Disclaimer: See Previous Chapters.
About the Elves: I don't actually remember it saying anywhere that the only Elves in existence were House Elves, but if it does then I'm sorry. I need something for later on in the fic, and the only race I can think of that might exist in HP that may be able to fulfill this part are Elves! And I wouldn't put it down to reading too much LoTR, but too much Mirror of Maybe, lol.
Warning: Since I've just re-read Prisoner of Azkaban, expect RL/SB in here somewhere.
A Harry Potter Fanfiction
By Knowing Shadows
The Hogwarts' staff room was a clever thing. It could safely gauge the state of affairs in the wizarding world by counting the number of staff meetings within a certain period of time, the number of people present, and the number of those people who never usually attended. At this point in time the staff room knew that things couldn't be good: this was the second staff meeting in so many weeks, and an abnormally large number of people were attending them.
Most of the chairs in the staff room had been taken up that early December night, and the fire was roaring brightly where several of the unseen House Elves had stoked it up. Many of the staff present were huddled as close to the fire as they could get, knowing full well from earlier occasions that it got chilly at this time of night, despite the fire in question. Professor Dumbledore sat in the grandest chair in the room, and looked like he had just gotten out of bed, though many of the staff were certain he had been working all evening. His robes - blue, and covered with silver crescent moons and gold blazing suns - were normal enough, but the little pale blue stripy cap with the tip limping over was distracting most of the those in the room who were not used to the headmaster's eccentricities.
Professor Snape sat in his favourite armchair by the fire, wrapped up in a black cloak that was acting as a makeshift blanket, frowning at the flickering flames as if what was going on in the rest of the room held no interest for him. McGonagall sat near Dumbledore, wringing her hands in her lap. Her expression kept changing every so often from a disapproving frown to a worried expression, as if she'd forgotten for a moment that the people in the room weren't students and didn't need to be glared at so suspiciously, but then changed back again as she seemed to forget that they were staff after all. The other staff were talking amongst themselves quietly. The eight non-teaching (and one teaching) staff sat a little apart in smaller clusters, obviously wanting the meeting to be over so that they could go to bed.
Remus Lupin was very tired. He was wrapped up, like Professor Snape, in a thick cloak, but he still shivered. He had been in the middle of trying to grade some homework essays when the impromptu (but expected) staff meeting had been called. He didn't particularly want to go back to marking, but would rather be there in the half-privacy of his own room than here, so close to full moon and feeling as ill as he did. Professor Snape's potion always made him feel ill at this time of the month - oh, the jokes he'd had to endure because of that particular phrase - but lately it had been an almost crippling sickness, though he daren't let anyone know how bad it was.
The wolf was fighting him more than ever now that it knew something was happening. It fed on his worry, and then fed it back to him tenfold.
"Are you sure you're up to this, Moony?"
It took Remus several moments to register Sirius Black's word and turn his head towards his friend, and by that time he knew that Sirius wouldn't accept his answer of "Yes, of course." Sirius' eyes were filled with worry, and a half-understanding that made Remus uncomfortable. The wolf was his problem, and he certainly couldn't try and unload it onto others when they'd already done so much.
"I'll live," he replied, compromising, but knew that Sirius didn't really believe he was as okay as he tried to make out. The taller wizard sat faithfully at his side, much too like a guard dog for Remus' liking. "The potion helps, and Severus' got more of it."
That wasn't entirely a lie, he supposed, but it seemed to settle Sirius down more. Severus did indeed have the potion made in bulk - an entire new cauldron-full, made on top of everything else that the Potions Master was doing. It was only the first part he had lied about, but it was for Severus' good as well as his own: Sirius would probably go for the teacher's throat if he knew that his potion made Remus wonder if letting the wolf free on the full moon would be a lot less pain and hassle than keeping it 'docile'.
The six other House Protectors (as Dumbledore liked to call them) sat close to them, but talked amongst themselves more than they included Sirius and Remus. Remus was fine with that, but he knew it irked Sirius and made him paranoid that he had done less to shake his 'psycho-wizard' reputation than he'd hoped. The two Slytherin protectors sat furthest away, sending suspicious and angry glances their way with little to hide it. Remus ignored them, but also knew it was taking Sirius a large amount of self-control to do the same when he could so easily make a scene if he so pleased.
