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[personal profile] kennahijja
After weeks of silence, at least I return with fic :). This was my [community profile] hp_holidaygen entry over at LJ.

Title: Saviours' Night
Author: [personal profile] kennahijja
Characters: Evan Rosier, others
Rating: PG-13
Warning(s): some disturbing themes, perhaps?
Length: 6200 words
Summary: Evan Rosier attends a masquerade ball at the Blacks' residence...
Author's Note: Written for [personal profile] alley_skywalker in [community profile] hp_holidaygen 2011. With lots of love and thanks to [personal profile] lazy_neutrino for the excellent beta!

Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t have occurred to Evan to attend the Blacks’ Midwinter Ball. He had no interest in the intricate formalities and terminal stiffness of high wizarding society. Everybody knew that the event was designed to exhibit Narcissa Black and Lucius Malfoy together before their betrothal at New Year’s, followed by a marriage in spring.

Nor would he have ordinarily considered going to a function at which Severus Snape was not welcome. Granted, there was a long lists of purebloods of impeccable ancestry who’d never make it onto the Blacks’ guest list either, but that wasn’t the point.

No, the reason Evan found himself in green velvet dress robes and a stick mask in the shape of a grinning fox was because he couldn't let his best friend make the worst mistake of his young life alone. And considering that it was mad, bad Aubrey Wilkes he was talking about, that was saying something.

Using his fire-lettered invitation parchment, Evan Portkeyed into the Hall of Apparition of the Blacks' country residence. It was decorated festively, but not overly seasonal with flickering corposant in cool whites and blues. Evan hung back from the exit after waving away the house-elf rushing to take his overcloak. He wanted to catch Aubrey when he arrived. The phial burned in his pocket, but he resisted. Not yet.

He watched the Lestrange sons arrive, in robes of Slytherin green and matching black wolf masks.

"Rosier," the younger acknowledged Evan. Rab Lestrange had little time for sixth years, but they'd both played Quidditch for Slytherin until Lestrange had stopped to concentrate on his NEWTs. Or so he'd claimed.

When Aubrey finally popped into existence, Evan grabbed his arm and dragged him towards the back of the room next to the cloak stands. The fabric under his fingers felt very fine, slate grey with copper and gold highlights. Then again, Aubrey had more to impress tonight than just the Blacks. He wished he could see his friend's face under the silver hawk mask. Only the tousled dark red hair looked familiar.

"Don't do it," he hissed without preamble, after a quick glance ensured they were alone. "It's madness. You're far too young." He paused, aware of how Aubrey kept himself turned away from facing him. Rumour had it that those entering the service of the Dark Lord were expected to kill an enemy of His at their initiation – or worse. "You don't want to!" he insisted.

"My family expects it of me." Aubrey's voice sounded alien coming through the metal mask.

Fuck your family! Evan thought but didn't say.

He'd never given Darius Wilkes much of a second thought beyond him being Aubrey's obnoxious older brother, who ran with a different crowd at Hogwarts. Until Darius had been hit by a Muggle truck while being out flying his broom near the Muggle village at the outskirts of the Wilkes' estate. The driver had run, and when another had called for help, Darius had been taken to a Muggle hospital where he'd died without a healer to help him. Aubrey's parents had gone from expressing moderate pureblood sentiments to ardent followers of the Dark Lord overnight when the Ministry refused to investigate, even less punish, their heir's death for fear of providing political ammunition for the Death Eaters. Only respect for their grief must have kept Bartemius Crouch's goons from their door so far.

"Look, I'm as sorry about Darius as anyone," he hissed, dragging Aubrey further behind the cloaks when another party of revellers tumbled into the Apparition Hall. "But it doesn't do them any good if you throw your life away as well."

"I'm not." Aubrey insisted. "Once the Dark Lord has taken over, we'll be the ones in power. It'll work out all right."

Evan let out an unsubtle snort.

"You can still come with me." Aubrey's mask turned to him.

