Way Down in the Valley Tonight - Chapter Seven

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Way Down in the Valley Tonight
by Edmondia Dantes

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-Chapter Seven-

The only source of heat was the fire that sparked and crackled angrily in the grate. It cast wild, flickering shadows in sharp relief on the dingy walls. Strange, a fire in the middle of summer, but the shadow that lurked in the highbacked chair seemed to draw all the warmth from the room.

"My lord... I mean no disrespect, but I feel I must ask about yesterday. I have been wondering about..." He paused, trying to phrase the question in a fashion that would be the most inofffensive. "Should you have let him go?"

No need to give names. There was only one of their brood under high suspicion, and only one who came and went with something that bordered on impunity. Why the Dark Lord indulged him so much was beyond Lucius Malfoy's comprehension.

A moment of silence passed, too long. Then, in measured, even tones, "Are you questioning me?"

He swallowed, but let none of his nervousness show on his face. "My lord, I just wondered - his loyalties..."

"Are no concern of yours. He is loyal to the Dark, if not to me," Voldemort hissed, "It matters not. Unless you suppose you can find me another Potions Master with his talent?"

The question hung, sharp and poisonous, and all he could do was sink back and murmur in chastised reply, "No, my lord. Forgive my disrespect. I only meant-"

"You mean nothing. Go."

He went.

When he had waved Malfoy away, Voldemort sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers idly. Malfoy was as loyal as any of his highest-ranking, and one of the most devious minds in Europe. And he was a suspicious little bastard.

Severus Snape could not be trusted. He knew that. All of his cleverest were also his most trecharous. Yet Snape was patient where his fellows were flighty, calculating where they were emotional, and utterly brilliant where so many others were dull. He would deeply regret having to destroy such an intricate work of art as his spy.

No, the little alchemist would be kept from harm. The loss of his quicksilver mind and incredible skills would be utterly devastating - to either side.

Dumbledore, the old fool, was far too trusting, but wise enough to keep close tabs on Snape. He had somehow held the Dementors back and protected the most gifted child of all his Death Eaters.

Voldemort wondered if Dumbledore had known what a gift he bestowed on the Dark by letting Severus Snape live.

It was unlikely.

* * *

Harry Potter was curled up in a chair with his head pillowed on Severus Snape's shoulder. Severus Snape looked extremely discontented. Albus Dumbledore sat remotely behind his desk, utterly emotionless save for a strange glint in his eyes. Minerva McGonagall looked like she had eaten something sour, and Sirius Black was clenching his fists into the armrests of his chair and trembling with repressed rage.

Remus Lupin didn't know whether to burst into tears, run screaming around the room, or lunge for the bathroom to vomit.

"Remarkably," Snape said dryly, "Lord Voldemort has a strong appreciation for both talent and competence in his Death Eaters. Both are a rare commodity. A deficiency shared by the Ministry, sadly enough. But for those who actually have a head above their shoulders, he has a tendency to be rather lenient when they step out of line."

Lupin nearly choked. "Are you saying the Dark Lord trusts you?" he spluttered incredulously, gaping at Snape, who raised a disdainful eyebrow.

"Of course not. He is many things, but stupid is not one of them."

Well, that made sense. Nobody in their right mind would trust Severus Snape.

But he shut up when the man started talking.

* * *

In some strange way, he felt amused. Not by the prospect of having his head blown off and his skin removed, but by his appearance. It looked more like he had done his master's darkest bidding than opposed that selfsame deed.

He smelled foul, as well. It rankled, but the expression on that fat fool Pettigrew's face as he strolled by was positively delightful.

Careful now, he reminded himself as he was ushered in, don't let it slip what you have done.

It was hard to keep that in mind when Voldemort's crimson gaze was boring into your skull.

As long as he didn't look up during the bowing and scraping, Severus would be fine. Once his obeisance was made, he rose to his feet quietly, kept his eyes to the ground but his head high, and folded his hands neatly behind his back.

Voldemort regarded him in silence.

He firmly squelched the urge to fidget. Don't get paranoid, he chided himself, but it was difficult, especially knowing that many among their number would have been perfectly happy to see his head adorning a spike, preferably mounted high on a wall as a warning sign to all and sundry that Death Eaters were not nice people. Personally, he thought the idea pretentious and outmoded. And his mind was wandering, that was bad.

Finally, an amused smile curved the Dark Lord's pale lips. "Did you know, child," he began slowly, "that several of your brothers and sister have had an unfortunate day?"

