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One By One by mouse [Reviews - 34]


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This story was entered in the Sycophant Hex: Spring Faire Festival under the General Story: Severus Snape: A true Death Eater?

The criteria is below:

Summary: Write a story that assumes that Severus Snape is truly evil and has never given up working for Voldemort. The requirements for this entry are:

Rules:
1. The story must be from Snape's point of view showing his inner psychology and reasoning.
2. Develop a storyline that illustrates how Snape has never left Voldemort's service.
3. Include at least one original action that hints at Snape's true motive, but that can be interpreted by others in more than one way. (One classic example from canon is Snape threatening Quirrell while invisible Harry observes.)
4. Show a canon character assigning Snape a good or benign motive; show Snape gloating in private afterwards.
5. Include at least one reference to any canon incident showing Snape as a relatively good guy; have Snape recall the incident from his perspective, then describe his true, evil feelings and "real" motivation.
6. Show Snape's true thoughts on at least two major canon characters, and explain why he feels as he does about them.
7. Include the words "sycophant" and "hex" at least once within the challenge entry.
8. Show at least one incident of Snape carefully deceiving his romantic partner to maintain his cover (either Hermione in Ashwinder, or another canon character or the author's OFC in Occlumency).
9. Mention at least one hope or desire (again, from Snape's perspective) that he directly hopes to accomplish by making the choice for evil.
10. Show how Snape precisely hopes to get away with it all (i.e. what exactly are his plans?)

Notes:
1. Whether or not Snape gets away with it is up to the authors' discretion.
2. How his partner feels about his actions, if he does get exposed either through Voldemort winning, or being discovered by the Light, is up to the author.
3. All standard SH rules and posting guidelines apply.


One By One is one of the two Third Place Winners for the General Category!


This story was written before the release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", and is therefore consistent with canon only up until the end of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix".


Disclaimer: These characters are the intellectual property of J. K. Rowling, and I am not making any money off of them. Have mercy upon my keyboard, thou great and mighty copyright lawyers!




One By One


I asked Dumbledore, all those years ago, for a very small thing - a trifle really, when compared to attempted murder. I asked for the Marauders - those four glorious and monstrous golden boys - to be expelled from Hogwarts. I was not asking for what they deserved, only for a tiny consolation. Make them half-wizards, I pleaded, with broken wands. Like Hagrid. Dumbledore refused me this one small thing.

Be it on that old fool's head, then. A few years later, I asked another to give me my soul's comfort. I asked the Dark Lord for what I really wanted - the Marauders, dead. The Dark Lord agreed to this, in exchange for my allegiance, and although my vengeance is proving to be very slow in coming, I can be quite patient when it comes to such matters.

I walk into my office and find Harry Potter face-down in a Pensieve full of my memories, and it feels like a fever breaking, or a headache potion taking effect. I close the door quietly behind me, and smile at the boy with something like fondness. It has taken him long enough to finally go nosing around. I have literally been dangling my secrets in front of him at the start of every Occlumency lesson since the first one, and had even left him unattended with the Pensieve on the day that Trelawney was sacked. He has shown admirable restraint - much to my frustration.

Harry Potter thinks I hate him, but I have never hated him. I hated his father. Harry is merely an amusing intellectual exercise to me, much like Neville is. But the Dark Lord hates Harry Potter, and for that reason, I go through the motions. For that reason, I feign an incandescent rage at seeing him spying on the memories that I so carefully selected for him. For that reason, I chase Potter's newly bruised body out of my sight with an exploding jar of cockroaches.

And thus, the Dark Lord's will triumphs over Dumbledore's will; the boy is no longer learning Occlumency. My master's night-time baiting of Harry Potter can proceed unhindered.

And it is all a weary distraction, for the only use that Potter has to me is as a means to get to Sirius Black.

Sirius is not my only quarry, of course.

"Severus," says Remus, walking into my office several days later. "I need to speak with you. Have you got a minute?"

For you Remus? I would willingly squander my entire life on you, if that's how long it takes.

"I am busy," I say to him tersely. "Be brief, Lupin."

Remus looks down for a moment, marshalling his courage. He does so want to be liked, this poor sad werewolf. My hatred eats at him like a cancer; he cannot bear it. "Harry told me," Remus says in diplomatic tones, "that you have stopped giving him Occlumency lessons."

