Chapter 8 : The Spider and the Fly
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It was Azkaban.
"Well, look what the cat dragged in!" The guard taunted. Still covered in bandages, bound in leg irons and wandless, Severus was pathetic and powerless. "Dumbledore was my hero, you bastard!" The cell door slammed shut with such force it rattled his bones. "I hope you rot!"
He took another breath and shook off the memory. "How much further?"
“Nearly there. Just coming up on Cara Mia now.” Captain Mifune 's deep voice cut through the shrieking wind. Severus followed the grizzled wizard's eyes into the angry sky. Despite himself, he blinked: a single Dementor hovered above them in the gale. Long, filthy shreds of cloth whipped around it in the winds which buffeted the Dementor and Severus watched it drift from its spot, only to struggle and fight its way back, hovering as close as it could.
Severus looked back to the captain: "My beloved?"
Mifune smiled, his snow white teeth standing in stark contrast to his black as ink skin. “Showed up in the sky here about eight months ago, it just sits there. I guess it misses home. We call it Cara Mia. Henderson back there calls it 'sexy,'” Mifune tossed an amused look back toward one of the wandsmen.
The boat passed underneath the Dementor and Severus watched carefully, but the foul creature remained at its chosen spot, fighting the winds and the wards that kept it from its desire. It looks hungry. Severus turned his face back towards the towering prison.
The boat docked and the sailors waived their wands causing the stone to shift and vines reached out, lashing the boat to the dock and locking it into place. Severus looked from the dock, past the fences, to Azkaban itself and something new caught his attention. Freshly white-washed stone looked distinctly out of place against the massive tower.
“What's that?” he asked as he disembarked.
“A Welcome Center for visitors,” Mifune answered as he offered Severus a hand up out of the boat onto the pier, “They added it about a year ago. Part of Minister Shacklebolt's new reforms to encourage visitors. The prisoners call it The Parlor.”
Severus nodded as he whispered to himself, “'Will you walk into my parlor?' said the spider to the fly,' (from the poem 'The Spider and the Fly' by Mary Howitt, please see my author's note)."
“Aye," Mifune nodded. "She's a spider all right: weaving her web as strong as ever. You'd best be careful in there Professor, or I'll be making my noon run back to Aberdeen without you."
Severus walked slowly across the wet, cracked stone until he reached land; even without the leg irons, it was a slippery walk. He proceeded up the pathway toward the gates: it's thick vertical bars of cold-forged iron seemed to reach even higher as he approached. Snape found himself moving slower toward the towering prison than he wanted to admit. Not many who entered here left it alive. Even fewer of those re-entered it of their own accord.
A muscular woman with brown skin and jet black hair wearing Ministry robes waited for him. Her face smiled but her dark brown eyes remained sharp and narrow. Despite being several centimeters shorter than him, she was not the least bit intimidated by Severus Snape.
“Prisoner Snape,” the woman called out with a stare that transfixed him. It was a stare he remembered well. “So kind of you to return to us.”
“And good day to you, Indira,” he intentionally used her first name in response to her formal greeting.
Her wand slid into her hand from the sleeve of her robe. “I am the Ministry here,” she reminded him, “Not Law Enforcement Head Donovan, and not your precious Potter, me.”
Snape produced a scroll from his own pocket, handing it to Indira. “I think you will agree that an instructions from the Minister himself holds sway over you, Auror?”
Indira's eyes never left Severus'. “Give me a reason Snape,” she warned, “You walked out of here once. You will do well to watch your step. This place has a way of snaring its own and not letting go.”
Severus nodded staring her down, “Especially when helped.”
Severus nodded again, “Now if we could proceed?”
Indira nodded to the man behind her and the gates groaned. "Please step into the Parlor, we have some matters to attend to before your visit."
