CHAPTER I

ENJOY THE EVENING

It was one of those wretched nights where nothing good could possibly happen. The air in the forest clearing was crisp and cold, the night sky drenched in stars so many it would attract the admiration of wizards and muggles alike. It was the only reason Severus Snape was content to be miles away from Hogwarts, its insufferable teenage couples and their preposterous habit of glaring at celestial bodies and vowing eternal devotion under their lovely, icy glimmer.

Severus cringed. There would be nothing lovely about tonight.

A gust of wind ruffled his dark hair and the black cloak that wrapped his tall, stringy frame billowed sideways. Severus ignored the impulse to hunch his shoulders against the cold and instead squared his back and bit down a shiver. He would not appear weak, not even in the secrecy of solitude.

Silence crackled with the electricity of an apparition and the frozen leaves on the ground stirred and chipped under the sudden weight of boots. Their owner a slender woman, her dark hair ruffled without reason. She scanned the surroundings, moving jerkily like a marten searching for prey. She held none of the grace one would expect from a woman of such beauty.

"Severus." Big brown eyes sparked vulgarly mad.

Severus felt a headache coming on already. "Bellatrix."

She wrapped her long, violet coat tighter around her waist to shield herself from the biting cold. A useless gesture really - the garment was already tight enough that she could pass off as a French courtesan. Bellatrix closed the distance to Severus, swaying with every step as if the ground beneath her was quaking. Her intoxicating scent of jasmine and amber reached Severus before she did, and for a moment he pondered whether she used it to keep away the wild animals in the woods.

One more pace and she would have stepped on Severus' boots. She let her head fall back to search the depths of his eyes and let out a breath of steam that seemed colder than the frozen air between them. It wasn't the witch's power that he dreaded, but her feral sadism. She smiled a wide, heartless smile. Severus' blood went cold.

"Eager to rid the world of Sirius Black?" She said hushed.

He smirked. "For over a decade."

"Good."

The air behind him crackled with the sound of another apparition and Severus turned to see Goyle, a large, brutish man, tucking the wand in his coat, leaving the garment ostentatiously unbuttoned, as if on purpose, to prove that large men lack a sense of cold. And a sense of proper judgement, to be precise.

Before the newcomer could say a word, there was another sizzle, followed by a pop and a hooded silhouette appeared. It spun around and the long, magnificent robe covering said silhouette flowed like silk and water and brushed over the mold and dirt and the frozen mud that covered the forest floor. All so luxuriously, magnificently misplaced.

"Gentlemen." The silhouette approached the others and lowered its hood to uncover a pale face with blunt features – Corban Yaxley. "And ladies," he added, flashing an unpleasant smile to which Bellatrix curled her upper lip, not caring to hide her disgust.

Severus nodded in acknowledgement.

"I believe we can skip the greeting," Severus spoke in smooth voice. "Bellatrix, you know what brings us here. Yaxley and Goyle, I'll be quick to brief you on why you've been summoned."

Yaxley's face constricted in a peculiar grimace at Severus' last words and Severus rejoiced every bit of it. It was probably unwise, today of all days, to rekindle enmities amongst fellow death eaters, but Severus still had a long way to go before he'd lick the boots of Yaxley and the likes of him.

"Tonight," he continued, "we will capture and bring before the Dark Lord someone who's been enjoying the fresh air of freedom for too long. Sirius Black. He is hiding in a cabin, not far from here, and he is alone. There is only one request: the Dark Lord wants and needs him alive. He's useless if–"

"He's always better dead than gone," Bellatrix said.

"And he's even better captured and alive," Severus continued just as softly. "Which does not mean unharmed. Nor in one piece. So… Enjoy the evening."

Severus lowered the cold Death Eater mask over his face and turned to walk. The others followed.

"Lumos"

A sphere of light formed at the tip of his wand, lighting the ground as they left the clearing and entered the forest of Aghaldir.

Black's hideout wasn't far.