|skitty_kat (skitty_kat) wrote,|
@ 2010-09-27 06:55:00
|Current music:||the today programme - bbc radio 4|
Fic: The Pirate, The Professor, and the Ruin of the Empire (Snupin, PG-13) 2/2
The smoke clung thickly around Birmingham as the Gay Wolf limped down towards the city. Now Britain’s largest land-locked port, Birmingham was second only to London for activity and industry. The city had thrived since the introduction of the airships, combining them with the railways and canals to form a busy transport hub.
The Wolf drifted slowly over the shouts of market traders in the Bull Ring and the bustle of the busy city to finally dock among the other ships at Five Ways, the main airship interchange for the city. Among so many ships the Wolf slipped unnoticed, settling under the shadows of the other gasbags. Mundungus and Ron were sent off to see about repairs to the ship (with strict instructions not to agree to anything without Remus’s permission) while the rest of the crew set about disguising the Wolf as an honest merchant ship by the name of the Black Dog (Sirius had picked the name; Remus had wanted to use the Impecunious Werewolf but had been overruled as being to close to the original). Remus, Sirius and Kingsley went to investigate alternative transport from the city, Snape in tow.
Under Kingsley’s guidance they found themselves winding through alleys and side streets until they stood outside a townhouse.
‘He used to be a Peeler,’ Kingsley explained, ‘but the Empire didn’t sit too well with him. Decided he would rather retire than do the Emperor’s dirty work. Runs his own airship out of the port and does some amateur thief-taking on the side.’ He chuckled. ‘He’s very suspicious of everything these days but I think that’s probably in our favour this time.’
‘Wait a minute,’ said Sirius suddenly, ‘you don’t mean Mad Old Moody, do you? The man’s said to be a completely paranoid b…’
‘Can I help you at all?’ A voice abruptly boomed from the doorway.
Kingsley bent to address the speaking tube beside the door. ‘Hallo, Alastor. It’s Kingsley – remember, we helped each other out with that mess in the Brecon Beacons. My companions and I would greatly appreciate your assistance.’
‘Shacklebolt … that affair with the rogue Welsh druids.’ There was a long pause, followed by a click of the door. ‘Come in then. Straight up the stairs; I’m on the second floor. Don’t touch anything.’
They followed his instructions, Kingsley informing them with a mutter that Moody was very fond of creating his own security systems. The man himself eyed them all suspiciously as they trooped into his room, fixing Snape especially with a vicious glare.
‘You didn’t say you were with the Empire these days, Shacklebolt,’ he barked. ‘This man’s one of their worst!’
‘And a pleasure it is to see you again too, Moody,’ Snape said acidly, not even looking at the man. He glanced round the room, which was clearly where Moody worked on his security creations. Mechanical devices, mostly half-finished, strewed every surface and most of the floor. He poked through some of the heaps.
‘He’s on our side,’ Kingsley said.
There was a snort from across the room. ‘Apparently.’
‘Sirius!’ Remus shot his first mate a sharp look before turning back to Moody to explain. ‘He knows Lord Albus.’
‘Is that so?’ Moody shuffled closer to the professor. ‘Then tell me, what does the scar on his left knee resemble?’
Snape smirked. ‘Nothing, yet. But he says it’s what the Metropolitan Railway will become – once he gets back in power, of course. He has a vision of a great underground railway linking all of London, all inspired by that scar.’
Moody nodded reluctantly. ‘That’s accurate. But I don’t see how Albus could have approved of those metal monsters you created to take the place of honest bobbies.’
‘All part of the plan.’
‘That’s a very long term plan.’
Snape inclined his head. ‘I’m sure you would appreciate the folly of going off half-cocked when taking on an organisation of such magnitude. No use charging in on a whim and, for example, randomly kidnapping someone in the hope that it might do some good.’ He favoured Remus with a sidelong glance.
Remus pulled a face. ‘Point taken, professor. Mr Moody, we have a pressing need to hurry south and I understand you own an airship that can get us there.’
‘I do, but she’s half in storage at the moment. It’ll take at least a couple of hours to get her airborne, but she’ll do the journey in about three hours. Train’ll only take about four.’
‘We can’t take the whole crew on the train,’ Sirius argued, ‘we’d be spotted a mile off. Not to mention the cost.’
