The door to number 4 Privet Drive lay open.
The morning breeze wafted through the empty hallway, past the small cupboard under the stairs and into the open kitchen, where it swirled indecisively before gently filtering out of the smashed back door.
It paid no heed to the crumpled bodies on the floor.
Unlike the bluebottle.
It smelled the alluring scent of death from its favoured spot on the compost heap and it headed straight into the house. Fresh meat was always preferable to decaying grass cuttings.
It flew purposefully to the bloated form of Vernon Dursley, intent on finding a nice, moist piece of skin to settle on, but when it got near it faltered. Something wasn't right. It's tiny insect brain wasn't able to process the taint in the air of dark magic, the warped aura woven around fallen body; it just knew something didn't smell right, and that meant it would have to eat somewhere else.
It rose again, it's little wings flapping furiously. No matter, there were more bodies to choose from.
But both Petunia, and the body of her son she had so valiantly tried to shield, were just as unappetising.
The bluebottle hovered in the air as it considered what to do, and then it lifted. It smelled fresh blood.
It flew into the hallway and straight up, over the top banister and towards the door dangling off it's hinges a few feet away. The splintered wood around the various locks and bolts were of no interest to the insect and it negotiated the fallen furniture with ease, landing on the puddle of blood at the base of the bed.
It paddled, feet sticky with blood, around the pieces of smashed glass, and with a tiny little insect hum of satisfaction it settled on the on the twisted leg of a broken pair of glasses and ate.
Severus Snape apparated into Privet Drive with a loud pop and was immediately assaulted by an almost incoherent Nymphadora Tonks, babbling on about Fletcher and Dursleys and…Oh Merlin, he had only gone for a minute…and…he didn't think anything would happen…and…what if something happened to Harry.
Snape couldn't contain the sneer. "Well it's perfectly obvious something has happened to Potter." And heaven help him, the infuriating girl broke down into tears.
Completely and utterly incompetent, he thought to himself and scowled. "Tonks," he said sharply, "What exactly happened?"
Responding to her old Professor's tone, Tonks straightened and tried to sniff back the tears. Her voice was wavery but clear. "Death Eaters came and took Harry."
Snape resisted the urge to slap her. "I know that part. But how did they get in? You said something about that useless buffoon, Fletcher."
Tonks nodded. "Mundungus was meant to be watching the house but he…er…" she faltered, earning a sharp look from Snape, "wenttothepub," she blurted.
"He went to the pub," she repeated, eyes downcast. "And when he was gone they came. Well, at least we assume it was Death Eaters. I mean who else…"
"Yes, yes," Snape snapped. "Just get on with it."
"When Mundungus got back, the door was open and when he went in he found them all. Dead." Her eyes began to tear up again and Snape spoke quickly.
Now she did start snivelling again. "He's gone. They found his wand…and his glasses and...Oh God…blood."
"A lot of blood?"
She looked at him now, gaining composure again as she began to behave more like the Auror she was trained to be. "There's a puddle. And some smeared on the wall."
"Show me," Snape said.
And so Tonks led the Hogwart's Potions Professor into the house and up the stairs and into the devastation that had been Harry Potter's bedroom.
Snape looked around with a frown, eyes taking in the details: the positioning of the furniture, the splatter of blood, the unbroken window with the bars across it. The boy didn't even have a chance, he thought, but he certainly didn't make it easy for them.
Harry's trunk lay tipped over on the floor and Snape bent to right it, pausing as his long fingers encountered soft cloth. He hefted the trunk into its correct position and pulled out the cloak that had been stashed at the bottom. An invisibility cloak, he realised with a start,. Well, that explained a lot. A quick glance to make sure Tonks wasn't watching - she was staring out of the window - and he stashed the cloak inside his robes.
A small pathetic little hooting sound came from a pile of debris that had been Harry's wardrobe and both Snape and Tonks whipped out their wands.
With a silent gesture with his fingers, Snape indicated he would pull aside the rubbish and Tonks should be ready.
Without hesitation Snape yanked hard at the large piece of door that was lying atop the pile and pointed his wand deliberately at the pile of over-sized clothes lying underneath.
There was a feeble rustling sound and then nothing.
Snape's eyes narrowed as he saw the edge of a birdcage sticking out of the pile, the bars twisted and broken and he realised just what it was they were hearing.
A quick swish and flick and the clothes were flung out of the way. Another and the cage was lifted off the broken form of Harry's owl, it's white wings streaked with drying blood. Whether the blood was from the owl or Harry, Snape couldn't be sure.
"Hedwig!" Tonks gasped and moved towards the bird, but Snape stopped her with a wave of his hand.
"No," he said sharply. "Let me get her." Tonks looked ready to argue and he explained in a softening tone as he started to reach for the owl, "She might panic and try to fly…shhh girl…it's all right….I'm stronger and a lot less likely to care about a few scratches…come on then…I'm not going to hurt you…"
Tonks watched in astonishment as the ferocious terror of her childhood years gently extracted the injured owl and held her in his arms, black eyes assessing the damage even as his hands petted and soothed.
"Besides," he continued, and Tonks realised he was still talking, "you might drop her."
She bristled at that but held her tongue. This wasn't the time to fight. "What are you going to do?" she asked.
Without looking up, or raising his voice Snape answered, "I'm going to return to Hogwarts and tell the headmaster of the situation. And then I'm going to find Potter before he gets himself killed."
And he apparated away.
"I am most displeased, Lucius, I specifically requested that he not be injured."
Lucius Malfoy bowed his head at the reproof in Voldemort softly spoken words. "I am sorry, my Lord, but he put up more resistance than we anticipated. It is not a life threatening wound so I thought-"
"You thought, Lucius?" Voldemort broke in, voice icy, "You thought? And who gave you the permission to think?"
Lucius bowed even lower but did not step back into the small group of bloodied and dishevelled Death Eater's behind him. Malfoy's do not cower or hide. "I am sorry, my Lord, I have no excuses."
"Indeed you do not," Voldemort agreed. "However, I am willing to overlook the incident this time since you did manage to bring the boy here."
Relaxing a little, Lucius said smoothly, "Thank you, my Lord. I will not fail you again."
"No you will not. I do feel however that a small reminder is in order, so you do not forget your error."
It took all of Lucius Malfoy's considerable composure to allow him to speak without the faintest tremor in his voice. "As you wish, my Lord."
"Crucio," Voldemort said loudly and Lucius tensed for the expected pain but none came.
He realised there was screaming, but it came from behind him. He turned to see the writhing body of Nott fall to the floor, the one who had thrown the curse that sent Harry Potter slamming into the side of his dresser and cracked his ribs.
"Crucio," Voldemort repeated, and Goyle likewise fell in a spasming heap of pain, paying for the blood that leaked down Potter's neck; the result of the boy cracking his head off the window ledge. It had left a surprising amount of blood on the floor.
"Crucio," said again and Crabbe fell. Lucius searched in his memory for Crabbe's crime against Potter and realised, with a stab of fear, that he had not inflicted any damage on the boy. Which meant-
"Crucio," Lucius heard. And he screamed.
Harry Potter never slept well. His dreams were routinely plagued by horrors so real that he often awoke in a panic, unsure whether they were dreams or something more.
So at first when he awoke, bathed in sweat and blood and feeling like he'd been pummelled by a hippogriff, for one bitterly long moment he thought he was dreaming. Dreaming of a bleary dungeon, and chains holding his wrists high above him to a clammy stone wall; a nagging ache in his scar dulled by a sharp pain in his temple.
And then the memories came flooding back.
The insistent ring of the doorbell as he sat brooding in his room, locked in again for some imaginary infarction of Dursley house rules. Raised voices at the bottom of the stairs travelling through into the kitchen and footsteps coming up to his door. He'd sat, puzzled when the door wasn't unlocked, but it didn't occur to him to be worried until he heard the screaming start.
His aunt's piercing shriek had shattered his lethargy and he'd launched off the bed towards his trunk. Hedwig was screeching in her cage but he'd had no time to release her as he fumbled with the locks, yanking the lid open and throwing books across the floor in search of his wand.
Another scream from Petunia and a bellowing yell from his uncle had made him almost feverish with panic. The wand slipped from his fingers and he'd scrabbled to grab it from the bottom of the trunk.
And then he felt the palpable shudder of magic as the protection spells were destroyed.
Then the door blasted open.
He'd launched a couple of stunning spells at the opening door and heard the thud of a body falling back as at least one hit its target. Then the spells had started flying thick and fast and he'd managed to hold them off for a while, until one had sent him crashing into the dresser. Winded, he'd tried to protect Hedwig whose cage had smashed off the wall with a sickening crack, but another curse had slammed him backwards and the last thing he could remember was a blast of pain in the back of his head and his glasses falling off.
They'd killed his family, he suddenly realised. They may not have been much, but they were the only family he had and to think they were dead…and Hedwig…
Harry squeezed his eyes closed and fought back the bile in his throat. His scar was burning insistently now, and he was afraid to consider what that meant, the only logical reason for the feeling to be so intense.
So intent was he on pushing away the pain, he was completely unprepared for the loud voice that exclaimed, "Ah good, you're awake."
Harry opened his eyes with a start and blinked furiously as he tried to focus on the figure standing in the centre of the room. The blurred image solidified as the person walked closer and he couldn't help but flinch back against the wall when the features sharpened enough to be recognisable.
"Voldemort," he rasped his throat suddenly dry.
"Hello, Harry," Voldemort smiled pleasantly and Harry's stomach twittered in fear. The Dark Lord bore only the most superficial resemblance to the nightmare of his fourth year; now it was the visage of a man that stood before him, not a monster, but the matured face of Tom Marvolo Riddle. But still a monster, Harry reminded himself.
"What do you want?" he asked.
Voldemort laughed. "Oh that's what I always liked about you, Harry; you're not one for small talk. Straight to the point."
"Yeah, well, I'm guessing you didn't just murder my family so you could chat to me about Quidditch." A growing knot of anger started to make him more bold. "So either kill me now or tell me what the hell I'm doing here."
Amused and not the least bit intimidated, Voldemort gave Harry a pitying smile and walked over to a chair lying against the wall, taking a seat and smoothing out his tailored robes as he made himself comfortable. "I would rather have thought you would be thanking me, after all, the Dursleys were hardly treating you with the respect you deserve. Surely you don't regard their demise as any great loss? It's not as though they cared about you."
Harry's shackled hands clenched into fists. "You're completely insane," he said angrily.
"Am I? Tell me any of what I said wasn't true. Weren't you locked in your room like a prisoner this morning? Didn't they keep you in a cupboard all through your childhood and treat you like a servant? Did they even once show you anything but loathing and hatred?" Voldemort leaned forward in his chair and looked at Harry intently. "Well? Feel free to disagree with me, Harry."
What could he say? There wasn't one lie in any of what Voldemort had said but he couldn't say so, no way would he give the man the satisfaction. "You killed them," he stated flatly, reigning in his temper. "Nothing you can say will make me ever think that's right."
"Oh…I don't know. I'm quite sure you will eventually come around to my way of thinking, I can be very persuasive."
Harry shook his head forcefully and tried to ignore the dizziness the gesture provoked. "Never."
"What?" Voldemort crossed his legs elegantly, and looked at his neatly manicured nails. "Not even if I offered you power? Wealth? I could give you the world, Harry, if you stood by my side. No one would ever dare to belittle you again." His hands dropped to rest on his knee and he looked at Harry shrewdly. "And I would never hide anything from you: no more secrets, no more lies."
Ignoring the subtle jibe about Dumbledore, Harry simply said, "Not interested."
"Harry, why not be sensible for once?"
Harry's voice was quiet and deadly calm, "There is nothing in this world that could make me join you. You murdered my parents. You killed my Godfather. You want to destroy everything that's good in this world and for what? Power? Go to hell."
Voldemort's head tilted to one side, as he seemed to consider Harry's words. "I killed Sirius Black? I don't believe so."
