27 : Marked
The return trip to the ever-present circular meeting ground seemed drenched in a sense of foreboding for Horris, an impalpable warning that not all was right in the world- far from it. It was as if he had built a gigantic house of cards on the grass and the winds were picking up. He was at Voldemort's left again, the other Asps facing him and Draco.
"Horatiuss, we all make missstakess- do we not?"
Voldemort nodded in approval. Now Horris knew something was wrong.
"Will you accept that you have made sssuch a mistake, my Viper?"
"If I have made it sir." Horris agreed, trying to remember what Voldemort could mean.
"Very well. Come!" Voldemort called out, a figure emerging from the shadows.
"Weasley!" Horris called out at once, wondering if he could perhaps muster enough fire to barbecue him on the spot.
"Now now," Voldemort tsked, placing a cold hand on his shoulder, "I will not have my boysss killing each other…"
Weasley smirked, undoubtedly trying to provoke him.
"Kneel." Weasley complied to Voldemort's harsh order and it was Horris' turn to smirk. As much as he wished the boy had stayed away, as much as he wouldn't wish this on anyone, at least he'd hear the traitor scream…
He'd seen initiations through his scar, heard grown men cry bloody murder as the sadistic bastard made the pain stretch as long as possible. It was a humbling of sorts, proof that Voldemort could and would hurt you at will and you couldn't lift a bloody finger in protest. Voldemort approached slowly, thankfully leaving him and Draco behind. He looked like some evil predator stalking his pray, savoring the sweat that already started flowing down Weasley's face.
"Arm." The hand was shaking as it rose slowly, only to be jerked violently by Voldemort. And then the screams began as the predator held his pray, muttering a chant as he drew his insignia into the youthful flesh.
Though Horris heard no words, though he had long-ago learned their meaning as if pulled from the monster's mind, though sinister their meanings were, far crueler was the sound he heard of cold mutterings and pained screams. It rose on the air and in the mind, audible yet abstract and strained as it sang a painful tune over and over and over and over.
My cold corpse
You'll never mourn.
But mourn he did. These were still Ron's screams that filled the cold night, still his soul dying, his family he had forsaken, endangered, disgraced.
Then they stopped, silence no more comforting than the shrill and strident cries.
Horris saw the boy before him, no older than he, struggle to stand. He failed, as did all in his visions, the pain of the charred flesh overwhelming their systems.
"Up!" Voldemort barked once more, a part of Horris hoping R- Weasley would comply. A Cruciatus would come next… never helping matters.
Get up Ron! A part of him screamed, another silencing it. He was no friend of his… he was a Deatheater, no different at all. He was on his knees again, apparently saving him from additional agony- for now.
"You ssaid you had a gift- a token of loyaltiesss."
"Y- yes My Lord… I d-do."
Horris noticed the fear in the boy's eyes… he had expected it… but he did not expect it directed at him.
"Accio cage." Weasley said, his voice slowly returning to normal. A small golden birdcage flew towards him, complete with a-
"A songbird? I expected better from Potter'ss…. Friend."
"A Mockingbird Master…" Ron softly corrected, a sadistic smile on his face.
Horris knew. Worse yet, he knew Ron Weasley knew he knew. Horris saw the bird clearly now, stressed and afraid with ruffled feathers and terror-filled eyes. It was jumping on its perch, desperate to get out, get free.
"This is no ordinary bird my Lord." Weasley stated, shooting the creature with a stunning spell, tossing the now-limp creature onto the cold stone. He mumbled a spell, the same spell Remus had used years ago, forcing the shift.
Horris tightened his grip on the back of Voldemort's chair, as if trying to suffocate one of the many iron serpents that wove in and out. He prepared to see Hermione emerge from the mess of feathers, some already twisting and curling into her long amber locks. He had already seen her sad eyes in the bird, knew it was her form as soon as the brown orbs met his. She was already stirring from the stunning spell, still shifting back into herself. The process seemed drawn out, foreign, as if she had only now truly established her form. Yes, Horris was ready to see his Lea, but he was not ready for-
"Potter's Mudblood, My Lord, his little songbird." Ron announced, jerking her to her feet by the scalp.
She yelped, already shaking from the cold. She looked to Horris, hope in her eyes as she started to call him. He quickly jerked his head, motioning her to stay quiet, hoping she doesn't think he was betraying her as well.