‘Five hours is too long,’ said Snape, the gold pocket watch gleaming in his hand. ‘The train’s our only option.’
Sirius scoffed. ‘Is one hour really going to make that much difference?’
Snape scowled at him. ‘Timing is absolutely essential. If everything doesn’t all happen exactly as planned then the plan will not work.’
‘Then it isn’t a very good plan, is it?’
‘I’d like to see how you would try to bring down an Empire with one blow!’
‘Then we’ll split up,’ Remus interrupted calmly. ‘Professor, you and I will take the train. Sirius, you’re in charge of bringing everyone else. Mr Moody, if we may beg the loan of your ship?’
A grin crossed Moody’s scarred old face. ‘The Constant Vigilance is at your service, captain. Have no fear, my Connie’ll get your boys there!’
The great iron and glass roof of New Street station arched magnificently above the two men as they hurried onto the train. Disguised under hats and mufflers (there was a stiff breeze blowing and they were far from the only ones wrapped against it in that draughty station) they were fairly certain that they had escaped any possible pursuit. The porters were slamming the carriage doors as they slipped into an empty compartment and by the time they were seated the stationmaster’s whistle was giving the train permission to leave the station.
Remus leant back comfortably, crossing his legs and tossing his hat and muffler onto the seat beside him. Snape folded his carefully, tucking the muffler into the hat and sitting stiffly on the plush seat.
‘Moody seems like a queer fish,’ Remus said conversationally, ‘still, I think the rest of the crew will be in good hands.’
‘He was a good policeman,’ said Snape, ‘though I’m hardly surprised he resigned. He is a man of principles and his principles are not those to which the Empire adheres.’
‘What, he disapproved of the Empire’s methods of interrogation and suchlike?’
Snape snorted. ‘Moody’s always been in favour of the harsher punishments. No, he rather takes against, shall we say, the partiality of the Emperor’s judgements. He also highly disapproved of the Emperor’s methods of keeping the population under his authority.’ He steepled his hands, dropping into what Remus could only think of as the tone that would be used to lecture a class.
‘The Emperor controls through fear. It’s how he keeps people off the streets at night, by making them terrified of the various bogey-men and chimera that apparently roam the streets. Creatures, by the way, that he created himself. He sends one of us out to play the part, the penny dreadfuls take up the stories and the population goes mad with fear over them.’
Remus was fascinated. ‘What, like Sweeney Todd? The Gorbals vampire with his iron teeth? Spring-Heeled Jack?’
‘Quite. In fact, the last one was played by none other than myself.’ Snape looked somehow pleased with himself. ‘I built a most fantastic pair of boots for that. Cunning arrangement of pistons and springs, almost ripped my legs off first time I tried them out. Got them right eventually and before you knew it there was another monster lurking the streets of London. I leapt around London, terrified a few people and hopped off again.’
‘What about Jack the Ripper?’
Snape shuddered. ‘God’s truth, no. I’m not an utter psychopath. That was B– oh, it’s the guard.’
The railway guard knocked at the door and entered to check their tickets, punching neat little holes in each. Once the guard had left Snape seemed to relax, unbuttoning his coat and pulling it off his long arms. He draped it across his lap, forming a rudimentary surface onto which he dumped a pile of miscellaneous mechanical objects. An inside pocket of his waistcoat proved to contain a set of screwdrivers and with these he set to work dismantling the devices.
Remus gave him a puzzled glance. ‘Where did you get those?’
Snape smirked at the pocket watch he was prying the back from. ‘Filched them from Moody.’
‘Casual theft is de rigueur in the Empire now?’
‘This coming from a pirate with a history of kidnapping.’
Remus laughed out loud. ‘Touché,’ he muttered, settling back to watch the professor at work.
Slim fingers nimbly pulled apart cogs and springs, setting them in orderly piles across his coat. Clicks and metallic twangs were the only protests from the devices as they were steadily disassembled. Tiny screws rolled into the dip at the centre of Snape’s lap, a gleaming trail between his coat-covered thighs.
‘No matter how hard you stare,’ the professor’s voice cut through the quiet, ‘you won’t see through.’
Remus flushed, realising how the direction of his gaze could be interpreted. ‘You are rather obsessed with this idea, aren’t you?’
