Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Biology :: 05 :: Mighty Hunter

05 • Mighty Hunter

— Azkaban Year Three —

“A mighty hunter, and his prey was man.” — Alexander Pope.

Remus sat in the lesser library of the mansion, a newspaper wide open on his lap. Blaise was somewhere else in the building, though his book of logic puzzles was on the chair he favored along with a pencil.

Blaise had been living at Sanctuary for the past six months, ever since the owner had dropped him off, scaring the wits out of Remus in the midst of eating dinner.

All he’d said was, “This is Blaise. He’s welcome to make this his home too,” then disappeared from view.

Blaise had crept around in the shadows for several months before he’d finally opened up to Remus about why he’d been brought to the estate. His story was somewhat predictable; as a Slytherin and a pure-blood he’d been targeted by Voldemort as a potential recruit.

It had been getting more and more difficult for him to evade the increasingly persistent invitations and fleeing the country had started to look very attractive. That is, until the day the man calling himself Salazar had essentially kidnapped him. His belongings had shown up shortly thereafter, and Blaise simply hadn’t left the grounds.

As he had put it, “Better to stay here than to step outside and be forced to take the mark.”

Remus shook his head slightly and glanced back at the paper in his lap, frowning as he read over the story again.

Fudge Establishes New Division

It was revealed in a press conference today that Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge has established a new division within the Ministry, dedicated to the sole purpose of tracking down and bringing to justice those with strong ties to the dark and those actively working toward the destabilization of the Ministry itself.

Appointed as head of the new division is Arnold Peasegood, formerly an Obliviator for the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad. Peasegood was unavailable for comment.

Fudge justified this development in his opening speech.

“It it with regret that I must decry the efforts of late of aurors, who are far too overworked and much too ineffective to be of any real use in the ongoing fight against the forces of evil.”

“As Minister it is my duty to do all within my power to serve and protect the good citizens of the wizarding world, and it is by this authority that I have created a new division, the Office of Wizardland Security.”

When asked how this will affect the aurors he said, “Aurors will go back to their original purpose, and only called in when the need for them as backup is unavoidable.”

Amelia Bones, head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, was also unavailable for comment.

Fudge concluded his speech by calling the new division a “spearhead” and a “bright arrow of justice”.

A member of the crowd was overheard to say, “But I thought the whole point of aurors was for them to hunt down and subdue dark wizards. What are they supposed to do now, hand out splinching citations and make Knockturn Alley their new pet project?”

Only time will tell how this new development pans out.

Remus snorted in disgust. The crowd member had the right of it. How Fudge thought anyone wouldn’t see through this charade was beyond him.

“Is something wrong, Remus?” Blaise asked from the doorway, interrupting his thoughts.

“What? Oh . . . sorry, Blaise. I was just reading the article on the new division again.”

“Ah, that.” Blaise looked down for a moment, then moved to stand near Remus. Remus could see him lean over out of the corner of his eye, presumably to look at the article.

“Are you going to tell Harry?” Blaise asked after a pause.

Remus blinked a few times and furrowed his brow slightly, then turned his head, giving Blaise a wide-eyed look. “Pardon?”

“I know you must visit him.”

Remus shrugged. “What point is there in telling? I will though. I always try to get through to him.” Remus reflected for a moment that lies really were better when they were mostly truth.

Blaise tilted his head to the side consideringly. “Is he that bad off then?”

Remus hesitated before answering. Guarded truth would have to suffice again. “He’s not himself,” he said quietly.

“Who isn’t himself?” came a third voice from behind.

The two men both looked sharply over their shoulders to see Salazar leaning over the paper shared between them. Remus did not need a wolf’s senses to see the blood rush to Blaise’s face as the younger wizard found himself just inches from Salazar’s confident gaze. For a moment, Blaise stopped breathing, then quickly pulled himself together and straightened up, looking slightly away.

“What, no hello? I’m hurt,” said Salazar with a smirk, clutching one hand to his heart and standing upright in fluid movements. “So, who isn’t himself?” he repeated.

“Harry,” Remus said flatly.

“Oh, him. Yes, well. He wouldn’t be, now would he.”

As if suddenly remembering that he and Salazar were still so close that he could feel the other’s breath on his neck, Blaise moved nervously away and settled into his chair silently, tacitly allowing the others to continue their conversation. That Salazar followed Blaise’s movements with his eyes did not escape Remus’s attention.

