Houses Of Stone
by Ishafel

The second time he went to Azkaban he was prepared, as much as anyone could be. He had been a boy, that first time, and he had believed that Dumbledore would have him free within the day, and he had known that he was innocent. None of these things had helped him in the slightest. The second time he was a man, and he knew what it was he faced. And he believed that Dumbledore would have him free within the week, and he knew that he was innocent. Sixteen years had not changed very much. He was still more afraid of Azkaban than he was of death.

It was a common belief among those who had sent him that prisoners in Azkaban were tortured-and they were. But physical torture was relatively rare, and reserved for those who had committed the most terrible of crimes: rapists, murderers, child molesters, and traitors. And physical torture was bearable, if you knew it would end. The worst of Azkaban he could not explain to them; the small humiliations, the lack of privacy, warmth, proper clothing and food. They did not sound so terrible recited in the clean bright air of Hogwarts. Dumbledore had sent him to do this thing with a smile and a clear conscience.

Because he knew to expect it should have been difficult to react as if he did not, but when the Aurors had come for him he had fought as hard as any man threatened with Azkaban. He was vastly outnumbered but he came close to escaping, which would have ruined everything. Some of the Aurors sent to capture him were little more than ill-taught children; faces he recognized from the last decade at Hogwarts. He did not try to spare them.

Children or no they stripped him of his wand and bound him very tightly. And perhaps war was meant to be the province of children; perhaps one had to be young to believe in anything enough to die for it. He had been that young once, though he had his doubts about the man he traveled to Azkaban to meet. He was pleased to note they read him his rights, and observed procedure to the letter. There had been a time when suspected Death Eaters rarely survived the journey to Azkaban. But these children were both civil and cautious.

It was dusk when he came into Azkaban for the second time, and starting to snow. He had no coin to offer the ferryman, always unlucky, but Dumbledore had promised him passage back. They led him through the vast gate it took three wizards to open, and into the warren of dimly lit cells. They took his clothing and doused him with delousing potions and showered him with icy water. He was shivering by the time they cut his hair, and the thin robe of rough cloth that they gave him did little to warm him.

All of this they did without speaking to him, pushing or pulling him where they wanted him to go. Knowing that it was done for a reason helped, a little, to negate the effects. Knowing that he was on their side did not. They broke their silence only once, as they led him through the seemingly endless halls, to tell him that he would have a cellmate. They could not know how the news gratified Snape, or that he wondered what had become of Dolohov. He kept his head down, his eyes on the ground. They would expect that; they would know he had been here before.

He rather thought they traveled in a circle, passing the door to the cell he had been assigned and then returning to it. It did not matter; he had no intention of attempting to escape. But he had been a spy for so long that it was second nature to make note of such things. If one of his masters did not find such a thing of interest the other surely would. They opened the door and he fought them in earnest. They would be waiting for him to, surely; besides he could not help himself. Knowing what he faced only made it that much worse: in that moment he would have sacrificed anything to be free.

But they were too strong for him, and they had no interest in his loyalties-that would come later. They left him, and it was all he could do not to fling himself against the door and howl for freedom. Instead he stood and looked over the cell that was now his home. It was no different, in design, from the one he had been in before; he thought that one had been closer to the sea but he might have imagined it. It was small, and damp, with the same flickering lighting charms that were present everywhere in Azkaban. It held two narrow slabs of beds, one of them currently occupied, a flush toilet with a chain, and a leaking faucet. There was a small barred window in the door and a slot near the bottom to push plates through. Not, in short, a cage he would wish on an animal.

His first cellmate had been Bellatrix Lestrange, and in six weeks time she had worn a rut in the stone floor. Confinement had driven her mad; Snape had been nearly as glad to leave her behind, as he had been to leave Azkaban. She had paced, and screamed, and drawn Arithmantical runes on the walls in blood, and mourned Voldemort in the way most women mourn a dead child. The walls of this cell, too, were marked in blood; Snape recognized whole sections of musical compositions, fragments of poetry, names and dates and scratches meant to mark the passing of hours.

He was not sure, himself, of the exact time; he thought it must be somewhat after midnight. It had been twilight when he'd arrived, but in Azkaban it was always twilight; the lights grew no dimmer and no brighter and there were no windows from which to note the movement of the sun. On the left-hand bed Lucius Malfoy slept with his face to the wall, wrapped in his ragged robe. He had not woken when Snape had come in; he had been in Azkaban seven months, and grown used to the quality of the darkness and the quality of the silence.

Snape moved to take the other bed, only to find that the dark stain that covered it was still fresh enough to be wet. Whatever fate Dolohov had met, had not been pleasant. But Dumbledore had ordered it, and so it had been for the greater good. He found that the corner farthest from Lucius and the door was dry and clean enough and sank down with his back to the wall. He had not intended to sleep, not until he'd spoken to Lucius, but he'd been awake and on his feet for more than twenty hours and the sudden stillness undid him. He slept fitfully for a little while, dreaming not of Azkaban or Lucius but of green fields and blue skies. The Cheering Charm Dumbledore had worked on him was clearly still in effect. He woke to Lucius coughing. A short time later there were footsteps in the corridor and he sat where he was, very still, while they came in and took Lucius to be interrogated.

The door slammed behind them and when he was fairly sure they would be gone for some time he used the toilet and then took Lucius' bed. He suspected it was nearly morning so he did not try to sleep. The bed was hardly more comfortable than the floor, and he stared up at the ceiling and thought longingly of his dungeons.

"He is hiding something," Dumbledore had said to him, and Snape had looked up at him and frowned.

"Surely you've used veritaserum?" he asked.

