Chapter 17 : The Visitor
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My Daddy. Tall, powerful arms that can lift up two little girls to perch on his shoulders and see over the heads of a crowd. Our protector, the one who read to us until we fell asleep at night. Strong: a strong mind, perceptive and cunning, strong hands gripping his wand, gripping a hammer and building a small wooden castle for his daughters, laughing loudly at our delight.
The head of our family, the great deceiver, whose wiles place him at the right hand of the Minister of Magic, where he watches, and waits, and listens. Loyal to all appearances, slippery as a snake when you least expect him. Always in control, always in the right.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Father smiles down at me. “After you grab some breakfast, of course.”
“I’m not hungry,” I inform him. Father gives me a stern look and I relent, buttering a piece of toast and taking a quick bite. It takes like paper, dry in my mouth. I realize that I’m trembling a little in shock, and fear breaking down and crying in relief in front of everybody.
“Can we walk now, Daddy? I’ve missed you so much.”
He nods and wraps his arm around me. “It’s been a while since you called me Daddy! Why don’t you take me down to the Black Lake? Merlin, its been years since I’ve been at Hogwarts.”
I laugh shakily and nod, ignoring the stares of the other students. I must look like a blustering, homesick sap. Time to cut the cord, I can basically feel them thinking. In fact, if I reached my mind towards theirs, that’s probably exactly the thoughts I’d read.
But I don’t care.
Father has been among the werewolves, he tells me, recruiting for our cause. He has been undercover, even from our mother, because the Ministry might grow suspicious and must not be able to track him, or else much would be at stake. He doesn’t need to say it aloud: Azkaban with the other fallen spies, like Lucius Malfoy and Mr. Nott.
“Where’s your sister?” Father asks me. I shrug: probably snogging Blaise Zabini in the Owlery is the correct answer, but I don’t think any father wants to hear that. For the sake of Zabini’s limbs staying attached to his body, I keep my mouth shut.
"I’d rather keep you to myself for now,” I say, then add guiltily, “but Daph will be glad to know you’re alright.”
Father nods. “Another half hour won’t kill her. Let the poor girl sleep in.”
As we tread through the damp morning grass he adds, “I’m so lucky to have a teenager who, instead of shunning her dear old Dad when she’s in front of her friends, is actually happy to see him.”
“That you are, mister,” I beam up at him. “Guess you haven’t got just any teenager, eh?”
He chuckles and squeezes my shoulders as a thought occurs to me.
“Father,” I ask, “why are you at Hogwarts, anyway? Surely it seems a little unusual?”
My father nods. “I always forget how perceptive you are, Tori-girl. The truth is I have important intelligence for Severus and preferred to deliver it in person. But if the Ministry asks,” – he winks at me – “I’m here for purely business reasons.”
“Gotcha,” I say lightly, but I understand this is a very serious matter. I am blessed to be so young and still privy to the Death Eaters’ secrets: it shows the immense trust Father has in me. A trust that – the guilty thought rises in my mind and I squash it down hastily – I have been breaking by befriending blood traitors and kissing Muggleborns.
Father’s mind isn’t working at infiltrating mine at the moment: he seems relaxed and pleased to be taking a stroll with his youngest at his old haunt of Hogwarts. We walk arm in arm, like a stately gentleman chaperoning his daughter on a morning stroll through the estate, dark head bobbing at the shoulder of the tall figure.
I never quite realized my dearest fear of my father’s mortality. Parents are meant to live forever: guardians, protectors, leaders. Never weak, never out of control. But these past few weeks not knowing his whereabouts have toyed with my mind, and I cling to my father’s arm, grateful for his freedom and his life, aware of the terrible burden of the knowledge that even his life could end.
“How are your studies going?” he asks, and to protect myself from irrational tears I launch into a long-winded spiel about the ridiculous amounts of Transfiguration homework, about my success with Summoning charms, about Slughorn’s favoritism, and my high marks in Ancient Runes. By the end Father is chuckling.
