DISCLAIMER: Nothing is mine.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well, this is the end at last… Many thanks to everyone who's stayed with me through this fic, who's reviewed or added it to their Favourites or Alerts. You guys kept me going! *g*
Thanks to Cwambeta, Katanagirl16, Someone aka Me, Silivren Tinu, silverbirch, tradreader, Dyng Rose, awaylaughingonafastcamel and Macabre-Melody for reviewing.
Onward to the end!
CHAPTER 17: OFFERS AND SUSPICIONS
Remus looked curiously at his friend. Never before had Peter ventured to visit him alone, always preferring to come in the company of either James or Sirius, and usually both.
Peter sat in one of the chairs by the bed, looking unaccountably nervous but saying nothing. Remus waited as patiently as he could, although in truth Peter's slight frown and the nervous twitching of his hands in his lap were beginning to alarm him.
"Wormtail?" he prompted.
"Moony, have you ever thought about what will happen if You-Know-Who really takes over the wizarding world?"
Remus' eyes widened.
"I try not to think about that too much," he said. "It's enough to know that the possibility is too terrible to contemplate and we need to do everything we can to prevent it."
"Yes, but… What will it mean for us?"
"Well, yes… Moony, I'm worried about Prongs."
"About Prongs?" Remus said in astonishment. "I wouldn't worry about him. Prongs can take care of himself if anybody can."
"Yes, but he trusts too blindly! He's a pureblood, after all. You-Know-Who would want him, alive as a servant or dead if he refused to be a Death Eater. What if someone he trusted were to give him away?"
"Who would –" Remus cut himself off in horror at the look on Peter's face. "Merlin, you mean Padfoot, don't you? You think Padfoot would give Prongs to You-Know-Who! How can you even suggest something like that? Padfoot wouldn't do that to any of us, and never to Prongs!"
"He might if he had no choice!"
"How could he possibly have no choice?"
"Most of his family is in league with the Death Eaters! What if You-Know-Who just held one of them hostage? He might even persuade Bellatrix or Narcissa to give him Andromeda. What would Padfoot do then?"
"He wouldn't betray us," Remus said, although he did not sound as certain as he had done earlier. "Padfoot would never betray any of us, no matter what. You… You know that. I can't believe you would even consider the possibility. It's completely ridiculous."
"That's what Prongs would say," Peter muttered.
Before Remus could reply, Madam Pomfrey came in again and ordered Peter out. Long after his friend had gone, the werewolf sat looking unseeingly down at the pages of the book he was ostensibly reading, trying to convince himself that Peter's suspicions were absurd.
The voice startled Severus out of his contemplation; he had no time to react before a hand seized his arm and drew him into a curtained alcove. About to speak sharply to his assailant, he stopped short when he found himself looking into the imperious dark eyes of Bellatrix Black.
"How did you get in?" Snape demanded.
"It was not difficult," she said dismissively. "There are plenty of ways to enter Hogwarts. The old fool knows that, I'm sure; I cannot imagine why he does nothing about it."
"What do you want?"
"I am here to make you an offer. Listen well, Snape; I am not in the habit of repeating myself. The Dark Lord is impressed by your enterprise, and so he is willing, despite your blood, to give you a chance to prove your worth."
Severus bit back the sarcastic retort he was longing to make.
"What does he want me to do?"
"Nothing, yet. You will be told when the time comes. However, the Dark Lord is… concerned… by your regard for the Mudblood Evans. It is inappropriate that one born of a pureblood mother should desire a girl of no magical parentage."
"It is desire only," Snape responded at once, hoping Bellatrix would not detect the lie.
Bellatrix frowned. "Mudblood or not, I suppose she is attractive to the eye," she said finally. "Very well, I will report this to the Dark Lord. Be prepared, Snape. You may be given your first instructions at any time. The Dark Lord does not take failure lightly."
"You assume my willingness to serve the Dark Lord, yet I have said nothing," Severus pointed out.
Bellatrix's frown deepened.
"I assume you have at least a modicum of sense, Snape. You are not one of those in whom the Dark Lord is willing to forgive childishness and you are definitely not one of those who will receive this offer a second time. I came to deliver a message, and I have done so. I will now give you a warning. Do not behave like a half-witted Gryffindor and let ridiculous ideals of heroism get in the way of your common sense. You have this one chance to redeem yourself in the eyes of the Dark Lord. Do not squander it."
James and Sirius, walking down the corridor engrossed in a Zonko's catalogue, had not noticed the suspicious bulge in the curtain until Snape, his sallow face even paler than usual, pushed the drape aside and stepped out of the alcove.
"Do you suppose there's a Boggart in there?" Sirius muttered to James.
"A Boggart? Likelier there was soap," James whispered back, sniggering.
Snape, brushing past them in time to hear the last part of James's sentence, looked up with a frown.
"What were you saying, Potter?"
James turned to Snape and opened his mouth to respond in his usual fashion, with a creative insult or a well-timed jibe, but he suddenly remembered his promise to Moony. He did not know how long he could keep it, but he at least intended to try.
"Nothing," he said, tugging Sirius on down the corridor.
As they walked away he chanced a glance back over his shoulder and saw Lily, who had evidently been right behind him and Sirius, stopping Snape and saying something to him. She seemed to sense his gaze, because she raised her head and met his eyes for a moment before nodding and turning away.
"Are you ever scared?"
"Scared?" James looked startled. "Of what?"
"Of everything that's happening." Sirius waved a vague hand. "Voldemort and the Death Eaters, and the way things are going outside Hogwarts. Are you ever scared of what the wizarding world is going to be like when we leave this place?"
"Yes," James said slowly. "But we'll beat Voldemort, Padfoot. You know we will."
"I'm not so sure," Sirius muttered. "Most of my family is on his side already. Regulus will probably join him as soon as he finishes school –"
"He'd never do that," James protested. "He's your brother."
"He is my brother, and I know him. He's not as malicious as Bella or Cissa, I'll give him that. But he's an idiot. He thinks Voldemort has the right idea and…" Sirius shook his head. "Prongs, do you trust me?"
"No, do you really trust me?"
"What are you on about?"
"I'm scared for you," Sirius burst out. "Voldemort won't do anything to me unless I actually get in his way; too many of my beloved cousins are on his side. But he hates your parents already for refusing to join him. He might go after you to get to them."
"I can take care of myself."
"You can't." At James's surprised look, he said, "No, you can't take care of yourself, Prongs. Anyone who knows you at all knows that. I could take you to Voldemort now and you'd go on trusting me right up until I threw you at his feet!"
"But you wouldn't," James protested.
Sirius sighed. "I wouldn't. That's not the point. Prongs, promise me something?"
"Promise me that if your safety is ever in question you will do exactly as I tell you, even if you don't agree with me. Promise me you'll trust me that much." James nodded almost without thought, and Sirius let out another frustrated sigh. "Prongs, you idiot!"
"What?" James demanded indignantly.
"Never mind. Let's go find Moony and Wormtail."
Ah, I can't believe it's over! I'm not quite sure what will be next… However, I will probably start posting something in a few weeks.
Many, many thanks to all my wonderful reviewers, and I hope that the ending didn't leave you too unsatisfied. ;-)