Dumbledore coughed softly, and the room went silent, awaiting his word apprehensively. The old headmaster stood slowly, and even his hat couldn't detract from the seriousness in his expression. "I have called you all here this evening to discuss recent events, of which I am sure you are all aware. Hogwarts and its students need to be protected, and that is what we are here for."
A whole Hogwarts class and a turret gone. Muggles disappearing from all over the country. And now that poor village - destroyed, for no reason that we can fathom. And Harry - how can we protect him from his link with Voldemort? The more aggressive Voldemort gets, the more Dark Magic he'll use. Harry could easily die. After all, he's only a boy.
The Elves. Dumbledore said something about the Elves.
Everything went blissfully blank for a moment, and Remus didn't even realise it.
Remus became dimly aware that it had gone quiet and as he pulled his concentration back from wherever it had gone, he realised everyone in the room was watching him. He blinked wearily, catching and loathing Dumbledore's concerned expression. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that?"
"I asked how you're doing with curses in your classes, Remus," Dumbledore said softly, without hinting anything, though Remus knew the clever old man believed something to be wrong, beyond tiredness.
"The third years are just about ready to start the Unforgivable Curses, and fourth years and above are all studying them extensively, or have already done so. The second years are learning, but no demonstrations yet of the Unforgivables. They're doing some of the simpler hexes and curses and such at the moment. All the first years are a little bit overwhelmed, to be honest. They're all scared. There's only so much I can do without sending them running for their parents. I'm doing as much as I feel they can cope with, which, being truthful, isn't as much as I'd like."
"You're doing as best as can be done, thank you." Dumbledore nodded, looking away and drawing scrutiny away from Remus as he sighed. "The students can only protect themselves so much. Dear Mr Lupin has rather a lot upon his shoulders, teaching the students Defence Against The Dark Arts as well as acting as House Protector." And dealing with a trapped wolf that wants to go the same way as the Dementors did. "The House Protectors are a necessary but limited investment. There are too few of you, but I cannot have the school overrunning with adults and expect everything to run as smoothly as I would like."
Remus frowned at Dumbledore. A limited investment? Then why invest in a werewolf and an ex-Azkaban inmate at all? I'm even more limited as a protector if I'm teaching as well.
"A compromise, I like to call it." Dumbledore smiled. "Perhaps an act of desperation, but I don't like to think that we are so far gone as to call it that either, yet. You know what you can do, you know what you are here for, and that is all I can ask."
Remus hesitated, knowing that Sirius had sensed it. Dumbledore was watching him as well, waiting for him to speak. Eventually, taking a deep breath, he asked, "How did you get me past the Ministry as a teacher again, Professor?" Why did you do it?
Dumbledore smiled widely, and Remus wondered if he'd been expecting - anticipating - the question. "My dear Remus, you have more than proved yourself in the last years. Foremost, you have saved an innocent man from the Dementor's Kiss." Remus suddenly felt hot with embarrassment, knowing Sirius was giving him a pleased stare. "Your service to the Order has been exemplary. Why would I not trust you to teach these children to defend themselves? And the Ministry has far more pressing matters to deal with than keep vetoing my insistance that I reinstate you as a teacher."
Keep vetoing? Do you want me here so much, Dumbledore? Remus nodded. "Thank you, Headmaster." Why, why? Why is it so crucial that I be here instead of anywhere else? I'm a werewolf -
And all at once the answer hit him with sudden sharp clarity. The wolf was the reason he was at Hogwarts again. He was meant to be a protector for the Gryffindor students, but his own placement under Dumbledore's nose was as much for the student's protection against him as it was anything else. He froze for a moment as he let the thought sink in, and it left him feeling cold, helpless, and somewhat bitter.
The headmaster was silent for a moment, thoughtful, before speaking again. "I suppose we'd better move on to Harry Potter then, hadn't we."