Harry snorted. "You. Bellatrix. Same difference."
"Dear Bella didn't kill Black either. He's certainly not dead. Whatever gave you the idea that he was?"
"Don't," Harry said softly, "…don't start twisting that…please."
"I am not lying, Harry. Black only fell through the veil. Simple matter of saying the right words and he'll get back through. Didn't Dumbledore tell you? Or did he perhaps realise that with Black gone, you no longer had anyone else to protect you and you would look to him for guidance."
"No. I don't believe you," Harry said. "He wouldn't do that."
"Are you sure?"
Harry wasn't, but then he realised something else. "If it was possible to save Sirius, Lupin would have done it," he said with more conviction.
"I said it was only a matter of saying the words, but there are very few who know the words even exist. It's ancient magic, Harry, known to only the most powerful wizards, and most certainly not some penniless werewolf."
"You're lying," Harry said again, as much to convince himself as Voldemort.
"If that is what you wish to believe," Voldemort shrugged. "But you should consider the implications if I'm not. You could save him…"
Harry squeezed his eyes closed to fight the tears that threatened. Do not let him do this you. He's just trying to make you doubt. He took a steadying breath and opened his eyes again, focusing as best as he was able on Voldemort. "No," he said.
Voldemort shook his head sadly. "Your loyalty to Dumbledore is commendable but misplaced."
"You're entitled to your opinion."
"Fair enough, Harry, I'll let it drop for now. How about we try something simpler? Who's in the Order?"
"The what?" Harry said too quickly.
"Come, come, Harry. We both know you know about the Order of the Phoenix. Just give me a couple of names."
"I don't know what you are talking about."
Voldemort sighed heavily. "All right then, how about you tell me what the prophecy said."
Harry tried a shrug but grimaced as his ribs protested.
"I could heal them for you," Voldemort said and took out his wand. "It's a simple spell."
Harry eyed him warily. "And what am I meant to do in return?"
Voldemort spread his hands in mock innocence. "Always so suspicious, Harry. Maybe I just don't like seeing you in pain."
"Well, I'm certainly not stopping you."
Voldemort raised his wand and muttered the words, "Momentarius rescario," and Harry immediately felt the bones of his rib cage grow warm and start to tingle. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, almost ticklish, but completely unlike any sensation he'd ever felt under Madam Pomfrey's solicitous care.
He raised puzzled eyes to Voldemort who swished his wand and the tingling sensation ceased. The pain wasn't gone but it had receded to a dull ache.
"Better?" the dark wizard asked.
Harry nodded, completely confused. "Yeah."
"Good." Voldemort fingered his wand thoughtfully, eyes downcast. "So now, perhaps, you could answer one of my questions."
Harry laughed humourlessly. "Right. Of course. Because suddenly I owe you a favour."
"Just give me one little name."
"Please, Harry; I'm trying to be reasonable. Just a name."
"Er…let me think…no."
"You're being very foolish."
Harry shrugged again, but without the expression of pain. "I'm a Gryffindor, it's what we do."
Voldemorts' eyes lifted. "That is not something to be proud of."
"As if a Slytherin would know what pride is," Harry retorted. The fingers on the wand tightened their grip and Harry swallowed.
"One. Last. Time," Voldemort said, his voice menacingly soft. "Who is in the Order and what does the prophecy state?"
"I. Don't. Know," Harry bit out.
Voldemort gave Harry a slow, long considering stare and raised his wand; he smiled as he saw Harry stiffen. "Crucio," he said.
Harry didn't even have to think before the curse hit.
One second he was glowering at Voldemort and the next he was sent spiralling into a nightmare world of unimaginable agony.
The chains held him upright as he was battered mercilessly against the wall, unable to control his own muscles. Not that he noticed the bruises.
He tried to fight the curse but the pain was all consuming; there was no escape as wave after wave of muscle wrenching torture made his body jerk and spasm. Somewhere amidst the pain he was aware of an almost insignificant stab as his ribs cracked again but it merited no more than a fleeting observation. Thoughts fractured into tiny shards of meaningless words and sounds, battering around in his head until he wanted to scream for release.
But he was already screaming…and gasping…and sobbing…and helpless to stop any of it.
And then it stopped.
Harry coughed blood and spat it unceremoniously on the floor, squeezing his eyes closed against the grating of bones in his side. In a bizarre way he felt grateful he was chained, it meant he wouldn't fall to his knees in front of Voldemort showing the nauseating weakness he felt. He could just let his wrists support his weight and what was left of his dignity.
"Are you in pain, Harry?" Voldemort asked politely, as though it was a subject of scientific interest.
Harry ignored him, awkwardly wiping the sweat from his face onto his sleeve.
"I suppose your ribs are hurting? I must apologise for that, it was only a patching spell I used – purely intended for temporary repair on the field of battle until proper medical help can be received. It wasn't designed to withstand curses."
Harry spat more blood on the floor and opened his eyes. "Sorry?" he said, feigning innocent surprise. "Were you talking to me? I wasn't paying attention."
Voldemort's bland expression darkened. "You would do well not to bait me, boy."
"Why?" Harry asked with a tight smile. "You going to torture me or something?"
The dark wizard hissed and brought his wand up swiftly. "Crucio."
Albus Dumbledore stared thoughtfully at his potions professor over the rim of a large cup of Earl Grey tea.
"So you think young Harry is still alive?" he asked and took a sip.
Snape inclined his head. "Yes. I think if Potter were dead we'd know by now."
"I have to admit I agree," Dumbledore set the cup carefully down on its saucer and leant back in his chair. "It would serve no purpose for Tom to destroy such a valuable source of information, at least not until he learns all that Harry can tell him, and even then I suspect he plans much more for Harry than a simple death. What concerns me most at this point is to what lengths Tom will go to gain that information."
"We will just have to hope the boy is more resilient than he seems," Snape said snidely.
Dumbledore chuckled. "I believe Harry is a lot stronger than you give him credit for, Severus. After all, hasn't he endured six years in your class? I imagine that must have taken quite a bit of courage on his part, to endure lessons under someone who holds him in so little regard."
Snape shifted uncomfortably under the headmaster's perceptive gaze. "I treat him no differently than any other student," he said.
"Of course, of course. I meant no insult to your teaching. Merely observing that Harry may hold powers of tenacity that shall serve him well in his current predicament."
"I bow to your judgement, Headmaster," Snape replied, ending the sentence with a small gasp as a searing pain erupted under the tattooed skin on his forearm. He clamped a hand over the burning mark and spoke through gritted teeth, "I'm sorry but I will have to take my leave. It appears The Dark Lord is requesting my presence immediately."
Dumbledore nodded and gave Snape a sympathetic smile. "All I can ask is for you to be careful, Severus. And remember that your life is just as important as Harry's so do try not to do anything foolish."
Even through the insistent throb of pain Snape managed a sneer. "Don't worry, Headmaster, I can assure you that will not be an issue." He stood stiffly and walked over to the top of the stairs, hesitating at the top and turning. "Are you sure that the owl shouldn't be with Madam Pomfrey?" he asked, almost reluctant to show any concern. "Or even with Hagrid?"
They both over at the sleeping bundle of white feathers, lying on a cushion underneath the phoenix's perch. Fawkes turned a beady eye to Snape and let out an indignant squawk.
Dumbledore smiled indulgently at the bird and answered, "I think Hedwig will make an excellent recovery with Fawkes watching over her." He turned his gaze back to Snape. "I'm sure she will be up and around in time for Harry's return."
Voldemort surveyed the unconscious boy with displeasure. "This is taking far too long, Lucius," he said.
Lucius Malfoy stepped to his master's side and eyed the broken body hanging against the wall with undisguised pleasure. Dumbledore's protégé, the sanctimonious little saviour of mudbloods and traitors, looked nothing more than a bedraggled rag doll. It was admittedly impressive how the child had managed to survive thus far; even one bout of the Dark Lord's favourite curse was enough to reduce a full-grown wizard to a sobbing wreck - not that he had ever behaved in such a way - but this boy had endured five and still had managed to throw flippant remarks that only served to fuel his Lord's anger. Which was probably why the sixth curse had not been lifted until the boy was no longer conscious.
Lucius was hesitant to make a comment with the Dark Lord in such an irritable mood, but it seemed like one was expected. "Perhaps a different approach?"
"What do you suggest?" Voldemort asked tonelessly, not taking his eyes from Harry.
"The boy is renowned for his blind loyalty to friends and family," Lucius said carefully. "Black, for example." He paused but the Dark Lord stood silent, so he continued, "It's obvious that he puts their safety far above his own. And that of any plans that Dumbledore has."
"Indeed," Voldemort agreed. "And you think we should exploit this weakness again?"
As Lucius opened his mouth to reply he suddenly realised he had been manipulated, that he was only suggesting a course of action his master has already devised. He smiled inwardly at the man's guile and didn't answer his question directly. "We retrieved the package you sent us to collect," he said instead.
"I trust it all went smoothly?"
Lucius hesitated and Voldemort turned his piercing gaze on the senior Malfoy. "Problems?"
"Nothing of importance my Lord. The wards were triggered accidentally but we were gone before the aurors arrived."
"Who was to blame?" Voldemort asked.
"Clements," Lucius answered. "But I can assure you he regrets his actions."
"Bring him here."
"But, my Lord-"
"Now, Lucius. Or do you need a further reminder of who gives the orders?"
Earlier events still fresh in his mind, Lucius quickly shook his head. "Right away, my Lord," he said, and with a sharp bow he turned to leave.
"Oh and Lucius?" Voldemort said, and Lucius paused.
"Lord?" he replied a little uneasily.
"I've summoned Severus. Could you let me know when he arrives?"
Relieved Lucius nodded. "As you wish," he said, and when it was clear that Voldemort had nothing more to say, he left.
Voldemort turned back to Harry and waited.
"As if I would do anything foolish to save Potter," Snape muttered as he strode along the deserted Hogwart's corridors. "That old fool is delusional."
"Show your Headmaster some respect," one of the paintings snapped and Snape scowled at it.
"Mind your own business."
His arm was throbbing and he rubbed at it automatically, picking up the pace. The Dark Lord was not known for his patience and it would take some time to get outside the Hogwart's grounds to somewhere where he could apparate freely.
"Bloody Potter," he snarled again and kept walking.
The Death Eater was a sorry sight as Lucius led him into the room.
Pale and trembling, he shuffled clumsily alongside the taller man, fear exuding from every pore.
Upon seeing the Dark Lord he immediately yanked himself out of Lucius' grip and threw himself to the ground, a torrent of apologies falling from his lips.
"SILENCE!" Voldemort bellowed and the words stopped instantly. Adjusting his robes, he knelt down beside the quivering man and said conversationally, "You are well aware of the punishment for failure. Can you think of any reason why I shouldn't kill you? Hmm?"
Clements let out a strangled sob and dipped so low to the ground he was almost on his belly. "I beg for your forgiveness my Lord. Please…I will do anything you ask…"
"You have failed me once, do you think I would risk having you fail me again?" Voldemort looked scornfully at the balding man. "If you want mercy then perhaps you should run to that old fool Dumbledore, he is quick to forgive incompetence." A muffled snort of laughter from Lucius was quelled by a sharp look.
Clements looked up, eyes wide and incredulous. "I would never betray you, my Lord," he said, "My life is yours."
"I know," Voldemort said sharply and stood with a flamboyant flick of his robes. "And for the moment I choose to let you keep it."
Relief flooded Clements pallid features and he bent low again in an attempt to kiss Voldemort's boots. Voldemort kicked him away and sneered, "Your obsequiousness does not impress me either. You would do well to try and maintain some level of dignity; it would not take much to make me regret my decision."
Clements hastily got to his feet and apologised, "I am sorry. I was overcome with gratitude and I forgot myself. It will not happen again."
"See that it doesn't," Voldemort said. "Now, I believe Lucius will require some assistance in preparing the room for our recent acquisition. If you think you can handle that?"
