Chapter 32: Late Night Visit for Draco/Snape's Return
Draco jerked awake and stared around with frightened eyes. The medical wing was dimly lit and silent, Madame Pomfrey apparently already abed. His heart thundered in his ears but he saw nor heard anything that could have awakened him until a soft meow brought his attention to something on the floor by the bed.
He leaned over and stared owlishly down at... "Oh, Wine...it's you...bugger...you scared me!"
"Mrr," Wine said, ears back a little, an apologetic look in his yellow-green eyes.
"S'alright, just really tired. Checking up on me for Harry?" He asked, exhaustion making his voice slur a bit. He laid his head on his hand and stared sleepily at the kneazle. Now that he knew what had scared him, his body was beginning to relax. It definitely wanted to go back to sleep but he knew his friend needed reassurance that he was alright.
The kneazle gave a short bob of its head in response.
Draco smiled. It felt good to have people who truly cared about him finally. "I'm fine, just sore and tired but the potions have fixed some of that and more sleep will take care of the rest. I think I'll be able to go to classes in the morning."
Wine listened then purred to signify that this was good news. Then he made a questioning noise in his throat that made Draco's eyebrows knit in confusion as he tried to think what Wine wanted to know then his expression cleared as the answer came to him.
"Oh ... yes ...they accepted the story, even my father and, obviously, they convinced him to leave me here or he would have taken me home."
The kneazle growled and shook his head from side to side.
"I agree that would have been very bad. So just let Harry know everything is alright so far." He said by way of farewell before he remembered something else he needed to ask. "Wine?" The kneazle paused in mid-motion and looked at Draco questioningly. "Has there been any word on Severus?"
Wine sighed and shook his head again. Draco's face tightened with worry. "I do hope he's not run into too many problems with the Death Eaters..."
Wine leaped onto the bed and rubbed against Draco's face, purring and trying to offer what comfort he could.
"Yes, I know...don't worry...that's hard advice to take but thank you anyway. Have a good evening and see you again soon," Draco sighed, gently giving the kneazle a scratch on the head then watched as Wine jumped to the floor and headed out of the room disappearing like smoke as it did so.
Draco yawned, settled back under his covers, and closed his eyes. Hopefully tomorrow would bring good news about his Godfather.
With his mission complete, Wine thought he should check on one other person before returning to Harry. Wending his way, silently, through the many corridors and stairs of the castle, the kneazle finally reached the room he was looking for. Unfortunately, the occupant was gone. Frowning, he sat on the cold floor and thought a moment.
Coming to a decision, he headed upward toward the astronomy tower. Normally a place where trysting students hung out, it also had other spaces where privacy could be found when needed. No students were about, though, as everyone was too tired from the long train ride, so he had no worries about being interrupted. Wine headed upward then halted at the landing to the tower. To the right was the area used by the astronomy class, its door shut tight. But to the left was a door that was normally found the same way, however now it was open a small crack.
Someone had gone in but hadn't bothered to close the door completely. Remaining invisible, Wine slipped through the crack and halted. The single slit window on the opposite wall of the small room allowed moonlight to shine in on a totally bare space that had layers of dust and cobwebs about, showing the room wasn't used much but someone was there. Their footprints disturbed the dust on the floor. He had found his quarry.
"I must find a way to get that boy's body soon. My energies are waning despite the unicorn's blood I took several days ago. Now that the children have returned, I must get him outside and into the forest where I can spring my trap," Voldemort muttered fretfully while he paced back and forth in the small space.
He stopped to stare outside at the moon drenched woods and the lake nearby that glimmered in the silvery light. His hideous face, the turban unwrapped so he could see, was pinched with anger and frustration, the eyes glowing with madness as he contemplated his vicious plan to take Harry Potter.
"It will have to be within a week ... when the moon is gone...perhaps Thursday..." he muttered.
"B-b-but...the students w-w-will be kept in as they c-c-catch up before end of quarter," Professor Quirrell stuttered.
Voldemort hissed. "Doesn't matter...you will make sure the boy feels a strong need to go to the spot I've made ready."
Quirrell shuddered. "Understood?" Voldemort shouted when the man didn't answer.
"Y-y-yes!" The poor possessed wizard stuttered. His master snorted then muttered some more to himself.