Harry Potter was not very happy. At all. It was probably gone midnight and he was tired, but he was being kept awake. Not only was he being kept awake, but his chair - his chair! - had been usurped by the unwelcome, non-Gryffindor guest who had appeared not five minutes ago waving a bit of paper around and making it sound like the world was about to end whilst he, The Boy Who Lived, obviously had to sort him out and stop him from thinking such melodramatic thoughts when nothing of the sort was happening.
Not to say that the letter wasn't interesting, though.
Perhaps it was because he was tired, but he was having difficulty taking the letter seriously. Draco Malfoy sat in the oversized chair, scowling at him - as if daring him to laugh - as he read. He was waiting for some kind of reaction, but Harry didn't honestly know what to say.
To be quite honest, I think this is the most ridiculous thing Voldemort has ever tried.
"You think this is funny, Potter?" Malfoy suddenly snapped, his eyes almost hidden because his frown was so deep. "I'm glad one of us finds this amusing, because I don't!"
"I didn't say anything!" Harry said indignantly, but the glare Malfoy gave him was enough to stop any more protests he might have made. "But...I don't understand..." Brushing his hair out of his eyes, Harry glanced over the letter once more. "Why come to me? Why not go straight to Dumbledore?" He couldn't help the smirk that settled across his face. "I'm not going to forget about this for a while!"
A strange kind of desperation suddenly melted Malfoy's severe scowl, and he stared at Harry like that as the dark-haired boy's smirk faded. The expression made him feel suddenly uncomfortable, and the silence didn't help. "What?" he asked. "What did I say?"
Draco's expression faded into disappointment, but then the blond shook his head. "I brought it to you because you need to know. I'm not acting as a Death Eater because I want to."
"Again, the civilised behaviour isn't sitting quite right with me," Harry said, holding out the letter for Malfoy to take. He let the Death Eater comment slide. They had both come to an understanding about two years ago that there was no point denying that Draco's father was a Death Eater, because Harry had seen him at Voldemort's side. What did surprise him, however, was how easily Draco spoke about it to him. "I could easily tell the entire school what you're supposed to be doing with me-" He paused, let what he had just said sink in, and blushed even as Malfoy's cheeks took a definite hue of pink to them. "Appropriate puns aside, I don't trust your reasoning."
"And you telling the whole school that you were supposed to fall in-" Malfoy trailed off at that point, unable to say it. "You're hardly going to come off better than me if you do, considering the Dark Lord obviously thought that you would."
"Good point." Harry sat down in one of the other chairs and thought for a moment, rubbing his scar wearily. "Look, Malfoy - Draco - I appreciate what you've done, but it's really late, and I don't want to have to contemplate Voldemort's latest attempt to kill me at this time in the morning. Couldn't this have waited?"
Draco looked suddenly indignant, and the familiar haughty expression that had been absent beforehand appeared. "Well I'm sorry if the great Harry Potter doesn't appreciate his beauty sleep being interrupted so that us mere mortals can help him-"
"I haven't been to sleep yet," Harry pointed out.
"Neither have I! And there I was thinking that I was helping!" Malfoy threw up his hands in disgust, rolling his grey eyes. "I'll just go and let you get killed while I'm at it. Lord knows enough people out there would be grateful."
"You're such a git," Harry snapped, scowling across the common room at the Slytherin boy. The fire crackled angrily as if to support him. "Tomorrow morning, we'll go to Dumbledore, okay? After breakfast. Then we can talk about it. I do want to sleep tonight at some point."
"Fine. Whatever you want." Malfoy stood up stiffly, his lips set in a thin line, clutching the letter parchment grimly in his hand. "It's always about what you want. Ever since you were bloody born."
"I'll show you to the door, if you like," Harry said sharply, ignoring him and indicating the back of the portrait.
Malfoy seemed to shake where he stood, furious. His eyes blazed with it, and then he stalked past Harry wordlessly, seeing himself out without a sound. After the portrait of the Fat Lady swung closed, Harry stood fuming in place for a long time before going to bed.
