Dec 272006

Title: Fear of the Unknown (Masquerade II)
Fandom: Potterverse
Characters: Phaedrus Entropium, Severus Snape, Rodolphus Lestrange, Lord Voldemort
Notes: (MH AU) Snape would like to clear his conscience of the events of twenty years ago. Roddy’s getting worse as time passes, and Sev would like to see his tormentors in the ground before the seals on the Irishman’s memories break.

This story is the second part of the Masquerade series — a group of stories involving Death Eaters who turned against each other, and the repercussions that followed, more than twenty years later. Phaedrus is an OC from the RPG this story originated in — he’s a sentient non human. (A pooka, actually; this AU sees the tall faerie-kin as in the same position as the centaurs, in canon.) Since the meeting in the first part takes place in America, and involves things better left unattributed, code names are used: Batty is Severus Snape, Sin is Rodolphus Lestrange, and Rabbit is Phaedrus Entropium.

Vortex :: December 24, 1998, 2pm local/12am GMT

Phaedrus sat at a table with his back to the wall and his eyes to the door, a laptop open before him. He’d had to borrow the laptop to run these tests, but if things went as planned, the rest of the money would buy him his very own – and of better quality than the machine he kept at home. He fiddled with the contacts at the end of the cable that trailed from the serial port. Static danced across the display.

He waited.

When Severus walked into Coffeehell and immediately spotted the man called Rabbit. Pulling out the seat opposite the technomancer, he sat down. "Greetings. Is this the device?" He studied the thing in front of the other man. It seemed to be made of two panels and a pair of wires trailed from it. One joined a point in the wall, and the other terminated in two copper pads that lay on the table. It certainly looked interesting.

It became obvious that the wizard had never seen a computer. Phae stared blankly for a moment, carefully choosing his words. "The device has many functions. The functions can be transferred from it to others of its type – we call them ‘programs’, and the device is called a ‘computer’.

"That’s not important, though. What’s important is whether the program you wanted works. Do you have a sample for it to read?"

‘Computer.’ He’d heard of those from the Muggleborn students. Somehow he’d imagined them to be larger. Sev pulled a pensieve and a phial from his pocket. "I have the first phial of memories I need converted. What shall I do with them?"

"Is that the bowl they go in? I don’t know how these things work, except in theory. I gathered from the spec sheets you sent that there was some sort of bowl of liquid I would be working with. I have to assume the liquid, then, is in the vial?" Phae looked interested in actually seeing a working pensieve. "Just set it up the way you would if you were going to watch it, and then stick those copper things to opposite sides of the inside of the bowl."

Severus did as he was told, emptying the phial into the bowl of the pensieve and pressing the copper pads against the sides of the bowl, half submerged in the fluid. "Like that?"

Rabbit couldn’t possibly understand how important it was to him to have these things recorded. With these memories recorded in a portable format that could be duplicated fairly easily, there would be no question of guilt anywhere when he finally wreaked his vengeance on those three who so richly deserved it. He might be remembered as a murderer, but he’d be a man who repaid his debts.

Phae fiddled with the sliders, clearing up the image as it came in. "I think we’ve got something. I’m going to have to play with the levels for a bit, just to make sure it all comes in clearly, but it’s definitely reading." He turned the laptop to show the screen to Batty. The scene it displayed was not a pleasant one, Sin lay curled into a ball on a concrete doorstep answering questions that Batty, kneeling beside him, asked.

"Who did it, this time?" young video-Batty asked.

"It was Wally MacNair. Avery said he wanted to ask me something, and then when I turned around…" video-Sin miserably coughed and spit blood.

Sev’s face tightened and he nodded. "Good. You’ll want to turn down the volume. Some of it is… ah… Hearing it once was once more than strictly necessary." He didn’t want to watch all of these things again; they’d been bad enough the first time, and far too much, the second.

"If I won’t be in the way, I’d like to stay until you’re done. I really shouldn’t let the pensieve or its contents out of my sight." Severus drew a novel out of a pocket of his robes. "I can keep myself occupied."