‘You’re the pirate,’ Snape answered, seeming just as embarrassed, ‘everyone knows your kind of intentions.’
Remus sighed. ‘And what have I done to even hint that I have those “intentions”?’ He paused but no reply was forthcoming. ‘Very well. I will not deny that I am, shall I say, interested – and that is not, might I add, an interest I have in every pair of trousers I see – but I will do nothing regarding that unless you wish it.’
Snape’s fingers had frozen in his lap, curled around the delicate wires he was involved in straightening out. He said nothing to Remus’s words, face hidden behind his hair as he slowly moved his fingers back to his task. Remus let out a soft huff of air kicked off his boots and lay down along the seat. His intension was to doze but found himself instead slyly watching his silent companion from half-closed eyes.
Snape, if he noticed the captain’s gaze on him, still held his tongue.
It was some time later, and much closer to their goal, that they spoke further. Remus must have fallen asleep at some point as he woke to find Snape gently shaking his shoulder.
‘We are not so far away now,’ he said, moving back to his seat as soon as he realised Remus was awake. ‘We need to be sure that we are prepared.’ He held out a battered-looking pocket watch, sliding the chain through his hand until the object rested in Remus’s palm.
Remus flicked it open, finding no clock face inside but instead a tightly-woven mesh. ‘What is it?’
‘A radio receiver.’ Snape looked smug. ‘We will not, obviously, be able to enter the palace together. If you are intending to help – and I admit, having a back-up in case something goes wrong would be beneficial – you will need to be aware of events as they transpire. Through that you will be able to hear everything from this transmitter here.’ He pulled a small cameo necklace from his shirt where it hung alongside Lord Albus’s watch.
Remus had to marvel at Snape’s work. Tiny and detailed, he had disguised the objects’ true purpose with perfect cunning. ‘Wire-less technology? Colour me impressed!’ He fiddled with the device for a few moments, flicking it open and closed. ‘How are we to enter the palace then?’ he asked, drawing his attention from the watch he held.
‘I will enter through the front door,’ said Snape. ‘For you there is a secret entrance to the palace that few know of – a secret passage which brings one out into the cellars. It will be dark and damp, there will most likely be all manner of foul creatures such as spiders and rats, but they make a good deterrent in case anyone is foolish enough to risk painful death at the hands of the Imperial guards.’
Remus grinned. ‘Sounds like marvellous fun. I always did enjoy tales of adventure when I was a boy.’
Snape scowled at him. ‘This is no fictional tunnel for idealised youths to stumble down willy-nilly. It will be gloomy and there will be spiders and all manner of invertebrates. Men have had nightmares from less awful places.’
He sighed, seeing that Remus had no intention of dampening his enthusiasm He leant back on the seat and propped his long legs up on the opposite seat beside the other man.
‘And I must think of a valid excuse for how I escaped the dastardly pirates. It would have made so much more sense to have let the Imperial ships take me back, thinking on it now,’ he said, a frown creasing his forehead.
Remus glanced at him. ‘But they would have killed the rest of us.’
Snape looked like he was struggling with a conundrum. ‘I don’t see why that should matter to me.’
‘I rather hope it does!’
‘I …’ Snape paused, ‘yes. It does. I don’t know why, but it does.’
He dropped back into silence, staring out of the window at the countryside rushing by. Remus watched him with some confusion.
‘The plan is what is important,’ Snape said a few moments later, ‘everything I’ve done, it’s all for that. A little death here and there – it’s not important in the grand scheme of things. But for some reason I can’t quite fathom, I didn’t want you to die.’
Snape flushed, ducking his head to hide behind his hair and refusing to answer. The train began to slow, entering the station.
As it turned out Snape’s prediction turned out to be accurate; it was dark, damp and there were indeed spiders. Remus, though, hearing the waves booming behind him and with the scent of the sea in his nostrils strode happily up the tunnel with an out-of-tune sea shanty on his lips. He felt like quite the smuggler despite having no contraband on him. His mood didn’t even falter when he walked face-first into a large spider’s-web or when he ended up ankle-deep in a very stagnant puddle. He supposed smugglers just had to put up with these things.
