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Wounded Warriors by Wildmoon
Chapter 9 : Moments of Shadows and Moments of Simplicity
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 5

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The door closed behind him, and Severus heard the heavy clang of deadbolts as Witte and the guard engaged the locks they had so painstakingly undone only minutes before. He found himself in another long corridor with skittering sounds and dimly lit torches. A rat appeared from a nearby murder-hole chittering at the unwanted intrusion before vanishing. Severus looked around; the corridor was filled with murder-holes and he nodded as something slid over the holes in the ceiling making a noise that sounded like disapproval. He had decided his first day as a prisoner that he didn't want to know what was on the other side of those holes, and that decision remained firmly intact.

He moved through the corridor, his footfalls muffled by the myriad array of cobwebs filling the corners and woven between the torches that ignited on his approach. Dozens of spiders shuffled this way and that as they passed, dark eyes following his movements and Severus managed to move without catching a single strand of webbing. As elsewhere, thick bars of cold iron greeted him. He pulled on the winch, watching as a number of gears moved through their motions, resulting in the gate slowly opening for him. Words had been carved into the back wall of the lift. 'Please grip the hand-holds.' Snape looked around, seeing small bars inset within recessed spaces of the walls roughly the size of a human hand. Webs filled the spaces, and Severus covered his hand with this sleeve to clear them out.

“Prisoner, please.” No person spoke, just a voice in the lift.

“Antonin Dolohov.... wait...” Snape paused.

“Prisoner, please,” the voice repeated.

"He's going to teach me magic, Professor," Severus remembered the conversation "Real power! Things that haven't been known for hundreds of years... and I get to be part of that! We'll be able to work together, Professor Snape! Thank you so much for taking all that extra time with me as a student. Without it I could never have gotten the Dark Lord's attention."

“Bill Blackhearth,” he decided.

“William Blackhearth,” the voice informed him. “Death Eater convicted of multiple crimes against Wizendom. Prisoner Blackhearth resides in cell block Seven North. Please stand by for examination. Any attempt to bring contraband or weapons into Seven North will result in the lift brakes disengaging."

"You could have mentioned that earlier," Severus told the voice.

He stood perfectly still as a silver winged orb slightly larger than a Snitch with metal tail feathers dropped into view from above, stopping directly in front of his eyes. The orb opened revealing a single violet eye that slowly circled Snape's head, his chest, his waist and his legs before popping back up to meet his eye.

“Visitor Identified. Severus Snape, current Defense against Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please present the quill given to you in the Welcoming Center.”

Snape produced the requested instrument. The eye stared at it for several moments. “Thank you,” the voice continued, “Keep the quill safe, you will need it to leave."

Snape gripped the handhold tightly as the lift shuddered into motion, hurling itself to the left as flashes of torchlight flickered past. Just as he stabilized his footing, the lift slammed to a stop then thrust upward. He gripped tighter just as the upward motion ceased and avoided being hurled into the ceiling before it lurched forward and stopped a final time.

"You have arrived at cell block Seven North, Prisoner Blackhearth is in cell five. Remain within the yellow lines. Should you make any attempt to step outside the lines and make physical contact with a prisoner, Azkaban Prison cannot be held responsible for the result."

The cold iron gate cranked open and the eye drifted up and away. He looked down the corridor in front of him and noticed that the torches had no effect on the movements of the shadows as they slithered this way and that along the walls and across the floor. Four more stone statues waited at irregular intervals through the corridor, each intruding slightly on the narrow strip between the yellow lines.

Unlike the 'common' cells on the first floor, the Death Eaters had small, cramped cells. They were no longer chained to their walls; but they still found it difficult to move very far in any given direction.

“There he is,” said a voice Severus hated to admit was very familiar, “To what do we owe a visit from the vilest, most cowardly traitor to the greatest wizard who will ever live?”

“Amycus,” Snape passed the cell to ignore the foul man as much as possible.

“You had us fooled, traitor!” Amycus shouted, “All introverted, all silent. We didn't realize it was shame! Shame for betraying your Lord! He took you in, even with your half blood status, and you repaid him with betrayal and death for that little boyfriend of yours! You have no place here, traitor!” Around him other voices from other cells raised up questioning who might be visiting.

Severus continued walking and found himself in front of cell five. A young blonde man, his fair skin bruised, sat on his cot, reading.

“Professor Snape!” Bill Blackhearth looked up, startled, and closed the book. His frame, plump and pudgy in his youth, had grown thin and pale in prison. Severus sighed at the results of his greatest student as the voices around him quieted down to listen.

