Forlorn Hope

Snake in the Lion Den

17 Snake in the Lion Den…

"Ready?"

"I doubt I'll ever be." Severus smiled, that was the best answer the boy could have given. "I never asked… what about my scar, will it still hurt? Is it still there?" Severus nodded.

"It is and it probably will. Albus somehow hid it while you were still asleep at the manor. I do not know how he managed it… Merlin knows none of the potions worked on it. I was actually wondering when you would notice."

"I guess that, with all that's been going on, I just sort of let it slip my mind."

"Come, the other Aspidis have already left by portkey."

"Portkey!" The boy peeped out. So what Albus said was true? Severus noted, glad that he had chosen to speak with the man after all.

"Yes, portkey. You however are apparating with me." The relief was easily seen on Horatius' face. "Come, Draco is probably already waiting."

"Draco?"

"Yes. He seems to have an allergy to that type of travel as well." Draco was indeed waiting for them just before the entrance to the castle. "Ready, Draco?"

"Yes, sir." Severus wished the boy's reply had more closely matched Horatius', but kept his expression as unreadable as before. Horatius could not find out Severus was afraid, Draco couldn't find out there was something for Severus to fear. They quickly walked into the forest, Severus allowing the boys to fall slightly behind and talk, perhaps… Merlin knew what could happen.

"Severus..."

"Lucius…" He nodded in acknowledgement. "Are all the others accounted for?"

"Even the Gryffindors." Lucius nodded, clearly displeased that an Asp could be anything but a Slytherin. "Draco, Horatius…"

"Mr. Malfoy…"

"Father…" Both replied, but Lucius was not about to exchange pleasantries.

"Come, Draco, it is time." He stated coldly, placing a hand quickly on the boy's wrist. Severus grabbed Horatius' shoulder, apparating as well.

They stood in a circle of fourteen Deatheaters, their children in front of them. Severus kept his hand stubbornly on Horatius' shoulder, feeling as if letting go might indefinitely give up his son to the monster that plagued his existence… Horatius' too. He felt the boy lean in slightly, fighting the urge to apparate them both back before the wards were reinstated. He looked over the children, seeing his students in so different a light as he tried to remember them all. Fourteen plus the six would-be-fathers Voldemort had killed. All twenty accounted for, fourteen surviving. Fourteen… Merlin, there were even Hufflepuffs here!

"Ah, Severusss…. You were not lying after all, I ssssee, and a fine boy he isss." This was it, Horris figured, this was when he had to decide whether he'd roll over and play dead and obedient or prove he was no pushover… without getting killed, preferably. Pretending to be evil Horris could deal with, even pretending to be fascinated with what the idiot of a dark lord said… but play boot-licker like some of the Death Eaters did- NO. He heard his father mutter, "Thank you, My Lord", now or never… was he a Gryffindor or not?

"Father never lies." He stated calmly, causing red eyes to instantly fall upon him, along with everyone else's.

"Say that again, young Asssp." His father squeezed his shoulder, but he couldn't undo it. Nor did Horatius want to.

"Snapes do not lie, sir, it is as simple as that." The way he figured, the gamble was worth it. Voldemort would expect anyone who had something to hide to stay quiet, stay submissive. All he had to do was the opposite of what a normal person would advise him to do in such a situation.

"The boy iss a lot like my Ammodytus…" Voldemort smiled, running a hand through Horris' hair and freeing his voice of the usual hiss. "Perhaps it is time you regain your title and take care of my little Aspidis." He could feel his father tense, hardening the death-grip on Horris' shoulder as Voldemort spoke to him. "Your little Viper has pleased me; he will serve me well indeed. Step back Ammodytus, I wish to see the boy properly."

Horris fought the urge to grab the hand that left him, using all his will to keep a calm posture. He felt the red eyes on his back, taunting him to turn around.

"You are not afraid, are you, my boy?" Your boy my ass! He mentally screamed as a hand fell where his father's had once resided… a cold, harsh hand whose purpose was akin to a Dementor. Well, he did have to finish this he supposed, no use playing the lapdog now.

"… The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…"

"And death." Voldemort corrected, seemingly amused, and obviously not realizing that Harry was quoting a Muggle American President. Here goes nothing. Horris only hoped it wouldn't be stretching his luck too far.

"Death is but the next adventure." The hand hardened, his last statement obviously hitting a nerve.

"Dumbledore told you that?"

"No, sir," He replied, faking mild shock at the interpretation, "my old Headmaster."

