DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Caius the Raven, Verloc Morgenstein, Caligula Snape, Pina Snape, and Nicholas Malfoy all belong to Draquonelle, who lets me borrow all her OCs. The gut wrencher curse is from R. J. Anderson's Darkness and Light trilogy.
Posted by: Elspeth (AKA Elspethdixon).
Author's notes: Thanks to Draq for letting me steal Verloc (he's so cool) and for cringing in all the right places. This is for the people on the Snapefans yahoogroup who complained that there weren't enough Evil!Sev fics out there, and for my shipmates on the S.S. Icicle.
This story is in the same continuity as "Not All Scars are Visible." Oddly enough, it's also in the same continuity as "Gravity" (not too hard, since the only real difference between the Scars-verse and the Gravity-verse is who I pair Sirius with).
"People in masks cannot be trusted."
"We must not only punish traitors, but all people who are not enthusiastic. There are only two kinds of citizens, the good and the bad. The Republic owes to the good its protection. To the bad it owes only death." ---Louis Antoine de Saint-Just
The raid on the Cyphers' house should have gone smoothly. They were to break in, take care of the Ministry cryptographer and his wife, and emerge again with the key to the Light side's new security codes and encryption spells firmly in their possession. The whole operation would have taken a mere two or three hours, once Avery had gone to work on the couple. That was how things should have gone. Instead, the six Death Eaters had broken through the Cyphers' defensive wards to find a squad of aurors waiting for them.
Severus felt a thrill of triumph as the last shreds of the anti-apparition ward parted beneath his spell, fading away like a stone wall dissolving into smoke. He nodded once, and Lucius, anonymous behind his blank white mask, raised a hand and motioned toward the house, ordering the strike team into the target area. Therezia and Antoine Lestrange exchanged a long glance, clasping hands briefly—for luck, or some such sentimental thing, Severus supposed, and then, as one, apparated away. Severus, Lucius, Avery and Rosier followed a moment later, only to re-appear in the middle of a disaster.
The world had scarcely steadied around them when gold-robed forms launched themselves out of the shadows of the darkened house, wands out and hexes already cast. Only the fact that Death Eaters always apparated with wands drawn and ready saved them all from immediate capture.
Bright flashes of light and muffled thumps shook the room, and from the corner of his eyes, Severus saw a framed picture fly loose to land against the opposite wall, its occupants shouting imprecations. Then his surroundings ceased to exist as his world narrowed down to consist solely of the auror in front of him, a massive man whose ginger mustache clashed horribly with his gold robes. He deflected the man's hex and took him down with a petrifying curse, hearing the man's head strike the wooden floor with a sickening crack as he fell. Severus spun round to face a half sensed presence behind him, wand raised to block, and then a shrill, undeniably feminine scream cut through the room.
Despite himself, Severus's head whipped around to pinpoint the source of the cry, and he caught a momentary glimpse of Therezia, collapsed on the floor in a fetal ball, before something struck him on the side of the face, and everything went away. Suddenly, Evan Rosier had him by the arm, his grip like iron pinchers. How had he gotten there? Severus's knees would not hold him up, and the floor and walls tilted crazily. Rosier was yelling something, but the words sounded scrambled and far away. And then the world dissolved into darkness.
Lucius's blood felt frozen in his veins as he re-raised the wards on Malfoy Manor, and his wand very nearly shook in his hand. They were safe here, had to be safe. The Ministry would not think to follow them there, not to a respectable pureblood household. Especially not a respectable pureblood house hold with defences strong enough to stop a small army (which they had done, occasionally, several centuries past).
He didn't even think to protest as Antoine shoved past him through the front door, Therezia's writhing form cradled in his arms. Avery barreled in after him, with Rosier's stocky form bringing up the rear. A much thinner figure sagged limply against the big man, hooded head lolling. This was bad. This was very bad. There were high expectations placed on the members of the Dark Lord's upper echelons, and Lucius had worked hard to rise to his current level. To have a raid that he had lead end in so spectacular a failure…
"Get Narcissa," he snapped at the flustered house elf that popped into existence beside him. "And I want bandages and hot water, and all the medical supplies we've got. Take them to the largest guest bedroom, on the second floor. Go, you stupid creature!"