"Used it?" Dumbledore's eyebrows went up. "He has more veritaserum in his veins than blood! He's learned to resist it somehow."

It wasn't possible, and Snape knew it; he'd spent three years under Voldemort experimenting. Prolonged exposure to veritaserum simply increased its effectiveness. Dumbledore was wasting his time, wasting all their time. "Perhaps you're asking the wrong questions, Headmaster," he'd mumbled, bored, and Dumbledore had smiled at him.

Innocent words, but they had led him here; to learn the secret he was not even sure Lucius was keeping. He had not thought even Dumbledore would ask such a thing of him. He was cold and tired and stiff from sleeping in such an awkward position, and he thought it unlikely Lucius would welcome him with open arms. They had been friends once but the Malfoys had long memories for treachery.

It seemed a long time before they brought Lucius back but Snape suspected he had merely grown unused to such chunks of idle time. Voldemort had taught him patience long ago and his skill seemed to have atrophied from lack of use. He had not had much of his own company since he had begun teaching. As little as he was looking forward to the next portion of his assignment he was almost pleased when the door opened and Lucius was thrown in.

Snape watched him, trying to determine if he was breathing. If he were dead it would simplify a number of things. But Lucius rarely did anything to better the lives of others. After some time he rose and staggered across to the bed, where he lay down beside Snape without a word. They were neither of them big men but the bed was not meant for two. It was narrow enough that their shoulders touched and Snape could feel Lucius shivering. He almost said something then, began the inquisition. There was a chance that Lucius still had veritaserum in his system.

But he searched too long for the right words, or perhaps he had forgotten cruelty as he had forgotten patience. Lucius' breathing slowed and steadied; he pressed his face against Snape's shoulder and went to sleep. Snape waited, feeling the added warmth of Lucius' fever. For the first time since they had taken his clothes he was comfortable. It had been a long time since he'd trusted anyone enough to lie so close. Not, of course, that he trusted Lucius, or ever had. No one trusted the Malfoys, and history had proved them wise. He could not have chosen a more dangerous man to share his bed; more dangerous yet was the stirring of pity he felt despite himself.

He had seen Lucius Malfoy in a number of painful situations, but Azkaban with no hope of escape was probably the most painful. He could be held without trial indefinitely, and it had become apparent that he would be. His only chance of release lay with Voldemort. Dumbledore had told Snape so. In the stillness Snape could feel both their hearts beating: his own, regular as the ticking of a clock, and Lucius', a little too fast, but still strong. He was ill, but Snape did not think it was very bad. In Azkaban rich men lived to serve their sentences and poor men coughed out their lungs. Lucius would live long enough to be given the Kiss.

At what Snape suspected was close to one in the afternoon, a slot in the door slid open and two trays of food were pushed into the room. Lucius, as conditioned as a dog, woke from a sound sleep and rolled to his feet. "Breakfast," he said hoarsely, splashing water from the dripping tap. Snape sat up, watching him closely for any sign of aggression. Predictable was not a word one could use to describe Lucius Malfoy, and he had reason enough to hate Snape.

But Lucius seemed intent on his meal. Snape waited until he began to eat before he moved to take the other tray. The food was plain, if edible, and in small quantity; Lucius was visibly thinner than he had been before his capture. He ate very quickly, and Snape had the sense that only centuries of Malfoy breeding kept him from licking his plate clean when he had finished. It was a fastidiousness he might come to regret, if he were in Azkaban much longer. Snape, better fed and assured of release, finished his own meal less rapidly.

He had just set down his plate when the door slid open. "Exercise," Lucius told him. "Hurry. The door shuts again, and if we're not out there's no second chance." He moved into the corridor and Snape followed. They went quickly past the first dozen doors and in the shadow of a turn Lucius put out a hand and stopped Snape. "Tell me what you are doing here," he said rapidly. "Did the old man send you or did he?"

"Random sweep," Snape answered him, meeting Lucius' eyes. "My usual damn luck, is all." He did not think Lucius believed him. The Malfoys were liars and so they expected everyone else to be.

But Lucius was nodding; either he believed or he'd decided it wasn't worth pursuing. "They did something to Antonin," and his voice did not quite tremble. "It was unpleasant. Just be careful, why ever you're here." For a moment they were friends again, frightened boys with dangerous fathers and a place to make in the world. But before Snape could soften too much, before he could say something Lucius would make him regret, the other man was moving again.

They walked very quickly in what Snape was certain was not the direction they had come, and somehow their cell was at the end of the corridor. When they were inside the door closed behind them with a bang, and Lucius leaned back against the wall and gasped for air. His breathing sounded a little worse but Snape thought that overall he looked stronger than he had that morning. There was a hint of color in his pale face. Azkaban had not yet left much of a mark on him. His hair was shorter than it had been since he was a child, and his chin was covered with the pale blond stubble that was as close as he ever came to a beard, but his silver eyes were clear and bright and sane. He looked like a man with a reason to live, but Snape could not fathom whether that was because he had a secret to keep, or because he was a Malfoy.

They spent three hours playing chess on a board scratched into the stone of the floor by some other occupants, using straw and bits of mortar as pieces. Lucius won, resoundingly and as he grew tired less decisively; he had an eye for strategy Snape had never been able to match. After the fourth game Lucius began to cough, and it took him a long time to stop. Snape suspected that it was evening, and that his fever was rising; such symptoms were typical. He brought Lucius water, cupped in his hands, and helped the other man stand and walk over to the bed.

Lucius sat with a sigh, slumping back against the support of the wall. "We grow old, Severus, we grow old," he said, but without any of his usual theatricality. "Oh, sit down. You certainly can't sleep over there. Not until that mess has dried, anyway. And I'm in no condition to ravage you."