This time, it was Evan who looked away. The last thing he wanted was to get embroiled in Death Eater business – which made what he was about to do so deliciously ironic.

"I told you I won't," he growled. It would be so easy, he thought. It wasn't that he didn't agree with most of what the Dark Lord propagated. But it would be madness to take sides when the Aurors ran wild, dragging in suspects left and right trying to eliminate Voldemort's followers or send them to Azkaban. Aubrey's parents might not care, but Evan couldn't imagine bringing that sort of grief on his own family. No, he had to keep his nose clean – remain above suspicion. Again, his fingertips caressed the little bottle in his robe pocket.

"Let's go in then." Aubrey concluded the conversation by disentangling himself from the cloaks and Evan's grip. Stepping past Evan and towards the door, he nodded at Pierson Parkinson and his pregnant young wife who'd just Portkeyed in.

Dejectedly, Evan trailed in the wake of his robe tails. He felt as if things were breaking apart and he had no way to stop them, like trying to reign in a flock of scattering pixies. They'd been friends ever since being sorted into Slytherin together, him, Aubrey and Severus, and now Aubrey was becoming a Death Eater and Severus was growing more grim and silent by the day.

Aubrey left himself no opening for a second attempt at persuasion. They made the obligatory greeting to their hosts – Uncle Cygnus resplendent in midnight blue, Aunt Druella behind a wood elf mask in cream and brown silk that went well with her chestnut hair and honey-coloured Rosier eyes. Evan kissed her hand in place of her masked cheek to a demure giggle. Beside them, Orion and Walburga Black loomed like hostile spectres in black and silver, obviously not amused that Evan's parents had decided to prioritise their Christmas trip to Arjeplog over Cygnus' and Druella's party and sent Evan to make their apologies instead. At the back of the group, Alphard Black was draining the dregs of his champagne glass. From the way his leopard mask tilted, it wasn't his first.

As soon as the audience was over, Aubrey steered his way over to the corner where Igor Karkaroff, the duellist, was holding court among the Lestranges, with Lucius Malfoy, cousin Narcissa and a few others hanging around. It gave Evan a pang to watch the easy familiarity with which Karkaroff slung an arm around his friend's shoulder. Aubrey didn't look back at him.

Striding away from the group, Evan caught the sardonic eyes of Sirius Black, slouching against the wall in a way that made a mockery of his expensive black robes. The falcon half-mask could not disguise the amusement that curved his mouth. The prospect of getting an opportunity to beat down Black with the help of some Unforgivable Curses would make joining the Death Eaters almost worthwhile, Evan thought grimly. It took effort to unclench his fists and turn his back on Black's taunting face, but anything else would turn into a brawl, and this wasn't the place.

Instead, Evan made a round through the ballroom and the chambers open to guests, doing the honours and exchanging pleasantries in a way that would have delighted his parents. He even chatted for a few minutes with Morgan Rosier, his father's uptight younger cousin, exchanging family gossip. In a corner, he recognised Marlene McKinnon, one of the rising stars in Bartemius Crouch's Department for Magical Law Enforcement, in conversation with Abraxas Malfoy. Her eyes never stopped scanning the room, and Evan gave her a formal nod when they landed on him. All the while, the phial was burning in his pocket. It had to be done, though. He had to be seen by as many guests as would remember him.

At last, he excused himself to visit the Blacks' elaborate lavatories, sparkling and lemongrass-scented as if an entire army of house-elves had gone through them at full force. Which they probably had.

He locked the cubicle door behind him and leaned against the cool tiled wall, closing his eyes for a moment. Then he pulled out the phial. The fluid inside had the colour of blueberries, and Severus had sealed it with the traditional stamp and leather knots of a potions maker. Still, Evan felt a touch of apprehension. Severus was a genius at potions, his skills undoubtedly worth every galleon Evan had sacrificed from his Christmas budget. Snape's discretion, too, was legendary. Even if, against all odds, he found out just what Evan had done with his potion, he would probably keep silent, although Evan shuddered at the thought of becoming a target of Snape's unforgiving resentment. But Snape was still a sixth year, and as professional as it looked and doubtlessly was, it wasn't the same as ingesting a potion bought from a reputable apothecary.

