Serpentine: Chapter 1
Into the Shadows
The menacing wizard gripped the armrests of his leather chair as he gazed, transfixed, into the blazing fire. He felt so cold, even by the flames. He had always felt a cold that had settled in him long ago, from the wretched times spent at the orphanage to the very night a mere boy had nearly destroyed him.
He thought he should be used to it by now, the cold. It was his loyal companion, was the only thing that would never leave him. His followers left at times, and even his snake, Nagini, slithered off from time to time, seemingly just to be free of his company.
How foolish these people were, he thought as he tightened his grip until his knuckles shone white against the blackness of the armrests. He could vaporize the lot of them into oblivion any time he pleased, and yet they still dared to leave him, and to expect his forgiveness when they came crawling back.
If only he could find a follower who was as loyal as Peter Pettigrew had been. Peter was there for Voldemort from the beginning to the end—but only in fear. Voldemort needed a follower he could trust as much as he trusted himself, one nothing like the rest of his Death Eaters. They were all old, dead, or about to be dead if he had any say in it. What he needed was someone new, someone who would be thrilled at the thought of being at the side of the greatest wizard in the world.
Too excited to remain seated, the Dark Lord jumped up and ran over to his window to look outside. The scene below was what some might term quaint with the small village nestled far down the hill from Riddle Mansion, the home he had inherited upon his father's unfortunate demise.
Severus Snape, his most loyal of servants, was set to spy on the old wizard in charge at the glorious Wizarding school, Hogwarts. There he taught potions to many bright young wizards. If anyone would know where to find someone to be his new follower, it was Snape.
Voldemort threw his cloak over his shoulder and rolled up the sleeve on his left arm to expose the pale white flesh beneath. In sharp contrast, a tattoo of a snake slithering in and out of a skull caught his focus. He flicked his wand over it to call forth his spy.
On the night of her seventeenth birthday, not too long after the beginning of her sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a young witch was abruptly shaken out of a deep sleep. Professor McGonagall, Headmistress of Gryffindor House, stared urgently down at her as she noticed she'd fallen asleep while reading again. The girl set aside "The Beatle and the Bard" as she sat up in her bed groggily.
"Hermione Granger, the Headmaster wishes to see you in his office straight away," said the woman in a tone that implied she could not refuse.
"Did he say why?" she asked, and pushed back a wild mane of dark blond curls from her sleepy eyes so she could rub them. Usually she only ever went to see the Headmaster when her best friend Harry Potter was in some sort of trouble.
"All I know is that he said it was urgent," said McGonagall as she headed briskly toward the door. "You must hurry."
Hermione pulled on a robe over her pajamas and followed the Headmistress out of the dormitories. She felt a deep anxiety squirm through her belly as they jogged through the corridors. Soon they came to the ancient gargoyle that marked the entrance to the Headmaster's office.
With a deep breath she prepared herself for whatever it was she was about to face, and then used both hands to push open the door. The golden room shone less brightly than it did during the day, but she was still able to make out the old paintings of past Headmasters and the wide variety of strange silver instruments lying about the familiar room.
Dumbledore sat behind his large desk in the middle of his office with a pensive look on his usually cheerful face. He was a wise old man with a very long, white beard, like the wizards from the Muggle books Hermione had read as a child.
"Ah, Miss Granger, so good of you to come," he said in a voice that sounded as ancient as the old oak trees of the Forbidden Forest.
As she approached the huge golden desk, she noticed Professor Snape off to one side of the room. He was pacing back and forth with his usual sneer pasted on his face, and a long black cloak billowed out behind him with each step. A cape of long, black hair covered his eyes; she noticed that they glanced in her direction momentarily when the Headmaster spoke.
"Professor, what is going on?" Hermione asked as she fought off a yawn. "Has Harry done something again?"
Snape paused, his shiny eyes peering intently at them.
"No, no," Dumbledore reassured her. "Harry is safely in his bed. But in a way, it is because of Harry that you are here."
Hermione frowned at him, confused.
"As you may know, Lord Voldemort regards Snape as his most loyal follower, but knows that he cannot always be by his side if he is to effectively spy for him here. Of course, in truth Snape is one of our spies," Dumbledore began. "He has just returned from a visit to the Dark Lord, and it appears that Voldemort desires to have a new follower. He believes that Severus can find him one."
Hermione continued to frown as Snape resumed his pacing.
"Severus and I agreed this would be a welcome chance to add another spy to Voldemort's forces."
Hermione tried to puzzle out why she was there. "I don't understand, Professor. Why would you tell me this? The Dark Lord is Harry's line of expertise. Did you want me to help find someone, because I really don't know—"
"No," Dumbledore interrupted her. "Through much deliberation Severus and I have already made the decision regarding who will act as our new spy."
Hermione's face fell as Dumbledore looked candidly over his golden spectacles, straight into her eyes. She knew the answer before it came out of her Headmaster's mouth.
"You, Miss Granger."
Snape paused to see her reaction. Hermione went numb, and she was no longer sleepy.
"M-me?" she stammered incredulously. "Why would you want me?"
Snape cast an inquisitive look in Dumbledore's direction, hanging on his every word.
"Voldemort wants someone who is young and intelligent," he explained. "You also have a great deal of experience with the Dark Arts, thanks to your brave exploits with Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter. Not to mention," he smiled kindly, "you are the most determined young witch I know."
The room collapsed in on Hermione as she felt an incredible weight in the middle of her chest. She took a deep, steadying breath and said, "But I can't. What if I'm discovered?"
"You won't be," said Snape and Hermione's attention snapped to him. "I have been undercover over fifteen years without a problem. Who knows, you may not even have to see the Dark Lord at all. His followers simply do his dirty work and report back to him. That's it."
Hermione covered her face with her hands, and then tried to rub some feeling back into her limbs.
"Of course, you understand, I can make no promises," Snape added.
"Professor Snape will be there to guide you in the beginning, but he cannot remain with you throughout your stay," Dumbledore continued. Snape nodded curtly at his words.
"But what about my schoolwork?" Hermione protested.
"You will, of course, be excused from all assignments that you miss while you are away," Dumbledore replied.
"Excused from—excused?" she gaped, shaking her head to clear it. How horrible, she thought, my schoolwork is the most important part of my life. Why can't they find somebody who would be more willing? She tried to hide her pain as she asked, "And exactly how long do you expect me to be gone, sir?"
Dumbledore shook his head, and his beard swayed back and forth like an erratic pendulum. "We cannot be sure of that. You may be gone several months, maybe more."
Months or more? a voice screamed inside her head. They are going to send me to face the darkest wizard alive, all alone, for a time period they weren't even sure of? She asked quietly, "What if I am harmed?"
The two men grimaced at each other, but then Snape said with slight bitterness, "As long as you remain loyal to the Dark Lord you should be safe."
"Yes," Dumbledore said with sadness in his ancient voice. "You must obey his every command, no matter how difficult. Do you understand?"
Hermione tried to hold her head up high, to show the old man she could be confident, but she had never felt so uncertain in her life. As dangerous as the task sounded, she wanted to help in the fight against Voldemort, and so she gave a curt nod in response.
She followed Snape out of the office and turned to go back to her dormitory, prepared to fetch her belongings, but Snape's voice stopped her progress.
"Wait," he said. "You will bring nothing with you but the clothes on your back, Miss Granger, and I will be providing those clothes for you."
"Not even my books?" she protested.
"Especially not those," he sneered. "Now go, and get as much rest as you can. You're going to need it."