Chapter 38 - Welcome to Hotel Voldemort

It wasn't supposed to happen this way.

If he had to be Voldemort's captive - a highly debatable point, as Snape would say - it was supposed to be on his own terms. Other Harry had insisted. This definitely was not his own terms. Right..?

And so it was, that even though Harry was wandless, defenseless, and surrounded by Voldemort and his followers in the middle of who-knows-where, his first panicked thought was that his vision of the future was going to come true. The bad one. All of his friends were going to die on the battlefields of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.

His second thought was a word that he would never say aloud in Mrs. Weasley's presence. The same word was also his third, fourth, and fifth thought.

"Harry Potter. How kind of you to drop in." Other voices then joined Voldemort in laughing at Harry's expense.

It was cold. He was still unable to move or to see anything except Voldemort's face below a dimly lit stone ceiling. His imagination ran wild with worst case scenarios. Was he already in the dank, dark dungeon where he would meet his demise? Had Voldemort already called all his Death Eaters to his side to watch Harry slowly die as they drained the blood from his body? Were they going to torture him first or would he simply sink into oblivion?

Maybe…maybe it wouldn't hurt if they were to simply give him the potion right now and make him sleep…

But what of his friends? The Remus impostor had sent him by Portkey but had stayed behind. That meant that Harry's friends were in danger, and he couldn't warn them! And where was the real Remus? Did Voldemort have him? Was he alive…or was he dead?

No. Snape had said that was the real Remus. How could he have fooled Snape? Well, he'd fooled them either way, hadn't he? Snape had thought he was really Remus. Kneader had thought he was safe, that the wards had done their work against any spells or curses. How could they both be so wrong?

One good thing about being under this spell was that his body was doing its breathing for him. It prevented him from crying or devolving into another panic attack. Although it was this lying here, unable to do anything, that was the main cause of his rising panic, so there was that.

As if reading his mind, Voldemort ended Harry's bodily imprisonment with a wave of his wand.

Harry immediately jumped up, crouching in a defensive posture. He didn't know what he could possibly do against what he could now see were about a dozen Death Eaters gathered in a semicircle around him, especially without his wand, but he'd be damned if he was going to let Voldemort win without a fight. At the very least, he'd do his best to get in one solid punch to Voldemort's ridiculously pale jaw. Maybe it would snap. If he had to die, that wouldn't be a bad image to die to.

He wanted to snap that jaw even more when he saw how widely Voldemort was grinning at him. He could see now that they were in a large room almost entirely made of stone. From the crumbling state of some of the stones, he guessed it to be an old, abandoned manor house.

"I have been waiting for you, Harry. You have no idea for how long. Alas, you accepted none of my invitations, so I had to take matters into my own hands. I am certain you understand."

"Where's Remus?" He asked, skipping the false pleasantries.

Voldemort's smile grew. "Your little werewolf friend? Why, he is right where you left him, in whatever safe location you were whisked away from."

"The real Remus! What did you do with him? Where is he?" Harry demanded.

"Oh, but Harry, that was the real Remus Lupin," Voldemort said silkily. He began to move, gliding in a circle around Harry, who pivoted in place along with him, unwilling to turn his back. "How does betrayal feel? After all, you took one of my own away from me," he hissed in a deadly tone even though his face was still smiling, albeit in a pinched, irritated sort of way. "It was only right that I take one of yours in payment for the loss of my most valuable spy."

Harry shook his head. "Remus isn't a traitor. He wouldn't betray me. And he wasn't acting like himself. You took him, replaced him with an impostor, I know it!"

"Oh, Harry." Voldemort came closer but didn't touch him. "How much faith you have in those you love." He said that word with disgust, as though loving anyone was the most foolish thing someone could do.

"I'm right," Harry said with conviction. He stared at Voldemort steadily, pulling up every bit of bravado he had, determined not to cower or show his very real fear. "You know I'm right."

Voldemort's jaw clenched for only a second, but it was enough for Harry to know that Voldemort was annoyed because Harry was right. Not that he'd doubted it.

"Where is Remus?" he asked again, even more certainty behind the words.