I let rage bloom across my face. "And did he tell you why?" I say, keeping my voice low and silken.

"Yes," says Remus. "Severus, Harry is sickened by what he saw in the Pensieve. He's completely distraught about it. He shouldn't have invaded your privacy like that, and he knows it. Please, will you take him back? You know how important it is that he learns Occlumency."

"Did he tell you what he saw?" I snap at Remus. "Did he tell you exactly what he saw?"

"Yes," says Remus, looking uncomfortable.

"And it sickens him?"

"Yes."

"Did it sicken you, Lupin?"

Remus looks perplexed.

"That day," I say heatedly. "By the lake. Did it sicken you? Back then?" I am getting too angry about this, but it fits the need of the conversation. It is a believable response.

Remus says nothing, but shame haunts his face.

I stand up and walk toward him slowly. Remus does not step away or flinch; he is enough of a Gryffindor to hold his ground.

"Two years ago, when you worked here at Hogwarts," I say, leaning forward a little so that I am nearly breathing on his face, "you tried so hard to extend the olive branch to me, Lupin. You were ever so -" I turn the next word to poison on my tongue. "- nice. Did it never occur to you that before you could make peace with me, you might need to make an apology?"

Remus cannot meet my eyes. Finally he says, in a voice wound tight with self-loathing, "Severus, I am sorry, for all of it."

"AND DO YOU THINK THAT'S ENOUGH?" I scream in his face. I pause, as if getting my composure back, and then stare at him coldly before continuing in a soft and deadly voice, "Do you have any idea just how thoroughly you and your friends poisoned my childhood?"

Remus still can't meet my eye, and his brow is furrowed in genuine regret.

"Severus," he says. "I can't erase the past. I can't fix what happened. I can apologise to you, and no, that will never be enough, but is there anything I could say - anything that I could do - that would make things right between you and me? Or at least right enough that we could make some kind of a new start?"

I can't help smiling at him for that, although it must be a very unpleasant looking smile. The answer is no, of course, but I have had years - decades - to plan how I want Remus to die, and it does no harm to set those plans into motion today, rather than on another day. He is asking so politely, after all.

Remus has a small and shabby secret, the sort of thing that I don't see the point of anybody hiding. Nevertheless, I have dutifully kept his secret for all these years, saving it up just for this.

"Do you still have a crush on Sirius Black?" I say, smiling.

Remus's expression changes, his eyes widening a little. "What are you talking about?" he says emotionlessly.

I keep smiling. "You had a crush on him, back when we were all boys. Do you still?"

Remus takes a little too long to answer. "Severus, you're mistaken. Sirius was only ever my fr-"

"I miss nothing," I say, cutting him off. "I didn't miss that, either. So? Do you?" I have stopped smiling.

There's a little anger hidden under Remus's carefully neutral expression. "No," he says. "He's not very pretty anymore, since Azkaban, and he's stuck at the maturity level of a teenager. He's only a friend to me now."

"Hmm," I say.

"Why do you want to know?" he demands. There are two patches of reddening skin on his cheekbones.

I let my expression change subtly, and when I speak, my voice contains a certain tension.

"You want to know if there's anything you could do to make things right between you and me," I say, moving ever so slightly closer to him. "I suppose there is." I let my voice become a little angry and just a little bit vulnerable. "If you're brave enough."

"What?" says Remus nervously, even though his body is already betraying a knowledge of what I am about to suggest.

"Give me a kiss," I say. His eyes snap wide with shock.

"W-what?" Remus stammers. I let anger flood across my face, and an acceptable level of contrition washes across his. Such a weak man.

"Give me a kiss," I say fiercely. Then I let the anger fade slowly, replacing it with that whisper of vulnerability again. "Even if it's only out of pity, I should like to taste you, just once."

Remus doesn't say anything. He simply stares at me, his mouth hanging open a little. I lean my forehead against his, and look into his eyes.

"I always wanted you," I say softly, "but you always wanted him. Twenty years ago, or two years ago, my response was just the same. I would get angrier and angrier at you, and think it was hatred when it was really a petty jealousy. Give me a kiss, Lupin. Just once."