The elf let out a squeak and vanished, displaced air closing back into the space he had left behind with an audible whump.
Throwing his hood back and yanking his mask off, Lucius lead Antoine up the main staircase and down a corridor to the guest bedroom, where the other man laid his wife gently down on the bed. Avery and Rosier crowded in behind the three of them, dragging Severus between them.
Antoine snapped his wand in the direction of Therezia's robes, slicing the fabric neatly away from her body while simultaneously removing the mask from her face. Beneath the robes, her shift was soaked with blood, and further streams of it poured forth from her mouth as she twisted and groaned in pain.
There was a sharp gasp from the doorway and Lucius turned to see Narcissa standing just inside the room, a house elf laden with bandages and potions vials in tow. She was staring, white-faced, at Therezia, blue eyes wide as she watched the other woman's blood seep into her hand-embroidered bedspread and expensive silk sheets.
"I had Dobby bring everything," she announced, with hardly a tremor in her voice. "But without a mediwizard, I'm not certain what we should use. I think some of this hasn't been touched since Nicholas died, and there aren't any instructions."
Lucius firmly suppressed a rising thread of panic at the thought of Therezia dying in his best guest room, leaving him to explain to Voldemort that they'd lost one of his best duelists and torturers because they hadn't known what treatment to give her.
"It looks like a gut-wrencher curse," Avery volunteered, eying Therezia's stricken form. "She'll be bleeding inside, more and more as her organs twist apart. Lestrange has stopped the curse doing any more damage, but the countercurse won't undo what's been done already, and it can't make the bleeding stop."
Alright then, the first objective was obviously to stem that increasingly alarming-looking flow of blood. "Severus will know how," he heard himself saying, as he crossed the room to pull back the younger wizard's hood. "One of those potions has to block bleeding."
Severus's mask had cracked down one side from the force of some auror's blow, and blood was trickling from underneath it where the jagged edges of the split had been driven into his cheekbone. Lucius plucked the damaged mask from the potion brewer's face and grasped him firmly by the chin, forcing his head up. Severus's eyes were glazed and half-lidded, and he still sagged on his feet, kept upright only by Rosier's arm about his shoulders.
"What do we give her, Severus?" Lucius demanded. No response. He gave Severus's shoulder a shake. "Bleeding, Severus. What stops bleeding?"
Severus's eyes focused on Lucius, and he repeated the question. "What stops bleeding?'
"Take Witch Hazel, Dragon's Blood, and Cobweb…" his voice began to trail off again.
Lucius slapped him lightly on the untouched side of his face. "Severus! Internal bleeding. What potion stops it?"
Severus suddenly seemed to notice Therezia, whose moans had begun to grow fainter. His focus immediately became much sharper. "Try a blood-steming draught. It should have 'Cobweb and Witch Hazel' written on the side. Or 'Cayenne in Dragon's Blood.'"
Narcissa began pulling vials out of the basket at a frantic pace, glancing at labels briefly before tossing them aside. Ten vials in, she finally stopped and held one up. "This says 'Cobweb and Hamamelis virginiana."
"That's the scientific name for Witch Hazel," Severus mumbled. "Lucius," he added, "stop shaking me or I will hex you. You're making my head hurt. Even more."
Antoine snatched the vial out of Narcissa's hand and bent over Therezia, pouring it down her throat and holding her nose until she swallowed. Everyone waited for an interminable half-minute until her violent twisting and writhing slowed, to be replaced by whimpers and stillness.
"What now?" Rosier spoke for the first time, voice hushed in the suddenly quiet room.