Voldemort grasped Harry's face before he could flinch away, holding him by the jaw with the strong, bony fingers of one hand. Harry's scar had been burning since he arrived, but it gave a sharp flare of pain at the contact. He tried not to show any of the pain on his face and spared a wistful thought for the strong headache draft that was still in his trunk at Kneader's place.

"Your werewolf friend was a particularly difficult case. It took several days to break his will enough for the Imperius Curse to work properly."

Harry could feel his face drain of color. Remus was under the Imperius Curse? The fact that Snape had been right all along to suspect him of being cursed threw his world off balance.

"Yes," Voldemort happily murmured. "I cast it myself. I had to ensure that it was strong enough to last, to fully immerse him within its effects. I am very good at casting it, you know."

A chill ran through Harry at those words. How could Voldemort have made Remus do his bidding, be under his control so completely, and after so many days? And if he could do that to Remus, who else might be compromised? And the power needed control Remus even after Kneader's wards should have made it impossible. And in a rush, he remembered Snape's words from weeks ago, when they'd been stuck at the Dursleys:

Something happened as a result of that potion that even the Dark Lord did not expect. He surpassed his previous strength of abilities. He became capable of far more than he was even during the previous war…

They hadn't accounted for Voldemort's increased power that would allow him to control Remus despite Snape's caution and Kneader's wards and counter-curses. They hadn't accounted for him sending Harry a vision about the Burrow and using Ron to track him. After his Ron plan failed to get Voldemort an exact location, they hadn't planned on the dark wizard capturing Remus to send back to the Order as a spy. And then sending Harry another vision so that he would leave Grimmauld for a place easier to be Portkeyed away from… Harry would bet that Voldemort had tried to send him a regular vision before sending him that message about Remus, but couldn't because he'd been Occluding, so then forced his way in anyway. Remus had meant to lure him to a less defensible safe house after all, so that he could be captured all the more quickly and easily.

All those weeks, Harry had been doing homework, practicing Occlumency, trying to pry personal details out of Snape, and playing Exploding Snap with his friends, while Voldemort had been putting a carefully crafted plan into action. And he'd won his prize. He'd won Harry.

If not for Snape, he'd have been captured days ago. If only they'd accounted for Voldemort's increased powers, Remus might still be sedated and Harry might still be safe…

"Yes, you are properly afraid, I can see." Voldemort smiled and let go of Harry's jaw, shoving him in the process so that he stumbled. Several of the assembled Death Eaters laughed. "We have much to do, Harry Potter. And you are our guest of honor. So…shall we get started?"

Before he had time to worry about what getting started entailed, he was hit by a painful curse from behind. He gasped, whirling around to face whichever Death Eater had sent the curse.

"Do not harm him too much," Voldemort said as he took a seat on a chair on a slightly raised platform. "I have need of his body. His mind on the other hand…" he grinned wickedly, "do with what you will."

Harry didn't know how much time had passed since he had been dragged downstairs from the main room and thrown into this sorry excuse for a cell. He'd been barely conscious and had fallen asleep almost immediately, both body and mind exhausted, and the small stone room was just as dark when he awoke as it had been when he'd fallen asleep.

He sat up slowly, feeling every limb and muscle, checking for broken bones or wounds. But Voldemort had meant what he'd said, and the Death Eaters hadn't done any damage to Harry's body other than a few scratches and bruises. Even those had mostly been caused when he'd fallen to the ground under the strain of their curses. They'd relied mainly on pain curses, ones that caused pain and mental strain without inflicting bodily harm. No Crucio. He didn't get his hopes up though; Voldemort was probably saving that curse for later. He rubbed his forehead with a shaky hand. His scar hadn't stopped prickling, but the worst pain had subsided after Voldemort let go of him.

He leaned back against the stone wall with a groan. He was exhausted, shaky, cold, hungry, thirsty, and scared. He had no idea why Voldemort wasn't just putting him under and using him as a blood bag. He didn't know if the dark wizard was merely having fun playing with his prey before going through with his plan, or if he had something even more sinister in store for Harry.

Or perhaps he really did want to drive Harry insane. What was that saying? Insanity loves company? Okay, so the saying didn't quite go like that, but in Voldemort's case, it was probably true.

