Snape was finishing the last of the outstanding essays he had to grade; it was the last weekday of his enforced 'vacation.' He would return to teaching on Monday. Cognizant of the time and energy it would eat up, he decided to approach the Dark Lord before then. Better to do it while I am at full capacity.
His attention was shifted to the fireplace when a message came through the Floo. It was late on Friday night and he suspected that he already knew what the note was about. Sure enough, it was a summons from Dumbledore for an Order meeting to take place within the hour.
The note suggested that it was extremely urgent. Snape's stomach clenched in anticipation; he'd have his work cut out for him later.
He could go to the Headmaster now and explain what had really happened, but he'd learned through experience that sometimes Albus Dumbledore didn't need to know everything. Sometimes the truth was too good.
So he finished the essays and double-checked the potions stock for the students until he deemed it an acceptable time to depart. He took a handful of Floo powder from the mantle and breathed deeply, steeling himself.
"Headmaster's office," he called as he stepped through the green fire. As anticipated, Dumbledore was waiting at his desk. Snape assumed that he wanted to talk to his spy before leaving him to the tender mercies of the Order.
"Headmaster," Snape greeted him, placing his mental shields up and calling on his mask. "Shall we? Your note sounded important."
Dumbledore gave him a piercing look but did not comment and instead asked bluntly, "Did you know?"
Snape returned the look, his voice hard, "No. But I would suggest you think hard about asking me that in the future, Headmaster."
Snape was tired of getting the third degree from everyone in the Order and then being lectured by the Headmaster when the man's hands were far from clean.
Not sparing a glance back, Snape once again went through the Floo. He emerged from the fireplace in 12 Grimmauld Place to see everyone in general chaos.
Unfortunately his entrance was not as inconspicuous as he had hoped and immediately the attention turned to him. Pushing his way through them he went to his usual corner, ignoring the voices that questioned him and called him traitor.
Dumbledore entered moments later and the voices finally quieted, a sense of order returning to them in the presence of the Headmaster.
"Please sit down, everyone. We have much to discuss and the hour is already late" he was calm but almost everyone could see the storm in his eyes.
Moody, direct as always, began the meeting, "So it's true then?" His magical eye swiveled to look at Snape but his head remained facing Albus.
Snape maintained his aloof and disinterested appearance; at this point it would be better to pretend he didn't know what was happening.
"Yes" Dumbledore bowed his head briefly. "Hestia and Sturgis are dead."
The outcry was immediate and everyone was on their feet again. It continued for several minutes until Kinglsey's deep voice cut through everyone, addressing the heart of the matter, "Why didn't we hear anything about this?"
Everyone was quiet once more and unconsciously turned towards either Dumbledore or Snape.
Shacklebolt continued, "There was no information in the Auror department to suggest that this was coming. It was actually rather quiet."
Before Dumbledore could answer Moody pointed a finger at Snape, "What's the word then Snape? Don't tell me-" he mocked. "You didn't hear anything about an attack. What good are you if you can't tell us when two of our own- two of our friends!- are going to be killed. What good are you if Sirius is captured and you just let him sit there? I bet you're loving th-"
"Enough!" Surprisingly it was Minerva and not Dumbledore who yelled. Snape watched her closely, why is she defending me? The last time she tried to help me I was awful to her.
"Severus does the best he can. He couldn't possibly be included in everything. We have been lax and-."
Moody was back, "So it's their fault?"
Snape couldn't resist that one, "Well, Moody, if I recall, your motto is 'constant vigilance,' is it not?"
It was worth the self-suffering look Minerva shot him that practically screamed 'now is not the time!'
That created another uproar and several members were, rightly, upset and disgusted with what they perceived as Snape's indifference to the death of two of their own.
Molly Weasley made her way closer to Severus; "It's your fault that they're dead and you can't even honor their memories!" she spat. Arthur pulled her back and Snape caught the look in his eye; apologetic but wary.
He turned away, disgusted with himself because it was, in truth, his fault, and now he had to act like the wronged party.
"My friends, please-" Albus tried to get everyone under control again but Snape didn't notice. Moody had made his way over as well and Snape needed his full focus at the moment.
He glared as Moody spoke again, "Go ahead, traitor. Explain yourself." Snape shook his head, tired of the Order and their hypocritical approach to the war and their treatment of him despite his guilt in this instance.
"Would it matter, Moody?" He asked rhetorically. "Even if I looked you in the eye and told you I didn't know this attack was coming, you wouldn't believe me."