Quenching his doubts, Evan unsealed the phial and put it to his lips. It tasted of nutmeg and chalk and heavy morning fog, thick and surprisingly hard to swallow. Gagging slightly, he forced the last dregs down, then stared at his hands. At first, he felt a prickling sensation running over his flesh, everywhere; then his skin started to glow, or rather, something that looked like fine white mist emanated from his pores and settled there like a film. His entire body tingled, though his face and lips felt numb. He touched his cheek gingerly. It was cool under his fingertips, but the touch was eerie, if not quite unpleasant.

Shivering against the tiles that suddenly seemed a lot colder than before, Evan counted the recommended five minutes, then unlocked the stall and stepped out to stare into the mirror. It wasn't that he had vanished, as he'd halfway expected. Snape had warned him that the Draught of Unseeing would not make him invisible; it would just stop people who didn't expect him from noticing he was there. As it was, he could see himself in the mirror quite clearly, although he looked a lot paler than usual, with skin that was almost glowing. It turned his eye colour into an uncomfortable yellowish gold that made him look away. He didn't feel sick, though.

There was nothing for it. Evan gulped down a handful of water to wash away the taste, straightened, and slid his mask back into place just in case. Time to see whether Severus' creation worked.

He returned to the ball room, encountering no one on the way as the music had started and drawn the attention of all present to the dance floor.

Reaching the ball room, he noticed Andromeda Black, deep in conversation with Philomela Parkinson, who had retreated into an armchair with her feet propped up on a chintz footstool. Evan walked up to them until he was practically invading their personal space; Philomela kept chattering on about how excited her husband was to become a father, while Andromeda tapped her foot in time with the rhythm in a way that made Evan certain that she'd drag him off to dance if she could she see him. Both were far too well brought up to ignore him on purpose. No, the potion had to be working!

In a moment of giddy excitement, Evan marched up to Sirius Black and stuck his fist right under the bastard's nose; Black kept staring arrogantly ahead, then blinked and his forehead crinkled into a frown. With a quiet inhale, Evan stepped away and around him. People wouldn't see him where they didn't expect him to be, Snape had reminded him. Trust Black's inherent gift to make enemies for him to always be on the look-out for ambushes, no matter how subconsciously.

Nobody paid him any notice as he crossed the ballroom, weaving his way through dancing couples in a way that would certainly have earned him attention and disapproving looks without the potion coursing through his system. Instead of the Hall of Apparition, he made his way to the Smoking Room, which he knew had a second connection to the Floo network reserved for family members and relatives. The door was ajar, and Evan managed to sneak through barely brushing the frame. Inside, the floor-length curtains were already drawn against the winter gloom, and a merry fire burned inside the fireplace. Heavy armchairs in oak and leather marked the room as his uncle's domain.

Evan started towards the fireplace, reaching for the discreet vase with Floo powder, then jumped as the door clicked shut behind him. He spun around and stared at Cygnus Black, who stared right through him. The high-backed armchair facing the window which Evan had believed to be empty creaked, then Orion Black rose from it to nod at his brother-in-law.

"I'm glad you could get away for a few minutes," he said, putting his mask on the table. "We need to discuss allegiances, you and I."

Cygnus nodded and made for the drinks cabinet in a swirl of blue robes that had Evan duck out of the way with an undignified hop. His uncle filled two glasses with Old Ogden's, and carried one over to Orion.

"I gather my daughter is organising some sort of event for the Dark Lord to coincide with today's ball," he said. "Judging from all the gleeful secrecy and the fact that she did barely bother to put in an appearance tonight."

"I wouldn't worry as long as she keeps a bare minimum of discretion." Orion shrugged. "Unless she gets caught somewhere with Muggle blood on her hands, having one foot in the Dark Lord's camp is quite beneficial at the moment." He took a sip from his glass.