If it truly was his plan to drive him insane, Harry thought, it may very well be accomplished by leaving him alone in this cold, dark room with nothing to do but think.

Had anyone noticed he was gone? Had Snape received his signal for help? He pressed his thumb to the ring, not for the first time, but it was still and cold. He knew he'd felt it warm up when he'd used it back at Kneader's, but it didn't warm up here. There had to be wards in place that prevented it from working. Did that mean Snape didn't have a way to find him? And even if he did get the summons to go back to Kneader's, Remus - mind-controlled Remus - would have made excuses for his absence, held them off as long as possible. But sooner or later they'd notice. He was the main reason they'd had to go to a safe house in the first place, after all. He couldn't disappear for long without the others needing to know where he was. It could take hours though, maybe until evening…

But who was he kidding? It didn't matter how long it took them to realize that he was gone. They had no way of finding or rescuing him.

His thoughts kept drifting back to Snape. Harry had failed. He was supposed to trust Snape, to work with him so that the spy would be back in place to get him away from Voldemort. There was no way that would happen now. Voldemort would never believe any story Snape concocted while Harry Potter was his prisoner in need of rescuing. Even Snape couldn't find a way back into the fold now.

And if Snape wasn't a spy, if he didn't have access to Voldemort's inner circle, how could he possibly help Harry?

Even more frightening to consider…would the man even want to anymore?

Harry felt real despair when he pondered that question, because he didn't know the answer. Oh, Snape would look for him, would do anything he could to find him if it was within his power. Harry was sure of that. But he would do it for Dumbledore and for the war…

He wasn't so sure the man would want to do it for him.

He knew he should only be concerned with escaping Voldemort's clutches or warning his friends that they still had a spy among them, but try as he might, he also couldn't erase the guilt he felt that he wouldn't be able to make things right with Snape before he died.

It was little wonder that his restless sleep that night was plagued with nightmares.

Harry awoke with a start and raised an arm to shield his eyes from a bright light. He tried to remember where he was, why he felt so cold, but before he could, a pair of rough hands grabbed him by the arms and hoisted him to his feet. He tried to walk of his own accord, but his legs weren't cooperating, and so he half-walked and was half-dragged down a long hallway and into a large stone room.

He recognized this room from before. He felt sick as it all - the capture, the torture - came rushing back.

The arms let go of him and he fell to the ground. No! He wouldn't be seen as weak if he could help it. It took effort, but he strained his arms to push himself upright, then slowly stood on shaking legs. He locked his knees, hoping against hope that he could keep himself upright. He was proud when he did.

Voldemort sat before him on his makeshift throne. Several Death Eaters - about half as had been there for Harry's welcoming torture session - stood on either side of their lord.

A smile crossed Voldemort's face as he watched Harry struggle, and he waited in silence while the men who had brought Harry from his cell fell in line beside their fellows.

"I trust you slept well," he finally said in a falsely pleasant voice. "The accommodations were to your liking?"

Harry didn't respond, not even to the laughter of the masked men around them. He wasn't sure what to do in this situation, but he wasn't going to rise to the bait.

Voldemort studied him, then stood and stepped down from his platform. He circled Harry slowly, and Harry stood still. He hated having his back to Voldemort for any length of time, but it was all he could do to remain standing. He was feeling stronger now that he was fully awake, but any movement bore the risk of falling flat on his face.

"I thought that perhaps we could have a chat," Voldemort said as if Harry were an honored guest invited here for tea and crumpets. Harry stayed silent, and Voldemort stopped in front of him. "You see, we share a…friend in common. As much as your presence thrills me to no end, I long to see him as well." Harry shuddered at the dangerous undertones of his words. "Perhaps, with dear Severus here to share in my hospitality, I might be inclined to take it easier on you."

Harry snorted. He almost couldn't help it, Voldemort's promises were so ridiculous. As if Harry would actually believe that Voldemort wouldn't still harm Harry if Snape were here. Anyway, even if he could lead Voldemort to Snape, Harry would never betray his professor like that.