After a moment Snape sat, facing Lucius. Aware that it was a foolish thing to do, he leaned forward and felt Lucius' forehead with the back of his hand. As he had expected, it was overly warm, but not dangerously so. Lucius would live, or at least this would not kill him. He could feel Lucius smiling against his hand, and he had to make an effort to stop himself from smiling back.

They were sitting on the bed, in more or less the same positions-Lucius was three-quarters of the way asleep and sagging-when the door opened and the guards came for Snape. They did not touch him; they did not need to: there were four of them, and all of them armed and carrying wands. They stood in the doorway and the one in the lead pointed to Snape. He got up, noting as he did so that Lucius was watching him through half-closed eyes, and went with them.

One pair of guards in front, one pair behind, they marched him to a room, empty except for a table and two chairs. One of the guards pushed him down in a chair, and another rolled his sleeve up. They gave him two injections with a Muggle hypodermic: one in his right arm, in the vein at his elbow, and the other directly into the quiescent Mark on his arm. The first he barely felt; the second was agonizing. He supposed it was a promise of sorts. By the time the pain had become bearable, the guards had moved to stand at the door and a woman had entered and taken the empty seat.

"Professor Snape?" she asked coolly, and Snape looked her over carefully and thoroughly before deciding she was no one he had ever seen before. That was good; he'd worried, a little, that his interrogator would be someone with reason to hate him, or worse, to respect him. Impartiality was simplest.

"Yes," he answered, feeling the veritaserum begin to take effect, and wondering what else they had given him. Voldemort had often mixed veritaserum with Muggle drugs that lowered inhibitions or altered perceptions, but Snape doubted the Ministry would have access to such sophisticated solutions. And of course the field had doubtless advanced in the years since had served as Questioner in the Dark Lord's court.

He was not really worried about the standard interrogations; even had he not been innocent, he had enough experience with veritaserum to dodge casual questions. It would take more than a week for them to break him, and in a week he would be free. For now he concentrated on divining the proper response and matching it as completely as possible.

"Would you care to explain your actions on the night that you were captured?" the woman asked, and Snape almost smiled. It was a loaded question; he could answer No in perfect honesty, and affirm his guilt without actually confirming it-or he could tell a different sort of truth.

"Yes," he answered, "I'd like to do anything I can to prove my innocence." As an opening volley it lacked subtlety, but he had no real need to be subtle. Unlike Lucius, he had no secrets of his own to keep.

After a while the interrogation settled into a rhythm of its own. Snape was not tremendously gifted at evasion, but the woman questioning him was inexperienced and, he thought, not convinced of his guilt. He found most of her queries answerable with truths, and all of them answerable. She seemed to realize he was toying with her; after less than an hour she stood up to go.

But there were certain legalities to be followed, even in Azkaban. Snape was glad to see that they were followed. He waited, hands flat on the table, to be told to go; she stopped in the doorway as if it were an afterthought. "Professor Snape. Is there anyone we can contact for you? You have the right to counsel, should your family be willing to arrange it."

"I have no family," Snape said in reply; she was obligated to ask him each time he was interrogated. When he was ready to go he would ask her to contact Dumbledore. She was not good at her job, but she was a professional, and accepted his response with a cool nod. The guards led him back to his cell without a word, and Snape did not disgrace himself by protesting.

Whatever the second injection had been, it had cleared away the protective charms Dumbledore and Flitwick had placed on him. He could feel the spells bound into the walls of Azkaban, ringing the edges of his mind like wolves waiting around a fire. He wondered if the Dementors had really been such a loss, if they could be replaced so easily. He was not strong enough to raise a Patronus without a wand, but he focused, with difficulty, on conjuring a series of happy memories. His first ride on a broom, when he was five and really too young, and his father had tired of listening to him beg. The day his Hogwarts letter had come. The feel of a wand of his own in his hand for the first time. Slytherin winning the House Cup. His first time with a girl, on a bed of their cloaks in the outskirts of the Forest. Kneeling, the Mark on his arm an open wound, and Voldemort's hand on his shoulder in benediction. James Potter dead. Dumbledore coming to Azkaban to fetch him back, that first time. It was enough; his mind became his own again. But he wondered how Lucius had stood it and stayed sane, all these long months. Snape did not flatter himself that he had been in anything like as good shape after six weeks.

When they put him back into his cell and the door slammed shut he did not hammer on it until his hands bled, or try to pry it back, or scream. But he would have liked to, and even knowing it would be useless he might have done it without the cool, mocking eyes of Lucius Malfoy on him. Instead he splashed water on his face and sat down on the bed beside Lucius, glad of the company.

Lucius, whose fault it was that Snape was there; Lucius smiled up at him. "How much veritaserum did they give you, Severus?" he asked. "Do you have any secrets left?"

"Oh, a few," Snape answered, with an indifference he did not feel. He did not think he could lie, not yet, and Lucius had always known what questions to ask. These were the truly dangerous moments; if he confirmed that he was a spy, Lucius might well try to kill him. Might even succeed.

But Lucius did not seem to have the Cause in mind. His queries were more personal: he wanted to know about his wife and son. This, Snape was happy to encourage. He had had very little contact with Narcissa, but he had seen quite a bit of Draco over the course of the term, and could satisfy most of Lucius' questions. Though he did not say so directly, he thought that Lucius had done the boy a disservice in sending him to Hogwarts to begin with; one did not expect lions to rear a snake.

And Draco, clever as he was, charming though he could be, had grown up very much in Harry Potter's shadow. It was a heavy burden for any child to bear-to be taught, so young, that one's life was less valuable than another's. It might, for a Malfoy, be insurmountable. Draco's O.W.L. scores had been high, and his grades were always exemplary, but Snape thought the boy lacked direction. He hoped that Lucius did not detect the uncertainty in his voice. It was Narcissa's to decide now.