His lantern gleamed in the eyes of occasional creatures lurking in the gloom, some of them real and some Snape’s creations set as tunnel guards. Secreted as they were among the rough earth walls and skittering up the blind alleys which haphazardly branched off at the sides, Remus had difficulty distinguishing between the actual animals and the mechanical mimics. One, a clicking metal bat, dived at his face and he flinched instinctively, his foot slipping on the damp ground. He landed uncomfortably against the tunnel wall, cheek squishing into the dirt.
He swore mildly as he pushed himself up. ‘So perhaps tunnels aren’t entirely fun and games,’ he muttered. ‘Still, I bet Sirius will be impressed.’ He grinned, remembering that term at school when Sirius had attempted to co-opt all the boys in their dorm into digging a tunnel into the tuck shop. It had failed due to an error in trajectory and the omission of taking into account the school’s foundations that had brought them out into matron’s office – and hadn’t they got quite the tongue-lashing from that escapade!
To Remus’s relief (surely even smugglers would have got bored of endless darkness after a while) the tunnel came to an end soon after, rising smoothly to emerge behind an ornamental statue with rather more arms than Remus thought strictly necessary. Pausing to wipe his boots off (someone – Remus wondered if it had been Snape - had actually placed a doormat at the end of the tunnel), Remus checked for anyone else wandering around before hurrying down the corridor. From Snape’s instructions he was somewhere near the wine cellars and would have to go up at least a couple of levels before he could find the workroom.
He raised the modified pocket watch to his ear, flipping it open. As Snape had advised the sound was crackly and distorted but Remus could still hear voices.
‘…quite surprised to see you back, Professor,’ a gruff voice was saying, so faintly that Remus had to strain to hear it.
‘I am hurt you have so little faith in me,’ came Snape’s voice, somewhat clearer.
Remus found the servants’ stairs and took them two at a time, intent on both his destination and the conversation he was listening to. The distortion grew less as he drew closer to the source of the sound and he could hear both men distinctly.
‘You escaped then?’
‘Of course I escaped, Dolohov. What do you think I am, some kind of imbecile?’
Snape’s cutting tone came across perfectly, even through the tiny metal speaker and Remus had to suppress a chuckle. Reaching the ground floor, he quickly checked the hand-drawn map Snape had given him before heading left.
‘You managed to escape on your own despite the fact that the entire crews of two of our ships failed?’
A delicate sniff came through the speaker. ‘It isn’t my fault that your airships are crewed by incompetents.’
‘Oh, they aren’t all incompetent.’
Remus’s heart thumped at the danger in that tone, suddenly worried that this wouldn’t all go their way.
‘Nor are they blind, professor,’ the man named Dolohov continued, his voice become louder as he apparently moved closer to Snape. ‘You were seen, you smug bastard, helping those bloody pirates.’
There was a pause. ‘Well, there’s no call for language like that.’
Remus cursed silently, racing down the thankfully-empty corridor. He reached a wall and was brought up short, not expecting it. He blinked at the map frantically, realising with frustration that he had been holding it upside-down.
There was a sharp sound, flesh meeting flesh.
‘Shut up, Snape. We’re to take you to the cells – Emperor’s orders. Boys, take him away.’
Remus ran down what seemed to be endless corridors, dodging left and right and ducking out of the way of the few other people wandering around, eventually skidding breathlessly to a halt outside Snape’s workroom. The door was open and the lamps lit, casting a soft glow on the polished wooden floor but as he peered inside Remus’s heart stopped.
It was empty, just as he’d feared. Everything they needed to set the plan in motion was inside but Snape himself was gone.
‘Damn and blast it,’ Remus hissed, pulling out his map to locate the cells.
The palace cells were to be found back on the same level that Remus had entered on, the ideal temperature for both wine and prisoners being presumably the same. Remus took the servants’ stairs again, hiding briefly behind a statue in a niche when the butler came trotting up clutching three bottles in his arms. The cells themselves were unattended but for an easily dispatched guard at the top of the steps leading the row of barred doors.
Remus soon located Snape in the only occupied cell. The professor leant against the wall, fingers clutching nervously at the front of his waistcoat. He saw Remus and instantly relaxed, arms folding across his chest.
Remus bent to examine the lock, cursing under his breath when he found it to be solid and not easily overcome. ‘Zounds! How am I supposed to get you out of here?’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ Snape said quietly, face shadowed in the dark cell. ‘There’s no time. You need to set everything in motion now; Dolohov turned up before I had the chance. Set the countdown going and get yourself out of here before the rest of us die.’