"Right away, my Lord," Clements bowed his head.
"You're getting soft in your old age," a voice croaked from the other side of the room and three pairs of eyes looked sharply at Harry, who grinned weakly. "Letting him off with a warning? I figured at least you'd-" he broke off into a fit of hacking coughs that left him wheezing and breathless.
Voldemort gestured to the two Death Eaters to get to work and strode over to Harry's side, conjuring a small glass of water and holding it to Harry's lips. "Drink," he ordered.
As much as Harry felt to urge to refuse out of spite, his throat was raw from screaming and the water was far too tempting. He opened his mouth and welcomed the trickle of cooling liquid.
Once the water was gone Voldemort vanished the glass and smoothed Harry's unruly hair away from his scar, tracing the outline with the tip of his finger. "Fate wasn't kind to you was it, Harry?"
Harry flinched away from the touch. "I've done all right," he said belligerently.
"Have you really?" Voldemort frowned. "No one to love you, no one to trust, no one to protect you…"
"That's not true," Harry snapped. "I've got friends-"
"-who lie to you…keep secrets from you…use you…"
"No." Harry shook his head against traitorous thoughts that were agreeing with Voldemort. "That's not true," he said again.
"Isn't it, Harry? Then where are they now? Where were they in Privet Drive? It was the end of the summer and have you seen or heard from any of them?" Voldemort was so close Harry could feel his warm breath with every word. "It's getting worse every year isn't it, Harry? Did any of them even care enough to write?"
"They won't be allowed, they'll have been told by the Order-" Harry clamped his mouth closed on the words as he realised his mistake.
"So you do know of the Order, Harry. How interesting," Voldemort smiled. "Lucius?" he said loudly. "Did you hear that?"
"I did indeed," Lucius paused midway through an intricate wand movement to answer. "That's quite a revelation."
Voldemort smiled encouragingly at Harry. "See, it's not so difficult to tell us the truth is it? You aren't betraying anyone, we already know of the Order and its members, we just want you to confirm the names."
"If you already know the names, you don't need me to repeat them."
"It's a gesture of good faith Harry. You give me a name, just the one, and I'll let you down from those chains."
"No," Harry said firmly.
Voldemort sighed heavily. "I despair of you, Harry, I really do."
"Sorry to disappoint you, Tom."
Voldemort narrowed his eyes. "Crucio," he said and Harry cringed against the wall, expecting the pain of the curse to engulf him.
When nothing happened he hesitantly looked up. Voldemort was watching him carefully, his wand nowhere in sight. "This is your future if you continue to defy me, Harry. Bear that in mind."
In The Burrow, an argument was brewing.
"Mum, Ginny's trying to steal my toast," Ron Weasley wailed, trying to shield his plate from his sister - who was leaning across the table – without knocking the parchment he was writing on off the table.
"Am not!" Ginny protested loudly, keeping an eye on her mother's turned back as she made another vain attempt to swipe at Ron's plate.
Molly Weasley allowed herself a small smile; it was comforting to be home again, with all the associated noise and disruption. Grimmauld Place had served it's purpose but the atmosphere there was more conducive to unhealthy brooding, than the familiar banter her family thrived on. Not for the first time, she said a silent 'thank you' to Albus Dumbledore for the strengthened wards he had managed to erect around their refurbished home.
Putting on a stern face, she turned to her squabbling children, gesturing at her youngest child with a wooden spoon dripping in cake mix. "Ginny, leave your brother alone," she snapped, inadvertently splattering Ron's parchment. Ginny laughed.
Ron let out a frustrated growl and pushed away from the table, banging the chair solidly into his older brother's leg. Fred - or George, it was hard to tell from the bowed head - launched a stream of expletives in Ron's direction and ferociously rubbed at the large red mark now blossoming on his bare shin.
"Frederick Weasley!" Molly said, horrified. Ah, Ron thought, Fred. "Don't you dare use that kind of language in this house."
Fred reluctantly raised his head, paling visibly when he saw his mother's furious expression. "But he banged my leg with his chair, Mum," he whined. "It really hurt."
Molly looked unimpressed. "Well you shouldn't have been sneaking up behind him, should you?" Ron shot his brother a suspicious look, as their mother's eyes narrowed.
"And why aren't you dressed yet?" she snapped. She'd just noticed all Fred was wearing was a pair of shorts and an ancient-looking t-shirt with a faded Weird Sisters logo on the front; with his bare feet and tousled hair, he looked like he'd just fallen out of bed.
"How d'you know this isn't what I'm wearing today?" Fred asked with mock indignation and Molly looked pointedly out of the window at the gathering clouds. "Worth a try," he said with a grin and cast an eye around the room, gaze settling on Ron's plate. "Is there anything to eat?"
"You'll have to fend for yourself. I'm far too busy with the preparations for Harry's party."
"Ah, right," Fred said, ruffling Ron's hair and using his indignant attempt to flatten it to snag a piece of his toast. "When's 'e coming?" he asked, through a mouthful of bread.
"Ron's writing to him now," his mother answered, turning her attention back to the mixing bowl. "Hopefully we'll be able to collect him tomorrow."
Ron was clutching the half-written letter to his chest and glaring at his brother. "I'm trying to write to him," he said. "But people keep interrupting."
"Well, if you'd made toast for everybody and not just yourself…" Ginny pointed out.
"But there was only me and Mum here," Ron said, defensively.
"Very selfish," Fred agreed with his sister, reaching for another piece.
Ron snatched the plate away. "Make your bloody own."
Molly's automatic admonishment was interrupted by a staccato of tapping on the kitchen window. Fixing Ron with a stern look, she propped the wooden spoon in the bowl, and reached across to open the window for the small tawny barn owl waiting on the other side.
The little bird flew swiftly in and dropped a letter onto the table, not stopping for the treat Molly proffered as it zipped past her and flew away. She frowned after it. "That's a little odd," she said. Shrugging off the feeling of disquiet, she turned back to the table. "So, come on then, who's it for?"
"Dad," Ginny replied, as she laid the plain brown envelope back down. "Doesn't say who it's from, and the seal's blank." She noticed that Ron's gaze was on the letter, and she took the opportunity to grab at his plate, successfully snatching a piece of now-cold toast.
Molly ignored the resultant barrage of bickering that broke out, and charming the spoon to start mixing in the bowl, she picked up the letter and made her way to find her husband.
Arthur Weasley had been in the garden checking the vegetables hadn't been pulled out by the gnomes, and he met his wife just as he was coming in through the front door. He frowned as he saw the letter in her hand.
"Bit early for post isn't it?" he said. "Who's it from?"
"It doesn't say," Molly replied, and his eyebrows rose.
"How intriguing," he said and took the letter, opening it carefully.
Molly saw his face pale as he read the words and the paper trembled in his hand as he passed it back to her. She saw fear in his usually genial features, and she dropped her eyes to the letter with tightness in her chest.
Come to the Castle at once.
She stared at the cryptic words, the lack of any explanatory message causing her mind to conjure all sorts of scenarios, each more horrific than the last. She understood Dumbledore's need for secrecy but she found it frustrating, and she looked at her husband with more than a little anxiety. "What do you think's happened?" she asked quietly, so the children wouldn't hear – although judging from the level of noise in the kitchen, they could be shouting and not be overheard.
"I dread to think," Arthur answered. "I should go to Hogwarts now, and speak to Dumbledore."
"You don't think…Harry?" Her voice quavered.
"I doubt it," Arthur replied reassuringly. "I'm sure he's fine. It's probably just another Death Eater attack; you know they've been getting more frequent lately."
Molly nodded and took a deep breath. "You're right. If it had been Harry he would have summoned both of us." She busied herself collecting her husband's robes from the peg and dusting them off before handing them to him. "Be careful," she said softly.
He gave her a warm smile and put on the robes, leaning over to give her a peck on the cheek. "I'll let you know what's happening," he said.
With a wink, he turned to the door and pulled it open, speaking over his shoulder as he set off down the path. "I'll be back before you know it. Got to get the decorations up for Harry's party, and sort out the tables and chairs. Can't have Moody sitting on a bucket like he did at the last Christmas party we had, can we?"
Molly smiled wanly at the memory of his parting words as she watched him apparate away as he stepped past the shields that surrounded the house.
"Where's Dad off to?" she heard Ginny ask from the hallway, and putting on a fake smile she turned to answer her child.
"Just some Ministry business at Hogwarts," she replied, sticking as close to the truth as possible. "He'll be back soon. Now, have you started on the scones like I asked?"
Ginny rolled her eyes and started grumbling as she headed back to the kitchen. "Why doesn't Ron have to make scones? Or the twins? Why do I always have to do it?"
Molly followed her daughter. "I'd prefer to have something edible. And anyway, your brothers are in charge of cleaning the house. Isn't that right…?"
Molly's voice faded as the conversation carried on into the kitchen, and George Weasley waited until he was sure they had both gone, before rising from his perch at the top of the stairs.
He ran a hand through his shower-dampened hair, and a rare frown graced his features. Should he share what limited information he'd overheard with siblings, or should he just keep quiet and not alarm them? A small sigh escaped his lips as he recognised the first ugly symptoms of maturity. Bloody hell, he thought. Right, first I need to get Fred on his own, and then I'll worry about the other two.
He padded down the stairs.
Harry was purposefully ignoring Voldemort's dissecting appraisal, focusing as best as he was able on the two Death Eaters working in the middle of the room.
They two men were busy weaving a series of intricate spells. Small bursts of light and energy flickered in the air as the spells were cast, and although Harry couldn't determine their intent, they were centring on something set in the stone floor.
Curiosity piqued, Harry squinted and tried to focus on the object, but it remained resolutely blurred. He silently cursed.
"It must be difficult without your glasses," Voldemort said perceptively, breaking Harry's concentration. "I could quite easily repair them for you."
"My glasses?" Harry said with a frown.
"No. Your eyes."
"My eyes?" Harry repeated, confused. "How?" Even as he asked that question his frown deepened. "And even if you could…why?"
"There are spells for every circumstance Harry. Surely you are beginning to realise that by now. And as to the why…call it a gift?" Voldemort said with a small shrug.
"You're lying. There isn't any magical way to fix my eyes," Harry said bitterly. "Hermione said so."
Voldemort chuckled. "Your young friend doesn't know everything. There are ways, and there are ways."
Harry didn't like where this conversation was going. "No thanks. I'm happy with my eyes the way they are."
"Come now, Harry, I know you don't mean that." Voldemort smiled reassuringly and Harry's stomach lurched. "I promise it won't hurt a bit. Well, not significantly anyway."
Harry tried again, "No, really I don't think-"
But Voldemort had turned away from him and was addressing Clements, who was just completing the final incantation.
"Clements, could you please join us," Voldemort said sharply as the Death Eater tucked away his wand.
Startled, Clements look at his master. "My Lord?"
"Over here if you don't mind," Voldemort pointed to a spot directly in front of Harry. "I just need your assistance for a moment."
Clements walked very slowly over to take position as directed and gave Harry a look of pure, undisguised hatred. Harry just stared back, too exhausted to muster the energy to care what the man thought.
Voldemort cleared his throat and both the Death Eater and Harry turned with equal trepidation to look at him. He had his wand raised and ready, and now that he had their attention he said loudly, "Permutato lenticula," and slashed the wand in the air from Clements to Harry and back again.
Harry squeezed his eyes closed as a pulse of white-hot light pierced his eyeballs, the sensation gone so quickly that he barely had time to register the pain. He immediately felt a surge of bile rise in his throat and he vomited, opening his eyes in time to see it splatter, in crystal clear focus, on the Death Eater writhing on the floor at his feet.
The man was shrieking, in pain and terror, clawing at his eyes with his nails, savagely ripping into his own flesh. Blood blossomed under his determined fingertips and Harry retched again, but his stomach was empty, and he could only cough up blood speckled saliva and pray for it all to stop: the screams, the pain, everything.