He had forgotten, for a moment, that Lucius had not seen his son in almost a year, and that it was unlikely he would ever see him again. He could not have lied, but he could have been kinder. Let Lucius think that all was well with the boy; here in the place of nightmares there was no need to add another. He felt, suddenly, as if he were drugged; his eyes drifted shut of their own accord and he opened them with difficulty. Lucius was still talking; he'd always loved the sound of his own voice. Snape was cold and stiff and miserable, but he propped a shoulder against the wall and went to sleep immediately.

He slept heavily and dreamlessly for a number of hours, waking briefly to note without interest that Lucius was asleep as well, curled around him unselfconsciously as a cat. There was a sound; something in the corridor-a scream-and then the darkness dragged him down again. When he woke definitively, it was to the sound of water splashing. Lucius was washing desultorily in the freezing water from the tap, and he had been in Azkaban more than twenty-four hours.

He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and Lucius turned around. "Snape?" he asked, "What time do you think it is?"

Snape blinked at him. Morning, he knew, but anything more would be an outright guess. "Ten-ish, I should think," he answered. "Time for coffee."

Lucius ignored this sally. "And what day?"

"The twenty-fourth of December."

Lucius nodded, seeming unsurprised, but Snape felt a little better knowing the man had the same weaknesses as the rest of them. "I do get mixed up sometimes," he said, and suddenly he looked lost. It was not an expression that suited a Malfoy.

"We all do," Snape told him, straining to keep any hint of pity out of his voice. There was a reason Azkaban was such an effective deterrent. Loss of freedom was a small thing beside the loss of self. And Lucius, who had seemed so lucid the night before, now was clearly wavering. "Lucius, what happened to Dolohov?" It was a gamble; in such a state Lucius might not remember at all.

But Lucius, it seemed, did remember. "He started to bleed," he answered in a small voice.

"He started to bleed?" Snape repeated. "Just like that? From where, Lucius?"

"From everywhere," Lucius said, and he sounded more himself. "I couldn't stop it-it got on my hands, on my robes, the bed, the floor. I tried to get someone to come, to help him. I-but no one came."

Despite himself Snape shivered. He had heard of Desanguinating Draughts before, but he had never seen one used. It would not have been a pleasant way to die, nor particularly quick; Dolohov had probably drowned in his own blood. It was not a death Snape would have wished on anyone. "Lucius, do you have any secrets?" he asked, only half meaning it.

Lucius smiled at him, the old Malfoy smile. He was himself again. "Everyone has secrets, Severus." Snape would have liked to have gotten an answer, since it would have hastened his escape, but he could not help being glad to see Lucius in command. He got up, wincing as his bare feet made contact with the stone, and joined Lucius at the tap. The water was, indeed, bitterly cold, and without soap only minimally effective. But he felt a little better for having washed.

There was a rattle in the corridor, and their meal arrived. Snape was relieved to see it; they were supposed to be fed fourteen meals a week but he knew that the intervals between meals were purposely random. They might be as long as forty-eight hours or as short as forty-eight minutes. The lack of routine kept prisoners off balance and helped to deter escape attempts. It was as useful as the loss of a wand, the eclipse of the sun, or the charmed stone that drew constantly on a wizard's energy and magic. He was hungry enough now to swallow his pride and manners and eat as quickly as Lucius. They finished and took their exercise without another word, and when they returned the guards were waiting and led them separately, to their separate inquisitions.

Snape's interrogator this time was a masked man, not young. He gave the injections himself, and Snape recognized his air of cool confidence as dangerous indeed. He gathered himself; he had had a great deal of training at Occlumency, and the principle was similar if the technique was different.

The questions came quickly, if not carelessly-Snape answered them more slowly; tailoring his responses as best he could to match what the man expected. He was helped by the fact that he was not fully in the confidence of either of his masters, and had not been particularly active for either in many years. His record from the last war had been partially expunged, and his extracurricular efforts had not been noted. He would not appear entirely innocent but he could not be convicted simply of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If he had been accused of anything else, he would already have been free.

But answering the questions still required a great deal of discretion, since both his usefulness as a spy and his life depended on his not being found out. And the man who questioned him was very good indeed, so good that Snape suspected that they had at least one master in common. Hampered by the veritaserum and deprived of his wand it was all he could do keep the man out of his mind; he had no opportunity to edge the conversation into less dangerous waters.

The interrogation wound on and on. Snape suspected that the man would end by knowing everything about him but the two facts that defined his existence. He fought to keep his focus; his opponent was better fed and rested, and in a far more comfortable chair. When he was finally led away he felt shattered, as exhausted as if he had indeed been trying to shield his mind from Voldemort and not merely answer questions. But he had not given anything away, and the other man looked frustrated as he followed the ritual of ensuring Snape's rights.

The guards seemed in a hurry, and he stumbled trying to keep up with them, stiff and cold and miserable. He had been able to feel the veritaserum wearing off, the last few minutes. Injectable veritaserum, more potent than the oral form, also had a shorter period of usefulness; he suspected his interrogation had lasted just over three hours. It was, he thought, Christmas Eve, and no doubt the guards had homes and families to get to. That had been a large part of the reason they had chosen this week; tempers were likely to be at their best, which meant he would be safer.

