53 : Somber Sunset
When Horris and the other Asps reached the clearing, they stopped, taking in the sight. The place felt like an Auror's worst nightmare, he reflected. Before them stretched a sea of dull, grayish-black cloaks that contrasted sharply with their silver-lined jade. Above the lake, the sun still lingered, a sight not met on these meetings. Usually, these awful things started at midnight, when all the good little kids were long asleep, after the Auror shifts ended. But today, today the sky bled crimson, spreading its velvety glow onto the gathered horde, letting each individual head be illuminated, distinct and imposing, instead of the usual way the numbers blurred and united into a single mass. Death Eaters were everywhere it seemed, thousands of them, some having come hours ago, long before sunset. Today, they were all gathered, and the reality of their numbers was unmistakable, sending shivers down Horris' spine. Voldemort did that purposefully, Horris knew, as much for his own feeling of greatness as to instill the fear of him in others. The entire place was packed tighter than a beehive, each servant hoping to be close enough to see and hear at least a tidbit of what was to go on, each practically on top of the one before him. Merlin! Still, with a big breath, he straightened the robes Voldemort had insisted on, lifted his head and began to walk right into the crowd, the Asps falling in line behind him. The long, rosy rays were falling now, a few still seeping between the trees as the sun sank below the horizon, plummeting the world into a steady darkness. In the twilight, the sea of hoary robes parted, each Death Eater almost frantic to make sure he did not stand the way of the Asps. Everyone knew about their venoms and other 'gifts', after all, and in their eyes the youths were as ruthless as Voldemort. As they would make way for Him, out of sheer fear for their lives, they made way for the Asps, allowing them to walk straight into the small clearing at the center of the gathering where Voldemort had appeared only a minute before. The Death Eaters pushed into each other, sandwiching whoever was unfortunate to stand between two brutes. They leaned away and didn't dare so much as yelp when another crushed their feet. No, they parted in utter silence, making a path a quarter mile long for the Asps to strut through before closing back a short distance behind them. There was unadulterated fear in every one of their eyes, Horris noticed, forcing his eyes not to linger. This was it, no turning back, no way to turn back, really.
Even with Draco to his right and the other Asps behind him, Horris felt strangely alone, in a way he hadn't since he found his Dad, his reality. His father was now inside this mass, at the very front where Horris would emerge. He was the Ammodytus, after all, a fitting name considering Horris was dubbed the Viper. He still remembered how Lea, Hermione then, had returned from her trip to the library only to remark how fitting the name really was… 'Well, he's as horned-nosed as they come, I reckon' she had huffed, before explaining everything in detail. He smirked at the memory, making several more figures jump out of his way when they caught the glint in his eyes. Oh well, at least he had calmed himself a bit, though it would probably not last long… No, it would not last long at all, not with the way Horris continued to weaken. Something was off, and the sense of dread would not leave him be. It was stronger than what he felt during Christmas, but at least now he knew what he felt so weary of… the thing he was presently walking towards, head high, his body on automatic pompous Asp mode. Merlin he wished he could just run off… one well-placed curse and…
When they had tested the effectiveness of the Rite of Passage, several things came up. His father was relieved that it had worked, even if it was not what they had hoped for, while Horris felt utter failure. Sure, he could stop it, most times, but he still could neither incite it nor keep his wits about him while under the blasted thing like Sirius could... and he still needed the blasted potions to keep himself from going under it at the meeting. Sure, the dose was smaller now, but he still felt as if there was a huge boulder on his back as far as magic was concerned… and he couldn't even think about using his wand. At least his eyes weren't black… he mused sadly, doubting Voldemort would find Horris' current condition as appealing as his father had. Nope, Horris was willing to bet the first thing Voldemort would do was test his condition, then order him to take the Dark Lord as his anchor. The chessboard metaphor seeped back into his mind, noting how much like the pawn he was, a space away from the other side of the board, about to be traded in for the ever-useful and loyal Queen in service of his Master King. Yes, Voldemort certainly did see it that way, didn't he? Trade the wildcard for a dependable, powerful entity. He had entered the world as the dependable black bishop, destined to stand at the King's right, only to be taken by the white pawn, turning into it. But a black one turned him back once more, putting him in his present position, creeping ever closer to the opposite end of the board where he could turn into the illustrious Queen. Into the highest slave, lowest master and most valued weapon. One more move, one more square… and it would all be over. Checkmate, two moves, and no way for the white side to change the outcome before it was too late… not unless the pawn turned into a knight of its own accord, jumping away from both duty and danger, forging its own agenda.