Harry turned away, appalled to find Voldemort watching him with something akin to fond amusement in his expression. He saw, rather than heard, Voldemort mouth the word, "Silencio," and the Death Eater's cries were instantly silenced.
Harry tried not to look at the now mute Death Eater thrashing about on the floor and focused his rage and fear on Voldemort. "What did you do?" he asked angrily.
Voldemort gave him a small smile. "A healing spell, Harry, nothing more."
"A healing spell?" Harry said incredulously, "What sort of healing spell would do that?"
"It has a few flaws I admit." Voldemort shrugged. "But it has corrected your vision has it not?"
"That's not the point."
"Then what is your point, Harry? Don't tell me you feel sympathy for Clements? He was the one who killed your aunt after all. Isn't that right, Clements?"
Clements didn't even hear the question.
Harry glared at Voldemort. "It doesn't matter what he did, no one deserves whatever you've done to him." But a tiny part of his brain was arguing and somehow Voldemort sensed it. The dark wizard smiled.
"Whatever you say, Harry." He leant nonchalantly against the wall and twirled his wand lazily in his fingers. "I have to admit to being surprised at the severity of his condition. I'd heard that there were side effects but I hadn't expected anything quite so…dramatic."
"You hadn't done it before?"
"Technically, no. But like I said it's a simple spell, there wasn't much that could go wrong."
Harry shook his head in disbelief. "What about Clements? Surely that's not meant to happen."
Voldemort chuckled. "What do you think is going to happen when you give someone the lenses from your eyes?"
"He gave…he…what?" Harry stuttered.
"He gave you his lenses. Actually no, that's not right, he exchanged his lenses with you, but the spell doesn't work with unhealthy tissue and so naturally your lenses were destroyed. Bit of a small obstacle with such a spell, and probably why it isn't condoned by the mediwizards. But in this case it solved the problem of me being regarded as getting soft in my old age."
Harry winced as his own words were thrown back at him. "You're sick," he said.
"Not sick, Harry, just realistic. You can't afford to be forgiving if you've got a world to take over. You'll learn that soon enough."
"Never," Harry said.
"Ah, Arthur, it's good of you to come," Dumbledore said with a smile and rose from his chair to greet Arthur Weasley with a firm handshake. He guided him to a seat and returned to his own well-worn chair on the other side of the desk.
"Tea?" he asked. "Or perhaps something stronger?"
"Tea would be fine," Arthur replied, and waited patiently as Dumbledore set about conjuring tea and a daunting plate of sugary cakes, enough to feed a small army. Arthur knew better than to rush the headmaster when he had news to impart, Dumbledore seemed to get a perverse sense of pleasure out of building anticipation, and any obvious signs of impatience only served to make him take longer to get to the point. If there was one thing Arthur was good at, it was waiting.
"So, how are Molly and the children?" Dumbledore asked, passing Arthur a brimming cup, and offering him a choice of cake from the teetering pile.
Arthur shook his head, no, at the cakes. "They're all doing fine," he answered. "Charlie and Bill are flooing in tomorrow for Harry's birthday party. You haven't forgotten?" He did not miss the flicker that passed across Dumbledore's features as the old wizard shook his head, but he chose to let it pass for the moment. "And of course, Fleur and Hermione will be staying too. We'll have a full-house…," he faltered, and his features tightened as he said, "apart from Percy, of course."
Dumbledore nodded sympathetically. "It must be astonishingly difficult for you and Molly. I had hoped the events at the end of the summer would have made some impact on young Percy, but he seems so resolute in his choices."
"Stubborn, you mean." Arthur corrected. "A trait he may have inherited from his mother," he said, and then looked at Dumbledore in mock horror. "But don't tell her I said that."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled behind his half-moon glasses. "Fear not, Arthur, I have no wish to attract the wrath of Molly, even second-hand."
"A wise decision."
"It would certainly take a braver man than me," Dumbledore said with a small smile.
With deliberate slowness, he took a bite from a large cream-filled scone and Arthur watched as crumbs fell into his beard. Dumbledore noticed, too, and laid the scone down to pick out all the stray pieces trapped in his hair.
"I expect you're wondering why I called you here," he said, almost offhandedly.
Arthur resisted the urge to be sarcastic – not that he was good at that sort of thing anyway. "It would be safe to say that, yes."
"There have been several troubling incidents."
"Hmm?" Arthur drank some more tea and tried to match Dumbledore's casual tone.
"Yes," Dumbledore said, looking up at Arthur, his bright blue eyes focusing. "A couple of well-orchestrated Death Eater attacks."
"Was anyone hurt?"
"I am saddened to say there were several muggle casualties; a situation which I most deeply regret."
Although the news was not unexpected, Arthur felt his stomach twist. There were far too many innocent lives being lost in the battle and every day there seemed to be more and more. Arthur was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a violent man, but with every new atrocity carried out under Voldemort's direction, he felt his hatred increase. It pained him to even think it, but no one was ever going to be safe as long as Voldemort drew breath.
Lost in his thoughts, it took him a moment to realise Dumbledore had not continued speaking; the old wizard was instead gazing off into the distance, eyes unfocused. Arthur felt his patience start to slip and he opened his mouth to say something, but the portrait of Phineas Nigellus got in there before him.
"Get on with it, you old fool!" the ex-headmaster yelled out from his frame.
Dumbledore's eyes blinked. "What-? Oh yes, sorry, Arthur. Where was I?"
Phineas harrumphed as Arthur replied, "Several muggle casualties…"
"Ah, yes, of course. Well, I may have been somewhat lax with the details." Another sound of derision from the portrait and Dumbledore looked up. "Phineas, please..." The portrait fell silent and Dumbledore continued, "The muggles that were killed were the Dursleys."
The Dursleys? The name didn't immediately register with Arthur and then-
He sat bolt upright, teacup smashing to the floor. He ignored it. "Harry? What about Harry?" he asked urgently.
"Missing," Dumbledore replied, cleaning up the pieces of broken china with a quick swish of his wand. "We think Voldemort has him."
"Sweet Merlin, no," Arthur gasped. His mind was racing with all the implications, but his foremost thought was of fear for Harry. As far as Arthur and Molly were concerned Harry was a Weasley in all but name, and Arthur felt his loss as strongly as if it was one of his own children that had been taken. "What are you – we," he corrected quickly, "going to do?"
"Everything is under control, Arthur. Severus is en-route to Voldemort as we speak."
"Severus?" Arthur said incredulously. "You sent Snape?"
"He was summoned. Regardless, there is no one I would trust more in a situation such as this. I have implicit faith that Severus will find a way to help Harry."
Help, Arthur noted, not rescue. Arthur had no confidence in Snape's definition of help, especially not where Harry was concerned, but Dumbledore trusted the man. He felt sweat beading on his brow. How was he going to tell Molly about this? "Isn't there anything else we can do?" he asked. "Surely the Order…"
Dumbledore finally looked uncomfortable. "I'm afraid to say the Order may have other things to worry about. Privet Drive wasn't the only place that was targeted this morning."
Arthur held up a hand to stop Dumbledore from continuing. "I think I'll take you up on your earlier offer of 'something stronger' if you don't mind," he said. "And then you can tell me the rest."
The door closed with a reverberating thud.
Harry was finally alone.
He heaved a painful sigh of relief and stared at the empty spot where the Death Eater had been lying only moments before. The man had been barely conscious as Voldemort had levitated him out of the room, and Harry shuddered as he thought of the mutilated flesh that had once been his face.
It suddenly occurred to him that he mustn't look that much better. There certainly wasn't a single part of him that wasn't hurting; a situation he realised wasn't going to change any time soon. It was more likely things were going to get a hell of a lot worse and he'd be fondly remembering broken ribs as a luxury.
Hanging against the wall wasn't helping much either. His wrists were an ugly mess of bruises and torn tissue, blood trickling down his arms to soak into his shirt sleeves. He was trying to put as little weight on them as possible but Voldemort might as well have thrown a jelly-legs curse at him for the amount of support his lower limbs were providing.
Of course, it would all stop if he gave Voldemort some names. One name. It wasn't such a big deal really; it wouldn't be like he was telling him something he didn't know already.
Whose? Whose life would he sacrifice to get the chance to fall to his knees at Voldemort's feet? And how many more would he be willing to risk to heal the bruises? To mend his broken bones? Was that not the point? If he gave one name, betrayed his own principles, then Voldemort would have won. Broken him. And the downward spiral to Voldemort's side would be swift and unrelenting.
Would the prophecy earn him a soft bed?
Harry felt sick. Sick with himself that he could even consider Voldemort's offer and give the insidious thoughts free rein. What was happening to him?
He had to get a grip.
He blinked back tears of frustration and stared longingly at the closed door. So tantalisingly near, yet so out of reach.
It was odd, how sharp and clear everything looked. It was hard to judge but Harry thought that his sight was even better than it had been with his glasses, although that wouldn't be surprising since the only eye tests he had were at the school. No way would his Uncle Vernon allow him to attend an optician's to get regular checks. Not that he was around any more to deny him anything.
Harry quickly side-stepped that train of thought and focused instead on trying to figure out what the Death Eaters had been up to in the room, now that he could see properly. Information was power, and power was the one thing of which he had none.
He looked carefully at the spot on the floor they had been working around and at first he couldn't figure out what he was looking at. It was so insignificant that he almost discounted it, were it not for the fact it was the only thing in the middle of the floor.
A very solid looking iron ring was anchored securely into the concrete.
And that was it.
Whoever had thought up the information is power thing had obviously had a lot more to work with.
Harry was startled out of his thoughts as the door to the cell slammed open, and Voldemort strode back in.
"You've got a visitor, Harry," he proclaimed and gestured to the open door. "Bring him in," he ordered.
"No," Harry whispered helplessly as, on cue, two masked Death Eaters appeared dragging a semi-conscious man between them.
The man's head was bowed so Harry couldn't see his face, but Harry didn't need to; there was no mistaking the dusty brown hair, the unhealthily slender frame, the shabby robes that were ragged long before the Death Eaters had gotten hold of him.
Remus Lupin. Aside from the Weasleys, he was the closest thing Harry had left to family and now Voldemort had-
"No," Harry whispered again, and missed Voldemort's small smile of satisfaction.
Lupin was thrown roughly to the ground and he landed heavily, putting up little resistance as a chain was attached to a metal collar around his neck and hooked to the ring on the floor. The significance of the ring was becoming horrifyingly clear.
"Lupin?" Harry said tremulously.
The fallen man looked up sharply and his brown eyes widened in shock. "Harry? My God, what have they done to you?"
"I'm all right," Harry said, dampening down his fear and mustering a tired grin. He eyed Lupin's battered appearance. "Bet I don't look half as bad as you."
Gingerly pushing himself into a sitting position, Lupin returned Harry's smile. "Oh, I don't know. You look pretty awful…it would be hard to compete."
Harry's grin faltered and he swallowed. "I'm so sorry-"
Lupin shook his head quickly and winced at the motion. "Not your fault, Harry," he said.
"How touching," Voldemort remarked loudly, and both Lupin and Harry turned to him. "On no, don't stop on my account. This reunion is positively heart-breaking."
"Fuck you," Harry said furiously, his anger at Voldemort suddenly overwhelming. The man was taking everything that Harry had left and tearing it apart and he couldn't take it any more.
Lupin looked at Harry in surprise and Voldemort feigned offence. "Oh come now, boy, there's no need for that sort of language. What would your mother say?" Harry's face darkened as Voldemort slapped his own head lightly. "Silly me, of course she won't say anything, will she? She's dead."
Harry jerked sharply on the chains as he launched himself at Voldemort, he collapsed back against the wall gasping as pain ripped through his body. "You bastard," he hissed.
"Harry, ignore him," Lupin begged, glaring at Voldemort. "Don't listen to him. Please. He's just trying to upset you."
"That's unfair," Voldemort argued. "I made an honest mistake. If I really wanted to upset the boy I would do something horrible to you. Crucio," he said and pointed his wand.
