Harry trudged his way through the dim, gloomy lower corridors of Hogwarts towards his much-hated Potions class. His footfalls were strangely silent, and the hallway took several unfamiliar twists and turns. The torches flickered eerily in the darkness, casting exaggerated, elongated Harry Potter shadows along the dank walls, floor and ceiling. It seemed to Harry that the torchlight was odd, strange, and somehow wrong. And he was surrounded by distorted silhouettes of himself that seemed to know more about where he was heading than he did.
Harry wasn't sure why, but he carried a potion vial in his hand, and the vial wasn't clear as it should have been, but instead was filled with an evil, green bubbling mixture. He came to the door of Snape's classroom and knocked, questions dancing in his mind as he waited for the Potions master to reply.
"So you want revenge, do you, Potter?" Snape inquired, his voice as oily and menacing as ever.
Harry whirled in surprise to find Snape standing behind him, his arms crossed, and his black eyes glittering with anger. "Is that what this is all about? Still think you're better than me, do you?" Snape said nastily.
"No! That's not true! I didn't want revenge, not really ... I only wanted to find out why..." Harry protested.
"Do you really want to know?" Snape's angry expression turned sad, haunted. "Then why did you wait until too late to ask?"
The vial slid from Harry's hands, and the mixture turned black and exploded on the floor as the vial shattered. Harry waved his hands, frantically trying to clear the smoke, but when he could finally see again, Snape was gone.
However, the door to the classroom now stood wide open, and Harry gazed in bewildered amazement into a small, square black room that he had never seen before. The walls and ceiling were roughhewn black basalt, as if the room had been hastily and crudely carved deep inside the base of a mountain that had been volcanically active once, many millennia ago. Shelves and alcoves were roughly hewn into the walls, and most of these shelves were filled with strange and twisted bottles, sharp instruments, and magical items that Harry couldn't identify, nor could he even begin to guess at their purpose.
There were several people occupying this room. The four figures in white hoods and robes Harry recognized from the pictures in the books he, Ron and Hermione had read as members of The Order of Van Helsing. The Van Helsings stood guard like silent, watchful wraiths in the corners of the room, which was presided over by four other white-masked, black robed, hooded figures whom Harry recognized not from a book, but from personal experience. These were Death Eaters standing around a thick iron, spike-studded table.
Harry felt his scar twinge painfully as he recognized Lord Voldemort, dressed in sable robes trimmed with silver, with green snakes embroidered around the hem and sleeves. The wizard to the left of him was nearly as tall as the Dark Lord. He had short, white hair, a goatee, moustache, and heavy eyelids framed by startling thick, black eyebrows. His eyes were black and pitiless, and they reminded Harry very much of his first chilling impression of Snape. This wizard wore the blood red robes of the Durmstrang school emblazoned with the black, stylized image of a boar's head.
A fifth Van Helsing stood to the right of Lord Voldemort, and his white robe was trimmed with gold brocade and gold epaulets, and he wore a heavy gold chain around his neck from which dangled a large, golden crucifix that must have weighed at least five pounds. Evidently, he was one of the leaders of the Order of Van Helsing, Harry decided, as he tried to remember what else Ron's book had said about them.
In front of the Van Helsing stood a short, wiry wizard with wildly tangled salt-and-pepper hair and unsettling not-quite-sane gray eyes that were nearly white. The short wizard grasped a small vial in his hand, and the vial contained a clear liquid which Harry recognized instantly, having used it himself not so very long ago. Veritaserum, he thought. Truth Potion. Voldemort is interrogating someone.
Voldemort and the three wizards closest to him were all staring down at a pale figure chained to the table by his ankles and wrists. Harry could not see the captive's head, and without quite realizing what he was doing, he felt himself walking into the room to get a better look.
He swallowed hard and chewed a lip in horror when he saw.
The captive was Snape.
The dhampire's eyes were unfocused, half-closed, clouded with pain. His robes were gray from dust and grime, stained with blood in some places, and badly torn in others. His skin was alabaster white, and his veins stood out on his face and hands like blue spider webs. Harry could see numerous cuts and bruises in various stages of healing on Snape's face, wrists, legs and feet, and there was blood on the "table" all around him. His blood, Harry realized, appalled. Ron’s book had not spared any of the gory details about how the Order of Van Helsing was known to treat rogue vampires who had broken the Codes of Conduct and thus been handed over by the Wizarding authorities to the Court of the Steak and Cross for sentencing. According to the book, exsanguination was actually one of the lesser punishments. Harry shuddered to think that there were worse torments than this.
"Issss the Veritaserum ready, Mulciber?" Voldemort inquired coldly.
The short wizard with the vial cackled, and the sound made the hairs on the back of Harry's neck stand on end.
"Yes, my lord," the short wizard answered fiendishly. "Ready and waiting only for your command. But why not use Loquax on him instead? It would be quicker and more…entertaining."
“No!” the Dark Lord answered sharply. “I want his spirit broken, but I need his intellect intact…for now. When he is no longer of any ussssse to me, perhaps then I will hand him over to you to do with as you please.”
“Yes, my lord,” Mulciber replied disappointedly, frowning at the clear vial in his hand.
Voldemort grabbed a handful of Snape's matted, greasy hair and yanked his head back sharply with one spidery hand, and wrenched the dhampire's jaw open with the other hand. Mulciber poured the contents of the vial down the dhampire's throat. Snape struggled weakly and tried to spit it out, but Voldemort clamped Snape's jaw shut with a viselike grip, forcing him to swallow.
Harry cringed and squirmed guiltily as he watched Snape reluctantly swallow the liquid, remembering all too well the way he and his friends had likewise forced Veritaserum down Snape’s throat.
Voldemort laughed cruelly, and Harry gasped as his scar burned even more intensely than before.
"Now, Severusssss, you and I are going to have a little chat," Voldemort hissed. “And this time you are going to tell me the truth. You will tell me everything you know about Hogwarts, about Dumbledore and his plans, about Potter ... and about Deveroux."
Snape stared blankly at the ceiling, and Harry could see his lips move. He listened intently as the dhampire began to recite… a children’s poem?
"There was never a Queen like Balkis…" Snape whispered.
“What are Dumbledore’s planssss?”
"From here to the wide world's end,” Snape continued.