Moody nodded savagely, "Damn right I wouldn't."
Snape shrugged, "Then I won't bother." He pushed past the old Auror and slipped out of the room, ignoring the calls after him demanding that he stay. He didn't even hesitate before going back through the Floo to Hogwarts.
With Snape gone the chaos gradually decreased and everyone turned once again to the Headmaster. Albus could only hang his head in shame, "Everyone must be on alert. Tom and his followers are moving more quickly than we anticipated. At this point everyone is a target."
He fell back in his chair and Minerva felt a flash of irritation that he didn't defend Severus. She pursed her lips, holding back her biting comments on his behalf as a soft voice spoke from her side.
"And we wonder why he's so unpleasant" Remus muttered to her. "I can't blame him. We're almost as single-mindedly judgmental as the Death Eaters are."
Without anyone to focus their anger on, they soon fell into silence once more. The meeting continued without Snape, as almost everyone had something to report and they could ill afford to stop their efforts at the present time.
Snape was not angry as he strode back to his room in the dungeons. It was too easy to be angry and he was loath to feel that particular emotion because it would mean that their barbs had struck.
Once in his rooms he quickly changed robes; a clean and darker black one replacing his slightly worn one. He retrieved a small item from his worktable and placed it in his pocket before removing his Portkey.
Fashion was by no means something that the Dark Lord required. But there was something indescribable about looking good. And Snape would need every bit of confidence tonight to pull this off. He activated his Portkey and opened his eyes once the spinning stopped.
Black looked surprised, his hand was poised over a letter he seemed to be in the middle of. He let out a breath when he saw it was Snape.
"Never thought you'd be relieved to see me," he said. Black gave a wry laugh.
"You're not so bad compared to some of the alternatives," Black shrugged. "You here to fix the wards?"
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder to point to the warded cabinet that housed his wand and would hold the letter he was drafting until he was ready for Oreo to deliver it.
Sirius figured the wand and a warded cabinet was damning enough if they were discovered, so he after he read the letters he received he threw them in the fire.
Snape nodded, "I will check over that now. But I am actually here to talk with the Dark Lord."
Black flinched, "Good or bad?"
"We shall see," Snape responded. He hesitated, but decided that Lupin would most likely inform Black anyway. "Hestia and Sturgis were killed last night."
Black looked genuinely surprised, and then upset. "How?" he asked.
"Their patrol around Godric's Hollow was discovered," Snape explained. "There is no indication to suggest that the other locations have been similarly discovered."
Black looked contemplative, but he didn't ask any more of Snape. He was grateful that Black didn't push the issue, although he wondered why he refrained when it was obvious that he wanted to ask.
Instead, Black turned back to his letter. A glance told Snape that it was to Potter, and he stood rather than comment. He figured that he could pay the same respect to Black that the man had just given him.
He made his way to the cabinet and prodded the wards, testing what was there and adding a few of his own. On the whole, it was well protected.
"What is the password?" Snape asked.
"Huh?" Black turned to see Snape pointing towards the cabinet, "Oh, it's 'Chudley Cannons.'"
At Snape's withering stare he said, "What?"
Snape merely shook his head, but Sirius didn't let it go, "I figured that no one would be mentioning Quidditch teams in here, so no one would inadvertently open it."
He didn't reply, and instead focused once more on the cabinet. Most of his wards were to hide the presence of the ones Black had set, so that if another Death Eater or- he shuddered at the prospect- the Dark Lord came to visit, they would not immediately notice the protection against a seemingly unimportant cabinet.
Content with the shields, he pulled an object out of his pocket and called to Black.
The man turned around, looking at him expectantly. "This is a Portkey. I had the Headmaster make it," a small lie, but he figured Black would feel better that way. "I will leave it with your wand in the cabinet."
Black looked faintly surprised, "You think it'll come to that?"
"Always better to be prepared," Snape said coolly. "Should something happen that would warrant its use, you will be alerted. Hopefully by me. If that is not possible, Oreo may also deliver the message."
Sensing more was coming Sirius asked hesitantly, "And if neither of you can tell me?"
Snape looked down for a moment before continuing softly, "At the very worst you will be alerted if someone attempts to bring down the wards around this room, and then you will take the Portkey to Headquarters."
"You don't really think it'll be that bad, do you?" Sirius asked.
"I don't know!" Snape exclaimed loudly. "The Dark Lord is moving more quickly than we had anticipated- plans are in motion that I have no control over and no information on. My position is tenuous at best, and you will likely be here for an indeterminable time."
