44 : Buried Skeletons
Horatius pulled the cloak tighter around him, feeling the night air sneak upon him. Only moments ago, it seemed, he was walking the paths around the manor and basking in the beautiful sunset. Now, however, he had to strain his Aspian sight to its full extent to see anything on this moonless night. Before him stood a structure that seemed older than time itself, the small entrance so moss-covered and weatherworn. The four by two foot door was cut right into the far side of the hill, impossible to see from the only path that led towards it. The stones that outlined the arched entrance were smooth and rounded from countless years of exposure, the writing engraved in the headstone appearing nearly invisible now, illegible certainly. Beyond the arch, curtained by the branches of an overhanging weeping willow, steps descended deep inside the earth, as if reaching for the core itself. They too were lined in small round stones, made slippery and slanted by the years of use. He entered, hardening his resolve, as a part of his mind annoyingly questioned his choice. But he had to go down, the rational part of his mind snapped back, he had to make sure security around the manor had not been breached. The only reason his father had let him come here, after all, had been to scout some good places to train the Asps and to alert the overjoyed house-elves of the extra charges that were due to arrive next week. He had found a suitable field a while back, and he had alerted the house elves long ago. The only reason he was still here, actually, was because he saw no better way to spend the remainder of his Saturday than walking around the Manor, getting to know the place. As he had walked the many paths, a serene smile upon his face, the very air seemed to greet him! Every tree bowed before him in the gentle wind, the birds hailed him from their wooden perches and the distant waterfall murmured his name. He was where he belonged. He was home. Honestly, who would have wanted to go back to school?
But no, the serenity couldn't last he mused as he entered the womb of Mother Earth herself. He had to enter sideways through the slim entry, though the shaft did quickly spread out and grow tall enough for him to walk upright. The air inside the tunnel was stale, tinted with an old, mossy smell. The passage, climbing ever deeper into the ground, was lined in similarly cut stones that now seemed silver in the near absence of light. Their eternal presence seemed to tighten the already small tunnel, making Horris glad he was not claustrophobic. He shook his head, trying to focus on the faint wand light ahead. The person to whom it belonged, whomever it may be, was the sole reason for his trek into this less-than-pleasant hole. He had first seen the intruder on his way back towards the Manor at dusk, and he could not ignore the person's presence. If security had been breached around the estate, Horris had no choice but to address the problem. The Asps could not train with onlookers, tactics could not be discussed, Horris could not relax and any leaks in their preparations to leave Voldemort would prove disastrous. Whoever this was, they could cross the wards and their presence had seemingly no effect on the tigers (Sila and his dear Pazur). Those two could usually sense anything bigger than an ant, only allowing admittance onto the grounds to those a Snape had cleared. Horris knew his father would have told him if anyone was supposed to come today, and even if they have been allowed to come whenever (though Horris doubted his father would allow just anyone such access), Horris would still have to tell them to stay away for the next few weeks. So, making sure to mask his aura (a skill far easier than actually reading it), Horris followed the unwanted presence.
When the tunnel turned, the darkness became twice as pressing, the faint gray glow from outside being sharply cut from view. Before him, the wand light was fading as well, and he dared not light his own. He could hear someone talking faintly, the feminine voice distorted as it echoed from the many stone walls. The woman's words were slurred to his ears, indecipherable. They seemed sad though, apologetically mournful even. With a final turn the narrow tunnel ended, opening into a large chamber. Horris suddenly felt extremely vulnerable for some reason, as if the cave had eaten him and had stuffed him securely into its stomach. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the far-brighter light of torches, but Horatius Ferox Snape remained frozen long after he could see. He froze because he could see; for what he saw was the last thing he had expected. When he first started following the figure… the woman, he had expected the tunnel to be some sort of meeting place or secret way out of the protected grounds. Either option would explain why the entrance was located on the side of the hill opposite the only path in the area, why the said path seemed so unused and why the structure was not noted on his little map as anything more than a dead end with an illegible scribble for a name. As far as Horris had figured, the early Snapes had made this tunnel an escape rout if the Manor had been attacked and they needed to leave without letting the wards down. It was quite near the manor, just far enough not to be noticed but easily reachable in an emergency... Muggle castles had secret passages, after all, and the weeping willow atop the hill did a rather good job of hiding the small entrance, after all. If it had once had a door on it, or a notice-me-not charm, none would be the wiser. But, as Horris was quickly learning, few things about the Snapes were ever as it first seemed.