“My bright little Tor. Have you thought about which N.E.W.T.s you may be interested in taking?”
“Er, don’t I have a couple more years to stress about that?” I demand, and we launch into a typical playful argument about figuring out the future. Sometimes it’s nice just to be nagged. It’s very ordinary.
“Dad, can I ask you something?” I interject, unable to suppress it any longer.
“Anything, as long as I don’t have to kill you for the answer,” he chuckles.
“If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you. Ha, no, but seriously, I was just wondering why you choose to do what you do?”
He stiffens beside me. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you live a double life, putting yourself in danger every single moment if you’re caught off-guard. How do you keep going?”
Father thinks. “I guess its because I’ve found a cause that’s worth dying for.”
“But how do you know? How can you know that you’d die for something?”
“I’d die for you and your sister.” He squeezes my shoulders in a quick hug, and I lean my head against his embrace.
“But why? What makes it so worth it to keep fighting for You-Know-Who?”
Father sighs. “You’ll understand someday, Tori. Its complicated. I guess, when I first joined up, it was for the promise of greatness, for the glorious future that the Dark Lord vowed for us. And remember,” he grins, “a true Yaxley always picks the strongest side.”
I smile back at him. “Am I a true Yaxley, then?”
“The very best,” he says, and kisses the top of my head. It’s heaven, being here with my father, alive and well, strong and sure of himself. How could I have ever doubted his legacy?
Finally, Father admits that it’s only fair to find Daph and let her have some bonding-time. We locate her in the library, studying for Potions with Zabini and Theo. Daph’s reaction to his presence isn’t as outspoken as mine was: she kisses him cordially on the cheek, but I can see that she is on the verge of tears of relief. Only her sister would notice.
Zabini politely shakes hands with Father, and the latter gives Theo a hearty pat on the back. They don’t mention Theo’s father, not in a public area like this, restricting the conversation to broomsticks and N.E.W.Ts. (Seriously, though, between Boot and Theo and Daph I am so sick of hearing about those!)
Speaking of Boot, I spy him sitting at on the other side of the library, head bent over a large book with a few other Ravenclaws, including that Leanne girl. Somehow feeling my gaze, he glances up and stares at me, startled, standing beside my father, arm entwined with his, chatting vigorously with the other Slytherins. I can’t help but imagine that in another world, I would be the one introducing my nervous boyfriend to my father and sniggering behind my hand as he stuttered and tried to impress him.
But that can never be. Trying my best to be indifferent to Terry and his friends, I pop a piece of chewing gum into my mouth and pretend to be interested in the bookshelf next to me. Unfortunately, after about a minute of staring I realize it’s a section dedicated to female reproductive health, with a large section on breastfeeding. Feeling my face burn up, I try to casually glance away, only to see Terry smirking from the corner of my eye. Ugh. He’s on to me.
I am interrupted from my thoughts by Father’s suggestion that he take Daph and I out for an early dinner in Hogsmeade. My sister makes a big deal about needing to change her clothes, so I accompany her back to the Slytherin Common Room to find something appropriate for each of us, while Father heads off to “exchange some words of council with Severus.”
Daphne is unusually chatty.
“Oh, Tori, I’m so happy Father came here!” She bursts out, skipping a little down the hall. “And he liked Blaise, too, didn’t he?” She nudges me. “Don’t you think he liked him?”
“Oh, yeah, he just adored him,” I reply dryly. “Who wouldn’t, with Blaise’s dark, soulful eyes and sparkling personality?”
Either she doesn’t hear my sarcasm or chooses to ignore it.
“Hopefully Father will be able to fill us in on You-Know-Who’s plans, as well,” she adds, her voice dropping to a low whisper. “I can’t wait to see Malfoy’s face when I announce something he hasn’t heard-”
“Daph,” I say warily, trying to grab hold of her sleeve, “does it ever occur to you that Father trusts us to keep his secrets to ourselves, not to use the Dark Lord’s inner circle to show off in front of schoolchildren?”