"Now I see how much of her is damaged," Avery said flatly, his emotionless demeanor failing to completely hide the odd gleam in his eyes.
Antoine quickly interposed himself between the other Death Eater and Therezia's still form.
"Stay away from my wife, Avery," he snarled. "She's not some muggle for you to experiment on."
"Would you rather try and take her to the casualty department at St. Mungo's? And try explaining to the mediwizards just how she got this way?"
Antoine was silent, face twisted with anguish and indecision. "You don't have any formal training," he protested.
"If you take something apart often enough, you eventually figure out how to put it back together." Avery smiled, a disturbingly shark-like expression. "Muggles call it 'reverse engineering.'"
"Lestrange," Lucius ordered, "let Avery look at her. Avery, no… ah, unnecessary spells."
Despite himself, Lucius found himself leaning forward in interest as Avery began slowly sweeping his wand over Therezia's body. Out of the corner of his eye, he half-sensed, half-saw Narcissa move up beside him. She was still wearing a nightrobe, he realized, the burgundy silk peignoir emphasizing her very pregnant belly. In the candlelight, the fabric gleamed the same colour as Therezia's blood.
"What happened?" she whispered, voice low so as not to distract Avery—not that anything could, once his attention was absorbed. He was a little like Severus in that respect, though Severus usually preferred less… messy… disciplines.
"We were ambushed," Lucius breathed back. "At least twelve Aurors; two full squads."
Narcissa saw the implications immediately. "They knew you were coming. They knew where, and when, and if they've got the first two, they probably know why as well. Unless it could have been a lucky guess?"
"No one outside of this room knew we were making the hit tonight, or which house we were hitting. Except the Dark Lord, of course." He paused for a moment, then added thoughtfully, "And Verlock, I suppose, since he's the one who provided the information." He shook his head. It wasn't him, couldn't be either of the Lestranges, for obvious reasons. Rosier wasn't bright enough to be a spy, Severus was too loyal, and Avery… no, it couldn't be Avery. The idea that Voldemort might be the traitior was too ridiculous even to contemplate, and Verloc… The day Verloc Morgenstein helped a muggle or mudblood was day the older wizard would spit on his family's unknown and unmarked graves.
Avery looked up, his examination apparently complete. "Most of it is fixable, but there's a lot of damage to the uterus. I think I'm going to have to cut her open."
"Oh my god," Narcissa moaned, pressing one hand against her own abdomen. She began backing towards the door, closely followed by Rosier.
"Do, do you have to?" Antoine asked, voice shaking. "Can't you just…" he made a vague gesture with one hand.
Avery shook his head. "As you so kindly pointed out, I'm not a mediwizard. I don't think even the best St. Mungo's has to offer could fix this with a charm, though." He paused, staring down at the now unconscious Therezia meditatively. "So much damage from two little words. Rather impressive when you thing about it."
Lucius decided then and there that he would rather not think about it. "You can… heal her back up, after you've, ah, taken it out?" he ventured cautiously.
"Of course," Avery protested. "I wouldn't even try it if I couldn't. Not with Lestrange here ready to cut me open in turn if I make a mistake."
"Ah. Good." Lucius nodded, trying to look decisive. "Well, then, I don't think the rest of us need linger. Severus?"
Severus looked pathetically grateful to be offered an escape. "Yes?"
"If Avery can handle it from here, the rest of us have a report to make." Odd, but suddenly admitting failure to the Dark Lord seemed like the less painful of the two alternatives. Better than staying here and watching Avery perform emergency surgery on Therezia, contemplating the female reproductive organs and everything that could go wrong with them. If one more conscientious acquaintance reminded him and Narcissa that veela blood tended to cause miscarriages…
Severus started for the door, moving a trifle unsteadily, but still managing to stay on his own two feet. Lucius followed, pausing in the doorway to glance back at Antoine.