The voice sounded familiar, but Remus couldn't place a name or a face to it. He remembered that he liked listening to it, though. Once, he thought vaguely, he'd been lulled to sleep by that voice whispering in his ear.
"Moony? Rem', wake up."
Wake up? Remus wondered, as he pulled himself reluctantly out of the blissful darkness he had been in. Why would he want to wake up? He was awake, because he'd just been marking-
He blinked awake after a moment, his incentive being the annoyingly insistent hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently. His cheek was half-pressed against his arm and half-pressed against the cool wood of the desk he was sitting at. Blearily, he could make out a small pile of papers sitting on the desk. His hand was resting on them, his quill lying across the parchments, having slipped from his curled fingers. He must have fallen asleep - passed out, more likely - not long after he'd come back from the meeting, because that pile of essays hadn't gone down much at all since the last time he remembered seeing it.
"Moony, you 'wake?" It was Sirius Black's voice, he remembered now, soft in the half-light of the room they shared.
"Mmmm..." Remus could feel the vibration of the half-coherent noise in his arm and head where they connected.
"Come on, Moony, you've got to get up and go to bed. Otherwise you'll complain at me in the morning that I let you sleep at your desk." He was being tugged upright but his eyes closed as Sirius got him into a sitting position. "Oh, no you don't. Wake up. I'm not carrying you!"
"You will if I don't get up," Remus murmured, but opened his eyes anyway. Sirius was smiling at him, and he couldn't help but smile back tiredly. The dark-haired man pulled one of Remus' arms over his shoulder and began to haul him up out of the chair. Remus groaned as his aching muscles protested, but barely stumbled once he'd managed to get his legs under him. He could see his bed, looking invitingly comfortable on the other side of the room, but it seemed very far away. "Can't I just sleep here? If I moan in the morning just remind me that I wanted to sleep on the floor."
Sirius chuckled, but shook his head. "Dumbledore kindly provided you with a bed, so you'd better use it." He started across the room, and Remus was forced to follow or pull them both down to the floor. He yawned as they went, but thankfully the bed approached pretty quickly.
Sirius slipped out from under Remus' arm, and the werewolf hadn't been aware that the other man's arm had been around his waist until he felt Sirius' fingertips drag along the cloth over his lower back as he moved away. He stopped himself from flinching, but stood frozen to the spot for several moments, his skin tingling almost unpleasantly.
He must have blacked out for a moment again, because the next thing he knew, he was swaying slightly on his feet and Sirius' fingers were working on the buttons of his robes. His eyes widened and this time he couldn't stop the flinch, pulling away from his dark-haired friend and backing up several steps. "Sirius, please-"
"I wasn't," Sirius glowered, and Remus felt a little guilty for what he had been thinking Sirius was trying. "You were falling asleep on your feet. I was just getting your robes off. You're still wearing things underneath. I was even going to leave your shoes on if that makes you happy."
Remus sighed, and sat down on the bed, his head in his hands. "Look, Sirius, I'm really tired, and I'm not thinking properly...I'm sorry."
He felt the weight dipping the bed next to him, but didn't look up. "I know you're not feeling entirely yourself," Sirius murmured softly. "You should rest up for a few days, at least."
"No. No, they need a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. I'll live. I just need to...sleep..."
"For a few days, like I said." Sirius rolled his eyes. "You're worse than I am."
"Well, maybe not quite so bad...but you're not far off." A sigh, and then, "Come on, Moony. Off to bed with you." Sirius' still-light frame moved off the bed and Remus watched him for a moment before looking down at the unbuttoned collar of his own robes. He lifted his hands to the next button and realised his hands were trembling. Sheepishly, he looked up from his hands to Sirius' watchful, handsome face. "Help?"
The Animagus grinned. "Stand up then, you lazy bugger."
Harry had almost forgotten his late night encounter with Malfoy by the time he woke up the next morning by Ron jumping onto his bed and then leaping off of it again. Groping for his glasses, Harry saw that Ron seemed to be launching himself from bed to bed, waking people as he went, trying to grasp a small feathery object from the air.