Long, narrow labs of Blue Pearl Granite ran the length of the chamber, stretching down as far as the eye could see. The near-black slabs with their shining blue spots of exquisite quality were intricately carved on the sides, detailed in delicate silver. The metal and iridescent spots of the stone reflected the flickering torchlight, reflecting the Snape family colors. The floor, too, was laid in the expensive stone, with a large Snape crest laid out at the entrance. The crest, too, was made of different types of granite or marble, most of which Horris could not name. Silver connected the different stones in the crest, a thicker vein of it connecting the design to the rest of the floor. The entire thing seemed to be made of a single piece, whether through magic or simple age Horris was uncertain. This, however, was not what caught the boy so unawares. No, it was what lay upon the raised alters that froze him as no Stupefy could. Atop these beds, as if in a calm and peaceful slumber, countless bodies lay. They all looked alive, by means of what Horris assumed were heavy-duty preservation charms. There was no smell, beyond the normal humid musk most underground structures held, but Horris still felt off. It was one thing to know your family was ancient, while quite another to see them all laid out before you in timeless glory.
When he finally pulled his gaze away from his ancestors and looked for the woman, he realized his inner musings must have taken longer than he thought. The woman was looking straight at him now, and she was the very woman he had seen in Professor McGonagall's office; the same person he was supposed to keep away from… his father was not going to like this… he wouldn't like this at all.
"Who the hell are you?"
"I should be asking you that… you are trespassing, after all." Horris countered, mimicking her exact tone, flashing his most intimidating smirk as he noted a bit of uncertainty flash in her eyes.
"You… you're that kid from Minnie's office." She mumbled after a moment of thought. "The one Lord Snape is so interested in."
"Not a pureblood," she noted the moment she heard his slip, her tone annoyingly calculative. "Interesting. I would have thought he'd at least suck up to a pureblood, being what he is and all…"
"My-" Horris snapped his mouth shut in an instant. Defending his father's reputation had long ago become instinct. Many students had loved to note (indirectly) of his father's supposed alliances, as had the people around Hogsmeade. At times, Horris truly hated that the Death Eater trials were public. This time, however, he'd have to curb his tongue.
"My?" Abby questioned, reeling over the reasons why a student would call Severus 'his'.
"My Professor." The kid snapped back at once, clearly seeing his mistake. The lie would have worked, too, had she not known Severus for so long… if she could tell when he lied, she could tell when anyone lied.
She smiled sadistically, "I'm sure that is all he is." Abby had to hand it to the kid, he could control his emotions better than most. She almost didn't see his nervousness. This nervousness did, however, raise a certain unsettling question…. Was this boy… No, she shook her head slightly, though she could call Severus many things, but that was not among them. Of that she was sure. So what was this kid's relationship with Sev? Student-teacher it wasn't, of that she was as sure of as that they weren't… like that. So how were they? Minerva had noted the boy was important to Severus, and if he had come here the boy was certainly close to Sev… He wouldn't let anyone come here, especially not alone. Seeing as Severus was not coming here screaming with his wand poised at her head, the boy was quite alone. He had let the boy go to his quarters at school alone too, come to think of it…
Abby studied the kid, unable to solve the riddle.
"What's your name?"
"None of your business." The boy shot back, leaning against the wall.
"Manners are not your forte I see?"
"I have them, when needed."
"Severus is rubbing off on you." She noted, only to see the boy smirk triumphantly. "That was not a compliment kid." She sighed, still studying him. He stood stoutly, arms folded across his chest. His facial expression reminded her of a young Lucius perhaps, though this child seemed far less conceited. He looked like Severus, come to think of it, to an almost distinct degree. He had Sev's smirk, for starters, a smirk she had grown up with. He probably had Sev's glare too, judging by the brow structure… Severus always loved his high brows; perfect for glaring.
"I asked what your name was."
"And I asked why you were trespassing." The boy said in return.
"I highly doubt you are a new security measure…"
"But I am another obstacle between you and the exit."
"You think you're a threat?"
"It isn't wise to underestimate me."
"Me neither kid, and I can use magic outside of school."