‘What?’ Remus snapped upright, staring at the professor. ‘You can’t be intending … you’re not going to die too!’
‘My apologies, Captain Lupin, but I was never intended to survive this. I have done,’ Snape took a deep breath, ‘awful things to gain my position at the Emperor’s side; things that cannot, should not be forgiven.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous! I’m getting you out of here.’
‘No, don’t you be ridiculous!’ Snape hissed, suddenly close to the bars. ‘You’re wasting time – you’re going to have to be the one to make this plan work now. Here!’ He pulled the pocket watch from around his neck and shoved it into Remus’s hands. ‘Go to my workroom; everything you need is in there. Activate it when all the hands on the watch fall in line, which should be in about ten minutes time.’
‘But nothing, Remus! Now hurry; they’ll be coming to take me to the Emperor any minute and they can’t see you!’
Remus pressed Snape’s hands briefly between his own before dashing away down the corridor.
Snape remained leaning against the bars, closing his eyes as Remus disappeared from sight. To his horror, the beginnings of tears began to press against his eyelids.
‘No, damn it,’ he muttered to himself, ‘I accepted my death a long time ago. Some fancy captain taking a passing interest in me changes nothing!’
‘Why, Severus,’ a voice interrupted his thoughts, ‘you look positively downcast, old bean. Pondering the fate of a traitor?’
‘Lucius,’ Snape said cordially, ‘we really don’t see enough of each other these days. We simply must catch up.’
The cell door was opened, admitting Malfoy and two of the palace guards. Snape turned to face them, standing straight-backed and refusing to let any anxiety show. His palms were sweating but he held them rigidly by his side, not betraying his sudden nerves with any fidgety movements. It was only his death he was facing, after all, nothing unexpected.
‘I fear we will never have the chance, old friend,’ Lucius said. ‘The Emperor is most displeased and he wishes to see you now.’ He gave Snape a mournful look. ‘Severus, we’ve known each other such a long time. I trusted you.’
‘Really, Lucius? I’ve never trusted you as far as I could throw you.’
One of the guards came forward with chains. Snape raised an eyebrow.
‘Manacles? How kind.’ He held out his hands resignedly, straight out in front with wrists limp and fingers hanging down. ‘Honestly, with the amount of time I’ve spent in these recently anyone would think I enjoyed it.’
The entire Imperial court, it seemed, had gathered in the Imperial throne room to see Professor Snape brought in in chains. The cream of British society twittered and fluttered as he was walked in between the two guards, his head held high. He was brought to a halt before the grand gilt throne, before the cold and unremitting gaze of Emperor Riddle.
‘The gravest accusations have been placed against you, Severus,’ the Emperor intoned. ‘What have you to say to that?’
Snape bowed his head briefly. ‘I would request that, as we are all gentlemen here, these chains be removed,’ he raised his hands in front of his chest, ‘so we may discuss this matter with civility. And secondly, I would like to know the identity of my accuser and the nature of these accusations.’
Sniggers sounded in the throne room at his first request but the Emperor gestured for Malfoy to remove the manacles. Snape favoured Malfoy with a smirk as the heavy metal was unclasped from his wrists.
‘Captain Yaxley,’ Emperor Riddle said, ‘please step forward and advise the professor of what you informed me.’
Yaxley, a tall broad-shouldered man, slid from the crowd of courtiers. He was dressed in the uniform of the Imperial Air Guard, though his outfit was soiled and in a state of disrepair quite unfitting for the Imperial Court.
‘I was captaining the Green Flame in pursuit of those who had kidnapped Professor Snape,’ he said, delivering his report in the clipped tone of the military man, ‘alongside us was the Walpurgis, under Captain Nott. We caught up to the pirate ship, named the Gay Wolf, shortly after passing the city of Warwick at which time we proceeded to take the appropriate action.’
‘Which was to shoot seven bells out of your target,’ Snape commented, ‘regardless of the suitability of that play.’