He waited until the gates had opened halfway; then stepped forward onto the ground of the inner courtyard. Once he passed through, the gates closed with a loud clang of iron that echoed against the cold building ahead. The more he moved through the courtyard toward Azkaban proper, the more the world closed around him. To his right he heard iron creak and stopped: a simple iron plaque announced 'Azkaban Cemetery'. Behind it a field of gravestones marked former prisoners, their bodies trapped and their lives sucked from them by the Dementors. Somewhere in that field of the forgotten and ignored, Barty Crouch's wife lay in a grave marked for her son. Severus thought of the vision he had a few months earlier, where he lived his life as a father and husband. Would I have done that for my children?
“Coming?” Indira asked.
He turned back to the prison and walked down a long entrance way lined with a gauntlet of automated wands ready to shoot at him: he could only imagine what other curses awaited him should he make a wrong move. Just because the Dementors were gone did not mean that Azkaban was any less of a threat. As they approached a solid iron door, two blank-faced statues brandishing great-swords standing guard at the door snapped to attention. He found himself in a simple room with two desks, a number of chairs, and a counter.
"Welcome!” the cheerful excitement of the new voice clashed with the ominous tone Indira's. A man of Dumbledore's apparent age shuffled across the stone floor toward him. His features were very sharp, with a pointed nose, thin lips, and a thin, silky white beard that trailed down to mid-chest. Although set within a pale, wrinkled face, the man's eyes were clear and focused. His shuffling gait was almost convincing.
“Welcome!” the man repeated, “Come in, Professor Snape. Come in. Thaddius Witte, Greeting Officer. I'd tell you to make yourself comfortable, but this won't take long.”
Severus removed his traveling cloak and used his wand to dry himself.
“I must say,” Witte continued, “It's very exciting to have you here – very exciting. You are the first visitor we have had since Minister Shacklebolt instituted his reforms. It's hard to know if they're working if no one comes! But I guess that's the way of things. Most people don't want to admit that their loved ones are here. Old Azkaban still has her stigma, I guess. Still has her shame.”
The man shuffled behind the counter and tapped one of the bricks in the wall behind, which obediently slid to the side. Witte pulled a thick tome, a small, narrow box, and a quill from somewhere behind it. He dropped the tome on the counter with a heavy thud and opened the cover to the first page; a blank, white sheet, and then offered the quill to Snape. “Please sign the guest registry, would you?”
Severus placed his name at the top and Witte closed the tome. Severus handed the quill back, but Witte waved it off. “You'll sign again when you leave,” he said, “Keep the quill with you during your visit; and don't let anything unfortunate happen to it while you're here.”
“How long has this new program been in place?” Severus frowned, sliding the quill into a pocket.
“About a year,” Witte's smile returned, but the old man's eyes never wavered. “I'll need your wand, please.”
The old man extended a thin hand. “Your wand,” he repeated, “No weapons inside Azkaban. Surely a man of your intellect must realize why.”
Severus reluctantly handed it to Witte. The old man looked at the wand carefully, then sniffed the length. “Cedar,” he said softly, “Dragon heartstring.” He tapped the base of wand gently against Snape's robes and then held it tightly in one hand, his eyes closed. “Definitely yours,” he smiled, and placed the wand into the narrow box. Witte babbled on, happy to have someone new to talk with. “I did a short apprenticeship under Ollivander in my youth, Gervaise Ollivander, not young Garrick. This is outstanding work, even for him.”
"If we could get on with it?" Severus had neither the time nor the inclination for small talk.
"Very well. I believe you know the rules?”
“Intimately,” Severus answered, “No magic of any kind while on the premises, under any circumstance. Wandless, that is nearly impossible anyway.”
“Nearly,” Witte said, “Very nearly. But most people need a broom to fly, and I hear you can do that, so I don’t put anything past you, Professor. I repeat. No magic!"
"Or you will be right back in cell block Nine North – your old cell is available actually. I'm fairly certain your block-mates would be only too happy to have you join them again.” Indira interrupted from behind him.
Witte shuffled toward a second door, rolling his eyes at his superior once he faced away from her. “Come!” he invited, “Follow me.”