Still, a twinge of fear ran through his body at the knowledge that Remus was still under Voldemort's control, and Snape wouldn't stay away from Kneader's forever…

Voldemort's face was pinched as he grasped Harry by the arm, bony fingers digging painfully into his flesh. "Where is Severus Snape?"

Harry clenched his lips together. He defiantly met Voldemort's gaze. He realized too late that that was a mistake, for in the next second, he felt the wisp of something cold brush up against his mind. He quickly looked away, pulling against the dark wizard's hold on his arm, but Voldemort grabbed him fiercely by the chin and forced his eyes to meet his own. He couldn't even close his eyes, some sort of magic keeping them open so that he had no choice but to stare into that cold, evil gaze.

He immediately brought up his wall, just like he'd been taught, and tried to hide any thoughts of Snape behind thoughts of how vile and disgusting Voldemort was. From his bony hands to his slitted eyes to his foul breath, the pathetic, power-hungry excuse for a wizard would never win. He had no chance in this war, not up against Dumbledore and the Order and goodness and light and all that was right in this world. Evil like him never won. They died horrible, awful deaths after being brought low and-

Pain ripped through his scar, and his thoughts were violently scattered like pins from a bowling ball. He felt a rip in his mental wall. He wasn't skilled enough to have fooled Voldemort for a moment. The wizard saw it, knew where he was hiding his thoughts, knew that he only needed to exert force and rip the memories that he needed from Harry's mind.

No! Harry pushed back with as much power as he could muster. Villains never won. Heroes did. Heroes defeated villains, not the other way around. Not-

He screamed, and he couldn't tell if he had screamed out loud or inside his mind. So much power, and it hurt. He felt another tear in his wall. Voldemort was gaining ground, ripping down his defenses, and soon he would know everything he'd ever wanted to know…

Snape was in his room on Privet Drive, dressed in a ridiculous get-up, looking at him hesitantly, saying, "Gather your things, Potter."

Dumbledore and Snape were sitting across the table from each other at Grimmauld Place. "What happened in the past does not have to define you, Severus. What you do today, right now…that is what defines you."

Snape was yelling, seething with anger. "Damn you, Potter! You were supposed to be arrogant!"

"NO!" He roared, pushing back with all of his might, despite how much it hurt to do so. He felt Voldemort pull back but quickly regroup and regain his advantage. In between the attacks, Harry felt a twinge of despair. He wasn't strong enough, not against attacks like this. It was too much, too much, too-

Snape was stiffly handing him an old lumpy envelope, then ushering him out of his lab.

Harry was opening his eyes, feeling safe in a pair of comforting arms. He wanted to stay there, to be held and protected. He felt a wave of gratitude toward Snape for offering him comfort. He felt…

Voldemort faltered. He continued his attack an instant later, increasing in intensity, but the crack in Voldemort's Legilimency was enough for Harry to remember the one thing Voldemort couldn't withstand about Harry's mind: love.

Snape was watching him talk to a snake, the grass surrounding them, the sea air-

Harry forcefully brought up a different memory.

Remus was patting his knee. "You have her intelligence, her kind-hearted compassion for others, her great capacity for forgiveness…" Harry blinked away tears, so grateful to Remus for caring about Harry. Not the Boy Who Lived, just Harry.

Voldemort faltered again. Harry pushed on.

Hermione was helping him, reading to him. He smiled at her, thanked her for helping him. With friends like this on his side, how could he fail? He hugged her to him, grateful beyond words for her love and friendship.

He was talking to Ron. Telling him he'd be okay. He felt concern and love well up in his heart for his friend.

He gasped as a desperate Voldemort dealt him a mental blow, crushing his thoughts so that they seemed to fall apart like fragments in his mind. For a moment, he simply existed, unable to think or to remember what he was supposed to be doing. He'd never felt so torn apart inside, save for when Voldemort had tried to possess him.

Voldemort pressed his advantage, breaking through the wall once and for all. Images of Snape flew through his mind too fast for him to sift through.

Snape in his bedroom. Snape with a wand that wasn't his. Snape sneering at him. Snape offering him a potion. Snape teaching him how to-

Nonononono! He barely managed to slam the door on the thought of what Snape had been teaching him, but Voldemort was prying it open again. Mere seconds and he would succeed….