Yaxley ignored him in favour of continuing his recital. ‘We had the pirates almost subdued when Professor Snape was seen on deck with some of the crew. He was clearly explaining something to them and indicating our ships. The captain and his men went below decks and not long after our cannons were taken out with perfect accuracy. This accuracy would not have been possible without expert knowledge of our system. It is clear that Professor Snape gave these vagabonds this knowledge with the intention of them making a strike against your forces, my Lord.’
The Emperor leaned back on his throne. ‘What have you to say to Captain Yaxley regarding this, professor?’
‘I’m afraid you were being rather indiscriminate in your shooting,’ Snape said, eyeing the man coolly, ‘and I prefer my head to be attached to my shoulders, and my shoulders to the rest of me.’
‘There was no call for telling them how to disable our weapons.’
‘They were hardly going to allow me to talk civilly to you and negotiate my release – they’re quite the rough bunch, I assure you.’ Snape paused and examined his wrists pointedly for a moment. ‘I merely informed them how to stop you shooting at us to prevent myself being caught in the crossfire. It is hardly my fault if they were so incensed by your earlier barrages that they chose to take a little revenge.’
The Emperor chuckled dryly. ‘You always have had a silver tongue, professor.’
‘A tongue full of lies,’ Yaxley spat. ‘You seemed quite chummy with those pirates, Snape.’
‘Believe me, I was no friend of that gang of reprobates.’ Snape smirked at the captain, who glowered in return. A faint clicking came to the professor’s ears but only because he was listening for it. Good – Remus was doing what he had told him to. Now it was just a matter of waiting … and keeping Riddle and his court right where they were for a little while longer.
‘Ah, Severus,’ the Emperor said, ‘you would be most convincing – were it not for the fact that you were also seen leaving the train station in the company of the captain of that particular gang.’
Luckily, it seemed that Riddle was inclined to keep talking.
‘Falling in with pirates? Such recklessness little becomes you. What, precisely, do you intend with this little play?’
Any minute now … it was time to move the drama up a few notches. He always did like to make a scene.
‘I intend,’ Snape said, folding his hands together before him, ‘to ensure that each and every one of you here tonight dies – and with you, the Empire.’
There was laughter around the throne room. Emperor Riddle looked amused, petting Nagini’s silver scales as she rested on his knee.
‘Even supposing you succeeded - this serpent has many heads, Severus. You know that.’
Snape smiled nastily. ‘I am perfectly aware. That side of things is all being taken care of as well. While everyone here burns – and believe me, nothing will give me more pleasure – while you burn, every Imperial bastard out there will suddenly find himself with a pursuer who can’t be killed, doesn’t need to stop to sleep or eat and certainly won’t obey his orders.’
Clicks and thumps could suddenly be heard throughout the palace. Bars slammed into place across the windows in the throne room, causing the glass to rattle in its frames. There was a rush of people to the external door, only for them to find it was as solidly immovable as the wall it was set in.
‘Complete lockdown,’ Snape said with absolute calm even as panic erupted around him. ‘I designed the locks and securities on this palace to your specifications, my lord: “Nothing can be permitted in.” It follows, naturally, that nothing can escape either. Nobody is getting out now.’
Emperor Riddle stayed on his throne, ignoring his panicking courtiers and regarding Snape evenly. Nagini slid from his knee, undulating across the marble floor. ‘Including yourself, professor. You’ll die too.’
‘Do you honestly think I care?’ Snape kept his face impassive even as the lie tasted bitter on his tongue.
The room shook as several explosions detonated deep inside the palace. Courtiers screamed, scattering as they fought to find an escape route. Many had already abandoned the throne room only to find themselves trapped by flames and smoke. The palace, already warm that temperate night, quickly became an unbearable oven of scorching heat. Beautiful wallpapers, delicate mouldings and elegant furniture; all of it became kindling for the huge pyre which would burn the Empire.
‘I would have let you live, you know,’ said the Emperor, a thin sheen of sweat covering his forehead but his eyes still ice-cool, ‘after a fashion. There is always a price for betrayal but I would have hated to waste that mind.’ He leaned back casually, brushing his hand along the arm of his throne. There was an audible click but nothing happened.
Nagini, cunning as any of her fleshy kin and knowing which side the cards fell, had reached Snape’s boots and began curling up his leg.
The professor’s smile grew wider and nastier as he lifted the mechanical snake to his shoulders. ‘I took the liberty of disabling your personal escape route as well.’
