A Second Chance
I'm back from Romania alive and unbitten by vampires or werewolves! And with a new story, too. This one is about Snape. He fascinates me, and GoF provided many more opportunities for me to think about him. I hope you enjoy it.
Chapter I – The Youngest Death Eater
It was a cold night, with no moon and only the icy stars high in the sky. Standing in a clearing in the Forest of Dean, on the spot where he had been instructed to Apparate to, the young man looked at the shapes circling him and tried not to show his nervousness. Many of them were people he knew, and yet now he was unable to recognise them as they walked slowly, robed and hooded in black. They were identical in the dark, and the circle was gradually shrinking as they closed in on him. His eyes flickered around and he saw something slithering across the ground. It was the largest snake he had ever seen in his life, red-eyed and thick as a small tree. The man would never have admitted it, yet he was afraid. A shiver ran over his spine. He raised his chin and swept coarse black hair from his face, his pride greater than his fear.
As one, obeying something the man could not see, the hooded shadows dropped to the ground with a single muffled thud. The hairs prickled on the back of his neck, and he stood stiffly, wondering whether he should fall as well. Every muscle in his body was tensed. He tried to restrain himself, but at length he glanced over his shoulder. All the well-meaning warnings of his friends could not have prepared him for what he saw there.
A tall, thin man, robed in black as the others were, stood behind him. The eyes were red slits, blazing so that he could not look into them for long. He moved like the enormous snake, gliding rather than walking, until he was standing facing the young man. There could be no mistaking who he was. The most powerful wizard in the world, the young man thought, Lord Voldemort.
'Kneel.' The word came out in a hiss, and the young man did not hesitate. He knelt, feeling very vulnerable and equally determined that this feeling should not be seen by any of those around him.
'My lord,' he said, forcing his voice to remain steady.
'You would serve me?' asked Lord Voldemort, his eyes burning into the young man.
'I will serve you,' the young man said, but his tone was not the tone of a servant.
The young man had been taught the oath by his older friends who stood unrecognisable in the circle around him, and his voice did not falter as he swore by his own blood to serve Lord Voldemort and to die for him. At the end of the oath he waited while Voldemort produced a black-bladed knife and put it to his throat. Kneeling motionless at the Dark Lord's feet, he tried not to swallow. Only a few millimetres wrong, the youth knew, and he would be sacrificing his life for Lord Voldemort before even beginning his work as a Death Eater. He waited, felt the cold blade slice through the skin and make a gash across his neck. A few drops of blood fell to the ground. Voldemort caught some on the blade and licked it.
'Now you are mine, your life is mine to use and you will remain faithful to me for ever.' Voldemort took the knife and sheathed it somewhere in his robes. 'Raise your left arm.'
The young man did so. His heart was pounding. He had done it, he was there, he was a Death Eater. For seven years he had dreamed of this day, and now he had achieved it. He held his arm above his head, and his robe slipped down, leaving it bare. He felt cold fingers grip him firmly around the wrist, and something touch him just above the elbow. Glancing up, he saw that Voldemort had pressed the tip of his wand against his skin. He had not been warned about this.
Suddenly, searing agony burnt through his arm. He gritted his teeth and tried not to cry out. He had no idea what was happening, he did not dare look lest he lose his control, he raised his chin again and thought of being a Death Eater. The pain was terrible, and he stared hard ahead of him at the still-circling figures.
As abruptly as it had come, the pain had gone. Lord Voldemort looked down at him, and he raised his head proudly to meet the red gaze.
'Severus Snape, my youngest Death Eater, rise.'
Snape stood up, sending a brief glance at his arm. A mark he recognised was burnt into it, the Dark Mark, a skull with a snake protruding from its mouth. The ghost of a cold smile emerged from the corners of his mouth. One day he would raise that Mark above the Ministry of Magic, he hoped. Snape aimed for no less.
'Join the circle,' Voldemort instructed him. A gap appeared before him in the ring of people, and he stepped into it. Voldemort's voice suddenly became much louder, so that it rang around the clearing. 'Join my faithful servants, the Death Eaters,' he announced. There was a murmur from the circle, and Snape entered the gap.