Harry yelled, "NO!" as Lupin arched back, his body thrashing around as his mouth opened in a yowl of pain.
Voldemort ended the curse only seconds after it started and smiled down at the trembling man. "Now that's what I'd do to upset him."
Lupin raised his head and let out a small growl. "You bastard," he said.
It didn't matter how many times he did it, Snape still hated apparating. The sharp pull at the base of stomach, the lurch as he was sucked towards his final destination, the struggle to maintain any shred of dignity when he splurted out at the other end. Now he thought about it, he felt exactly the same about flooing and for the same reasons.
Even Muggle transport was preferable; an opinion that Snape would never share with another living soul.
This time his destination was no surprise at all. He found himself in Malfoy Manor. The dungeons set far below the Manor to be more precise, in the long corridor spanning the building. Voldemort's favoured lair.
Knowing Voldemort's usual hiding place was one thing, getting there was an entirely different matter. The only way into the dungeons was by apparating, and it was guarded by an unparalled level of warding spells. Even Dumbledore could not decipher all of them, and he had spent many hours trying. Snape recalled that the werewolf, Remus Lupin, had been allotted the unenviable task of trying to find a way around the shields but as far as Snape was aware he had fared no better than Dumbledore. It wasn't surprising really, the werewolf was nothing more than a glorified book-keeper, were it not for his lupine handicap the man wouldn't even have been allowed near the Order.
Lupin's only redeeming characteristic as far as Snape could see, was his complete dissimilarity to Sirius Black. The two may have been friends but in nature, at least, they couldn't have been farther apart. And for that Snape was infinitely thankful. He had no wish to see Black dead, but he would be the first to admit he felt no sorrow in his passing, only a vague sense of relief.
And he didn't even want to waste time considering his feeling about Potter, senior or junior.
Now where was the boy?
"Ah, Severus, you've arrived," Lucius Malfoy's cool tones greeted him and he looked over to see the blond man striding in his direction along the corridor.
Snape bowed his head in acknowledgement. "Indeed. I came as soon as I could without arousing Dumbledore's suspicions."
"You know why you are here?" Lucius asked as he gestured for Snape to walk alongside him.
"I know of the situation with the Potter boy," Snape said carefully, "if that is what you are referring to. But I fail to see, however, why my presence is required."
"Our Lord requires your assistance with several related matters." Lucius paused in front of an unmarked door and swung it open, motioning Snape inside. "He wants you to do what you can for Clements."
"Clements?" Snape was curious. "What's happened to him?"
Lucius pointed to a heap of bloody clothes on the floor and Snape suddenly realised with a start than it was Clements. "Our Lord was displeased at his failure."
Snape had heard of the morning's events at Grimmauld Place via a coded owl from Goyle. Like every organisation news travelled fast, especially when someone had made any kind of mistake. He had expected Clements to be nursing a few bruises and dented pride. Certainly not this, whatever it was. He raised a quizzical eyebrow and knelt beside the unconscious man. "What exactly is wrong with him?" he asked.
"His eyes," was Lucius' only reply.
With surprising gentleness Snape reached out a hand and turned Clements head to the light, He fought the urge to recoil as he beheld the tattered mess that had once been the man's face, leaning closer to inspect the extent of the damage. Beneath tattered eyelids he could see Clement's eyeballs, shrunken in their sockets like shrivelled prunes. Snape couldn't repress the shudder. "Does he expect me to perform miracles? Why didn't he just kill him and be done with it?"
Lucius secretly agreed but chose not to voice his opinion. "He's meant to be an example."
"An example of what? Don't accidentally trigger an invisible ward, especially not one that's purposefully designed not to be detected by even the most powerful wizard? Might as well punish people for breathing."
"I wouldn't say things like that too loudly, Severus, you never know who could be listening," Lucius said.
Snape snorted. "Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing for him to hear a few truths."
"Are you volunteering?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I have a certain level of fondness for my eyes." He stared thoughtfully at Clements for a few moments. "Maybe we could talk Pettigrew into it?"
Lucius laughed. "What an excellent suggestion, I'll put it to him the next time he scuttles in my direction."
The two men shared a small smile.
Snape rose, dusting off his robes. "I'll give him something for the pain, and the usual assortment of healing potions, but there's nothing I can do about …" He gestured vaguely at his own eyes. "I don't think anyone can."
Lucius sighed wearily, he had expected nothing else. "Do what you can," he said. "I'll tell him you're here."
Snape nodded and both men left the room, Snape heading towards the small potion's room he himself had set up at one end of the corridor, Lucius towards the cells at the other.
Arthur Weasley entered his home quietly and leant back against the door with a small sigh.
How he wished he could turn the clock back a day - to savour a moment when he had nothing more to be concerned about than a set of wayward gnomes and how many chairs he could transfigure from a bag of broken bicycles. When he could blissfully blank out thoughts of his gaggle of children, all hell-bent on risking their lives on a daily basis, with dragons, curses, and regular skirmishes with You-Know-Who and his assorted minions. And Percy.
He undid the clasp of his robe and slid it off his shoulders, hanging it carefully on the hook lest he receive one of Molly's famous lectures about untidiness.
Thinking of Molly, a small frown line appeared on his forehead beneath the patch of thinning hair. He had no earthly idea how he was going to tell her what had happened, even less clue how he would stop her from sweeping off to Hogwarts in a rage and confronting Dumbledore. Well, that wasn't strictly true; he knew exactly how he was going to stop her, and she wasn't going to like it.
It was only then that he realised he was being observed. His four children, those currently residing at home, were sitting on the stairs watching him with four pairs of identically concerned eyes.
"So what's happened, Dad?" Ginny asked, breaking the silence.
Arthur was so thrown by their presence, the automatic lie he uttered sounded fake, even to his own ears. "Nothing's wrong. Just been on Ministry business," he added, unknowingly echoing Molly's earlier excuse. "Have you seen your mum?"
"Oh come on, Dad, how stupid do you think we are?" George snapped. "We're not kids any more-"
"-we deserve to know what's going on," Fred finished.
Arthur was shocked to see the anger in their faces and he cleared his throat nervously. "Erm, yes, well…"
"Is that you, Arthur?" Molly Weasley was wiping her hands on a Muggle tea towel as she appeared from the kitchen. "What's wrong?" she asked sharply, taking in the darkened expressions on the younger Weasley faces.
"That's exactly what we want to know," Ron muttered.
"Dad was just going to tell us what he found out from Dumbledore," Fred said, and George added, "Weren't you, Dad?"
The Ministry had potions and pensives, the Muggles, water-boarding, yet none could compare to the full brunt of a Weasley family interrogation. Or so Arthur decided that second. Truth was most certainly the safest option, but preceded by an attempt at thwarting the equally unparalleled Weasleys-racing-thoughtlessly-into-danger.
"There have been a couple of Death Eater attacks," he began slowly, raising a hand to forestall the barrage of questions. "No need to panic; we are perfectly safe. The wards on The Burrow have been strengthened, and, other than official Ministry missives, nothing can get in. Or out," he added, emphasising the 'out'.
"Right, then," Molly said decisively. "First thing we need to do is bring Harry here. There's no way he's safe at the Dursleys' and with the extra wards in place he'll be-"
"No," Arthur said bluntly, startling them all. He took a breath. "Now, I need you all to stay calm..."
"Now Harry," Voldemort said reasonably, completely ignoring the murderous look Harry was giving him. "It's time to put an end to all this nonsense, don't you think?"
Harry said nothing.
"Do you not care if I torture your friends? Maybe you are more like me than you care to admit if you enjoy seeing others suffer."
"Go. To. Hell," Harry bit out. Voldemort continued as though he hadn't spoken.
"Would you like me to bring some others to join us? Your little mudblood witch that you rely on so much? She and I could have such an interesting debate about spells."
"Well then, how about a Weasley? You do seem so keen to be part of that family. Does pretending they want you there help you forget you have no one of your own?"
Harry felt angry tears threatening and he bit down on his lip.
"Leave him alone," Lupin snapped. "Harry, you have lots of people that love you just as much as your mum and d-" he broke off gasping as Voldemort's muttered a curse that sent needle sharp pain tingling around his throat.
"Keep quiet, werewolf," Voldemort hissed. "Or do you enjoy the Cruciatus curse so much you want another taste of it?" He turned back to Harry. "C'mon, my boy, be realistic. Are you just going to hang there and watch as I destroy this pathetic excuse of a man? Wouldn't a true Gryffindor want to save him? A name Harry…just one…"
Harry shook his head, not trusting himself to speak.
Voldemort sighed and raised his wand. "As you wish. Crucio."
And the room filled again with Lupin's ragged cries.
Albus Dumbledore laid down his teacup slowly, settling it on the saucer with barely a clink of china.
Fawkes ruffled his feather's and gave a little squawk, quietly, so as not to wake the sleeping Hedwig.
Dumbledore smiled affectionately at his long-time companion. "Yes, my friend, I too am worried."
Fawkes tilted his head.
The headmaster continued, "Despite my assurances to Severus and Arthur, I am concerned for young Harry; no one can expect him to show superhuman abilities. He is, after all, still a child."
A soft snore came from one of the portraits and Dumbledore slid his chair a little closer to the bird, lowering his voice. "And there has been no news of Remus. They are searching everywhere for some trace of him but so far I've received no word on his whereabouts. I can't help but feel the two events are linked, it would be foolish not to." He reached out a hand to soothingly stroke Hedwig's soft feathers as he spoke. "Let us hope that Severus has found them. And that he has some flamboyant escape plan up his sleeve." He chuckled. "Or perhaps I should hope, at least, he has a successful plan."
Still chuckling, he slid back to his desk and reached out a hand to his cup, upturning it on the saucer. Three clockwise turns and he picked it up, peering inside at the patterns within the grains of tea.
"Hmm," he stoked his beard thoughtfully. "A beast of some kind…a wavering scar…and a snake twisted around them. Most interesting, but not particularly beneficial." He returned the cup to its former position and stared at the sleeping owl. "Perhaps we should start making preparations for their safe return. Yes, that's exactly what we'll do." He rose from his chair still speaking, "Come, Fawkes, we have quite a bit of work awaiting us and hopefully very little time to do it."
With a majestic flap of wings Fawkes rose from his perch, and followed as Dumbledore, cradling Hedwig in his arms, left the office without a backwards glance.
It had taken all of Arthur's persuasive skills, pointing out the obvious fact that they didn't even know where Harry and Lupin were, to stop a full Weasley family rescue mission launching itself from The Burrow. They had railed against him, shouting and demanding that they had to do something, before finally conceding that there was nothing they could realistically do and quietened. On the surface, at least. Arthur suspected were it not for the strengthened wards preventing travel – and communication – from The Burrow, there would have been no such accord.
As it was, he felt the brooding wrath of his offspring directed towards him every time he remotely crossed paths with them. Even Molly was being short with him. He didn't blame them: they needed something, or someone, to direct their frustration towards and he was the most accessible target.
For all his words of calm, he felt their impotence keenly. He wanted no more than to race to Harry's rescue, as he would any of his children, but his words were the truth. They could not get to Harry and Lupin, even assuming that they were together and not dead – a sickening notion he had not shared with his family. All he could do was trust in Dumbledore and believe that his faith in Snape was merited. There was little else he could do, and as a father, that broke his heart.
He wanted Harry home.
Tears were silently running down Harry's face as he watched Lupin struggle to recover from the curse. He could stop this so easily. One name.
Lupin looked up to see Harry watching him and he seemed to know what Harry was thinking. "No Harry, don't," he coughed. "Don't let-"
"Silencio," Voldemort snapped and Lupin's final words were silenced. "Ah. That's better. Now where were we, Harry?"
A discrete cough at the door distracted Voldemort and he turned. "What is it?" he asked impatiently.