"I'm staying," the other wizard snapped. He glared menacingly at Avery. "Someone should. I should. I couldn't just, just wait…"
"Fine," Lucius said. "We'll make your excuses to the Dark Lord." He closed the door behind him, shutting out the gory bed and the smell of blood. Rosier, Severus, and Narcissa were waiting for him in the hallway.
"The Dark Lord is not going to be pleased about this," Narcissa said flatly, voice devoid of emotion.
"No," Lucius agreed. "He's not."
"We didn't even get what we were after, did we?" Severus asked. "That means we may have lost Therezia for nothing. We've lost people before, but we always managed to achieve our objectives anyway."
There was a brief silence as the four of them considered this.
"He's going to kill us," Rosier said. "He's going to bloody kill us. Or at least torture us. He doesn't like it when we fail."
The other wizard had echoed Lucius's own thoughts exactly. There didn't seem to be anything more to say. In silence, the three Death Eaters left the mansion. The portraits on the walls seemed to gaze at Lucius disapprovingly as he descended the stairs. Malfoys, their grey eyes seemed to say, do not let subordinates bleed all over the décor. They do not allow themselves to be ambushed. They do not place themselves in positions where they are forced to admit to failure. Their eyes were the only parts of them that could speak, as portraits in Malfoy Manor were traditionally spelled into enforced silence. Too many victims of patricide and fratricide might spill their secrets otherwise, and all those watchful painted faces could often be very inconvenient witnesses.
Apparating to the pre-arranged meeting place the Dark Lord had chosen was also conducted in silence. There were no last minute attempts at spin-doctoring the account of disaster, or "getting their stories straight." It was useless to lie to Voldemort. One way or another, he always found out.
Voldemort was waiting for them, standing with his arms folded in the darkened room—Lucius had never been able to figure out where exactly it was, or even if it was the same room every time—and he did not look happy. In fact, he looked decidedly un-happy.
"Lucius," he said evenly, red eyes pinning the head of the Malfoys with a disconcertingly piercing glare, "would you care to explain to me precisely why you are late?"
There was no point in being evasive. Playing coy and drawing the confession out would only increase the Dark Lord's anger. Lucius lifted his chin and squared his shoulders, trying to ignore the other Death Eaters grouped in a semi-circle around the room, watching him. Older men like Macnair and Mulciber, who resented Voldemort's entrusting a twenty-two year old with power and command. Severus had been accepted into the inner circle as a teen for to his ability with potions and hexes, Avery for his… unusual talents, Antoine and his wife for their unswerving dedication and contacts on the continent. Rosier was merely a footsoldier, a high class thug, like Crabbe and Golye. Lucius, who had been placed above them all, had merely his strategic skill and high success rate to validate the trust placed in him. That and his deep pockets. With no special magical skill, he was only as good as his last mission. And that mission had failed.
"We were ambushed, my lord." He spoke calmly, though he had to work to keep the fear out of his voice. His skin was already creeping in anticipation of the price of failure. "There were two squads of aurors waiting for us. We managed to avoid capture, but we did not accomplish our objective, and we took one casualty."
"Who?" Voldemort's voice was still even, but there was iron underneath. His face was impassive, expressionless, waiting for Lucius's answer. Somehow, it was even more unnerving than anger would have been. He expected anger. He deserved anger. Failures like tonight's were things they could not afford.
"Therezia Lestrange. She's at the manner. Avery and Lestrange are tending her. I thought it best to avoid coming into contact with any Ministry approved surgeons." Lucius dropped his gaze, unable to look at those penetrating red eyes any longer. He could feel Severus and Rosier at his back, both motionless, waiting, as he was, for the blow to fall.
"You have failed me."
"Yes, my lord," Lucius whispered. Behind him, Severus and Rosier echoed him, voices equally soft.
"You have failed me," The Dark Lord continued, "but fortunately for you, this failure was not caused by your own incompetence. There will be no punishment. This time."
They were being given a second chance. Lucius was suddenly filled with relief. He should have known that the Dark Lord would understand. He never meted out underserved punishments. And occasionally, as now, he held deserved ones in abeyance.