Severus and Greeting Officer Witte left Indira behind in the Parlor with the parchment from Minister Shacklebolt. The new corridor was also straight and simple. Every ten meters stood a motionless stone knight, each holding at least two weapons. As he stepped through the door, every statue along the entire corridor turned its head toward him.
“It's been a great year,” Witte chattered, “Minister Shacklebolt's reforms are making this a much better place than it was, and I don't just mean getting rid of the Dementors. Treating the prisoners like humans – that's the key. Treating them like there's something still waiting for them when their sentences are up. Like a person, not an enemy. Of course, there are some who are enemies, but for most people, it's bad enough to have done something to warrant being brought here in the first place. But is that where it ends? Is there no chance to make your life better? Or do we just lock them away and decide they are dead to the world? If so, what's the incentive to change – that's my question. What's the incentive to become a better person?”
Severus tuned the man's prattle out and focused on the surroundings as they entered the prison proper. Despite Witte's progressive banter, all pretenses vanished. Dark corridors and flickering shadows that moved independent of the dim torches that lined walls surrounded him. Guards in Ministry robes stepped aside when they passed. He recognized several former students, including Caspar Guggenheim, a lackluster Slytherin, and Regina Halcombe, a Ravenclaw troublemaker from a few years ago.
Ravenclaw troublemaker, he smirked and recalled Alara's smile from only yesterday. He would give anything to see her smile at him again. Other faces looked at him, too, through the cold-iron bars of the cell doors. Unlike the last time he had been here, most of the prisoners were clean, fed, and presumably sane. They looked bored more than anything.
“Low-level criminals,” Witte informed him, “Thieves... blackmailers... a few murderers.” He recognized none of them, but it was clear from the hate in their eyes that they remembered him.
They entered a new chamber which held four robed guards, eight stone statues, and another iron door. Witte produced a set of thick, iron keys and nodded to one of the guards. The guard pulled out a smaller set of keys and the two stood on opposite sides of the second door. The other three guards moved away, taking defensive positions near the statues, their wands in their hands. Witte and the guard worked in tandem to unlock the door. Their wands glowed together, releasing different locks, and the final lock required the Witte to insert the key and the guard to magic the lock simultaneously. “The North Wing,” Witte explained as the door opened, revealing four more stone statues, “Our special residence for Death Eaters.”
“I know,” Severus said simply, “North Nine, remember?”
“You'll be going up,” Witte told him, “Although I personally feel it should be the dungeons. Not a pit deep enough for the likes of them.”
“Them?” Severus asked, “Not me?”
Witte lowered his head and took a moment to think. “Charity Burbage was my niece. I understand you did nothing while she was humiliated and killed. I don't think I'll ever be your biggest fan, but the honest truth is that we couldn't have beat him without you. I'm not sure what should be done with you, Professor, but that's not up to me. You're not one of them. If there's hope for you, maybe there's hope for some of these others to become better than they are. Now up you go.”
“You're not coming?” Snape tried not to sound relieved.
“Shacklebolt's reforms end at this door. Fully automated defenses, some even say they're sentient,” Witte said. “All I know is that they're not very discriminating once they're active. Anyone who visits that lot does so on their own: and at their own risk.”
The bells scattered throughout Hogwarts along with the grand bell in the bell tower all began peeling out a general evacuation alarm shortly before five AM. In her bed, Alara jumped at the noise from an already sleepless night and quickly pulled on her clothes realizing that this wasn't a drill. She rushed out of her door and down to the Great Hall to a well organized chaos. Heads of Houses were rushing to make sure the headcounts they received from the Prefects meant that everyone was clear from their Common Rooms while Minerva McGonagall stood at the entrance of the Great Hall, coordinating evacuation efforts and directing search teams. Alara's nose stung with acrid fumes as she approached Minerva, wand in hand. Around her, Hufflepuff students came up from the basement coughing as they pulled their cloaks tight around their pajamas, the younger students had bubble-head charms cast on them by the older students to make it through the orange-tinged smoke rising from the dungeons.