But he couldn't do that now, could he? No, the scared faces, his venoms, his experiences told him all he needed to know about what happened to those who didn't mind the rules… both sides abandoned them and tried to destroy them at the same time. Who'd he turn to? Dumbledore? The man would be just as bad as Voldemort. Both needed security, both demanded it, both forced it. He could make it on his own, probably, but he could not force his Asps to do that, and they could not remain with either Voldemort or Dumbledore unless he was there as well… as much freedom as he has tried to maintain for them, some inbred truths he could not negate. Besides, any order from him they would still be obliged to follow, and neither of the Chess Masters could afford to harbor that kind of liability. Perhaps Dumbledore would, for a while, but even then, their existence would be one of forced isolation, underlying animosity and fear. No, whatever they did, they were stuck in this together…
"My Lord," he greeted the monster, half-kneeling with the other Asps mimicking his action in an arch behind him.
"Viper…" Voldemort acknowledged him, and though Horris' own eyes were downcast at the moment, he could feel the blood-red orbs scanning him, looking for something like a snake eyeing his kill. Ignoring the act, Horris stood back up, waiting to be allowed to take his usual place at the monster's side and leave the figurative spotlight in the small clearing allotted before the Inner Circle and what the Death Eaters had privately begun to call the 'Asp Core', as he had once overheard while inside Voldemort's manor.
"Have you overcome the sssetback you exssperianced?" his 'Master' asked suggestively,
"I have, My Lord."
"Iss that so?"
"Yes, My Lord," Horris repeated.
"Come," Voldemort ordered, his voice suddenly sharp. "You are not yet Shadowed child, explain yourself!"
"My Lord, Asps-" Horris tried to explain, stalling a second too late with just a slither too much of a pleading quality in his voice. Voldemort didn't notice, apparently, and neither did anyone else, but Horris couldn't believe how scared he suddenly felt, knowing what Voldemort might ask of him. "Asps do not Shadow as normal children, apparently, My Lord," he rephrased, his voice sounding calm and collected once again. "This seems to be as far as the Soulshadow will recede."
"Possesss you any danger?" Voldemort asked, more passively, probably reeling in the unease that Horris could swear radiated off him in waves.
"I can stop a Frenzy anytime, My Lord." He assured, a small drop of defiance lining his voice, though he had not truly tested his success rate beyond the two tries they had time to force, from which he still felt drained, even before he had taken the blasted potion. To his amazement, Voldemort actually sat back with that answer, giving him a slight dismissive nod by which Horris excused him self to Voldemort's right, and the other Asps fell into their respective positions. He caught his father's eye for a moment, reading the look of approving concern before his Dad's blank mask washed over his features. Horris followed the example, hoping the matter was over and done with. He knew it wasn't, naturally, but he thanked Merlin that Voldemort decided to push it off till later. It would probably be last on the night's agenda, Horris now noted, so that the ceremony could be known of by all, but only seen by the few (if any).Draco watched as Horris finally gave in and let his mask fall, leaning tiredly against the door he had just closed. He really did push himself too much… not that Draco could blame him; he wouldn't want to show weakness before the Dark Lord either. Thank Merlin Voldemort had allowed them to finally leave… not that the meeting was over, mind you.
"Was I that obvious?" Horris sighed tiredly,
"You can't help it if your body can't handle the potions, Frenzies, Venoms and everything…" Draco cautioned, "You're lucky He let us go…"
"He noticed, that's why," Horris chastised him, though he needn't have. Draco was extremely aware that Voldemort knew Horris had been on the verge of collapse for a good half hour before he removed the Asps from the audience. Most of the inner circle could tell, Draco figured, but those were almost all parents of Asps themselves. Apparently, Voldemort didn't want to make Horris look weak in front of the lesser minions, who Draco was sure had not noticed anything wrong with Horris. He had hidden it rather well, actually, besides the labored breathing towards the end. The Asps knew the instant he started to get fatigued, of course, having been around him so long, and his father had gained that glint in his eye… the one he had whenever he could not be openly worried about his son. Oh, if only Draco's own father had ever as much as hinted that he actually cared….
"Asps, Voldemort, probably a good part of the inner circle," Draco repeated his thoughts as Horris pulled them back from the dangerous turn they were taking… jealousy was never a good emotion to have. "Perhaps you could take some-"
"No." Horris cut off Draco's offer, "No potions, they won't help. It's the blasted Soulshadow… I'm still not rested from the Deathfrenzy and this warped version seems intent on sucking me dry. I just need to rest a bit… how long before we have to go back?"
"I know he spoke to you, about me, now how long did he give me?" Horris asked again, sternly this time.
"Oh, right." Voldemort had spoken to him, right after he declared the short recess in the meeting, demanding to know why his Viper was behaving so oddly. Draco had told him that he assumed it was because of the Soulshadow/ Deathfrenzy/ Dark Magic crap (in far more curbed vocabulary, of course), which led to him gaining a rather frightening lecture (even though his manor was anything but disrespectful in any way…) on why doing such things (the Deathfrenzy, Draco assumed) without Voldemort's consent was unadvisable. "He said he'll send someone by after a while... he didn't give an exact time though."
"That's great… could you at least guess Draco?"
"Hour or two? He said he didn't need us there for the mundane portion anyway, so I assume he'll call us for the finale… you know how he likes to make his exits."