Narrowing his eyes, Wine waited a bit longer but when nothing new came to light, he slipped away, hurriedly heading for the Gryffindor dormitories again.
When he arrived at Harry's bed, he leaped up onto lightly and noticed the boy had fallen asleep while he waited. Making a cat-smile, Wine stepped closer and licked Harry's face, rasping his barbed tongue against the human's smooth cheek, attempting to wake him.
Groaning, the boy tried to sweep off the annoyance but Wine persisted. Snorting, green eyes opened to stare blearily at the small face looking back at him. Blinking rapidly, Harry woke more fully and reached a hand out to the kneazle, giving it a caress.
"So...is Draco alright?" He asked softly.
Wine nodded his head. He sat and waited for more questions. "They bought his story?" Harry continued. Another nod. "Good. He'll be back tomorrow?" Another nod. "Anything else I should know?"
The kneazle put on a threat display...eyes glowing, fangs peeled back, fur raised. Harry eyed his familiar grimly, though the kneazle was but a fuzzy blur to his bad eyes he could see enough to know what message Wine had brought.
"Voldemort! You saw him?" Wine relaxed from his threat stance and nodded gravely. "Did he say anything useful tonight?"
Wine nodded vigorously. "Did you hear if he was going to make his move on me soon?" A mew was his answer. Harry nodded. "How soon?" Wine patted the bedding five times with his right paw. "Thursday?" Another nod. "Day?" A negative head shake. "Night then?" A positive nod was his answer. Harry sighed. "Right, then I need to find a way to speak with Hagrid, tomorrow as soon as possible." Wine gave a soft mew of agreement.
"Sleep now. We'll see what tomorrow brings. Thanks for the recon, Wine," Harry said, yawning. Wine just gave him a kneazle version of a smile. Sighing and very tired, Harry settled down again and closed his eyes. Good thing he was very tired or his familiar's news would have kept him awake. With a soft purr, Wine moved away and laid down in a curled ball near Harry's feet and soon they both were sound asleep.
The night passed quietly, thankfully. By the time morning light filtered into his basement lab, Snape was feeling much better. However, he took another dose of potions to hurry the rest of the healing. He wanted out of here and back at Hogwarts as fast as possible.
Rising carefully, he found he was able to put weight down on his broken ankle. The bones had begun to knit enough to bear his weight though it was a little painful yet. Walking carefully, he took care of his basic needs then left the lab, locking and warding it before heading upstairs.
Reaching the main floor, he headed down the hall to the destroyed living area then stopped and listened carefully. No footsteps creaked above his head, no voices drifted through the thin walls. No one was here. Sighing in relief, he prepared to leave.
Must be at Malfoy Manor...he guessed. None thought I'd be up and mobile so soon so no guards about. Perfect. As he turned around to leave by the rear of the manor, he smirked to himself. I wonder how Lucius is doing with that cryptic message from the Elders? Probably cursing its vagueness and getting into an argument with Bellatrix. With luck, it will keep them occupied for some time while Harry, Hagrid and I rid ourselves of the Dark Lord.
He reached the kitchen, which was chilly. Wrapping his outer cloak tightly around him, pulling on his thick gloves, then setting a warming spell on his person, he opened the rear door and was immediately slapped by the icy winds that blew across the yard. The watery sunshine provided no warmth but at least there was enough light to see by this early in the morning.
Shivering, he pulled the door closed behind him then walked gingerly across the snow covered patio for the edge of the wards. He could feel Nott's spell work as he approached and used his wand to open a hole in the ward so he could pass through. It wasn't the tightest ward he'd ever seen but then Nott wasn't very good at this sort of thing anyway.
Closing the ward once he was on the other side, Snape wasted no time apparating himself away and back to the gates outside Hogwarts. There was no one around when he appeared and looked about himself. At least that was true a moment ago but now a half giant appeared suddenly beside him making him start a little. It was still a bit disconcerting to know Hagrid was fully able to apparate just like any wizard though no one knew that but the forest dwellers, Harry, and himself.
"Good morning, Professer...glad to see you up and about," Hagrid rumbled, his eyes showing amusement, knowing he'd startled the man. He was also very pleased to see Snape in better condition than when he'd left him.