"It's not a fire," Minerva said to Alara as the Slytherin students started filing quickly down the stairs from their temporary home. "Whatever it is, it seems to be coming from the dungeons. I need you to get down there and get to the source of this."
Rachel appeared at their side. "I'll go with her."
"No, I will." Michael Carter interjected as ran up to the women. "Hagrid can handle coordinating the Gryffindors. Smell that?"
Alara nodded, "Smells like drying leeches."
"And we've got an unknown substance in the Potions Offices. I've got to get downstairs and make safe my office before whatever this is has a bad interaction with whatever that is." Michael answered casting a bubble-head charm around himself.
Minerva nodded. "Rachel, the Hufflepuffs coming up the stairs are coughing. Poppy and her team are busy with the aphasic Slytherins. I need you helping the affected Hufflepuffs. Away with you, all of you."
"Yes ma'am," Rachel answered.
McGonagall nodded to Professor Trelawney who was stumbling down the stairs, an empty sherry bottle in hand mumbling something about blood and death. "And take her outside with you?"
Rachel twitched her new assignment. Alara nodded at both women, and then quickly turned to her duties.
"Alara wait!" Rachel called out, and Alara turned back to see Rachel limping quickly up to her. "Are we ok?"
"Are we what?"
"Are we ok? You and me. Last night. I was tired, you were tired...."
Alara smiled, and grabbed her friend by the shoulders, "Rachel, how long have we been friends? One argument isn't going to change that."
"Healer Adams!" Minerva was trying to politely shake off Sybill Trelawney who was continuing to drunkenly mutter about blood and death.
Alara motioned to Minerva with a wry smile crossing her face, "She really hasn't changed. Look, I think I needed to hear some of the things you said. We'll talk later, ok?" The women hugged then Rachel turned to rescue Minerva from Sybill while Alara quickly wrapped a bubble-head charm around herself and followed Michael down the stairs.
The basement level was murky but passable and eerily empty as the last of the Hufflepuff Prefects rushed past them up the stairs to fresh air, leaving their Common Room door open as a signal it was clear. Within moments they were descending past the kitchens and down to the lower dungeon level where the smoke was thicker and a deep orange color. The torches along the way lit the darkening hallway, Alara noticing with some annoyance that her skin crawled.
"You feel that?" Michael asked.
"I'm glad it's not just me," Alara nodded as they reached the Potions classroom and Michael unlocked the door, "But it's not hot, and there's no noise. Minerva's right, this isn't a fire."
"Could be leech juice vapors if it's reacting with our sweat. Get the windows, will you? The more ventilation we can get in here the safer we'll all feel." While Alara waived her wand opening the high windows in the classroom Michael quickly entered his office and cast an isolating charm around Daniel Groundsell's potions which, thankfully, seemed to be passing the current crisis unaffected by the surrounding fumes.
Satisfied that the Potions Offices were safe, they headed off into the thickening murk of the orange fog toward the Slytherin Common Room. "Severus should be here, he knows this Common Room better than anyone. Where is he?"
Alara shrugged off the increasing creep of tingling on her skin as she worked to stay calm. "Outside I presume. I'm sure he'll be along once he accounts for his students. He's got twice the job Hagrid does, nearly half his house is with Poppy."
"Yeah, but how are we getting in to the Common Room?"
"I was here when he set the security. I'll get us in." She waved her wand removing the caterwauling charm and uttered the password: "Babbity Rabbity."
Michael snorted so hard he nearly blew a hole in his bubble-head. "Babbity Rabbity? A malicious curse of unknown intent is lurking in the Slytherin dungeon; and Severus Snape, the former Death Eater, double agent, and tormentor of Gryffindors everywhere used the password Babbity Rabbity?"
Alara smirked as the door to the Common Room struggled against the last remaining magical lock. "Would you have guessed it?"
"I guess he is still full of secrets and surprises, isn't he?"
"Unfortunately," Alara's smile evaporated from her face as she pointed her wand at the door and unlocked it. A wall of roiling fog and hovered in front of them as the door slid open.
