My most sincere apologies for being late with this update. ~ SS19


Too Deep
Chapter 31 of 40

"…Impossible."

"Not quite impossible, no. Only slightly possible, yes."

"Why does your voice sound – different?"

"Because – it is not my voice anymore." There were footsteps, yes, sort of, for every other was more of a shuffle, but accompanied with a rhythmic tapping noise too, in time with the footsteps – and Albus Dumbledore emerged from the shadows, and Lord Voldemort knew that he stared. "Severus was quite – effective," Dumbledore continued, as Voldemort surveyed the damage. Firstly, Dumbledore's lips did not move and he was aware that this meant he was projecting the voice; there was quite obvious scarring to cheeks and throat and Voldemort surmised that the damage continued beneath the subdued robes. The hand that grasped the top of a simple golden cane shook – involuntarily, he supposed – and the shuffling was that one leg did not seem to work as well as the other.

"How are you…?" Voldemort had long envisioned Albus Dumbledore in various scenarios with significant torture and injury and eventually death, but to see it in reality, to see such a great wizard clearly so terribly impaired…and with his already doubtful mindset – he felt only an added sense of his own mortality and a renewed determination to defeat such a simple matter as death.

"Luck, and nothing more. A portrait acted; I was found; and although the damage could not be reversed, it could be halted."

The amplified voice as enchanted so the emotions were not so clear, so Voldemort had to listen, "Halted? So not permanent? You are…"

"Yes, Tom. I am still dying. Severus will have completed your mission for him, eventually. He does not know – we are keeping my condition secret – but I feel that perhaps it is prudent for us to meet, now." Dumbledore came closer, as Voldemort reacted to the information that Dumbledore was still dying. "I could kill you."

"You could, Tom – but you would gain nothing by doing so – and perhaps eliminate your one only other chance of survival." Dumbledore folded one arm across his chest and shifted his weight so it was on his good side, "I could leave you to deal with Severus alone. However. I do not wish him to fall any deeper than he already has."

"Extremely deep. He has surrendered himself totally to the Dark."

"How do you know this?"

Murder, Voldemort supposed, was relatively simple.

The torture he had observed Severus administering, was – "A prisoner. I watched Severus torture him. He enjoyed it."

"What prisoner?"

"Black." Voldemort supplied. "He killed him." He saw the expression of knowing grief flitter across the otherwise still face. "Against my orders."

The blue eyes narrowed at the additional clause, adding a wealth of detail that seemed impossible for three such small words. "Against your orders? And yet he still lives?"

"He fled."

"You mean he left."

"And has not yet been found." Voldemort shook his serpentine head, "There is no sign of him. Which is why I answered your letter."

"Intriguing."

"What is intriguing?"

"How desperate you are, Tom."

Anger shot through him, and he opted to change the subject, to highlight the weakness of the other, and that was easy enough to do. "Why did he kill you, Dumbledore?"

That wizened face, looking ever older, hardened and tightened. "I betrayed him. As you have too, Tom." Voldemort was about to reply, to ask in what way, in what way had the mighty and benevolent Dumbledore that Severus had been willing to spy for, lie for, potentially die for, betrayed Severus, but Dumbledore beat him to it, "What did you do to him?"

"A curse. Capiam Vestri Templum." He saw no reason to lie to Dumbledore; if this was some sort of truce, Dumbledore would need to know. He was mightily thrilled by the slight fear and disapproval Dumbledore was exhibiting, "That is very dark, Tom."

"I am aware. This was not meant to be the consequence."

"What was meant to be the consequence, with magic like that?"

"I assumed it would drive him into insanity, and then that would be suitable recompense for his…being a traitor."

Dumbledore was silent for a very, very long time. Voldemort felt the distinct impression that he was being judged.

"So, what is your proposition?" He did not know yet if he would take Dumbledore up on this offer. Dumbledore always had an ulterior motive, and an ulterior motive for his ulterior motive, and Voldemort had to remind himself that Dumbledore was perhaps his equal in terms of strategy.

Finally. "I want to capture Severus. I want you to leave him to me."

Voldemort laughed, "So you can coddle him better, or whatever else you are famed for – I think not – I will remind you that he has betrayed me – "

"Yes, many times over, Tom. For years; in fact. For me. However, that makes him a very great threat to you." Dumbledore advanced, "When I chose Severus to be my spy, I did not do so on a whim, Tom. I did so because out of all of your followers, he was the closest to your Inner Circle. He knew you. I know you favoured him. He thought like you, fought like you – he knew you. As a result, he knows how you are thinking now; your only advantage now, Tom, is me. My survival is your only advantage and as such you are not in a particularly beneficial bargaining position because if I choose to walk away from him, you would not be able to stop me, and I believe that Severus will target you next."

"Severus wants to win the war."

"Perhaps, once – but now – Severus has no side, Tom! He has been betrayed by both of us; far more significantly, far more terribly, than we have by him. I sent him to his potential death every time he was summoned, as a spy; you were the wielder of the proverbial scythe. Between us, we have created whatever version of Severus stood in my office and tried to murder me and then knelt beside me and tried to ensure my death with no visible emotion; I presume it is the same version who killed Sirius on a whim, as you said against your orders. You will not be able to stop him."

"I appear to have survived his company for longer than you, Dumbledore."

"I made the mistake of providing Severus with an opportunity, Tom. The moment he has that opportunity with you, he will seize it, and the fact you are here, now, seeking a truce, suggests you do not believe you would be able to beat him, should he seize it."

"I thought that until I realised he has not, actually, killed you."

Dumbledore smiled, which bemused Voldemort, "Such flattery, Tom. Severus did best me; and to all intents and purposes, he did kill me. It was not my ability that has meant I stand here now; as I say, it was luck. If I had been anywhere else, he would have succeeded."

"Why should I trust what you say?"

"You will not give Severus a second chance; it is not in your nature Tom, and that is understandable. I will. You can continue the war; I will not participate in it, and it is no longer Severus' war so I doubt he will either. He will be biding his time; I wish to set the trap and to catch him and to see if I can help him find his way back."

"Back to your Light." Voldemort shook his head, "This is obvious, Dumbledore; you will enlist him against me."

Dumbledore ruffled, and the projected voice seemed to harden, "He is already against you, Tom; I should like to spare Severus any more torment. Merlin knows, I have sent him into enough of that."

"Seems like some desperate need for redemption to me, Dumbledore."

"Perhaps – remember I am dying, Tom. Will you give me this opportunity?"

"You think you can reverse this?"

Dumbledore paused, and in the chilly air of the graveyard he seemed reflective and, Voldemort mused, perhaps more emotional than before. "I owe it to Severus to try."

"And if you fail? What if Severus sees through whatever scheme you concoct?"

"Then I hope he has had the sense to go somewhere far away, as it is clear what your ambitions are for him."

Silence fell. Voldemort considered. Dumbledore waited.

Finally, Voldemort regarded him once more, "You will do this out of love, once more, Dumbledore? Love that led to you very nearly losing your life?"

"I care for Severus."

"What if it is clear to you that he is too far gone, Dumbledore. What if you see that the darkness and the hate and the cruelty runs too deep?"

Blue eyes looked past him, far into the distance, and the response carried a noticeable tremble. "Then I will…grant him the mercy that he will not find should he slip into your grasp."

"Once chance, then, Dumbledore. One chance. Let us hope for his sake that Severus falls for more of your lies."