“I have a question for you, Mr. Blackhearth,” Severus said simply as he pulled a parchment out of his pocket.

“Don't answer him, boy,” Yaxley's smooth voice from the cell across the way threatened, “Whatever he wants, it's nothing to do with you.”

Bill kept his eyes focused on Severus, but his hand absently reached to the bruises on his face. “P-Professor...” he managed, but fear held his tongue. His eyes said everything his voice could not.

“You don't call him 'Professor', half-blood,” Yaxley ordered, “You call him 'traitor.' It's his fault you're in here, boy.”

“I can see this will need to be dealt with, excuse me.” Severus nodded to Bill then turned around to face the former head of Magical Law Enforcement, sitting on his cot. He looked both softer and rounder after his year and a half of captivity; his trademark white ponytail had been roughly cut, leaving his hair hanging down about his face making him look much older than he was. He had finished his breakfast tray and slowly sipped a cup of what appeared to be pumpkin juice as a mouse scuttled about looking for crumbs. “Hello Yaxley,” Severus said; his voice even.

“Traitor,” Yaxley spat.

“Do you know what the word 'Yaxley' means, Bill? It means 'cuckoo-wood', and the cuckoo is a parasitic bird. That's the name of one of the most feared men in Britain. By the proof of his own name, this man is nothing more than a troublesome parasite.”

“I'll show you parasite, half-blood,” Yaxley growled standing up. “Just get within reach... I dare you.”

“Tell me about the Manchester Experiment. Dolohov would have reported all his findings to you.”

“What of it?” the man hissed.

“How did it work?”

Yaxley laughed and took a final swig of his juice and made his way casually to the narrow door. “You lied to us for nearly twenty years,” he said, his voice as soft as it was lethal, “What in the Dark Lord's name makes you think I will help you, or allow that pathetic half-blood to do the same?”

Behind him, Bill gulped as the shadows began to cluster and slide their way towards Yaxley’s cell.

“There's a curse spreading through Hogwarts,” Severus ignored Yaxley’s insults, “and it's affecting pureblood and Muggle-born alike. Paul Groundsell's son it picked up over summer and brought back.”

He held up the parchment, “this rune was drawn on the stopper to a flask of altered Veritaserum. Recognize it?”

“No,” Yaxley said automatically, “And neither does Blackhearth, right boy?”

“The Blood Purge" Bill said, then gasped, holding his hand over his mouth.

“Keep your silence half-blood,” Yaxley's voice lowered again, “or there will be more coming for you during exercise hour.”

“What are you going to do?” Bill asked, “Kill me? Is that supposed to frighten me? The only way I leave here is to go to that cursed cemetery outside the walls. Doesn't matter whether it happens tonight or in fifty years.” He sighed and rested his head against the cool iron bars of his cell door, closing his eyes against the pictures forming in his mind. “That got loose at Hogwarts? Where'd it get opened?”

“Slytherin Common Room,” Severus answered, turning back to the young man and using his past relationship to ease his manner in hopes of gleaning a cure from him. "Nearly half of Slytherin House is making about as much sense as your average Gryffindor."

"Has it exploded yet? Has there been an explosion of orange fog that smells like leech juice?"

Severus shook his head. "Why would that happen?"

“Do. Not. Help. Him,” Yaxley warned.

"Bill...." Severus implored. "There are children affected. Innocent children who were too young to be anything but victims of the war."

Bill shook his head, “I can't help you, Professor... you know what it's like in here... and it's gotten worse for people like me since you escaped."

"People like you?"'

"Half-blood followers of half-blood traitors," Yaxley spat. "He looked up to you. He respected you. See the good that's done him?"

Bill nodded. "They can't take it out on you, so they take it out on me. I write to my family, I try to apologize, I ask for some kind of contact, even if it's a howler shouting how much they hate me – something!” He let out a sigh that seemed more like a sob. “Nothing. I get nothing. These Death Eaters... they're all I have.”

“You have no power here, Snape,” Yaxley boasted moving back to sit down, “You have nothing to offer us, nothing to scare us with, you're nothing here. So tuck your tail between your legs like a good dog and whimper your way out of here.”

The shadows flickered again, seeming to move back to their original posts.

“I see,” Snape reached into his pocket and touched his trump card.

“I... I'm sorry.” Bill mumbled.

“Before I go, Yaxley, I have a little story to tell you. It's about my trip to Ireland last summer.”

“I'm not sure I'm capable of caring less about your travels, Snape.”