She merely brushes me aside, flicking her long dark hair over her shoulder. “You worry too much. Besides, we’re all on the same side, right?”
I realize then that Daphne doesn’t fear the other Slytherins like I do. Maybe she’s too caught up in her relationship with Zabini to worry about these things, leaving her ambition and her suspicions behind her. Not that I can really judge, seeing as how being with Terry Boot has toyed with everything I thought was true.
“I just meant that I think we should keep Father’s information to ourselves… Infantile.” We climb through the wall into the Common Room, and I wave hello to our cousin Zelda.
“I saw Uncle Orpheus in the Great Hall,” she calls over. “That was so kind of him to come up to Hogwarts and visit you.”
“He had business in the area,” I tell her, smiling. Zelda looks a little wistful: both her parents, my maternal aunt and uncle, are long-dead. She was raised by her uncle’s family on her father’s side. “Would you like to come out for dinner with us?” Zelda’s bright personality and tendency to chat incessantly would be a nice distraction from how irritating Daph is being.
Zelda pulls a face. “I wish, but we have Quidditch practice tonight for three hours. Skin is adamant that we win against Ravenclaw to recover from the Gryffindor match fiasco.” She, and a number of other Slytherins around her, shudder in unison. I imagine it’s a movement similar to pious Muggles crossing themselves when evil is mentioned, and smirk a little at the thought.
“Tor, hurry up,” Daphne whispers, dragging me by my sleeve up to her dormitory. She proceeds to outfit both of us in her clothing: charming one of her dresses to fit my taller frame and changing the trimmings so it looks exactly like one of her dresses.
Soon, due to Daphne’s fussing, we are both dressed in matching emerald green frocks, our hair curling lightly over our shoulders with the expert use of Daphne’s wand heated up and twirling through it. She’s outfitted my face with a hint of blush and some heavy eyeliner.
But when I look in the mirror, I notice that Daphne’s dress is just a little more elaborate, the material just slightly more vivid of a green. I notice that her eyes are sparkling, her hair shining lustrously while mine hangs a little thinner. She gives a little twirl and the edges of her dress flare out gracefully, while mine hang limp and flat.
She always goes just the extra length to outshine me.
“I’m going to find Father, meet in the Entrance Hall?” I inform Daph as I scurry out of the dorm, unable to bear her presence any longer. Skimming the ground as gracefully as this blasted dress will allow me without exposing my knickers, I pass Peeves preparing to launch some dung bombs at a chattering group of first years, grateful to be free from his tyranny at least for now.
Ginny Weasley floats by me in the hallway to Snape’s office, locked in a furious whispered battle with her boyfriend, whose name I can’t quite recall. They ignore my presence as I round the corner and approach the closed door, biting back unpleasant memories of the bat-wing pickling detention not so long ago.
Standing quietly outside the door, I curse myself inwardly for being too proud to invest in any goods at Wizard’s Wizarding Wheezes in the summer. Perhaps if Daph hadn’t been keeping her snooty eye on me, I’d have an Extendable Ear at my service today. Instead, I maneuver my mind fluidly towards the little room on the other side. Instantly, I feel the two hard, impenetrable walls, both with their own cleavages and flaws, but obviously unique: the fortresses of Occlumency that both my father and Snape have perfected. Seeing no handholds in the walls, I scowl and scour the room for any other living presence in the room with them, like another Death Eater or a House Elf, anything for my mind to infiltrate.
Instead, I locate a small mouse, nibbling at a fallen snack on the stone slabs of the floor. Deciding to take what I can get, I latch onto the little creature’s subconscious, squeezing my way in as if through its tiny ears, allowing me to see what it sees and hears. The mouse struggles for a moment against my intrusion, then submits, returning to chewing on the little tidbit it’s found. The taste resounds in my own mouth. It tastes like sulfur and darkness.