He hangs back a moment longer, and then leans forward and does kiss me, tentatively and very clumsily. I angle my head and press my mouth against his - which makes him inhale sharply - but my actions are well planned and carefully executed. My lips are hungry, but tenderly so. My tongue caresses his with a gently erotic laziness. I run my fingertips down his throat because I know it will tickle, and thus send shivers down his spine. I slide my hands along his body, and then hold the length of him tight against the length of me. I am persuasive. I am insistent. I am implacable.

In less than three minutes, my poor sad lonely werewolf's hands are buried in my hair, his tongue is in my mouth, and he is yielding willingly as I manoeuvre him down onto the surface of my desk. I am enjoying myself, but this isn't about sex. I don't like men - and I don't like women. I like power.

Remus moans into my mouth and moves underneath me, and I feel my body responding to the power that I have over him.

To excel at brewing potions, one needs patience and an exacting attention to detail, as well as care, subtlety, and a drive to see things done exactly right. I excel at potions because I have all of these qualities, and they show through in everything that I do. Everything. By the time Remus leaves me, I have him so glassy-eyed with satiety that it seems quite obscene to send him off through a school full of children with that expression still on his face. He is certainly too distracted now to remember anything about Occlumency lessons.

Remus returns to me almost nightly for the next few weeks, and the subject of Occlumency doesn't come up again. His ardour is delightfully helpless, and very nearly inconvenient, but his discretion is aided considerably by the chaos that has enveloped the school since the departure of the Weasley twins. No one seems to notice his frequent, furtive visits to the castle.

Remus and I do, of course, occasionally run into one another at Grimmauld Place, but things are considerably more complicated there.

"What are you doing here again?" says Sirius Black peevishly as I enter the kitchen. I eye him coldly. He is coming along nicely, this little project of mine. I can smell the stale drink on him.

"Has Dumbledore been by?" I say tersely.

"No," says Sirius, toying with an empty mug on the table. "He's on the run; he can't just pop in for tea every day, you know."

"I am aware of that, Black," I say, letting my voice become almost breezy. "As I am aware of what a complete authority you are on all the minutiae of what goes on here in Grimmauld Place. I was merely asking whether Dumbledore had passed through your rather limited world recently."

Sirius says nothing, his lips pressing together tightly and his eyes fixed murderously on the innocent tea mug.

"So. How goes the dusting?" I say in the same light tone.

He snaps a look of pure fury at me, just as Remus makes a beautifully timed entrance.

"Lupin," I say, nodding as if in cool politeness.

"Severus," he says with admirable restraint, only a hint of heat showing in his eyes. "I didn't hear you come in."

Sirius turns back to the tea mug, a vein pulsing at his temple.

Remus's eyes flicker between us, his old friend and his new lover. My poor werewolf, I can see your dilemma: you cannot bear the thought of either of us hating you - so who will you side with, if we start fighting? This is far too amusing for me to not take the opportunity to find out.

"I shall not be staying long," I say tersely, snapping a look of profound loathing at Sirius. "Black, when you next hear from Dumbledore, tell him I will need to speak to him about some new information. It is not an emergency, but he should contact me soon."

"Fine," says Sirius tightly, through clenched teeth.

"Try to not get so caught up in the scrubbing that you forget."

Sirius stands up so fast that it knocks his chair over. "Sirius! Stop it!" says Remus, stepping forward and putting a hand on his friend's chest.

"I'm the only one who sees you for what you really are," says Sirius to me, his eyes burning with hatred. "I don't know how you managed it, but I will not let you get away with this game, Snivellus."

"Pity you can't get out for some fresh air once in a while, Black," I say evenly. "I hear that being cooped up for too long can unbalance the mind - ah, but I forget - after twelve years in Azkaban, there's really no point in us worrying about that anymore."

"Sirius! Don't!" says Remus, shoving his friend to a halt as Sirius lurches toward me in anger. Remus snaps his head around, and glares. "Severus," he says, with a warning in his eye, "stop it."

I study Remus for a moment. I shall need to play this exchange somewhat carefully.

"No crush?" I say, narrowing my eyes at Remus. "Not anymore? You really don't convince me, given your little display of brotherly affection." I flicker my eyes downward, to where Remus has his hands pressed against Sirius's chest, and let anger and petulance colour my expression.