But he was feeling a little sorry for himself as they pulled back the door. He had not, after all, been imprisoned for a crime-only for the suspicion of one-and it seemed unfair he should be forced to spend Christmas in the freezing damp with only Lucius Malfoy for company. And then he was inside, and Lucius was on his knees before stained porcelain toilet, coughing and retching so hard Snape wondered if his ribs would hold. Snape turned to ask the guards for help, but they were gone and the door was closed. He moved to kneel behind Lucius, holding the other man upright as he sagged. His arms went easily around Lucius-too easily; he was thinner even than Snape had suspected, and shaking as if he were palsied.

"What did they give you?" he whispered, already running through the myriad possibilities, none of which were treatable. It looked most like a veritaserum overdose, in which case the symptoms were more dangerous than the disease, and Lucius in remaining conscious and not choking had more than likely survived the worst.

But, "Don't know," Lucius gasped between spasms, "Green-like whatever killed Dolohov." Which meant that the symptoms were self-induced, and it was the disease they had to fear after all.

"How long?" he asked, knowing that Lucius, Voldemort's chief executioner, would understand what he was asking.

"How long?" he asked, knowing that Lucius, Voldemort's chief executioner, would understand what he was asking. How long before the bleeding starts, and we know for sure? And it was we, they: he and Lucius against the world, as it had been once. They had stood together when they could, until Snape had recanted.

"Half an hour, maybe," Lucius answered, and leaned forward once more. Snape stroked his back gently as he strained again to bring the potion up, and forbore to tell him it was unlikely to be effective at such a remove. He had administered poisons enough to know that a drop or two was generally enough to kill, but it seemed cruel to deprive Lucius of even that hope.

He had spent a night very like this once himself, waiting to die on the floor outside Dumbledore's office, his throat raw from vomiting and his clothes soaked in blood. He had been so sure, then, that he wanted to die. And Dumbledore had stood over him, remote as a judge in his scarlet robes, and ripped truth after truth from his mind. Snape, who had been strong enough to resist Voldemort-had shown him everything, shown him things he had hidden even from himself. Whatever Dumbledore had done, whatever compulsions he had set on Snape, they had held absolutely.

Now he could remember what it had been like to love Lucius, could even feel that same loyalty stirring. But he could never act on it, not if it meant going against the orders Dumbledore had given him. Friendship, familiarity, even pity: they were all strong but none of them were as strong as faith. Dumbledore knew, as Voldemort had not, that trust was more binding than the darkest mark.

Even now, even feeling Lucius weak and trembling against him, Snape knew he would betray the man. Best to hope Lucius would not share whatever secret he had, because Snape would send him to his death no matter how much it hurt. The half an hour passed like thirty decades; Lucius, unusually, had nothing to say and Snape listened to his ragged breathing and counted seconds in his head. It was not so different from timing a potion. He did not really believe Lucius was dying; his life was safe enough while he kept his secret-if he had a secret to keep.

When forty minutes had passed Snape let go of Lucius and stood. "It's over," he said. "You aren't bleeding." Lucius snorted, but he let Snape pull him to his feet, and steady him while he splashed water on his face and took a tentative sip of water. He had nearly stopped shivering, but Snape thought he seemed desperately tired. His face was very white in the flickering light, the circles under his eyes dark as bruises.

Snape looked around. Dolohov's bed had been cleaned while they were gone. It was closer. He had to half carry Lucius to it, and the other man rolled to the wall and lay so still Snape wondered if he'd passed out. He curled beside him; better to conserve what he could of both their body heat. Lucius' breathing was more regular, but it still sounded harsh and Snape wondered if he were not, after all, going to come down with pneumonia. It might be a kinder death than the one the government had planned for him.

It had not really been a very long day-perhaps six hours since he'd woken-but Snape was exhausted, and at least the parts of his body closest to Lucius were beginning to be warm. He was trying not to go to sleep, and failing, when Lucius whispered against his back, "I know why you're here, you know." He did not tense; did not let his breathing change, or scramble to his feet and get his back against the nearest wall. This was Lucius, yes, but they were in Azkaban, and unarmed. He might, if he were careful, still bluff his way clear. He did not think he had any other choice.

What would he feel if he were indeed falsely accused? If he were in Azkaban for no more reason than the mark on his arm? He would be angry, of course, and confused. But he would not show it. It was always a mistake to show weakness in front of a Malfoy. He would pretend he knew what Lucius meant, and was amused by it-though, he did know what Lucius meant, and was far from amused.

Snape rolled so that he lay face to face with Lucius. The bed was so narrow that they were close as lovers, though there was not, at the moment, any love lost between them. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Lucius," he said, and let one corner of his mouth ride up a little. Let Lucius think he was being laughed at; he deserved far worse. If he believed-if he truly had reason to suspect, even-that Snape was a spy, it could be his life or Snape's. And Snape had never met anyone he loved enough not to kill.

Lucius' delicate fingers traced the faint Mark on his arm. He had a potions master's hands, if not a potions master's patience, and his touch raised the hair on the back of Snape's neck and made other parts of his body stir. But sex was a tool like any other, and Lucius an expert craftsman; Snape knew better than to respond. He was rewarded when Lucius drew his hand away with a petulant little grimace. Given the events of the day, the gesture could hardly have been sincere, but Lucius played the part beautifully.

"I just want to know why you're here," Lucius whispered, and Snape recognized the hint of cajolery in his voice as the one Voldemort found difficult to resist. It was when Lucius spoke like this, that blood ran like water.

"You think I am here of my own will," Snape asked him. "You think I am such a fool as that!" To his own ears it sounded hollow. He was just that much of a fool, spending himself to redeem himself, and risking ending with nothing. But that was desperation talking, and a healthy portion of self-pity. Angry, he thought, an accusation like this would make me angry. He narrowed his eyes at Lucius. "There is nothing he could have done that would have induced me to come here, Malfoy, not if it meant my life. Why do you think I was so slow to come back to him? Because idealist that I am, I do not think our cause is worth this. Any more than you did once."

