Fly on the Wall
|Scene Title||The Penitent Man is Humble|
|Synopsis||Snape gets raked over the coals and still manages to kill two birds with one stone.|
|Date||October 11, 1995|
|Watch For||Blondes in paintings and Severus being The Ultimate Sneak|
|Logger||The Dark Lord|
It's midnight - as these things always are, it seems - and the largest room in Riddle House seems to have been re-arranged in a mockery of Buckingham's throne room. Though chairs and couches and chaise lounges line both the left and right walls, the center is bare save for a single large, elaborate chair - no, throne - at the far end of the room. Lounging back in that single, elevated throne is the form of a pale, serpent-man. Though his appearance is the stuff of nightmares, his pose is reminiscent of a Prince or perhaps a young King in his prime, proud and powerful - lounging in his den. A single clear glass is held almost gently in one too-thin, delicate hand. The liquid inside of it might very well be wine, but the firelight behind him has too much trouble passing through it. It's too thick to be fermented grapes. A fat, balding, snivelling man crouches on the floor near the seated Master, clutching his arm and hissing at the already-fading pain. The Lord of the Manor twirls his wand lazily between to too-long fingers of his free hand and waits. His summons has been issued.
Snape has been nearby for what seems forever, brewing potions, checking stock, biding his time… He steps out from a hallway into the main room, dropping his gaze and changing his demeanor. If his Lord is the King, then he is a courtier, entering his presence with grace and devotion. "My Lord," he murmurs softly, but just loud enough for the man to hear it. He's had practice making it just right.
And practice makes perfect, yes? Unfortunately, maxims like those only hold up against the reasonably sane. On a good day, perhaps, Voldemort could be referred to as 'reasonably sane'. Today is not a good day. "Crucio." The spell is whispered almost affectionately, the man enjoying in some strange way the sensation of darkness rolling down his arm to be sent Severus' way with a casual flick of the wrist. He doesn't hold it long and in fact releases it as soon as he can feel that it strikes, turning to take a refined sip of his … beverage while staring off musingly at one of the moving paintings along the walls. Had there always been a blonde woman napping under the tree where the obnoxious children played in silence?
Distracted by a whimper from the fat rodent next to him, he lowers and narrows crimson eyes in a chilling glare - first at the foaming pile of filth next to him and then to his once-valuable pawn. "Severus," he hisses the name pleasantly. Nevermind that he just cast an Unforgiveable on this man - just because he wants to toy with how long it will take to crack the Potions Master's control doesn't mean he'll forget his manners. Not at all. "I gave you a simple list of vials and plenty of time and space in which to work…" Nevermind that each potion was complex enough to demand most people's full attention and to complete them within the timeframe would have required - at the most crucial stage - three of them be going at one time; his tone is one of a doting father disappointed in his child's lack of focus. It's enough to make the stomach turn. "Whatever am I to do with you?"
Snape grits his teeth the moment he hears Voldemort start the spell. It may not be a good night, but there is a small comfort in the fact that he releases the spell with a mere touch, instead of maintaining it for much longer. "My Lord. I have completed all but two. They remain unfinished because of simple human error." He chooses his words carefully. "One of my ingredients was less — well-preserved than the concotions required. It will only take a short trip to my personal stores to replenish them, and they remain in stasis awaiting the introduction thereof." He sketches another half-bow, hoping the explanation is enough.
"A simple human error?" The lightness in that oh-so-simple question should set off several sets of alarm bells in Snape's head. "And here I had thought you an intelligent man, Severus." A hint of ice and steel creep into his tone, even as he sips again from his glass. "And here I find you complaining about the quality of ingredients I took my own time to choose for you." Whether or not he actually did is immaterial. He's caught Severus now, and with an excuse - no matter how flimsy it might seem - he snaps his wand down towards the half-bowed man and this time hisses the spell in Parsel. The effect is still the same, unimaginable pain - this time sustained for six long minutes. And all the while, hard garnet eyes watch for even the subtlest of reactions. Out of all his servants, Severus always takes the longest to break - consequently, Voldemort has always taken far more pleasure from the experience. He lets the silence and the stillness fall together as comfortable companions, seemingly to give the Death Eater below him time enough to collect himself. "I begin to wonder, Severus, if you have not outlived your usefulness to me…" Those words, so calmly spoken, are still calculated to press at old buttons and though he keeps his posture languid and casual, the gaze on Snape is sharp and watchful - eager to pull any sign of pain or fear from the latest victim of his … moods.