He'd seen right through it. Damn. But Severus' voice was firm and clear as he replied, "Yes, my lord, I am aware."

"I imagined you would be," came the darkly amused reply, "You have a bit of Todhunter in your hair."

Snape blinked. "He splattered," he offered, shrugging indifferently.

"Yes, that tends to happen when one's skull is crushed," Voldemort replied, in an almost friendly tone. "Do take care not to leave such messes behind without labeling them as your own."

Snape inwardly winced. He'd completely forgotten about the Dursleys. So he bowed and murmured, "My apologies, my lord. It will not happen again."

"It had better not. I cannot have you slaughtering all of my Death Eaters, Severus, be they insolent and clumsy or not. You know full well how thin our numbers are," he hissed, the threat implicit in his words, "And you know exactly how precarious your position truly is."

Slow torture followed by an excruciating death. Well, okay. To be honest, he'd always expected to go out that way. "Of course, my lord."

Voldemort appeared satisfied. "Good. Now, child, I have a rather interesting task for you."

And that, it seemed, was that.

* * *

Remus Lupin just knew his jaw had dropped down to his knees. "He let you off the hook?" he blurted disbelievingly.

"I had a difficult time realizing it myself," Snape replied drily, wincing as Harry's grip seemed to tighten. Much to Remus' discomfort, throughout the story Harry seemed to shrink more and more against the Potions Master, curling himself deeper into his cloak. The effect in the dim lighting was ghastly. A porcelain doll with painted china eyes. He shook off the inadvertant shiver.

A long sigh seemed to startle them all out of their stupor. "Severus," Dumbledore questioned, "What task were you to perform?" He sounded tired.

Dark eyes flicked a painfully raking gaze at the four of them. "Have you heard of Glencroft Medical College?"

McGonagall looked startled. "The muggle school? What about it?"

The faintest hint of a bitter smile flickered across his face. "It's not there anymore."

No one said a word, but they were all thinking the same thing.

Damn.

"Hang on a sec," Black suddenly spoke up, eyes flashing with hatred, "I thought you said he was grumpy."

Snape snorted and sent him a disparaging glance. "He was. Pettigrew was in a great deal of pain the next day. Apparently he thought it would be a good idea to tell Voldemort that I was helping Potter out of the," he paused to scowl blackly down at the boy clinging to his side, "*goodness* of my heart. Voldemort found this both extremely amusing and extremely idiotic."

* * *

Pettigrew's tortured screams followed the Dark Lord as he swept into Severus' small lab.

"Is it done?" he asked abruptly, casting a cool-eyed glance around the dank little room that shimmered with the heat from a dozen small cauldrons.

Severus glanced up and wordlessly handed him a small vial.

"Excellent," Voldemort hissed, "And your task so quickly completed, as well."

Snape shrugged. There was nothing to say. He was the best of the best, and they both knew it.

"I believe Wormtail may require a dash of Pepperup Potion," he commented almost idly, swirling the vial lazily in a long-fingered hand. "He seemed to be under the delusion that you were protecting Harry Potter."

He couldn't contain the disgusted look that crossed his face.

Voldemort laughed.

* * *

Albus Dumbledore shooed them all away, with the exception of Harry Potter.

To Snape's sincere relief, he'd fallen asleep. He'd made his escape swiftly and silently, ignoring Black's venemous glower.

When they were all gone, he turned his attention to the boy asleep on the chair. He twisted a little in his sleep, face scrunching as he realized his comforter was not there.

What to do?

* * *

Lupin poked a foot in the door before it could slam on his nose. He peeked his head into the darkened room and questioned, "Sirius?"

A low mumble emanated from somewhere near the middle of the bed. "Go away, Moony. I'm killing myself right now."

He strode in, slamming the door behind him. "What, you're going to smother yourself in the bedsheets?"

"No, I was going to use a pillow. Go away."

"And let you commit suicide? Never."

"Why can't you just leave me alone?" Black questioned despairingly.

"'Cause I'm afraid of what you'd do," came the solemn reply.

Sirius laughed sourly. "Ain't that true for all of us."

"Hmm?" Remus questioned, settling on the edge of the bed cautiously, "Whaddya mean?"

Sirius rolled over, dark amusement sparkling in his dead-cold eyes. "Think, Moony. Everybody's afraid of what Harry will do, you're afraid of what I'd do, I'm afraid of what Snape'll do, and Harry's afraid of... of... aw, hell. Something."

Lupin decided to refrain from mentioning that he was rather afraid of what Dumbledore might do. It would only agitate Sirius more.

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