by Morrighan

DISCLAIMER: Everything from the Harry Potter books belongs to J K Rowlings. The rest is merely the product of a deranged imagination.


Chapter 10: ...and your young men shall see visions.

"Still too slow."

Snape watched critically as Echo stopped, wiping her face daintily on a black lace handkerchief, and looking up at him expectantly. Her wand movements were still indisciplined and wide, taking more space and time at they ought ever to have done. It was a rank beginner's failing - one that most neophytes would have eradicated on their own, long before they were approached by one of the Death Eaters.

They were in the same training hall in which Echo's first lesson had taken place, with its hexagonal paving slabs and high vaulted ceilings, the walls decorated with racks of weapons, and opulent dark green and red velvet wall hangings. The halls always impressed the neophytes with their opulence, and with the racks of varied and cruel-looking weapons that lined the walls, the many torches supported in bright brass braziers. The halls looked like temples. Perhaps, to the Neophytes, they were.

Later, when they had learned more, they would spend more time in the halls below, with their simulated ruined buildings and refuse heaps, muddy fields and ice-covered cobbled streets, with tiny studios set up to simulate the typical magical kitchen or bedroom, and other enclosed spaces in which they might have to work. Echo had been learning for a week now; it would be months, most likely, before she would be ready to progress to one of those other halls. She was still at the stage where her training consisted of constant sparring drills, trying to instill into her the reflexes of a trained fighter, instead of those of a panicky little girl.

The lessons were still on basic duelling techniques, interspersed with short sesssions on other more theoretical matters. None of it, so far, was even secret; they had hardly touched on any of the Dark Arts yet.

Snape began idly flicking out hexes again, watching as Echo moved around, evading some and coutering others. She had, in fact, improved - far more than Snape would have imagined possible - in spite of her appalling technique and extreme lack of initiative. It was even possible, if she continued to study hard, that one day she would make a passably mediocre Death Eater, if not a moderately competent one.

Any other Death Eater would have been relieved.

It was profanity - sheer profanity - that such an inept, incompetent, *pathetic* creature should try to transform herself into a Death Eater. Half of his mind wanted to choke the life out of her for wanting even to attempt it; the other half wanted to hex her for making such a poor attempt at it - while all the time a constant voice at the back of his mind snarled at her to leave, growling, nagging and pleading as if by force of thought alone he could force her change her mind.

But what could he do, exactly? He could hardly persuade her otherwise, unless he planned on dying a slow and painful death.

She had said, when he had been explaining strategy at the start of the lesson, that she didn't think she wanted to kill - that she felt sure she would be able to aid the Dark Lord without ever needing to do so.

Could anybody really be that ignorant?

He had spelt it out to her in simple language, trying to ignore the revulsion she was trying to suppress. To the Death Eaters, killing was more than a convenient weapon. It was a badge of loyalty, even as membership. There were many who, in their way, served the Dark Lord; but the Death Eaters were set apart because they were the ones who were prepared to kill for him. It was their crown, their greatest pride. They had nothing but contempt for those who did not merit the Mark - those who could not, or would not, do so.

It seemed she truly was that ignorant.

[Innocent,] Dumbledore's voice reminded him helpfully. [The word is 'Innocent'. As in 'not guilty'.] Very well, she was innocent. But she could have kept that innocence, and she was choosing to throw it away. Not that there was anything he could do about that.

"Again," he said. "And keep your wand hand closer to your body this time."

* * *

It was not the opening of the door that Snape heard; but from some long- instilled instinct he felt the new draught of air that came as it was opened, even through the thick cloth of his mask.

He knew better than to let himself hesitate. It had been one of Electra's first lessons to him, back when he had been younger than Echo was now - how not to appear startled, no matter what he was doing; and the training held good now. He did, however, allow himself to shift his position slightly, so that his line of fire took in the newcomer if necessary.

Echo did hesitate, though, and look round, her eyes wide and luminously pale in the near darkness.

The figure was standing to the right of the door, directly underneath one of the torches so that its flickering shadows obscured his appearance. He was hooded and masked, unsurprisingly, the cloth of the cloak creased and dusty, the mask faded to an uneven grey. The dancing shadows obscured any closer examination, but Snape could see that he was tall and wide- shouldered. Something about his stance suggested awkwardness, though, as if he had come to ask a favour Snape would not be inclined to grant.