Severus took a step toward Yaxley's cell, his feet on the yellow line. He felt the faintest tingle of magic, the protective wards that separated him from the shadows. “While I was there, I had a rather unfortunate encounter with a hag and rescued a little village girl of about eight. After dealing with the hag, I returned the girl to her Muggle grandmother.”

“How... gracious,” Yaxley scoffed as he picked his book up, “A Muggle brat to its Muggle brat master. I am touched.”

“Oh,” Severus managed a truly wicked smile, “I never said she was Muggle girl. I said Muggle grandmother. The girl is a witch. Her mother is a witch. Her mother was a witch: her mother died in an accident, but the girl was never returned to her father, since he could not be found. As it turns out, I know exactly where her father is. Here, take a look. This is a Muggle photograph, it doesn't move. Still, the tale it tells is true enough.

“I don't care for your pets, Snape!”

Still facing Yaxley, Severus held up the photograph to Bill, who gasped. “Is that real? You said the grandmother was a Muggle?”

Severus nodded. "As was the grandfather. Immigrants who settled in Ireland fifteen years ago."

Yaxley turned, and Severus turned the photograph back to him.

Yaxley's face paled when he saw the girl. A young, blonde girl with pale hair, a sharp chin, and thin, taut lips. Her blue eyes and round cheeks must have come from her mother, but there could be no doubt that Yaxley stared into the face of his daughter.

Bill's voice whispered with realization, “Which means that the girl's mother was Muggle-born.”

Yaxley lunged forward, his arm jabbing through the cold iron bars, reaching for the photograph tantalizingly close to his reach. “Give that here!” he demanded.

Further down the corridor voices raised again, this time with questions. The stone statues turned their head toward them and raised their great swords as the shadows noticeably moved toward Yaxley.

“Bring that here I tell you!” he demanded.

“Prisoner Yaxley will return to his cell,” said a voice from nowhere. Severus felt certain that, for a moment, he had seen several pairs of bright, flickering eyes of orange in the corners staring at them. Yaxley saw them too, and as he withdrew his hand the shadows also withdrew: the stone guards remained vigilant with their weapons raised.

“Yaxley?” Amycus asked, “What is it? What does he have?”

“They'll never believe it,” Yaxley whispered, his voice desperate. "As I said before, you have no power here."

Severus stepped forward fully across the yellow line, and up to the cold iron bars of Yaxley's cell. Yaxley looked for the shadows or the statues but nothing happened. Behind them, Bill Blackhearth gasped.

“She lied to me!” Yaxley growled, “She lied! I left the minute I found out the truth. I would never intentionally sully my blood with an inferior animal like that! I'd have killed her if I'd known that she got pregnant.”

“Are you telling me,” Severus whispered, “That the great champion of blood purity, and the murderer of hundreds of mixed blood witches and wizards, couldn't tell the difference between a pureblood and a muggle-born? She had to tell you after you slept with her?”

"You're dead Snape," Yaxley threatened softly. "You and anyone your traitorous heart cares about."

“Don't think for one moment your fellow blood-purity followers will understand that you let such an 'inferior animal' deceive you.”

Yaxley growled at the Muggle photograph, willing it to disappear. It didn't.

“I will be asking Mr. Blackhearth some questions now,” Severus said, “And you are going to read your book. Furthermore, I will be in regular correspondence with this young man from now on in an attempt to guide him along a better path. Should I, even once, hear of him so much as stubbing his toe in the exercise yard, you can rest assured that I will send this photograph and a full explanation of her lineage to any number of interested parties, including the editors of The Daily Prophet and the Lovegood lunatic. I know you get both publications here, Yaxley. He stubs his toe and I will make certain that your inability to distinguish between bloodlines will literally be... Front. Page. News.”

Yaxley sat down and picked up his book, growling.

Severus returned to the safety of the yellow lines and turned to Bill. "Close your mouth, you look like a fish."

Bill did so, but his eyes remained as wide as saucers. "How did you do that? The shadows... they should have....”

Severus pocketed his muggle picture. "You must be careful with this information, you misuse it, they will kill you. Understand?”

Bill nodded, “What do you want to know?”

“Everything. Tell me about the potion. You spoke of a fog. What is that?”

Bill paced in his cell, "The Dark Lord was furious that so many mudbl... so many Muggle-borns and Muggle sympathizers were escaping Britain. He didn't want them gone, he wanted them dead.”

“I'm intimately familiar with his goals,” Severus reminded the man.