“ANSWER ME!” Voldemort shouted.
“But Balkis talked to a butterfly as you would talk to a friend."
Voldemort reached for one of the cruel-looking instruments on the nearby shelf and swung it down toward the table in a vicious overhand slash.
Feeling bile rise in his throat, Harry turned away and retreated several steps toward the doorway. I don’t want to see this, he thought. I’m leaving.
Behind him, there was a sickening slashing sound and a scream.
I don’t want to hear this, Harry thought, quickening his pace.
“The Potter boy is vital to his plan sssssomehow… I know that much. Now you are going to tell me why.”
He’s asking about me? Harry froze mid-step in the doorway.
"There was…never…a…King…like Solomon…" Snape was clearly having difficulty remembering the words. His voice was a pain-laden whisper.
Harry closed his eyes and pressed his fists against his eyelids until fireworks erupted behind them. It was just as Dumbledore and Sirius had told him. Snape was trying to protect him…but why? Why would he go so far to protect someone he hated so? And why was Harry so important to everyone?
"TELL ME ABOUT HARRY POTTER!” Voldemort screamed.
"WHERE DOES THE BOY’S POWER COME FROM?"
Snape was truly beginning to struggle at this point. "But Solomon…Solo…mon…talked to…a bu...butterfly, as a man wou...would talk to a man...."
Another slash, another scream. Harry’s stomach felt queasy, and his scar was burning like molten lava, and yet he couldn’t keep himself from turning back and taking another look. He was burning with curiosity about the very same questions Voldemort was asking.
"Pussy can…can…sit by the…fire and…sing. Pussy can…climb a…tree...." Snape was gasping, like a fish stranded on land. Surely, he wouldn’t be able to hold out much longer, and then finally Harry would have the answers to some of his nagging questions…but whatever he heard from Snape’s lips tonight, Voldemort would hear as well. Oh, why hadn’t he asked all the important questions that night when he had had the chance? Why had he wasted all of his questions on Professor Deveroux and the unicorn and Malfoy instead?
“You cannot defy me forever, Severusssss,” Voldemort hissed angrily. “Sooner or later I will break you, and you will tell me everything I wish to know. Now, what are Dumbledore's plans to fight me?"
The dhampire let out a moan and closed his eyes in agony. "Or…p…play w…with a silly…old cork…cork…and string...."
"What are Dumbledore's plans?” The Dark Lord's tone was sharper, more impatient.
"But I like Binkie, my dog, because...because he knows h...how to behave...."
"Lord Lash! The Puralux!" Voldemort ordered irately.
The hooded Van Helsing member with the chain and cross retrieved a beaker of another clear, thick liquid from the stone shelf behind him. He carefully tipped the beaker over Snape's arm and poured out several drops over the Dark Mark. Snape screamed in agony and writhed as if he were being burned.
"Draaaagons!" Snape screamed out.
Harry stumbled backwards until his back hit the doorframe.
"He doesn’t have them yet! He will soon!” Snape continued in a slightly less deafening shriek. “The Aurors are divided. Hyran has pledged his support. And giants are helping him. Gaba Maal. Others. Unicorns patrol the school grounds, and spiders in the forest. He is prepared…to take in refugees.”
“Refugeessss?” Voldemort sneered to his spectators. “That doddering old fool! Where will he house them, how will he feed them, and of what usssse will they be to him when I am ready to attack him in force? He is weakening his own position by sharing his resources and extending his protection to the powerlesssssss. I will soon teach him the folly of his soft, sentimental ways.”
“Not defenseless,” Snape whispered. “The Light guards them…strength in unity….”
“Ah yessss, the Circle of Light. I have heard of his pathetic attempt create his own Circle of Power, modeled after my own. Is Dumbledore reconvening the Circle, then?"
“I don’t…” Snape began, and then he struggled to regain some of his former fight. “Binky, my dog, because...refugees...he knows how to behave."
Voldemort jerked a pale finger toward the Van Helsing leader, and Lord Lash raised the vial and dribbled out more of its contents.
“Answer the question!” Voldemort thundered.
Snape screamed and struggled, and finally, reluctantly said, "I don't know. He hasn’t yet, as far as I know. But it is possible that he has already reconvened the Circle of Light without telling me. I’m not part of it and never will be, so I don’t ask him about it. Likewise he does not trouble me with useless details about it.”
“So, he trussssts you, but not enough to let you into his inner circle. He must have known that you would betray his trust as you have mine.”
“It wasn’t Dumbledore’s choice to bar me from joining. The choice was mine. I made it before I knew what the price would be. Too late, I learned that I could not belong to both Circles. They are mutually exclusive.”
“Those who have sworn to ssssserve me forever mussst do so forever. There is no turning back.”
“I hoped that I would find a way!”
“Your foolish hope has landed you here, where you will learn the price of rejection by both Circles! Now tell me about the vampires. The Night Council. Have they pledged their ssssupport to Dumbledore?"
"No. We have…we have been out of contact with them for some time. They are hiding."
"Where are they hiding?"
"I don't know."
“I know that you have been in contact with Ilantha as recently as lassst month! You must know ssssomething!”
“We exchange salutations, information, and insults by familiar. We don’t exactly exchange addresses.”
“Have you been to Ilantha’s hidden refuge in persssson?”
“Yes. Once only. She keeps the Floo on her end isolated from the network most of the time, well hidden, and well guarded. Visitors are allowed to see nothing but the guards and the walls of the room in which they arrive and depart. For some, I am sure it is the last thing they ever see. If Ilantha suspects treachery, she does not hesitate to circumvent the normal procedures of the Night Council.”
“Yet you sssurvived the excursion only to fall into my outstretched hand. You traitoroussss scum! How did you earn a round-trip ticket? It is no ssssimple matter to lie to a Memdescif!”
“No. But with considerable practice it is possible to discipline one’s thoughts.”
“We will discussssss this matter in depth later. Tell me about your side of the Floo network. Who arranged for you to meet with Ilantha?”
“Someone in the Ministry who secretly works for the Night Council takes care of the Floo arrangements and cover-ups on my end. I don’t know who, so don’t bother asking.”