He glanced at the figures on either side, trying to see under their hoods in the dim light. He recognised the man on his left with a start as Lucius Malfoy, an extremely influential man who often helped the Ministry of Magic. Snape did not let the surprise show on his face.
'Malfoy,' said Voldemort, his voice no longer magically increased, but loud enough for Snape to hear it clearly. 'I wish you to take our young servant into your instruction, teach him what it means to serve me.'
'As you command, my lord.' Lucius Malfoy bowed low as he spoke.
'Good.' Voldemort gave a little hiss, and the snake that had been coiled at his feet moved a little. 'Now, listen to me.' Snape thought that those words were rather unnecessary, for every Death Eater was silent and watching Voldemort intently. 'All of you with individual instructions will continue working to achieve the results I require. Blackwood, step forwards.'
From the opposite side of the circle, a shape emerged. Snape gave a start. Even in the dark, he could see that it was a woman. Somehow, he had not thought that there would be women amongst the Death Eaters. A strand of blonde hair had escaped from her hood and was blowing back as she walked.
'Hippolyte, you have failed me.' The words rang ominously around the circle, and Snape distinctly heard one of the Death Eaters near him gasp. 'You shall be punished.' The woman did not quail, and Snape felt slightly impressed. This was how Death Eaters ought to behave.
'I remain loyal to you, my lord,' said Hippolyte Blackwood.
'That is prudent of you,' returned Voldemort in a voice so gentle that it made the hairs stand up on Snape's neck. 'But it remains that the project – which was of utmost importance – the project on which you were working has failed. How shall I punish you for this, Blackwood?'
Snape wondered what she would say to that. It was a cruel question to be asked. But it did not flummox the young woman.
'However you wish, my lord,' she said. Snape would have sworn from her voice that she was smiling.
Voldemort said nothing, but simply stared at the woman. Snape stared at her as well, wondering what was about to happen. Keeping her waiting was punishment enough, he thought, but she seemed to show no fear. At last he spoke.
'Remain when the others have gone, and we will – discuss – your punishment.' She bowed low, more of her blonde hair falling loose.
'Certainly, my lord,' she said, and this time the smile was even clearer in her voice. Snape watched as she straightened and walked back to her place. The two Death Eaters on either side of her shrank away a little as she joined them.
A moment of silence passed, and then Voldemort made a slight gesture with his wand. One of the Death Eaters – Snape could not see who it was – approached him. From the gestures both were making, Snape could see that they were talking, but there was a Secrecy Spell around them and he could hear nothing. Silently, motionless, he waited. Voldemort summoned several more Death Eaters to speak with them privately, including Lucius Malfoy.
One of the people approaching fell flat on his face, shaking with fear, before even going within the Secrecy Spell. Snape watched as Voldemort flicked his wand and magically dragged the man closer to him, into the enchanted area. Suddenly the man began to writhe about where he lay, flinging his arms and legs around as if he was having a fit. Snape's gaze was cold and detached as he wondered what was going on, then recognised the Cruciatus Curse. He watched and went over what he had been taught about it in Defence Against the Dark Arts. Certainly Professor Hale had not over-exaggerated the effects.
After a short time, the man began to lie more still, and finally was motionless but for the occasional twitches in his limbs. Snape could see that Voldemort was speaking to him. Then he pointed his wand at the man again. Like a puppet the Death Eater was lifted to his feet and propelled to his place in the circle.
'So you see,' said Voldemort, suddenly and unexpectedly facing Snape, 'what becomes of those who fail me, or play me false. He will live to learn the error of his ways. Take care that you do not suffer the same fate.' He made a sweeping gesture with his wand, and Snape felt the fresh brand upon his arm burn. It was like someone had plunged a knife into his shoulder. Then he felt a sudden surge of knowledge. He was to Apparate to a place … to the centre of the circle. He took a deep breath, raised his wand – and abruptly, both the pain and the compulsion stopped.
'Now you see how it works,' said Voldemort. 'If ever I summon you like that, you will Apparate to the place I have commanded as soon as it is possible. As an incentive, and lest it slip your mind, the pain will gradually increase until you have obeyed.'
'I will always obey,' said Snape automatically, his mind elsewhere. If he was summoned during school, how would he manage to get away? A vivid image of himself explaining to Professor McGonagall that Voldemort was calling him passed through his head. He decided to worry about that when term started.