Cygnus looked down at his own drink. "Discretion isn't our family's strongest virtue, and our heirs inherited none of what little there is to go round," he pointed out. "It is bad enough that Crouch's dogs are already sniffing around, barely even trying to blend in. They're even creeping about in the gardens."

"Indeed." Orion took another sip of whisky and twirled the glass between his fingers, looking straight through Evan, who shifted uncomfortably and moved closer to the fireplace. As much as he'd usually enjoy eavesdropping on Black interna, especially slagging off the more unpleasant members of the family, he only wanted for the men to finish their chat and leave so he could use the fireplace. The potion would only work for about an hour, Severus had warned him.

"That's why I asked you to make time tonight," Orion finally continued. "The Dark Lord is becoming more active, and his Death Eaters are starting to exert... pressure, among the old families. They are trying to snatch up pureblood heirs, and I've already heard expectations voiced that Sirius would be among those most sought after."

Cygnus let out a short bark of laughter. "Now that would go over well."

A twinge of anger cramped Evan's stomach at the thought of Black being actively courted by those who hadn't bothered to put any pressure on him. Not that he wanted to become a Death Eater, of course, but the Rosiers were every bit as good as the Blacks, and had the connections to prove it. Yes, they wouldn't go after Snape as a half-blood, but even with Aubrey, it had been the Wilkes rather than the Dark Lord's fighters who'd pushed him onto the path.

"What would your response be if I proposed in family council to renounce Sirius and erase him from the family tree?" Orion asked.

Evan let out a gasp of shock, then clapped his hand over his mouth. Thankfully, Cygnus Black had also exhaled sharply.

"That would be quite radical. Though not without precedent." Cygnus tapped his finger against his bottom lip. "Is that what you want to do?"

"Of course not!" Orion scoffed. "I'm not eager to provide gossip for wizarding society. Besides, he's my son. My heir. Would you want to?"

A quirk twisted Cygnus's lips. "With Bellatrix? Only occasionally."

The two men exchanged a pregnant look that made Evan wish he was elsewhere.

"Sirius has been gravitating into the orbit of Albus Dumbledore and his branch of madness ever since he was sorted into Gryffindor," Orion went on. "If we throw him out, he won't get to make the dramatic gesture that he is undoubtedly planning, and which would turn him into even more of a target. And it will buy us time. With Sirius gone, Bellatrix on His side and Regulus too young to be expected to step forward, it will get the Dark Lord off our backs for a while."

"What if Dumbledore tries to turn him into a pro-Muggle figurehead?" Cygnus asked.

Orion shook his head. "I know the old man," he said. "Sirius may be in Gryffindor, but he's from a Slytherin family. Dumbledore would never fully trust him. It's one of his few blind spots, and always has been."

Cygnus nodded thoughtfully. "If that's what you're asking for, I will support you. Will his mother, though?"

Orion scoffed again. "Oh, undoubtedly. Let's just say that my Sirius inherited his temper and lack of common sense from someone, and it wasn't me. Walburga has favoured Regulus ever since he was born. And the role of the martyred mother of a traitor son will appeal to her. She loves to exhibit pureblood pride."

Evan pictured Walburga Black's stern features and shuddered. He watched Cygnus empty his glass and stand. Next to his cousin, he stopped and put a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Orion."

The elder Black shrugged, but didn't finish his drink. "I'll make him as safe as I can, the young fool. He'll have to go from there." He rose from his chair. "Let's get back to the ballroom before they start looking for us." Gesturing for Cygnus to precede him, he opened the door. Evan's heartbeat sped up with hope.

Orion picked up his discarded mask and looked down at it like he was scrutinizing a stranger.

"He will, you know," he told his cousin's back before lifting it to his face and fastening it in place behind his head. "He's a Black."