"Thank you, my lord." Lucius dropped to one knee, bowing his head. He ignored the quiet snigger he knew came from Macnair. He could get even later.
"You are merciful, my lord," Severus said, falling to his knees on the floorboards.
"Yes, merciful," Rosier echoed a heartbeat later. His voice was awed, grateful, surprised.
Voldemort accepted the thanks as his due, gliding over to lay a hand atop each bowed head and raise each kneeling Death Eater to his feet. A faint trickle of power hummed through those long fingers, stinging painfully in Lucius's hair. A reminded that tonight's debacle was forgiven, but would not be forgotten. His next mission had better not be a failure.
Voldemort paused when he came to Severus, tracing fingers over his injured cheekbone once the younger man was on his feet again.
"You are wounded, my alchemist," he commented, rubbing his bloody fingertips together pensively.
"It is nothing, my lord." Severus's shoulders straightened perceptively, and his chin went up proudly.
"Good. Do not let it impede your work, then. This ambush will require… cleaning up." He turned to Lucius again. "I trust you followed all of the security procedures?"
"Yes, lord," Lucius responded hurriedly. "No one but the six of us knew the target's location or the time of the raid. Well, the six of us and Verloc Morgenstein. I cannot think who must have leaked it to the Ministry," he confessed.
Red eyes bored into him. "You cannot? I am disappointed in you, Lucius. Security leaks have grown over the past few months, and there is only one among us who has been linked in some way to all of them."
"Think, Lucius. Put that slippery mind of yours to work." Voldemort took a step towards him, looming over him. Lucius drew himself up to his full height of five foot seven, mentally cursing the vela blood from his mother which had overpowered his father's Norman genes. He would not have felt nearly as intimidated had he been taller. Would he?
"Verloc?" he protested. "But, ah, my lord, he would not… He would never help those muggle-lovers or mudblood scum. Not after what the muggles did to his family."
The Dark Lord actually looked pained, eyes appearing almost sad. "Verloc always was an odd one. Who knows what goes through his mind." The emotion was gone as quickly as it had appeared. "He is the only plausible candidate. You would not risk the failure of one of your own missions, Avery would not treat with the ministry for fear of loosing the opportunity to indulge in his little pastimes, and the others do not have the proper connections. Verloc does. I need him removed."
"My lord," Macnair spoke up from his place by the wall, "I-"
"No," Voldemort said coldly. "Not you. You are apt to get carried away. This must be done quietly." He waved a hand towards Lucius and Severus. "They will do it. They have not your experience or finesse, but they are more business-like about it. And this is a matter of business." He turned away from Macnair, summarily dismissing him. "Lucius. Severus. I want you to deal with Verloc. I want it to be undetectable to casual autopsy, I want it to stay out of the papers, and I want it done soon." A hint of that peculiar sadness seemed to flicker for a moment in those inhuman eyes. "And I want it done quickly. Quickly, and without pain."
Verloc's street looked oddly innocuous in the early morning light. It was quiet and empty when Severus apparated in, most of the houses' inhabitants still sleeping. On his shoulder, Caius was cawing angrily, talons digging into his flesh so hard that they felt as if they were going to draw blood. The raven hated apparating with a passion. He much preferred being left behind in Severus's flat, where he could open jars and eat potions ingredients to his heart's content.
Lucius was waiting at the end of the street, leaning against one of the rather spindly looking plane trees that had been planted in a row down the edge of the sidewalk. He had obviously been there for some minutes, to judge by the look of impatience on his face.
"Severus, what possessed you to bring that thing with you?" he asked, straightening up from the tree trunk as the other man approached him. Despite the early hour and the events of the night before, he looked immaculate, hair gleaming like white gold in the shade of the tree and robes pressed and perfect. Lucius spent more money on his clothing than some women did. Severus wondered if he ought to inform him that it was unspeakably girly to wear robes which matched one's eyes, but decided against it.