'A wise decision,' responded Voldemort. He turned away from Snape. 'You all know your instructions,' he said in the echoing voice. 'You may leave.' In a flash of red light, Voldemort vanished from the circle. Snape turned his head, and saw that the young woman, Hippolyte Blackwood, had also Disapparated. Tiredly, Snape raised his own wand to return home, but felt a heavy hand land upon his shoulder.
'So,' said Lucius Malfoy. 'A baby Death Eater to train.' He gave an unpleasant smile. 'Come with me.' Malfoy tightened his grip on Snape's shoulder, and raised his wand with his free hand.
Snape resisted the urge to fling him away. He hated being hauled around like this, not knowing where he was going and not trusting the person taking him. But he stood passively while he was Apparated to a strange place.
They landed on the patio of a large house. Snape turned to look at it. Creepers were growing up the side of the building, and there was a wrought-iron balcony with the bay windows flung open just above his head. Snape knew this must be the famous Malfoy Manor. Even in the dark, when most of the outside was obscured, Snape could see that it was both ancient and enormous.
'Come with me.' Lucius Malfoy turned and reached out with the confidence of a person who knows his way in the dark. He turned a handle in the wall behind him that Snape had not noticed, and a door swung open. 'This is where you will study with me,' he said.
Snape entered the room and stood motionless. It was utterly dark. The air was musty and heavy with strange scents. He waited. Malfoy waved his wand, and a red light glowed from the ceiling. Looking around, Snape saw tables along the sides of the room, bare apart from some shining instruments, and many cabinets full of objects and bottles. It did not take him long to realise that this was a workshop where the Dark Arts were practised. He did not let Malfoy see the intense curiosity that filled him. It would be worth it, being apprenticed to this man, if he could just explore this room at his leisure.
'Take a seat,' said Malfoy pleasantly, gesturing with his wand to a moth-eaten sofa in the corner of the room, a trail of green and purple sparks fanning out from the tip of his wand. Snape sat stiffly, keeping a watchful eye on Malfoy. The man pushed back his hood and sat on the armchair next to the sofa, stretching out his legs and making himself comfortable. 'Now then. You're still at Hogwarts?' Malfoy asked.
'Yes. I'm in the seventh year.'
'And where do you live? At home?' Malfoy's tone was light, and Snape had an uncomfortable feeling that he was being teased.
'Yes,' he answered again.
'I see.' Malfoy rearranged his robes. 'Your family, I hope, is not aware of your new allegiance?'
'No.' Snape sighed inwardly. 'But I can come for lessons whenever you wish, sir,' he said. 'Term begins on April 12th, so I'm completely free until then.' Apart from revision for the NEWTs, he thought, but did not say aloud.
'That is convenient. It will be useful to have a Hogwarts student amongst us.' Malfoy fell silent for a moment. Snape watched him from under his eyelids. He did not trust Malfoy at all. At the first opportunity, Snape was sure, Malfoy would try to manipulate him to further his own ends. And Snape had his own plans.
'Come here at eleven tomorrow night,' said Malfoy. 'Expect to remain until dawn. You may leave now.'
Snape stood up. 'Thank you, sir,' he said in a tone that sounded anything but grateful. 'I will be here.'
'See that you are.'
Snape went to the door. Outside, the air was fresh, and he took a long breath, looking up at the cold stars. He raised his wand and Apparated to his own house, directly to his bedroom so that he would not wake his mother.
As he undressed and got ready for bed in the dark, he ran his fingers over the place where Voldemort had marked him. The skin tingled a little beneath his hand, but the Dark Mark had vanished. Of course, Snape thought, if it were visible there all the time, Death Eaters would be easy to identify.
He smiled. Death Eaters, he thought. He was a Death Eater, the youngest person to join the ranks. And he would be able to achieve the things he had dreamt of at nights for years. He would have his revenge, revenge for his father, revenge for the thousands of taunts, revenge on all who had wronged him. He had waited and worked for this for the past five years, since the first stirrings of the Dark Lord. And now he was there. He had only a short time to wait now.
When the summer term began, Snape had been under Lucius Malfoy's command for three weeks, and had hated almost every second of it. Malfoy was everything Snape despised in others: supercilious, overbearing, slimy and a liar. He had taken every opportunity to show Snape how foolish and young he was, he had humiliated and insulted him, all in the name of introducing him to life as a Death Eater.