Salazar, however, snapped his fingers and Dobby appeared. “Is there any tea, Dobby? Perhaps some biscuits?”

Dobby squeaked and nodded his head, disappearing only to reappear with a tray in his hands. He placed it carefully on a table and poured out for Salazar, then glanced inquiringly at Remus and Blaise, who both shook their heads.

“Thank you, Dobby. Is there anything I need to take care of?” Salazar asked, arching his brow in a way eerily reminiscent of Snape.

“Master is to enjoy himself,” said Dobby immediately. “Master will come see Dobby before he goes?”

“Of course.”

Dobby bounced and disappeared. Salazar took a sip from his cup, then moved directly behind Remus’s chair and leaned over, reaching out with a finger to trace it down the text of the story as he read.

Remus, aside from stiffening slightly, did nothing but sit there, letting his senses take stock of the situation. When Salazar moved to the couch and sat, he was afforded an opaque look.

“Sad, that,” Salazar commented, investigating the biscuit selection and picking up a ladyfinger. He raised his head and looked at each man in turn, then nipped off the end of his cake.

“Fudge?” offered Blaise.

“Cornelius, yes. Someday he’ll make a decision that comes back to bite him on the arse. I just hope I’m there to see it.” Salazar smirked again and finished his cake. “Unfortunately, I can’t stay. Things to do, places to go, naughty people to put in jail. You know how it is,” he said deprecatingly.

Salazar bounced to his feet, grabbed another cake, and headed into the hallway. Remus was right behind him, tapping him on the shoulder once they were out of sight of the library.

“Hmm?” asked Salazar, looking back over his shoulder.

“You don’t smell right,” came the bald reply. “Not human.”

Salazar’s face relaxed into a knowing smile and he nodded. “Don’t imagine I do, dear fellow. But, you didn’t think I’d be so foolish as to open my home to a werewolf and not use some form of dissimulative arts? What you do not know, you cannot be forced to reveal.”

Salazar smiled again, then turned his head away and walked onward to the kitchen, leaving Remus standing there with only his thoughts. And, not knowing quite what to think, Remus went back to say goodnight to Blaise, then headed up to bed.

*

Remus and Blaise were just sitting down to have their evening meal when Salazar strode into the room and pulled out a chair. “Evening, gentlemen. Always a pleasure to see you!” he said breezily, sitting down and scooting the chair forward.

He whipped the napkin off the table from his place setting and shook it out, then draped it over his lap.

“Good evening, Salazar,” Remus and Blaise murmured, slightly taken aback by the sudden appearance.

“Both of you look quite well,” Salazar said, then was momentarily distracted by food appearing on his plate. “Plenty of things here good enough to eat,” he went on to comment enigmatically.

By whatever design the conversation touched on Arnold Peasegood. Other than his rather mundane record as an Obliviator, none of them knew much about the man, and Blaise the least of all. From what he could see, it looked to Remus that the lack of information disturbed Salazar, but he could pick up nothing from his enhanced senses; it was more of a slight tensing of the skin around the man’s eyes and the heightened rigidity of his frame that made him think so.

It was the scent of arousal during dessert that caught Remus’s attention, causing him to cast a discreet glance at Blaise, and then at Salazar, who was getting far too much enjoyment from a bowl of sliced peaches. Every time he stopped to lick the juices from his fingers Blaise twitched almost imperceptibly.

Remus was inclined to agree with his reaction; though Salazar was not doing anything untoward (aside from not using utensils), the mere sight of the succulent fruit slipping past the man’s lips was enough to shift his perception like the view in a child’s kaleidoscope.

If anything, Salazar didn’t seem to be aware of the reaction his display was provoking. When the peaches were gone he looked quite desolate, then wiped his hands on his napkin and leaned back.

“Right,” he said, looking up from the table. “More places to go, things to do, and naughty people to chastise.” He pushed back his chair, dropped the napkin on the table and gave a quick half bow, flashed a smile, then sauntered out of the room.

The next morning was peaceful; Salazar had pulled another of his disappearing acts after leaving the table. The Daily Prophet was already waiting, laying next to his plate.

Remus sat down and unfolded the paper, absently wishing Blaise as good morning as he stumbled in for breakfast, and fixed his eyes on the day’s headlines.