"I never bring Caius on missions with me," he answered instead, reaching up to brush a finger against the bird's head. "And Verloc knows that."
"Sev-ah-rus," Caius croaked, accepting the caress as his due. He eyed Lucius suspiciously—he had never been particularly fond of him, extending his hatred of Lucius's giant eagle-owl Creon to include the larger bird's owner. "Sil-ver. Shy-nee." He wasn't fond of Lucius, but he was fascinated by the man's near-white hair. However, Caius was much smarter than he looked, so he settled for pulling strands of Severus's hair out of his owner's ponytail and nibbling on them.
"Fine," Lucius said. From closer up, he did not appear quite as immaculate as he had at a distance. Lack of sleep had painted dark, almost bruised-looking circles under his eyes, giving him an oddly fragile appearance. Severus never had been able to figure out why women seemed to find Lucius so irresistibly attractive. Privately, he had always felt that his cousin looked somewhat effeminate—which made the cold calculation lurking underneath that porcelain façade even more unnerving. "Bring the crow with you. Perhaps it will throw Verloc off balance. He's always been fond of animals." He turned and led the way towards the old wizard's house, robes flaring out dramatically as he moved. The fabric shimmered iridescently as the light struck it.
The morning sunshine danced over the rosebushes outside Verloc's door, making the dew scattered over them sparkle. Roses in mid-winter. It was a frivolous waste of magical power, but it did present an interesting aesthetic effect.
Lucius lifted the bronze knocker on the door and banged it down once, twice, three times. A few moments later the door was swung open to reveal Verloc Morgenstein, wearing a robe and slippers and holding a piece of toast spread with marmite in one hand. They had obviously interrupted the old wizard's breakfast.
"So," Verloc said, when he saw the pair of them standing on the stoop. "He's finally figured it out." He stepped back and held the door open for the two to enter.
"Who's figured what out?" Lucius asked, playing innocent. His eyes were clear and guileless in that oddly delicate face. He looked open, vulnerable, trusting. Severus himself would have been fooled, had he not known the mission they were on.
"It surprises me that it took this long," Verloc continued as he shut the door behind them, ignoring Lucius's question, "but then, Tom never was as twisty-minded as Cal and Nick."
"Verloc, what are you talking about?" Lucius was still trying for innocent. "We came here to see you. Severus and I thought you might like to know how last night's raid went. Look, Severus even brought his nasty familiar to say hello."
"Ver-lock," Caius croaked, on cue. "Raaat?" Normally, he barely tolerated Verloc Morgenstein, treating him with the same suspicion with which he confronted all members of the human race other than Severus himself, but he was always on the lookout for free food.
Verloc obediently offered the raven the crust of his toast, which Caius accepted somewhat huffily. He then turned to look down at Lucius, shaking his head gently. "Don't play games with me, sonny. You forget where I grew up. I've seen the Gestapo come to take people away. I know what it looks like. The two of you have come here to kill me. I can see it in your eyes." He sighed and smoothed his greying mustache. "It's fitting that Tom should send you two to do it. Caligula and Nicholas were his enforcers once. I suppose it's only to be expected that their sons would follow in their footsteps."
Something about Verloc's brown eyes, so sad and tired looking, sent a thread of guilt seeping into Severus's soul. He suddenly felt compelled to explain, to justify himself. "They were waiting for us last night, Verloc," he said tightly. "They ambushed us." His voice began rising, hurt and anger overpowering his misgivings, fraying at the edges of his self-control. "Therezia might die! Why? Why did you do it? The Dark Lord depended on you. You were with him from the start, from the very beginning. How could you turn against him to help them, after all they've done to you. They killed Isaac! How could you help them kill us? Are we less important to you than some muggle or mudblood you've never met?"