The Emperor lost his calm, fury twisting his face and a strangled yell escaping his throat. He lunged out of his throne at Snape, only to crumple to the floor clutching at his leg. Snape blinked in surprise, gaping at the blood suddenly pouring from the man.
‘Severus! Over here!’
Snape tore his gaze from the twitching Emperor only to be shocked to see Remus hurrying across the room, revolver in his hand with smoke still curling from its barrel.
‘What the dickens are you still doing in the palace?’ he snapped. ‘You were supposed to be far away from here by now!’
‘I wasn’t going to leave you behind,’ Remus panted, coming up beside Snape and grabbing his hand.
‘How very chivalrous of you. However, this doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to die. Surely your new world order would be better off if you were still alive?’
Remus pulled Severus closer, abruptly swinging the man up into his arms. Snape yelped in a most undignified fashion, arms hurriedly looping round Remus’s shoulders for fear of being dropped. Nagini wrapped tighter about his neck, blissfully cool as the flames’ heat grew more intense.
‘I happen to think that the new world order, as you put it, would be far improved with the addition of you.’
‘What a shame it is that no one here will survive to take note of your last words for posterity.’ Snape half-heartedly kicked his legs. ‘Now put me down!’
‘Not a bit of it,’ Remus said. ‘Hold on tight, will you? I overrode the lockdown command on one window. None of the others will have a hope in hell of getting through it so don’t worry about that.’
Snape followed Remus’s gaze upward to where a round window glowed with moonlight. True to Remus’s word, no bars blocked it.
‘The rose window? But that’s practically the highest window in the palace! And unless you’ve suddenly discovered the power of unaided flight…’
Remus grinned. ‘Not quite. I found a quite splendid pair of boots in your workroom. I had a go in them on the way here so I think I know how to work them.’
Snape twisted to look down and groaned. ‘Not the Spring-heels. I swear those things are the most temperamental thing I’ve ever made. If you don’t get a good run-up you just won’t get the height.’
‘We’ve got the length of the throne room.’
‘That might work if it was just one person, but carrying another?’ Snape pressed his face into Remus’s shoulder. ‘Not a chance. I appreciate your noble intentions, Remus, but you’ll have to escape without me. Go on, go and join your friends and your new world order and let me die with the rest of my compatriots. I … It was enough that you tried.’
‘Poppycock,’ said Remus, squeezing Snape tighter. ‘You don’t weigh that much, and I’ve probably got stronger legs than you. Don’t think I’m leaving you behind now.’
Snape’s protest was lost as Remus began to run. He tucked himself against the captain as best he could, eyes screwed shut as each footfall thrummed through their bodies. Every sound was suddenly intensified: fire crackled and roared as it devoured the opulent palace, Nagini clicked against his skin as she shifted, and Remus’s heart thumped inside the strong chest Snape was pressed against. The captain’s steps grew wider and wider apart as the boots took them higher and higher until finally Remus pushed off with both feet - and leapt. There was an agonising moment of silence – save for the boots’ jets firing - as they rose, Snape expecting their fall to start any second and convinced that it would be too soon, that they would break against the wall. He was wrong, and never more grateful to be so.
Glass exploded around them, flying outward in all directions as they smashed the window at the pinnacle of their arc. Their stomachs lurched as their descent began and they landed with a juddering thud among the gardens, springing back up into the air immediately afterwards.
‘I love these boots!’ Remus yelled, as he carried them further from the burning palace.
Snape didn’t respond, his white-knuckled grip on Remus’s coat not loosening in the slightest.
‘The ship’s just here,’ Remus continued, ‘I think she’s low enough that I can probably leap right on board.’
Snape began to protest but was cut off as Remus took another huge leap. He let go of Snape with one hand in midair, reaching out instead to grab a rope trailing from the rigging of the Constant Vigilance. They swung around the ship in a long, graceful arc, silent but for the whistling wind and their own heightened breathing, before finally landing in a sprawled and panting heap on the deck.
‘We are never,’ said Snape, after some moments had passed, ‘doing that again.’ He unclenched his hands with some difficulty, flexing movement back into his fingers.
Remus laughed, sitting up and pulling Snape with him. ‘What, the thing with the boots or the heroic rescue mission?’