Mystery Man Strikes Again

Late last night two more marked men were dropped off at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement by the vigilante, who once again did not stick around to comment on his actions.

Sources within the Ministry say that those brought in are known Death Eater Geoffrey Goyle and his son Gregory Goyle, and were found after the alarm wards had gone off, magically bound to chairs in one of the interrogation rooms.

“They both told us during questioning that Salazar Slytherin apprehended them, or at least someone who looked exactly like the known portraits of him,” said one insider who refused to be named.

The source went on to say that each had a letter, found during a routine search for dangerous items, that gave suggestions as to what questions exactly should be asked of them during interrogation.

It is rumored that both Goyles have already been given trials based on their testimony under veritaserum and been taken to Azkaban for life sentences on charges of torture, murder, and use of the Unforgivables.

Minister Fudge has issued a statement declaring the vigilante a wanted man and has given standing orders to the Office of Wizardland Security to capture him dead or alive.

People are encouraged to report him if seen, but to otherwise not attempt to interfere in any way.

Remus was torn between snorting and chuckling. “Busy man,” he said in response to the questioning look he was getting from Blaise, then tossed the paper at him in favor of the breakfast now waiting on his plate.

If The Daily Prophet might had been cause for a smile, the next morning’s edition was not. Remus and Blaise sat side-by-side at the table with the paper before them, reading a sidebar article which had caught their attention.

OWS Announces First Arrests

Late last evening the Office of Wizardland Security announced their first arrests in their efforts to maintain order in the British wizarding community.

The two men in question, Artair Ainslie and Blair Barclay, were held overnight for questioning as to their seditious activities, and sentenced to twenty years imprisonment in Azkaban early this morning.

Members of the community are reminded to report any suspicious activities, but to otherwise not interfere.

Blaise spluttered and slapped the hard wood of the table. “Both of those families are well known to be neutral! I’ve never even heard a hint of them being connected with Death Eaters, or active in anything underhanded.”

“I don’t understand either, Blaise. This doesn’t even say what they supposedly did. It’s just a vague statement of guilt.” Remus leaned back and exhaled noisily. “I take it this is why Salazar was so interested in Peasegood. Still, if no one’s dug up any dirt on him so far. . . .”

“Time will tell, eh?”

*

Remus ignored the stool that appeared and sank down to the floor. “Harry?” he called softly, a smile breaking over his face as he saw a dark figure detach itself from the shadows of the cell’s interior.

“Hello, Moony.” Harry sank down in a mirror position and sighed.

“Harry?”

“I’m bored. Silly, huh? Day in and day out, nothing to do but sit here. And the food is awful! If this were a muggle prison at least there’d be books and activities. Something.”

Remus forced himself not to smile. Harry sounded like a whiny child, not that he didn’t have reason. Still, it sounded so commonplace and mundane. It would be unwise to spout useless platitudes though.

“Want to hear what’s been going on outside?” he offered.

Harry nodded and fiddled with a greasy hank of his long hair.

“Well, a number of things have happened. That Salazar fellow dropped off Blaise Zabini one day to live at the estate. We’re getting along fine. Apparently he was being hounded by Voldemort’s Death Eaters, trying to get him to join up. Salazar found out somehow and kidnapped him.”

He paused and chuckled. “Rather like he did me, I suppose. He also dropped off both Goyles to the Ministry. He’s a strange fellow. I can’t sense anything about him, and he doesn’t smell human. I’ll be damned if I can figure out who or what he is though.”

Harry glanced up for a moment, displaying raised brows.

“Anyway, he drops by from time to time. Dobby seems to like him, so I guess I can’t say much.”

Harry smiled. “Dobby is a strange house-elf, but I think his judgment isn’t far off the mark.”

Remus gave a vague nod. “Fudge created a new division, the Office of Wizardland Security. They’ve already arrested two men. Blaise says they’re neutral pure-bloods, and the paper didn’t go into detail as to their supposed crimes. It worries me, and makes me wonder just who’s going to be hauled in next and shipped off.”

Harry’s face twisted in rarely shown bitterness. “We are talking about Fudge here, Moony. There’s not a lot I wouldn’t put past him. He’s made enough mistakes so far that I’d not be surprised if he’s having people who’d rather see him out of office brought in for questioning.”

