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 as he tried to determine what had awakened him. Suddenly, from somewhere on the floor near his head, a soft meow announced a late night visitor. Leaning over he stared rather owlishly down at the kneazle peering up at him.
"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." Draco's exhaustion made his words slur a bit. Laying his head atop his hand, he fought off sleep to converse with Wine.
"Checking up on me for Harry, eh?"
The kneazle gave a short bob of its head.
Draco smiled. It felt good to know he had people who truly cared about him. "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 purred to signify this was good news. Then he made a questioning noise in his throat that made Draco's eyebrows knit in confusion. What was Wine asking? 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." Draco couldn't help a shudder at how close that might have happened.
The kneazle growled and shook his head from side to side.
"I agree that would have been very bad. Let Harry know everything is going as planned so far." He gave the kneazle a pat by way of good bye but before Wine had managed to go a few steps, Draco remembered something else.
"Wine?" The kneazle paused in mid-motion and looked over his shoulder questioningly. "Has there been any word on Severus?"
Wine sighed and shook his head. The boy's face tightened with worry. "I do hope he's not run into too many problems with the Death Eaters..." his voice trailed off. The kneazle turned back around and leapt onto the bed. Rubbing the boy's face, he purred offering what comfort he could.
"Yes, I know and thank you but not worrying is hard advice to accept," Draco sighed. "You go on now and have a pleasant evening. See you soon." He scratched behind the kneazle's ears.
Giving a final purring farewell, Wine leaped down and stalked out of the room, disappearing like smoke before he reached the doors.
Smiling a bit at that despite his worry for his Godfather, Draco yawned, settled back under his covers, and closed his eyes.
With his initial mission complete, Wine decided to do a quick recon of the castle. There was a certain someone he wanted to check on before returning to Harry. Wending his way silently through the many corridors and stairs of the castle, the kneazle reached his first destination. However, a quick sniff and look around told him 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. Reaching the landing, he halted and sniffed around. As it being the first day back for the students no class was scheduled so the door to the right of where he stood was shut tight. And, fortunately, there were no students hanging about conducting "other" activities. Most likely due to being far too tired after the lengthy train ride. To the left was a door that was normally always shut as it held the astronomy equipment and other supplies. However, tonight that door stood partly open.
Curious and deciding to remain invisible, Wine padded close to the opening and peered inside. The single slit window on the opposite wall of the small room allowed moonlight to shine within. Across from the window there were three old oak cupboards. Next to those stood the telescopes standing on their tripods looking like so many ungainly ostriches. And on the walls hung a few celestial charts. But pacing back and forth in front of the window was something that didn't belong here.
It was the quarry he'd been seeking. Remaining near the door, silent as stone, Wine listened.
"I must find a way to get that boy's body quickly. My energies are waning despite the unicorn's blood. Now that the children have returned, I must get him outside and into the forest where I can spring my trap," the spirit who possessed Professor Quirrell's body muttered angrily.
The thing forced the poor man's body to walk toward the window. Wine grimaced at the weird sight of Professor Quirrell's face staring blankly toward him while the back of the head stared outward at the moon drenched view of the lake and forest. After standing there for some minutes the body turned until the ugly, scowling continence of Voldemort faced Wine. The kneazle crouched low and shivered at the sight as the evil spirit returned to its incessant pacing and muttering, the eyes glowing with madness and anger.
"It will have to be within a week ... when the moon is gone...perhaps Thursday..."
"B-b-but...the students are required to s-s-stay in s-s-so they may c-c-catch up before e-e-exams at end of the quarter and …" Professor Quirrell stuttered an objection in a hushed tone, speaking for the first time since Wine arrived.
Voldemort cut him off savagely. "Doesn't matter...you will do whatever it takes to make sure the boy feels a strong need to go to the spot I've made ready."
Quirrell's body flinched. "Understood?" Voldemort coldly demanded when the man didn't respond fast enough for him.
The poor man ducked his head as if struck and stuttered a miserable, "Y-y-yes, sir."
Voldemort snorted in disgust then returned to his pacing.
Unmoving, Wine waited a bit longer but when nothing new came to light, he slipped away. Arriving at Harry's bed, he leaped lightly onto the covers. Unsurprisingly, the boy had fallen asleep. Wine would have loved to have let Harry sleep but knew the boy wouldn't be happy so padding closer he licked Harry's face, rasping his barbed tongue against the human's smooth cheek.
Groaning, Harry tried to push away the annoyance but Wine persisted. Snorting, green eyes opened to stare blearily at the small face eyeing him. Blinking rapidly, Harry woke more fully and reached a hand out to the kneazle, giving it a caress.