"Any more than I do now," Lucius corrected him. "You might not be here on his command, but one way or another you're here because of him. We're cannon fodder, Snape, and I'm not sure that we should stand for it. He has not proved to be the man we thought him."

"So you've lost faith," Snape said, wondering how much truth there was in it. "And you're hoping that maybe I have, too, and we can work out some sort of arrangement? One Slytherin to another?"

"You make it sound so mercenary," Lucius complained. "We were friends once, weren't we, Severus? Practically brothers."

"As much as people like us ever can be," Snape agreed, and forbore adding that brotherhood had not saved Abel.

"What exactly do you mean by that?" Lucius demanded. "'People like us'?" He did feign outrage well, but Snape wondered why he bothered.

"Death Eaters," he answered. "The kind of people who suspect their friends of infiltrating prison to murder them."

"Not murder, just question," Lucius muttered. The words were like a gust of icy air on the back of Snape's neck. Why should Lucius fear questioning unless he had something to hide? Until then he had doubted the existence of the secret he had been sent to learn. Worse, he had no idea what the man could be trying to conceal-and trying to conceal from Voldemort, not from Dumbledore.

"I doubt there is anything you could tell me worth spending time in here," he said, and for once he did have to not prevaricate. "But you know I'll make no alliances without knowing what it is you're trying to hide."

"What if," Lucius said very quietly, "I wanted out, hypothetically? You think they'd let me change sides, any of them?"

Snape did not say that if one lay down with dogs and discovered they did in fact have fleas, one was not allowed to change beds. Lucius despised clichés, and that one was untrue. Snape was not the only spy in the Death Eater ranks. But Lucius was more than another Death Eater: he was the Death Eater, an example of everything a pureblood could be-for both sides. He was too visible to be a spy, and too valuable for the Death Eaters to risk losing, and too reviled for the Order to welcome even if he could guarantee they would win the coming war. Snape knew it and Lucius knew it.

But if Lucius had a secret-if Lucius had a secret he was afraid Snape would leak to Voldemort-Lucius knew something that could change the course of the war. And for all that keeping secrets was what Malfoys did best, he did not seem to want to keep this one. "No," he answered finally, "not you, and not now."

"I thought not," Lucius said, stifling a yawn with the back of his hand. "I don't want to die, Severus, and I especially don't want to die here, in the prime of my life." He yawned again, so hard that his jaw cracked and Snape's eyes watered in sympathy. "Christ, I'm tired."

Long after Lucius had fallen asleep, Snape lay thinking of things that had happened a lifetime ago, debts he had always hoped not to have to call in. Lucius owed him one such debt, for only Snape's silence had kept him out of Azkaban years before. All the names Snape had named, and none of them had been Malfoy. Lucius had had the chance to redeem himself, to watch his son grow up, and that was a powerful thing. But Snape owed Lucius, too; Lucius who had been his protector that first year at Hogwarts, and guarantor to the Death Eaters-it was not a debt Lucius could expect him to honor, given the way things had turned out, but it was no less real for all that.

But Dumbledore owed Snape, too, for seven years of overlooked wrongs, and a dozen saved lives wrongly credited. And Snape owed Dumbledore for seeing something no one else had known existed. Snape did wonder, sometimes, what it would be like not to see life like a sheet in a ledger. But he could not be anyone else, even if he tried.

If he learned Lucius' secret, if he told it to Dumbledore, if they won the war, he would be free. If Voldemort won the war, life might, quite literally, cease to be worth living. He was a Slytherin; he had always looked after his own interests first, but he was not such a fool as to believe the two sides were indistinguishable. One chose, always one chose: Dumbledore was fond of saying that life was the sum of those choices.

If he could carry Lucius to safety with him, he would do so. Lucius had been his friend long before he knew what friendship was. He would save Lucius if he could-if he could decide which way safety could be found-but he had to know what the secret was that Lucius kept. Sleep was suddenly impossible. Snape lay listening to Lucius' rough breathing, wondering what to do. The night seemed poised to go on forever, oppressively quiet and unpleasantly bright.

After a time he slipped out of the bed and walked the length and breadth of his cage: four strides by three. He longed for morning, he longed to see the sun; he had been in Azkaban for seventy-two hours, more or less, and he felt as if he were already mad. The walls inched their way closer, Lucius' breath faltered and steadied, somewhere on that endless hallway someone screamed. Snape flopped back down on the bed and went to sleep at once, and slept until the clatter of breakfast in the hallway woke him.

The thin porridge they were generally served had been supplemented by a piece of dry bread. From the first bite Snape was sharply, desperately hungry. He was finished long before Lucius, and the other man broke off a bit of bread and gave it him. "They've put something in yours," he said tiredly. His voice was very hoarse. "Save this as long as you can; it gets worse before it gets better."

"What was it?" Snape demanded, astonished and a little afraid; he'd tasted no difference. "What does it do?"

Lucius shrugged. "It doesn't do anything, as far as I can tell. Just makes you miserable. I expect they think it's funny."

The next few hours were very bad. Snape played chess with Lucius for as long as he could, but the burning ache in his stomach made it impossible to concentrate, and then impossible to sit still. Lucius said something inconsequential, and Snape fought down the urge to hit him. He could recognize in himself the lack of control he so despised in others, but he could think of nothing that would tame it. The crust of bread left held all of his attention.