"Yes?" Snape snapped. The momentary wash of fear, borne of the fear of discovery, had passed, and left only annoyance at the intrusion in its wake. [There had better,] he thought, [be a damn good reason for this.]

Silence. The figure spread his hands neutrally, palms down. So he was not prepared to state his business. Fine. He could wait, then.

"Later," Snape said shortly.

The figure nodded, but said nothing. Snape waited an instant to see if he would speak, but the figure had retreated back into silent stillness. Snape turned back to Echo, deliberately turning his back on the watcher. "We shall try that again, including the Verso charm as well this time."

Predictably, the thought of a spectator seemed to rob Echo of whatever competence she had so far attained, so badly that her cheeks were soon riddled with sting-marks. Snape bit back forcibly all the things he wanted to shout at her and glanced at the old-fashioned clock above the door, which included a conventional pair of clock-hands among the circulating constellations and planets. Five minutes to the hour.

"That's enough." In the interests of progress, he thought, it was going to be better to call a halt. "We shall end the lesson here today."

Snape stood back cautiously as Echo gathered up her belongings and prepared to depart, one eye warily on the silent figure by the door. The normally neat ringlets she wore were in sweaty disarray, and her face had gone a shiny pink, pocked in places with the slight pin-pricks of the stinging hex that was used most frequently in the earliest stages of training. She held the wand to them quickly, and Snape watched as they dimmed and faded to nothing.

[You cannot do both,] Mr Ollivander's voice whispered in his ears. [Hexing and healing ... nobody can do both.]

He did not dignify the voice with a reply.

"I'll see you tomorrow then?" Echo asked, a little breathlessly. "Same time?"


"Er ... goodbye, then."

She obviously expected an answer to that, but Snape said nothing. Echo hesitated for a moment, and then disapparated.

The figure turned its head to watch her go, waiting until it was quite certain that she had fully departed before it came forward, silently in spite of its size. Snape watched closely, scanning the walk for some mannerism he would recognise. The figure was only two yards away when it finally spoke.

"Sev? You spare a mo?"

And Snape froze.

It was a distinctive voice - soft and slow and slightly sleepy, economising on words as if each drowsy syllable had to be conserved like gold. Only one person had a voice like that - or at least only one whom Snape had ever known. As Slytherin supporters had once shouted, unnecessarily, at house Quidditch matches, there was only one Evan Rosier.

Which was ridiculous. Evan had died ignominiously almost a year ago, over some cheap girl who wasn't worth it, and his body had been pulled from the harbour of a dingy Muggle town three days later.

"And who would you be?" he snapped. If this was some kind of off-colour practical joke then the perpetrator would be strung up by his thumbs until the Dark Lord won.

"You know, Sev." The voice had a slight pleading note so like the voice of his recollections. "It's Evan. You remember me, don't you?"

"Oh, so you didn't like it in the Solent, then?"

The figure sighed. "Not me, Sev. Some other guy." The figure hesitated a second, and then, quickly, raised his mask.

It was quite enough to recognise Rosier beyond doubt, more from the bewildered, uncertain expression in the blue eyes than from the guileless face and impossibly bright blond hair. The hair was different now - longer, and shoddily cut, as though Evan had been using one of the hair growing potions, and then tried to cut it himself.

"All right," Snape asked flatly. "Where have you been?"

It was not an intelligent question. Snape fully recognised the fact, but he was momentarily too addled to formulate a better one.

"Busy. You know. Stuff." Rosier shrugged. "Nothing in particular."

"Don't give me that," Snape snarled. "Nobody spends a year dead because they're 'just busy'."

"Yeah well. Deep cover," Rosier muttered. "Not my choice."

Deep cover? Rosier? Of all imaginable people-

"Look, you want to go for a drink?" Rosier asked hurriedly, under his breath, as if that would somehow frustrate the surveillance charms that were doubtless in operation. "Reckon I owe you a pint by now."

"I doubt that."

"Don't get angry, Sev. Not my fault." Rosier drew in a deep breath and paused, searching for words. "When the Dark Lord calls you, you don't hang back. And when he calls you for something big ... you do it." A long sentence, for Rosier. Snape had almost forgotten that habit of his, his long thoughtful pauses followed by phrases of quite incongruous eloquence, before lapsing back to his customary half-sentences.