Black digested the information silently as Snape continued softly, "Should something happen to my position, the best I can do is ensure that there is a plan to get you back to Headquarters. I may not have the time or ability to return you myself."
Sirius remained silent before finally venturing, "The potion will help, though. Right?"
Snape nodded, "It might help. I need to get the Dark Lord to agree to let me test it on you. Nothing is certain yet."
Black grimaced in remembrance. "At least it didn't taste so bad but I'd rather not have to try out so many untested potions. That one didn't go so well."
Snape smirked, "It wasn't so bad. I enjoyed it."
"Prat," Black said.
It had taken almost two hours to get through the potions and determine which one had the best effect on Black. Snape had been on hand the whole time, running diagnostic spells despite the pain, to eliminate the potions that didn't have the best reactions.
One had almost made Black's heart stop for good, but a simple potion that he had brought with him had fixed it almost immediately. It took some time to convince him to continue, but they found the combination eventually.
Snape would brew extra this weekend to ensure that it would be ready when he needed it.
"So, um," Black began. A withering look from Snape had him spitting it out, "You ok?"
"What?" he asked harshly.
"Last time," he hesitated again. "You didn't do the spells. And I patted you on the shoulder and you freaked."
Snape gnashed his teeth, "I am sufficiently recovered."
Black looked less than convinced, "Yea, sure. Hey, are you gonna tell me what happened at the Order meeting?"
Snape froze, wondering how Black knew about the meeting he had just come from, before his mind supplied him with the obvious information that Black meant the last meeting he had attended before being captured.
He also remembered that Black had asked him previously what happened to cause his injury that night.
Choosing to ignore him for the moment, he pocketed his wand and turned to the door, "I will most likely return after my meeting. I am not sure how long it will be."
He walked calmly through the halls, giving a curt nod to those who saw him and greeted him. As a member of the Inner Circle, no matter how the Dark Lord felt about him, he was due a certain amount of respect from the lower members.
The Dark Lord was most likely in the central hold; it was where the meetings were usually held and where most business was conducted. There was a good chance that there were others there.
He gave a mental snort. Headquarters was usually crawling with Death Eaters at any given time during the day. Some of them attended to the upkeep of the castle- which, from his best guess, was an old magic school that had been abandoned- and many were there to serve the Dark Lord directly.
His orders had to be delivered, after all.
But others, like the Lestranges, were there because they had nowhere else to be. As convicted felons, their family home had been raided and seized. It had taken Lucius quite a bit of time after the Dark Lord's apparent defeat just to get himself out of hot water.
He had managed to push the Ministry into letting the ancestral homes of the Death Eaters go. They belonged to the bloodlines and the Ministry had removed what they wanted years ago.
Eventually they had turned the houses over to Lucius's care, and with the recent outbreak from Azkaban, he returned them to their owners.
It was a messy business, and the Ministry and the Aurors have been keeping tabs on the comings and goings in the house. Not that they could do much with the protections and the wards that were reactivated upon each master's return.
So many Death Eaters remained in Headquarters while their families stayed in the smaller family estates and went between the two.
He entered the hold with an air of cool confidence; his stride long and powerful and he noted with a pleased smirk that there was no one of real importance there to deny him an audience with the Dark Lord.
"My Lord," Severus began carefully, trying to gauge the Dark Lord's mood. "I humbly request a moment of your time, alone."
That certainly got his attention. The Dark wizard smiled predatorily, "Of course, Severus. Leave us at once," he commanded the rest of the room.
The handful of Death Eaters left the room quickly, although several of them threw a curious or calculating glance back at the pair. Once the doors had shut Snape remained silent, waiting for Voldemort to ask him why he wanted this time.
After several moments the Dark Lord spoke, "I was wondering how long it would take you, dear Severus, to approach me."
Taking his cue, Snape knelt and bowed his head, "I have been unobservant to your wishes, My Lord, and I beg your forgiveness."
Waving his hand idly, Voldemort said, "Rise, Severus, and tell me; why are you here?"
Snape nodded and lifted his head, although he remained kneeling, "My Lord, I have tried in vain for the last two weeks to manipulate Dumbledore into giving me access to the mental barriers that the Order uses. I myself have not been included in these shields and cannot access them through my limited Legilimency skillsand Dumbledore has repeatedly denied my requests."