On instinct, he let go of the mental wall he'd been trying to resurrect. It was in shambles. There was no point. It wouldn't withhold more than one more focused attack. He refocused his energy within, to the deepest part of himself, where he knew the imagined element of air lay hidden and ready to do his bidding. Unused to such an attack, it gave a pathetic wisp of a breeze and lay still.

Voldemort was prying, prying, it hurt hurt hurthurthurt…he was there, he pried it open - Snape was teaching him-

He charged at the breeze, forcing it to do his bidding. He felt it steadily whirling up in his mind and thrust every bit of power that he could at it, infusing it with the love he felt for Ron. His best friend, his confidante, his brother. He was unprepared for the sudden force as something powerful - more power than he'd known he had - ripped through him, tearing through his own mind and into Voldemort's, and he heard a scream but this time, he thought the scream had come from Voldemort.

And all was still.

He was lying on the ground, pain in his elbow telling him that he had landed hard and awkwardly, even though he couldn't remember falling. He looked up and around, too spent to defend himself but aware enough of his precarious situation to find out if he needed to do so.

The Death Eaters were shouting, two of them hovering over their lord, who was flat on his back a short distance away from Harry but was even now gingerly rising to his feet. Ooh he was livid. And afraid. Harry thought he might smile later, when he had more energy, at the glint of fear that he saw in Voldemort's eyes. Right now it was simply enough to infuse Harry with a sense of relief. Voldemort had been winning the battle within their minds, but whatever Harry had done, he'd managed to sever the connection and make Voldemort afraid of Harry's mind, too afraid to try again. At least for now.

He thought that later he might enjoy the feeling of making Voldemort fear him. It was quite the accomplishment. But for now…for now, he had to deal with the darkness that was coming for him, working its way from the edges of his vision. He reached out an arm, trying to wave it away, but it was no use.

The darkness came for him, and he knew no more.

Aunt Petunia was cooking. He sniffed the air. It wasn't her finest, but was that…beef? Potatoes, maybe?

He rolled over, trying to get a little more sleep before Uncle Vernon started pounding on the door to force him out of bed. His forehead hit a solid, cold wall, and he startled awake. Blinking in the near-dark, he registered immediately that he was not in his room on Privet Drive.

He was alone. There were no sounds other than his own breathing, no smells other than his own sweat and the aroma of food. His stomach gave a pitiful grumble.


He slowly sat up, sore, but more exhausted than anything, and looked around until he saw the outline of something on the floor nearby. It was some kind of stew. Thanks to the sliver of light sneaking in through the cracks of the door - and the miracle that he still had his glasses - he could see well enough to tell.

He shoveled a spoonful into his mouth, savoring every bite of the cold, bland dish. There wasn't enough, but he was glad that they had decided to feed him at all. He was more careful with the glass of water that sat beside the bowl. He didn't know how long he'd be here or how often they'd give him water, so he took a few swallows and decided to slowly sip the rest.

He wondered if Voldemort would try to Legilimize him again. If he did, he wouldn't do so without caution and fear, so that was some small amount of comfort.

He wondered if Voldemort had found anything in Harry's mind that would help him to find Snape. He hoped not. But the dark wizard had seen that they'd spent an awful lot of time together, also that Harry felt a certain amount of closeness to his professor. That could be dangerous information in Voldemort's hands. He'd also seen them interacting outside Kneader's house. Could he figure out where it was located from that one partial memory? But how hidden was it anyway, now that Remus was under the Imperius Curse and could relay information back to Voldemort? He rubbed his scar tiredly. He didn't even know how the Imperius worked, not really. Remus hadn't seemed that different, except for being so tired, and maybe a bit disconnected, so maybe it only had a limited control. Maybe the locations of the safe houses were warded similar to headquarters and he couldn't divulge secrets even if Voldemort told him to. On the other hand, now that he knew what to look for, maybe Remus had been acting out of character. From empty eyes to that awful smirk… It was scary to think what Voldemort could do to a victim's mind with his increased powers.

