Severus Snape was absolutely certain this day was proof the universe hated him.
Oddly though, his morning started out pleasant enough. It was summer, thus, Hogwarts had no pesky students dashing around its corridors screaming and making a general mess of things. Severus thoroughly enjoyed the silence of the school during holidays; it actually seemed like a proper environment for learning.
The Potions Master was taking full advantage of his precious free time by devoting his attention to various projects he could not perform while students were around. He argued with Dumbledore that they would learn soon enough not to disturb his experiments, but the Headmaster seemed not to like his approach to ‘active’ learning.
This particular day was spent simmering volatile compounds over a low flame for several hours. The initial mixture had been made and left to ferment for a week before the final components needed to be added. The final ingredient needed to be sprinkled carefully into the cauldron at sunset after a slow boil from noon.
Severus had just added that final ingredient when the Headmaster called on him to join an emergency meeting of the Order of the Phoenix. Knowing the potion needed another hour to finish cooling, Severus begged a short respite that was denied. Muttering darkly, he gave up and followed the Headmaster to his office, hoping he could get out after a short break to finish the potion. He could claim it was something to do with Wolfsbane variants or something noble like that. Dumbledore would probably let him out for that.
When the rest of the Order managed to drag themselves into the Headmaster’s office they learned that Voldemort was up to something.
Gasp! The horror.
This was, of course, not news to Severus. After all, when wasn’t the Dark Lord up to something? In fact, *he* had been the one to inform Dumbledore of the fact that the Dark Lord was planning to make a move soon. Honestly, did he really have to be here for a recitation of facts he already knew?
Quite obviously by the stricken and determined expressions alike on the rest of the Order’s faces, this was news to them. Severus tried not to roll his eyes. He was of the firm opinion that Dumbledore thrived on dramatic tension. It was the only conceivable reason Severus could see for keeping such information to himself for over a week.
Basically what the Order was told was that Voldemort was planning a large ritual that would take a month to finish completely and would involve many deaths. Severus blanked out for most of the lecture, only pricking up when he heard something he hadn’t known before.
That particular gem had to have come from Remus Lupin’s sources. Or so Severus thought until he noticed said furry mascot’s absence from the meeting. Not everyone could always come to the Order meetings, but Remus was one of the few who always did. Severus felt a twinge of apprehension at this, especially combined with the information Dumbledore had just given them, as it indicated something terribly wrong.
Much as he hated to admit it, Lupin was a rather useful member of the Order, working well as a field agent, undercover agent and procurer of odd and important tidbits of information. He had ties that not even Mundungus Fletcher could hope to gain. Thus, it certainly wasn’t personal when Severus inquired after Lupin – he did still despise the man after all.
Dumbledore’s comment that Lupin was unable to be reached didn’t help that annoying twist to his stomach. It felt odd for the werewolf not to be there, and considering the situation …
Just what did the Dark Lord need with werewolves? Asking for an alliance last time had been met with varied results and often they had been more harm than good in helping the Dark Lord’s efforts to win the war. Voldemort wasn’t one to make mistakes once, much less twice, so there must be something else to this story. That unknown factor greatly disturbed Severus as he tried to comprehend possible scenarios.
The sudden sharp pain of his Dark Mark hitting him halfway through the meeting certainly didn’t help matters either. He didn’t even have to look at Dumbledore to know what the old man wanted from him this time. Severus had been kept in the dark on one, if not more, of the Dark Lord’s plans and the information he had *not* gathered was likely the reason one of the Order’s best members was missing.
It wasn’t his failed duty to the Order that wrankled; it was the fact that he’d missed something. Severus wasn’t the sort to miss *anything*, and anything less than perfection was unacceptable.
Things went steadily downhill the minute he left Hogwarts.
Malfoy Mannor was bustling with Death Eaters: among them the recently escaped Malfoy senior. Severus let himself wonder idly for a moment on the whereabouts of Narcissa and Draco but quickly turned his attention to the other Death Eaters. There were a few who were not *complete* dunderheads, so it wouldn’t do to be caught daydreaming in their presence.
Still, Draco’s absence was concerning. Lucius’ plans for the boy had been very explicit and Draco’s actions over the past months were not part of those plans. A confrontation between father and son would have to occur, though hopefully not in Severus’ present company.
“Just on time as always Severus.”