Evan slumped back against the ornate mantel of the fireplace when the door finally closed behind the two men. To his surprise, he found himself shaking with rage. Here were the Blacks, scheming to protect that bullying little bastard who slagged them off ten times daily at school, while someone like Severus, who deserved that kind of support, was burdened with a Muggle creature that…

He bit his lip and grabbed a handful of iridescent sand from the Floo bowl. He, Evan, knew the truth that Sirius Black never would – it would have to be revenge enough.

He hurled the powder into the fireplace and jumped inside as soon as the magic started to build into a cloud of green dust, whispering the name of his destination. He was spat out in a shower of ash, and pressed a hand to his mouth to stifle the coughs.

Despite its grand name, the Shipley Exchange Floo Station was an unmanned fireplace in an old brick shed that led out into a dingy, claustrophobic backyard full of Muggle debris. Evan scrunched up his nose as he picked his way through the rubbish, hiding his Lumos-lit wand in a fold of his cloak. He didn't think the Draught of Unseeing would hide the light. He stumbled over some piece of scrap metal that clattered away across the uneven pavement stones, but nobody seemed to notice despite the noise. Cursing his stubbed toes, Evan marched on. He'd made the trip before, of course, but it had been easier in daylight with a tracking charm to guide him.

The bleakness and unfamiliarity of the streets intimidated him – harsh lights, the stench of Muggle cars and drab, brash Muggles rushing everywhere. A constant drizzle had started, and Evan pulled up the hood of his cloak as he walked, careful not to brush any pedestrians. It was a place utterly without any redeeming feature, more dreary and alien than the shadiest alley Evan had seen in Knockturn. Perhaps the Death Eaters were right, and it would be better if such a place didn't exist at all.

It took him two attempts to identify the correct lane in a sequence of narrow streets. Spinner's End was part of a maze in what had to be one of the older parts of town. The houses were blackened with dust and fumes, but built from brick in a way that wouldn't have made them stand out too much in a wizarding environment. The house he searched for was the last in its street; behind it flowed a silent, black river enclosed in a concrete bed. It must have been a dismal place to grow up in, Evan thought. No wonder Snape had turned out the way he had.

The front window next to the door was dark as Evan approached, but there was a light in the upstairs window. Snape, Evan knew with certainty, would not be home. On the first day of the holidays, and the last day before the start of term, he and his mother stayed at the Leaky Cauldron – one of the few breaks they got, Evan thought darkly. Neither of them would sacrifice it to come home early.

Straightening his back, Evan took his wand, extinguished the Lumos and whispered, "Alohomora!" The door sprang open without as much as a click. Tobias Snape must feel very safe. Evan's mouth tightened in a grim line as he pushed the door open and slipped inside, immediately pulling it shut behind him.

It led into a narrow corridor that opened into the kitchen. The house smelled stale, with a whiff of old cooking. The kitchen was dark and lifeless; nothing moved, not even the sponge sitting atop a dirty frying pan in the sink. Evan crossed the room quickly, and paused at the stair. A sliver of light fell across the shabbily carpeted steps.

The first time he'd spied on Snape, his friend had come down that stair, causing the wood to creak with every step. Evan cast a quick silencing charm and tiptoed noiselessly upwards.

The light came from the door at the end of the corridor, which was half open unlike the other two Evan passed. He crept forward until he could peer around the doorjamb. The door led into Snape's parents' bedroom, as Evan had already suspected. It held a rather narrow double bed, a rickety dresser and a couch with a small side table.

Tobias Snape sat on the couch, legs and elbows spread and taking up both seats at once. He was listening to the steady rumble of a wireless set on the sideboard, face half hidden behind a newspaper with a lot of pictures that didn't move. He was wearing corduroy trousers with suspenders over a white undershirt that had seen cleaner days. Evan shivered with revulsion.