Snape rolled his eyes. "You enjoy doing that," he said in mock disgust. Hagrid just shrugged his shoulders. "Did Draco make it alright and is he still here?" Snape asked, his voice reflecting concern and hope.
"Aye...everything worked out well and Lucius was forced to leave without his son much to Draco's relief, I can tell ya," Hagrid said, smugly.
A sigh of relief came from the lean man. "That is good news." He began to walk toward the castle with Hagrid striding beside him, matching his pace to the other man's slower, limping gait.
"Does your ankle still pain, you?" Hagrid asked, solicitously.
"Only a little...the potions are working as fast as they can," Snape reassured him, knowing the half giant was not happy about what he had to do.
"I'm bettin' your students would have preferred you were gone a bit longer," Hagrid said, amusement twinkling in his eyes.
Snape almost laughed but hid his amusement with long practice. "Oh, I'm certain of that so they will be 'horrified' by my sudden appearance."
"Oh, aye...that they will be!" The two shared a moment of merriment then Hagrid changed the subject and took on a grimmer expression. "I fear our hidden enemy will na wait much longer to make his move."
Snape's lips tightened. "That is something I hope we can now take care of. Have your elders tested the spell they wish to use?"
Hagrid's eyes were like flint when he answered. "Aye...nasty bit of business it was too but they are certain it will do what we want it too. All that's required is to set the trap and be done with the foul thing once and for all."
"Good! You give the word through Wine when you want to do this. I'll be ready and insure Harry is informed as well," Snape said with cold satisfaction.
"It twill be within a few days...after the moon wanes," Hagrid told him. "Get plenty of rest until then."
"I will. Until later..." Snape nodded then broke away from Hagrid to head for the main doors while the half giant turned and strode briskly away down the hill toward his cabin. He had preparations to make.
Snape pushed open the heavy right hand door and slipped inside. It was blissfully warm compared to outside and he relaxed a little. His ankle tinged as he began to limp toward the headmaster's office. What he really wanted to do was go to his quarters. There was still time for him to sneak in a small nap before classes began, however, he knew very well that he needed to let Dumbledore know he had returned.
He was halfway to the hidden staircase when Professor McGonagall appeared coming from the opposite direction.
"Severus!" She exclaimed, hurrying to his side. "When did you get here?"
"Just now, Minerva. I thought to report to Albus before going to lie down for a bit."
"Do you need to go to the infirmary?"
"No...I took care of my hurts. They just need time to heal," Snape hurriedly demurred. He did not want to see Madame Pomfrey. He turned to the gargoyle and said, "Cadbury!" The statue immediately leaped to one side and the stairs wound their way into view.
Clamping his lips together so he wouldn't let on how much his ankle hurt, he limped his way up the stairs followed anxiously by McGonagall. Reaching the landing, he knocked firmly, waited a moment, then opened the door and limped on in.
Dumbledore looked ready for the morning despite the early hour making Snape wonder if the headmaster had even gone to bed. A look of pleased surprise and relief flooded the older wizards eyes as he came toward the pair.
"Severus...it's so good to see you returned safely," he said sincerely, allowing the younger man to head for one of the comfortable chairs near the fire and sit down. "Would you like something to eat or drink?" He asked solicitously.
Snape was about to say no but his stomach grumbled. "Perhaps I should. I left without breakfast. Some hot tea and crumpets would be fine, thank you."
"Certainly. Minerva, would you like anything as well?" Dumbledore asked. She shook her head and took a seat next to the potion's master. "Elf service, please," he spoke clearly to the air. A second later one of the house elves flashed into view. Dumbledore repeated the breakfast order and the elf nodded and vanished.
Dumbledore went to the chair across from Snape and waited. Seconds later, the elf reappeared with a filled tray which it sat on the small table between the three then popped out of sight again.
Snape leaned forward and made his cup of tea to his liking and grabbed a crumpet covered in a layer of honey. He sipped the hot tea and sighed as it warmed his cold insides quickly. He really needed that.
The other two spoke quietly to each other allowing the younger man to eat first. They covered the morning's schedule and other mundane subjects.
"If you're ready, I'll give you my report," Snape said when there was a pause in the pair's conversation.