“Ilantha is clever,” Voldemort observed grudgingly, “but she cannot hide forever. Eventually, the need to feed will drive the vampires from their lair, and the Night Stalkers will be waiting to follow the ssssscent of their trails…for they are most attracted to the scent of fresh blood. Unlesssssss…unless they all decide to hibernate. But I think that Ilantha will not risssssk incapacitating most of her forces this way, for then her stronghold would be quite vulnerable to a sssurprise attack, should it be discovered. With ssssufficient patience, then, I shall learn what I wish to know even without your cooperation, Severussss.
"Now then, tell me about Dumbledore’s network. Who are his sssspies, and where will I find them? I want names, locations, passssswords, and any other pertinent information."
Snape clenched his jaw again, and the blue veins stood out on his forehead.
“Don’t tell him! Don’t tell him anything!” Harry shouted, wishing Snape could hear him, yet thankful that Voldemort couldn’t.
"I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me," the dhampire whispered with obvious effort. "And what can be the use of him is more than I can see...."
"Who are his sssspies? Where can I find them?"
"He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head...."
Voldemort gestured towards Lord Lash, and again the Van Helsing upturned the beaker over his captive. Only this time Lash poured out half the beaker over Snape, and this time he coated not only the arm with the Mark, but Snape’s face and chest as well.
Harry covered his ears and thought again of turning around and leaving, but his feet remained planted, his back remained plastered to the doorframe.
"Who are his spies? Where can I find them?" Voldemort hissed.
"Enrique Hernandez, Mexico...usually in Oaxaca," Snape gasped out. "Coyote. Works in Mexico, Central, and South America. Cagey, clever, won’t meet with anyone he doesn’t trust. However, he trusts me implicitly, and Cyrus Miller, his contact on the American side in El Paso, Texas. Amy Billings-Cottleworth in the central United States. She exchanges information and supplies with Cy and Enrique through couriers. Amy...Amy can be found in Ohio, northeast Ohio. The west coast contact...the west coast...is new...I don't know who...And there are others. Leslie Marmion was our contact in Italy. We haven’t heard anything from him or any of his people…in the last month. They’re presumed dead."
"I have dealt with Marmion’s organization," Voldemort said with a cruel smile. "They follow his ordersss as always, but he takes his orders from me now. I will tell him to have one of his people contact Dumbledore in order to allay his fears. I don’t want my greatesssst enemy to know the extent of my control over his former allies yet. Who elsssssse?"
Snape struggled for a moment before answering. "Mai Le...South Korea. Ellam Mostafar in Egypt, Xe Chang...China, Aida Bellez...Spain...Rudolph Getterbrieg in Germany."
“Getterbrieg?” exclaimed the Van Helsing leader, the hand with the beaker of Puralux hovering inches over Snape’s heart. “Nonsense! Rudolph Getterbrieg is one of ours.”
“He’s a spy, you idiot,” the dhampire responded nastily. “His true loyalty lies with the Alliance of Light, and he is most displeased with the direction your Order has taken since the death of his older brother Friedrich.”
"Excellent," Voldemort purred. "Now. Tell me about Harry Potter.”
Snape laughed bitterly. "The seer has said that his choice will either shatter the cycle of darkness…or doom us all, and other such rot. I don’t know what this choice involves or whether it has already been made or is yet to be made, and I don’t care, because I don’t believe a word of it. Dumbledore disagrees. He thinks that Potter is the key to the future. That is why the Potter boy is so important to him.”
Choice? What choice? Harry gasped and drew a hand to his mouth in horror, for suddenly he knew. What other choice could Snape be talking about but the choice he, Ron, Hermione and Jaspine had made? Sirius had told him only a few days ago that his actions had severely compromised the Order, had caused Dumbledore to lose valuable allies besides Snape, like Moody and Viktor Krum’s family. And why else would Trelawney have mentioned Snape in his Divinations class? It was a warning, directed at him, but Harry had laughed at it!
The teen slid down the wall until he sat crumpled and miserable on the floor, and buried his face in his hands. I’ve doomed us all, he thought dejectedly. I made the wrong choice, and now Dumbledore is going to lose the war because of what I did!
“You should already know not to underestimate the boy,” Snape was saying. “He is bold, well-protected in ways I do not fully understand, and he has great power. He has defeated you four times already..."
"You are not in any position to insult me, Severussss!" Voldemort snapped angrily. “Your own fall will be his! I will use you to destroy all of Dumbledore’s worksssss, and the ones he protects!”
Snape gave a sickening sound that was half gasp, half sneer, “You overestimate my usefulness, Your Vile Lordship.”
Voldemort clenched one hand in fury and wrapped the other hand around the dhampire’s jaw. “You will sssuffer for that remark!”
“In what way can you possibly punish me that you haven’t already?” came the weary, pain-laden response.
“When I have learned everything from you that is usssseful to me, and when I have broken your ssssspirit like a mere twig, then you will know the answer to that question. And I promise you that you will regret asssking it.
“Now you have wasted enough of my time with your pathetic stalling attemptsssss. You will tell me what you know about Aurellia Deveroux. Who is she?"
Snape's face twisted in fury. "No."
"Tell me about Aurellia Deveroux!" Voldemort squeezed Snape's jaw even harder.
"Is she an elf? Is she a threat?"
"I…I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me...."
"Mulciber! Lash!" Voldemort released his grip on Snape's jaw, and Harry shuddered at the sight of the dark blood on the Dark Lord's fingernails.
Mulciber pulled a crank, and Harry saw the chains around Snape's ankles and wrists tighten. Lash, meanwhile, took the beaker of Puralux and started dripping the substance, drop by drop, onto Snape's head. Snape again screamed as the Puralux ran down his face, into his eyes and onto his lips.
"Enough games, Severusss...is Aurellia Deveroux an elf?"
"Yes," Snape gasped out.
"Are there any otherssss of her kind?"
"No. We believe she is the last."
"Why is she there?"
"She is the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
"Is that the only reason? I think there is more you are not telling me."
"She was my Watcher, from the end of October until the night I was captured. But that wasn’t the original plan. Dumbledore had chosen another. Her cousin, whom you killed this summer.”
"Yessss, I remember that brazen, impudent fool. Is this Deveroux as well trained as he? As powerful? Does she pose a threat?"
"She defeated me in a duel...or would have, if I hadn’t put a stop to it. She is skilled at Defensive magic. She casts powerful Elvin spells. She calls them Shimmering Veil and Exploding Screamer. She is clever. Hard to outmaneuver. She is also protected...."