It made sense that Voldemort would have done Imperius rather than Polyjuice though, he reflected. Even an Imperiused Remus could access headquarters and probably other Order secrets, whereas a Polyjuiced impostor could not. He blinked back a sudden rush of tears at the thought of Remus being under the control of an evil wizard. He didn't deserve that. Nobody deserved that, but definitely not Remus.

He sighed miserably as he leaned against the wall and waited for his next audience with Voldemort.

He supposed he should be thankful that the dark wizard had found a use for him that meant he wanted him alive and relatively unharmed. When Snape had explained to him Voldemort's plan to use him for his blood, he had felt disgust and fear at the prospect. Now it had morphed into a strange sort of comfort. Voldemort might torture him but wouldn't take it too far, might let his Death Eaters at him but with conditions, might Legilimize him but wouldn't do so again without fear.

Harry was afraid. Very, very afraid. But knowing that Voldemort's own purposes for Harry required restraint gave him a small feeling of power in circumstances where nothing else was within his control.

He looked and felt around him for any small bit of comfort they'd left with him. A pillow, or a blanket, maybe? His bum and his back were both killing him from spending so much time on the hard floor. There was nothing. He slumped back in defeat. He had a jumper on over his shirt. He supposed he could take that off to use as a pillow, but - and he shivered as if to illustrate his point - it was cold in here.

He should start thinking of a plan of attack, he decided. He didn't have a hope of escaping, not all on his own, not yet anyway. But he could think of ways to be prepared should an opportunity arise. At the very least, he could think of ways to be the most irritating prisoner Voldemort and his Death Eaters had ever encountered.

Voldemort hated that he didn't cower before him. He hated Harry's defiance, his bravery. So Harry would be extra defiant. He didn't feel brave right now, but he could pretend to be brave. Bravado would have to do.

And thanks to Snape, he knew an excellent way to get under the skin of each and every Death Eater. Almost literally. By the time he was done, they'd rue the day they got that Dark Mark on their arms. Harry would get sick and tired of saying Voldemort's name over and over…but it would be worth it.

He didn't have his wand, he hadn't studied wandless magic, and he had far more practice taking punches than giving them. He didn't have a single worthwhile defense other than his mind. But he did have one other thing going for him: he was a teenager. So he was going to be the most irritating teenager that Voldemort had ever had the misfortune to capture.

And if he was lucky, they'd get distracted in their irritation and leave open some avenue of escape.

If only he felt more lucky…

Harry awoke with a start. He raised an arm to shield his eyes from a light. He tried to remember where he was, why he felt so cold. He blinked slowly, getting used to the brightness.

It took him several seconds to realize that he wasn't alone and several more to register that his visitor was Lucius Malfoy.

The elder Malfoy was sitting on a stool in the corner of his cell, arms crossed as he leaned back, watching him with a bored expression. A lantern rested at his feet. Now that Harry was fully awake, the lone light didn't seem quite so bright. It lit up Malfoy's blank features just enough for Harry to be wary of what the Death Eater had in store for him.

He sat up, muscles aching, and leaned his back against the cold wall. He returned the older wizard's stare in silence. He figured that if the man wanted something, it couldn't be good, so he wasn't going to hurry things along.

"The great Harry Potter," the blonde-haired man said smoothly. "You thought you could outrun the Dark Lord, did you? And yet, here you are."

Harry clenched his hands but didn't respond. There was no need. It was obvious to both of them that he was Voldemort's captive.

"Nobody outruns the Dark Lord," Malfoy continued, though he didn't sound as if he were gloating, merely as if he were stating a fact. "Many have tried. None succeed."

"Snape has," Harry said defiantly, giving up on being silent. "He escaped your pathetic cult, and I don't see him back here."

"He has been on the run for mere weeks, boy," Malfoy said with a shake of his head, as if at Harry's youthful folly. "He knows very well what the Dark Lord has in store for him, and he knows that he cannot run forever."

Harry shivered. "We have Dumbledore on our side," he said to distract himself from thoughts of Snape's demise at the hand of Voldemort. "Your master is too pathetic to be able to defeat a great wizard like Albus Dumbledore. He fears him, and you know it."

Malfoy cocked his head to the side, studying him. To Harry it looked like a vulture preparing to strike. "And your precious Dumbledore…how well did he protect you?"