From my new vantage point on the floor, I can see two great, tall dark shapes blocking out the light: my father and Snape. My father appears distressed, wringing his hands together unconsciously, brow furrowed in thought. Snape, as always, is impassive.
“…but what if next time, he demands too much?” My father murmurs, his voice a soft hiss. “What if he demands one of my daughters to do a service like he has commanded of Malfoy’s boy?”
Snape betrays no emotion. “Then I believe it would be in your best interests not to fail the Dark Lord as Lucius has, Orpheus.”
My father nods firmly, as if this most clear solution has evaded him until now.
“We will have to succeed in taking Potter,” he says firmly. “It is to be my own special project, along with infiltrating the Ministry. The Dark Lord has hinted of it to me.”
Snape wraps his long fingers around his wand, idly. He turns away from my father, examining a scroll of parchment that is extended upon the desk. I watch his face intently. “You will attack at Christmas, I presume?”
“Yes, that is the plan,” my father breathes. “When he goes to the Weasley hovel for the holiday, we will strike. But Potter is slippery, he runs through the Dark Lord’s fingers like icy water. If we do not succeed in capturing him, then perhaps one of those blood traitor friends of his, to force him to yield to our wills. The little girl, perhaps. Lucius has already succeeded once in using her for our means.” He is rambling, his sentences cut up, each word a little weaker than the last.
Snape’s face is hard, for a moment I think he is going to say something entirely different. His eyes are full of fire.
A small boy, with a thin, pinched face and greasy hair hanging over his ears sits alone in the Slytherin common room, curled protectively around a book. He looks up, surprised, as a group of boys around his own age stand around him, smirking at each other.
“We didn’t see you at dinner today, Snape,” Their leader remarks, exchanging a knowing look with the blond-headed boy at his side. He lets the greasy-haired boy’s name linger in the air, pronouncing each sound like it’s a gift for him to even speak it.
“I wasn’t hungry,” the eleven-year old Snape returns, face burning and trying to retreat to his book. Mulciber- broad-shouldered for a child, nimble, with dark eyes like coals, darts forward and snatches the book from Snape, the smaller boy’s fingers slipping out of it.
“Here, Rosier, catch,” the thief laughs, launching the book towards his friend, blond and pale, who catches it deftly with the slight-of-hand of a Chaser.
“Wizarding Genealogy: the Forgotten Bloodlines of Old,” Rosier reads aloud, pawing through the pages like an animal looking for food. “What’s this for, Snape? Trying to figure out if that little Mudblood Gryffindor comes from ancient wizarding stock?”
“I’ve got news for you, Snape,” Yaxley drawls. He has been letting his friends do the dirty work: he has been watching the pained, desperate expression on their victim’s face. “She’s dirty blood through and through. She rots beneath that pretty little face. No book you stumble upon will change that, despite your desperate hopes. A Mudblood is a Mudblood eternally.”
Yaxley, even as a child, has the gift of graceful language, of turn of phrase so rare even in those who are young and unlearned. Some might call it sophistry.
“Don’t use that word,” child-Snape says tightly, quietly, nearly to himself, like a reminder or a mantra.
Memories drift through the taut air like smoke from a dying bonfire, sticking to the walls. But Snape merely smoothes his hand gently over the parchment, and his voice is calm.
“That will doubtlessly work to your advantage. Potter is… weak, he fancies himself a hero. He will throw himself away for the love of another.”
My father’s voice trembles: I think to myself that I have never seen my father this out of control. “I must protect my daughters, Severus. I must keep them from the Dark Lord’s eye, from his wrath, from the Malfoy boy’s fate.”
Yaxley’s face fades back into the face of his child self, that self-assured, smooth-tongued boy, his friends gathered around him to prey on the weak, exchanging smirks with Rosier. Taking Snape’s book, he tosses it nonchalantly into the common room’s dying fire. The flames rear up to consume their offering. The boys laugh and walk away, slinging their arms around one another, cruel as only children can be.