"She wears an Elvin Guardian Charm. Her mother's charm. She took it with her when she escaped with her cousin that night...that night we attacked the first Elvin village." Snape's mouth twisted into a strange smile "I let her escape. She was only a child. A pretty child. So frightened, so helpless…I could have killed her easily, but I chose not to. I disobeyed your commands. And she lived. She lived despite your efforts to destroy her kind."
The room became deathly quiet.
"What?" Voldemort whispered.
"I helped her escape," Snape taunted. "By doing nothing to stop her flight. Later that night, I went to Dumbledore. The others...thought I stayed behind to feed. They forgot vampires can't drink Elvin blood, the fools! It makes dhampires violently ill as well... so I found out for myself. It was cold that night, bitterly cold, and a long walk without a broom. Wished I’d brought my Nimbus, but I didn’t know…what was going to happen that night. You didn’t tell us we were going to be raiding an elf village in the middle of nowhere! Thought I’d never make it to Hogwarts alive. Told Dumbledore what happened, what I knew about your plans. And so the Black Phoenix was born through fire and ice…"
Voldemort stood like a statue, his red eyes narrowing.
"Sssssso. You have been a traitor from the very beginning!" the Dark Lord whispered in a tone of slowly building rage.
"Not quite, but much longer than you suspected," Snape sneered. "I told Dumbledore about the first attack on Azkaban. I've told him about your Night Stalkers, and your experiments with the undead. I've told him and Deveroux about your newest curse, your Dementor's Kiss. And I’ve told...."
Voldemort screamed in fury. He grabbed one of the strange objects from the stone shelves, something that resembled a whip with several metal barbed ends. He raised it over his head, and the whip started to glow a sinister green. He lashed at Snape with the whip, and the ends latched onto his sallow skin. The green glow coursed down the whip through the ends, and Snape started twitching as if he were receiving an electrical shock.
"You." Crack! "Have betrayed." Crack! "Me." Crack! "And you." CRACK! "Shall." CRACK! "PAY!" CRACK!
Snape writhed in agony as Voldemort finally put the whip away. The Dark Lord clenched and unclenched his hands. Harry turned away, and he felt like throwing up.
"Ssso," Voldemort said quietly, his composure restored. "It is as I have thought for some time now, that you were the sssspy in my Circle, this Black Phoenix I have heard about, but never been able to catch. Ah, but now I know your betrayal runs deeper than even I had imagined. I susssspected that you had killed Peter Pettigrew out of jealousy, or to silence him because he knew too much about you. I had even begun to wonder if you have sssstrayed from my path because you think that you have found the great myth, the grand illusion.”
Great myth? Harry wondered. What’s he talking about?
"You...are...wrong," Snape whispered, his face still contorted with pain. "I have...been against you...since the genocide. Of the elves. And I killed...Pettigrew. For revenge…not jealousy. Justice...for what he...did...to the Potters. I tried...to warn...them...and Dumbledore…had to choose...said they were safe…he failed...failed…I failed.”
"ENOUGH!" Voldemort roared. "I have heard enough about your treachery!"
“My Lord,” the Van Helsing leader entreated in the pause that followed, “this vampire is guilty of murder and treason--capital crimes by our standards. I implore you to hand him over to the High Court of the Stake and Cross for trial and sentencing. He must receive the punishment his crimes deserve.”
“No,” the Dark Lord objected firmly, cutting off further argument with a sharp wave of a spidery white hand. “This one will answer for his crimes to the only court of jussssstice that matters. Mine.”
The Van Helsing subsided without further protest. Harry could not tell whether or not he was angry at having been superseded by Voldemort’s authority.
Voldemort smiled, and his voice had a new quality of menace to it. Was it that of triumph?
But why? Harry wondered. "Tell me more about the elf, you traitorousssss fool. Was she worth the price you are paying now? You thought you loved her, didn't you?" he asked, almost purring.
Snape stared at the ceiling, mouthing something soundlessly.
"Well? I asked you a question, now answer me! Anssssswer me in the presence of my loyal, faithful servantsss!”
And one very non-loyal invisible observer, Harry added silently, curious in spite of the circumstances, in spite of the disaster he had unleashed, to hear the answer. Was he still in love with the Defense teacher in spite of the fact that Deveroux had told him that she hated him?
“Tell me you loved her,” Voldemort whispered. “Tell me what a fool you were to defy me because you cared about her. And tell me…how she repaid you!"
Snape struggled, but finally capitulated. "Yes. I loved her. And the more I loved her, the more I hated you! Your fault! Your genocide! Your war, not mine! I killed on your command! She hated me after she learned the truth about her brother. I killed him. Because your ‘loyal servants’ insisted. Your fault! Your orders!"
"Ah, sssso you admit it, poor fool. You loved her."
"I love her. I cannot stop loving her."
"But you are a monster. She hatessss you."
"I am a...a monster."
As if the torture weren’t enough, Harry thought ruefully.
"You betrayed me, and let yourssself believe in love, like a fool!"
"Like a fool," Snape whispered. He closed his eyes. "Like a bloody fool."
“Don’t listen to him!” Harry shouted vainly to Voldemort’s victim, knowing that his words would fall on deaf ears.
"You belong to me."
"Never!" Snape's eyes flew open and focused in a hateful glare at Voldemort. "I have never belonged to you. Not since that night. Never again…never!"
"You will return in sssservice to me," Voldemort hissed, as he grabbed a handful of black hair and pulled Snape’s head back. "I do not give up what is mine. You wear my Mark. You sold yoursssself to me!"
"Only because you lied to me," Snape said between clenched teeth. "You lied to us all. You don't care about us! What rewards have you given your followers? Fear? Threats? Pain? You care about your own gain! Getting power for yourself!"
"Have you sssso easily forgotten, then?" Voldemort said softly. "Have you forgotten everything I gave you? I rewarded you with power, position, pleasure...when you earned it. I taught you things no one elsssse could have taught you, I embraced you when no one elsssse would take you in because of what you are! Now you have the gall to lie there and ssssay that I do nothing for my followers?"
"Yes, I had power; I had prestige," Snape said softly. "But it came with a price. A chain. I was a slave. All of your followers are slaves." Snape turned his attention to the tall wizard in blood-red robes. "He is only using you. You can still break free. You can go to Dumbledore. You can fight this."
