Chapter 9: The Summoning~~~
With a content sigh Snape squeezed his eyes shut tight and stretched, conscious of every single muscle in his body. The sun tickled his toes as they emerged from under the sheets, and as he pulled the fabric back, both his legs became exposed to the golden sunlight that was trickling into the room through the gap in the curtains. He rolled to his side, inhaled the scent of summer that was drifting in from the open window and then slowly opened his eyes, feeling rested, relaxed and utterly at peace.
He didn’t bother checking what time it was, neither when he sat up nor when he made his way to the bathroom. It didn’t matter. He had no obligations, no responsibilities, no duties. There was time aplenty, time for lie-ins and walks by the lake, time to read, time to do nothing at all, and Snape relished every moment of it. Because soon enough, he would be called back to the Wizarding world where quiet moments would be all but a memory. Soon enough, he would have to stand tall in front of people who loathed him for what he had done and crawl in the dust in front of the one who had the means to cast the whole world into darkness. But not yet, Snape reminded himself, shaking his head as to rid himself of his dark thoughts. So far, there was still time. Time to rest and to gather strength for what was about to come.
He showered and dressed, choosing a pair of dark trousers and a black shirt that Hope had provided him with, feeling strangely at ease in Muggle clothes. It might just be the first time ever that he wore Muggle clothes that actually did fit. His mother had never been able to buy him anything new when he had been a boy. He’d always worn hand-me-downs, shapeless, oversized clothes which he never grew into. How Hope had been able to provide him with shirts that fit so well that they almost seemed tailored, Snape had not yet figured out. And every time he had asked her over the last three weeks, she had just tilted her head and whispered the word magic, leaving Snape utterly puzzled. If there was one method Hope would never use, it would be magic.
The pub was still closed when Snape came downstairs, which told him that it wasn’t eleven o’clock yet. He had not seen Edmunds’ car from his window, which probably meant that the landlord had not yet returned from the farmers’ market that was held every Thursday in the village on the other side of the lake. Whether or not he had taken Hope along, Snape did not yet know, but when he entered the kitchen, he was happy to see that she had chosen to stay behind. She was wearing a dark blue dress and a white apron, humming to the radio as she was preparing lunch. She had braided her hair and was wearing make-up, and Snape couldn’t help but grin. His hostess seemed to have slept just as well as he had.
He offered her a good morning, his voice a bit more croaky than he had anticipated, and she gave him one of her rare, shy smiles.
‘Good morning. I’d offer you some coffee, but you sound as if you need some tea.’
Snape cleared his throat.
‘Coffee will do just fine,’ he replied. ‘But I can help myself. Would you like a cup?’ he inquired as he approached the coffee maker.
Hope shook her head.
‘Thanks, but no,’ she answered, lifting up the mug that was standing beside her on the counter. ‘I’ve had my share already.’
‘You have been up for a while, of course,’ Snape concluded. ‘My apologies for keeping you up so late.’
‘It’s not like you tied me to a chair,’ Hope countered. ‘Besides, I like talking to you, even if it is until three o’clock in the morning.’
She toasted towards him with her empty mug, and Snape was glad to be able to hide behind his own beverage for a couple of moments. He enjoyed talking to Hope as well, and they had spent many nights sitting in the empty pub, discussing everything from the weather to current Muggle politics. The only topic they avoided was the Wizarding world, but if he were honest, Snape would admit that it didn’t matter what they talked about. They could even sit in silence, both of them immersed in their own thoughts, and still Snape didn’t want to say goodnight. He had cared for Hope from the very start, but over the last couple of weeks she had become the epitome of peace and quiet. Spending time with her meant relaxing, forgetting about all his worries. The mere thought of having to leave soon, of having to return to the Wizarding world and leaving her behind, made Snape’s stomach churn. For surely, once he was back at Hogwarts, once he was headmaster, responsible for the wellbeing of staff and hundreds of students alike, opportunities to escape would be scarce, even if it only was for an hour or two. And already now, on this sunny morning in early July, he found himself missing his new-found friend.
He watched her now as she moved about the kitchen. Her back was straight, and she held her head high. Her footsteps were soundless and her movements fluent. She was a sight to behold, and not for the first time did Snape find his thoughts trail off. Instead of a shabby pub kitchen, he saw Hope striding through the halls of an extravagant manor. He saw her dining with the elite of the Wizarding world, saw her sip expensive elf-made wine and dance in the finest of gowns. This was what she had been born and raised to do, Snape mused. This was what she deserved. But then again, she had managed to create a new life among Muggles, a life of her own. Most probably, she was much happier there than she ever could have been in the Wizarding world, even if the shadows of her past still followed her about. If only he could find a way to help her get rid of them.