Phaedrus raised his eyes sharply at the first comment. "Is it all like this, then?" He held up a hand and shook his head as he turned the screen back toward himself. "Don’t tell me. Not my business. I probably won’t see most of it, I’ll be too busy working out the glitches."

He pulled a pair of headphones from his jacket. "Sure, you can stay. I know how that works. This should only take an hour or two."

Severus nodded to Rabbit and opened his book. He had, in recent years, become fond of the adventures of a character called Brother Cadfael, a pleasant-tempered herbalist who solved mysteries in medieval England. The Rose Rent, this one was called, and he was certain it would be an excellent and entertaining distraction from what was playing across the technomancer’s screen.

Phaedrus tried to ignore the content of the incoming video as he adjusted the colour balance and the volume, the framerate and the synchronization

. He couldn’t help but watch the scene of Batty fighting for his life and possibly that of a young boy. As the scene played out, he realised that the fight was happening inside the boy’s mind. …and that the boy was Sin’s son, Orion.

Batty found what he had been looking for, and with enough time for a moment of melodrama. The dark man closed his mind to the incoming probe and rattled off a few lines from a film he’d become fond of in the last decade:

"My will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me." Batty waved almost cheerfully to his opponent as he pulled out a cork from the wall, disabling the trap and destroying the illusion.

Phae found himself cheering silently as Batty destroyed the illusory attacker and saved the day.

He was again trying to ignore the reels, except for their surface characteristics, when another scene caught his eye. It was Sin, again, with the man from the other reel — Avery, he thought the man’s name was — this time Avery and his friends had arranged some sort of disgusting parody of a bachelor party.

Phae felt his knuckles start to hurt and realized he was clenching his fists. He had to stop working for a bit. He was down into the finicky adjustments — things no one else would notice, but that would make him crazy — and there was no way he could make them until he calmed down. As he watched the one called Avery pour something liquid into the gaping wound that had been Sin’s abdomen, Phae vanished without a sound.

His headphones struck the chair with a light clack. Rabbit had vanished without another sound.

Sev leaned over, closed the lid on the laptop and continued reading his book. Whatever had happened, it was probably not his business. Explanations would come later, if there were any.

About forty-five minutes later, Phae faded back into the room standing next to the chair he’d so suddenly left. He appeared freshly washed and was carrying an extramely posh looking box of English Breakfast tea. Severus rubbed his eye and looked up.

"Sorry, I just realised I needed to get someone a Christmas present." He opened the laptop and examined the screen. "I think this is done. Let me just scan it for issues before I give it to you."

He stared at the screen with a strange serenity as the images flashed by. "It’s probably as clean as I can get it." He removed the cd from the drive and handed it to Batty. "I can make more copies at any time, as long as you can provide me with either the pensieve or that disc. The disc would, of course, be easier."

Nodding at the explanation, Sev sat through the review of the recording before accepting the disc.

"Thank you," he said quietly, setting a small bag on the table containing the other half of the payment, as well as an extra 10 galleons. "Merry Christmas."

He shook Rabbit’s hand, and walked out into the snow.

In unblinking serenity, Phaedrus gathered his equipment and left. An extra ten galleons would make a hefty difference in what he’d be able to buy for himself, this month. He decided that it was time to invest in an obsidian knife, if only for the sheer badassery inherent in owning one. It would make a brilliant display piece, and one with more uses than he’d ever admit in public.

Rookwood had come to him, two days prior, to discuss the matter of a peculiar Yule gift. Apparently, the former Unspeakable had received a hatbox, tied with a festive bow, containing a bloodstained skull with an illusory serpent wound through the eyes. The elder Lestrange had been unable to offer any useful comments on the origins or symbolism, except to say that it was definitely human, and probably a visual pun on the Dark Mark. He paid for his ignorance, of course.