Remus blinks, and looks annoyed. "No," he says vehemently. "There's nothing! Not anymore."

"What are you talking about?" says Sirius, frowning at us both. "Look Snape, you left your message, so if you haven't got any more business here, get out! This is my house!"

"It is your entire universe!" I hiss. "The larger world is too dangerous for the delicate likes of Sirius Black! And Dumbledore knows it, or he wouldn't have stuck you here to sweep out the cobwebs and scrub down the walls!"

"Severus!" Remus snaps at me. Sirius's face is warped with rage now, and Remus is bracing his feet in anticipation of another attack. I keep my eyes on Sirius, focusing solely on my feigned jealousy.

"You're useless to the Order, Black," I seethe. "Irrational and impatient and that's why Dumbledore keeps you here like his prized harem girl!"

Sirius lunges at me again, and Remus grits his teeth as he shoves his friend back. I have my hand on my wand already, but am content to simply watch them struggle.

"Let me at him!" bellows Sirius as Remus pushes him away and whips out his wand. Sirius freezes at the sight of the wand, and then snaps his eyes up to stare at Remus in disbelief. "Moony," he says, "what the hell are you doing?"

Remus stares back at Sirius for a frozen moment, then lowers his wand and hurriedly pockets it.

"You and Severus are on the same side," he says, his eyes wide with the shock of what he has just done. "You are not to fight. Please. I don't want you to fight."

"What is with you lately, Moony?" says Sirius, still staring at Remus. "You stop coming by in the evenings, and whenever you do, it's one big Severus-isn't-so-bad campaign, and now you've threatened to hex me in defence of him? How did this happen? How has he seduced you?"

The next few moments are superb. Remus's expression flickers strangely, and then Sirius's does, and then as if in demonstration of some great cosmic balance, Remus's face turns vividly pink while the colour drains out of Sirius's.

I savour the moment, watching it stretch thin like a soap bubble about to burst, and then - just before it does - I say softly, "I'll see you tonight, Lupin," and walk out of the room.

The silence in the kitchen lasts for perhaps another fifteen seconds, which must feel like an eternity to both of them. Finally, I hear Sirius practically scream: "How could you? How could you possibly? How could you sink so low?"

"It's none of your concern!" Remus bellows back at him. I begin to search the house absently, wandering from room to room.

"Of course it's my concern, Moony! It's Snape! He's using you! He only ever uses people! You can't let this continue!"

"No! You hate him for what happened years ago! You don't know what he's like now! He's changed! He's gone through hell, and it's changed him!"

"Yeah, into one of the demons! They liked what they saw, down there in hell!"

I find what I'm looking for in the front parlour: a faint smell of unwashed house-elf. "Kreacher," I say. "Come here."

"He's saved Harry's life, Sirius! Albus trusts him!"

"Well I don't trust him! Give me one reason why I should trust him!"

The house-elf appears from behind one of the chairs, and sidles over to me, his ears twitching nervously.

"He made me Wolfsbane potion! He couldn't stand me - all that year I was teaching at Hogwarts, he hated my guts and thought I was a traitor, but he kept making me that potion! It takes two weeks to prepare a batch! It's really difficult! He's a good man, Sirius!"

"No! He's out to destroy you, Moony! He wants us all dead! Why am I the only one who sees this? If he made you that potion, it was only because Albus ordered him to! Or because he's been scared stiff of werewolves ever since you nearly killed him!"

I kneel down beside the house-elf, and draw a letter out of my robes. "Mistress Malfoy asked me to give you this, Kreacher," I say, handing it to him.

"That was your fault! I didn't nearly kill him, you did!" screams Remus from the kitchen.

Kreacher takes the letter with an avid, excited look in his eye.

"You would have been better off if he'd died, Moony! You wouldn't be a wizard, but at least you wouldn't be in danger of losing your soul to that fiend now!"

Remus's voice is suddenly shrill. "How can you say that?"

"Kreacher," I say, "you know better than to let your master see this letter. The day has been chosen, and it is coming soon. Have you decided what you will do?"

"We should have killed him, Moony! It would have been better! I wish James hadn't gone to stop him that night!"

"DON'T YOU SAY THAT! HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT! YOU WOULD USE ME AS A MURDER WEAPON?"

