A/N: Well, thanks a lot to everyone who offered to beta for me. Thanks to my two betas: Eve and Stormfirearia for their help and input as well as to all those who reviewed, your comments and opinion are much welcomed and appreciated. Well, I hope you'll enjoy this chapter. Exams are nearly out of the way, so I should have soon more time to write.
Severus Snape looked smugly at his laboratory.
A large room, about four times the size of his Potions classroom at Hogwarts, with a second room about the same size next to it, plus a library and a bathroom. The ambient temperature was cool and the air dry. The walls and the floor were made of cold greystone, smoothed by time.
Several shelves spanned the length of the walls, supporting jars, vials, spare cauldrons in an array of metals and sizes, a selection of books and various other potions equipment. Four worktables and a large fifth one, all made of stone, dominated the central floor space while two massive cupboards, containing the most commonly used ingredients, lined a wall. All the furniture had been spelled protected against any accident that might occur.
Snape nearly smiled when he thought of his private stores in an adjacent room. The things stocked there would make any respectable Potions master envious.
But above all, this was his.
All of it.
Most people knew better than to interrupt when he was playing with his ingredients. Potions were his love, his passion. Very few people could understand that.
Snape was even gladder that circumstances had made him quit his teaching position at Hogwarts. He had never enjoyed teaching those brats whose only concerns were playing Quidditch and fooling around with magical tricks and pranks…
That was why he had sent the boy away after taking him in. He had no patience for children or fools. It was only when people could be of use to him that Snape even bothered mingling with them.
However, he never regretted having taken the boy as his apprentice. He was not Adept material, lacking the necessary passion for it, but he was brillant, oh, yes, he was. Nightshades had sharpened his mind, pushed him to his limits, forced the young ignorant boy to develop his skills and become the best. He couldn't have survived if he hadn't. Karal had set the standards for his school; those who couldn't meet them were never seen again. The raw power he had sensed when the brat had been ten or so years old had been honed under the tuition of Karal's staff.
The Potions master had, indeed, been well inspired to take him. From Karal's letters, he had surmised that the boy would be at least a useful aid, if not a great ally.
A rather insistent knocking had him frowning.
"Enter!" He exasperatedly barked, not even sparing a glance on the impudent trespasser of his sanctuary. He kept on stirring his potion, paying extra heed to the gentle simmer of its surface, carefully adapting his speed to the barely perceptible change in color of his new concoction. Changing hand, he extended his hand towards the jar containing finely distilled Acromantula venom.
"Severus, if you can spare me a moment," the voice of the newcomer held a distinctly annoyed edge at having to wait on the potions brewer.
The Potions Master nearly had a heart attack upon hearing the unmistakeable silky voice of his Master. He was careful to put a stasis charm on his cauldron, knowing such magic wouldn't interfere with the potion at this stage of the brewing process. Cleaning his hands from any residue, he then turned towards his Master.
"My Lord." With eyes cast down, he bowed to his knee.
The man obeyed and glanced at his master. Voldemort had been resurrected five years ago after engineering the theft of the Sorcerer' Stone with the aid of Quirell employed as Defense Professor at that time and still teaching at Hogwarts, the last he'd heard.
The Elixir of Life had done wonders, restoring the Dark Lord to his past glory. Before Snape stood an impressive looking fifty-five year old man, who, while not handsome by classical canons, nobody could dismiss as commonplace. The man was tall and thin, with pale skin that gave him an inhuman look. Though the Elixir had given him a new body, not all human functions had been fully recovered.
His face was angular, framed by black hair streaked with grey that reached his shoulder blades, and tied back by a snake-shaped clasp. An aquiline nose, high cheekbones and eerie red eyes completed the picture. Dressed in expensive dark green robes showing his status of Slytherin Heir, the Slytherin signet ring he wore on his right forefinger served only to reinforce the fact.
"You have been absent from my circles for a long time now, Severus. What has you so busy you can't answer my summons?"
Snape steeled himself. There was a distinct edge to his master's voice that demanded answers and truthful ones.
While he knew he had more leeway than the usual Death Eater and even more than most of Inner Circle Members, there was only so much the Dark Lord would tolerate and even Snape could see how not answering his summons for two months could be deemed too much by Voldemort.
"The orders for potions keep increasing as days pass, my Lord. Although you have managed to gain the support of many Masters of my craft, we still can't afford to leave our laboratories."
The Dark Lord frowned, clearly unhappy with the news, something that put Snape on edge. The Dark Lord might have recovered most of his sanity, but he remained a short-tempered man, expecting quick results from his servants. "Is there no other way to solve this problem?" Voldemort asked shortly.