"Ah," the hand loosened, just a little. "Do you believe him?"

"It is logical, sir."

"How so?" It demanded instantly, thank Merlin I've thought this through…Horris mumbled soundlessly in his mind,

"Explorers are adventurers and death is a great unknown." He shrugged, as if it was no more than common knowledge.

"The unknown is often dangerous and painful." Voldemort rebuked, "Is that not scary?"

"The danger is what makes it exciting, sir… like Quidditch." And then Voldemort laughed. A cold, cruel laugh that made everyone wonder what triggered its amusement.

"Very well indeed, Ammodytus, a wonderful boy." Voldemort called over his shoulder. He turned to face Horris now, stepping before him and finally removing the hand. "It has been long since one has so humored me with his thoughts, my Viper, never silence them. You have won my favor, child; you will make a grand servant indeed. More perhaps, we shall see." Jackpot. Horris mused, letting out a long-held breath as soon as Voldemort turned around. His favor entailed a certain lee-way which could someday prove extremely useful, life-saving even.

"Thank you, sir." Horris said, stepping back towards the spot his father occupied, feeling immense relief as soon as the warm hand returned. The moment Voldemort moved on, he was pulled back against his father, the man's hand draped across Horris' chest as if shielding him from all harm. He could hear his father's heart pounding hard, his breath quick under the white mask. Horris didn't resist, allowing himself to melt into the embrace, feeling fatherly protection in the cold potions master.

"Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" Severus whispered softly, tightening his hold. Merlin was he scared, what in hell was the boy thinking? Quoting Dumbledore of all people! He fought hard to keep himself steady, having been shaking slightly the entire time Voldemort 'interviewed' Horatius.

"Just a gamble father…and I must say; we won." A gamble… I am about to lay an egg and he decides to play fucking Russian Roulette! Why couldn't he have had Hufflepuff instincts or Ravenclaw…? Why did it have to be Gryffindor? I am going to give Draco a piece of my mind for making him renounce Slytherin… Oh, if only I could flat-out yell at him for this…

"Never… never do anything like that again- you hear me? We are going to have a long talk when we get back…"

Horris smiled, oh how he wanted to go home… Just then he heard a scream- Draco. His father's hand stopped him from playing the hero but when he heard an audible drop in tension and his father's arm loosened, he dashed out, falling to his knees besides his still-screaming friend. Noting that he'd have to ponder his word (thought) choice later, he filed it away, needing to concentrate fully on the blonde.

"Draco?" The boy was deadly pale, lying on the floor like a severe Cruciatus victim, shaking and screaming though his father only looked on. Why isn't he helping!

"Not…Alpha, I-" Horris' hand was pressed against the other boy's chest, letting in some curing potion. Had he the time, Horris would have wondered why Draco hadn't released his own venom to heal himself, but at the moment other things were far more pressing.

"Pain, Draco. What hurts, why?" Horris cut him off, knowing it was painful for him to speak. The technicalities weren't important now… Lucius grabbed hold of his son, "Draco?" Too late, they apparated out, and his own father was coming to take him. Almost everyone else had left.

"Wait Ammodytusss, I have sssomething for you. Come, bring the boy… his opinion would be most acceptable." His father bowed, walking behind him as Horris was pulled to Voldemort's side by the monster's hand again.

"Weasley?" He heard his father ask in disbelief, Ron lowering his hood.

"You teach him, Ammodytusss… does he come of hiss own accord? Would he prove a faithful Death Eater or ssspy?" Damn! Horris hated breaking promises but the only way to get him out alive and unmarked would entail a far-greater gamble. But Ron…Merlin help him. Just use blunt truth with a sharp hook and pull Horris told himself, trying to muster the courage. Here goes nothing.

"Dumbledore's spy, no doubt, sir… one of the 'Golden Trio', isn't he father, loyal little Gryffindor…" please, please, please take the bait.

"I agree, little Viper… who do you believe ought to teach him his lessons, my boy?" And… the hook.

"No one, sir. That is what they would expect. I say, if I may be so bold, that you ought allow him to return with his tail between his legs, saving the Light side a martyr."

"Ah, his death however, would weaken faith in Dumbledore…" Voldemort prompted; was he biting?

"But we could use him to break Potter, sir, saving him for later… it would show how little power Potter truly has, not even able to save his friend. Kill Potter's influence and killing Potter will prove far easier. And with his death the Light loses more than a leader, they lose hope."