Internally, Severus is breaking slowly, but years of walking the thin line have inured him to much. He stands stock still, remaining in the difficult position for the full six minutes. The only sign of the intense, excruciating pain the man endures is the involuntary tightening of the muscles around his eyes, and the shaking of his limbs. He remains silent, save a small hiss that he immediately regrets. When the spell finally expires, Snape straightens up, slowly, requiring nearly every bit of finesse he posesses. He refuses to break here and now. "It may have been my own error in keeping the ingredient, My Lord." It's the only recourse the madman gives him. "Yes, My Lord." It's not an agreement to his assertion, merely an acknowledgement. He feels it too, though. If he cannot make himself more useful, he will fail at every task set out for him. By both masters. "There is to be an Order Meeting next week, My Lord. I have a feeling the members may have information crucial to keeping our plans on track." They usually do; it's a safe bet.
The tightening of the face, the shaking and finally the hiss… It's satisfying in a way that Voldemort doesn't bother trying to understand. Fear of the weak is easy to tire of - too quickly and simply acquired - but the fear of the strong, the powerful… It's like the pomegranate to his twisted Pluto - the promise of something more enticing to come. The matter of the potions is left to rot; it was a pretext and they both know it. "An Order meeting?" His voice is strangely tense, the narrow vowels sounding much more sinister than should be. He laughs, then, a shrill sound, high-pitched and bone-chilling. "Entertain me, Severus. Tell me just how you think you're going to trick those fools into allowing your return." It's a game - it's entirely a game. But one in which he holds all the cards and only he knows the rules. In his mind, there can be no better kind of play. "Narrow-minded and weak they may be, but not even they would be stupid enough to welcome you back into their fold." Without some unholy pricetag, is left unsaid.
"I have accomplished it before, My Lord." Snape is thinking fast, considering his options. "There may be a way for me for me to return, with minimal cost, playing the hero." He has two or three ideas in his mind, but there is one that is the most important to him. "I consider it a high priority, My Lord, unless you have a greater one for me." He adds this last in mere sycophantic deference. He is uncertain of how much the younger madman has told the older of their Alumni Weekend escapade. "If I rescue a poor student from trouble, perhaps they would look kindly on me again, especially when it becomes common knowledge that I left them to do precisely that." He hates giving up so much of his plan, but any less would not satisfy the power-hungry despot. "If that does not work, or is not to your liking, I may have a way of gaining the information I need without being present." A spy of his own, if you will. Both plans are dangerous, but he has risked before. It may be difficult to convince his protegee to assist him, but it may also be necessary.
Ah, his Shadow… Given that the information - of so many different kinds - which comes from his David is and has been so incredibly valuable, the Dark Lord tends to look the other way and not ask questions, so long as the man stays so discreet. Therefore, most of the Alumni Weekend experience is unknown to him - save the fact that one dead body was dropped off to cause confusion and another student was killed in the process. No large loss, in his opinion. "You had not so foolishly thrown away your cover before," he lashes out with raw hatred and contempt in his tone. The sudden spike of temper is punctuated by another few minutes under a powerful Cruciatus, fueled by hatred and contempt. "Fool," he mutters, finally releasing his servant from the spell. The curse might not be as … creative as some others, but it is effective and efficient. He takes another sip from his glass. "And how would you accomplish this … 'daring rescue'?" Yes, there's open mockery in his tone. He can get away with that.
"I know the whereabouts of a student who is presumed to be dead, my Lord." Snape replies after the spell dissipates. This time, the shaking is just a little more, the pain cracking just a little more of his hard-earned shell. "With the student's reappearance, I can accomplish two things: resume my place both in the school and in Dumbledore's precious myth, and I make the Old Man look ineffective because he has done nothing to rescue a student in peril, whereas I, their least favorite, have accomplished the task with aplomb." He returns a very small jab, knowing that tonight, in the mood the crazed man is in, he may very well pay for his self-confidence. He is also extremely aware of his error in judgement on the day in question, and accepts the spell and censure as his due. "Yes, My Lord," he agrees. It wasn't his smartest hour. "An error I would like the opportunity to rectify."
Voldemort considers this. He very carefully gives the outwards appearance of doing so, at any rate. What's actually going on in his warped and twisted mind is beyond anyone's guess. "Strange that he should have left it so long unattended. That fool never wastes any opportunity to play the heroic Headmaster." A snide comment at Dumbledore's expense, but nothing at all unexpected. Tonight, in this mood? Yes, the self-confidence - especially in the wake of a poor decision and then uselessness - will be paid for in blood. This time the Cruciatus seems as if it will go on until that line is crossed and the mind will finally snap; the light in the Dark Lord's eyes borders on euphoric as he stands, forcing his malice into his magic and directing it all at the servant he feels must re-learn his place. He slowly approaches the former Hogwarts professor, dropping the spell and pushing into Severus' mind while he feels the man is at his weakest, digging without elegance or finesse or even a care for the comfort or sanity of the mind he prods.