The Potions Master shook his head. "No, my Lord. Even with all of us taking on apprentices to increase the number of masters under your command, their formation will take some time."
"You took an apprentice, Severus? I thought you did not want to waste time hammering knowledge through the void a child's mind is." The Dark Lord smirked, amused by the man's temperament. Severus Snape had always placed himself on a pedestal and only deigned acknowledge those he judged equal to himself.
The Potions Master nodded. "I found someone with enough potential and who proved worthy of my teachings…"
Before Snape could say more, a door closed softly in the back of the room and both wizards turned to see a youth dressed in black, wearing dragonhide gloves and an apron, standing calmly. Lord Voldemort eyed him curiously.
The young man looked about fifteen years old, not especially tall, with pale skin like his master, who Voldemort assumed this teen was his Potions master's apprentice. Long and limp black hair (greased by potion fumes and a lotion used by many brewers to protect their hair from the emanations coming from their brews) framed thin features overwhelmed by large green eyes.
The Dark Lord couldn't really see what his servant had seen in the brat, but he knew Snape wouldn't settle for nothing short of the best.
"I have the purified Dragon's blood you requested, Master Snape, and I finished with the ingredient which had just arrived."
Snape nodded sharply. "Good. We received an order for healing potions and some poisons from Whitehall. Take care of them. The papersare in the usual drawer, don't mess them again. Once you're done, study chapters twenty to twenty-four of Most Potente Potions."
The youth bowed, walked fluidly to a nearby table and placed the large vials he had been holding before leaving, completely silent. Not even his footsteps could be heard on the stone floor.
Voldemort shot him a curious and vaguely interested look. "Your apprentice, I presume."
Snape nodded tersely while examining the jars his charge had brought. "Yes, My Lord."
"I don't recall ever seeing him… What's his name?" The Dark Lord's tone commanded attention and Snape decided that focusing on his master was the best thing to do.
"Julian Richards, my Lord," answered Snape.
"Richards… I do not recall any families of that name. A muggle-born?" There was marked distaste in the Dark Lord's tone.
Severus shrugged. "Can I speak my mind, my Lord?"
Voldemort smiled, amused once again. Very few people dared to ask him that. "You were granted that right many years ago, Severus."
"Then, I must say that I do not know of the boy's parentage. I found him during one of my errands. He was abandoned at a young age and was given a name when he was put in an Orphanage. I sent him to Nightshades. He just finished his schooling and I am now refining his skills and knowledge."
"Nightshades, Severus? How old is the boy?" Now Voldemort's interest was piqued as he recalled the teen's face. A graduate from that school was not to be dismissed.
"Sixteen, I believe."
"So young, and already a Nightshades' graduate?" Voldemort enquired, surprised. Maybe he should try to get to know more about this…. Richards boy.
Snape nodded sharply. He could see that the Dark Lord was intrigued by the boy, but he was sure he would forget about him quickly. He hadn't been in contact with the boy long enough to truly feel his power and potential.
"The boy proved to be adequate and so I deemed him fit to receive my instruction."
Voldemort smirked. "High praise coming from you," he simply said. "Well, I bid you good day, Severus, but do try to come to me at least once a month. I miss your presence by my side." The last part was pronounced in a warning tone, stating clearly to Severus that while he was given a bit more latitude, he was this man's servant nonetheless.
Severus bowed. "I will do my best, my Lord."
Voldemort smirked once more and stalked out of the laboratory.
Immediately, Snape turned back to his cauldron and lifted the Stasis charm. Minutes later, he was once more completely engrossed in his potions.
Hours later, his stomach reminded him he needed to eat. Finishing the poison he had been ordered to brew, he bottled it, labelling it clearly enough for even the most stupid Death Eater to read. Tidying the room and putting his ingredients carefully back to their respective shelves and cupboards, he then made his way to the back room.
Entering it, he saw Julian reading the assigned chapters while taking notes in his Potions journal. The room was clean and rows of neatly labeled vials were standing on the table next to the teen. He walked to them and checked the brews for faults in their color, consistency…
"Good work, Julian."
The teen had been monitoring his every movement the whole time he had been in the room. That was a reflex hammered in every Nightshades' graduate. By the time of their graduation, most alumni were quite the paranoid sorts.
"Thank you, Master Snape."
The Potions Master looked closely at his charge, pondering over something he had been meaning to bring up for several days already.
"Julian, were you taught Occlumency? You will have to go to the Circles sooner or later, either with me or on your own. Your mind must be immune to attacks."
