed, a sinking feeling in his core.
It was the same room in which he had found the diary not so long ago. He looked around nervously. All the drawers had been pulled out; papers were scattered everywhere; things were strewn all over the floor. The room was the general appearance of having been ransacked by a gang of goblins. But there were no goblins, just an obviously stressed man.
“I can’t find it!” Lucius was pacing back and forth, intermittently pulling at his hair and wringing his hands.
“Find what?” Severus asked, although he was sure he knew the answer.
“It’s a little book… with a leather cover…” He rummaged through a desk-drawer again. “Don’t just stand there; help me look for it!”
Severus hesitated and began looking, slowly going through piles and piles of suspicious books, all on the common topic of Dark Magic. If he could find something that looked similar… He could at least fool Lucius and get out of this situation. “Why is this diary so important?” he asked in a strained voice.
Lucius stopped his searching and the room was deathly quiet. “How did you know it was a diary? I just said it was a book, I never said anything about a diary…”
Severus’s heart was beginning to thud in his chest. “Oh, uh, the Dark Lord told me… about it…”
They stared at each other for a long moment until Lucius finally returned to the desk drawer. “He tells you everything, now doesn’t he?” His tone was bitter—it seemed like the kind of comment that Severus wasn’t meant to overhear.
So he chose to not respond to it. What could he say? Sorry that he likes me best? But the blond man was growing more and more frantic with each passing second so he couldn’t have cared about Voldemort playing favorites at this point.
Lucius paused for a moment, a look of horror creeping over his pale face. “If I don’t find it…” A visible shudder passed through him and he continued the fruitless search with renewed desperation.
“Where did you last see it?” Severus asked, his stomach feeling as though it were made of lead.
“Right here! On this very desk! I don’t know where it possibly could’ve gone… Narcissa never comes in here, I don’t even think she knows about this room, and Draco has only just started walking and he’d never make it this far…” Lucius opened the same drawer for the third time. “Dobby!” he cried out suddenly.
Almost immediately, a house elf Apparated into the room with a loud pop. “Yes, Master?” He bowed low only to be grabbed by the back of his neck and lifted off the floor.
“What did you do with it?” Lucius growled, violently shaking the elf.
“With what, Master?” Dobby squeaked, prying at the fingers enclosing around his throat.
“With the diary! The book! Where is it? I know you took it, you—”
“Lucius!” Severus cut in. “The elf didn’t take it. Put him down.”
Dobby was released and hit the ground with a thud. Lucius then ordered him to search the mansion for the diary. Severus could only imagine how long that would take… Especially considering the object of the search was nowhere near the house. But he elf didn’t know this and eagerly Disapparated, probably just glad to escape his master’s abuse.
Severus gulped and faced Lucius who looked slightly nauseous. “What do I tell him?” he whispered, a plea in his gray eyes.
It was too much for Severus; he diverted his gaze. He made no suggestions, but finally apologized quietly—a barely audible whisper.
Lucius furrowed his brow in confusion. “Why are you apologizing?”
The question went ignored; only answered in Severus’s mind: Because what’s about to happen to you is my fault. But the stakes were higher now—he couldn’t risk everything to protect the likes of Lucius Malfoy. So Severus put on a face as unreadable as his fortressed thoughts. “Ready to go? No use in stalling…”
The man’s face went as pale as his hair.
“It will only further anger him,” Severus added.
“But… but the book… it could still turn up… Dobby could… find it.”
“He won’t,” Severus mumbled.
“How could this have happened?” Lucius said miserably. “It doesn’t make any sense…”
Severus quickly agreed with him and, without much further ado, the two of them left the room and returned to the other Death Eaters and, of course, Voldemort. He stood up and looked expectantly to Lucius. “Well?”