Bill gulped and nodded. "He... Dolohov ordered me to make a small, tactical weapon to be used to shut down the Resistance cells – close off escape routes. Trap them inside Britain where they could be eliminated. That... vial was created to do exactly that... it has three curses, each worse than the last. The... the mole... the...”

“Paul Groundsell was expendable,” Snape finished, “a suicide mission.”

“His job was the Sussex cell,” Bill said. “It... it was Alara Ayoni--.”

“You know the group,” Yaxley said, “Where you got your guard dogs last spring? The great traitor and lover of Mudbloods; dependent on them for his miserable life.”

Severus turned his head slightly, "I thought you were reading your book?"

Yaxley lowered his eyes back down, but listened intently.

Bill continued, emboldened by Severus' ability to control Yaxley. “The aphasia was a generic curse, to be spilled inside their tent. It was designed to prevent any possibility of the cell formulating a response, the second curse is a psychic fog designed to stimulate paranoia and instill a desire for combat. I put that in as an act of mercy."

Severus swallowed hard, "An act of mercy?"

Bill nodded as tears formed in his eyes, "You know how you had your moment of clarity when the Dark Lord targeted Lily Potter? I had mine when I saw Dolohov's plans for this weapon. He wanted them to die slowly, painfully. I finally saw the Death Eaters for how cruel they really were, and I saw my own mistakes with a simplicity that keeps me up at night to this day. But I'm not brave like you are Professor, I'm not brave and I had no way out!"

Severus stepped again over the yellow lines, putting his hands directly on Bill's cell bars. Again, the shadows did nothing. "How is designing a curse that forces them to fight each other an act of mercy?"

"Because it's better than phase three." He plopped down on his cot in despair and took a moment to gather himself. "But it was specifically designed for Alara; they wanted her around when it struck. As long as she stays away from the anchor say... five meters or so, then the curse will stay stuck at phase one. You can't let her near the anchor holding that curse in place. If you do, within 72 hours there won't be a living soul left inside Hogwarts."

"Write down everything you know. Now."

"It was so real. Meet-up rock, the was a family of four that we'd hidden in Benoit Beauchamp's flat!"

"I'm not surprised; this was one hell of a psychic curse: and it was specifically keyed to you." Rachel picked up the full scroll of information Minerva and Brandon had gathered with the Dark Definer after the fog had cleared and handed it to Alara, who immediately spied her name in ancient Celtic runes in several places. "It probably recognized you the first time you were in the Slytherin Common Room, then it went into a countdown mode and activated at a pre-arranged moment."

"Me? How? Why?"

"As for the 'how', I think it's the same magic that a wand uses to recognize its owner. As for the 'why', if Paul Groundsell was specifically assigned to take out your cell, it would make sense that it would be keyed to react to you. 'Cut off the head of the snake', that kind of thing. Speaking of heads, how's yours?"

Alara forced a smile on her face, "Remember the hangover we both had the day after we graduated from here?"

Rachel chuckled as began mixing up a restorative, "How many shots did we do that night?"

"Let's for winning each Quidditch Cup, one for winning the House Cup, then we started toasting all our N.E.W.T. Professors--- including, I might add, our Potions Professor."

"Yes, but as I recall, your toast to him ran something along the lines of 'May we never have to see that awful git again!' And you did it standing on the bonnet of my dad's car--" Rachel began laughing.

"Oh Merlin. Then we had to try and polish the foot prints off without magic because you had Muggle neighbors...."

"And we only got half the car done- the left half!"

"Your dad was so mad the next morning...." Alara began laughing too, only to be wracked by another coughing fit.

"Alara..." Rachel began when it finally subsided.

Alara waived her friend off, "No, don't. Please. The day I stormed out of his trial Minister Shackleblot warned me that I hadn't defended him for the last time. I knew he was right. It was only a matter of time."

"Yeah, but you probably didn't expect your first attack to come from your bestie. I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too. And you're right, he still goes out of his way to punish Gryffindor, and I went out of my way spending Halloween catering to Lily's memory rather than building our own. Things need to change."

"Look, you've had over a year to get used to this 'new wizard.' I've had less than twenty four hours. Give me some time, huh?"

"Yeah," Alara agreed then downed the restorative. "Why is he invulnerable to this?"

"Why is he what?"

"Invulnerable," Alara answered. "He's walked that Common Room, he directed the evacuation. He has to have stepped through the curse area. Why isn't he affected by the curse?"

Rachel shook her head, "That's a good question. I'll add it to my ever growing list."

Brandon Brewer knocked on the open door, "How you holding up, Munchkin?" Behind him, Minerva levitated the Pensieve from her office into the room.