"Get back here, Pig! Stupid bird! Why can't you stay in your bloody cage?!" Ron shrieked, giving a spectacular leap and catching his owl in his fist. He yelped as he landed, losing his footing on the edge of Seamus' bed and crashing into the floor. Pig, for his part, was hooting quite happily, little wings flapping between Ron's clawed fingers.
Harry's watch told him that it was time to get up anyway, so he slowly crawled out of bed along with the others in the room. Seamus still looked shocked from having been woken up by Ron standing on his bed yelling, and sent strange looks in the red-head's direction as Ron clambered up off the floor and half-threw the owl in its cage, securing the door properly. Pig hooted pleasantly at him once he'd finished.
Hermione met them on the way down to breakfast and rolled her eyes as Ron continually complained through breakfast about his owl. "You know, at least Scabbers would stay where you put him," he said darkly, but he didn't mean it. The mention of the rat from anyone else still made Ron seethe with anger and shame.
Breakfast was a delicious affair of waffles with thick syrup, which Hermione blanched at but Ron and Harry dived into with relish. "Your teeth will fall out," she said to Ron doubtfully as he finished his third waffle in as many minutes. Ron gave her a look which clearly stated that he thought she was quite mad.
Harry had started on his third waffle as Ron poured syrup gleefully over his fourth. He looked up cautiously to glance at the Slytherin table, but Draco's blond head wasn't turned in his direction. He seemed to be happily conversing with several of the other Slytherin boys. Pansy Parkinson sat to one side of him, looking quite proud to have snatched the lucrative seat, but did not seem to be included in the talking.
Abruptly, Malfoy looked up at met his gaze across the hall. He went very pale, and then sneered and went back to his conversation with the other Slytherins. Somebody's a little embarrassed about last night, aren't they? If he'd ever imagined himself to have an advantage over Draco Malfoy, it wouldn't ever have been something like this.
"Oi, have you seen Professor Lupin yet?" Ron was saying, and Harry's attention was brought back to the Gryffindor table. Harry shook his head, glancing up to the extended teacher's table, where the House Protectors sat with the teaching staff. Lupin sat between Sirius and Snape, which seemed to be an odd arrangement in itself. Sirius was speaking to him, and Lupin had his head turned towards his dark-haired friend, listening. Snape sat stiffly on Remus' left, but he kept glancing out of the corner of his eye at them. His face seemed to be set in a darker scowl than normal.
"What about him?" Harry squinted a little, but could see nothing different about the Professor except for the fact that he looked very tired.
"He was dead on his feet this morning when I saw him walking around," Ron said. "Is it the full moon soon or something?"
Harry shrugged, but Hermione nodded. "In a couple of days, I think."
"I had this thought the other day," Ron said softly, leaning in closer to the other two so no-one else would be able to overhear. "He's a werewolf right? And that's, well, you know - bad. Like boggarts and dragons and three headed dogs named Fluffy kind of bad. Well, when he's a wolf it is. So...d'you reckon when he's a wolf, the wolf can feel what's going on and fancies running off the way the Dementors did?"
Technically, Harry supposed, the Dementors hadn't run off anywhere. "I don't know, to be honest. I wouldn't want to ask him, though. If it does, he won't be too happy being reminded about it."
"Maybe that's the reason Dumbledore brought Sirius here as well," Hermione said suddenly, and they both looked at her. "Professor Lupin said that he felt less like a wolf when he transformed if Sirius and the others were around. Perhaps Sirius is a kind of...failsafe?" She nodded to the teaching table. "Dumbledore brought Lupin here, and there's always the chance that Snape might not always be around to make that potion..."
The three were silent for a moment, and the idea that the adults protecting them were just as vulnerable seemed a very strange thing to contemplate.
The teachers started to leave then, signaling that breakfast was coming to an end. Most of the students had stayed longer than normal to enjoy the treat of the waffles, but now there was the scraping of benches as the students began to get up to leave. Startled, Harry craned his neck to see through the standing students to the Slytherin table. Malfoy was standing, still talking. Again, as if sensing Harry's stare, his grey gaze flickered across the hall to meet the other boy's eyes.