The teen had stopped writing and was looking at him. "I never managed to really learn Occlumency, Master. At the beginning, when I sensed someone probing my mind, I overloaded him with useless thoughts. My mentor tried to show me how to shield myself, but it didn't seem to work. In the end, he placed shields on me, using vampire methods."
Snape frowned slightly. "This won't do. You need to be able to protect yourself. There is no saying how long those shields will hold up… From now on, all your evenings will be spent practicing Occlumency and then Legilimency under my tutoring."
"Go back to your reading; I expect your usual report by tomorrow morning."
The younger wizard inclined his head in agreement and started on his book again. Snape watched him for a few minutes before stalking out of the room, robes billowing in his wake. He started to tidy his desk, looking at the different demands that had come during the day for various potions, deciding which ones he would leave to his protegé and which he would take care of himself. He sighed as he eyed the growing piles of parchment.
That done, he still had to check on his supplies and send requests for ingredients he was growing short of and others which were quite rare but would be needed for the brews requested.
Around 1am, he heard Julian's door close and decided to follow his apprentice's example by calling it a night.
A week passed without much problem, except his growing frustration over Julian's Occlumency's lessons.
The teen had been right. He didn't seem to understand the intricacies of this technique. This worried Snape. He couldn't allow the boy to enter the Death Eaters circles without a modicum of basic shielding techniques.
"Once more, Julian. Ready? Legilimens!"
He entered the teen's mind easily to find himself stopped by the vampire shield. However, they had been practicing everyday and thus, the protections were starting to falter.
He probed the shield, trying to look for an opening, pushing against the defenses. Suddenly, he felt a small crack. He made his way through it and started to sift through the boy's memories, focusing on his early childhood.
He had to admit he was curious as to the boy's parentage. What kind of parents was powerful enough to produce a child that strong only to abandon him later?
He just had time enough to see a bright sickly green light, accompanied by a high-pitchedlaugh before he was thrown out of the boy's mind. He felt himself hit the laboratory wall and it took him a few seconds before he could haul himself back to his feet, all the while panting heavily.
Julian was on his knees, body wracked by heavy shivers.
"Julian?" Severus leant on the wall, composing himself. What had happened? That had been one of the earliest memories of the boy. But this green light… It was the Avada Kedavra…. There was little doubt there; he had seen it often enough to recognize it immediately.
But then… How?
"Julian?" His voice was a bit more pressing.
"M-Master Snape…" The teen shakily drew himself to his feet. It took him several minutes to get himself back under control and even then, Severus could see the turmoil of the young wizard.
"Julian," his voice was gentle, well, as gentle as it could be. "What was that?"
Julian shrugged. "I don't really know… I used to have nightmares about this green light when I was young; it passed with the years…"
Severus frowned. "What do you remember of your years before the orphanage?"
The teen shrugged. "Not much… Just yelling… A few words: boy, freak, a dark place…doctors… They- I mean the people I lived with- took me to doctors. I assume it was doctors since they all had white blouses. I remember them looking at my forehead and having this big itchy bandage for a few weeks afterward. That's about it."
Snape's eyes had widened dramatically at the mention of doctors and forehead. It couldn't be him! Dumbledore had looked everywhere!
"Come here, Julian."
The boy obeyed without hesitation.
The Potions Master took the teen's chin and tilted his head up, pushing black hair out of the way. Indeed, there was a small faint circular scar where something must have once stood out. Letting go of his charge's head, he summoned a small detector and pressed it to Julian's forehead.
He felt himself grow cold as the scan showed faint traces of heavy Dark Magic.
"Julian, come with me. We need to brew a potion immediately."
He strode to his cupboards and started to take out several boxes, jars and vials, handing them to his apprentice.
Julian peered at the labels a few times, placing them cautiously on the working table.
"The Lineage Potion?"
"Yes. If what I suspect is true, then, there will be several things you'll need to know. Prepare those ingredients and start on the brewing process while I go fetch the rest of the required components for this potion and the ritual..."
Severus left the room in a hurry and went straight to his private stores. Taking out three vials, he then picked a ceremonial dagger, a chalice and some chalk. The potion was quite quick to brew, but extremely complex in its timing. He came back to see Julian starting on the first steps.
"I'll take over the brewing, but I will need a vial of your blood. The bandages and healing draughts are in their usual drawers. Then draw the runes and the symboles for the Lineage Ceremony."
Nodding sharply, the teen quickly switched positions with his master, so that the stirring was as little disturbed as possible.