"Kind of getting tired of everyone asking me that. How's Michael?"

"Broken arm, Poppy's healing it now. He'll be right as rain in about ten minutes, with a face full of scratches to show off. I think he's hoping they turn into battle scars."

"My God, I nearly killed him." Alara coughed deeply for several seconds, and then returned to sitting her throbbing head in her hands as she sat on a makeshift exam table.

Rachel nodded as she pulled a third, and final memory from Alara's temple. "Well, I can tell you this, that fireplace in Slytherin House isn't going to be threatening anyone again anytime soon."

Alara snorted. "Any word from Severus?"

Michael shook his head, "Not yet, but that's not unexpected. Even when he hears, he won't get here any sooner. Everything got re-worked after the war. There are wards around the prison, there are wards around the wards, there's a permanent anti-apparition charm on the boat, and the Floo connection is permanently restricted to head-only travel."

"Was his trip really necessary?"

"It was," Minerva answered. "And in light of what has happened, even more-so. Hufflepuff students are quickly developing the same cough you and Michael have. It could take days for Rachel to get through all the information we have here. Severus could have those answers before nightfall."

Rachel nodded as she put her wand up to Alara's forehead and began extracting another memory. "Much as I hate to admit it, Minerva is right. This latest episode really has us back at square one, and I'm worried about that cough: it's not responding to any of Poppy's normal restoratives."

"What're the memories?" Brandon asked glancing at three carefully laid out vials, two of which were already filled with the swirling not liquid/not gas. It struck him as sad that the life of a witch could be categorized and labeled like a potion ingredient, but then he wasn't a research healer.

We thought that since we're at Hogwarts that memories tied to the castle would be the strongest and most able to help us with the information we need," Rachel answered as she gave a cursory examination to the memory as it flowed out of Alara's head and wrapped around her wand.

"We're using our sorting," Alara answered grimacing slightly as the last bits of the memory floated from her temple to Rachel's wand. "Because we both went through that together--"

"Although we may remember it just slightly differently...." Rachel and Alara shared a look that spoke of a long-standing inside joke.

"And our first and last Ravenclaw Rituals," Alara finished.

"Ravenclaw what?" Michael asked.

"Ravenclaw Rituals. We have two of them every year, one to welcome the first years, and a second one in the spring to say good bye to graduating seventh years. This is our first year ritual. After the Welcoming Feast first years are formally invested with the Ravenclaw colors and officially welcomed to the House. It's a pretty big deal, full of tradition, pomp and fanfare. Don't your Houses do anything?"

"We roast marshmallows and have hot chocolate by the fire," Brandon smiled. "We take some time to get to know all the first years, and the Fat Friar always stops by to tell funny stories."

"What does all that have to do with this curse?" Minerva wondered what Slytherin House did.

Rachel drained the memory from her wand into the flask and put it up next to the other two. "These are all things we went through it together, so I'll know if anything is wrong with the memory. After the curse takes effect, we'll pull the same memories from her. Maybe comparing the two will give us some idea of where in her brain the curse is located; give us some idea of how to fight this thing."

"How long do I have?"

"I don't know," Rachel answered, her face changing from cold intellect to concern for her friend. "The first two victims fell within just a few hours, it could be any time."

"Brandon, I know that you've been very intentional about building a friendship with Severus over the last couple of months. If this doesn't--"

"Hey, stop counting Rachel out," Brandon began.

"I'm not. But if this doesn't go well for me, promise me you won't let up on that. I know he's not perfect, and he's got this horrible past but he's trying. He's trying so hard. I --" Alara's voice cracked as her eyes filled up with tears.


"I didn't... We didn't get a chance to work things out after we fought, and now he's gone and I don't know that I'm going to have a chance to talk to him, or argue Quidditch with him, or even spend another night reading by the fire--" she was forced to stop by another coughing fit.

"Shhhhh," Brandon said softly as she moved to hold Alara. "Shh, shhh. shhhh."

Alara's face contorted as lost control of her emotions. Crying was the last thing she wanted to do when half of Slytherin House was already in the same condition she was headed toward. She was frightened and she was ashamed of being frightened, and the news that this curse was aimed at her made her feel devastatingly guilty. Right now, Severus was facing Merlin only knew what in Azkaban because she had brought destruction to the school she loved.

Brandon held on to her gently, offering reassurance. "I know how hard this is, but you have to be strong for us, ok? Believe me; he knows how much you love him. He loves you too Munchkin, he just can't put that to words yet. Now just relax and let us take care of you, ok?"