“Yes, well, it seems this new office bypasses Amelia Bones’s authority, so there’s no telling. You may well be right, Harry.”

“Speaking of which, isn’t she in charge of the aurors? What are the they doing now, policing Hogsmeade picnics to make sure nobody litters?” Harry asked with more than a little sarcasm.

Remus chuckled and shook his head. “I’m not sure, to be honest. I very much doubt she’s happy about this though. By the way, have you had any more visions?”

“No.” Harry pushed his matted hair away from his face and grimaced. “But I have the sneaking suspicion that Voldemort will use my birthday as another day for initiations. But that’s a ways off, isn’t it? I try and keep track of time, but. . . .”

“It’s the third of April, so yes.”

An odd look flashed across Harry’s face, so quickly that Remus couldn’t decipher it.

“Ask again next time you come. Each time.” Harry frowned. “I don’t always remember,” he whispered, giving Remus a worried look.

“I will, Harry.”

“Are you okay, Moony? Is Dumbledore still giving you trouble?”

“After I passed on those names he stopped.” Remus made a cutting motion with one hand. “I haven’t gotten much out of Snape though. He’s been acting particularly vicious lately, biting people’s heads off.”

Harry shrugged, his expression back to a curious blankness. “Sounds like he’s hiding something.”

*

Spring was making herself heard across the country with a vengeance. Obviously so was Salazar. Remus and Blaise were treated to another evening visit from him; this time he stayed with them in the library until dinner, ate with them, then pulled another disappearing act.

Naturally, it made them wonder what was up, or rather, what he was up to. It also gave both of them a chance to discreetly eye Salazar as he moved about with all the grace of a panther on the hunt, and ate his dinner with single-minded focus.

Remus was amused to note that Blaise once again had trouble restraining himself when the pudding was served, but declined to comment openly. It hadn’t helped in his opinion that Salazar kept bestowing winsome smiles on Blaise and touching his hand when making points to him specifically during conversation.

The next morning’s paper relieved them both of their curiosity and their ignorance. After seeing the headline, Remus motioned Blaise over so they could both read simultaneously.

Slytherin Strikes Again

Ministry sources reveal that Carey Crabbe and his son Vincent were brought in late last night to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement in the same circumstances as the Goyles.

As before, both men allowed that it was Salazar Slytherin who apprehended them shortly after they had retired for the evening. Despite their initial protestations of innocence of any wrongdoing, interrogation under the influence of veritaserum revealed a number of heinous crimes they had willingly participated in, most of which were centered around the torture, maiming, and execution of muggles and muggle-borns.

One Ministry official (who refused to be named) said, “I find it quite curious that while these Death Eaters will go after muggles or those connected, and even after aurors, that they are conspicuous in not targeting members of the OWS. It raises grave doubts in my mind as to the integrity of the office.”

Albus Dumbledore was overheard to say, “It is clear to me that the man known as Salazar Slytherin is at least as dangerous as the one he’s named for. People should use great caution and do nothing to provoke his ire, as it remains unclear what his true intentions are, or on which side of the battle he stands.”

Minister Fudge was not available for comment.

“How very interesting,” commented Remus. “I can’t tell if Albus is implying that Salazar is setting himself up to be the next Dark Lord or not.”

Blaise gave him a penetrating look.

“Either way,” he continued, “it seems to me that Albus is unhappy that there’s a loose cannon out there. Salazar might be on the side of good, but he’s not under Albus’ control, and that makes him dangerous.”

Blaise smirked. “I don’t expect we’ll be seeing Salazar kowtowing to Dumbledore anytime soon. Don’t mistake me—there are reasons enough to be at least slightly doubtful. Voldemort was known to be a very charismatic man back in the day, and Salazar is no slouch himself. He’s obviously powerful as well. It would be foolish to automatically assume that because he’s bringing in Death Eaters that he’s part of the home guard. But still . . . he’s one of the few people I trust these days.”

Remus nodded and said, “Mmm. I doubt Salazar trusts Albus anymore than I do.”

“Or me.”

Remus shot him a look, raising his brows slightly.

“Ah, I never told you, did I. Remember when I explained how I came to be here? Well, what I didn’t say was that I’d gone to Dumbledore for help, before Salazar came, and his learned advice was for me to just go along with it so I could become a spy for him.”