Snape paused, waiting to see what Voldemort would do, but the reptilian-like man did nothing, so Snape continued. "I continued to push the topic, but I feared that Dumbledore began to suspect something so I was forced to cease my efforts. It occurred to me at that point, My Lord, that Black is utterly useless without the key to the shields. I do not think Dumbledore will ever trust me with it, and if the secrets being kept in Black's head are inaccessible, he is much better off to us as a corpse than a prisoner."
Voldemort looked thoughtful, "Prisoners are always useful, Severus. I understand you wish to exact revenge upon him for his slights against you at school, but there is a bigger picture here, my loyal Death Eater."
"Of course, My Lord. I did not speak from a wish for revenge, although the bonus has weighed heavily on my mind," Snape flashed a smirk of his own, secretly extremely pleased at how this was going. "But to my knowledge, Potter has not been told of Black's capture and Dumbledore is doing everything in his power to spare the boy. It is unlikely that he'll chase after Black, and there's no chance that he'll be rescued when the pathetic Order doesn't even know where Black is being kept. So the only way to cause them pain is to deliver his body to them."
Voldemort smiled again, "I agree. Although I did not think it would take you this long, Severus." Something similar to a disapproving look was directed his way and Snape bowed his head once more.
"I did not expect the old fool to allow you access to his shields, although you would have been rewarded if you had gained the key. Black was never meant for any greater purpose other than death. However, he is a powerful bargaining chip. I will not toss him away so soon. You will have one month, Severus. Press the advantage."
"Of course, My Lord. I shall endeavor to determine what Black is worth to Dumbledore," Snape agreed.
Voldemort nodded, "Good. He is important to Potter, but not irreplaceable to Dumbledore. If he stalls, hoping for a rescue, we will kill Black and send his body back."
"My Lord," Snape hedged.
"Another thought, Severus?"
"Yes, My Lord," Snape was laying it on now; the only chance Black had depended on this moment. "If you will allow it, I have been working on a potion for some time now, hoping to find a reason to use it, and with if his death becomes assured, I would be honored if you allowed me to test it on Black and complete my revenge."
Voldemort gave a laugh, "Indeed, have you prepared something? I am sure you've cultivated this idea for sometime, haven't you?" Snape nodded again.
"And what will it do?" Voldemort seemed genuinely curious, as he always was with a new potion or spell.
"It has taken me so long to complete because it is highly unstable and volatile; the ingredients are rare and expensive. It takes a full two months to brew," he began; lying to introduce the potion in a way that would limit how often Voldemort would ask for it.
"But in the tests up until now it has shown the ability to mimic the Cruciatus Curse."
Voldemort's face showed his shock and glee for only a moment before vanishing, "Most impressive, dear boy. I am sure the results of the potion far outweigh any problems with brewing it."
Snape nodded in agreement, although he was wary of the interest Voldemort showed in the potion already. He knew it would be tempting for the Dark Lord, since the Curse was a favorite of his, and the chance to inflict that pain without actually exerting the magic himself was almost a dream come true.
"I have been unable to secure a human test subject yet, but every test I have run to this point suggests that the potion will ensure that the object will suffer almost seven minutes under the same conditions as the Cruciatus Curse before finally succumbing to the pain. If My Lord permits it, I would like to test it on Black."
"Of course, Severus. I could not deny you this chance after your faithful service."
Satisfied that it was the best possible outcome under the circumstances, Snape bowed again, "My Lord is too kind. It is an honor to serve."
Voldemort nodded and Snape withdrew carefully, not turning his back on the Dark Lord until he was well clear of him. He walked back to his room, thinking hard.
One month. I will take this back to Dumbledore, but there isn't much that he can offer in exchange for Black. Few Death Eaters that the Dark Lord actually cares about have been captured, and Dumbledore knows that he wouldn't actually exchange Black for anyone less than a member of the Inner Circle.
Even that isn't a sure thing. The Dark Lord was never fond of prisoner exchanges. Most likely he just wants to make Dumbledore sweat a bit before he kills Black.
He was interrupted by a squeak, "S-Severus." He didn't hold back a sigh as he saw who it was.
"What Pettigrew? I have several matters to attend to and all are much more pressing than anything you could possibly have to say," it was rewarding to see the rat flinch at his tone.
"Did the D-Dark Lord mention my mission at all?" He asked, looking around warily.
Snape wondered for the millionth time how Pettigrew had managed to betray the Potters and not give himself away before hand. The thought struck something in him, but he pushed it aside for future consideration.
"No, and I highly doubt that it is me you should be talking to," he sneered. "You should consult the Dark Lord for his orders."