The Potions Master barely managed to stop himself from rolling his eyes at Lucius’ snide comment. Azkaban had not improved the man’s attitude as he’d hoped it would. It was no wonder Draco was avoiding his home so obviously.
“I’m still here, aren’t I?” Severus refused to let himself be dragged into one of Lucius’ games; he was still far too agitated about the entire situation to bother bantering with the man.
Lucius huffed and looked away, “Yes, I suppose you are.” His voice was cold and Severus could not bring himself to care that he had insulted the other man. He knew Lucius suspected him, but Severus was a step ahead of the man every time. He had to be.
“Now is not the time for bickering children.”
Silence reigned in the Malfoy reception hall as soon as that voice spoke. The Dark Lord stood at the back entrance to the hall, framed by curtains that matched his glowing hellfire eyes. Everyone bowed, moving completely into the room and closer to Voldemort.
As those closest to the Dark Lord, Lucius and Severus were the only ones to hear his next whispered words.
“There will be time enough later for the two of you to renew your acquaintance.” Neither could help the shudder that overtook them at the sound of his voice dripping with blood and violence. He spoke up, so as to address all of the Death Eaters. “We shall continue this meeting elsewhere as we wait for the moon to rise.”
Severus did not like the sound of that but followed anyway as Lord Voldemort led them outside beyond the Malfoy estate wards and apparated away. A tug on his arm told Severus exactly how to reach the Dark Lord and he wasted no time in following the man. Only idiots and Gryffindors would be foolish enough to keep a dark lord waiting.
Whatever Severus had expected at the other end of his apparition, a wide grassy field was not it. Quite a number of Death Eaters were surprised, though covered it quickly in their Lord’s presence. Severus sneered at the other Death Eaters before turning his attention to the Dark Lord standing in the middle of this field.
“I’m sure you’re all wondering what interest a large empty field holds for me,” Voldemort sneered at his followers. “You need not strain your tiny minds too much for I am about to show you exactly what has captivated my attention these recent weeks.”
Waving his hand dramatically, the air in front of the Dark Lord shimmered before seeming to part and reveal a large pit and several cages surrounded by glowing red wards and circular designs painted onto the grass. Severus felt a little nauseous as he noticed limp bodies on the floors of the cages.
“Fear not,” Voldemort gestured them all closer to the cages. Severus noticed that though a few were emaciated and wounded, the bodies were all alive. Voldemort’s smirk became more pronounced as a few Death Eaters sneered at the caged beings. “They are quite harmless in this form.”
“Harmless?” The Death Eater that spoke must have been young to question the Dark Lord so. Severus was already backing away from the cages, trying not to let anyone see the expression on his face. He knew what they were and he was starting to see what Voldemort was planning.
“Werewolves.” The Dark Lord confirmed Severus’ suspicions.
It was amusing to watch a large group of wizards and witches suddenly scramble back from the cages in terror. Severus just rolled his eyes at the display, his mind still whirring with ideas and suspicions. He did not give voice to any of the questions he desperately wanted answers for, knowing that Voldemort would reveal at least part of his plans to his *loyal* followers.
“Be glad I am in such a good mood that I do not kill you all for such a display of idiocy,” the Dark Lord snapped at his followers. “They are caged, even when human for a good reason, nothing that has to do with their curse. Or at least, not directly.”
“My Lord,” Malfoy bowed his head as he addressed his master. “You have a plan to use these creatures in some way?”
“I do.” Voldemort’s smirk was even more pronounced in the fading sunlight. A number of Death Eaters glanced nervously at the cages. It was the night after the full moon, the third day of the wolf curse. Very soon the cages would hold beasts incapable of understanding more than their desire to kill. Voldemort appeared completely nonplussed as he continued his explanation of his latest plan. “I will use these creatures to gain the immortality and power I have spent years searching for.”
While the other Death Eaters all praised his ingeniousness and smothered the Dark Lord with admiration, Severus was studying the cages with a frown. He couldn’t understand it. Werewolves were as mortal as humans, their lifespan usually far less than that of a normal human due to the stress of the curse. The younger the person receiving the bite, the shorter their life. It seemed counterproductive, but perhaps he was thinking things through too logically.
Severus only had a moment to register the presence behind him before the Dark Lord cooed in his ear, “Something wrong, Severus?”
Severus bowed, wiping all expression from his face. “Nothing, my lord. I just do not understand how such an aim could be achieved through the use of *werewolves*.” He spat the last word out with disdain.