"So...is Draco alright?" Wine nodded. 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?"
Wine put on a threat display … eyes glowing, fangs peeled back, fur raised. Harry eyed his familiar thoughtfully. Though the kneazle was but a fuzzy blur to his unfocused 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?"
Wine nodded vigorously.
Harry began a careful questioning of his familiar: "Did you hear if he was going to make his move on me soon?" Wine nodded. "How soon?" The kneazle patted the bedding five times with his right paw. "Thursday?" Another nod. "Day?" A negative head shake. "Night then?" A positive nod. Harry sighed. "Right, then I'll have you take a message to Hagrid tomorrow morning first thing." Wine gave a soft mew of agreement.
"Sleep now and thanks," Harry said, giving Wine a quick scratch. Giving his version of a smile, Wine turned away, padding toward the end of the bed. Finding a good spot he kneaded the covers a bit before curling into a ball, tail to nose. Smiling through a yawn Harry settled himself under the covers once more. Both were asleep in seconds.
The night passed quietly though uncomfortably for Snape. The soft morning light filtered through the grimy basement window opposite his bad, awakening him from restless sleep. Rubbing his face, he sat up and shoved the covers off. Stretching carefully, he was pleased to note he was only moderately sore thanks to his potions. That is until he rose to his feet and attempted to put weight on his bad ankle. Hissing, he blinked in surprise. That shouldn't hurt as much as it did. Sitting down again he examined the ankle. He grimaced as another stab of pain shot through the limb.
Annoyed, he rose to his feet again. Another dose should quicken the healing, he thought as he gingerly walked to the cupboard. After downing another nasty tasting dose, he walked with care to the tiny bathroom and took care of his basic needs. Having gone to bed in his clothes, he passed his hand over himself and muttered a spell. Immediately he was wearing a fresh set. Satisfied, he gingerly walked out of the room, locked and warded it, then headed upstairs. Upon reaching the main floor he paused and listened. No voices nor the sound of footsteps above or ahead of him could he hear.
Good, all are gone. None will know I've left. Most likely they'd gone to 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.
Reaching the kitchen, which was chilly, he wrapped his outer cloak more 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. Tsking at the shoddy workmanship, he used a wordless spell to open a hole in the ward then passed through effortlessly.
Closing the ward, Snape stepped a few steps away before apparating away to outside Hogwarts' gates. There was no one around when he appeared and looked about himself. At least that was true at first but now a familiar half giant stood beside him. Snape sighed. He was still unsettled by the fact the forest dwellers were able to apparate and without wands. Speaking of which …
"Good morning, Professer...glad to see you up and about," Hagrid rumbled, his eyes showing amusement knowing he'd startled the man.
Snape rolled his eyes. "You enjoy doing that," he said in mock disgust. Hagrid just shrugged his shoulders. "May I have my wand, please." Still smiling, Hagrid reached inside the huge shaggy coat he wore and drew forth the thin wand, passing it over.
"Thank you." Snape tucked the wand away and began to walk toward the castle doors, Hagrid joining him. "What is the news on Draco?" He asked, a hint of concern in his voice.
"All good. Have no fear, Professer," Hagrid reassured the man. "When I was forced to hand Draco over to his father, he looked terrified but before Malfoy could take the boy away, Dumbledore and Auror Crouch vetoed it saying the boy needed to be treated right away and that he shouldn't miss school. You should have seen Malfoy's face. Kept a concerned look, mind you, but you could see in his eyes how furious he was. Before they whisked him away from me and shut me out of the infirmary, I could see Draco was right scared of what was going to happen next and truth be told, so was I. I wish I knew what has happened but all I know fer certain is the boy didn't leave the castle last night."
A sigh of relief slipped from Snape. "That hopefully means the story we gave him worked. The fact Draco is still here means Lucius' plans have been thwarted and that will make him dangerous. We will have to do what we can to keep him from trying to take Draco out of school."
"Oh aye. That be a task I'll be glad to aid in. The boy deserves to grow up without worrying what his father intends to do to him," Hagrid agreed, gravely.
"Just so. And thank you, Hagrid for taking care of him."
"I was glad to be of service, soir," Hagrid said, dipping his head.
They were halfway to the castle when Hagrid halted making Snape do the same.
"Your ankle still be hurtin'? Thought your potions would have mended it by now," he observed.
"The potions are working as fast as they can. I'll be fine." Snape smiled briefly, reassuring the half giant, knowing Hagrid hadn't been happy about what he'd had to do.