"But Severus," he whined. "They know my Animagus form. They'll catch me." He seemed terrified.
Snape took no pity on him, "Then you have two options. Defy the Dark Lord," Pettigrew looked like he would fall over at the thought. "Or pray that your previous friends in the Order are merciful."
With a swish of his cloak, he left the man standing there trembling. He quickly descended the stairs and turned the corner to his room. Snape whispered the password and unlocked the intruder ward before entering quickly and resetting the ward.
He turned to find Black directly in front of him and he involuntarily flinched back.
"How'd it go?" he asked nervously.
"Dreadful," Snape answered. "He's actually only right behind me. He decided to kill you himself."
"What!" Black looked around, panicked, his hands coming up to tear at his hair.
"For a Marauder," Snape observed idly. "You certainly don't take a joke very well."
The panic bled from his face to be replaced with bewilderment and anger. He shoved Snape back, "You bastard. You don't joke about shit like that."
"Obviously you don't," Snape said, brushing off his shoulders. "But I'll take my humor where I can get it."
Another look from Black and Snape decided to indulge him, "It actually went much better than I thought."
Black perked up at that, "Really?"
Snape nodded, "The Dark Lord has given me one month to see what I can get the Headmaster to exchange for you. He knows that Dumbledore won't exchange anything, he has nothing of real value to the Dark Lord, and besides-"
"Voldemort doesn't do prisoner exchanges," Black finished. "I remember. So why a month?"
"To make Albus and the rest of the Order sweat a little. As long as you remain his prisoner he has an advantage, even if it's only psychological," Snape rubbed a hand over his brow. "After the month is up, he will summon me and he has given me permission to use the potion to kill you."
"That's great then, isn't it?" Black looked uncertain but happy.
Snape nodded again, allowing Black some hope, "It was the best we could outcome we could get under the circumstances. Now the only thing is ensuring that nothing happens in the next month that would ruin this."
Seeing the problem, Black frowned, "A month is a long time. A lot can happen." He gave a smile, though, "But we're in a better position than we had hoped. And you have a plan. Thank you, Snape. I really mean that."
Snape just rolled his eyes, but Sirius continued, "So can you be straight with me now?"
"Why does it matter?" Snape asked.
"It just, I dunno," he shrugged. "It just does."
He shook his head, "Not good enough." He removed his Portkey again. "I'll be back in a couple of days."
He activated the Portkey before Black could argue, and went through his rooms to his potions lab, setting up the cauldrons and ingredients necessary for another dose of Black's potion.
The full moon was Sunday and he planned to stay at Hogwarts in case he was needed. To his knowledge Lupin had been taking the potion everyday this week, but he took no chances when it came to something like that.
Dolohov approached the Dark Lord, "You asked for me, My Lord?" He did not bow, and Voldemort didn't ask him to. Dolohov's father was one of Voldemort's first followers. He was his first trusted advisor.
As such, he was given some leniency, but his own talents had distinguished himself early in his own service to the Dark Lord.
"I have found two tasks to which your expertise is required," Dolohov didn't interrupt. "You will be responsible for both and I leave the planning entirely to you."
Dolohov raised an eyebrow at that; it was rare for the Dark Lord to give a mission over completely to one of his Death Eaters; even to one of his Inner Circle.
"You honor me, My Lord. I promise you that I will not fail," he offered a small bow, not willing to push his luck.
"I trust that you will complete these in a timely manner. They are of the utmost importance." A deferential nod, and then Voldemort continued.
"First, you are to bring Rita Skeeter to me," he instructed.
Dolohov's surprise showed on his face and he couldn't help but ask, "The reporter?"
"Yes. She has certain talents that I wish to employ," he smirked. "And I am sure she will be willing to oblige me. She is of particular importance and I do not want her disappearance to be noticed."
Dolohov gave an understanding nod, "And the other task?"
A full smile from the Dark Lord had Dolohov checking his instincts to run away.
"Bring me Frank and Alice Longbottom."
Whoa. Betcha didn't see that one coming.
Tried to give you some more action because I know the last chapter was a drag. Little short, but I'm working on it.
It might be a little slow for a while. I have ideas for the next couple of chapters and I have the chapter where Sirius's fate is decided, but it'll be a pain to get to that point.
Thanks for sticking with me.
This is a video I found the other day. Just for funsies. (remove the spaces)
http:/ /watch?v= 3lVdAgVDtHI&feature=related