"Promise me Brandon. Promise me please."

Brandon's voice was calm and reassuring. "I'm not going to give up on Severus, I promise you. Don't you give up on Rachel."

Rachel joined them, "Your boyfriend may be the biggest pain in the arse I know of, but I wouldn't be a healer if you hadn't pulled me through ditto. For you."

"You're going to make friends with Severus?" Alara said with a skeptical smirk as she pulled out her wand and conjured a tissue.

"Ahh... no. But I do promise to not blow him to smithereens. I think that's enough for me, don't you?"

"Can I have that promise in the form of an unbreakable vow?"

"Would you settle for a pinky promise?"

Alara chuckled which sent her back into another coughing fit. When it subsided there was the faint taste of blood in her mouth. She reached for a nearby glass of water and ignored it.

"Done with our pity party, are we?" Minerva asked and Alara nodded her agreement. "Good. I want you over in the hospital wing resting."

"I'd rather be here, trying to help; make use of whatever time I have left."

Rachel nodded, "I could really use a lab assistant who knows how I work, and Poppy's awfully busy with the students."

"That's everything I know," Bill Blackhearth said as he slid the parchment through the cell bars careful to keep his fingers inside the bars, away from the watchful shadows. "May I ask you something?"

Severus nodded.

"Did you mean what you said before? About staying in contact with me?"

Severus nodded again.

"Thank you," the gratitude in Bill's voice was overwhelming, "May I ask a favor of you?"

Severus nodded; it was genuinely hard to watch someone who once held such promise to be reduced to pitiable irrelevance.

Bill dropped his voice to a whisper, "Would please protect that little girl? If her face gets splattered all over the paper, she'll never live her father's name down and she doesn't deserve that. Keep her safe, even if it means my life."

A faint smile nearly crossed Severus's face. "I thought you said you weren't brave?"

"Like I said before: the only way I leave this cellblock is in a coffin. I'm not brave, Professor: I'm just hoping God will be more forgiving than my family."

Severus nodded his acknowledgement and took his leave with the parchment.

"Professor?" Bill had one final question. "The shadows.... they should have... you shouldn't have been able to do that."

Severus smiled, "I spent years hiding the truth from the greatest, most brilliant dark wizard this world will ever know. Prison security does not worry me."

He entered the lift, not daring breathe a sigh of relief at being out of the North wing until the hurtling ride was over and Severus stepped back into spider web filled corridor. As he approached the far door that would take him back into the lower security cells another small silver orb slid out from a small hole where a doorknob should have been.

"Please present your quill," the voice from nowhere returned.

Severus slid the quill out of his pocket and laid it on a small table that suddenly appeared next to the door.

"Please wait."

As Severus waited, his thoughts turned back to Hogwarts. Alara had been in the area of the anchor. Had she been closer than five meters? Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a pair of orange eyes staring at him from above the door. Behind him a low groan that was a cross between extreme pain and extreme anger came from the lift on the other end. He took a moment to decide if he wanted to look and see what was making the noise.

The door unlocked and opened, a cantankerous Thaddeus Witte rushed into the room with a handful of quills. Behind him, the guards had taken up the same positions as before; all the stone statues had lined the door with shimmering silver shields. "Out. Past the statues. Now!" he ordered as he moved the table further down the corridor, dumping the quills on them, then turning and running for the exit, shoving Severus out in front of him.

Indira Chaudhary slammed the door tightly shut behind him and two statues leaned against it with their shields as two of the other guards used their wands to work the locks. In the corridor he had just left, the agonizing groan became a frenzy of scratching and howls that chilled them all to the bone. When the tumult finally grew silent Severus tried to move, but his limbs felt like he was slogging through a treacle pond with blocks on. Somehow he knew there were no more quills and no more table. He wondered if the spiders had survived.

Thaddeus used his wand to conjure a handkerchief to wipe his brow. "That was some stunt you pulled up there Professor Snape. I don't know how you managed that, and I don't WANT to know how you managed that. Those quills are Phoenix feathers: do you know how expensive those things are?? I'm sending the bill for this straight to Hogwarts." Around him, the other guards also stood down, but not without condemning glares cast at Severus.

Severus continued to stare at the door. "What were those?"

"The Phoenix feathers are a kind of doggie treats for the shadows." Indira answered holstering her wand.

"And the shadows are what precisely?"

Captain Mifune's voice cut through the argument. "There's been a floo call from Hogwarts. My ship sails in twenty minutes."

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