The tall wizard in the Durmstrang robes laughed. "What? Are you mad? Why would I want to leave? Why would I want to suffer and die like you will?"
"Because if you die, you will die like me," Snape whispered. "Free."
Voldemort started to laugh, and the sound reverberated around the room. Harry plugged his ears and backed toward the doorway... he was halfway through the door....
"What makessss you think that you will ever be free from me, Lajskeot? Or that I will be merciful and let you die?" Voldemort said, and he laughed again. "Oh no, Black Phoenix, you will fly again, but you will fly for me when I am finished ssssporting with you. I have plans for you, my former ssservant, and I want you alive for the time being. But in the meantime, you will continue to pay for your betrayal. And one more thing, Ssseverus...."
Harry was stepping backwards through the door when he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. Startled, he jumped and looked up to see a masked Death Eater.
"Aren't you going to stay for the rest of the party?" a silky voice whispered. "I thought you would enjoy this. Why don't you bring your friends along?"
No, Harry mouthed.
"Is there another Phoenix?" Voldemort's voice could be heard, but it seemed distant, muffled.
"Harry Potter, where do you think you are going?" the Death Eater hissed. He started to remove his mask.
No! Harry shouted, but his throat made no sound. His scar suddenly flared up like a volcanic eruption, the pain threatening to bring him to his knees.
"I saw a little shadow...."
"Is there another Phoenix?"
Pain! Agony! His skull was on fire!
"Don't go just yet, Potter!"
The scar! Got to get out of here!
"Is there another?"
"I saw...." Then screams....
Harry heard a scream, and realized it was his own voice. He clamped a hand over his mouth and looked around. Thankfully, everyone else was still fast asleep.
That was no dream, Harry realized in horror. That was real. They were torturing Snape. And Voldemort knows. He knows....
Harry clamped both hands over his mouth to stifle another cry as his godfather's words came back to haunt him.
He knew people, he knew plans, he knew territories. If Voldemort finds out even half of what Snape knows, Dumbledore and the Order will be sorely compromised.
Dumbledore. He had to tell Dumbledore. But how?
The teen suddenly spied Hedwig asleep on top of her cage. He didn't stop to think why she was there instead of the owlery, but right then he was grateful the snowy owl was there. He grabbed an owl treat from his nightstand drawer and walked over to her.
"Hedwig, wake up," Harry called softly. "Wake up, now, it's important."
Hedwig opened one yellow eye and gazed at Harry sleepily. Then she spied the treat and both eyes flew open.
"Here," Harry said as Hedwig took the treat and began munching on it. Harry, meanwhile, found a scrap of parchment paper and began to write.
I was dreaming about Professor Snape, but I don't think it was just a dream. Voldemort gave him Veritaserum and asked him a lot of questions…about me, about the school, about your plans, about something called a Circle of Light. Voldemort said something about Snape being a Phoenix, and that if there are more, he probably knows about them too. He knows about your international contacts as well, Enrique Hernandez in Mexico, Rudolph something in the Order of Van Helsing—they know about him now, Aida something in Spain, someone in Egypt. Someone was captured in Italy, he will be contacting you again, but he’s with Voldemort…."
Drat! The details were already slipping....
"....He knows about Professor Deveroux being an elf. He knows about the giants. Snape also said something about dragons and Aurors. Voldemort knows about a lot now. Including the prophecy about me and some sort of choice I’m supposed to have made."
Harry paused, and his hand shook as he wrote the next line:
"Now I'm beginning to understand what I did. I hope I haven't ruined everything for you, but I’m afraid that I have.
Hedwig had finished her owl treat by the time Harry was done writing his note. He handed the paper to the owl, who took it in her beak.
"Take this straight to the headmaster," Harry said. "Bang on his window and wake him up if you have to, but he needs to see this immediately. It's extremely important."
Hedwig gave an obedient hoot while Harry opened the window. The owl flew out into the misty darkness. The sun had not come up yet, and Harry could see the full moon just above the trees.
Harry felt as if he were blindly stumbling into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom on Monday morning. Physically and mentally exhausted already, with his mind still preoccupied with the horrible dream he had had only a few hours ago, the last place the teen wanted to be right now was Deveroux’s class. He had seriously considered skivving off and sleeping in this morning, but how in the world would he ever be able to explain to Professor Deveroux why he had felt it necessary to miss class? He could try making up an excuse, of course, but would she believe it? He thought not. Nobody had yet been able to get away with lying to the Defense teacher, not even since…
Then again, had anyone even tried to lie to Deveroux since Snape’s disappearance? He thought not.
Ultimately, though, it was Hermione, and to a lesser extent, his conscience which decided him. Angry though she was with him over the stupid plot against Snape, this did not seem to stop Hermione from fussing over his grades. He could still hear her nagging at the foot of the stairs to his dorm.
“Come on, Harry, you’re going to be late for Defense class! And don’t tell me that you’re not going on account of those nightmares you keep having. You can’t afford to miss any classes right now, not with OWLs only a couple of months away!”
It wasn’t the mention of grades that had decided him, but Hermione’s insistence that he ought to go to class anyway, in spite of the nightmares. He had, well, an obligation to go to class; to carry on in spite of all that had happened…would happen. After all, Deveroux didn’t let her regrets keep her from doing her job, did she?
He took his seat and reached into his bookbag for his Defense text when he noticed the first-year Gryffindors waiting around at the back of the room. For a brief moment, Harry thought that he might have his days mixed up, and that he had gone to the wrong class. But that thought was followed closely by the realization that while he might be a bit sleepy and fuzzyheaded today, Hermione certainly wasn’t. So…what were the first-years doing here?
The stone doors dividing the classrooms from the alcoves parted and Professor Deveroux stepped into the classroom. Harry’s heart sank when he saw her, for she looked even more exhausted than he felt. Was she having nightmares about Snape and Voldemort, too? The Defense teacher walked over to the desk and Harry noticed the untidy stacks of parchment paper piled there. Deveroux’s desk used to be so organized that the Defense teacher could pick up books, papers, quill, wand, or whatever she needed without even looking. Now she was always hunting for things, muttering under her breath about how she could never seem to find anything. And even more disturbing than the Defense teacher’s recent trend toward disorganization, was the hollow, haunted look in her eyes. The spark of energy, of command, that had been there since Harry’s first day of class was all but snuffed out.