Verloc seemed to flinch slightly at the accusations, but his eyes stared straight into Severus's, and his voice was steady as he answered. "Because it has to stop. The torture, the terrorism, the killing, all of the innocents who die… It wasn't like this in the beginning. Tom, Cal, Nick, and I, we knew that muggles were dangerous. They couldn't be allowed to run the world, nor could wizards raised by them, infected with their thoughts and beliefs. We knew what they were capable of, Tom and I. Knew they had to be stopped, for the greater good. Now…" He sighed, shoulders seeming to droop slightly. "We have become what we once hated most. I devoted my life to the cause. My son died fighting for it. And all that we sacrificed for has been perverted. I look at the faces of the young in our ranks and I see the guards at Auschwitz. We have become as bad as the muggles we are fighting against. Worse, because we are supposed to know better."
"Their deaths are necessary for the future of the wizarding world," Lucius said calmly. "You know that. You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs."
Verloc was silent for a few moments, then he spoke again, softly, accent unusually strong. "So tell me, Lucius, am I an egg?"
"No," Lucius replied, voice equally soft, but face hard and set. "No, you're not an egg. But you betrayed the Dark Lord. We can't let you live." He drew his wand, pointing the pale wood at Verloc's heart with a hand steady as a rock.
"The two of you look so much like Pina and Nicholas," Verloc said in a quiet, sad voice. "But when I look at you, it is Caligula and Marguerite who look out of your eyes." He inclined his head towards Lucius, spreading his arms wide. "Make it quick, sonny. Let this farce end."
As Verloc turned away from him to face Lucius, Severus raised his wand, murmuring the words of the killing curse so softly that it was barely audible. There was a flash of green light, and Verloc's body crumpled to the floor. From his shoulder, Caius let out a startled squawk, fluttering into the air to seek safety atop the coat rack.
Lucius knelt down by Verloc's body, sliding his left sleeve up to check his pulse. The action was unnecessary. He was very clearly dead, eyes open and staring, face peaceful. He didn't even look surprised.
Lucius looked up, meeting Severus's eyes with his own. "He never even felt it. Thank you, Severus."
"The Dark Lord told us to make it quick."
Severus knelt down beside Lucius as the other wizard pulled Verloc's sleeve back down, covering the seal branded onto the inside of his forearm and the string of numbers the muggles had tattooed above his wrist. It was an old seal. A smooth, simple burn scar, without the magic that Voldemort had woven in to the later ones to call their bearers to him and prevent the scar from healing.
"That's why the Dark Lord sets his seal upon our left arms, you know," he told Lucius, nodding towards Verloc's arm. "He wanted to set it lower down, to cover Verloc's scars, but he wouldn't let him." The story had been one of the few his father had ever told him, when, as a curious ten year-old, he'd inquired about the brand on Caligula's arm.
"I always thought it was because the vein in your left hand was supposed to lead to your heart." Lucius laid Verloc's arm down and used two fingers to close the old man's eyes. He shook his head, reaching up to brush colourless hair out of his eyes. "A snake for Slytherin and a skull to remind us of all those the muggles and their allies have killed. He helped design it. It's hard to believe."
"When the mediwizard's find him, they'll think he had a heart attack or stroke," Severus volunteered.
"Yes." Lucius stood in one lithe movement, brushing fastidiously at his robe. "Still, we should leave now. We don't want any of the neighbors to connect us with this. Call your familiar down and apparate out."
Severus obediently stretched out his hand toward Caius, making a soft cawing noise in the back of his throat. "Caius. Come here."
"Sev-ah-rus. Ver-lock." Caius stayed where he was, tipping his head from side to side to regard Severus with each beady black eye.
"Come here, Caius." Severus let his voice harden, speaking firmly.
Caius hesitated another moment, shifting his weight from foot to foot, then dropped down from his perch onto Severus's waiting wrist. Once there, he began to walk up Severus's arm to his favourite perch on his shoulder. "Ver-lock?" he repeated.
"He's dead," Severus told the bird. Then he followed Lucius out the door and back into the morning sunlight.