Once he was certain his mentor didn't require any help, he went to take the bandages and the draughts, before placing everything he would need within reach. Taking the dagger, he cut his left wrist just deep enough for the blood to drip out. He watched dispassionately as the crimson liquid filled the vial, then used a bandage he had previously dipped in the healing draught to close the wound.
Waiting thirty seconds, he then took off the bandages to see that the cut had scarred nicely. Closing the vial, he cleaned the worktable and took the chalk and parchments needed for the ritual. Carefully, he drew a pentacle on the ground, paying specific attention to its symmetry. Then he started on the runes, double-checking them. Rituals after all, allowed little margin for mistakes.
Placing the chalice at the centre of the pentacle, he surveyed his work, before going to a drawer and fetching a few black and white candles. Placing them at each point of the pentacle, Julian took a few steps back and again surveyed the whole thing. There didn't seem to be flaws.
"Julian, if you're done, put on your ritual robes. Get the white one."
The young wizard nodded and left by a side door that led to his master's and his quarters. Walking to his room, he opened his wardrobe and took the white hand-made robes. When performing rituals, it was forbidden to wear clothes or objects embedded with magic other then your own, unless you wished to bring some nasty side effects upon yourself.
When he returned to the main room, his master was putting the finishing touches to the potion.
Ten minutes later, Severus was finished. He cleaned his worktable and poured some of the smoking potion in a glass. Waiting for it to cool down, he went to fetch his own robes, which were of a saffron colour with a blood red lining, Snape's family colours.
"Drink the glass, take off your shoes, open your robes and step in the pentacle," snapped the older wizard. Pouring the rest of the potion in the chalice, he then took out his wand and dipped it in the liquid. After lighting the candles in a clockwise pattern, he started painting three runes on his apprentice's body.
"I, Severus Ignatius Alexander Snape, call upon the blood of this child's mother, shed at his birth," he drew the rune for blood over his stomach, "the mind inherited from his fathers and refined by their care," he wrote the symbol on his forehead, "the Magic of your line, transmitted through time to embody itself in you."
He traced the last mark over Harry's heart.
"By the triad of blood, mind and soul, I ask of this child's heritage. Let his pride shine and his line stand true for all to see." Snape linked the three marks together then stepped out of the pentacle and watched as the potion started to take effect.
The mark started to glow and the liquid in the chalice was rippled by an invisible wind. The Potions Master stared at the chalice, waiting for a crest to appear on the liquid. For a moment, the liquid just swirled in the chalice, then an image started to appear. Snape barely managed to conceal his shock, as his fears were confirmed. That damned crest… He had seen it often enough during his years at Hogwarts: that shield sporting an arrogant looking lion, covering two crossed swords up which ivy ran.
Keeping his wits, he snuffed out the candles and raised his hand. "Finite Incantatum!" The liquid calmed down and the glow faded away.
With a weary sigh, he sat down, racking his hand through his hair. "I'm condemned to be plagued by your family…"
The teen looked at him with confused eyes, while buttoning his robes.
Snape took his wand and helped his apprentice clean the room, before motioning to his charge to follow him to what they called their living room.
"Sit down," snapped Snape, feeling the beginnings of a headache spreading through his skull. He watched as his student obeyed him, all the while shooting bewildered glances his way.
All this time he had been taking care of Potter's son. Talk about irony! It might have been just as well that he had not known of the boy's parentage. Severus knew himself well enough to admit he was a prejudiced man; particularly when it came to fools, Gryffindors and Potter.
He would have never given the boy a chance.
Looking at Pott- no, Julian, he realized what he'd have missed… Harry Potter was nothing but a name, the name of his school rival's son. The teen is front of him might have inherited his traits from his father, but his character, mind and attitude was the product of his own upbringing. The brat had been raised as a Slytherin, a far cry from the model Gryffindors his parents had been. Snape barely refrained from smirking at the thought. Potter senior had to be turning in his grave.
"What do you know of the Dark Lord's history? Is the name Harry Potter familiar to you?" snapped the older wizard, feeling his headache worsening.
The teen frowned, pondering over the questions. "Lord Voldemort is in reality Tom Marvolo Riddle. He is a former Hogwarts alumni, former Head boy. He claims to be Slytherin's heir and first came to power about twenty years ago. He gathered followers whom he branded with what he calls his Dark Mark, which is also used to summon his men to him. He was brought down during an attack directed against a family of Light wizards, the Potters. Their only child, a one year old boy called Harry, is said to have been the cause of his downfall, somehow reflecting the curse back to the Dark Lord."