Voldemort smiled indulgently. “It is precisely that attitude that will prevent you from ever seeing the brilliance of my plan.” Voldemort patted Severus on the head, smirking at the way he bristled at the patronising touch. “Don’t worry so much, Severus. There’s no need for you to understand, simply to do. I’m sure you’ll understand my plan eventually.” Sneering arrogantly at his follower, the Dark Lord left Severus to his furious thoughts.
“My lord,” someone called out from the cages. “One of the cages is open, though the werewolf is unconscious.” Quite a number of the gathering glanced nervously at the slowly setting sun. Voldemort however swept off to investigate the anomaly, a number of Death Eaters, including Severus, behind him.
“Cage twenty-eight,” the Dark Lord murmured as he looked down at the man huddling in a ball in the cage. “Now this is strange. This morning, this cage was empty. I was saving it for a very special guest.”
Severus caught the glance in Wormtail’s direction and tried not to shiver. That explained Lupin’s disappearance. But it did not explain the sudden appearance of a very much alive and healthy young man feigning sleep in the middle of one of Voldemort’s experiments. He watched the man’s eyes snap open at Voldemort’s order to take him out and chain him up, but he did not struggle, apparently realising the futility of such an action.
“Bind him over there.” Voldemort gestured with his wand to a place further back from the cages where a sturdy pole appeared from the ground. “Even with his demise secured, it would not do for him to overhear too much. I shall deal with him later, for I must begin the ritual soon.” The Death Eaters holding the boy complied immediately.
“Lucius, Rabastan, bring Macnair to the pit.”
“My lord,” Malfoy began hesitantly, “Macnair did not respond to your summons this afternoon.”
“I know.” The secretive smile on the serpentine face was far more frightening than any expression Severus had seen yet. “He suffered an accident in my service yesterday. The poor thing has been so distraught about it – on top of that he failed to capture my special guest. You’ll find him in cage one. Do calm him down before you bring him to me, the screams would disturb my concentration.”
Malfoy and the younger Lestrange blanched before hurriedly carrying out their master's orders. “Severus,” Voldemort turned his attentions to the potions master. “Be a dear and watch over our uninvited guest. Guard duty might give you enough peace to understand my brilliant plan.”
Gritting his teeth at the second patronising ruffling of his hair, Severus growled, “Yes, my lord.” He bowed and left the cages and the rest of the Death Eaters, cursing the Dark Lord for giving him exactly what he wanted while making a fool of him.
He informed the two Death Eaters who had bound the man of their Lord’s orders and they left him with the sullen incompetent spy.
Severus studied the other man closely in the dimming light and almost cursed aloud as he realised the man was barely that: he couldn’t be more than a year or two out of school. Bright blue eyes and a shaggy blond mane that reminded him far too much of Potter did nothing but add to the initial impression that this man was far too young to be involved in any way with the Dark Lord. Severus scowled, ignoring the fact that the man shied away from his dark expression, and hated the position he was in.
“Your name, boy,” Severus finally decided to ask.
Clearly this wasn’t what he had been expecting. Blinking twice, the man replied, “Andrew Wells. Are you going to kill me now?”
Severus glared at Wells. “Hardly. The Dark Lord would not take well to having his amusements killed before he could do anything with them.”
He paled slightly at this, then frowned. “The Dark Lord? That’s original.”
Severus stared at the man chained to the pole before him. He was in the middle of a deserted area, occupied only by an insane Dark Lord and his rabid followers, dirty and trussed up with his death an inevitability and the boy complained that the man killing him had no originality? He had to be a Gryffindor or a Hufflepuff, but even they would be trembling at being held captive by Lord Voldemort.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve gotten yourself into, boy?”
“Why did you ask my name if you’re just going to call me boy?”
“Perhaps just to later inform your family of your actual cause of death, rather than have them thinking you went missing, as Lord Voldemort’s victims tend to do.”
Severus glanced back at the gathering of Death Eaters, noticing that no one was keeping that close an eye on him. If his suspicions were right, the man would die a much more gruesome death than he was sure Voldemort had planned for him.
“You’re a muggle?” he finally asked in a whisper.
The man frowned in confusion. “What’s a muggle?”
“That answers that.” Severus glared at the ground before suddenly realising that something didn’t make sense. How could Wells get past Voldemort’s charms to reach the cages if he were a muggle? “What exactly were you doing there boy?”