"Draco, we're the finale," Horris insisted, exhausted. "I am, at least… he's planning something Draco, I can feel it."
"Something that requires no one to see that I have a weakness," Horris continued, either not hearing or simply ignoring Draco's protest. "What do you think it is Draco?"
Draco agreed that Voldemort didn't want his Death Eaters to see Horris as anything but strong and loyal… almost regal in some sense. Boy, must Voldemort be ticked now…
Horris had been alright mostly, at first he seemed perfectly fine, but for some reason just standing at Voldemort's side seemed to suck strength from Horris to the point when he swayed slightly, though not enough to be seen from anywhere but close up. He lasted a few hours, at least, which was hopefully enough.
"I don't know, Horris," he told him, sighing.
"I think he wants to anchor me to him, I think he wants me to stay here with him.""You please me, Ammodytus…" The icy voice of Voldemort told Professor Snape calmly, his tone layered with a daunting spunk. Draco knew that they were in trouble… whenever Voldemort called the Professor by his old name it meant trouble, big trouble. "Your son is most intriguing," he continued, looking to Horris, an almost fond glint in his eye as Draco could tell Horris forced himself to stare straight ahead, probably seeing the monster only from the corner of his eye, "he shall serve me well." Draco nearly missed how the statement made Horris' hand jerk slightly, making his hood slide down. He was still weak, Draco knew, and the shock could not bode well at all. Voldemort had allowed him a few hours rest while he spoke of the normal stuff with his minions, the things the Asps would normally have just stood around and gotten bored during, but it had been far from enough. Wormtail had called them back to the meeting site, for which Draco had cursed his ass quite thoroughly, only to find Horris' father standing at the center of the ring. "He will make a fine heir to my throne."… Merlin, Horris was right! His father looked no better, to tell the truth, his eyes glazed over slightly, as if he was seeing something that was not really there but in his very mind.
"Are you alright father?" Horris asked, turning his eyes on his father. Draco could almost make out surprise and fear on the man's face, and they could not afford to show Voldemort their true feelings, especially not now. "Father?" Horris asked again, allowing a subtle concern to now seep into his voice. His father really looked frozen, as if Horris had suddenly turned into Fluffy or something… Horris was also fighting to remain in control, Draco noted, but the Professor had never buckled before. If even he couldn't take it…
"Answer him, Severus…" Voldemort pressed, now slightly sneering. Draco knew he was waiting for Horris' father to answer Voldemort's own question as well, to give the necessary compliance in order to make Voldemort's claim official.
"Fine," his father assured, though there was no sincerity in it. Horris wondered why he had sounded so vexed at his question, so out of touch with everything.
"You are happy, aren't you father?" Horris asked, meaning Voldemort's revelation. He knew Voldemort would not patiently wait for an answer much longer without attacking his father for impertinence, just as Draco did, and they both knew Horris could not very well ask him to outright deny the monster.
"Thrilled." The single word made both boys' eyes bulge. Even though they could taste the sarcasm, Voldemort would force the response at face value, thus legitimize his claim. Didn't Horris' father know that? What was he thinking? Merlin! Didn't he realize what he'd done?
"I am glad you agree Ammodytus, your son will make a great heir… and for fathering him your position with me shall be undoubtedly raised even higher then your previous standing." Voldemort's voice sweetly sounded in the air, as he pulled on Horris' shoulder to make him come closer to the throne. Draco was near panic on the other side of the throne, his blue eyes darting from Horris to his father. He knew that with Horris the boy's father had just signed over the other Asps as well, into the service of the Monster they had hoped to soon be rid of. Then again, Draco and Horris knew why his father had done so, why any other answer would have resulted in all their deaths.
"Thank you, my lord," he heard his father force out, proving his earlier notion true. Not that either would ever believe Horris' father capable of throwing Horris to Voldemort in such a way of his own will of course, but Draco knew hearing his words still hurt his Alpha. If it had been Lucius there, saying those things, Draco would have no doubt each and every word was true. But, sadly, he had never disillusioned himself into thinking his father actually cared…
"You suddenly sound reluctant, my Ammodytus…" Voldemort chilled,
"He is my son," Horris' father stated simply, still looking far too dazed for either boys' liking. Merlin, what was he thinking?
"Oh no Ammodytus, the boy is mine now, not yours," Voldemort replied, a huge grin suddenly on his face, "And as you seem to be unable to accept this, I cannot allow my heir's loyalty to become questionable. Perhaps," Voldemort paused for a moment before he lectured on, the smile never changing as the darkest feeling embraced Draco, "perhaps you are the reason Viper has been so delinquent in the past… perhaps, I ought have been rid of you sooner, my snake." A bright green light flew from Voldemort's other hand that had been obstructed from Draco's view.
"Father!" Horris instantly screamed, trying desperately to rip himself from the clawed hand on his shoulder as Draco froze, as if rooted to the spot. Merlin, no!