An apologetic Lucius Malfoy stood in the doorway. "I'm sorry to disturb you, my Lord, but you wanted to know-"
"Ah yes, of course. Thank you, Lucius," Voldemort nodded. "I take it you relayed my orders?"
"Yes," Lucius confirmed. "Is there anything else you require from me?"
Voldemort considered the question. "Not at the moment," he said. "But you are welcome to stay and observe if you wish."
Lucius couldn't help but smile. "I would enjoy that, my Lord," he said and stepped into the room. He regarded the tear stained face of Harry Potter with pleasure and shot the boy a malicious smirk, slightly disheartened when it provoked no other reaction than a lowering of green eyes to the floor.
Lucius nodded to the two other Death Eaters and moved past them to lean against the wall and watch his master work.
"It's interesting, isn't it, Lucius," Voldemort observed, "How much damage a werewolf can sustain. There's actually very little physical torture I can inflict that is strong enough to have any effect on dear Lupin here, unless of course I want to kill him."
Harry looked at Lupin through a haze of tears and the werewolf viciously shook his head as Voldemort continued.
"However, there are other ways to achieve the desired result. A more psychological approach as it were. If hurting the man doesn't bother the boy, then perhaps hurting the boy will disturb the man."
Both Harry and Lupin looked at Voldemort in confusion.
Voldemort raised an eyebrow. "I see I have your attention now," he said. "But I think, rather than explain myself; it would be easier just to demonstrate. Now where did I put it…?"
Voldemort made an elaborate show of patting the pockets of his robe and with an exclamation of triumph he pulled out a string of dark beads, not dissimilar to Muggle rosary beads, but with a large clear crystal pendant.
He wrapped the chain of beads around his right wrist and let the crystal dangle down from his fingers.
Lupin shifted uncomfortably and Voldemort sent him a chilling smile. "What's wrong, werewolf? Is something upsetting you?" He let a few of the beads slip gracefully through his fingers and Lupin's eyes were hypnotically drawn to the polished stones. "Oh, and before I forget, Finite incantatem," Voldemort said, ending the silencing spell. "Any last words before we begin?"
Lupin didn't react.
"Lupin?" Harry spoke quietly, unnerved by Lupin's behaviour, but even his voice provoked no response.
Voldemort looked satisfied. "Lucius?" he said, the crystal gently swinging to and fro. "Would you like to activate the wards?"
Lucius lifted his wand and pointed it at Lupin. "Capsis," he commanded and instantly sparks of light began crackling around the prone werewolf.
Lupin didn't react at all, and Harry could only stare helplessly as the light shifted and shimmered in the dank room, trickling its way along the chain tethering Lupin to the floor and magically fusing all the links. It poured off the metal, pooling in the air around Lupin, forming a shimmering bubble of light that pulsed with magical energy. The bubble began to elongate and expand, and Harry closed his eyes as the sparks hurtled towards him.
He opened his eyes carefully and was surprised to see that both he and Lupin were now encapsulated by the bubble, Voldemort and his followers just fractured images outside the glittering field.
With a last of blinding intensity the light flashed once, and then vanished, leaving nothing more than a roomful of blinking wizards.
Lupin remained oblivions, still mesmerised by the jewellery in Voldemort's hand.
"Excellent, Lucius. I must congratulate you on some fine work," Voldemort said.
Lucius bowed his head at the rare praise, even though his master was turned away from him. "Thank you, my Lord."
Harry's eyes were wide and fearful as he looked at the two men. "What did you just do? What's wrong with Lupin?"
Voldemort ignored the first question. "The beads are moonstone," he replied. "Werewolves seem to be entranced by it, especially when the power of the stones is amplified by a piece of clear quartz." He waggled the crystal in the air and Lupin's eyes followed it hungrily.
Harry was almost afraid to ask, "What's it do?"
"On its own? Nothing," Voldemort smiled nostalgically. "But an old friend of mine told me about some interesting uses he'd discovered. Charming fellow. Harker was his name."
"Was he a dark wizard?"
Voldemort seemed amused at the notion, "No, unfortunately not, or I would have had great use for him. I believe he was a vampire, although we never actually discussed it." He sniffed thoughtfully. "Wonder what he's up to now. Last I knew of him he was running a travelling freak show."
He pondered for a moment longer then gave himself a mental shake. "Enough reminiscing. In answer to your original question, Harry, the beads act as a conduit for lupine energy. The lunar cycle is completely bypassed, so when you speak the charm…no, again, it's easier just to show you…"
His fingers tightened around the dripping beads and he began to chant, low and melodically, strange-wounding words spilling rhythmically from his lips.
"Ershichnic ersha…olgosh migzot kera...Ershichnic ersha…olgosh migzot kera…Est kevatalan."
On the floor, Lupin started to shudder. His head dropped low and his back spasmed in an unnatural motion.
"Ershichnic ersha…olgosh migzot kera...Ershichnic ersha…olgosh migzot kera…Est kevatalan."
Fingers were flexing and elongating, and Lupin's body was straining against his clothes. His head snapped up and back, yellow eyes staring at the ceiling.
Voldemort spoke faster and louder, the words a tirade, and Harry watched for the second time in his life as the man he trusted more than anyone in the world turned into a werewolf.
"Ershichnic ersha…olgosh migzot kera...Ershichnic ersha…olgosh migzot kera…Est kevatalan…Est kevatalan."
Lupin let out a long mournful howl.
Snape flinched as a howl echoed through the dungeons, and he laid a calming hand on Clements' brow as the man trembled in fear.
"Lie still," he said softly.
Clements settled and barely whimpered as Snape finished applying the bandages around his eyes. The self-inflicted scratches were no more than fading scars.
The Potions Master worked quickly and efficiently, and was soon packing away his supplies, pausing only to squeeze a jar of powder into his fellow Death Eater's hand.
"If the pain worsens, one teaspoonful of this in some tea, no more than once every two hours. Be warned, though, if you put in too much it will almost certainly be fatal. But mercifully painless," he added.
Clements' other hand covered Snape's. "Thank you," he whispered.
Snape awkwardly pulled way. "No need to thank me. I am only doing as I was instructed."
"Thank you, anyway."
Snape picked up his bag of potions and went to the door, speaking over his shoulder before he left the room. "Remember, no more than a teaspoon."
"I won't forget," Clements replied.
Snape closed the door softly behind him.
A quick look along the empty corridor and he squared his shoulders. He had a lot to do.
Harry was flattened back against the stone wall, breathing shallowly lest he attracted the werewolf's attention.
"Now do you see the beauty of Lucius' wards, Harry?" Voldemort said, not even reacting as Lupin's claws raked a shimmering trail mere inches from his face. "It keeps the werewolf in beside you, and unable to reach us. But I wouldn't be too concerned; his leash shouldn't let him get too close to you. Just close enough…"
The wolf howled in frustration and he savaged the air in front of the amused wizard. "Now, now, Lupin. Calm yourself." Voldemort pointed to Harry with his wand and sent a trail of red sparks in his direction. "You'll upset the boy."
Werewolf eyes followed the trail of light and watched as it dissipated in the air in front of Harry. Nostrils flared and a soft growl rumbled low in the creature's chest.
Harry felt hard brick digging painfully into his back.
Lupin. It's Lupin. He won't hurt me. He can't. He'd never forgive himself. The thought froze in Harry's head as he remembered Voldemort's words. Perhaps hurting the boy will disturb the man.
Voldemort saw the dawning comprehension in Harry's eyes. "Changed your mind yet, Harry? Anything to say?"
Unable to tear his eyes from the growling werewolf, Harry gave a minute shake of his head.
With a roar of terrifying intensity, the werewolf launched himself at Harry. Teeth gnashing and claws reaching out he yowled in frustration as the chain tethering him to the ring pulled taut and yanked him to a stop. He snapped viciously in the air, frustrated to be so close to is prey but unable to strike. And then he stilled, and lifted his head to sniff in the air. He could smell fresh blood. Not the dried encrusted blood that covered Harry, but newly spilt, deliciously tangy, and pure…oh so pure and innocent.
Saliva dripping from his jaws, the wolf turned tawny eyes to stare at Harry, and Harry likewise followed the creature's gaze as it travelled down his body to his torn t-shirt. A streak of red blossomed on the white material and spread very slowly outwards, and with it came the stinging pain of a shallow cut along Harry's flesh.
Harry lifted his eyes again to stare at the werewolf, and tried to say something, anything to stop what he knew was going to happen. "Lupin," he whispered. "Please, no…"
And the wolf attacked.
Voldemort is going to kill me.
The realisation hit Snape so suddenly he almost dropped the heavy bottle he was carefully pouring into the tarnished cauldron. Toxic fumes swirled in the air around him.
He tried to shrug the thought off, but it festered in the back of his mind as he poured. He's going to kill me. Hardly a revelation; from the instant he chose to betray his master he was under a constant threat of death, but to so openly defy him…
He's going to kill me.
The bottle was empty, and had been for several seconds. He gently slid the large stopper into the neck and placed the bottle back into the solidly constructed cupboard, which housed all of his more flammable ingredients. He automatically reached out to swing the door closed and paused. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully and with deliberate care he reached into the cupboard and removed the stoppers from every container inside.
He rinsed his hands in the sink and set the plug in the drain, leaving the tap running.
A glance around the room confirmed that all was ready. The little pile of sweet smelling balls in the corner made his lip curl into an involuntary sneer, anything associated with the Weasley's always did. It was regrettable that he had to resort to using a Weasley Wizarding Wheezes product to stage this little distraction but they produced exactly the effect he desired with the minimum of effort. The Weasley twins' egos would be insufferable if they discovered their new range of Sparkly Bath Bombs, developed purely for the Christmas market, had been used in such a way. And by Severus Snape no less.
They probably had no idea that Snape even paid attention to their creations. When they brought selections to the Order meetings, he pretended indifference, but he couldn't help but be intrigued by their skill at creating such innovative uses for potions. Not that he would ever admit that to anyone. So he made a point of acquiring items for further examination, most often confiscating them from over-excitable Gryffindors.
The water in the sink was rising steadily and the air in the room was growing increasingly foul.
Snape's obsidian eyes gave the room a final sweep and he almost smiled.
This was going to be interesting.
Claws flashed through the air in front of Harry's eyes and he squeezed them closed, pressing his face into his arm in a vain attempt to stop the werewolf damaging his sight.
Even with his eyes closed he couldn't block out the excruciating pain of a million shallow slashes ripping through his skin, the relentless bombardment of a frustrated werewolf intent on shredding his victim piece by piece.
And then it stopped.
Harry kept his eyes closed and didn't move, aware now that his face was wet and unsure whether it was blood or tears.
Someone was talking but Harry wasn't fooled. To open his eyes would only let the werewolf hurt him even more. No, he would keep his face protected.
The voice sounded more insistent now but he would not react. Take slow shallow breaths, stay as close to the wall as you can, don't let those claws get a better target.
"HARRY!" The voice bellowed in his ear and Harry let out a small whimper of fear and buried his face further into his shoulder. Strong fingers gripped his chin and forcibly turned his face and Harry tensed. But the claws were gone.
Reluctantly, he blinked his eyes open and stared wide eyed at Voldemort, whose face was only inches from his own.
"I think you broke him, Lord." Harry heard someone speak from the other side of the room and he saw Voldemort's eyes narrow thoughtfully as he considered the words.
"Get Severus here now," he said sharply. "I believe we need some of his expertise."
Voldemort's breath chilled Harry's damp skin and he shuddered.
"Right away, my Lord."
Harry kept on staring fearfully at the Dark Lord as the man released his jaw and backed up a few steps, a finger tapping to his lips.
"Are you really catatonic Harry or are you just good at faking it?" Sharp eyes watched his reaction.
The words trickled into Harry's brain and some semblance of an answer fell to his lips. "Faking…it," he stuttered.
Voldemort chuckled. "You never cease to amaze me."
Harry didn't reply, instead he carefully wiped his sodden face against his already damp sleeve and tried to ignore the pink tinge.