It will be a few years until Severus Snape is accepted into their circle, when the boys who have been wizarding princes their entire lives learn to serve another. The Dark magic the solitary Snape has cultivated over the years will become invaluable, and in time he will become one of their most trusted friends and comrades, shouldering everybody’s burdens, baring his soul to no man or woman.
Snape, the grown Snape, clenches his white hands into fists, digging his nails into his own palms. As he opens his mouth to say something else, but I retract back into my own body, my mind settling into its familiar moulds. Quickly, I retreat a few steps down the hall, then approach the door loudly, dragging my feet. I knock firmly.
“Professor Snape? Father? Are you there? I’m ready for dinner – Daph is meeting us in the Entrance Hall.”
Father opens the door, smiling broadly at me. There is nothing to betray the fear and excitement of mere moments before. Behind him, Snape smiles thinly at me. If I squint, I can just make out the tiny form of the mouse whose senses I temporarily invaded, finishing its scavenged supper and beginning to retreat, beady eyes shining in the shadows.
Father slings a heavy arm around my shoulders, and we walk together to meet my sister. I compose myself forcefully: my expression is pleasant and receptive, my Occlumency door is firmly locked and barred, and behind it the inner workings of my mind are in turmoil from what I have learned.
Draco Malfoy truly is, then, involved in some sort of task for the Dark Lord, but my brave father does not envy him for it. Instead, he fears the same fate for Daph and I. Father is afraid. He is afraid, and Severus Snape knows something he does not. And the Death Eaters will attack at Christmas: they will strike at the Weasley family. Ginny’s family.
Daphne is waiting for us, an ethereal vision in vibrant green. She smiles delicately as Father and I approach, and together we leave Hogwarts and head for the village. It will be a long night, I think, for every time I blink Ginny Weasley’s face will shine from the inside of my eyes.
Orpheus Yaxley and Amelia Bones. He thought of her, often enough. He thought of her in the quiet moments of awakening, when the warm presence in his bed could have been her. He thought of her when his little daughter squealed with delight at the child-sized wooden castle he had built for her in the backyard: he saw Amelia’s light in Astoria’s glee. He saw her etched in the constellations of the country night sky they had examined together. He saw her darting over his shoulder when he was alone, an elusive presence always out of reach, left far behind in another life.
A few weeks before Amelia Bones’ death, he saw her in the flesh. She was sitting primly in the recently reconstructed lobby of the Ministry, sipping a tea as if waiting for someone. Mere feet away, he could feel her heat, the sound of her breath, the essence of her aliveness. He fixed his gaze on the great marble fountain in front of him. He was acutely aware of her existence.
Orpheus chided himself. It took all of his self-control not to turn and look at her: for she was a member of the Order of the Phoenix, who had recently declared her allegiances. She was an enemy of the Dark Lord, and thus an enemy of his. He drove his eyes into the water of the fountain, drowning them against the cold marble. He must not look. He was Yaxley, Death Eater, and she was Bones, Dumbledore’s woman through and through.
But he was also Orpheus and she was Amelia, and so he turned and looked, and she met his stare, and their worlds collided in a moment of perfect being.
But someone else was also watching, and he saw it all. And Amelia Bones was dead within the fortnight, tortured and killed before Orpheus Yaxley’s treacherous eyes.
Back in Snape’s office, the small mouse is foaming at the mouth and convulsing, the remains of the Potions scrap in the dust at its side. Its mind, weakened, finally crumbles and dies: the creature’s body is soon to follow, the tiny heartbeat thudding erratically until it shudders and is still. The rotting body will remain there, emitting a perverse, sharp smell through the Potion Master’s office until he fears it will drive him mad. In weeks, he finally finds the little carcass and disposes of it, and is once again alone with his ghosts.
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