“Today, we are going to skip the lecture part of the class and go to the alcoves,” Deveroux announced flatly. “You have learned the majority of the Defense techniques and information you will need to know for your OWLS, plus a few additional things that could one day save your life in the real world. This class has progressed very well over the past year, and I am, for the most part, pleased with your progress. However…however, I have observed something disturbing repeatedly in my classes, something that concerns me greatly. There seems to be too much emphasis on individual skills and too little emphasis on teamwork and cooperation here at Hogwarts, as well as a general disregard for students who are a little slower.”
Harry thought about the end of his first year at Hogwarts and Neville’s last-minute surprise award from Dumbledore for having the courage to stand up to his friends. He was inclined to disagree with Deveroux, but didn’t dare interrupt her lecture. Besides, she wasn’t entirely wrong. Some of the older students, especially Slytherins, did enjoy picking on the younger ones. And could he himself put a first and last name to more than one or two of the Gryffindor faces at the back of the room?
“In the real world, you may find yourself presented with opportunities to use your skills to save someone’s life. I believe that such opportunities should never be missed or passed up, for to help one another is the very thing that lifts us up, that elevates us above the level of brute beasts, and guards us from the temptations of the Dark Forces. You are here, in this class, at this most critical time in your lives, to learn to defend yourselves, and others for the rest of your lives. And you may find that cooperating with another witch or wizard of lesser skill may make the difference between life and death…for both of you!”
Harry thought about the troll in the bathroom, the dangerous route to the Sorcerer’s Stone, Aragog’s lair, and the confrontation in the Shrieking Shack and realized that no other students his age, save Ron and Hermione, had truly faced such life threatening circumstances…together, as a team. He shot a glance over at Ron, but the redhead was watching Deveroux intently. Ron wasn’t quite as starry-eyed as he used to be, now that he had seen some of Deveroux’s flaws, but it was obvious that he still carried a bit of a torch. Hermione, Harry noticed, was writing furiously in her notebook, her quill scratching away in a frenzied blur of motion. Oh, put the quill down, Hermione, thought Harry, this is just a pep-talk, not an exam lecture.
“So today, each of you is going to pair up with one of your younger housemates,” Deveroux continued, gesturing to the waiting group of first-years. “Together, you will face some of the most dangerous real-world threats. Fifth-years, it will be your responsibility to defend not only yourself, but your first-year partner as well.” She then turned her attention to the younger students and said, “First-years, you are to help your partners to the best of your ability. I don’t expect you to be able to slay a dragon or produce a Patronus, but I do expect you to think! Use the spells you have learned this year, if they will help. Tell your partner if you see or hear any threats. Talk to each other! Work together! Use your common sense!
“And one final very important note to all of you. This exercise will be graded according to your performance.” A chorus of groans greeted that remark. “But you will be given multiple chances to improve your grade… unlike in real life,” and here, Deveroux’s eyes didn’t seem to focus on her class anymore, but somewhere else in time.
Harry looked down, fiddled with zipper on his bookbag. Deveroux was pushing all of the students harder of late, particularly the younger ones, and he knew why. The Defense teacher blamed herself as much as she blamed the Avengers for what had happened to Snape. And now she was overcompensating by demanding more from the students than ever before, even though she, herself, seemed to be struggling. If anyone besides himself, Ron, and Hermione got out of here with an Acceptable grade, it would be a miracle.
“In real life,” Deveroux continued, “you only get one chance. One chance, and if you fail… if you fail….” She paused, and her pale mouth became a thin line. “If you fail, there is no going back, no undoing your mistakes. Take advantage of your opportunity to learn here, where mistakes are less costly.” Deveroux turned and shook her head as if to collect herself, then went over to her desk to search for something. After several seconds of looking through the parchment paper stacks, she pulled out a sheet of foolscap and began reading off the list of assignments.
“Lavender Brown, Mozelle Wood. Seamus Finnigan, Trent Walcott. Hermione Granger, Sonatina Skye ….”
Harry was paired with a skinny, sandy-haired boy named Javier Kenrick, who looked awestruck at having been paired with ‘the famous Harry Potter’. Harry proceeded to his usual alcove with Kenrick following like an obedient puppy.
“Can I see it?” Kenrick asked. “Can I see the…the scar?” he clarified in an almost reverent whisper.
Harry rolled his eyes in irritation and thought about ignoring the Creevey-wannabe. He was so sick and tired of hearing about that bloody thing! But Deveroux would probably give him a poor grade if he ignored Kenrick entirely, so after a moment he sighed and brushed his bangs aside.
Here it comes, thought Harry. Wow.
“Wow!” gasped Kenrick in an amazed whisper.
Does it hurt?
“Does it hurt?” asked Kenrick.
“Occasionally,” Harry replied in bored tone. “But not right now.”
How did it happen/where did you get it/et cetera?
“Where did you get it?”
Harry sighed. Someone, please change the script once in a while!
“Voldemort tried to kill me when I was an infant, but the curse didn’t work right. I don’t know why. No one knows,” Harry answered flatly. Now mention my parents; that’s next.
“I…er…I heard that he…er…You-Know-Who…killed your parents.”
“Yeah,” Harry said coolly. Who hasn’t by now?
“I’m sorry,” said the first-year.
Aren’t they all, thought Harry, but they don’t really understand.
“You must be very sad,” said Kenrick. “I can’t imagine.”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “But life goes on.” With nightmares and regrets... “Look, I really don’t want to talk about this anymore, okay?”
“Okay,” said the younger Gryffindor, nodding like a bobble-head.
Suddenly, Harry felt that familiar shifting feeling as the rock beneath his feet and around him changed into an outdoor setting, a forested hillside, sloping down to a vast lake. The sky overhead was a deep blue, with just a faint hint of the last bit of daylight at the horizon. Gray-purple clouds raced by above him, and heat lightning sent fingers of purplish light through the sky. Water lapped at the near bank some thirty paces from where he stood, and a slight chill breeze blew the scent of rain across the water.
“There’s a storm coming,” Kenrick whispered. “I can feel it in the air. Think that’s what we’re supposed to…?” He never finished the sentence.