But there was something new in Evan's voice, something that was more than the sum of old habits of speech. Something almost proud, as if he had gained a self-confidence that had always eluded him before. Whatever the task had been, Evan was clearly confident that he had done it well. "C'mon, Sev. We can't talk here. Black Stag do you?"

Snape gave in. For some reason he always did, when Rosier asked him. "Saloon bar, if you must."

He removed his own mask and pushed back his hood, pocketing the black scrap of fabric carefully, glancing down absently to ensure that his robes were plain enough to attract no notice.

"Ready?" Rosier mumbled. He nodded and they were gone.

* * *

Rosier put the two tankards down on the table and sat down.

It was a typical weekday evening in a Wizarding pub - hushed and smoky, designed more for talk than drinking, not so busy that he'd not been able to find an empty table in one of the many alcoves that dominated up the saloon bar. The only other wizards nearby were deeply engaged in a noisy game of Demonic Dominoes, and were hardly minded to listen into a quiet conversation at the next table, but by the time he'd returned with the drinks, the walls were still glistening with enough privacy charms for the entire Department of Mysteries.

"They only do nettle beer," he said, trying to ignore the greasy touch of the charms as he walked through them. "That do you?"

Snape made a slight gesture which could have meant anything, so Rosier set the tankard down carefully on a beer mat, and then his own, lowering himself slowly onto the padded leather bench as he examined Snape covertly, where he sat in the shadowed back of the alcove.

It had been - what? - it had only been a year, but Sev seemed to have aged visibly in his absence. He looked thinner, more haggard, his pure-black eyes more bewilderingly expressionless. Maybe the others were right. Maybe he was heading for the skids.

Rosier couldn't quite believe it. Not of Sev.

"So," he said, picking up his tankard and taking a single mouthful of butterbeer. "How've you been?"

"Fine," Snape said flatly. He did not touch his own tankard.

"You still with Skowers and that?"


Another flat syllable. Rosier sighed inwardly. It didn't look like Sev was about to make anything easy for him. The hell with small talk, he decided. Sev never had been any good at it anyway.

"I spoke to the others last night," he said, dropping his voice in spite of the privacy shields around them. Snape would hardly need to ask 'which others'. "They think you're falling out of favour."

Wilko had sidled up to him, just as he had been about to leave, talking out of the corner of his mouth. "I'd think twice," he'd said sideways, "about contacting Sev if I was you. He may be one of the elite now, but- ". He had drawn a finger across his throat at that, grinning ghoulishly. Rosier had simply stared at him in distaste.

"Just Felix," Snape said dismissively, "up to his usual.

"He know something," Rosier said uncertainly, "About you, I suppose. And you moving to training..."

"Medical reasons," Snape snapped. "Ask Electra. Ask anyone. He can ask the Master himself for all I care. I'll be back in the field in a month anyway."

Rosier spread his hands in a gesture of defeat. "Okay, okay, I get you," he said easily. "You mind out, though. Virgil's the only one of that lot would take his foot off your head if you were drowning."

The old Slytherin catchphrase almost provoked a smile from Snape. Almost.

* * *

The cobbles felt different, somehow, under the soles of Echo's newly- acquired flat-soled shoes.

Nobody can be sure-footed enough to run or fight in those, Gamaliel had said, scornfully, looking at her kitten-heeled shoes at her second lesson; and so she had been out and bught a pair of the kind of shoes she had sworn she'd never wear - flat-soled and unobtrusive, making her shorter than she ever remembered being. She was not tall, she knew, unlike her sister, but these shoes made her feel tiny and insignificant, and more dowdy than any woman should ever be.

She'd enchanted them immediately, to make no sound and leave no footprint. Gamaliel had looked ar them and muttered what might have been a word of praise, and the following evening she had cast the same charm on the plain black robe she had bought in her lunch hour at work.

Nobody could say she was not making an effort.

Gamaliel had changed somewhat, after that horrible first session. He'd not become more lenient - no, that was not the word - but perhaps less harsh. He had asked her today, "Is that what you really want?" because she had shown squeamishness at the idea of killing in the Dark Lord's serice. He still despised her - that was clear - but he had asked it neutrally, without the sarcasm or scorn he had showed in that first lesson. It had not sounded like a rhetorical question.