Hagrid nodded his head and let the subject be. "I'm bettin' your students would have preferred you were gone a bit longer though," he said instead, 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 before Hagrid sighed and continued in a more grimmer vein. "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. "Aye...nasty bit of business it is too. They are fairly certain it will do the job. Now all that be necessary is set the trap and we'll finally be done with the foul thing."
"Excellent. Send word through Wine when you're ready and I'll insure Harry is notified as well," Snape said with cold satisfaction.
"It twill be within a few days...after the moon wanes," Hagrid told him then set off for the castle again. When they reached the massive doors, Hagrid pulled the nearest door open. "Get plenty of rest until we meet again, soir."
"I will. Until later..." Snape nodded then stepped past the half giant and walked down the hall while Hagrid released the door then headed briskly back to his cabin. He wouldn't be attending breakfast this morning. He had preparations to make.
Snape sighed as the blissfully warm air bathed his chilled body allowing him to relax. It was still quiet within as the students were not up yet. He had a little time yet to brief Dumbledore. He moved unnoticed across the foyer and up the stairs. As he ascended, his ankle gave a harsh twinge of pain.
He grimaced, concern filling his mind. This should be less painful not more. I'll have to check it when I'm done with the headmaster. He was halfway to the hidden staircase that led to Dumbledore's office when Professor McGonagall appeared coming from the opposite direction.
"Severus!" She exclaimed, hurrying to his side. "When did you get here?"
"Just moments ago, Minerva. I thought to report to Albus before going to lie down for a bit."
"Do you need 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 wizard's eyes as he came toward the pair, arms out stretched.
"Severus...it's so good to see you returned safely," he said sincerely, giving the younger man a brief hug which surprised Snape. He then gestured for the pair to head for one of the comfortable chairs near the fire and sit down. "Would you like something warm to drink?" He asked solicitously.
Snape was about to say no since he'd be eating breakfast soon but perhaps something hot would help soothe him. "Thank you. Some tea perhaps …"
"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 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 of sugar bowl, lemon juice, honey, and, of course, a pot of hot tea, 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 before sitting back. He sipped the hot tea and sighed as it warmed his cold insides quickly. That hit the spot though his ankle was throbbing enough to spoil the moment.
"If you're ready, I'll give you my report," Snape said when Dumpledore finished making his tea.
"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.
The debriefing took about twenty minutes then Dumbledore moved onto the next thorny issue. "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 the best of times. "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," 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 to get back to my quarters and get this blessed ankle elevated ..."
"Yes, you should indeed. Sorry I am to have kept you this long," Dumbledore agreed adding, "I could teach your class for today if you wish?"
"No, thank you, Albus. I will be alright just need a little elevation time. I will see you both at breakfast as usual."
Dumbledore sighed mentally and let it be. The man was stubborn and fighting with him on this would avail nothing. "Very well but do take it easy, Severus. Thank you for briefing us so quickly despite your injury. Now off with you. Oh, by the way, 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 this as soon as possible," Dumbledore said more to himself than the other two. "Very well see you at breakfast and if you think of anything else we might need to know..."
"I'll inform you immediately, sir" Snape said quickly then limped to the door. "Thank you for the tea." Reaching the door he was through and gone as quickly as his ankle would allow.
The walk to his quarters was harder than he thought it should be so that by the time he walked through his classroom and into his rooms behind it, he was grimacing fully in pain. Closing the door and setting his wards again, he quickly made for his own personal potions cupboard. He grabbed a bluish bottle, unstoppered it, then chugged down half the bottle. Sighing with relief moments later when the pain eased off, he replaced the bottle and made for his armchair near the always burning fire.
"Elf service please," he called out once he was seated.
Instantly a house elf appeared. "Sir called?"
"Yes. I need an ice pack, cushion and stool for my ankle."
The elf nodded and disappeared only to reappear just moments later with the requested items. Without being asked, the elf set the items down then gently began to remove the man's boot then sock of the injured limb
"Ooohhh sir, this be bad … certain you don't want med nurse?" It asked, concerned by what it saw.
Snape grimaced. His ankle was blue and swollen which it shouldn't be. Frowning he leaned forward and felt the ankle gingerly. "Hmm, it's not still broken. The bones have fused but the muscle and tissue damage is taking longer to heal. No, I do not want the med nurse. I have taken a potion that should heal this, thank you."
Though concerned, the elf simply shrugged and worked to make Snape more comfortable. In a very short time, the ankle was wrapped, elevated, and an ice pack was perched atop it.
"Do you wish anythin else sir?"
"No, thank you for your help. You may go." The elf bowed then disappeared. Sighing Snape tried to relax.