That first time in summer, only curiosity had made him spy on Snape, who'd never uttered a syllable about his home life. Everybody in Slytherin took that as a sign that he was a half-blood, and it caused him quite a bit of grief. Only Gryffindor's Evans, whom Snape fancied madly, knew more about him, and she wouldn't spill her secrets to a Slytherin. So Evan had dropped his salamander pin with a tracking charm on it into Snape's trunk when they were packing for the summer holidays, and had dedicated the next day with Floo Powder and a broom to tracking him down to the backyard behind his kitchen.

Then, too, Tobias Snape's presence had overshadowed everything as Evan had peered through the half-open back door into the kitchen, where Snape's parents were arguing. In front of Evan's shocked eyes, Snape's father had slapped his mother, sending her stumbling against the sink, one arm raised to shield her face.

Evan had expected her to go for her wand, but she just crouched there, hair straggling wildly across her face when footsteps sounded on the stairs and Severus came running down in Muggle trousers and shirt. His father turned to face him, fists clenched and with a sneer on his face. In that instant, the thin, beaten figure of Snape's mother had come to life. She threw herself bodily between her husband and son.

"Go to your room, Severus. Right now!"

Pain flickered over Snape's sallow face. "But Mum, he's..."

"He's what?" Tobias roared, taking a step forward, then hesitating when Severus produced his wand from somewhere about his person.

"No!" Mrs Snape shrilled. "Severus, you can't! The Ministry will know!"

"Yes," Tobias Snape jeered. "They'd send you straight to that prison if you attack your father, those freaks you're so proud to be part of. So you better do as your mother says before I give you a hiding too."

"Go!" Eileen Snape cried again, and after an agonising second of indecision, Severus turned and ran up the stairs.

Evan had stumbled away from the kitchen door and fled. He knew he could have interfered, but if it came out, the Ministry would charge him with assault on a Muggle, and Severus... Severus would never stop hating him for what he had seen.

Evan's plan had been born that summer afternoon. Now, it was time.

A dry shudder ran through him and his skin started to feel tense, as if a film was drying on it. The Draught of Unseeing – it had to be wearing off. Evan's first impulse was to turn and run, but then he bit his lip and forced himself to push the door open. He had needed invisibility to come here; now, it didn't matter any longer.

Tobias Snape looked up as the door moved. His eyes were narrow and red-rimmed, and he smelled of drink. A brown bottle, nearly empty, stood on the floor next to him.

"Eileen, is that you?" he called, cocking his head with a scowl. "Severus? This better not be one of your silly tricks, boy!" He was staring directly at Evan now. "What..."

"I'm not Severus," Evan said, surprised at how cold his voice sounded. He pushed his hood back. With his face hidden behind the fox mask, he knew he'd not be recognised even if the Aurors should investigate later. His wand trembled in his hand, and he wondered absently how the Death Eaters managed to do this.

"You..." Snape growled, face reddening, and the curse left Evan's lips almost on its own. The man – the Muggle, Evan reminded himself – clasped a surprised hand to his chest and stumbled. Then he fell backwards, crashing onto the couch. He didn't move, and his face was paling rapidly. Evan counted the seconds – eight to stun and immobilise, sixteen to cause lasting damage. Twenty-four to kill.

It took what seemed an eternity to reach twenty. When he lowered his wand, Tobias Snape was still breathing, but only in shallow little hisses and his face had turned paper-white. His eyes were closed.

He wouldn't die, but then Evan hadn't come to kill. He'd just come to ensure that this man would never threaten Severus again, or the mother Severus cared about. Deaths always aroused suspicion, especially the deaths of Muggles who had come into contact with the magical world. But this? Home Life and Social Habits of British Muggles said that Muggles were vulnerable to heart problems and often suffered 'strokes'. And Tobias Snape had been drinking. Nobody would ever know, and the spell would ensure that he'd never recover to tell anyone about the visitor he'd had this night.

Evan had no idea how he got back to the Floo station; he was cold and numb, barely registering the rain that dripped over his hair and face and ran in icy rivulets into his collar. Pulling his hood back up somehow never occurred to him.