“Stupefy!” A bright red spell zinged in from the right, and Kenrick crumpled to the ground. Harry swore and whirled to face the caster, a tall wizard in dark robes, his face shadowed by a hood.
Uh, oh, Harry thought. This was the first time the class had ever had virtual combat with another wizard. Harry had dueled with his classmates, and he had even briefly dueled Voldemort, but how many others in Harry’s class were ready for this sort of combat? Deveroux was definitely turning up the pressure!
There was no time to dwell further on that thought. The wizard was moving, winding his way through the trees like a predatory feline. Harry guessed that he was trying to assess his opponents before attacking again. A grave error that, wasting time strategizing in a situation like this which required skill and reflex, Harry thought. The enemy had wasted his advantage of surprise. When the next attack came, Harry was ready for it. Chiel and Chiel Ahmi stopped several rapid-fire lightning bolt attacks directed at himself and his partner, and then Harry countered with his personal favorite, Expelliarmus.
The enemy wizard blocked the disarmer with Protego and laughed.
Harry dodged the next attack, another Stupefy, and tried Ennervating Kenrick, but the first-year stayed unconscious. Harry swore as he blocked yet another Stupefy. He needed to find cover, but he couldn’t leave Kenrick unprotected! The duel became more heated as Harry struggled grimly with his virtual antagonist, thinking that while Professor Deveroux herself seemed to be cracking, her lessons had not become any less intense. What Harry didn’t know was that Deveroux had prepared a nasty little surprise, a surprise he would have been ready for had he not lost his own advantage—his backup.
A Reducto blasted a nearby tree to splinters as the enemy hiding behind it dove for cover. Harry was about to follow up with a Stupefy of his own when movement off to the left caught his eye. Harry whirled and trained his wand on another wizard, who was stealthily attempting to flank himself and Kenrick.
“Stupe...Aaaaagh!” the spell was abruptly cut off as Harry felt a sharp pain in the back of his head. He staggered and fell headlong into the underbrush, nearly losing consciousness, never seeing the bolt that had struck him from behind.
The ground abruptly shifted, and Harry found himself staring at the base of a brown stone wall of his alcove. Well, that could have gone better, he thought, picking himself up gingerly and rubbing the back of his head.
Kenrick awakened a moment later and bounded to his feet.
“Well, how did we do?” the younger Gryffindor wanted to know, his round blue eyes searching for approval in the green eyes of his hero.
Harry continued rubbing the back of his skull and winced. “Not so good. You weren’t much help after that Stunner.”
“Sorry,” said the first-year, looking crushed. “I’ll do better next time.”
“Say, aren’t you first-years supposed to be in another class right now?” Harry wanted to know.
“Yeah, Potions,” Kenrick said somberly. “But it’s cancelled until the new teacher is ready to start. I would have thought that at least one of the other teachers here has enough experience with Potions to take over Professor Snape’s classes in the meantime, but I guess not.”
Harry winced again. “Yeah, well, Karkaroff can take all the time he likes getting ready. I’ve never liked Potions class.” If you only knew…
“I heard you and Professor Snape didn’t get along. I heard he’s the reason you missed the game against Ravenclaw.” Harry glared and Kenrick added hastily, “Don’t worry, I don’t think it was your fault we lost.” The first year shrugged and continued. “Professor Snape was a rather mean and nasty sort. I didn’t like him, but I thought his class was interesting. I’m looking forward to getting back to Potions. The extra study period is boring. You know, Deveroux pulled us out of the library today because she thought we needed more practice in Defense class.”
“Obviously,” Harry remarked dryly. “You slept through almost all of that last exercise.”
“I sleep through most of the study period too,” Kenrick admitted sheepishly.
“Tell you what,” said Harry with a hint of facetiousness, “next time I’ll take the Stunner and you can defend me. I need to catch up on some sleep anyway.”
“Are you serious?” the first year asked in amazement.
“No,” Harry replied. “I wish. But Deveroux would give me a T for the day and tons of homework for doing so poorly.”
“What’s a T?” Kenrick wondered.
“Oh, you haven’t heard that one yet, have you?” Harry received a blank look in response and proceeded to explain. “T stands for Troll. That’s about three grades below Poor.”
Kenrick burst into laughter, and Harry thought back and tried to remember if he had ever been as happy-go-lucky as this talkative first year. Probably not, he decided as Deveroux’s voice broke into his thoughts.
“All of you, pay attention!” Deveroux called. Her tone was sharper than he had ever before heard it. “That was a dismal performance, from all of you! If I had to grade you right now, you would all receive a P.”
Numerous groans followed this announcement. Harry supposed that some of the exercises must have taken longer than his and Kenrick’s, and had just now ended. He wondered if his classmates had faced different threats, different scenarios. Or perhaps their first-years had been more help and they had lasted longer against their opponents.
Deveroux continued her lecture. “Fifth-years, remember you must not leave your charge unguarded, and you must never turn your back on a threat unless someone else is covering for you! Don’t forget everything I have taught you this year! Now, we will try another exercise this time, something you all should be prepared for.”
The next exercise was simple, in Harry’s opinion. Six dementors swooped toward them in a blind, dark alley, but they were not real dementors, and they lacked the chill and menacing aura of the real thing. Kenrick had apparently never encountered real dementors, but he did know what they were and what they were capable of doing.
“Dementors!” he shrieked, hiding behind Harry. “They’ll suck out your soul if you let them get too close! We should run for it!”
“We can’t run!” Harry snapped impatiently. “Don’t you see there’s a dead end about ten yards behind us?”
“What are we going to do?” Kenrick cried in a panic.
“Just relax,” Harry ordered, “and keep your eyes open. Make sure nothing else sneaks up behind us while I deal with the dementors!”
Harry closed his eyes and thought of Buckbeak. He thought back to the rush of night wind against his face, the rhythmic flapping of giant feathery wings, the ripple of powerful flight muscles along the creature’s back. He, Hermione and Sirius were sailing over the parapets and towers of Hogwarts on the back of the gray hippogriff, and the experience was exhilarating. Hermione was screaming while Harry laughed and enjoyed the ride, and Sirius’ booming laughter drowned out everything else. He was free! They had triumphed! Sirius was free!