Julian paused a few seconds, looking at his master to gauge his reaction. "The Dark Lord was not seen for eleven years. Thanks to the use of the Philosopher Stone he managed to steal from Hogwarts, he was brought back and after several years of gathering his armies back to their former glory, he resumed his attacks. Harry Potter was never found when the time came for him to go to Hogwarts."
Snape nodded. "Good. This might come to a shock to you, Julian, but what do you remember of your early childhood, of your parents? What's your oldest memory?"
Julian's face showed his confusion as he tried to guess the point of all those questions. "I-I don't have good memories of my time before the orphanage… But I remember laughter and a green light and pain… Similar to what you saw when I couldn't fight off your Legilimency. I was in pain…" His teenage face scrunched up with the effort to recall those memories.
"What curse do you know that manifests itself by this green light?"
The teen looked at him blankly. "Avada Kedavra, but…"
"Yes, but how would you explain this memory of yours… I assure you that it isn't customary to expose infants to the Killing Curse…"
The teen fixed him with piercing emerald green eyes, understanding shining in them. "That's why you performed this ritual you had to be sure…"
Snape nodded, watching his charge closely. The boy showed little feelings, but he had not managed to rise up the Dark Lord's ranks by being unobservant and oblivious.
The teen was shocked, that much was natural; after all he had just been told he was the heralded Boy-Who-Lived, that the man he was apprenticed to served his parents' murderer.
"Yes, you got most of your features from your father, but your eyes are your mother's."
The teen looked at his mentor, a slightly troubled look appearing on his face. "Did you know my parents, Master Snape?" He had not managed to completely suppress the hopeful note in his voice.
Snape gritted his teeth. "I went to school with them and was in their year. They were Gryffindors and I was a Slytherin so we had little contact."
His apprentice nodded sharply, disappointment hidden quite well, but not well enough.
"I think you should go to bed, Julian. This must have been quite a shock to you…"
The young man looked at him piercingly before nodding slowly. "Thank you, master." He walked towards the door, stiff-backed.
"Julian!" Snape called out.
His charge stopped and turned to him.
"My relationship with your father was nothing less than bitter and hostile, there was too much bad blood and prejudice between us for it to work itself out. I had little contact with your mother, as she was Gryffindor and a Muggle-born. But both of them were powerful people who stayed true to their beliefs."
The green eyes of his apprentice looked at him as if looking deep in his soul.
"Thank you, Master Snape."
He then turned and left for his rooms, aware of his mentor's eyes digging into his back.
Harry and Snape never spoke of that night again. They resumed their daily work as if nothing had happened. Snape had apparently decided that no matter who his apprentice's parents might be, he was Julian Richards. It was for him a nice way to completely ignore the fact that he had taken aPotter as his apprentice. As far as he was concerned, Harry Potter never existed and the Potter line was dead, something he wasn't shedding a tear for. Moreover, the fact he had ever been called Harry Potter had little importance for both of them. This secret was deeply hidden behind their Occlumens walls.
After having learned of his student's parentage, Severus had deemed it even more important to learn how to ward his mind as well as he could. After months of struggling, the teen had managed to grasp the mental technique and had erected tight and thick defences around his mind that not even his master could penetrate.
"Julian?" Severus looked around as he tried to spot his apprentice. Walking into the laboratory, he found him leaning over a small platinum cauldron.
The boy was now nearly seventeen. His Coming of Age would take place in a few days and he had planned to send him away to his manor. Given the power the boy was displaying as of now, he felt safe to assume that his Coming of Age would be impressive…
The boy would never be very tall, as of now he had the height of a fourteen or fifteen year old. His body was however, at its peak. Julian, like Snape, believed that being a wizard was not only about being able to cast spells. Both of them had trained their bodies to their limits and had then maintained them at their top physical state.
But Julian had also a charisma that drove people to him. Severus had seen how the boy could manipulate people to his advantage, how he could get the information he wanted, or get others to do what he wanted.
The Potions Master was startled out of his thoughts. "Yes, yes… Are you finished with the last order?"
The young man nodded, face schooled in a blank mask. Snape noticed the Potion he had been working on was now cooling down.
"I labeled them and packed them as we always do."
Snape nodded. "Good, I want you to deliver them this time. As you are aware, most of them are highly volatile and dangerous. I don't want them to be damaged by careless idiots and be blamed for the waste they would then be. You are expected at Lazarin tonight. You will spend the night there before going straight to my manor. The house elves have been warned of your arrival. You will have access to my labs should you want to practice or experiment for your thesis. The dueling rooms will also be open to you."