He reached the Floo Exchange, the brick shed now decidedly damp with puddles creeping inward from the door. Evan grabbed a fistful of coarse Floo Powder and mouthed "Cygnus Black's mansion."

He stumbled into the Floo fire, pulled forward by the magic, but instead of appearing beside the familiar mantelpiece, he crashed hard into something invisible, whirled once through thin air, then landed even harder on wet grass.

Gasping for air and dizzy with vertigo, he managed to scramble onto his knees; it was dark, and the smell of wet grass and leaves filled the air. Something had blocked off the Blacks' Floo connection and spat him out in the gardens surrounding the house instead. There were voices nearby, and instinctively Evan shrank back against the dripping hedges that rose up behind him.

"... don't think I have seen that unfortunate soul before." Cygnus' voice, unmistakable after the conversation Evan had overheard earlier this night. "I am quite certain he was not on our guest list for tonight, Bartemius."

Crouch! Oh Merlin, how could they already know!

Snap out of it, Evan told himself harshly. The obvious answer was that they couldn't. He crept along the hedge until he could look around the corner. Further down towards the house, a knot of wizards in Auror robes were standing around a pitiful bundle on the floor covered with a spare scarlet cloak.

Just around the corner of the hedge stood Bartemius Crouch, head of Magical Law Enforcement, with Cygnus Black.

"You heard and saw nothing?" Crouch asked sharply. "Nor any of your guests?"

"There was music playing." Cygnus shrugged. "And the gardens were off-limits tonight, apart from the rose bower which is under a fairweather charm. I have no idea what that man was doing here. It's no weather for a tête-à-tête, to say the least." He tilted his head, revealing his neatly-trimmed beard. "Your people seem to know him though, Bartemius. I find that... interesting."

Crouch's thin fingers clenched for a moment. "You won't have any objections to my men searching the gardens?"

"Of course not, Bartemius," Cygnus assured almost cheerfully. "You must do everything you can to find the culprit. Now, if there is nothing else I can do for you right now, I should return to my guests?"

Crouch nodded and strode off without another word, waving his Aurors closer. Evan started to tremble. He was trapped with his back against the hedge and no place to hide. Anyone who walked around the corner would see him immediately now that the Draught of Unseeing had worn off. He'd be found in the gardens with a dead body, and as soon as they gave him Veritaserum, it would be clear what he had done. He'd go to Azkaban at best, bringing shame on his family. He'd give away Aubrey, who was probably responsible for the corpse, and Severus would know.

The Aurors started to spread out in groups of two and three, one group making straight for the corner Evan was hiding behind. Shaking, he drew his wand to put up as much as a fight he could, when something slammed him backward into the hedge.

He hung there frozen, leaves and twigs digging into his back, without being able to draw a breath or move a muscle. It was like being trapped in a solid bank of fog. For a heart-stopping moment he thought the Aurors had caught him in a trapping spell, but they looked right past him as they passed, as if the Draught of Unseeing was still working on him. He could feel the rage radiating off them even through the numbing magic that encased him.

Then a tall, grey-cloaked figure stepped out of the shadows and raised his hand between Evan's trapped form and the scarlet-clad group. As if compelled, the Aurors began to walk away from him, still talking agitatedly.

The cowled figure watched them for a few long moments, then slowly turned to Evan.

"I hope you will excuse my intervention, young man. But you seem to have stumbled into an operation set in motion by my followers, and I didn't think you deserved to be caught up in it." It was a low voice, terribly compelling and sharp as if it were stumbling over a hiss. "Unlike our easily distracted friends," he nodded at the Aurors, "I do not disapprove of your actions tonight."

"You're reading my mind," Evan said, his lips icy and numb.

"It is very hard to avoid." Evan started to shiver. He had been afraid earlier tonight, but he couldn't muster fear now. What he felt was something else altogether. "You are broadcasting your thoughts so loudly that anybody with sensitivity and training will pick up on them." The last Auror disappeared around the far end of the hedge, and the mist enveloping Evan vanished an instant later. His gasped for air.