"Kreacher knows what he will do," says the house-elf, clutching the envelope to his withered chest and smiling slyly at me. "Kreacher has a clever plan..."

"IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER IF HE DIED, MOONY!"

Remus comes storming out of the kitchen, the door banging against the wall as he slams it back. Kreacher turns and scampers away in fright. I rise to my feet more sedately. The portrait of Mrs. Black starts screaming pointless insults.

"Moony!" shouts Sirius in plaintive desperation from the kitchen. "Don't go back to him! Please! You're my friend!"

"We're leaving. Now," says Remus. He grabs my sleeve and pulls me along in his wake. I do not comment.

We go back to Hogwarts, sneak Remus into my rooms, and undress. I help him work off his frustrations, although this is a tiresome job for me, given that the power dynamic between us is different tonight. He doesn't appear to notice my lack of interest, and afterward, rolls off me and sits up on the edge of the bed, staring into the shadows.

I have no patience for this emotionality. However, I also have not initiated this relationship simply to have it unravel pointlessly.

And I did not brew Wolfsbane potion for Remus simply to please Dumbledore. I brewed it for him that year because I was sure that Remus knew where Sirius Black was, and after twelve years of me not being able to get to Sirius, I was not about to let the man slip away from me. Wolfsbane potion might not combine well with sugar, but it can be mixed quite harmlessly with Veritaserum, and the trance induced by Veritaserum prevents the drinker from remembering their own confession. I had been quietly questioning Remus every full moon about Sirius Black's whereabouts. It hadn't paid off, but no matter. Sirius is within my grasp now.

I reach out and smooth a hand along Remus's back. Thankfully, I have a good enough understanding of his psyche that I can soothe him with a minimum of effort.

"He will forgive you," I say. "Me - never, but you - Black will forgive. Give him time."

Remus says nothing.

"He's just annoyed because you've stopped being his little sycophant," I add, continuing to stroke his skin. Remus isn't responding to me, and I hate that. I suppress an urge to start hitting him.

"Did I make a mistake, letting you seduce me?" says Remus softly.

This won't do. I sit up and pull him against me. I begin kissing his neck expertly, until he finally starts to respond, and then I murmur into his skin, "You are making me jealous again, Lupin. He's getting in the way. You don't have to choose, so stop letting him convince you that you do."

Remus sighs, and moves himself against me. "You don't need to be jealous," he says weakly. "I think about you constantly. I have never had a relationship this intense before."

"Good," I smile, and pull him back under the sheets with me. "That's all according to plan, my pet."

Perhaps he wonders a little at that statement, but after another round of my very thorough and conscientious exertions he has forgotten it again, and sleeps beside me like a lamb. I lie there watching him, savouring my hatred.

James Potter tortured me to impress a girl. He died knowing that he had just failed to save that girl's life.

Sirius Black tortured me out of boredom. He will die, indirectly, of boredom - his impatience driving him out of the safety of Grimmauld Place prematurely, thundering in his ears to do something, anything to make himself worthy to the Order of the Phoenix.

Peter Pettigrew was happy to let me be tortured, so long as it meant that he had strong friends around to protect him. I will save him for last - he will die after each of his friends has been stripped away from him by death, until finally his last and most powerful friend - the Dark Lord - deserts him in the most profound sense, by killing him.

Remus let me be tortured because he couldn't stand to have his friends not love him.

He will despair, and then kill himself, after he finds out just how little I love him.

I stroke my hand over Remus's chest, and he makes a soft noise in his sleep, then rolls his head toward me and slides one of his hands a little in my direction. I cannot help but smile at him.

Not one of my enemies will die by my hand, which is how I want it. I will see them destroyed, and then dead, but I will not risk any punishment to myself for it. I've already been punished; that is the point of the whole thing. This is vengeance, not a random vendetta.

I am bored, now that Remus is sleeping, so I get up quietly and dress, then wander out into the castle. It turns out to be the right decision, as far as curing boredom goes. I watch Umbridge and five Ministry workers attack Hagrid, and lose resoundingly. I watch McGonagall get hit by four stunning spells at once, lighting up like a great tartan Christmas ornament before collapsing. I see Hagrid flee like a wild thing into the night, carrying the body of his great slobbering mutt over his shoulders.