Remus blinked several times then scowled fiercely.

“It’s water under the bridge now, Remus. I thought his advice was ludicrous, and I’m safe now anyway. In any case,” he said, indicating the paper, “there’s other things to be concerned about in the present.”

OWS Announces More Arrests

Early this morning the Office of Wizardland Security announced more arrests in their efforts to maintain order in the British wizarding community.

The two men in question, Melfus Morgan and Timistan Taylor, were held for questioning as to their seditious activities, and sentenced to twenty years imprisonment in Azkaban.

Members of the community are reminded to report any suspicious activities, but to otherwise not interfere.

“I have to wonder. . . .” said Blaise.

“Yes?” prompted Remus.

“I have to wonder if this is some sort of twisted response. Salazar brings in genuine Death Eaters, so the OWS has to respond in kind and bring in supposed subversives to show they’re just as active as the vigilante.”

“Yes, well. I suppose you noticed that it’s almost word-for-word the same article as before?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes, I suppose it is now that you mention it. But again, these are people from pure-blood, neutral families, Remus. And these two weren’t named as Death Eaters either. . . .”

*

The beginning of May brought another interesting article to the attention of Remus and Blaise via The Daily Prophet.

OWS Arrests Contested

Families of all four men arrested earlier this year have come forward en masse to protest their incarcerations. The families claim that no evidence has been provided to back up the guilty charges of seditious activity and no transcripts of the interrogations have been made available.

It is worth noting that the families in question are at risk of losing fortune and property if the OWS is successful in proving that any was gained through ill means.

While casting doubt on the validity of their claims, it also serves as motive (aside from the supposed innocence of the men involved) for them to push this issue into a public forum and demand satisfaction.

As one matriarch of the Barclay family said, “This is preposterous! It is bad enough that Blair was hauled off like a common thief in the night by the OWS, but as it stands we have absolutely no proof whatsoever that he was questioned with veritaserum, never mind that we have no idea what the actual charges are. And now we find out we could lose everything else as well? Is this valid government or a dictatorship?”

The Barclay family alone stands to lose approximately five million galleons in combined currency, inventory and real estate holdings. Figures were unavailable at press time for the other families under investigation.

When shown the assertions of the families in question, Fudge had the following to say. “The Ministry is under no obligation to reveal sensitive information we hold in trust. While it is indeed tragic that these men have been found in violation of our laws, we will not submit to challenges to our attempts to maintain order.”

Shortly before press time, an anonymous letter arrived in the offices of the Daily Prophet, which we reprint here for readers in its entirety.

“The public would do well to question the motives of Mr Peasegood. Given that his office has been arresting men of good name and neutral stance, one must wonder if the OWS is actually under the control of [You-Know-Who] and Fudge is being played for the fool he is.”

When asked to comment Fudge replied, “I have the utmost confidence in the fidelity of Mr Peasegood. His reputation is as dear to me as my own, and I say quite plainly that he is as much the pawn of You-Know-Who as I am!”

The Daily Prophet will continue to keep the public informed on this rather sensitive and provoking story.

*

His visit to see Harry was more or less commonplace by now. The trip across to the island no longer bothered him; he shut out the ominous sounds and instead concentrated on seeing Harry smile.

When he arrived, Harry was already waiting for him, sitting in front of the cell door. He was greeted with a familiar, “Hello, Moony,” and a smile.

“It’s good to see you again, Harry.”

“Voldemort is pleased about something,” he offered blandly. “I don’t know what though.”

Remus smiled. “I see you remembered. Just to let you know, it’s the third of July now.”

Harry nodded and pushed back his matted hair from his face. Remus was displeased to see him looking so bad, spying more than a few streaks of dirty white in Harry’s hair, but maintained a pleasant expression.

“So amuse me, Moony. What’s happening in the world?”

“Oh, the usual. Salazar continues to bring in more Death Eaters. The OWS has made more suspicious arrests, and the families are up in arms. In fact, when someone wrote The Daily Prophet questioning the ulterior motives of Peasegood, Fudge was quick to defend him. Par, basically. Sounds a lot like Malfoy if you ask me.”

“I don’t know about you, but I think I like this Salazar guy, despite the name. Maybe he’ll find something on Peasegood. Fudge defending him is enough to make me leery of the fellow.” Harry flashed Remus a brief smile.