They were all beginning to stand now, so Harry told Ron and Hermione that he'd meet them in the lesson and made his way through the rabble of departing students to stand where Malfoy would see him. As it turned out, Draco had been following his movement across the hall, and excused himself from his friends to make his way towards the Gryffindor.
"You wanted to see Dumbledore, right?" Harry said sharply, jaw set as the memory of the night before made him feel hot with anger.
Malfoy scowled. "I changed my mind. I'm not going." His eyes were cold and wary. "If you want to see him, fine, but I'm not."
Harry raised his eyebrows at the blond boy. "Why? You came all the way to the common room last night for nothing, then?" Why was it that every time he thought he had something about the Slytherin figured out, he did something that totally threw him?
"Dumbledore's a crackpot," Draco muttered harshly, his fists clenched at his sides. "Even more so than you are. He's even less likely to take me seriously. Where you politely refrained yourself from laughing, I doubt he will. I'm humiliated enough -" He paused, looking away as he tried to get a hold of his temper. Harry got the feeling that he hadn't meant to admit how he felt. "I'll deal with it by myself. No thanks to you."
Harry rolled his eyes skyward. "Fine. Do whatever you want. I think you'd better go to Dumbledore, but you won't listen to me anyway."
"No, I won't. So please drop it. As far as you're concerned, Potter, I never spoke to you about it." Harry almost smiled, because Malfoy's face went a little red, and then he stormed off when he realised that Harry was almost smiling. As he turned his back, Harry let the expression show, shaking his head. He turned, intending to say hello to Sirius before he left the hall, and his eyes fell upon Professor Snape instead. The man wasn't watching him - had his back turned, in fact - but was hunched over, head bent, clutching his forearm with his opposite hand. Almost as if his skin was burning.
Severus Snape hated Azkaban with every fibre in his being. He hated Azkaban more than he hated Sirius Black. And so it was without great pleasure that he found himself standing before the great gates of the prison at 9 o'clock in the morning on a cold November morning, not knowing why he was there.
He had been summoned, of course. The mark on his arm still throbbed with a phantom pain, though it had stopped burning a while ago. He had slipped away from the school with a quick word to Dumbledore and Apparated onto the island, to where he stood now. It was the only place on the island that you could Apparate to, and he couldn't remember how many times he'd found himself standing in the same spot.
The gates of Azkaban were set into the wall of the prison, at least twice as tall as Hagrid was, and about three times as wide. They were only bars, made of a twisted black metal which told of great age. Two Dementors stood like sentinels either side of the gates, so still except for the rise and fall of their chests that they seemed like statues. The prison itself was built into and around the rock on the island. The highest point towered above him at three times the height of the gates, and he knew that the rows and floors of cells extended many metres below ground as well. It was, he had been assured, a veritable maze underground.
The Ministry of Magic's blind faith in the questionable Dementors had caused Azkaban to fall from control a year ago. Rumours of trouble had been circulating for months before hand, but Fudge's replacement as Minister of Magic had only been in office for a few months and Azkaban had been surprisingly low on the list of priorities. Voldemort's attack on Azkaban hadn't even really been an attack at all, more like a rather swift moving in.
The spells wound in and around the island were so great and so powerful that it almost made Snape dizzy. Voldemort's power clung to everything, slithered over his skin and made him shudder. And to think - these were only protection spells! Now, only those with the Dark Mark and the Dementors could enter without Voldemort's permission, which meant that although the wizarding world knew exactly where the Dark Lord had claimed his throne, no-one could do a thing about it.
Severus shook his head and started towards the gates. He had been puzzling over Azkaban's defences for as long as they had been instated, and come no closer to knowing how they worked. At least he could work the gates, he mused. As he approached, the Dementors' breathing rattled in his ears and the cold seeped into his bones. One of them started to move towards him in slow, shuffling steps, so he held out his arm, pulling back the sleeve of his robe to present the black mark on his pale skin. The Dementor paused for a moment, as if mulling it over, and then stepped back to allow him entrance.