But Snape had learned many things, more than Malfoy had intended to teach him. He had managed to get some free time in the Dark Arts workshop, without Malfoy's eye upon him, and he had refined his knowledge of subjects that weren't taught at Hogwarts, especially outlawed potions and curses. And, of course, he had learned what to do as a Death Eater, the many rules and the commands Voldemort had laid down.
He had learned about the enemy as well. Malfoy had taught him about the powers of Aurors, about the various Ministry organisations devoted to destroying Voldemort, and about Dumbledore. It was Dumbledore, Snape could tell by the way they loathed his name, that the Death Eaters feared most. There were rumours of an organisation run privately by Dumbledore, without the authorisation of the Ministry, which was also devoted to fighting Voldemort. These rumours were vague and insubstantial; some Death Eaters believed it did not exist at all, others feared it and saw members lurking behind each bush. Snape privately thought it did exist. It would be just like Dumbledore to disregard the existing organisations and create his own, thinking that the others weren't good enough for him.
After some thinking, Snape had made a plan to find out more about this mysterious organisation. If he could prove to Voldemort that it existed, if he could learn about it, he would surely rise in Voldemort's favour. To this end, despite the pressure of the NEWT exams that took place this term, Snape resolved to keep his ears open for news.
So far, after half a term, he had heard nothing about the League, nor had he been summoned by Voldemort. Malfoy had told him that things often happened like this, with a burst of activity and getting summoned once a week, and then being left alone for months. This suited Snape, because he was having to revise hard for the NEWTs. But still he listened.
And so he was sitting behind one of the statues in the library, ostensibly working on an essay for Defence Against the Dark Arts. He had to avoid showing all of his newly-learned knowledge in this subject, for fear of suspicions arising against him. This was an easy essay about the use of various curses for confusing people and forcing them to believe whatever the wizard using the curse wanted them to believe. Of course, because this was Hogwarts, all the emphasis was on countering the curse. Not for the first time, Snape wished his mother had sent him to Durmstrang where he would be able to learn more about how to use the curses. But he supposed it did make sense to learn how the enemy reacted.
His quill moved over the page almost automatically, giving passing mention to the Imperius Curse which had been recently removed from the curriculum. Snape wished he could find someone to use that curse upon without it being detected.
'I still don't believe he wants us to join,' a voice murmured behind him. Snape knew that voice all too well, and he paused in his writing, feeling the burst of fury that he could scarcely control whenever Sirius Black was near. From where he was seated, hidden behind a statue, he could listen. 'I mean, it's not as though we've been – been model students or anything,' Black continued. Snape almost smiled. Sirius Black, concerned about being a model student? Snape listened intently, wondering if he could glean any material for his sharp tongue from this conversation. He dared not look up, but he had no surprise in hearing James Potter answer.
'Well, you heard what he said. He thinks we'd be suitable, and he wants to know whether we're interested.'
'Interested!' repeated Black loudly. 'I'd have given anything for this, anything to get close. And then up he pops and invites us!' He laughed. 'And if I get the grades, I can go to the College and train to be an Auror as well.' Snape's lips twisted in a sneer. He rather hoped Black would become an Auror, so that he could finally have the pleasure of defeating him. He wondered what they were talking about. 'If I get the grades…'
'Of course you will,' answered Potter. 'Well, that's what I'll be doing as well. What about you?'
A third voice spoke then. Snape did not know which of the three boys he hated the most, but there could be no doubting what he thought of the boy who spoke now.
'I don't know,' the werewolf said in his deceptively soft voice. 'It depends on these exams. But – well, I don't suppose they'll take me at the College.'
'But you will be going to Dumbledore with us to join the League, though, won't you?' Black demanded. Snape sat bolt upright. So soon, so unexpectedly, he had latched on to a source of information. One of the many rumours that went around was that Dumbledore's organisation was called the League Against Voldemort. Snape felt a thrill of triumph. It existed!
'Yes, of course,' Lupin answered. 'I can't believe he asked me, I really can't.' Snape couldn't either. If Dumbledore had admitted a werewolf to this League … his foolishness knew no bounds. First letting them into the school, and then this! But that wasn't what he wanted to know.