Julian nodded, eyes shining at the prospect of experimenting.
Severus rolled his eyes at this. "I will provide you with a Portkey. Do take care of the potions on the journey I will hold you responsible of any damage that might occur."
The apprentice nodded. "I will not disappoint you, Master Snape."
"I do hope not."
With those last words, Snape left the room to firecall Lazarin, the Dark Lord's stronghold; he might as well make sure they knew of the boy's arrival.
The rest of the afternoon was spent quietly and once they were done with their respective workloads, both of them retired to the living room where a fire was blazing happily in the hearth, though no heat could be felt from it.
Julian had a bag with everything he would need for the Coming packed neatly in it, and all the Potions he was to deliver safely tucked in another one, secured with strong cushioning charms. He had been the one to spell and shrink the vial as he had been shown at Nightshades so that the magic of the charms did not interfere with the potions.
Snape looked at the Snape apprentice crest the boy had sewn over his heart on his dark green robes, a color that made his eyes stand out even more, giving them an unnatural glint. That eased his mind, he knew no sane Death Eaters would dare hurt or attack someone under his protection. He had made sure of that when he had been standing to his Lord's right hand.
"Be wary of any Inner Circle member, Julian. The Malfoys and Lestranges, in particular, are not to be trifled with." Severus frowned a little to enforce his statement.
"If you value your life, you will. Always keep your barriers up… As you and I know, there are secrets better left in the dark."
Julian nodded sharply, looking straight into the Potion's Master's eyes.
A chime rang, breaking the staring contest.
"Here is your Floo powder," snapped Severus, handing the boy a purse. "The stronghold's name is Lazarin, as you already know. Make sure to pronounce it right, because I will not go on a merry chase to find you, if you mess this up... Password is Hellion."
Julian remained silent and tied the purse to his belt. Taking out a pinch, he threw it into the fire, watching as the flames flared up and turned green before stepping in and calmly announcing his destination.
He was careful to keep his limbs close to his body as he was sucked into the Floo system and readied himself for the landing.
He managed not to stumble as he stepped out of the fireplace in what he hoped was Lazarin. Immediately, he found himself held at wand point, and before he could think about it, he had his own wand out, a spell on his lips.
Three men, dressed in Dark robes with green trim, appraised him, their eyes lingering on the Snape crest displayed on his clothes.
Julian nodded sharply.
The man, however, needed more to allow him to step further.
The young man rolled his eyes. He really didn't see how that was a good protection measure. Any skilled Legilimens could prod a Death Eaters head and learn the password without anybody any wiser.
The three men lowered their wands and one of them walked to a wall before tapping a sequence of bricks, which Julian committed to memory. After studying at Nightshades for years, remembering a simple sequence was nothing to him. The bricks glowed, as the wizard seemed to wait for something to happen.
He swept the room with his eyes. It was bare and quite small: a simple square about six meters long with one exit and no window, the only other way out being the hearth from which Julian had stepped out. As the teen focused his attention back to the men in the room, he felt a slight shifting around him, and awareness he had not noticed missing, returned.
Now that was better, containment and dampening wards as well as identifying check enchantments weaved into the wards, far more interesting as far as security measures were concerned.
"Follow me," said one of them, the two others remaining behind.
Obeying, Julian was led through several corridors, before his guide showed him a door. "Go in there, ask for Devlin. He's the one in charge of the Potions here."
Julian nodded in thanks and walked away, robes billowing behind him. He smirked as he heard the disgusted mutter of "Snape" behind him. True, his master was partial to the 'billowing robes' tricks, but he did not have its sole monopoly.
Knocking on the door, he waited until he was allowed inside. A barked 'Enter!' indicated that he had been heard. Opening the door, he entered cautiously, checking the room immediately.
The air was saturated with humidity, the scent of herbs, entrails and other ingredients. Though the room was a bit similar to his master's laboratory, it was slightly smaller and messier. He sent a disdainful glance at the ingredients lying on dirty worktables and at the potion spills on the floor. The room was filled with about ten cauldrons, much more than it was prudent. Three young men, apprentices if the white trim of their robes was anything to go by, were busying themselves over the different cauldrons, going from one to another.
Julian had to refrain from sneering. His own master was viciously opposed to such a practice and had made sure that his apprentice shared his viewpoint. While it might save time, it also meant more rooms for errors and less potent potions since the brewers did not attend to every brewing stage. These apprentices must have received large orders and instead of losing some sleep and carefully scheduling their brewing, they had decided to rush through it... From where he stood, he could see that the Burn balm wouldn't be thick enough due to a too slow stirring, and that the Ampheatone lotion, meant to reinvigorate and improve stamina would be too thin and slightly off-colour.