Snape expects it all: the sarcastic remark about the Headmaster, the cruciatus, and the legillimency attempt. He pulls his shields up, only allowing the memories of his plans to present a student to Dumbledore to surface. He allows his very real frustration with the old man's overly complicated and extremely ineffective machinations to slip through, coloring the whole picture. It's a very dark set of thoughts, and it makes a decent cover for the rest of it. In his exhaustion, he allows a little of that emotion to show, considering it to be the least of many evils. "Yes, My Lord. He does preen like quite the peacock." It's an image he'll share if Voldemort pries in just the right place. The Headmaster is arrayed like one of Malfoy's prized birds, complete with colorful plumage. It isn't too overly different from his normal wardrobe, after all.
And Voldemort is satisfied, never - in his own arrogance - suspecting that there could be a mind capable of coming close to his own talents, nevermind surpassing them. The image of the peacock Headmaster even earns Severus a harsh, barked out laugh as the Dark Lord bends at the waist and hauls Severus to his feet. And just like that, his mood shifts and some of the charm and vivacity that first drew followers to him begins to show through the madness. "We cannot escape what we truly are, least of all the self-righteous old hypocrite." There is twisted good humor in his voice, but edged with enough mania to inspire caution - at least in the semi-intelligent. "You have my leave to proceed with this plan, Severus. A full reinstatement into the Order surely justifies whatever resources must be spent." And just as suddenly as his good mood came, it is once again gone. "Don't fail me again, Severus. My patience for inadequacy has run dry."
As Voldemort pulls him up, Severus bows again, nearly touching the man's hand to his head, but not quite. It's a practiced move that shows his deference. "Yes, My Lord. My gratitude for the opportunity." Within, he breathes a sigh of relief. "My Lord, the only resource I need is some time among Shadow's books. I shall not disturb anything more than absolutely necessary, but there is one small piece of information I must discover to accomplish my goal." Ever the tightrope-walker, Snape escapes one predicament to place himself in another. He knows how dear Shadow's 'research' has been to the mad tyrant, and is well aware of the risk.
The deferential bow helps assuage some of Voldemort's fiery temper, but the request has him turning instantly suspicious - paranoid, even. Shadow's work is the one secret he's never allowed to be compromised and suddenly his mind is pressing in on Snape's again, his thin lips curling back into a vicious snarl. His wandpoint is digging into the side of Snape's throat and when he speaks it is in a very deadly hiss. "What could you possibly need to rescue a student that would be found among Shadow's things?" The tip digs harder into pale skin - there will be a bruise there by morning - and the Dark Lord presses what he sees as his advantage, trying to rip the truth from Severus' thoughts to compare with what may come out of his mouth.
"Only one small piece of information, My Lord. If you prefer, I could get the information from him directly, and not wander into his domain." Severus would actually prefer that; he'd rather stay as far away from that insane comrade's personal rooms. "It is the countercurse to a curse which holds the student in a specific, previously untested stasis." He doesn't share the details of the 'stasis', just that the student isn't dead. The man may draw his own conclusions from what he knows of the day. He presents the memory of Shadow cursing a Slytherin student, obscuring most everything but the color of the robes as though the identity of the student were unimportant. He also cuts off the effect of the spell, emphasizing instead their crazy retreat, Shadow's mad, cackling laugh following them the whole way. "I am uncertain as to the efficacy of the stasis after much more time, My Lord, so I present the possibility to keep the student alive, at the least. I believe she will be affected, and perhaps be easier to — influence with the horrors she has witnessed during this time. Nightmares or similar." He keeps his tone even. For the purposes of the discussion, he does not care about the student herself, beyond her usefulness to him as a bargaining chip and a possible ally. His concern for her allegiance is stronger than he likes to admit.
Pride can be a powerful weapon, but yet again, it is his arrogance that is Voldemort's undoing. Snape's offer of a direct confrontation - whether it is a bluff or not - pays off. He retreats from his servant's mind and shoves the man roughly backwards as he turns and stalks back up to his 'throne'. "Shadow is on assignment," he snaps, the words rough and gutteral. That seems to be all he'll say of that matter, however. "Get the information you seek on your own." Vitriol abounds. "But nothing will be disturbed or missing, Severus. Is that clear?" He keeps his voice to a controlled hiss, but the threat doesn't need to be spoken to be understood. Snape has been in his service long enough to know the consequences of disobediance. Three short but powerful bursts of the Cruciatus curse strike the former professor in quick succession, the last one held just a heart-beat longer in a not-so-subtle warning. "Now get out of my sight."
After freezing in place while he is cursed yet again, Severus mutters a quick, sycophantic, "Yes, My Lord," and does exactly as he's told, leaving the room to head to his potions lab while he recovers.
And while the Dark Lord seems content with the outcome of this little … tete-a-tete and merely stares into the fire sipping his … whatever that is, the blonde woman lounging beneath the tree is already gone.
Where she goes is anyone's guess, but when Snape returns home for the night, there are several vials of highest-quality potions made for someone especially allergic to the affects of Cruciatus and a note scrawled in messy, magicked hand. It says simply;
You're an idiot. Take these and sleep. Janet knows to listen for your call.
A group of phoenix is called a 'myth'.