"Why aren't the ventilation spells working?" Michael asked as Alara took a cautious step inside. The smoke was cold, unnatural. An involuntary shiver when down both their spines.
"Ventilation spells. It's not like in the tower houses where if a fire breaks out you can just bust out a window or punch a hole in the wall. There are enchantments both in here and in Hufflepuff specifically designed to provide ventilation in a situation like this." Michael stepped in cautiously behind her. "Their fireplace should be sucking this out like old Slughorn with a bottle of Meade."
"Nice analogy," Alara answered before taking a cautious step in and pointed her wand in the general direction of the fireplace, "Ventilare."
What should have been a room cleaning whoosh of air was instead the smallest of movements as the energy of the spell cast struck the front of the room and then failed. From the right side of the Common Room Rachel heard a noise. "What's that?" She took a cautious step into the mist.
"That... noise...." She took another step. "Like...there... there wouldn't be any House-elves in here with the closure, would there?"
Michael listened hard, but didn't hear anything. "There shouldn't be."
"Very faint... very...whimpering...like a House-elf..." She stilled her breath inside her bubble as much as she could and the sound of whimpering came from within the room.
"Alara, that's not possible." Michael answered growing concerned. "Had anything stepped foot in that Common Room the caterwauling charm Severus--"
"That's not just a House-elf, that's Maggie!" Alara rushed into the room following the sound of the whimpering.
"Alara!!" Michael yelled as his head began to spin. "Don't! It's--" wave upon wave of the psychic curse hit him as he began to hear voices- they were his mother and sisters calling to him. “No… not possible….” It took every effort he had to step back out of the doorway and into the hall.
"Maggie!" Alara yelled again
Within moments Maggie Apparated where Alara had stood looking perfectly fine and healthy. "Mistress summoned Maggie?" She snapped her fingers and a bubble of fresh air formed around her head in the fog and fumes.
Michael stared at the creature. "What are you doing... wait... what?" He struggled to clear his head.
"Maggie heard Mistress's call," Maggie answered Michael calmly. "Where is Mistress? What does Mistress need?"
"That's not you in there?" Michael pointed to the Common Room where Alara had disappeared into the mist.
"No Professor Carter. Maggie was doing her duty helping with the students outside. Maggie is a good House-elf who always does what she's told. She only came because Mistress called her."
"Maggie where are you?" Alara's voice rang out from inside the Common Room.
Maggie moved to enter, but Michael held her back, her small frame struggling against his much sturdier and bulkier one. "Maggie, do NOT go in there. I don't know what's going on, but believe me; the last thing your Mistress wants is for you to go into that death trap. Go find Professor Snape. Go find Professor Snape and Headmistress McGonagall now. Your mistress needs you to ignore everything else you hear: your mistress is about to need both of them very, very badly." Michael disappeared into the murk.
Alara slowed her pace and listened for the sound of her House-elf. She struggled to make sense of the fog outside her bubble and her eyes began creating images of their own in the grey wall of mist. She didn't notice as Michael's voice calling out her name became more and more obscure and the green sofa next to her slowly became a mossy rock to hide behind.
She ducked down and extinguished the light from her wand. Snatchers lurked everywhere, and she no longer knew what forest she was in. She tried Apparating, but she couldn't. Why couldn't she Apparate? There was no need for an anti-Apparition jinx in the middle of an open forest.
It sounded like the handsome man who greeted her at Slug and Jiggers last week when she was in buying supplies under a Polyjuice disguise. It had been dangerous to go to Diagon Alley but they were in desperate need of healing potions because of the war. That's what this was. It was war. Had that handsome man identified her as a resistance fighter in spite of the Polyjuice? Had he followed her? Yes, that made the most sense. Her intelligence had been bad, and who she thought was sympathetic to their cause actually worked for the Death Eaters. He was the enemy. If she could avoid him, great. If not, she would make sure that he understood the depth of his mistake in following her.