Glancing at the opposite side of the room, he noticed that the potion bubbling happily in that corner was perfect for now... Looking at the ingredients set next to the cauldron, Julian could see that it must be the Wolfsbane potion, in its terminal stages, nonetheless... Quite a huge quantity at that... A shame that the week-long brewing would go to waste in about a minute if the bubbling and slight shift in color was anything to go by.
With a disgusted look at the three apprentices who had been too preoccupied to notice him, he stalked over to the cauldron.
Now, given what was remaining on the tables, the cut shreds of Wolfsbane needed to be dipped in Ice lizard blood, which would allow the plant to dissolve and blend with the other components. Putting his dragonhide gloves on, he went through the process with the ease and accuracy of an experimented brewer. Placing the Wolfsbane in a mortar, he then tipped the contents of the beaker over the plant, after checking that the quantity was right. Taking the pestle, he grinded the mix, making sure the plant absorbed all the blood. Glancing at the bubbling potion in the cauldron, he looked for the telltale sign of this brewing stage. The moment the liquid started turning black, he took the ladle and started to stir in a clockwise manner, carefully adding the mortar's contents. Once he had returned the mortar to the table, he started the timed stirring pattern. One clockwise stir, one counter-clockwise stir, two clockwise stirs, three counter-clockwise, five clockwise, eight counter-clockwise and finally thirteen clockwise.
Carefully, he took the ladle out of the cauldron and placed it in the nearby sink. Checking the potion, he was satisfied to see it was an even blue colour and that the thickness seemed right. The potion would now need to sit for seven hours before the next ingredient will be added. Setting a timer, something he couldn't believe whoever the brewer was, had not done, he went to wash the ladle and placed it back on the table.
"Very good, boy. You're Severus' apprentice, aren't you?"
Julian turned and assessed the man who had just spoken, silently berating himself for not noticing him sooner. He hated being surprised or startled.
The man was older than Severus but taller. Wearing dark grey robes, he was blending in the shadows cast by the torches on the walls. A strong square jaw, small beedy brown eyes, a heavily scarred throat, pale skin, and cropped hair with a hint of developing baldness completed the picture.
"Potions Master Devlin?" he asked stiffly.
"You're Severus' boy, no doubt…," the man chuckled dryly. He walked to the cauldron. "I had been about to take care of this, as none of those inept idiots seemed able to recall my orders."
Harry sent an ill-concealed contemptuous look at the three apprentices who were still running from one cauldron to another.
"They will never reach master level. At best they will be slightly more than average brewers, but the Dark Lord requires more and more potions, though our numbers don't grow… But enough with that, I was told Severus finished with his orders?"
Julian nodded and took out a shrunken box containing the required vials. Carefully undoing his spellwork, he cautiously put the box on a table.
Devlin walked to it and started to inspect the brews. "Excellent… Severus keeps on earning his high-standard reputation… though you made quite a lot of those potions, boy. Your labelling is much more legilible than that old bat's writing."
Julian remained silent, not approving of the master's laid-back comments about his own master.
"You will be a great addition to our rank, young man, but I expected no less from someone that smug git agreed to teach."
By now the other occupants of the room had apparently finished their work and had noticed the newcomer's presence as they started to clean the various working stations.
"Master Devlin?" one of them started to ask, while washing the various ladles that had been used for the different potions. "Who is…?" he finished, pointing toward Julian.
The Potions Master sent his students an icy stare. "Someone who spared you a heavier punishment than the one you'll be receiving for your sloppy brewing. Didn't I tell you to take care of the Wolfsbane Potion?"
The three young men blanched, shooting panicked looks at said cauldron.
"Luckily for you, the potion did not suffer from you ineptness. I'd like to introduce you to…" He looked at Julian with raised eyebrows.
"Julian Richards," the young wizard stated.
"Julian Richards," repeated the Potions Master, "Apprentice to Golden-ranked Potions Master Severus Snape."
The three apprentices sent wary, if not fearful looks at Julian, something that highly amused him. Apparently, his master's reputation went even further than he thought.
"Dinner is about to be served, we will speak of your punishment at a later time. Go and change," Devlin snapped, clearly dismissing his apprentices.
Turning to Julian, he motioned to the door. "Would you agree to dine at my table, so that I might enjoy an intelligent conversation for once?"
Knowing better than refuse such an offer, the young wizard nodded.
"Very well, follow me then."