The Dark Lord announced an emergency conclave when the news of Avery’s death broke, the following morning. His suspicions as to the identity of the skull were suddenly aroused by the news, and he would have an answer at the next night’s Revel, if it could be called such with one of his more useful moles lying dead. He sat alone in speculation, if one failed to count the ever-present Nagini, wound around both his seat and his chest, and wondered at the audacity of any man dim enough to launch an attack against one of his Death Eaters. He was somewhat sobered by the idea that that individual had so neatly succeeded, but found it easy to attribute the success to some fault of Avery — perhaps the man had gotten slow as he aged. He would be difficult to replace, certainly, but nothing was impossible.

December 27th, 1998, 10pm

He strode into the room in which his followers were waiting, already mumbling their suspicions and half-cocked theories. He cleared his throat before taking his seat on the dais at the head of the room, and silence fell swiftly across the crowd. "Gentlemen, I believe we have a problem. Pollux Avery appears to have been violently murdered. I offer my condolences, of course, to his father."

He paused for the appreciative murmur and the nod from the elder Avery. "I would hope that any of you who believe they have evidence or suspicions in this matter would think to bring them to me. Rookwood, for instance has brought a strange offering that I believe to have been some article of Avery’s sacrifice, but I will address that momentarily. Has anyone else anything to bring to my attention?"

Every head in the room turned to inspect its neighbours. A voice in the back finally piped up. "It was that wicked bint he married, my Lord. She was nothing but a shrew." Hearty laughter surrounded the speaker.

"Your opinions have been duly noted, Mulciber. In the future, I will insist that you display more respect for the dead. Crucio." He levelled his wand at the unfortunate man, who crumpled, screaming, to the floor. After a few minutes with nothing but a mildly amused expression, he dispelled the curse. "Carrow, Dolohov, help your friend up. I sincerely hope to hear no further unfortunate merriment from your corner of the room, this evening."

Two masked heads nodded before dipping below the visual horizon to remove their groaning compatriot from the floor.

"Now," he continued, turning his pallid, impatient features back toward the rest of the room, "I believe that Rookwood has something to show us. Come, Augustus, display the lovely gift from your mysterious benefactor." He crooked a finger at his greasy lackey.

Rookwood swaggered into the clear space between the Death Eaters and the Dark Lord’s throne with the hatbox tucked under one arm. "Yes, my Lord." He nodded and opened the box, allowing it to fall to the floor away from the contents he lifted from it. There was a sudden murmur that rattled through the crowd as they perceived the skull.

"Tell me, Augustus," the Dark lord purred, "what have you discovered about the skull since last we spoke?"

The masked figure turned around, eyes widening in horror. "Nothing, my Lord — you didn’t ask anything!"

He shook his head. "I thought you were the smart one in your little cadre, Augustus. Able to put two and two together? Considerate enough to investigate the identity of our Yorick?" He feigned surprise. "What a terrible shame. Set down the skull, Rookwood. I don’t want it damaged."

Rookwood was surprisingly composed as he laid the skull back into the box and knelt facing the throne. He knew what was coming and feared it, but years as an Unspeakable and more years as a Death Eater had rather inured him to the prospect of straightfacedly enduring various forms of trauma. He waited.

The Dark Lord also waited, just long enough to induce doubt in his followers, before striking with lightning quickness. "Crucio. I thought better of you, Augustus." He examined his fingernails while waiting for the screams to subside into whimpers of shock.

"Malfoy, you’ve always been passable at obscure charms. Identify the original owner of this skull for me." He picked Lucius out of the crowd with his wand, and then gestured to the box on the floor.

Lucius stepped forward carefully, and took a look at the skull. Aiming his wand at it, he cast a charm he’d learned from his father. Suddenly the image of Pollux Avery’s head superimposed itself over the skull, not disturbing the serpent that was already there. "It’s Avery, my Lord."

"Finally, a competent agent!" He applauded ironically. "My compliments, Lucius. Please move Rookwood; he’s going to ruin the floor with all that sobbing and drooling, and I’d prefer the stains to be out of my view."

Glad he was wearing his mask, because it hid his features, his face screwed up into an expression of hate and distaste. Since he already had his wand out, he pointed it at Rookwood, and levitated the man over to MacNair, before returning to where he had been standing.