Just when Snape thought nothing could be worse-he had long ago segued into fantasies about cannibalism-the guards came for him. He had thought there might be some reprieve because of Christmas; now he realized that optimism in Azkaban was its own punishment. He sank into the unpadded chair, already anticipating the sting of the needle. But the hand wielding the syringe was strangely familiar, though the face matching it was well covered.

There were not so many wizards in England with skin as dark as Shacklebolt's, and fewer still would be wearing an Auror's ring. Snape, distracted and off-balance, realized just in time that he and Shacklebolt were not supposed to have met before. He sat quietly, eyes on the table, while Shacklebolt injected him. His stomach felt as if it were consuming itself, and he knew that his thoughts were bright as a beacon but could do nothing to shield them.

"Professor Snape," Shacklebolt's voice was cool, distant. Careful. There was a great deal at stake here, and Snape was on the edge of losing it all. He struggled to focus. "Have you enjoyed your stay here?"

"Not very much, no," Snape answered. His voice echoed in his head like a stranger's, and he wondered if he sounded as desperate as he felt. Shacklebolt was a consummate professional; there was no way to tell if he was concealing his reaction to Snape's distress-or if he had not noticed it. Snape would simply have to hope for the former, because he could not be sure of his answers. It was up to Shacklebolt not to ask the wrong questions.

"What were you doing the night you were arrested?" Shacklebolt asked.

"I was--". His stomach clenched, hard, and he grabbed for the edge of the table. "I wasn't doing anything wrong!" It was not something an innocent would say, but it was neither incriminating nor untrue.

"I'll be the judge of that," Shacklebolt said, and Snape recognized the edge to his words as concern and was glad of it. Shacklebolt would do what was necessary; it was what made him such an effective Auror. "I think, Professor, that your memory seems in need of a little assistance." He stood, and Snape struggled to follow his progress. "Lay your hands flat on the table. Tell me, Snape, which is your wand hand?"

Snape knew, at least generally, what was coming. He sat as still as he could, pressing his hands very hard against the smooth cool wood. He hoped it would hurt very much. Shacklebolt shook his wand out of his sleeve. "Stop me when you're ready to talk, Professor." Snape did not recognize the incantation he used, but its results were clear; the smallest finger on his left hand slid cleanly out of its socket. He hadn't needed to worry-the pain was fantastic, immediate, and revitalizing. He put up his good hand to stop Shacklebolt, a moment too late: his ring finger followed.

"Enough," he gasped. And it was. His mind was his own, wholly unaffected by the agony in his hand. The maddening ache in his stomach was utterly gone. "I'll answer anything you ask me," as if, full of veritaserum, he had ever had any other choice.

"Very good," Shacklebolt purred. "I knew that you were a smart man. Tell me, Professor, how long have you been a Death Eater?"

Since I was seventeen, Snape could have answered; instead he said, "What makes you think I'm a Death Eater?" This was familiar ground: he had had this conversation, under veritaserum, more times than he cared to remember. He sat looking down at his swelling fingers, while Shacklebolt reviewed the last twenty years of his life in painful detail. It took only a portion of his mind to field the questions; the rest he devoted to puzzling the riddle of Shacklebolt's presence. By design as well as personal inclination he was ignorant of the methodology of the Aurors' College, but he knew that Kingsley Shacklebolt rarely worked in the field. That he was here at all, meant that something was wrong-or that Dumbledore was nervous.

"What's your relationship with Lucius Malfoy, Professor?" Shacklebolt asked.

"Relationship?" Snape feigned confusion, aware that the real issue was on the table. "He's my cellmate."

"Very good, Professor," Shacklebolt said, and Snape thought he could hear a hint of a smile in the man's voice. "Did you entertain any acquaintance with Mr. Malfoy prior to your arrest?"

It ought to have been recent arrest, of course, but perhaps Snape's earlier indictment had really been expunged. "Naturally I have corresponded with Mr. Malfoy for a number of years," he said smoothly. "You may not be aware that Mr. Malfoy's son is a student in my house. Indeed, he's quite a protégé of mine."

"How nice," Shacklebolt said, though he probably did not think it was. "Your relationship with Mr. Malfoy is entirely professional?"

"I know him socially, as well."

"So you are aware of the reasons behind Mr. Malfoy's arrest."

Snape wondered what exactly Shacklebolt meant to accomplish. "I think it's all very tragic." Which was an oblique answer at best, but satisfied the requirement for truth. Shacklebolt was smiling again, under his mask, but this time Snape had no urge to smile back. It was tragic; waste was always tragic. Lucius Malfoy was widely and deservedly disliked, but that was a reflection on his personality and not on his personal worth. It did seem sometimes that neither side in their dismal little war had much respect for human life.

He waited for Shacklebolt to ask the next question. The man was being careful, give him that, feeling his way through difficult territory. Snape could not decide what it was he was after. It was common knowledge that he and Lucius had been friends during the first war, and fallen out after, and Shacklebolt, because he knew Snape had been a spy, knew why. He knew things that even Lucius only suspected.

"Did you attend Hogwarts at the same time as Mr. Malfoy, Professor?"

In spite of himself Snape flinched. Nothing good could come of such questions, and Shacklebolt had no right to ask things that did not touch on the issue at hand, or the safety of the Order. "I should think that would be a matter of public record," he said coolly. "Really, all of this material is. I don't understand what you hope to prove."

"Bear with me, Professor," Shacklebolt answered gravely, but his hand tightened on his wand. He was angry. Good. Snape was angry, too, and cold and queasy and in pain. For a moment it felt more like a duel than an inquisition. How easy it was to forget they were supposed to be on the same side. It did not bode well for a peaceable future, if their world survived the war.

He took a deep breath, forced himself to let it out slowly. "I'll answer any question you care to ask me, of course," he said, and was proud that it came out only faintly sarcastic.