'Rubbish,' said Potter at once, his accent grating on Snape's ears more strongly than normal. 'You're ideal. Apart from that, who is it who's been top in Defence Against the Dark Arts since the second year, eh?'
Snape scowled at that. He had no idea why the werewolf always did better than him in the exams. Snape had always come second in Defence Against the Dark Arts, despite all his efforts. He claimed to his friends that it was favouritism, but privately, Snape could not imagine anyone favouring a werewolf. And now Mr Perfect Werewolf was going to join the League Against Voldemort. And Black and Potter, too. Snape was determined to learn everything he could about this League. Voldemort would be very happy to have the opportunity to destroy it.
'Are any other students joining?' asked Black.
'No idea,' said the werewolf. At the same time, James said, 'Well … Lily's in.' Black and Lupin both laughed. 'But I don't know about anyone else.'
'Well, we'll find out on Friday week, after the exams are over,' said Lupin. 'Where are we supposed to meet?'
'Dumbledore just said to go to his office,' answered Black. 'I guess we'll find out all about it then.'
Snape had been listening intently. So, those three were joining the League, and also Lily Spencer, the next meeting was a week from Friday and it was in Dumbledore's office. In five minutes he had found out more about the League than any of the other Death Eaters had ever done.
'Come on,' said the werewolf after a moment of silence. 'It's Transfiguration in ten minutes, and I know both of you have left your books in the dorm.' Black and Potter both laughed.
'Watch this,' said Black. 'Accio Transfiguration books!' he muttered, and Snape heard the crack of his wand. A Summoning Charm, he thought. How childish.
There was a silence, while the trio waited. Then a book soared across the room, followed by another, and another. They landed in a series of thuds at Black's feet.
'There!' said Black. 'See? Someone pays attention in Charms.'
'Oh – you got mine too – thanks,' said Potter. There were more and more thuds, and Snape wondered what was going on. 'Sirius, this isn't mine.' Snape heard the thud of another book. 'Neither's this. What on earth did you do?'
Snape finally looked up as a series of staccato thuds echoed around the room. Transfiguration books were flying across the room and landing in a heap at Sirius Black's feet.
'Padfoot, you idiot, you've summoned every Transfiguration book in the castle,' said the werewolf. Snape couldn't resist.
'Is that what you call working a spell?' he asked sarcastically. All three whirled around to face him.
'Oh look,' said Black, seemingly unfazed by the hail of books landing at his feet. 'It's the slimy Slytherin. Want a textbook, Slytherin? You'll probably need it.' He pointed his wand at one of the books at his feet, and it levitated into the air, poised to hurl itself at Snape's head. With a scowl, Snape pulled out his own wand, remembering some of the more interesting curses he had learned over the past weeks.
'Sirius, you'd better do something about this – ow!' said Lupin, rubbing his shoulder where a hefty tome had struck it. 'Someone's bound to notice all these books flying through the corridor.'
'Oh, yeah.' Black let the levitating book fall and paused. 'How do I stop it?'
'Finite incantem!' said Potter, his own wand coming out a moment before a book hit him on the head. All the books in the air fell to the ground. One struck Snape on the head. Before he could do more than open his mouth to make a retort, one of the doors to the library burst open.
'What do you think you're doing?' demanded Professor McGonagall, her eyes flashing angrily. 'Who is responsible for this?' She stormed over to where Black was standing like a strange statue with a pedestal of books. 'Sirius Black!' she said at once.
'He was trying to summon his Transfiguration textbooks,' said Snape in a silky voice. 'I don't think he's quite mastered Summoning Charms yet.' He smiled inwardly as he spoke. Potter looked daggers at him.
'Thank you, Mr Snape, I don't recall asking you to speak,' said McGonagall angrily. 'Sirius? Did you do this?'
Snape watched with interest as Black glared at him.
'Yeah,' Black said to Professor McGonagall. 'It's a cool spell, isn't it?'
Professor McGonagall's lips, which were already pursed, tightened yet more so. 'Black, have you forgotten the rules about the use of magic in the castle?' she demanded. 'Is this any way for a student in his final year to behave? And you, James, do you think that just because you're Head Boy you don't have to follow the rules and enforce them? Twenty points from Gryffindor for this. And after lessons are over today, you will return all of these books to their owners. By hand, with no magic.' Black looked at the mountain of books with considerably less enthusiasm than he had shown a moment ago, and Snape smiled at him, a smile that did not touch his eyes.