"Thiss is Granger?" Voldemort questioned, sounding overly-amused. "How fitting she ssshould be a sssongbird. Sing little songbird, ssssing."
She was trembling again, her silence earning her another push into the snow. The nightgown she had on was soaked now, shielding her form neither snow nor eye. Her lips had already started to turn blue, her bare feet frostbitten and her teeth chattering involuntarily.
"Do what our Lord said, mudblood, or need you some motivation?" Weasley called, laughing as he raised his wand, the pain from the mark still present in his eyes.
Horris could feel his anger, his sweat rolling off him and his knuckles turning white. He couldn't save him, but he'd be damned if he'd lose her too.
"First Rights!" He called out, moving before Voldemort could interfere. In one smooth motion he unclipped his cloak, tossing it around her shaking shoulders as he pulled her up and infused the cloak with a warming charm. "Draco!" He called over his shoulder, authority charades be damned. "Trust him, don't leave Hogwarts." He whispered in her ear, handing her over to the blonde. "Take her to my room Dragon, now." His eyes must have been begging to be allowed to kill Ron, making the blonde chance no more than a mere glance at Voldemort before obediently popping out. Two safe, one to kill.
"What in hell are you-"
"Shut it Weasley." Horris growled, "she's mine and you know it."
"I thought you tired of the kitty…" Weasley mocked, stepping forward.
"You think you're all big and bad now, just because you happen to be a snake?"
Weasley faltered at the words, confirming Horris' suspicion.
"Oh, didn't tell Voldemort your Animagus- did you? Didn't tell him why my fire element woke, how a Boa tried to kill me?" Horris pulled on a stolid smirk, "Learn your place Deatheater, I'm a flaming Viper, able to kill you at a glance. That mark," Horris grabbed the tender arm, making Weasley cry out at the sudden pressure, "That mark deletes all your chances for help." He continued at a whisper, loud enough only for the boy to hear, "You're at my mercy; the Ministry, Dumbledore, they'll kill you before they help you. Voldemort- an Asp, any Asp is worth a hundred Deatheaters- he wouldn't sacrifice me for you. You're at the mercy of every single person here snake, don't try my patience."
"Yes sir?" Horris asked, whirling to face Voldemort.
"You two," He called the nearest Asps, "escort Weasley to a cell." They didn't move.
Horris couldn't see them, give them any signal without Voldemort or Ron spotting him. Oh Merlin, damn it all! "Well, what are you waiting for? Dump him in a bloody cell NOW!" Either way he would have found out, tomorrow if not today, or at the next meeting, or the one after that. The shocked Asps scurried to their charge, practically running out.
Voldemort roughly grabbed him by the shoulder, spinning him back around. Horris didn't look him in the eye. He couldn't. For the first time he was actually afraid.
"I see I was correct." Five words. Five little words that proved to Horris that whatever happened next, could not possibly be good. "The time has come to learn your place child."
Horris' mind raced, trying to figure out what could be done. Dean and Cho were still busy with Ron; the others…
"Leave… all of you, now!" He called out, hearing pops fill the air just as Dean and Cho returned. "Raven, leave." He told her bluntly, leaving no room for discussion. "Wolf, tell dad not to try anything if I don't come back today, tell him I know what I'm doing. Tell Draco to make sure he stays at Hogwarts, Lea too. Got it?" He asked quietly, raising his voice to add "I'll be returning by Voldemort's wish or not at all."
"Leave." There, he was alone, only Voldemort to deal with.
"You do this freely I take it?"
Merlin help me…Draco led Lea quickly through the forest, straight into the Slytherin dorms and Horris' room. She hadn't said a word. At least no one spotted them… though Draco feared that was where their luck would end.
"You alright?" He asked, only to have reality slap him in the face. "Merlin! I'm… I meant are you hurt… of course you're far from peachy… you spend too much time with Horris you know, you're already acquiring his glaring ability… " He commented, pouting as his mind seemed to do cartwheels and pirouettes. Nothing like this had ever happened to him. The endless 'How to handle' directory for Malfoys his parents had drilled into him had not said anything about how to make someone calm down after a life-threatening experience… it had said how a Malfoy ought handle it, but somehow he doubted she'd do that. Why had this happened? Horris had always kept his cool, always came out on top, always knew exactly what to do or say to get his way. He always carried an endless supply of aces up his sleeve, prepared for anything…
Draco couldn't handle this right now, he was exhausted, confused and bloody terrified by it all. Lea still didn't say anything. She was sitting on the bed, wrapped in the covers and cloak, staring at him as if he sprouted a second head.