Voldemort smiled and turned away to inspect the crumpled form on the floor. Harry followed his motions and watched as he knelt down and pressed his long fingers against the neck of the very human form of Remus Lupin. Seemingly satisfied he stood and drew his wand, pointing it at the fallen man.
"No-" Harry gasped and Voldemort shot him an amused glance.
"No need to panic, boy," he said and flicked his wand. "Ennervate."
Lupin groaned and very carefully pushed himself from the floor, raising a hand to rub at his eyes. Harry watched the dismay flood Lupin's face as he registered the wet blood trickling down his arm from his fingers and the sharp lift of his head as he looked up at Harry.
"Dear God, no," Lupin whispered.
Somewhere deep inside a part of Harry, the very sick and twisted part, laughed at the look of absolute horror on Lupin's face. Sane Harry quickly squashed the urge to giggle and tried to smile reassuringly. "I'm okay," he lied. "It looks worse than it is."
If Lupin had looked ill before, this was nothing to how the man looked now. His face was gaunt and pale, brown eyes looking out from sunken sockets. "Harry…I'm so sorry…I…" his words faltered and he dropped his eyes to the ground.
"How very sweet," Voldemort sneered, "You're making me feel all warm inside."
Harry felt the reassuring knot of anger return to his stomach and he tore his eyes from the dejected figure on the floor, pure hatred channelled directly at the scoffing wizard. "I'm going to fucking kill you," he hissed.
For a brief moment, Voldemort stared back at him, startled into silence, and then he laughed. "Oh Harry, you so don't belong on the good side. You have such a natural talent you're letting go to waste. Just think of all the fun you could have…"
Harry smiled then, a cold cruel smile of absolute loathing. "Let me go and I'll show you just how much fun I can be." The air crackled with an undercurrent of magical energy.
Voldemort laughed, but it was a nervous sound and he cut it off abruptly. His eyes narrowed. "I don't think I'm interested in anything you have to say to me anymore, boy. This had ceased to be entertaining and I have much more important matters to attend to. I think it's time to put an end to your insolence one and for all."
The knot of anger in Harry's stomach unravelled as fast as it had formed and all he could feel was the cold churning of fear.
Voldemort raised his wand.
Snape turned swiftly to intercept the approaching figure of Lucius Malfoy, pulling the door to his potions room closed behind him. "Yes, Lucius?" he said smoothly.
"Our master wishes your attendance," Lucius said sharply.
Snape eyes the blond man's taut features and hesitated. "Is something amiss?"
Lucius let out a small sigh and dropped the arrogant façade under the knowing eyes of his long-time friend. "I fear he has gone too far this time," he said.
Snape felt a lurch of fear. "How so?" he asked tonelessly, suddenly aware at how quiet the corridor had become. No screams or howls emanating off the stone walls. Snape tried to recall at what point they had stopped.
"He's broken the boy."
Snape blinked. "He's what?" Damn it, man, focus…focus…do not let him see any reaction, even one so subtle as a blink.
Lucius was thrown by Snape's uncharacteristic reaction and he frowned. "He's broken the boy," he repeated.
"Is he dead?" Snape tried to inject some ghoulish interest in his words and was rewarded with a chilling smile from Lucius.
"Not yet. But I suspect he wishes he were."
Growing increasingly aware of the room behind him, Snape began to walk slowly along the corridor, Lucius automatically walking alongside. "So," Snape said carefully, "Potter hasn't managed to live up to his reputation?"
"The Saviour of the Wizarding World? Hardly." Lucius was no longer smiling. "When that old fool Dumbledore hears of this…he'll have no choice but to attack. The War's about to begin, Severus, and you know we are nowhere near ready, no matter what our master says."
"It's that bad?" Snape forced the words out.
They had reached the open doorway and Lucius stopped just outside. He laid a hand on Snape's sleeve. "Put it this way, Severus," he said. "I've contacted Narcissa."
Snape knew what that meant. Lucius had long ago told him that he'd prepared an escape for his wife and child should the need ever arise. The Malfoy name would continue on no matter what happened to the senior Malfoy. Snape nodded his understanding and chose his next words carefully, "Perhaps you should join them?"
The trademark Malfoy sneer twisted Lucius' aristocratic features. "Do you dare suggest I should flee?" A small glitter of amusement sparkled in the cool grey eyes.
Snape let his own lip curl in response. "Heaven forbid, Lucius. I know there are none so true to our Lord's values as you. So let us not keep out master waiting any longer."
Lucius bowed low, and flamboyantly gestured for Snape to enter the room. "Ladies first," he said and looked up with an impish grin.
The flash of childhood memories almost made Snape physically recoil and he tried to replicate the smile that once would have been so readily shared. But boyhood innocence was long since destroyed and the smile faded before it could even form. "I'd better go in," he said flatly, and Lucius straightened with a nod.
"It would not do to keep him waiting," he agreed, his mask firmly back in place.
Snape steeled himself and strode into the room beyond, just in time to see Voldemort raise his wand.
A puddle of water spread slowly outwards from the base of the overflowing sink.
Through air that was pungent with toxic fumes, it spread, the clear liquid trickling into crevices and pits in the stone floor but never faltering in its journey towards the pile of sweetly scented balls in the corner.
Further along the corridor, a blind man spooned powder into a mug of tea and stirred. Added more powder and stirred again. Let out a moan of absolute agony and emptied the rest of the jar into the warm liquid.
Then he lifted the mug to his lips.
"You called for me?" Snape snapped the words out, deliberately surprising the Dark Lord.
"Ah, Severus," Voldemort did not turn, nor lower his wand. "You're just in time."
Snape's eyes slid from his master's outstretched arm and time seemed to slow as his brain processed the scene before him.
…cowering on the floor like a beaten dog…
…Snape had heard Lucius say the words but he had not believed…
He stared at the bloodied rag doll of a boy chained against the wall and felt the world begin to crumble. All of Dumbledore's faith centred around one child…
Alert green eyes focused sharply on Snape and he felt time tumble forwards again, suddenly aware that the Dark Lord was awaiting some sort of reply.
"In time, my Lord?" he said automatically, unable to tear his gaze from the rage in the eyes of a boy who should, from all appearances, be dead.
"In time to see Harry Potter die."
The words snapped him to awareness and he finally tore his eyes from Harry, taking a step towards Voldemort. "Is that wise, my Lord? Is he not more valuable to us alive?"
Voldemort whirled, brandishing his wand angrily. "Do you dare to question me?"
Recovering his composure Snape bowed his head. "Never, my Lord. I just thought you had plans for Potter," he spat out the word, "that required him to be living. If not in one piece," he added, and could almost feel Harry's stare burning a hole in his skin.
Voldemort relaxed and lowered his wand and Snape lifted his eyes to see the dark wizard was no longer angry. "As always, you are the voice of reason, thank you, Severus. I almost allowed the boy to goad me into killing him."
Harry let out a snort of disbelief which Voldemort ignored as he continued speaking, "Now that you are here, perhaps you would like to entertain yourself for a while? Repay old debts as it were?" He gave Lupin a sharp kick with his boot, barely eliciting any sort of reaction.
Snape looked at the prone werewolf and sneered, "I think I would like that, my Lord. Thank you for your generosity."
"You bastard," Harry spat and from somewhere over his shoulder, Snape heard Lucius choke back a laugh.
Even Voldemort was smiling. "It seems you have endeared yourself even further to our young friend."
Snape let his cold gaze sweep over Harry dismissively and then he looked back at his master. "I believe I will survive the loss," he said.
Voldemort laughed and moved out of Snape's way, joining Lucius by the doorway and motioning for Snape to begin, "Whenever you're ready, Severus."
Snape looked down at the bent head of Remus Lupin and took a deep breath. He pulled his wand free, pointed it, and said clearly, "Crucio."
The warm tea travelled smoothly down the oesophagus, into the awaiting stomach. A gentle reaction at first, acid and powder interacting to produce no more than a warm glow as the chemicals absorbed into tissues, and blood, and muscle.
The blind man smiled as the pain began to ease and a mellow warmth spread through his limbs; he closed his sightless eyes and allowed himself to drift into the tranquil world of dreams.
As he slept, the chemicals spread, and the temperature slowly began to rise; what was warm began to grow hot, what was a glow increasingly turned into fire.
Soon, the body's fat was bubbling, and at it was at that moment nature took its course.
Clements spontaneously combusted.
A shrill whistle began to sound throughout the dungeon, the wizarding equivalent of a smoke alarm.
It was loud enough to pierce Lupin's screams and Snape lifted his wand instantly, turning to his master with a questioning eyebrow raised.
Lupin dropped to the floor, unconscious.
Voldemort was already moving, ordering the other Death Eater's to investigate and yelling for someone to turn off the alarm.
Lucius obeyed instantly with a muttered incantation, and the sound abruptly ceased.
"What in Merlin's name is going on?" Voldemort snapped, looking to Snape and Lucius for an answer.
"Perhaps it is a false alarm?" Snape said calmly. Shouts rang out along the corridor and he inclined his head. "Or perhaps not." He was aware that Lucius was staring at him and he tried to feign ignorance. "Shall I go and see-"
"No," Voldemort said sharply. "Lucius, you go and find out what's happening. Quickly."
"Right away, my Lord," Lucius replied, and gave Snape one final appraising look before heading out of the door.
Voldemort turned to the chained occupants of the room. "We should move our guests, just in case…"
Snape was already moving to obey.
The puddle flowed around the Sparkly Bath Bombs, water absorbing into the glittering balls, and they began to let off a small fizzing sound.
Muggle products foamed and fizzed, producing nothing more than a mass of frothing bubbles and a scented bath of water. But these were not muggle products. These were wizarding products. These were, more importantly, Weasley products.
In a spectacular shower of glitter and sparkling light, the balls exploded.
And the room, filled as it was with highly flammable fumes, ignited.
Lucius was thrown backwards along the corridor as an almighty explosion rocked the far end of the dungeon.
He slammed into the far wall with a sickening thud and slid to the ground in a tangled heap of lifeless limbs.
Death Eaters, caught directly in the path of blast, were bombarded by flames and chunks of flying debris.
Screams and yells and sounds of crashing masonry filled the corridor. Blinding dust billowed around the lapping flames and soon the entire corridor was an opaque tunnel of smoke and debris.
Someone shouted, "WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!"
And magic tore into the air as panicked Death Eaters began firing curses at unseen foes.
Amidst the chaos, Voldemort ran out into the corridor and yelled for quiet, but no one heard him.
The instant the room exploded, Snape flew into action.
Unheeded by Voldemort, whose attention was completely diverted, he yanked out the invisibility cloak from under his robes and turned to Harry.
"Can you walk?" he whispered, and the boy just blinked. "Potter," he put some venom in his tone, "if I release you, can you walk?" From the corner of his eye he could see Voldemort leaving the room. They didn't have much time.
"Yes," Harry snapped, and Snape looked back at him, startled. "I can walk."
Snape nodded once and waved his wand at the final chain holding Harry's arms above his head, and immediately had to catch the boy in his arms as he collapsed. "Maybe you were a bit presumptuous in agreeing with me," Snape muttered, and Harry immediately pushed away from him, eyes flashing with fierce determination and fury as he struggled to stand.
"I said I could walk," he snarled. "Don't you fucking touch me."
Snape shook his head in irritation. "We don't have time for this; we have to get out of here." He reached a hand out to pull Harry away from the wall and Harry jerked free.
"I'm not going anywhere without Lupin,"
"Oh for-" Snape bit off the words in exasperation. "Of course I'm not leaving the werewolf behind, but the priority is-"
Harry whipped a hand out and pulled Snape's wand free, holding it his shaking fist, pointed directly at Snape. "I am not going without Lupin," he said. "You are not going to leave him."