"But he saw you, little Viper, as well as your father."

"I know how to silence him, sir." Horris stated, the last part filled with what he hoped sounded like honest eagerness.

"A pure gem, Ammodytus… too bad you killed her, if such children she bears. Go on, Viper," Voldemort nodded, turning to him once more, "The boy is yours." Horris chanced a smile, jerking Ron away. His father joined them a moment later, apparating all three back to Hogwarts.

Horris marched Ron back to the portrait of the fat lady by the arm, not caring if the latter wondered how Horris knew the shortest way to the Gryffindor dorms.

"Well?" he demanded,

"Fat chance, Slytherin scum." Ron spat, stubborn as ever, withholding the password.

"Fair enough." Horris muttered, still using all his willpower not to zap him with one of his venoms. "My fair lady, is Dean inside? Could you call him?" The boy emerged moments later, momentarily confused at the sight of Horris. "Be a pal and let me in, will ya? Ron and I need to talk and he wouldn't survive the dungeons right now…"

"Um…I-"

"Don't make me resort to 'If you don't, I'll tattle'… owing you a favor is much more appealing, isn't it?" He said, scratching his left ear to make his point.

"Um… yeah, c-come on in." 'Asps take care of each other'… whatta you know.

"Thanks." Horris said sweetly. He continued like a green blur up to his old dorm, emptying it with a single glare. Being a Snape definitely had its perks… not that he could enjoy them at the moment. He was livid and only hoped his locking and silencing spells would hold. "WHAT IN HELL WERE YOU THINKING?" He bellowed, his voice pushing Ron onto the nearest bed. "ARE YOU THAT STUPID OR JUST PLAIN SUICIDAL?"

"I-"

"Shut it. You are listening till I'm done, then you might get a chance to save your hide. Got it?" Ron nodded instantly, his mouth clicking shut. "I am going to give Dumbledore a piece of my mind… sending you of all people… that's murder I tell you, cold blooded murder! Everyone and their grandmother knows you are Harry's best mate… oh won't he be livid when he hears… just you wait! How could you even agree to this? What about Hermione? You are supposed to protect her!" The longer he ranted, pacing around the room, Ron's eyes on him as if he was a blast-ended-skrewt, a suppressed realization kept nagging at the back of his mind. He stopped dead in his tracks, engulfing the room in dead silence as he stared at the boy. "You weren't spying, were you, Ron… you actually wanted in…" He said in a strained whisper, voicing his fear.

The silence answered him, proving his point beyond any other reply. "What were you thinking?" He asked once more, his voice coming out cold and low as his rage heated his eyes. "You would have condemned everyone, he'd use them to keep you loyal, he'd make you kill them yourself if they couldn't be turned… don't you even care? Don't you care at all?" He stormed out the door, not trusting himself with his venoms, not knowing if he could keep from hurting him, the idiot! He ordered some first years to move, making them scurry every-which way as he made a bee-line for the portrait hole. The tower suddenly sickened him, his mere presence there made him reek of the imbecile.

"Not so fast Slytherin trash…" someone called, knocking him into the wall, "What did you do to Ron, Death Eater… daddy can't save you here…"

"Check his arm!" Someone else called out, making George violently pull up his sleeve. He spotted Dean and Angelina looking nervous, wanting to help but not daring to blow their cover. A sharp shake of his head told them to stand down, Horris immediately seeing relief in their faces, though no less concern. The Gryffindors couldn't hurt him, not here.

"Clear, damnit! Anyone know illusion-breaking charms?"

"I don't have it, you nitwit… besides, nothing can hide them!" He told them angrily, noting the hate he saw in the eyes of former friends. "I wouldn't follow Him if they paid me- unlike some people…Oy, Ron, get down here and tell your dear brothers to unhand me before I spill the goods and disgrace you… Merlin knows it wouldn't hurt my reputation." It took the boy in question an entire second to come down, a terrified look on his face.

"He doesn't have it guys… he's clean."

"If I ever see you there again, Ronald," Horris said in at least as sinister a tone as his father, "I'll kill you before you can blink… and if anything happens to Granger or your sister, I'll have your head on a platter- got it?" The boy nodded, bewildering the rest of the room. "And you had best thank Merlin I'm not telling Dumbledore."