"There are techniques one can employ to shield oneself," the man continued without any seeming concern that they were standing in the middle of a Department of Magical Law Enforcement operation in a garden full of angry Aurors. "They are called Occlumency. I could teach you about them if you were interested, Mr Rosier."

"At what price?" Evan blurted out, mouth working without any input from his brain.

"Do you think I would threaten to throw you to the Aurors red-handed if you didn't swear me loyalty on the spot, boy?" A low chuckle. "That is not how I choose my allies, no matter what you may have heard. Least of all those who have only just stopped being children."

"You chose Aubrey," Evan countered, ignoring the chattering voice at the back of his head asking whether he was courting the Killing Curse or worse. Perhaps shock was erasing his sense of self-preservation.

"Ah, young Mr Wilkes…" The Dark Lord stepped onto the path besides the manicured hedge, and made a small, inviting gesture. "Walk with me, Mr Rosier."

It wasn't a request, but Evan wouldn't have refused either way. He stepped beside the grey figure and fell into step with his measured pace. Although he could still hear the Aurors calling to each other, no one crossed their path. The rain had ceased, though whether it was by chance or because it, too, had been scared off by Lord Voldemort, Evan couldn't begin to speculate.

"I accepted your friend into my service out of respect for his parents' grief," the Dark Lord said after a few moments' silence. "It seemed to be the easier solution, for him, than become a target for their resentment."

There was truth in that, as much as Evan disliked the thought. He nodded silently.

"He is a very brave young man, though," the Dark Lord added. "As are you, Mr Rosier."

"I didn't do it because I hate Muggles," Evan said. For some reason, that seemed important.

"I know," the Dark Lord acknowledged. "It is a curious thing, loyalty. Come to think of it, I have heard the name Severus Snape a fair few times recently. He seems to be a skilled and resourceful young man."

Evan's head came up, his stomach fluttering with panic.

"No, Mr Wilkes did not mention him at all." The Dark Lord sounded distinctly amused now. "It seems that loyalty is a distinctive characteristic among your friends as well." The words didn’t soothe Evan's unease. If He considered Aubrey more loyal to Evan and Severus than to His cause… He tried to squash the thought as soon as it took shape.

"Snape is a half-blood," he said.

The Dark Lord paused to inspect the blood-coloured branches of a Fire Chestnut along the path.

"Does that make you appreciate him any less?"

"Of course not!"

"Then why would I?"

Evan felt the urge to bite his fingers, and forced himself not to.

"I will not make you an offer to join me, Mr Rosier," the Dark Lord said. "Not tonight. It would be an insult to both of us."

"You saved me," Evan pointed out. "I owe you a debt."

"Consider it void," the Dark Lord said. "As I said, your actions intrigued me, and it took little enough effort."

It wasn't that simple, Evan knew. There would always be expectations. And truth be told, he wanted to offer something in return. It seemed… appropriate. Taking a deep breath, he played over the night's jumble of memories. He touched one until it shone like a polished gem, and pulled it to the forefront of his mind.

"I'll make him as safe as I can, the young fool. He'll have to go from there."

Evan didn't feel the Dark Lord touch his mind this time either, but He paused and turned to face him. Inclined His head once, in silent acknowledgement.

"I would return you to the house now, Mr Rosier," He said after a long moment of silence. Evan nodded once, quietly. He wasn't surprised that the Dark Lord would be capable of doing that despite the Aurors' Disappariation barrier.

The Dark Lord held out a gloved hand, and after the barest instant of hesitation, Evan took it, not blind to the implications of the gesture. Lord Voldemort's grasp was surprisingly light.

"You may call on me should you ever think about joining my Death Eaters," He said as a soft, grey glow started to outline Evan's shape. "You do know whom to approach, after all."

Evan swallowed hard, then lowered his head in the crisp half-bow wizarding society employed to acknowledge a superior.

He did not answer. But then, in the presence of Lord Voldemort, he did not have to.

~ finis ~
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