It had almost made her feel as though she had had a choice. She didn't, of course, but for a few seconds there had been the illusion that her destiny was still in her own hands. But nobody else had ever tried to ask - they had been too busy tring to transform her into what they felt she ought to be, as if she were nothing more than pliable clay to them.

Her parents - well, she supposed they had been doing what they had known was best for her, but it had been clear that she had always fallen short of what they had expected of her, no matter how hard she had tried. And Narcissa had done so much for her, but she always asked so much, things that Echo hardly knew how to give. Even her lover - that had all gone sour so quickly. After the first month when it had been Virgil this and Virgil that, he had quickly become just another set of constant demands, like her sister and her parents. He had never asked her that, not in all the last three years they had been together.

Gamaliel ... who is he, she wondered. It sounded like the name of an angel ... a dark angel swathed in black who stalked through the huge halls with a walk both graceful and predatory. He was dangerous, but it was a beautiful danger, that moved as smothly as a striking snake. She wondered if she would recognise him, if she saw him unmasked.

His shoulders were narrow - she could discern that even beneath the enveloping robe - his arms too, for all that he seemed so strong. His hands were always gloved, but even though the black gloves they seemed thin and delicate, made for precision rather than for power.

What was it to him what her wishes were?

She had somehow reached her front door by now, and unlocked it absently, her mind still on Gamaliel's blank mask, and pushed it open.

"Where have you been?"

Virgil was standing framed in her doorway, staring down at her with livid eyes. Echo flinched and stepped back involuntarily, but he had already seized her wrist and dragged her into her flat, slamming the door shut behind her.

"Where have you been?" he snarled again. " I've been waiting for you for two hours."

Echo said nothing. Her excuses had been prepared long before, but those had been for casual enquiries, not for Virgil, who knew her habits far too well to be deceived by any such reasons. She was suddenly very conscious of her flushed face and disarranged hair, and the sheen of sweat that still covered her cheeks. She knew all too well how he would interpret it.

"Tell me."

Echo tried to speak, but her voice seemed to have been misplaced. [A failure so soon,] her sister's voice reminded her silently. She managed a squeak, but nothing more.

Virgil stepped forward, and Echo instinctively retreated, her back coming to rest against the pastel-green living room walls. He stepped forward, leaning his face close to hers. "What have you been doing?" he hissed.

Echo said nothing; she could feel her heart ricocheting about her chest. Virgil pulled the bag roughly from her hand and opened it, spilling its incriminating contents onto the floor. The books came spilling: Malleus Maleficus, Dunkles Hexenhandbuch, A Philosophie of Cursinge. Virgil looked at them lying on the floor, stirring them with the toes of his shoes so that he could make out each title clearly.

"Oh," he said softly. "So you've been playing games with the dark boys, have you? Well, well." [Playing games]. He gave the words an inflection that was undeniably filthy.

"It's not what you think," Echo said, a little too quickly.

"So what is it, then? Come on! I want some answers."

"Some friends of my sister's. They promised they'd teach me to defend myself."

"With Malleus Maleficus as their starting-point, I suppose. You expect me to buy that?"

"It's true," Echo said breathlessly.

"You think I'm stupid, don't you?" Virgil jabbed her hard in the chest with his forefinger. "I know what you like in bed. I bet you thought you'd join in some of tne games the dark boys play, didn't you?" He jabbed her again, but this time she did not flinch away. "You're mine, and don't you forget it. You don't cross me with other men. I expect you *here* when I want you. Do you understand?"

Echo nodded, speechless. She stilll couldn't manage to form coherent words.

"Good. Then don't forget it." He swung on his heel and turned away from her. "Thanks to you, I've got to get back to Amelia and the brats now. You mess me about again I'll show you what the real dark boys get up to. And you won't like it at all."

He turned on his heel and disapparated, flicking his wand perfunctorily as he did so.

* * *

"Tea, Severus?"

They were in what appeared to be an uncommonly large garden shed, wooden save for a stone fireplace at one end, over which a large kettle sat. Snape watched as Dumbledore pottered around the fire, setting out cups and lifting the whistling kettle from the flames, an incongruously innocent figure among all the Dark Detectors that lined the room.