With that he left, dead set on blowing off some steam as soon as he took care of Draco… or at least checked up on him. He didn't even want to acknowledge Ron Weasley's existence, much less try to figure out the why of things. And he thought his colors looked like Wormtail's – black & grey, death & compromise! The colors… his mind kept highlighting Ron's dream. While he kept saying light and dark gold, there were no light and dark gold, just yellow and gold. Yellow was for the mind – intelligence – which would make it perfect for Hermione, and it was Hermione's main color -- or perhaps, in Ron's case yellow for jealousy and treachery, the secondary reading. Gold for wealth, ambition, recognition, all things that Harry had and Ron didn't; and his grey, compromise – he was willing to compromise his friends and family because of his jealousy.

Did he do it out of anger, then? Because he, Harry left? With Harry gone, the ability to feed off of Harry's fame went with it; while the jealousy that the fame inspired stayed. Ron must have stayed loyal with the thoughts of certain fame and recognition, and perhaps wealth and power, when Harry defeated Voldemort. Now with Harry gone, or at least appearing to be going towards that goal alone, Ron let his jealousy take control and compromised himself, his family- and Hermione, too. Horris couldn't believe Ron would be so petty, until memories of the Tri-Wizard Tournament invaded his fuming mind; he just hoped that Ron would consider his words before it was too late.

"How is he?"

"Better, whatever you did worked… he ought to be fine by morning, you Asps are very resilient after all."

"At least there's some good news…"

"Ron Weasley was not a spy then, I take it?"

"You have no idea how mad I am."

"Actually, I do believe my estimate is rather accurate." His father countered in a tone that neither joked nor scorned, "What were you thinking? You did not obliviate him, did you?"

"Who can he tell? The ministry will not believe anything requiring them to acknowledge Voldemort's return, Dumbledore knows, Voldemort won't take him back and he's as afraid of me as he is of Voldie."

"You take this too lightly, Horatius."

"No, I just can't handle dwelling on the seriousness of it. I'm not treating this like some game, I know what's at stake, honest."

"I know." His father nodded, the fact that he had been playing this game his entire life left unsaid. "You did not tell him you are an Asp, I hope?"

"No, nothing like that."

"You must be careful, you cannot always win in gambles and one bad day could cost you your life and that of everyone you care for…"

"I know. I'll stop; I just couldn't let him get marked…"

"You cannot save everyone, Horatius, you must remember that."

"Yes, sir." Horris looked back at Draco, still lying unconscious on the bed. "What happened?"

"Apparently, the Dark Lord wished to be sure that the Alpha was found."

"And it isn't him?"

"No. He is the Beta however; the medallion would have had far more serious effects on a regular Asp." His father told him, his voice low. "You did not touch it, did you?" Did I? Horris wondered. Yes, there was a medallion like mark around Draco's neck when he had first found him, now that he thought about it, but-

"I don't think so, sir. I don't feel anything wrong, anyways. I was a bit too preoccupied with Draco to watch what I touched at the time, sir, I just injected some healing serum and Lucius pulled him out."

"Tell me if anything feels off. Understood? I do not want you hiding symptoms that could lead to Merlin knows what end because of your Gryffindor bravery. The effect on a regular Asp could be fatal for all I know. Especially to you. How was your scar?"

"Er… I don't know, sir." His father raised a brow, though it was not from amusement. "It didn't hurt at all tonight. I can't imagine why. Are you sure Dumbledore just masked it?"

"Positive. It ought to have stung at least." His father answered, a pondering look crossing his features. "We must be cautious of all of them now, Horatius, Draco is powerful and if the Alpha is indeed stronger than he…" Severus let the sentence hang in the air, both knowing just what was at stake. After a silent moment, Horris took a clear vial, filling it with his healing venom.

"Here, in case he needs it."

"Are you going to sleep?"

"No, too many thoughts flying around…"

"Do you need some Dreamless Sleep potion?" His father tried again.

"No, I just need to think. I look forward to tomorrow's talk by the way." Horris added sarcastically.

"I am very proud of you, Horatius; you know that, you handled tonight better than I had hoped."

"Goodnight." Horris answered, stepping out. He wished the night hadn't happened, he didn't want to think about it or anything else associated with it.

Horris wandered the empty corridors for a bit, the colors and Ron bothering him to no end. Any way he sliced it, Harry's disappearance was the cause of Ron's switch, the inciting incident at least. Merlin knows how long the boy had been thinking over the move. He eventually ended up in the room he used to escape potions class, once again training to exhaust his mind. He usually just used his room for training nowadays, no one ever entered without knocking anyway… This room could calm him in a way his own couldn't, and today he truly needed the peace and quiet it provided.

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