“Hopefully Fudge’s statement will come back to bite him on the arse,” commented Remus thoughtfully.

“Have you been able to find anything out about Snape?”

Remus shook his head. “He’s been very . . . skittish. If I didn’t know any better I’d say that Albus isn’t particularly pleased with him right now.”

“Because you provided names he couldn’t?” asked Harry.

“I don’t know.” Remus shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe, but I could be very wrong in my impression. Let’s face it—Snape has to work through others and it was one thing before Voldemort regained his body, but it must be ten times more difficult to get people to talk now. Still. . . .”

“Still?” Harry angled his head, then brushed away the hanks of hair that threatened to obscure his vision.

“Well, think about all the times he’s been there watching your back. You’re in here now.”

“His value has been cut in half, you mean. In consequence, if he can’t get information like he used to, he may as well go into hiding now and pray Voldemort goes down.”

“Exactly.”

“Let’s say he’s useless now. Why is he being so skittish? Maybe he’s worried Dumbledore will let him hang in the wind and let the Ministry do as they wish? Rescind his testimonial, so to speak?”

“No idea. I’ll try again to corner him and find out what I can. My past attempts have been less than successful—he always manages to slip off when I start asking questions—but I’ll try again.”

*

Blaise sat on the couch, the same couch that Salazar favored, though at the other end. Remus carefully hid a smile when he realized that Blaise had been doing so for some time now, having forsaken his usual chair. As though the thought had become reality, Salazar bounced through the door into the lesser library and claimed his usual spot.

“Evening,” Salazar said cheerfully, flashing a smile at Remus even as he absently patted Blaise on the leg briefly in tactile greeting. “Dinner almost ready?”

Remus was reminded of Ron for a moment. It was almost inevitable that Salazar showed up for the evening meal, or at the very least for some tea and biscuits. He smiled back and dipped his head quickly. “You’re awfully chipper. I guess we should expect to be amused by the morning paper, no?”

Salazar flashed him another smile, this one unrepentantly devious. “Maybe. But then, The Daily Prophet is always full of thrilling news these days isn’t it.”

He looked as though he meant to say more, but at that moment Dobby popped in, squeaked when he saw Salazar, and announced dinner.

The next morning Remus was proved right; a small piece titled Slytherin’s Revenge Continues provided the names Craston and Lamont as the latest Death Eaters brought in to the Law Enforcement department of the Ministry.

However, that news wasn’t nearly as interesting as the subtle flirting which had taken place over the table the night before between Salazar and Blaise. Blaise had maintained the air of a person who was conflicted between the pleasure the exchanges were affording him and the knowledge that neither he nor Remus had any real idea of who this man was.

Salazar had progressed from smiles and seemingly absentminded touches to gentle verbal thrusts and exploratory topics. He had a singular way of twisting innocent speech to carry a wealth of double meaning and innuendo, and appeared to have every idea of how his actions and words were affecting his target. Perhaps it was that Salazar had finally cottoned to the fact that Blaise was of a like-minded persuasion. It could have been that Salazar had come to a decision based on Blaise’s steadfast choice to remain under the protection of Sanctuary.

Remus wasn’t going to ask; he was going to sit back and continue to enjoy the show.

He had, however, commented on it one afternoon with a knowing smile, hoping to provoke a response from Blaise instead.

“It isn’t as though him saving me means I’m going to fall all over him, you know,” Blaise said.

“You don’t think that’s why he brought you here, do you?”

“No, I don’t. Besides, he’s been flirting with you too a bit in case you hadn’t noticed. It may just be his nature,” Blaise countered with the faintest suggestion of a sly smile. “I’d point out that he’s handsome but I know that isn’t his real face, never mind his real name.”

“True. He looks like he stepped out of a portrait from Hogwarts, and a young one at that. As H . . . he said to me once, it must be a kick in the pants to Voldemort, having Salazar Slytherin capturing his Death Eaters and telling them they shame the name. Anyway, he may be a bit of a flirt regardless, but he’s been focusing on you, and you don’t seem to be minding so much.”

“Yes, and what happens when Voldemort is finally gone—does Salazar fade into the woodwork never to be seen again, or do we finally get to find out who he is? I think I’d have to be a fool to do more than harmless flirting until then.”