He pushed open one gate enough to slip in, and then closed it. The Dementors never moved. He gave them a last glance, and then turned to face the darkness that was the interior of Azkaban. Lamps guttered fitfully on the walls, but their flickering light was enough to see the stretching entrance corridor before him. It was even colder inside - as if the whole place was made of the same matter as the Azkaban guards - and he found himself pulling his robe and cloak closely around his body. His footsteps echoed dully as he walked, but he ignored the sound, concentrating on listening for anything else that might puncture the inky darkness around him.
Nothing. Azkaban was rarely this quiet. There were always Death Eaters here, somewhere or other, and the way that Azkaban was built meant that most noise echoed loudly throughout the entire complex. Part of the reason people had hated being here when Azkaban had been under Ministry control was because the desperate, maddened cries of its inmates could be heard from one end to the other, echoed and doubled-back until it was almost like the screams came from the very walls.
Voldemort's main chamber lay near the centre of Azkaban, perhaps a five minute walk from the gates. It was the biggest room in the place, and had once been the canteen. That had been many years ago, when wizards had staffed the place as well as Dementors and had allowed some of the less dangerous inmates to socialise at mealtimes. When the Dementors had stood guard, the canteen had been cleared and lay as an empty chamber for many years. It's high vaulted ceilings reminded Severus vaguely of a muggle cathedral he had once entered, but it held nowhere near the splendor he had seen, then. Muggle religious architecture was the one thing - besides a deep respect for the race being able to live without magic - that impressed him about the other world that coexisted with his own.
It stayed silent as he moved along the familiar path towards the chamber. He had rarely strayed from the path, because he knew he was quite capable of getting lost, and the Death Eaters might have been suspicious if they'd seen him wandering about for no reason. For that reason, he knew little of Azkaban's sprawling layout. And it had never been this quiet...
The quiet bothered him. So did the fact that he had yet to see another Death Eater. Was he late? No, he'd Apparated barely minutes after he'd felt the Dark Mark burn. The other alternative - one he did not relish - was that he was the only one to have been summoned.
Why just me? I've done nothing lately. There's been nothing to be done. Nothing new has come up for a long time.
The fear that Voldemort had discovered his spying was always near the surface. Some days, he couldn't understand that Voldemort hadn't, but he knew that he would go insane if he kept thinking about it. As time went on, it was increasingly more difficult to be inconspicuous. He had discussed with Dumbledore more than once the possibility of withdrawing as a spy, and they had both decided that it couldn't happen. Not yet.
The doors of the chamber were a new feature, no less impressive than anything else about the prison. Severus stopped in front of them, looking up at them, dread coiling heavily in his stomach. He raised his hand, remembering that if he showed how nervous he was feeling, Voldemort - or Nagini - would pick up on it.
He knocked on the door, calming himself as he did so, and the door opened instantly. It creaked on its hinges but moved more or less easily, revealing the lamp-lit chamber to him. It was a large, square room, perhaps two times as high as it was wide. It was plain, much like the grand hall of the Malfoy Manor when emptied for a larger, general meeting, with only the dais and the chair at one end. Malfoy Manor was another place he couldn't wait to see the back of - Death Eaters were only summoned to Azkaban in small numbers because of the Apparating space, so many meetings had been held elsewhere.
He couldn't see Nagini as he stepped into the room, but she was never far from her master, so she had to be in the room somewhere. He didn't dare look around for her, though, because his gaze was instantly caught and held by that of the man on the high chair.
"Severus, how nice of you to join me," hissed the high voice beneath the hood. "Come."
Severus walked the length of the chamber as confidently as he dared, head held high. Voldemort watched him as he approached, and Severus noticed another robed figure - not a Dementor, much thinner than those broad-shouldered monsters - standing just to one side of the dais. His arms were folded across his chest whereas Voldemort's lay on the arm rests.
"My Lord," Severus said, coming to a stop before the dais, "you summoned me?"
He abhorred being submissive.
"Yes," Voldemort murmured, voice rasping. "Yes, indeed I did."