Harry fought the urge to look away. He lifted his chin instead. "He'll find me, and when he does, Voldemort and the rest of your buddies will be the ones running for cover." It was all bluster, of course, but he was gratified to notice the man's flinch when he spoke Voldemort's name.

He sat up straighter, feeling a tiny bit more in control of the situation.

"And your side, your…Order of the Phoenix," Malfoy said silkily, "How accepting are they of a former Death Eater in their midst? How long before they realize he has served his purpose and is ready to be tried for his so-called crimes? He wasn't always a spy, you know. He once was among the most ardent and celebrated of the Dark Lord's followers."

Harry wanted to snap back, to defend Snape, but he paused, considering whether rising to his professor's defense would come back to bite him later. He couldn't see a way for Snape to regain Voldemort's trust…but the man was perhaps the most cunning person Harry knew. If anybody could do so, Snape could. If so, maybe this would be a good time for Harry to express doubt over Snape's alliances. Lay the foundation of supposed distrust, for Snape to perhaps wheedle his way back in.

He almost went that direction. But he looked at Malfoy, truly looked at him, and as much as the man seemed to want to needle Harry, he truly seemed to want to know the answer. Harry's intuition told him to go with the truth, so he did. "Severus Snape is on the right side," he said steadily. "He may have done some awful things, but he chose to change his path. The Order trusts him, and so do I. Your leader is the one who turns on his followers, who punishes those who are loyal to him. Not mine. Not Dumbledore."

Malfoy leaned back, arms still crossed. "My, my. So dear Severus has managed to ingratiate himself with the Boy Who Lived. I do wonder if you'd be quite so loyal to the dear professor if you knew the long list of things he has done…"

"I don't care about that," Harry shook his head, though he was nervous that Malfoy might actually start to tell him. Harry didn't want to know, because he wasn't sure he'd be able to overlook the horrible things Snape had had to have done in Voldemort's service. He didn't want to know if Snape had murdered or tortured or worse. He didn't want details. He knew that Snape was on the right side now, and that's all he needed or wanted to know.

He reached into his pocket, relieved to find his mum's heart-shaped stone still there. He rubbed his fingers over it and took a deep breath, focusing on it and it alone. After a few moments, he looked back up at Malfoy, who was watching him in silence.

"I trust Snape," he repeated quietly. "If you want me to turn on him, you're going to have to try harder."

"Oh, believe me, boy," Malfoy murmured, "we will." He grasped the lantern and got to his feet in one smooth motion. "Before the Dark Lord is finished with the plans he has in store for you, I'll wager you will be quite willing to turn over your precious professor. Perhaps you will even request the honor of the first curse…or the last," he added forebodingly.

"Never," scoffed Harry. He'd already managed to overcome Snape's past treatment of him. (Okay, well, somewhat overcome. He did still harbor some resentment.) But he already knew Snape had to have done some pretty awful stuff in Voldemort's service, especially during the first war. Malfoy was insane if he thought Harry was going to turn on Snape just because he heard a few specifics of how Snape used to be. Although… He held back a shiver as he thought to a phrase he'd overheard weeks ago, in a conversation between Snape and Dumbledore. Not for the first time, he wondered what Snape possibly could done to proclaim it as "the worst of all sins." Was Harry going to find out? Would he have a choice in the matter?

"We shall see," said Malfoy silkily as he reached for the door of the cell.

"What plans does Voldemort have for me?" Harry blurted out. He didn't expect that he'd get any answers out of the slimy aristocratic Death Eater, but he had no idea why Voldemort hadn't already given him the potion, and there was little he could lose by asking.

Malfoy studied him for a moment and, to Harry's surprise, answered, "The Dark Lord appreciates ceremony. You will be our guest until the full moon, three days hence." And with that, he slipped into the hall and closed and locked the door behind him.

Harry squinted at the light as the door was opened and closed, then licked his dry lips as he thought about what that meant. The Dark Lord appreciates ceremony? Well, Harry reflected, he already knew that about Voldemort, didn't he? He shivered at the memory of the ceremony he'd been part of in the graveyard the first time Harry's blood had been taken against his will. What would happen this time? What kind of ceremony would Voldemort perform, and was there a reason it had to be under the full moon, or did the dark wizard just like how it sounded?