"Go ahead, Severus." Dumbledore nodded, settling back in his chair, preparing to listen.
Snape proceeded to tell them the same tale he'd told his fellow death eaters. He kept it simple and to the point. When he finished, Dumbledore asked a lot of probing questions which the potion's professor had expected and responded to with practiced ease.
Thirty minutes later, Dumbledore finished the interrogation. "So now both sides have this riddle to solve. Do you have an insight into what it means, Severus?"
"I think the first part is self explanatory but the end is just as much a mystery to me as it is to you," He said archly and with a fake snort of disgust.
McGonagall eyed him sharply. "How is the beginning of the riddle self explanatory? Oh, I do understand that the first part about evil has to do with He-who-must-not-be-named..."
"Minerva...really...can't you even say his name after the insufferable boy made it plain that not doing so was giving Voldemort too much power?" Snape derided her.
Though she shied from hearing the name spoken aloud, her features blushed an angry red. "I'm surprised you seemed willing to accept that from a person you loathe so much," she retorted.
Snape gave her a look of disdain. "I may dislike the boy but what he said made perfect sense and I am not given to ignoring sound advice despite who mouthed it. Simply stated, the boy was right."
She gaped at him in astonishment. Dumbledore merely shook his head, unconcerned by Snape's seeming turnabout in attitude. The man was a cypher most times, like now.
"Back to the riddle at hand, let's take each statement shall we..." He made a gesture and the copy he'd gotten of the missive appeared in his hand. "Now, the first sentence, I translate to mean the forest dwellers believe that all they have been forced to suffer under wizarding rule will be overturned by some savior ... do you agree?"
"Yes that sounds right to me," McGonagall said. Snape just nodded.
"The next statement we've already established is about Tom Riddle, yes?" Dumbledore adopted Snape's and Harry's stance on calling their enemy by his name...his real name.
"It's the only evil that's front and center at the moment," Snape grunted then took a bite of his crumpet and a sip of tea.
"But who is inferred in the next statement: 'Those who follow ignorance shall fall' ?"
"Sounds like the Ministry of Magic to me," Snape drawled. "And anyone else who denies Riddle still exists."
"I'm forced to agree," McGonagall said, reluctantly.
"I'm afraid the next statement has me completely stumped," Dumbledore admitted, reading it aloud for the two. "'But those who follow the one who will bring a message of peace, progress, and a mission..' Who could that be? It doesn't sound like Harry."
"The boy is full of himself but being the savior for the whole wizarding world...I don't think so," Snape said, derisively. He didn't want them to know they were right...not yet. They needed to get rid of Riddle before all would be revealed.
"But why not?" McGonagall objected. "After all, the prophecy said that Harry Potter must destroy R-R-Riddle ..." she stumbled over the name but gamely kept going, "...and when he did there would be peace so why wouldn't he be the one they are speaking of?"
Snape shrugged. Dumbledore frowned. "It's possible Minerva but how to prove it..." He let the sentence hang.
"Well excuse me from entertaining any more ideas on this. I've already been badgered by Nott and Bellatrix and I'm hardily tired of discussing it further. Now I would like a brief respite before class begins..."
"You should go to your quarters and get some rest," Dumbledore interrupted, eyeing the younger man with concern. "Someone else can teach your class for at least one day."
"Absolutely not! I can handle it...thank you, Albus, for your concern. Now if you don't need me further, may I leave?"
Dumbledore sighed but nodded. "Certainly and thank you for briefing us immediately. Where do you think the Death Eaters are and what will they do about their copy of this missive?"
"That's easy..." Snape said, rising to his feet carefully. "I'm certain they are at Malfoy Manor trying to decipher it as we speak. It will take them longer as they won't accept they are the ones spoken of at the beginning and certainly, they won't think of Potter at all at the end. Meanwhile, as they fight over what the message means, it gives us more time to sweep them up and send them to Azkaban."
"Hmm, you may be right...I'll have to speak with Moody and Shacklebolt about it, I think," Dumbledore said more to himself than the other two. Please go and get some rest Severus and if you think of anything else we might need to know..."
"I'll inform you immediately," Snape interrupted him then limped to the door. "Thank you for the breakfast," he said then opened the door and passed through, closing it behind him, very relieved to be out of there finally.