'Now, you're all supposed to be in Transfiguration at this moment. Go up to the classroom immediately. I will not be pleased if you are late for your very last lesson.'
Snape began to pack away his essay and quill at a leisurely pace, very aware of the three pairs of eyes glaring at him. When he turned back, Lupin was helping Potter and Black find their books at the bottom of the heap. Snape smiled to himself and reached into his pocket, where he had something he had been keeping back for this sort of occasion. Lupin's battered satchel was lying unwatched. As he sauntered towards it, he unscrewed the lid of the bottle. With a final glance to check that he was not being observed, he poured a small quantity of the powder from the bottle into the bag. Then he headed for the door.
He reached the Transfiguration classroom early despite Professor McGonagall's warnings, and he sat down to think and to wait. The League Against Voldemort existed, and Black, Lupin and Potter were all going to join it.
The rest of the class began to enter after a few minutes. Martin Avery came in to sit beside him.
'Where did you go?'
'I was working in the library,' said Snape, scarcely looking up. 'Just wait till you hear what Black did. McGonagall almost killed him.' Quietly, he began to relate the story to the huddle of Slytherins around him. They roared with laughter at Snape's description of how stupid Black had been. He did not mention the powder he had put in Lupin's bag, however.
Professor McGonagall came in. The Slytherins looked at her still-angry face, and their laughter subsided.
'Now,' she said, 'we will begin. First of all, do any of you have any questions relating to the exam next week?'
A girl at the back raised her hand and asked a question about multi-step Transfiguration.
'Ah yes. This could be quite useful. If you'll turn to page 382 in the textbook, you will see –'
The door swung open again, and Black, Lupin and Potter came racing in. From the desk in front of Snape, a voice squeaked, 'I saved you some seats!' Snape did not have to turn back to know that it was the small fat Gryffindor boy, Peter Pettigrew. For a reason known to no-one, Pettigrew worshipped the other three, and could always be seen tagging after them. Snape wondered for a moment whether Dumbledore had asked him to join the League as well. Pettigrew was better than the werewolf, at least.
'Thanks,' said Black breathlessly as he sank down at one of the desks. Lupin sat beside him, directly in front of Snape, and grabbed for his books. Ignoring the sarcastic remarks about the latecomers that Professor McGonagall was making – all the Slytherins were laughing – he watched intently. Lupin snatched his hand out of his bag with a gasp, and Snape smiled. It had worked.
Warily, Lupin peered into his bag. He reached in again more slowly, and jerked his hand away as if he had just touched something hot.
'What's the matter?' Snape heard Black ask.
'There's something in my bag – it bit me,' Lupin answered breathlessly.
'Let me have a look.' Black rummaged around in the satchel for a moment. 'There's nothing there. Here's your textbook, anyhow.'
'Thanks.' Lupin reached out to open the book, and bit his lip.
'What, now you've got a biting book?' asked Black, sounding a little bit irritated. 'There's nothing there, I tell you.' They were both speaking in undertones so that McGonagall wouldn't hear, but Snape could catch every word.
'It's – it's like everything's made of silver,' Lupin said, in a voice so quiet Snape could scarcely hear. A scowl passed over Black's face and he picked up the book and examined it closely.
'You're right,' he said, wiping his fingertips over the surface and examining them. 'It's all covered in a silver powder stuff.'
'Black, is what you're saying so interesting that you would like to tell the rest of the class?' demanded Professor McGonagall tetchily.
'I was just saying,' said Black in an equally angry voice, 'that Snape is a revolting, low-minded bully.' He put Lupin's book down in front of him and passed Lupin his own book. 'It's quite interesting, I suppose.'
Snape took a breath to say something, but thought better of it as he saw that Professor McGonagall had pressed her lips together so tightly that they were going white.
'I will have no more talking in the lesson,' she said finally. Nobody quite dared to say anything after that, and the air was thick with tension as the lesson continued. Snape paid fairly close attention, still smiling slightly at the way Lupin kept wincing when he touched something. He thought his father would have been proud of him.