"Good," Shacklebolt answered. "Then tell me, Professor Snape, what exactly you think Lucius Malfoy is doing here."

"He was captured during a raid on the Ministry," Snape answered, not pretending the puzzlement in his voice. "Something to do with the Department of Mysteries."

"You don't think it odd that a man of Malfoy's rank acted as little more than an errand boy?"

Snape shrugged. Had he thought it odd, at the time? Voldemort's whims were legendary. "Not particularly so, no."

"And you don't think it odd that Malfoy was apprehended by a handful of children? Or that he made no attempt to disguise himself? One might almost think he wanted that mission to fail-even that he wanted to be caught."

"One might," Snape said. He was thinking it. Not the usual slander Pettigrew was so fond of, that with the Dementors gone Lucius had judged prison safer than war. Lucius was brave enough, when he needed to be. But if Lucius had a secret he dared not let Voldemort learn, there was nowhere with stronger walls than Azkaban.

"Well," Shacklebolt's voice was cheerful. He'd said what he'd come to say. "Thank you for your input, Professor. Have a pleasant stay." He stood up, turning his back on Snape for only a second, but Snape could have killed him, that quickly. Instead he stayed where he was, ruined hand pressed flat against the cool wood of the table. They were on the same side, he and Shacklebolt, he and Dumbledore. He had to remember that.

They led him back to his cell. He held his left hand against his chest, careful to keep it as still as possible. He was not going to think about how bad it looked. One problem at a time. His determination, tenuous to begin with, left him at the door. He staggered and almost fell as he moved to the bed, and Lucius uncoiled and rose and caught him with the old Seeker speed. When he was sitting the world settled once again, and he had been able to slide the thing Shacklebolt had left on the table for him further into his sleeve. It seemed increasingly likely that he would have to use it.

"What did they do to you?" Lucius asked him, and he took Snape's dislocated fingers in his own, with a gentleness Snape had not thought he still possessed.

"I didn't tell them anything," Snape answered. His hand throbbed, but his mind was very clear. Whatever Shacklebolt had done to him, he felt better than he had since entering Azkaban. He closed his eyes and let Lucius pull the fingers back into place, and did not even cry out from the shock of it.

"Come on," Lucius said, "Run some water over them-we seem to have run out of ice." Snape got up to do so, moving slowly and carefully. He had his back to Lucius and was bending over the faucet when the other man began to speak. His words flowed faster than the water from the tap, and were spoken without any of his usual caution. He had veritaserum in his blood, still; Snape recognized the effect.

"The prophecy," Lucius said. "The prophecy is the secret, Severus." Snape stayed where he was, not moving, barely breathing. Shacklebolt had been right. He shifted; the knife he'd been given moved from his sleeve to his good hand. "The prophecy," Lucius said again. "I made it up, Severus, there was no prophecy."

Snape turned. He knew the truth when he heard it, but he couldn't bring himself to believe it. He knew the prophecy Lucius meant, of course; there had only ever been one prophecy worthy of the name. It had cost dozens of lives, and ruined dozens more. It had brought down Voldemort and resurrected him; had changed the course of the wizarding world for the worse and the better.

"I made it up," Lucius' voice was small, miserable, the voice of a man confessing a sin he knew to be unpardonable. "He would have destroyed us, Severus, you know he would have. What choice did I have? I only wanted to slow him down. I never meant it to go so far as this."

"Trelawney?" Snape asked, though he thought he knew the answer. What he had mistaken for idiocy-what they had all mistaken for idiocy-was the lingering effect of Imperius.

"When Draco was born, I swore an oath to his mother I would do anything in my power to protect him. I thought it would keep his attention focused elsewhere."

"You thought he would be more careful," Snape guessed. "You thought he would fall back. Instead Rookwood fed him half-truths about Lily Potter and Frank Longbottom, because he was as afraid as you were, and both of you kept your mouths shut and were grateful for the Potters. It must have seemed like a genuine miracle to you, when he disappeared."

Lucius smiled, a little sadly. "Oh, it did," he said. "I didn't even mind when he came back. The time was ripe for second chances. And then he sent me after that damnable prophecy yet again. He suspects, I am sure, that he's missed something. He was always cleverer than we gave him credit for, even if he is mad. I couldn't bring him the prophecy, and I couldn't go back empty-handed. You tell me, Severus, what do I do now?"

Snape shook his head. "What can you do now? I'm afraid we're fresh out of miracles today."

"I know which side you're on, Snape," Lucius said, and his voice was hard, any regrets he'd harbored well buried. "How long did it take them to turn you? Six months, maybe? You aren't a Death Eater, and you never really were. Tell your master I want asylum, or I'll tell him the truth. Save me and you save yourself."

There was an unpleasant feeling of inevitability about it all. But something made Snape hesitate, the little blade Shacklebolt had slipped him still concealed by the drape of his sleeve. "Do you really think they'd have you?" he demanded. "I saw James Potter dead, you know. He died in a puddle of his own piss. For nothing, as it turns out. Do you really think they'd forgive you that?"

"They forgave you, didn't they?" Lucius asked, but Snape could see his confidence was shaken.

"No," he said, and knew it was the truth. "They never forgave me any of it. I'll keep your promise for you, Lucius, as best I can, anyway. I'll do my best to see your son stays on the right side."

Lucius was slower than Snape had expected him to be, or he'd given up. He died without a word, without a whimper, not a hero's death but a traitor's. There was less blood than Snape had expected. Less mess, less fuss. Lucius had been his oldest friend. He sat with the body in the cell in Azkaban, waiting for Dumbledore to come, and wondering how he would keep Draco from following his father to hell.


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