MacNair glared at Lucius before lifting his friend off the floor. One of them would die soon, and he hoped it would be Malfoy, who, worse than the half-breed and the Irish queer, consorted with both. He was fairly certain that it was Lucius’s behaviours that had killed old Abraxas, in the end.

The Dark Lord looked contemplative. "I expect answers. Rewards will be granted to those who can provide them. If I am given so much as an iota of false information, though, the penalty shall far outstrip the reward." He flicked his wand and the door slammed open. "Go forth, my maggots, and consume the bloated carcass that is the modern Wizarding World. Such a shame it has not yet rolled over and realised its demise. Bring me what I desire, if not from your undying respect, then in self-interest — a dead man, as they say, tells no tales but the implicit story of his treason." He waved his hand, and the room began to empty.

Augustus Rookwood arrived at the door of the Avery home, still dressed in his hooded black robe, but no longer wearing his mask. He held a hatbox in one hand, and knocked at the door with the other.

As Iris opened the door, he offered her a fake smile. "I think this was delivered to me by mistake. I believe it is yours," he said, hefting the box. "May I come in?"

She nodded and held the door open. Leading him into the dining room, she asked, "Augie? Why did Pol get killed? Was it one of you?"

He closed the door before turning back to her, sweeping the greasy brown curls that had escaped his ponytail back under the hood. "Funny, I was about to ask you something very similar. I know you never loved Pol. Why did it take you so long to have him killed?"

He set the box on the table and watched her whip back towards him, outrage burning in her eyes. "How dare you? How dare you set foot in my home with such an accusation?" Her sallow face bore a banshee’s fury. He opened the box with a tired smirk revealing a slightly blood-marred skull with an illusory serpent wound into a Möbius band through the eye sockets.

Iris gasped and leapt back. "Augie, what is th —" Her face paled in recognition. "It’s Pol, isn’t it. How did you get that? It wasn’t here when I found him."

He closed the box. "No, it wasn’t. It arrived Christmas morning with a bow on it. Someone’s trying to rub it in." He lowered his hood. "Look, Iris, I was his best friend for the last twenty five years. I may not think much of you, and you may not have thought much of either of us, but someone has just gotten away with murder. I’d be willing to bet that all of his goods and money are on hold until it can be proven both that he is dead and that you didn’t kill him. Work with me, Iris. I can prove he’s dead." He tapped on the box.

She looked at him suspiciously. He looked tired and worn down on top of the scarring and discolouration that had been on his face as long as she’d known him. He was ragged and bruised, like he’d faced at least a little bit of the Cruciatus, recently. Apparently, he’d been interrogated about the skull. "So, if I get the skull, and with it, the proof of Pol’s death, what do you get out of this?"

He smiled down at her. "I get closure. I get revenge. I get to see my best friend’s killer melt in my hands like an overboiled chicken. Show me where he was killed."

She looked up at him in poorly suppressed fear, then nodded and walked into the living room. He followed, and was stunned by the now-dried display that greeted him. The stench persisted, and was now atrocious, although it extended no farther than the door of the room. Containment spells, he thought. Choking his vomit down, he cast a few spells of detection and revelation, including some that were not generally available to Ministry officials, due to their restricted status. The only result that came back was one that registered the other traces in the room as being Unidentified Magical Beast. He shuddered and left the room, followed by Iris.

"What is it?" she demanded. "You saw something. What is it?"

He looked down bleakly. "Unidentified Magical Beast. From the remains, especially the ones in the box, I’m going to guess it’s an unaligned sentient. It’s intelligent, Iris. And it isn’t a man. Pol pissed something off, and it came back for him."

Her hands fluttered up to clasp above her heart. "What if it comes back for me? Oh, Merlin! We’re not safe here, are we, Augie?"

He stepped toward the door. "You have nothing to worry about, Iris. You and the girl will be just fine. If it wanted to kill you, it would have done it the first time. I think I’m next."

He opened the door and stepped out. "Tell the Aurors that the box appeared in the middle of the night," he said, closing it behind him, to leave her standing alone in the foyer.