Late at night during the following week, Snape had suddenly felt the brand on his arm burn, and he knew he would have to go and find his way to a place he could Apparate from.
Several weeks ago, he had planned what he would do if this happened. Now he had made use of a secret he knew to get out of the school. He had gone through the tunnel under the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack, secure in the knowledge that there were no ghosts there and the moon was waning.
From the Shrieking Shack, he Apparated to the place where the Death Eaters were meeting. Snape only knew how to get there from the tug of the brand in his arm, and he was very startled to find himself standing in the centre of the inner ring of stones in a circle somewhere. He looked around curiously. It was not Stonehenge, but another circle. The flat land gave him no clues.
Around him, Death Eaters were popping out of thin air and trying to get their own bearings. Snape felt the air quivering as someone prepared to Apparate beside him, and hastily stepped back. A slender black-robed figure appeared. Snape looked at her curiously, and recognised her as Hippolyte Blackwood.
'Good evening,' she said vaguely, not really looking at him. 'Is he here yet?'
Snape had no need to ask who she meant by 'he.' He shook his head.
'Good.' Hippolyte raised one hand to straighten her hair and adjust her black cloak. Snape looked at her with curiosity. The moon had just risen, and in the faint light Snape could see that she was very pretty. 'You're the new bloke, aren't you? The one at Hogwarts?'
'Yes,' said Snape. He was just wondering what else to say, when he heard a crack behind him, and instant silence fell over the Death Eaters. This was Snape's third meeting with the Death Eaters, and he was getting used to Voldemort's sudden appearances and oracular style of speech. He listened without much interest as Voldemort outlined various new projects and made veiled threats to make sure everyone continued working diligently. All Snape was waiting for was the moment when Voldemort spoke to the Death Eaters individually, when he could drop his bombshell.
He waited impatiently, though it did not show on his face. Voldemort spoke to many of the Death Eaters. At last he felt the brand on his arm burn. Instantly, he Apparated to the centre of the circle.
'Well done,' hissed Voldemort in his ear from behind him. 'You obey promptly. Have you learned anything at Hogwarts which might interest me?'
Snape took a deep breath. This was his moment.
'Yes, my lord. I have learned something which is of great interest.' He paused. 'The League Against Voldemort is real, and Dumbledore is recruiting students from the school to its ranks.' Snape paused again, and looked directly at Voldemort. The Dark Lord was watching him through red eyes narrowed to slits.
'Are you certain of your facts?' he hissed.
'Yes, my lord. I overheard a conversation of three students in my own year who are joining this League.' Snape was pleased with the way he was keeping his voice steady and cool.
'What else have you learned?' demanded Voldemort.
'The League, as we believed, is run by Albus Dumbledore. I suspect it is based at Hogwarts, for the students joining were told to report to Dumbledore's office in the school. The next meeting will be on Friday.' Snape paused, having come to the end of what he had discovered. 'That is all I know, my lord.'
'Ahh,' said Voldemort. He stood silently, looming over Snape, who waited, knowing that his future could depend upon which way Voldemort decided. 'It is a small threat to me,' said Voldemort at last, 'one scarcely worth worrying about. But it would be wise not to neglect them altogether. So, my intrepid young spy, I have a task for you.'
Snape tensed, waiting.
'You will worm your way into this League. You will become a member, or at worst you will become one of the hangers-on or toadies who attach themselves to such organisations. You will find out every last detail of this League, and you will bring it all to me. And most importantly of all, you will not be caught at it. Do you understand me?'
'Perfectly, my lord,' said Snape, taking slow deep breaths to control himself. Join the League? Join that pathetic batch of Gryffindors and followers of the Dumbledore? The very idea revolted him, and yet … if it had to be done to secure his advancement… He was silent, thinking. 'I will endeavour to do as you have commanded, my lord,' he said at last. 'But it is difficult to be sure … Dumbledore chooses his members on whimsy as much as anything else. There is no merit involved.'
'You will see to it that you are chosen,' said Voldemort coldly. 'I do not like it when my Death Eaters fail.'
TO BE CONTINUED
Review, anyone? I'm writing this as quickly as I can, hoping to have it finished by the end of next week before I go away again.
20th July 2000