Afterward, I help carry McGonagall up to the hospital wing, because it doesn't do to not keep up with appearances. Besides, I have long had a soft spot for Minerva McGonagall. She sided with me after the incident under the Whomping Willow, calling on Dumbledore to at the very least expel Sirius Black. It didn't help, but I have never forgotten the honour she bestowed on me by unleashing such righteous fury on my behalf.

Keeping up appearances of a different sort turns out to be necessary the next morning, when Remus is still acting morose and distracted.

He is preparing to leave on some errand for the Order when I ask off-handedly, "So you'll be going to the Headquarters this evening?"

Remus nods silently, buttoning up his robes.

"Make sure you talk to Black, my pet," I say, and he looks up at me with surprise. "He will never see reason regarding me," I say in an even voice, "but he will see reason regarding you. Talk to him. You will both feel better for it, after last night."

Remus nods again, and smiles. He walks over and gives me a lingering kiss.

"You are amazing," he whispers to me, his eyes staring soulfully into mine. I wonder what it's like to have a soul. I smile at Remus, kiss him again, and then chivvy him on his way.

I don't need to think about Remus again today, so I don't, but I am given cause to think about Sirius Black.

Draco fetches me to Umbridge's office late that afternoon, for the expected reason. There I find ample evidence of Umbridge's inability to control students, which is desperately amusing in light of her overt mania for controlling everything.

There is a ring of struggling students, and Harry Potter is hanging off of his captor's arms, desperately trying to press words directly into my mind. Umbridge tells me he has been trying to contact someone using her fireplace. She demands Veritaserum, and I refuse her, spinning off a nonsensical reason for why. She is only a Ministry official after all, and I am a Death Eater. It is laughable that she might think I respect her authority. Finally, Potter blurts out, "He's got Padfoot! He's got Padfoot at the place where it's hidden!"

That plea is clear enough, but I need to make the boy desperate, or he will not use his considerable resourcefulness to find a way to get to the Ministry of Magic. The Dark Lord would be very displeased with us all if this does not occur, but as grim as that fact would be, all I really care about right now is playing my next role: loyal member of the Order of the Phoenix. I am much more interested in making Sirius desperate enough to go to the Ministry of Magic than I am in making Potter go there, for I know how many Death Eaters will be waiting for them, and I am predicting a merry battle.

I hurry down the stairs after Umbridge's furious dismissal of me, and close myself up in my quarters. Drawing my wand, I open a portal to Grimmauld place, to Sirius Black.

"Black!" I bark. "Where are you?"

Sirius blinks and gives me a look of annoyed bemusement. His hands are covered in blood, but it doesn't appear to be his own. "Upstairs?" he says with a touch of derision.

"You have not left Grimmauld Place?" I say suspiciously.

"No," he says bitterly. "Why in Merlin's name would you think I had?"

"Because of Potter," I say simply, and immediately I have Sirius's full attention. "He has apparently had a vision of you being held captive in the Ministry of Magic."

"What?" says Sirius. "This is what Dumbledore's been afraid of, isn't it? Voldemort is trying to manipulate him."

I flinch a little at the off-handed use of the Dark Lord's name, and then curl my lip at Sirius in anger. "Yes," I drawl. "What a pity the boy never managed to learn Occlumency like he was supposed to."

Sirius's face flushes in anger, but for once he doesn't rise to the bait. "Is Harry all right then?" he says. "He knows that you went to check on me?"

"Not currently," I say. "He was attempting to contact you himself through Umbridge's fire, but the Headmistress caught him. He's probably in for a massive detention, but he's in no danger."

"That little wart Kreacher!" says Sirius angrily. "He slashed Buckbeak with a knife today. If I hadn't been up here mopping up the damage, I would have got Harry's message! Tell him I'm all right, Snape, as soon as you get the chance."

I narrow my eyes, and incline my head to Sirius in a small bow very reminiscent of the one I gave to Umbridge a moment ago. Then I close the portal, and head back upstairs to wait.

All goes according to plan, in the sense that Potter and his friends must have yet again done something unpredictable. As darkness falls over the Forbidden Forest, there is still no sign of Umbridge or the students, and I smile to myself. I head down to my quarters to open another portal to Grimmauld Place.

"Black!" I say, pitching my voice to convey urgency. "Who is at the Headquarters right now?"