“Of course. But we’re not always given that choice.”

Blaise gave him a startled look. “Say what you mean, Remus.”

“I’m sorry. Flirting is one thing, but your heart is another. We don’t always get to choose what we feel, that’s all.”

*

Remus had had enough. He kept a close tail this time on Severus when the meeting broke up, abandoning his questions for the moment and instead shadowing him along the dimly lit halls and down into the dungeons. Before Snape had a chance to slip entirely through the door to his rooms, Remus was centered in the frame and clearing his throat.

Snape whipped around with lightning speed, obviously startled that anyone had been able to sneak up on him, a scowl firmly entrenched on his pale, drawn face.

“What do you want?” he demanded harshly.

Remus got right to the point. “Why is Albus so unhappy with you, Severus? Maybe the rest don’t see it, but I do.”

If possible, Snape’s scowl deepened. “I hardly think this is a conversation for a hallway.”

“I agree, which is why I’m sure you won’t mind inviting me in,” Remus replied with a half smile. “I assure you, I’ll keep at this. You may as well talk to me now and get it over with. It’s obvious something is wrong, and I doubt very much that Albus would be pleased to find you hexed me into the infirmary in a fit of pique.”

Snape snarled and turned abruptly, stepping into his quarters and letting Remus follow him in. He crossed immediately to a series of bottles on one of the many shelves that lined the walls and poured himself a drink.

After a gulp he rounded on Remus and said, “I really don’t see what business of yours it is how Albus regards me. In point of fact, I can’t see why you’d be interested in the first place.”

“Let’s just say I’m not the only one who’s curious. I ask again, what’s going on, Severus? Why do I get the feeling that Albus doesn’t find you nearly so useful these days? That he’s disappointed in what you’re able to contribute to the Order of late? Shall I go on?” Remus persisted as Severus became increasingly agitated. It served as a marked contrast to his usual cool mask of indifference.

He tilted his head to the side and stared unblinkingly at Snape. “Or is it that you’re worried Albus thinks that you’re deliberately unsuccessful. That you really are on the other side and your failure to bring in vital information is a sign of where your loyalties really lay.”

Severus threw his glass at the fireplace and wrenched up his sleeve, displaying the dark mark burned into his skin. “Blast it, Lupin! Do you have any idea what a mark like this means? You just can’t let it go, can you. Always badgering me, always in my face like some common urchin begging for crusts.”

He pulled his sleeve back down roughly and went on. “While it may not directly compel my obedience to his whims and aims, it does mean that if the Dark Lord dies, I die.”

“I’m going to assume this somehow ties in with Albus,” Remus stated.

“Of course it does, you fool. If Albus dies, I die—he made sure of it. So I’m sure even someone as used to looking the other way as you are can see that I’m damned either way.”

Remus blinked in surprise. “Excuse me?”

“Don’t pretend your enhanced ears didn’t hear me clearly. Try phrasing a question of actual substance if you insist on doing so.” He turned and poured a new drink, then remained facing slightly away, his expression partly hidden by the shadows inhabiting the room.

“All right. Why in Merlin’s name would you die if Albus did?”

“I should think that would be obvious, Lupin. It was a condition of him standing up for me at my trial. Oh, he knew my siding against the Dark Lord was genuine, but that wasn’t good enough for him. Apparently he prefers to hedge his bets. Look at Potter—something went wrong there and look where he ended up.”

“But you still haven’t explained. Are you saying Albus marked you as well?”

“Well aren’t you the bright fellow,” Snape said sarcastically. “Ten points to Gryffindor. Well done.”

Snape took another gulp of his drink and said, “The dark isn’t the only side with tricky little spells, Lupin. At least if the Dark Lord goes first, I’d die knowing we won.”

Remus didn’t have anything to say to that, so he changed the subject. “So tell me, what is the problem anyway? Are your sources being uncooperative? Though I’d be the last person to try and take any part of your operation, I know I brought it more names than you did, even if only purely by accident.”

Snape gave him the kind of glare he normally reserved only for Neville Longbottom and took another healthy swig of his drink.

“They are bringing me next to no information. And you’re right. What you managed was nothing more than a fluke,” he snarled. “Now if you don’t mind, I have better things to deal with than to have you stinking up my quarters.