Severus tried to hide his startled expression as soon as he knew it was beginning to show, and just about managed. The robed figure at the side - a Death Eater, no doubt - was watching him intently. He glanced out of the corner of his eye, seeing that the hood hung low. All he could make out was the tip of a long nose, thin pale lips and the line of the man's jaw. A strand of pale blond hair could just be seen, and Severus couldn't help his consternation as he realised that it was Lucius Malfoy.
"I'm sorry to have called you at such an unusual time," the robed figure on the chair murmured, "but I must admit that I am a little surprised that you have arrived."
"I had no classes to teach," Severus said truthfully. He knew what the dig had been, which disturbed him a little. At the Triwizard Tournament's third task, his excuse for not turning up when Voldemort called - oh, how his arm had throbbed and burned - had been because of the chaos caused in the wake of Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory's disappearance. He could not leave Dumbledore's side then, but he had been punished afterward anyway.
"Ah," Voldemort said, lifting his head as he spoke to reveal the white, parchment skin of his lower jaw beneath the hood. "But discrepancies in attendance were not what I called you here for. Severus, I'm afraid that your loyalty has been called into question."
Severus' gaze flickered to Lucius, who had shifted at the last statement. Lucius should have no proof that I am dishonest with them. I have been careful. It can only be speculation. That is all.
"Do you understand what this means, Severus?" He turned back to Voldemort, knowing from the tone of voice that Voldemort had no trouble with the fact that Severus might be a traitor - in fact, he seemed to find it rather amusing. "If, indeed, you are not as loyal as I'd like to believe you are, I will destroy you."
Severus did not say a word, but he understood well enough what it meant. It would mean an eventual death, after an indeterminate length of time amusing the Dark Lord with his own pain. If he were rescued before he was killed, he would never see anything but the inside of St. Mungos for the rest of his life.
After a moment, Severus nodded. "I understand, but I am loyal. I have always been loyal." And for a short moment, he almost thought that Voldemort was about to sneer.
Finally, Voldemort said, "You understand, Severus, that I cannot take these accusations lightly."
"Good. See that you do." Voldemort shifted in his chair, his claw-like fingers curling over the arm rests. "In the meantime, however, I would like to discuss certain plans with you."
It was a long time before Severus left the Azkaban grounds.
Lucius Malfoy stared resentfully at the door to Voldemort's chamber as it closed behind Hogwarts' Potions Master. As soon as the dark-haired man's back had turned as he began to leave, he found his lips pulling into a disgusted sneer.
The slam of the door echoed in the still air as Nagini slithered out of the shadows against the far wall, making her way to her master. When the snake reached her goal, Voldemort held out a bony hand and let it rest on the triangular wedge of her head.
He turned, bolder in his anger than he would have normally been. "My Lord, why did you not kill him? We know he is a traitor!"
Voldemort's laugh was low and as dry as old parchment, scratchy in his throat. "Patience has never been one of your virtues, Lucius. Fortunately, it has always been one of mine."
"I have always been a lover of fair play, Lucius," Voldemort murmured, half to himself. "In most cases, that is. Perhaps it is foolish of me - after all, when I was returned to this body, my own desire to prove myself lost me my chance of finishing Harry Potter once and for all. And perhaps I have learnt a lesson from that. I have never had an opportunity like the Triwizard Tournament since then, but it has given me two years to plan."
"But My Lord, you told him our plan to attack!"
Lucius fell silent as Voldemort threw back his head and laughed. Nagini had turned her great livid eyes to the Death Eater, regarding him as if he should have understood something by now.
"Perhaps it seems to you that I have been more than fair towards our errant spy," Voldemort laughed eventually. "But when the time comes, you will see what I have done. And this time, Lucius, I cannot possibly fail."
End Chapter 6.
1. Cor, according to ff.net I haven't updated this in almost a year. Bloody hell. I swear that's wrong. So, accordingly, I grant permission to be slapped relentlessly for this oversight.
2. I don't remember much of what was said about the layout of Azkaban (if anything was said, except for the fact that it's somewhere off the coast of Britain south of Hogwarts) so I'm basically making it up. Sorry. My excuse will be that Voldemort's been redecorating.
3. Two weeks, boys and girls.
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