As much as she was loath to admit it, the kid scared her… especially when he scowled like that. At least she now knew what Severus saw in the brat… the boy was entirely too much like him. It was like time-turning back to her childhood, testing wills with Severus. For some reason, the boy could put her on-edge as only her uncle could… a skill not even dear Severus possessed. If she didn't know any better, she'd say this was said Uncle's child, but the man had made a point of staying single and heirless. Why hadn't the cats done anything to him? He was obviously here alone, and she knew full well how the tigers loved to chase strangers off the grounds… and the only way for a non-Snape to be allowed here alone was if Severus had permanently made them ignorant of the boy's blood… an unpleasant procedure at best.
She looked him over once more, trying to place him. He felt so familiar, his appearance that is, so he just had to belong to an old family. Dark hair crossed out the Malfoys and LeStranges, he was too tall for the Macnairs… His green eyes got rid of the Blacks…
She tried looking at his wand, but he (oddly enough) hadn't drawn it. She couldn't get a good view of the cloak clasp either, his arms crossed right over it. Damn those kids and their fashion statements! All she could see was a little of a deep blue background… that could be Black, Wikes, Rosier, Dolokov, Snape and Chang… if she assumed him to be of a traditionally dark family.
"I don't believe it!" She practically screamed when the kid finally shifted. She knew that crest, she loathed that crest, she had worn that crest!
The kid's eyes widened at her outburst, though he regained his composure in an instant.
"You're adopted." She snapped after looking for any plausible explanation, "Severus needed an heir so he adopted you."
"Why the hell does everyone think that?" Horris growled. Was it really so hard to accept that he was a Snape? He could have AK-ed himself for forgetting to hide the clasp, but he knew that it would be useless to deny it now.
"Who are you?"
"Horatius Ferox Snape." He deadpanned, knowing that if she knew who he was, his name could do no more damage.
"And your real name?"
"Horatius Ferox Snape."
"And before you were adopted?"
"I was not adopted."
"Unless Severus cooked you up in one of those gigantic cauldrons, you're not his. "
"He was married you know."
"Not to your mother he wasn't. His wife and I knew each other since her third year, and you are no child of hers."
"Are you going to claim I'm not my father's son as well?" He questioned coldly. He made sure his tone implied disagreement with her earlier statement, but technically he hadn't lied. He wondered how well this woman had known his real mother, wondered if she might endanger them far more than his father feared. No one had questioned his parentage before, not his mother's side, anyway.
"You might be Severus'… I'll give him that, though him using an adoptive potion on you is still my first inclination."
"How about you tell me who in seven hells you are, seeing as you're so knowledgeable about my family."
"You don't know? You, who claim to be the great Snape heir, don't know? How like Severus to keep things of such importance secret… even from the heir that is supposed to knw everything about his family!" She mocked him, making him redouble his glare.
He hated not knowing things, an attitude forged after years of being told on a need-to-know basis. She had insinuated his father did not trust him! But Horris knew he did, his father told him things, he wasn't Dumbledore!
"Even Lucius tells his son all he needs to know to be able to take over the family at any given moment."
Horatius smirked, not about to be abashed by this woman… whomever she was. "Perhaps dad simply trusts me to run things my way?"
The woman was visibly taken back by his rebuttal, as he knew she would. Draco, even when only with Horris or Lea, never called Lucius 'dad'… always 'father'.
"Perhaps." She agreed after a long silence, a thoughtful look on her face. "I would assume, however, that he would still feel it necessary to inform you of the family conflicts, feuds and alliances."
"Or he might have simply not seen you as important enough to warrant a full lecture and details…"
Her eyes clouded over, "Yes, perhaps he did. It has been years, after all."
"You still have not answered my question." The boy reminded her once more. She wondered if Severus had truly changed as Minerva seemed to think, or had he made this boy think he was not being manipulated. Did the boy even know of Severus' alliances? The boy was so sure of himself, yet he was so unlike all the heirs she had met.
Definitely not like the other heirs.
"I asked you who you were, not what your name was."
"I am your teacher's daughter-in-law."
"That doesn't tell me why you're supposedly dangerous."
"I switched sides." she answered, shrugging. "I know dark secrets of many families and am unafraid to use them."
"Many people know secrets… what makes you different?"
She sighed at his question. The more he spoke the more sure she was that Severus had indeed sired the boy. This kid certainly had Sev's biting tone and calculating mental abilities. Most people would have accepted (did accept) the reason she just gave him. But no, not a Snape. She knew better than most how hard it was to fool a Snape… she had been one, after all.