"Alara!" More voices. She was surrounded. She heard a noise behind her so she took a deep breath and dove out from the rock hoping to find cover somewhere else in the thick fog. At least the fog was as much sauce for the goose as it was sauce for the gander. The snatchers would have to get amazingly lucky to find her in this soup. She calmed her breath as she found a tree to hide behind.
"Alara stay where you are. DO NOT MOVE!"
Like she was going to listen to a Snatcher. Apparate. Why couldn't she Apparate? Of course. The rock she had just hid behind was Meet-up Rock. Benoit Beauchamp frequently put anti-Apparition jinxes around his property. But if Snatchers were here at Beauchamp's, then the family of terrified witches and wizards she had just moved to safety were in grave danger. No. They were safe. If they were after her, then the Snatchers weren't going after the family. Most likely, Benoit already had them sealed and safe behind his secret stairwell. Alara allowed herself the smallest sigh of relief. Another wizarding family, safe from the clutches of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Benoit could get them moved on to someone from the Order of the Phoenix, or if they were lucky, he could get them out of the country direct from here.
She thought of turning into her Peregrine Falcon form and out-fly them, but if they were at Meet-up Rock it was better to keep the Snatchers attention on her instead of on Beauchamp. No, she needed to remain in human form with the Wand of Guenhwyvar at her side. She brought her trusty wand up to her face, blinking at its sudden strangeness. This was not her wand? Why did she have a bubble-head charm around her? Forgetting her wand for the moment, she took a moment to end that spell, then immediately regretted it as she nearly choked on the acrid smell. She tried to hide her cough, but the scarlet light of a stunning spell nearly missed her, and she knew she had given away her position to the enemy. She quickly re-cast the charm and took in deep, clear breaths. Her lungs burned and her eyes stung with the vapors and she worked hard to stifle any more coughing. This was no ordinary mist. This was a trap.
"She's too close, she'll stumble into it! We've got to stop her!"
"By stunning her?"
"Have you got any other ideas?"
Stumble in to what? What was she close to? If the Snatchers didn't want her to find it, then she suddenly needed to. Maybe it was the source of the cursed fog. If she could get closer to it, maybe she could dispel it. She took a cautious step out from behind the tree, being careful to make her footfalls as silent as possible. She would have only one shot before they knew where she was and killed her. That shot needed to count.
"Alara, please. Listen to my voice. Stay where you are."
Alara smiled and turned, listening close for the direction of the source. Taunt away you big, thickheaded bully. She took another couple of silent steps, stopping just behind another tree.
"Maggie needs you, Alara. And Severus. Severus wants you safe too."
So they found Mum and Maggie. And Snape wanted her. Probably as a prize to hand over to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. That man's villainy knows no bounds. It suddenly all made sense, yes, the voice belonged to the wizard at Slug and Jiggers. Snape used to teach Potions before his ascendancy to Headmaster through his murder of Albus Dumbledore. The two probably bonded over how to poison people.
"Please, just stay where you are."
He's on the move. Off to my right...
"Please.... please stand down. I just need to--"
Alara fired and an explosion ripped through the forest. Instead of hearing the muffled cry of pain from the Snatcher she heard the sound of wind as the mists blew past and the sound of magic crackled through the air. As the mists cleared Alara suddenly found herself standing in the Slytherin Common Room. The tree she hid behind was suddenly a pillar and she stared at the hole she had just punched in the fireplace chimney as the last wisps of murky mists were ventilated up and out of the dungeon.
Off to the left side of the fireplace, Michael Carter was pulling himself up off the floor and out of the rubble, his face bruised and arms bleeding from where the flying rock struck him. He looked at Alara's handiwork. "That'll will work too."
Alara looked around herself, "I was in the... I... uhm....oh hell."
From behind her footsteps rushed into the dungeon and within seconds Minerva, Maggie and Rachel were all crammed in the doorway, while Brandon was farther up along the left wall. All of them stood in shock as Alara stood right in the heart of the Aphasia-cursed zone.
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