With an inaudible sigh, Snape turned to refill his cup. He was well aware of the fact that Hope’s problems weren’t his to solve and that she wouldn’t want him to solve them either. But he still wished that there was something he could do. He wished to see her smile on a daily basis, wished to see a sparkle in her eyes.
He flinched when he heard a plate crash onto the floor but was unable to focus on that broken piece of china. For he had dropped his cup as well, so startled had he been by the sudden pain on his left forearm. He had not expected to be called away, had not been prepared at all, and as he now stared down onto his shaking left hand, he never saw the look of fear in Hope’s eyes.
‘I am being summoned,’ he breathed.
‘I know. I know.’
He could have asked her how she knew, but for the time being Snape didn’t even dare to look at Hope anymore. He did not know why the Dark Lord was calling him, and it did not matter. All that mattered now was Snape being able to empty his mind, to hide every memory of his time in the Muggle world, every memory of Hope, every moment they had spent together and every conversation they’d had. Should Voldemort decide to invade his mind, he mustn’t see Hope, Snape reminded himself. It would endanger her, destroy everything they had, and Snape wasn’t willing to let that happen.
Fortifying his mental barriers, he turned on his heel and left the kitchen, not once looking back and praying that Hope would forgive him for not saying goodbye.
Malfoy Manor? Snape frowned as he looked up to see the ivy-clad walls of the elegant manor house. Of all the places he could have been summoned to, the home of Lucius Malfoy was the last one he would have expected. For not only was the lord of the manor still locked away in Azkaban, Lucius had also fallen into disgrace with the Dark Lord. Surely, Voldemort wouldn’t want anything to do with the Malfoys for the time being. But Snape would soon learn that the Dark Lord was not yet done with humiliation and torturing the family that had failed him. Far from being done.
No one came as Snape knocked on the door, not even an elf, and as he let himself in, his nose filled with a strange odour, a sourly yet sweet, sickening scent of copper and metal with a hint of rust and salt. The smell of blood that mixed with the stench of unwashed, filthy clothes and that grew more intense the closer Snape came to the drawing room.
What had the Dark Lord done, Snape wondered as he placed his hand on the bronze door handle. He wouldn’t put it beyond Voldemort to have slaughtered Narcissa and Draco, to have torn them from limb to limb and sent their heads to Lucius as a present. But why would he have been summoned, Snape wondered. Surely, the Dark Lord could not see any need in reconfirming to him what happened to those who disappointed him. Or had he?
Preparing himself for the worst, Snape pushed open the heavy wooden door, lingering for a moment on the threshold, giving his eyes time to adjust to the semi-darkness. There was a fire burning beneath the marble mantel piece, its heat intensifying the foul odour that was emitting from the ten or so people that were crouching at the Dark Lord’s feet. Snape could make out Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange, Crabbe and Nott, Mulciber and Dolohov, and as he caught sight of Lucius Malfoy’s blond hair, he understood who all those people were. They were the Death Eaters who had failed to obtain the prophecy from the Department of Mysteries, the Death Eaters who had been thwarted by Potter and his gang, a handful of mediocre, adolescent witches and wizards. Had they managed to escape Azkaban, Snape wondered, or had their lord been merciful and freed them?
They were a pitiful sight, each and every one of them, mere shadows of their former selves, pale and emaciated. Some of them were bleeding, and others were twitching in a fashion which made Snape wonder if Voldemort had been dishing out Crucios prior to his arrival. This would explain why the men all kept their eyes on the floor, breathing so shallowly that it could hardly be heard. None of them wanted to draw Voldemort’s attention to himself.
‘Ah, Severus, there you are,’ Voldemort exclaimed, waving Snape towards him before commanding Lucius to get up. But the lord of the manor hardly moved, and Snape could see a flash of anger in the Dark Lord’s red eyes.
‘Get him out of my sight, Severus,’ Voldemort snarled. ‘Take him to his chamber and have Narcissa wash him up. The least he can do is look presentable.’
‘Yes, my Lord,’ Snape replied, hurrying towards Lucius and hauling him up by the arm.
‘Do you wish me to return here afterwards?’
‘Bellatrix will tell you all you need to know,’ the Dark Lord replied. ‘You will be summoned again when I have need for you.’
‘Yes, my Lord.’
Snape bowed deeply, already backing out of the room and pulling Lucius with him. He couldn’t believe his luck, almost didn’t dare believe that the Dark Lord had not questioned him about where he was hiding out. For Voldemort was in a foul mood, which the men who remained in the drawing room were about to experience. If he had wanted to know the truth today, Snape doubted that he would have been able to withhold it. In the worst case, he would have been forced to give up Hope in order to protect his other secrets, secrets that needed to be kept hidden at any cost.