‘The boots,’ Snape said decisively. ‘The heroic rescue mission,’ his eyes grew momentarily soft, ‘I can just about allow.’ He took a deep inward breath and, before he could lose his nerve, pressed a quick kiss to Remus’s lips. ‘Thank you.’
They suddenly became aware of a lot of faces staring at them. The crew of the Gay Wolf were, to a man, open-mouthed in utter surprise.
‘Bloody hell,’ said Ron eventually.
Epilogue (In Which A Phoenix Rose From the Ashes)
The miscreants’ boat was a fast little cutter, but no match for the Gay Wolf and her well-trained crew. The Wolf’s sails were full with a most favourable wind as she flew after the Wizard Wheeze, whose tiny crew seemed to have found their hands full this time. Trails of smoke wound from crates on their deck; evidence that their latest jape (involving Lord Albus’s latest garden party for elderly veterans and some exceptionally innovative fireworks) had been interrupted before it could reach fruition. Flashes and bangs occasionally shot from the crates.
Captain Remus Lupin, now Commander of Prime Minister Lord Albus’s Airborne Police Force (known to wide-eyed urchins on the street and the tatty magazines they adored as the Flying Squad), watched from the prow of the Gay Wolf beside his Scientific Advisor. Professor Severus Snape, one hand resting just beside Remus’s on the rail, ran a finger lightly across the scales of the mechanical snake who curled herself around his neck.
‘I fear their incendiaries may prove their ultimate undoing if we allow this to continue much longer, captain’ he said eventually.
Remus shifted his hand a little closer, resting it on his companion’s. ‘And what would you suggest, professor?’
‘An opportunity to test my new water cannon? I believe I have isolated the problem which caused us so much difficulty last time.’
‘The problem that nearly lost us young Finnegan over the side a mile above Suffolk?’
‘Yes.’ Snape glanced sideways at Remus. ‘I believe the problem was, in fact, Finnegan.’
‘Do we have enough water in the tank?’
‘Enough for a short, sharp shock, I would estimate.’
Remus turned to smile at Snape. ‘Then I say that in the interests of furthering your work on this magnificent device we should run a test right now. Have Kingsley bring it up.’
Snape smirked. ‘He is already doing so.’
True to the professor’s word, Kingsley appeared moments later with a small train of the crew carrying various parts of the mechanism. The water cannon – currently nicknamed ‘Devil’s Spit’ by the crew, though this was subject to change according to whim and the politeness of company – was a project Snape was working on for Lord Albus, who was planning on equipping his Fire Brigade with them as soon as possible (after all, it was such a terrible thing that happened to the Imperial Palace – quite dreadful that no powerful enough device existed to put out such fearsome flames). Snape was soon in amongst the crew setting it up, fastening bits together with the screwdrivers he constantly carried about with him. Soon the nozzle pointed directly at the small ship they pursued and the pumps creaked.
‘Let them have it,’ Remus said, seeing that they were ready.
Snape nodded to Kingsley and stood back as the big man hauled the lever that operated the device. A great spurt of water shot from the nozzle and landed, perfectly aimed, in a great splash across the Wizard Wheeze’s deck. The two fugitives were knocked from their feet to wash up against the rail at the front of the ship. The smoking crates, which had been getting more violent in their output and shuddering their was across the deck, were thankfully doused. All fight gone from them, the two young men were soon pulled shivering and drenched on the Gay Wolf and the Wizard Wheeze tethered beside the larger ship. Once they were on board, however, it was one of Remus’s crew who got the biggest shock.
‘Bloody hell,’ said Ron. ‘Fred? George?’
‘You know these two?’ Remus asked.
Ron flushed, looking down at the deck. ‘They’re my brothers,’ he muttered.
Remus folded his arms, noting the identical red hair on each of the three heads. ‘And how did two boys from such a decent family – yes, I do know your mother and will be speaking to her – end up such mischief-makers?’
‘We were bored,’ admitted one twin, looking a little sheepish.
‘And we wanted to test out our latest whizz-bangs,’ the other added, wringing water from his shirt.
‘I must confess an interest in the make-up of your fireworks,’ said Snape. ‘They seem most inventive.’ He glanced at Remus slyly from the corner of his eyes.
Remus smiled. ‘Ever considered a career in law enforcement, boys?’