"Uh, Remus, Tonks, Moody, and, um," he says, "Kingsley, yeah. Why?"

"Potter is missing," I say.

"What?" Sirius takes a step forward, even though the portal hangs the same distance from his face regardless of where he stands.

"Potter is missing. Umbridge took him into the Forbidden Forest, and they haven't come back yet. Several of the other students are missing as well."

"We have to search the forest!"

"No!" I say. "Think about it, Black! Potter saw you being tortured at the Ministry of Magic, and he hasn't had a chance to find out that the vision wasn't real! He's escaped Umbridge, and gone to the Ministry to try to rescue you!"

"That's unlikely," says Sirius, frowning. "He's got to be in the forest. How would he get to London? He wouldn't have gone to the Ministry - that's absurd." Sirius narrows his eyes at me in sudden suspicion.

"How can you say that? He's your bloody godson!" I say furiously. "Don't you know him? He's always doing idiotic things like this! Stop arguing, Black. I will check the Forbidden Forest, you get the others to go to the Ministry and check for Potter! The Dark Lord set this trap; we cannot take any chance that Potter might fall into it!"

"All right," says Sirius, the mention of the Dark Lord's name obviously making the danger real to him. He still doesn't look as if he trusts me, but perhaps Remus has talked to him again. Some measure of the hostility he normally reserves for me is missing. "We'll go to the Ministry," says Sirius.

"No, Black, not you," I sneer. "You stay put. Someone needs to inform Dumbledore of what's happened if he comes back to the Headquarters."

"He's due here presently. But look, I'm not staying here if Harry's in trouble!"

"Don't be stupid, Black," I snarl. "Dumbledore himself told you to stay in Grimmauld Place, and stay there you shall! Leave it to Lupin and the Aurors! That is an order!"

"You have no right to order me to do anything!" says Sirius furiously, his face going an ugly, violent shade of red.

"Did I say that it was my order?" I say in a silky tone calculated to incense him. "It was Dumbledore's order, and you know it. How ironic, Black, that I should be the one attempting to preserve your worthless life by constantly reminding you of the limits that have been set on you. You really can't bear your own impotence, can you? You cannot gracefully concede that you are best suited to that which has been assigned to you, housework and passing along messages! You are to stay in Grimmauld Place, Black! Now quit wasting precious time, and go tell the others that they have to get to the Ministry!"

With that, I close the portal abruptly. Then I take a deep breath, and ardently hope that Sirius Black is not about to spontaneously start taking my advice.

I cannot sleep. I cannot settle to work, or any form of entertainment. I actually do perform a cursory search of the Forbidden Forest, simply as something to divert myself with while I sit here in ignorance at Hogwarts. There are signs of strange upheavals in the forest, but no signs of Umbridge or the students, and that calms me a little. The night wears on.

Remus comes to me, just before dawn. He looks pale and dazed, and I immediately know that someone has died. My stomach is in knots of dread and anticipation.

"What's happened?" I say, keeping my voice low and worried. "Did you find Potter?"

Remus blinks, and nods. "Harry's safe," he says. "He's with Dumbledore."

I nod gravely. The Dark Lord will not be pleased. "But?" I prompt.

Remus's face contorts in anguish. "Sirius is dead," he whispers brokenly.

It is an agony, to keep my face impassive at this moment. I struggle, staring at Remus, and suddenly realise that I simply cannot do it. I reach over and pull him to me, pressing his head down against my shoulder so that he cannot see my face. Remus wraps his arms around my ribs, and gives in to the tears. I hold him tightly, and let my face break out in the manic grin that will not be denied. I want to laugh. I want to dance. My heart is ringing with delight while Remus weeps on my shoulder.

Remus appears to only want to be quietly held, and for that I am thankful, because all lies have escaped me here in this moment of euphoria. What could I say to him? Remus, my darling - my pliant and open-hearted lover, what words could I possibly speak that would not betray me? Sirius Black is dead, and there is only one phrase that springs into my mind, only one thing that I can think to say to you, Remus:

You're next, my pet.



A/N

"He's got Padfoot! He's got Padfoot at the place where it's hidden!" are J. K. Rowling's words, of course, as spoken by Harry Potter in The Order of the Phoenix.

One By One by mouse [Reviews - 34]


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