"No. Thank you."

Snape glanced out of the window for the second time. It was dark outside, and the bare branches of a tree knocked against the window. They were thin and spindly, swaying wildly too and fro, and Snape identified the tree tentatively as a silver birch. He had been brought by portkey; he could be anywhere, even in another country. He speculated for a moment whether it might be Finland, and then ceased his wonderings, angry with himself. Better to remain in ignorance. He was not so stupid as to find himself information for the Dark Lord.

Dumbledore continued to potter around, and then presented him with a cup of tea anyway, a thin tawny brown unalleviated by milk or sugar, the way Snape had always drunk it. Snape glanced at it, and then ignored it, watching instead Dumbledore, as the old Wizard seated himself opposite him.

"So how is it going, Severus?" It could have been any kind of casual enquiry - friendly and sociable, and quite abhorrently aimiable.

"What do you want to know?" Snape asked bluntly.

Dumbledore sighed slightly. "No more than what I need to know."

"There's nothing to tell," Snape said sullenly. "They've put me to work in the training wing, training up a particularly ignorant neophyte. It's not exactly the place to hear gossip."

Dumbledore said nothing, merely raising his eyebrows slightly and clasping his hands in his lap, with a manner that made it clear that he was waiting for Snape to speak. It occurred to Snape for the first time that he had so far made no effort to seek out information for Dumbledore, that he had stayed where he was and waited for the facts to come to him.

He was reminded suddenly how much he would have despised any Death Eater who was so passive about information-gathering. Had be been gathering information for the Dark Lord he would have returned with reams of parchment with him: annotated maps, old newspaper articles - even, sometimes, from the Muggle press - and page upon page of notes. But no - he had returned with nothing. He had taken no risks and won no knowledge. It was hardly surprising that he would have to endure Dumbledore's disappointment.

He glanced involuntarily towards the Headmaster, and found him gazing steadily at him, meeting his eyes with calm impassivity.

"You will find your way," he said casually, as if he were merely giving Snape directions to the Owl Office. "Sometimes these things take a while, you know."

Disturbing, to know the extent of his own transparency. [Not a good attribute in a spy,] some inner part of him muttered wryly. Or could Dumbledore read minds? That would be all he needed.

"Very well," he said shortly, and began to outline, in short, factual phrases, the events of the last few weeks. There was pitifully little of it, mostly insignificant. Dumbledore listened thoughtfully to him until he had finished, and then began to prompt him with questions.

"So ... this young trainee of yours," he said at length. "You say she is an incompetent."

Not just an incompetent; worse than an incompetent. "Yes."

"In what way?"

"She is ... not an appropriate Death Eater," Snape said carefully. "She knows nothing of the black arts, and has interest in them or desire to use them. She has joined for fear of upsetting her sister."

He let a sneer enter his voice at that., but Dumbledore let it pass without comment.

"Her sister. Narcissa Malfoy, I suppose. And does she want to leave?"

"How should I know? She stays from her cretinous sense of duty to her family. She probably does not even think she has a choice in the matter."

"Severus," Dumbledore said gravely. "This young lady - what is she to you?"

"Nothing," Snape said vehemently, though Dumbledore could not help but notice that he had gone very pale. "A mewling, whining, insignificant, pathetic little creature - a total waste of space." He drew in a laboured breath, sucking the air in through gritted teeth. "But she's not a Death Eater. Not yet."

"Severus, I understand how you feel, but-"

"I very much doubt that." The anger that had burned so hot mere moments before now suddenly burned cold. "If you gave me a year, I could turn her into everything a Death Eater ought to be." Not quite true. Perhaps a year for a normal recruit; longer, unquestionably, for someone like Rathbone. "It's what we're good at, headmaster. We take unruly, undisciplined children, and we remould them into what we wish them to be. It's our habits that form us, Headmaster. You're a teacher - you should know that. Would you have me give her the habits and skills of a Dark witch?"

"You know that I would not, Severus," he said gravely. "But be that as it may, Miss Rathbone's choices are her own. if the young lady does not wish to leave the Death Eaters, there really is nothing we can do. It is not our place to force our own choices on others against their wills."