Expecting Voldemort to return at any moment, Snape let out a huge sigh and immediately snatched the wand out of Harry's bloodied hand, pushing the boy back against the wall and pointing the wand at his throat, trying to ignore the pain in the boy's eyes. "Is that what you think of me? Do you think I would leave Lupin here to Voldemort?" Snape took a calming breath. "First, I am going to get you out of here, and then I'll come back for Lupin. I can't protect you and carry him at the same time."
"I'll carry him."
Snape moved back and eyed the boy incredulously. "Potter, you can't even support yourself."
"I'll do it," Harry said.
There was no time. Snape gave a frustrated shake of his head and muttered, "Fine. Fine." He rummaged in the pockets of his robe and pulled out a glass vial. "Drink this," he said, proffering the vial to Harry.
Harry made no move to take the vial.
Snape thrust it forcibly into Harry's hand. "It's a rejuvenating potion. I'm not trying to poison you. It's either that or I render you unconscious and you'll have no further say in the matter. Your choice, Potter."
Giving Snape a dubious look, Harry uncorked the bottle and drank the liquid, his nose scrunching in disgust at the taste. "Why do all your potions have to taste so bloody revolting?"
"They don't. I just make them like that for you," Snape dead-panned and Harry rolled his eyes.
"Why don't I think you are joking?"
"Because I never joke," Snape replied as he waved his wand at Lupin's chains. They dropped to the floor and he looked back at Harry. "Carry him, then," he snapped and took a step back to let Harry past.
Harry visible steeled himself and pushed away from the wall, feeling only a little unsteady as the potion did its job. He walked over to Lupin's body and hoisted it onto his shoulder, his jaw clenching with the effort.
Snape quickly covered them both with the cloak and in seconds Harry and Lupin had vanished. "Stay close behind me," Snape said to the empty air and headed towards the door, intent on finding Voldemort, the only person able to lift the wards and let them leave. He could only hope Harry followed.
In the corridor, Voldemort had achieved some semblance of order.
Dust and dirt still swirled in the air but the shouts had been silenced. A motley scattering of bloodied Death Eaters were working to clear debris and uncover fallen comrades.
Voldemort stood amidst the rubble, eyeing the destruction, and trying to figure out what had happened.
He looked up at the sound of Snape's voice and gingerly stepped towards the potions professor. His expression was grim. "I want to know what caused this, Severus."
"Yes, my Lord," Snape agreed.
"I don't know how, but I suspect Dumbledore is behind this. You," Voldemort said, pointing a finger, "will go and find out what that old fool is up to."
Snape bowed his head. "As you wish, my Lord."
Voldemort began to mutter the incantations to lift the wards.
"I wouldn't do that, my Lord," Lucius Malfoy said loudly, stepping directly behind Snape and touching his wand to the base of his neck. "We need look no further for the cause of this mayhem."
Voldemort stopped speaking and looked uncertainly at the two men. "Explain yourself, Lucius."
Lucius pulled a stray lock of hair away from his face and tried to smooth it down, seemingly unaware of the bloodied strands streaked with dirt. "This is your traitor, my Lord." The wand pushed into Snape's neck causing him to stumble a little. "No one else had the opportunity to prepare this little surprise."
Voldemort's eyes shifted to Snape and he asked, "Is this true, Severus?"
Snape kept his face calm and let his wand slide into his palm as he spoke. "I have no idea how Lucius arrived at this preposterous conclusion. I would never betray you, my Lord." Fingers tightening on the hard wood, he swivelled his body as though turning to Lucius but raised his arm and snapped his attention back to the Dark Lord.
Voldemort's wand flew into the air and Snape ducked low as Lucius shouted a curse from behind.
The spell flew past Snape and slammed into a gaping Death Eater who dropped to the ground like a stone.
Snape rolled and said, "Protego," just in time to deflect a stunning curse thrown from the other side of the room.
The shield did not protect him from Lucius' next attack and the shouted "Reducto!" sent him crashing over Voldemort, who was on his knees trying to retrieve his wand. He slammed into the wall with a heavy thud.
"Stupefy," he gasped out, and a blast of red light jarred Lucius' hastily erected shield.
"Incendio," Lucius snapped, and immediately Snape's robes burst into flame. Shrugging them off quickly, he rolled to the side as another curse hit the wall beside his head, stone chips grazing his face as they were pulverised by the blow.
Snape grabbed a chunk of rock from the floor and hefted it at Lucius, who dodged farther down the corridor and reformed his shield. Snape followed and sent a stream of stunning spells in the blond man's direction, satisfied to see Lucius staggering back as his shield faltered under the relentless attack.
The two men were so intent on their battle, neither noticed Voldemort still scrabbling on the floor, unsuccessfully trying to find his wand under the barrage of curses flying over his head.
"Is this what you're looking for?" a voice asked, and the Dark Lord looked up slowly.
Harry Potter stood, Voldemort's wand in his hand and pointed directly at the kneeling man's forehead. "Get up," he hissed.
Voldemort rose slowly and looked around for support, but those Death Eater's within range were either unconscious or dead. With a placating smile, he held out a hand to Harry. "Come on, my boy, it doesn't need to come to this."
Harry was a daunting sight, face scratched and bruised, shredded clothes drenched with blood hanging on his lean frame, green eyes blazing. He held the wand steady and his voice was soft. "You wanted to know what the prophecy said."
"I…what? The prophecy?" Voldemort stuttered, and then remembered. "Ah...the prophecy."
"I'll tell you now if you like."
Puzzled, Voldemort nodded, stalling for time. "Whatever you want to tell me, Harry, I'll listen."
"It says I have to kill you."
An incredulous look. "It says what?"
"Not in those words exactly, but if you cut out all the boring bits that's pretty much how it goes. For one to survive the other must die…or something like that. Basically, you kill me or I kill you, and I have to tell you I don't much feel like dying today," Harry said with a shrug.
Voldemort paled and took a nervous step backwards. "Harry, you don't have to do this. We could do great things together, you and I. There's no limit to what we could accomplish-"
Harry gave an eerie smile and steadied the wand. "Who am I to try to change fate?"
"Harry please…I beg you…."
"Avada kedavra," Harry said, and a bolt of green light erupted from the end of the wand, slamming into Voldemort and enveloping his body in a rippling fire of energy.
Harry stumbled back and watched in morbid fascination as the Dark Lord, the plague of wizard kind, was ravaged by the most Unforgivable of curses.
In a blinding flash, the light vanished, and the lifeless corpse of Voldemort fell to the floor.
Harry let his arm fall, wand barely dangling from his fingers. An oppressive silence had fallen on the scene and he could not even summon the energy to walk away. It was over, but it still felt like there was something missing-
A crunch of gravel behind him and Harry spun, wand raising and ready to fire curses.
Lucius Malfoy froze, wand arm hanging by his side, and Harry opened his mouth to shout a curse, only to bite it back as Snape stepped into the line of fire.
"No, Harry," he said tiredly. "It's over."
Harry frowned. "But it's Malfoy…"
"Harry," was all Snape replied. But Harry heard the plea in his voice and he lowered the wand.
"Fine. But if he tries anything…"
"I never thought you'd ever thank me for anything."
Snape raised an imperious eyebrow and scoffed. "Don't get used to it, Potter, it won't happen again."
"So," Snape continued, "Where exactly did you leave Lupin?"
Harry let out a gasp and skidded off down the corridor, leaving Snape and Lucius standing alone.
Snape limped over to a large sized chunk of concrete and eased down onto it with a wince.
Lucius followed and equally careful settled on another rock nearby. He wiped blood from his forehead and tried to dust off his filthy robes. "Narcissa is going to kill me," he muttered.
"At least now she will have the option," Snape pointed out.
Lucius looked over to his old friend. "What happens now, Severus?"
Snape picked up a couple of stones from the floor and tossed one over to the blond man, then he pointed his wand at his own rock and said, "Portus." The stone glowed blue and trembled for a moment and then fell still. "I don't know about you Lucius, but I'm going home."
Hesitantly, Lucius lifted his own wand and repeated the same incantation. "Thank you," he said quietly.
Snape gave no indication he had heard the words as he stood and headed towards Harry, waiting further down the corridor. "Good luck," he finally replied, but when he turned to Lucius, there was nothing but an empty rock.
Harry remained silent as Snape limped towards him, placing his own hand and Lupin's onto the proffered rock.
A stomach lurching tug and they port-keyed away, leaving nothing but broken bodies and a swirling cloud of dust.
Dumbledore's tea cup clattered to the floor as the three men appeared in the middle of the small sitting room. Battered and bleeding, they were a stomach wrenching sight to behold, but Dumbledore was ecstatic. Even the unconscious Lupin didn't make his enthusiasm falter; if Lupin was too gravely injured, Snape would have taken him directly to St Mungo's. He stood, beaming. "Welcome home."
On the cushion beside Dumbledore's now vacant chair, a white owl hooted in greeting, and Harry let Voldemort's wand drop from his fingers in his haste to reach his injured owl. "Hedwig-" he gasped, tears welling in his eyes. "I thought you were dead."
A warm hand patted his shoulder gently and Dumbledore smiled down at him. "Severus found her Harry - it seems you have a lot to thank him for."
"I think he's repaid any debts to me," Snape said as he picked up Voldemort's wand and tossed it to the white haired headmaster.
Dumbledore caught the wand and stared at it in confusion. Comprehension dawned in his clear blue eyes and they flicked from Snape to Harry and back again, "You mean-?"
Snape nodded. "He's dead."
The old man staggered back to the armchair and lowered himself into it, staring down at the wand in stunned silence.
Snape and Harry exchanged an amused look, and Harry turned back to pet Hedwig. Snape used his wand to lift Lupin and carry the unconscious werewolf out of the room towards one of the bedrooms Dumbledore had prepared for their arrival.
Dumbledore turned the wand over in his hand and lifted his gaze to Harry. "Harry? Did you-"
"Yes," Harry said abruptly. "Snape'll tell you about it. He was there." Seeing Dumbledore's small nod of acquiescence, he looked around the surprisingly cosy room they were in and changed the subject, "So, where are we exactly?"
"My cottage," Snape answered as he appeared in the doorway.
"Your cottage?" Harry said incredulously and heard Dumbledore chuckle.
"What did you expect?" Snape sneered. "That I lived in the dungeons of Hogwarts all year round?"
"Well, no…" Harry's words faltered as the colour drained from his face. "I think I'm going to-"
Dumbledore was halfway out of his chair as the boy collapsed, but Snape was quicker. He lifted the small frame effortlessly in his arms and started back towards the door. "Maybe a call to Madam Pomfrey?" he said over his shoulder and Dumbledore immediately made for the fireplace.
When Snape came back into the room, Dumbledore ushered him into a chair and pressed a brimming cup of tea into his hands. "Our patients?"
"They are resting," Snape said. "I have given them both some rudimentary treatment which will suffice until Madam Pomfrey arrives. Their injuries, whilst significant, are not immediately life-threatening. I assumed you wanted them to be treated here."
"Indeed. It is the last place anyone would expect young Harry to be. Even with Voldemort gone there will still be those who pose a threat."
Snape automatically took a sip of the tea and grimaced. "I do not take sugar," he said, laying the cup down on a table that he was certain he did not own. Looking around, his dark eyes saw quite a few more additions had been added to his home: several over-stuffed armchairs, flowered cushions, a nauseatingly brightly coloured rug. He dreaded to think what else the headmaster had tinkered with. "You have certainly been busy," he said dryly.
"Just preparing for your guests." Dumbledore smiled brightly. "Madam Pomfrey is gathering some supplies and I contacted Arthur who should also be arriving shortly once he relays our good news to his family." He ignored Snape's expression of irritation. "I felt Harry might benefit from a friendly face."
"Sarcasm does not become you, Severus." Twinkling blue eyes watched him with barely concealed anticipation. "So, while we wait for them to arrive, I believe you have quite a tale to tell. And don't miss anything out," the headmaster added, leaning forwards in his chair.
Snape picked up the tea cup and swallowed a sugary mouthful. He was going to need the fortification; this was going to take a while.