Harry opened his eyes and pointed his wand at the approaching dementors. He felt as if he were still flying as he shouted, “Expecto Patronum!”
The white stag burst from his wand like a supernova, flooding the alley with brilliant, supernatural white light…
Several students of both age groups left their alcoves and ran over toward Harry’s to see what was causing the light.
“Great Merlin!” Kenrick whispered in awe, his eyes widening with astonishment.
The stag lowered its horns and charged at the dementors like a raging bull, flinging them left and right like dirty dishrags, tossing them far away into the night sky where they shrieked in pain and fluttered away like wounded bats.
“Bloody hell!” someone from the group of observers whispered in what sounded very much like Ron’s voice.
“What is that? Did you see it? Who conjured it?” whispered others.
The stag galloped once around the room, charged through a wall and vanished.
“Bloody show-off!” Ron’s voice again.
“Was that…a Patronus?” Kenrick asked, still awestruck. “You can do a Patronus?”
“Yeah,” Harry replied with a shrug. “It’s not that hard, really. I learned it two years ago when the dementors were here looking for Sirius Black.”
“Wow,” Kenrick whispered. “Teach me how to do that!”
“Er…maybe in a few years,” Harry said. “You’re not ready yet.”
“Yes, yes. Very good, Mr. Potter,” Deveroux praised half-heartedly. “I knew you would be able to handle the dementors. Now the rest of you fifth-years obviously need to work on your Patronus Charms. I don’t expect all of you to be able to produce a corporeal Patronus like Mr. Potter, but I do expect you to be able to at least form a decent dementor shield. First-years...first-years, remember--the most important thing to remember is not to panic. Dementors feed on your feelings, and they are especially fond of anger and fear. Try not to give them any extra incentive to come after you. Also, remember…” Deveroux paused for a minute as if trying to remember something herself. “What was I going to say?” she muttered irritably.
The students waited several moments as Deveroux closed her eyes and sighed.
“Oh yes,” the defense teacher continued, finally remembering her train of thought. “Remember that it is almost impossible to outrun a dementor unless you are a skilled flyer and happen to possess a well-maintained Firebolt. On the ground, especially with a defenseless Muggle or child in tow, you stand no chance at all. The best thing to do…if you can, get indoors to a safe refuge where the dementors cannot follow you, a place surrounded by dementor wards or other such Dark Magic defenses. If you can’t get to a safe place, then the best thing you can do…the next best thing you can do, that is, is to call for help, face the dementors, and try to hold them off for as long as you can with the Patronus Charm. You may not survive long enough for help to arrive, but you stand a better chance than if you succumb to blind panic.”
Deveroux’s ‘encouragement’ was sure to be cold comfort for the students who had done poorly today, Harry thought. He was very glad Lupin had taken the time to work with him on the Patronus Charm two years ago.
“Now go back to your alcoves, and we’ll try the dementors again. Mr. Potter, I want you to try the wizards again. Mr. Kenrick, keep your eyes open, and try not to get stunned this time.”
So Harry and his classmates were required to go through the exercises again … and again … and again. By the ninth or tenth time – Harry lost count – he and Kenrick were able to fend off the enemy wizards without being cursed or Stupefied. Harry accomplished this mainly by teaching Kenrick the Chiel spell in-between drills, and by the end of the class, the younger Gryffindor was beginning to get the hang of helping Harry watch for threats while defending himself with a sometimes-successful weak shield.
Progress was being made in other quarters as well, for an otter Patronus lit up the room at the same time that Kenrick successfully cast his first Chiel.
“Well, none of you are as prepared as I’d hoped you would be by now, but at least you’re making progress,” Deveroux said, sounding disappointed. “Fifth-years, I want all of you to practice your Patronus Charms this evening in your common room, except for you, Miss Granger, and Mr. Potter. Since you two seem to have mastered the Patronus, I would like you to help the others improve. Now, follow me back into the classroom, all of you. We have about five… excuse me, three minutes before the bell.”
The exhausted students left the alcoves and resumed their seats. Deveroux walked over to her desk and sat down. “All of you need to make a great deal of improvement if you want to earn Acceptable marks in this class. Your reaction times in general are too slow, and many of you need to improve your spellwork, not to mention your aim. Furthermore, all of you, especially first years, need to work on communication. You are a team! Talk to each other! Ask questions! Listen to each other’s advice! Cooperate! And remember that dodging spells is just as effective as shielding.”
Deveroux paused for a moment, thinking. The students waited. Harry reflected that she seemed to lose her train of thought often these days, and sometimes she seemed to be trying very hard not to cry in class. Sir Nick had said something about insomnia at breakfast the other day, and Harry didn’t doubt it. The teen felt miserable. He wanted to say something, do something…but what? What could he do other than to hold his tongue and try to move on?
“Fifth-years,” Deveroux said, resuming the lecture. “Fifth-years, don’t treat your charges like baggage. Explain to them what they can do to help you. Teach them. Mr. Potter was the only student in this room to even attempt to show his partner how to cast Chiel while the rest of you merely criticized.” Ron and Seamus both flushed and shuffled their feet. Hermione stared at Harry for a moment and made as if to whisper something congratulatory, then looked away. “First-years, I would like to try this again in a few weeks, if your new Potions professor will agree to give you up for a day, so be prepared. And fifth-years, expect threats that are more dangerous next week; I’m thinking Hebridean Blacks or Hungarian Horntails. Now then, I want all of you to come up here and take a cup of Recuare so you won’t be too tired to concentrate on your other coursework today, and then you are dismissed.”
Harry gratefully took one of the small glasses of the potion and downed the bitter yellow liquid in one gulp. It tasted of lemon rind and over-steeped tea, and it had an acidic smell, but he felt instantly restored, as if he’d had more than a few hours’ sleep last night. The feeling would probably only last until lunchtime, but Binns wouldn’t notice if he slept through History this afternoon. The teen hastily set down his glass, picked up his bag and fled out of the room, taking care not to make eye contact with the Defense teacher.
End of Chapter 46
Lajskeot is Borjitok for “servant” or (more appropriately, in this case) “Slave.”
The poems Severus Snape recites:
“My Shadow” by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Playing Robinson Crusoe” by Rudyard Kipling
“True Royalty” by Rudyard Kipling
These were found in Poems Every Child Should Know copyright 1904.