"So I am to do nothing, and concentrate on making her into battle-fodder."

"*No*, Severus. Do not put words into my mouth." Dumbledore sounded suddenly angry, and Snape felt a guilty pang of satisfaction at having goaded him to it. "You cannot persuade her without placing yourself in grave danger, or arousing her suspicions, and nor can you force her into a decision she has not chosen." He stopped, and surveyed Snape closely over the top of his glasses. "But that does not mean that you are helpless. You are still able to make her aware of the consequences of the choice she is about to make - and the fact that she has the power to decide otherwise. You can do this, Severus - I know that you can."

Easy enough to say; but she knew the consequences already, and they revolted her. That wasn't the problem. It was that she was too pathetic and passive even to take control of her own life. You would think that she expected other people to control her, Snape thought moodily.

"Will that be all?" he asked sullenly. "Because I ought to get back."

He paused, leaning over to poke the fire until shards of sparks cascaded over the crumbling logs in the grate. "Not quite, Severus. I still need to know more this raid on Trimble."

"What is there to tell? He gave no information when I was there except the papers you have already. He may have said more later. What can I tell you but that?"

"It is not normal, surely, for a Death Eater to leave before a raid has been completed?"

"No." A single blunt syllable. [You know damn well it is not,] Snape told him silently.

"And why did you in this case?"

The question was asked lightly and reasonably, and hardly deserve the stony silence with which Snape responded to it. He stared down at his tea cup, running his finger absently along the rim of the saucer. He looked up, and saw only kindly concern on Dumbledore's face, and felt himself become suddenly, unreasonaby, angry.

"All right," he said savagely, "So you really want to know what happened? Well, I"ll tell you then." He took a deep breath and regarded Dumbledore with loathing. "I panicked. Is that what you wanted to hear? I was about to use the Cruciatus Curse on him, and I lost my head and just stood there. They sent me back in disgrace for that, giving me the letters to deliver to Voldemort. So I copied them and sent the copies to you. Then they dumped me in the training unit until they're satisfied that I'm reliable enough for them again. Satisfied?"

"Thank you, Severus." The Headmaster fell silent, leaving Snape glaring at him, holding onto his anger as if that was all he had left. There was something unreadable in Dumbledore"s eyes, something Snape couldn't fathom at all. It looked almost like relief - but that was hardly likely.

"I must confess I had suspected you of involvement in his death. Let me offer you my apologies."

Snape laughed harshly. "I *was* involved - I was there, wasn't I? I did nothing to prevent it. Save your trust for someone who merits it, Headmaster."

"Severus, I don't think you quite appreciate what the consequences of your intervention were yet. You gave us a warning - that was what I asked of you. The rest was up to us. Did you think it was coincidence that Myra Trimble and her children were staying with her mother in County Armagh? We *did* try to take precautions, for those we deemed at risk."

"What good does it serve? It was Trimble we were after - and we killed him. He was the one that mattered."

"Perhaps so. But can you tell what his sons may one day be?"

"I don't need to know this," Snape hissed, feeling his hands bunch themselve unbidden into fists. "Headmaster, you should not tell me any-"

"I think, in this case, that you do."

"How can that help me?" He stared wildly at Dumbledore. "Headmaster, tell me *nothing.* What you tell me I can betray. I am a Death Eater. You would be a fool to give me weapons against you."

"You are my spy, Severus, and I trust you."

Did he know? Did he even suspect how great a burden trust could be? Was that his game - to use his trust to keep Snape obedient?

"You would be stupid to do anything of the kind. Remember this, Headmaster: the whole time I was there, Headmaster, I wanted to kill him. I wanted mine to be the wand that struck him down. And you know what? I could so easily have done it."

"But you did not. That is what is import-"

"Don't give me that," Snape snarled angrily. "Do you think my self- discipline - or my remorse - will hold out forever? Because I don't. I"m a time-bomb, Headmaster, a walking time-bomb."


My, we are an optimist today, aren't we?

Thanks to The Dink for her inspired feedback & info about cults, and to Winkyteatowel for helping me with the title of the German dark magic book.

The next ep is a short little interlude set at Skowers. Lots of failed potions, frantic wizards and Snape being quite gloriously sarcastic to all and sundry.