“You know, your interrogation methods leave a lot to be desired.” Wells threw the comment out with complete sincerity. It startled Severus, as did the sudden narrowing of the man’s eyes and his next growl of, “And stop calling me boy.”
“I shall call you whatever I please,” Severus snapped irritably. “I am not the one chained up for getting caught so stupendously. Just answer the bloody question: why were you here and what do you know?”
“For bad guys, you are so uncool,” he muttered, ignoring Severus’ question and frustrating him even further. “I did a much better job as a bad guy. You lot are like walking clichés. And nobody likes a cliché.”
Severus thought things had gone on too long and drew his wand. “I suggest you answer my questions.”
“What are you going to do, poke me?” In answer, Severus shot a stinging hex at the man. “Ow! That hurt.” The man rotated his shoulder in an effort to dull the pain. “That wasn’t very nice.”
“I’m not a nice person,” Severus snarled. “Tell me everything you know.”
As he finished speaking, Severus felt a sudden intense rush of power centred around the field. He glanced back at the spot where Voldemort and his followers were gathered, noticing the many howls and shakes of metal cages. He couldn’t see much, as the sun had finally set, but a sickly glow was rising from the ground.
“Shit, this isn’t good.”
Severus’ attention snapped back to the chained man. “Tell me about the ritual.”
“Why don’t you already know? Aren’t you one of his?”
“The Dark Lord is not one to share.”
“Didn’t really look like a man from where I was huddled,” Wells muttered. Severus had to admire his attitude. Even muggles who had no idea who Voldemort was knew enough from meeting him to fear him. This man seemed merely irritated by his capture. Still, there was something about his expression that set Severus on edge, a seriousness to his eyes whenever he looked past Severus towards the cages.
Both of them looked abruptly to the cages as a loud pained yelp sounded before the magic surrounding them imploded at the cages. Severus fell to his knees from the sensation, hearing nothing but silence after that terrifying sound.
“He’s sacrificing them,” Severus murmured as he got to his feet, shaking from the effects of the ritual. “But I still don’t understand why.”
“Sacrificial rituals rarely make sense.”
Severus stared at the man before him, not quite able to make out his face in the darkness. Judging by the tone of Wells’ voice, he wasn’t sure he wanted to see the man’s face. Andrew Wells could not possibly be a normal muggle.
“Why were you here?”
Wells looked up, eyes haunted by some distant tragedy. “I was sent to investigate an unusual concentration of dark magic infecting the nearby area. I got here just before you black-coats did, so I haven’t had time to completely figure out what this ritual will do. But, judging by the power trip just then, it’s very, very bad.”
Severus glanced between the cages and the prisoner, wondering just what he should do. Wells seemed to know what he was talking about, despite his attitude and rather irrational behaviour. He might have the knowledge to help stop whatever plan Voldemort was concocting.
“You’re not as evil as you’d like me to think, are you?”
On top of that, the man was far too perceptive for his own good.
“Look, guy,” Wells sounded rather frantic, “Whether you’re evil or not, your boss’ plan could destroy the world. That’s not a fun thing to have happen. Whether you believe him and his crackpot ideals or not, none of us can afford to have the world torn apart. I can help stop him.”
“What makes you think I don’t want him to destroy the world?” It was quite the opposite actually. It was bad enough the Dark Lord took his ideals to such extremes, but this … could anyone sit by and let Voldemort do this?
“I don’t even think he knows what he’s doing. No mortal can control the sort of powers he’s playing with.”
“And why should I believe you over my master?”
Wells blanched at the term. “I … Do you really want to be a slave to someone else?”
Severus stared at the dirty and desperate man before glancing at the cages once more. He could just make out dark figures making their way towards them. He looked back at Wells and groaned inwardly before releasing the man’s bonds with his wand.
“I’ve just issued my own death warrant and given up a place as a spy for the light. Don’t let my decision have been a severe mistake,” he growled at the man as he tugged him to his feet.
Wells just grinned. “You made the right decision, trust me.” He looked around nervously, having noticed the approaching Death Eaters himself. “Um, which way do we go to London?”
Severus closed his eyes at the sinking feeling that appeared suddenly in his stomach. “How do I get myself into these situations?” he muttered before grabbing Wells’ arm and apparating them both away.