‘Can you walk up the stairs?’ Snape wondered as the wooden door had fallen shut behind them, fully expecting a negative answer from Lucius. The man could barely walk as it was. If Snape weren’t holding him up, he would probably collapse on the floor.
‘I… I will… try,’ Lucius replied, his voice hoarse and barely perceptible. He must have been screaming his lungs out on several occasions over the last year, from fear, from pain. Most probably, he had begged for death more than once. And now he was broken, physically and mentally, and knowing the Dark Lord, Snape knew that Lucius’ suffering had not yet come to an end. Surely, Lucius knew it, too.
He could have levitated him up the stairs or even carried him, but no matter how long it took, no matter how many times they had to pause in order for Lucius to catch his breath, Snape did nothing more than support him when he swayed, allowing Lucius to regain at least a morsel of pride, and as they finally arrived at the door that led to the master bedroom, Snape took a step back. When Narcissa laid eyes upon her husband for the first time since his imprisonment, Lucius would want to stand tall, even if it only was for the duration of a heartbeat.
‘Lucius! Good Merlin! Lucius, my love. What have they done to you?’
As anticipated, Lucius collapsed in his wife’s arms the moment she embraced him, and as Snape helped Narcissa carry her husband to the bed, he felt Lucius’ body go limp. The walk up the stairs had exhausted him, and now that he was safe in his wife’s arms, Lucius had given in.
‘Let him rest,’ Snape recommended. ‘You may bathe him and see to his wounds once he has slept. There is no point in waking him up now.’
‘I always knew he was a weakling,’ Bellatrix hissed from the other side of the room where she had made herself comfortable on a chaise longue.
‘Your husband isn’t in much better shape,’ Snape pointed out. But whereas Narcissa was now silently sobbing at her husband’s side, Bellatrix didn’t bat an eyelash. She seemingly couldn’t care less about Rodolphus’ fate. Most probably, her greatest concern was that her husband’s weakness could somehow reflect upon her and make the Dark Lord love her less.
‘Where have you been hiding out lately, by the way?’ she demanded to know now, eyeing Snape from head to toe and then back up again, wrinkling her nose. ‘And where have you dug out those… those rags? Gone through your father’s old wardrobe, have you?’
Bellatrix was clearly referring to his Muggle clothes, but Snape didn’t rise to the bait. Where he was spending his time or where he had obtained his clothes, were none of Bellatrix’ concern. And if she believed that he was hiding at Spinner’s End, Snape wouldn’t go and correct her.
‘I believe you have some information for me,’ he pointed out instead. ‘From our lord.’
‘Our lord,’ Bellatrix repeated mockingly. ‘You’re not fooling me, Snape. I know you’re following your own agenda. I’ve told the Dark Lord, over and over again, but he will not listen. He trusts you.’
She spat out her last words as if they tasted foul, and Snape realised that she would not give him the information he needed at such a low cost. Such was the game Bellatrix Lestrange played, and she played it well.
‘The Dark Lord has made our home his headquarters.’
Narcissa’s voice was barely more than a whisper, but Snape could still hear the note of disgust in her voice. So did her sister.
‘You should be honoured, Cissy!’ Bellatrix hissed. ‘Honoured! There is no higher pleasure than having the Dark Lord stay in our house!’
‘This is not your house, Bella,’ Narcissa pointed out. ‘This is our home, mine and Lucius’… It was our home before he defiled it.’
‘How dare you?’ Bellatrix screeched, jumping up from her chair and looking appalled at her sister.
Snape, too, turned towards Narcissa, but the tone in his voice was much softer than Bellatrix’.
‘Be careful with your words, Narcissa,’ he advised her. ‘You do not want to anger the Dark Lord.’
‘What more can he do to us?’ Narcissa questioned, but Snape slowly shook his head.
‘You are still alive, so are your son and your husband. Don’t jeopardise this, Narcissa. Be the graceful hostess I know you can be.’
Then he once more turned back to Bellatrix, unblinkingly meeting her ferocious glare.
‘The Dark Lord’s orders, if you please,’ he asked for the second time.
‘You’re to keep your ears open concerning Potter,’ Bellatrix spat. ‘As long as he is at his aunt’s house, he cannot be touched. We need to know when to strike against him.’
‘You may tell the Dark Lord that I will do my very best,’ Snape replied, giving a tiny bow which made Bellatrix hiss at him like an angry cat. But Snape didn’t care. Instead, he stepped over to her sister, gently putting his hand on her shoulder.
‘It will be alright, Narcissa,’ he promised her. ‘Everything will be alright.’