Muttering something about having asked a house elf to bring her a change of clothes, he practically ran out of the room. He could see several Asps treading out of the forest through the slit of a window in the common room, Horris tragically nowhere in sight. He had to find out, and it couldn't be from Grim or Pony. Cheetah would be of little help either. He needed a Ravenclaw or… or Gryffindor. He passed the Slytherins, making his way in the general direction of the hall, only to arrive too late. They had all run back to bed already, their pace foreboding at the least. Something had them scared out of their wits, if only Draco knew what.
"DRAGON!" Someone called, just as he was about to go back himself. The blond swirled 'round, facing the Gryffindor.
"Message from Viper…"
"Far from it… not even he could get out of this one…"
Draco massaged his temples, this was bad." Message?" He asked irritably.
"The professor is to be kept in the castle at all costs, he's not to go looking for him. Lea too."
"He's not coming back?" Draco almost screamed,
"didn't sound like it… not today at least. Said he knew what he was doing though…"
"Of course he did… he's too bloody Gryffindor to say otherwise!" Draco spat, his fears realized. Horris would say he was fine no matter what, they all knew it, they all made sure he knew they knew it too.
"He's still a Slytherin." Wolf pointed out, "Be glad he isn't Gryffindor enough to wear red, not green."
"If he was, it'd be blood he'd wear." Draco muttered, his head pounding now, "Have you told the Professor yet?"
"Are you crazy? I need at least five Asps with me or he'll run sooner than you can say 'oops'."
"Well, what am I supposed to do about it?"
Wolf shot him an odd look, "You're Beta." He said slowly, "Order me some backup…."
"Oh, right." Draco almost blushed, he had totally forgotten. Merlin! He'd have to keep them all in line now… this was not good!
"Dragon? You want me to tell them to come?" The Gryffindor offered, obviously aware that he had lost Draco with the responsibility, "Raven, Harpy, Stingray, you and I alright?"
"No." Draco shook his head, "Not Stingray, Scorpion." Stingray was only a fourth year, and quite honestly, Draco really didn't want to order Slytherins right now. They were loyal to Horris, not him, if they chose to listen to Horris' father he'd have a world of trouble. Gryffindors and Ravenclaws at least didn't have the man as their head of house… they wouldn't be too wary to cross him- Gryffindors especially. Merlin knew the professor gave them hell regardless of what they did… Merlin, he missed Horris already!"I have been far too soft on you Horatiuss, I had thought a taste of power would allow you to give me your loyalty freely, come to me with your secrets of your own free will. Instead it has only made you arrogant and headstrong…" Voldemort lectured, eyes never leaving Horris.
"If this is about the mudblood sir…" Horris tried carefully, "I simply have a problem with people taking what is mine."
"The mudblood wasss nothing!" The dark lord snapped back, the hiss returning as he seemed to lose his temper, "play with her as you will. She is worth less than dirt, if you find uses for her than so be it. I can give you twenty more… " He paused, standing to his full height. "What does disturb me is your behavior. You knew as well as I that you were Alpha, yet you did not tell me of your discovery. You kept the little dragon pretending before me… perhaps in that bloody school as well."
His crimson eyes gleamed dangerously again, "You have kept secretsss from me my little serpent, secrets you will reveal. You had your chance… I refuse to learn of your powersss from petty beggarsss, hoping to be taken into my service."
"You question my loyalties sir?" Horris asked, already knowing the answer as he tried to seem shocked and appalled. Voldemort was nearing him now, like a cat about to catch his next meal.
"I had hoped not to have to resort to thisss, not to any of you, but you have left me no choice child… it is the only way to be sure of your loyaltiessss."
The instant Voldemort grabbed his arm Horris knew what it meant; resist and die, accept his fate and perchance live a moment more. His luck had finally run out again, abandoning him at the worst possible moment. Voldemort's wand was above his arm now, seconds ticking by like hours. No help this time; no Dumbledore, no Asps, not even his father. He had made sure of it himself…
Pain. Pain beyond pain, a thousand times worse than the Cruciatus. He could only try not to collapse from the pain, not to fall to his knees before the monster, not to look like Weasley had no more than an hour ago. But he could not restrain his scream…