Lucius was trembling so violently that Severus was sure he was going to collapse. He didn’t, though—not until he had admitted that the diary was missing and was promptly struck down with a Cruciatus Curse. The large, lofty expanse of the meeting room was filled with his tortured cries. Severus stood beside his writhing body, wearing his best poker face, perfected from years of practice. The only reaction he showed was the slight twitching of his hand with every especially loud scream. Finally it was over and the only sound was the soft whimpering of Narcissa.
“What do you mean,” Voldemort said in a venomously smooth voice, “you can’t find it?”
Lucius gasped for air as he pulled himself up off the ground. “I’ve only… misplaced it… it’ll… turn up… soon.”
“Did you not fully understand the importance of what I entrusted to you?” Voldemort had slowly crossed the room until he stood towering over the crumpled form on the floor.
Lucius gave some blubbering, incoherent response. Voldemort looked around the room, to the rest of his Death Eaters. “Unfortunately, the plan has been compromised by the ineptitude of one of our numbers. That’s all for today, I believe. I need some time alone to… talk with Lucius.”
The blood drained from the man’s face once again. With little hesitation, all but the two Malfoys and Voldemort filed out of the room. Severus found himself beside Bellatrix who hardly seemed concerned with her brother-in-law’s plight.
“I daresay the Dark Lord must be more careful about whom he trusts,” Bellatrix said to no one in particular, though Severus knew it was directed to him. “I hope this incident convinces him to place the rest of his valuables in the care of Rodolphus and I, as we haven’t let him down yet. He knows, too, that we have the most secure place to keep anything that needs protection.”
Severus glanced over to her. “What kind of things does he need to hide?”
“Not hide, protect!” After a flash of anger, she snorted and a smug ghost of a smile returned to her face. “And you think I would tell you? If he doesn’t trust you enough to tell you, why should I?”
They had just reached the perimeter of Malfoy Manor, and Bellatrix Disapparated first, followed by the rest of the Death Eaters, one by one, in quick succession and a series of loud cracks. Severus was the last to leave, so he heard the beginnings of Lucius Malfoy’s screams drifting through an open window. He shuddered and Disapparated too, trying to push the sound from his mind and to fight off the familiar guilt that was one again settling heavily in the pit of his stomach.
* * *
“Welcome to the hunt, Remus,” Lily said. Remus smiled nervously and was finally able to lower his wand, the shock having worn off.
“Hey, can we get another round of firewhiskey over here?” Sirius called to Aberforth, who nodded and quickly brought them three more full glasses of the stuff. The bartender’s hands were trembling slightly as he set them down on the table. Evidently, he was still shaken from the appearance of Voldemort—or, at least, a fragment of his soul—in his own pub. But this was understandable.
“So, where’s Snape now?” Remus asked after they had all but chugged their drinks. The burning in Lily’s throat was starting to subside, replaced by a marvelous numbing sensation… just what she needed. The world became less real and more bearable.
“Off selling us out to Voldemort, probably,” Sirius grumbled.
Remus nearly choked on his drink and sputtered, “What?!”
Lily sighed impatiently and cut off any further explanation that was sure to be greatly biased. “Sirius, he is not—”
Just then, the door to the Hog’s Head swung open, bringing with it a gust of freezing air and a few snow flurries. Lily shivered and took a small sip of her firewhiskey, which warmed her up greatly and calmed her nerves a little. When she saw who it was at the door, she was glad she had.
“Oh, there you are,” said Severus, closing the door behind him. “I was looking for you.”
“Speak of the devil,” Sirius muttered.
Severus scowled and seemed about to respond when he apparently noticed the third person at the table. “Lupin?” He pulled up a chair and sat down at their table, in between Lily and Remus.
“Severus,” Remus said pleasantly. “Care for a drink?”
The newest addition to their table accepted a glass from Aberforth and waited until the bartender had gone. Then he said, in a low voice, “Bellatrix Lestrange has a Horcrux in her possession.”
A/N: Dun, dun, dun… Thanks for reading! Any comments, questions, predictions…? Please leave them!
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