He shivered again and wrapped his arms around his knees, drawing them up to his chest. Now that he was alone and awake and had no reason to pretend to be brave, he felt deeply, undeniably afraid. There was something about being hurt and defenseless and not knowing if help would ever come that made him feel like a little kid, like he was small and alone in a great big world that could toss him about and spit him out on a whim.

If he dwelt on his situation any longer, he would break down into either tears or a panic attack, so he closed his eyes and did the only thing he could think to do. He Occluded. He started by pretending that he was in his cupboard, sparing a couple minutes to think about what Snape would say if he were here. He'd roll his eyes and…no, Snape wouldn't roll his eyes. He'd give Harry the look - the one that said that Harry was being irredeemably thick - and then he'd lecture him about choosing a memory tied to childhood abuse and deprivation. And Harry would argue back that it was also a place he felt safe from the world, where the people outside would leave him alone, forget he existed for a while, and that those were some of the best times in his childhood. But that would lead to another uncomfortable exchange about the Dursleys, and…

Harry took a deep breath. He couldn't explain why, but thinking of the maddening conversation that would take place were Snape here made him feel more calm.

He buried his head in his knees and imagined his cupboard. He imagined the smell of the musty air, the tickle of a spider crawling across his leg, the thumping of the stairs as Dudley ran up and down to irritate Harry, the feel of the dust that fell on his head when that happened. He immersed himself in the imagined space, filling his mind until nothing else existed. No Dark Lords, no Malfoys, no cells or pain curses or fear of what the days ahead held for him.

Just him, his cupboard, and the almost-calm of a mostly clear mind.

Update Note: I posted a day early (yay!) because of travel plans. However, due to those same travel plans and general life stuff, I need to take a week off. No chapter update next Friday. I'll see you in two weeks. Thank you for understanding!

In Two Weeks…

Harry encounters some more familiar Death Eater faces.

Guest/Unsigned Review Replies:

Sian - I'm glad you like Hunter! :) Thank you for tuning in!

Guest (2/8) - Thank you for the review! I hope you liked the new chapter. :)

Meg - I don't mean to kill anyone. Cliffhangers are so fun though… ;) lol.

Guest (2/8) - We will touch more later on what "his own terms" entails, but for now Harry knows that it involves trusting Snape, so he's running with that. Let's see if he can keep it up… *evil cackle* Thank you for the review!

Guest (2/8) - Hi! Yes, poor Harry! Bad timing on Snape's part, leaving him like that. Seriously. Tsk tsk…

Lyrical Lazuli - Aw you're so sweet! I love your reviews! I mean, it doesn't hurt that you stroke my ego, lol. (btw I would love to try my hand at writing a book someday. Wouldn't that be the dream?) Re: ch 36, You bring up a good point, in that sometimes the smaller hiccups in the here and now have a greater impact than larger betrayals in the past. That'll be an important point to remember later in the story too. And you have an excellent insight into Snape! I definitely think you're right - he wasn't just angry; he was also hurt (here he just let down his walls with the kid, comforted him even, and BOOM - betrayal) and also embarrassed by what was overheard. But not to fear - I think they'll both learn and grow from this experience. Re: ch 37, I love your description of the "oppressive silence after a hurricane." :) And also about Harry. He doesn't have a fear of abandonment so much as an expectation of it, poor kid. I'm thinking that's part of why he's so calm. Partly, he's numb, but he also subconsciously figures that even if he didn't chase him away, Snape was bound to leave eventually anyway. All adults do, even if they don't mean to. Wow, I just got depressing on you, didn't I? Ha. Anyway, I really should just send both Snape and Harry to a shrink and call it a day. The end. ;)

Nini - Poor Remus. All that suspicion, and he had to go prove people right. :(

AquaIxora - Ah yesssss! It's happening! And alas, things will only get worse before they get better. Thanks for reviewing - it makes me so happy to read comments on the story! :)

Guest (2/10) - Eeeeeeeeeeeek!