Once more, Julian was led through the labyrinth that was Lazarin. The corridors all looked the same, with no painting or visible mark on the walls to orient yourself.
"Confusing, isn't it?" commented his guide. "You get used to it after a while… Now, did you happen to hear about the article concerning the addition of dragon blood to that poison…"
The two men were soon engrossed in their discussion as they walked to the dining rooms, a requirement of the Dark Lord to increase the unity of his men.
They were among the last to enter, still discussing rather heatedly a particular point made in a recent publication. The room was big, bigger than Hogwarts' Great Hall, if what Julian had read was anything to go by. Several long tables, each surrounded by high-backed chairs, were ranged across the room. The stone walls were covered with ancient looking tapestries depicting war-related, historical scenes or various crests. Several large windows allowed light in.
Julian followed the older man as Devlin walked to a table on the right side of the main table, situated on a stage, where a few men dressed in dark robes trimmed with silver were discussing quietly. Devlin gestured to the young man to take a seat and then settled next to him, still defending his point of view.
The massive carved doors banged open and three people came into view. As one, every men and women in the room stood up and dropped to one knee, head bowed. Following their lead, Julian extended his magical awareness towards those standing in the doorframe.
Two vampires that felt familiar and one powerful wizard. One hell of a powerful wizard.
They all obeyed and Julian had to suppress a sigh of relief. That bloody stone floor was uncomfortable. Still standing, as was everyone in the room, he appraised the three newcomers.
The wizard was Lord Voldemort. He remembered the man from the time when he came to see his master. He was wearing obviously tailored green robes, embroidered with silver and black designs. A large snake was slithering at his feet. Julian looked at the reptile with interest. He had had to leave his own snakes at his Master's manor where the elves had been given strict orders concerning their diets. Voldemort's two companions each wore black pants and a tunic with open dark blood red robes, the raised hood concealing their features.
Julian, however, recognized the crest adorning their robes easily as they passed him. Their auras were also a definite give-away. A small smile made his lips twitch as he hid his aura, knowing he would be recognized otherwise.
Voldemort and his guests finally sat down followed by all the other occupants of the room as food appeared on the tables.
Throughout the whole dinner, Julian kept up with his argument with Devlin. He was no stranger to debating. It was a game he and his mentor often indulged in. Yet at the same time, he spiked his aura from time to time, amused to see the heads of both vampires shoot up whenever he did so.
Finally as they finished with their dessert, he spiked his aura but did not hide it afterwards. With a small smirk, he watched as the vampires looked around, definitely looking annoyed. They locked gazes with him and he raised an eyebrow.
Both of them raised their hands and lowered their hoods. One of them was clearly younger looking than the other. Both of them had light brown hair reaching their shoulder blades. The more youthful one had dark green eyes while his older companion had greyish-blue ones. Both of them shared the same aristocratic looks and pale skin. The younger one spoke quietly to his companion who looked at Julian with piercing eyes.
Slowly, Death Eaters started to leave the room, talking lowly. When Devlin asked Julian if he was coming with him, the raven-haired wizard shook his head, saying he needed to talk to someone before he retired for the night. Soon, the only ones remaining were the Inner Circle members, the Vampires, Voldemort and him.
Judging that no unwanted people were still around and drawing the attention of those seating at the Head table, the younger vampire walked up to Julian who had been reading some of his notes over a particular experiment. He stopped in front of the young wizard.
"I should have guessed it was you…"
Julian smirked at him, eyes showing his amusement. "You must be getting sloppy with the years if you did not sense me sooner…"
The vampire rolled his eyes. "As if I could have unless you wanted to… Nobody could hide auras better than you," he replied in a huff.
"You're not still irked about that, aren't you? How are you, by the way?"
The vampire plopped into the chair next to him. "You would know if you had bothered answering the letters I sent you."
The young wizard sent him an exasperated look. "I would have if I had known where you lived and if Hedwig had not refused to carry letters to you."
"That bloody owl has still her feathers ruffled about that?"
Julian laughed. "Well, nearly ending as a snack will do that to an owl."
The vampire joined him quickly.
"So, Evan, how is life treating you? Or should I say how is death treating you?" repeated Julian.
The young vampire sent him a satisfied smirk.
"Good, good…" Smugness spread on his face as he smiled at Julian. "I was designated as my father's heir last Sahmain. I must say, the look on my brothers' faces alone made it worthwhile... That reminds me, will you stand with me for the Acknowledgement?"
Julian nodded, smiling. "Of course, you dolt, did you even have to ask? By the way, I have your shipment ready. Send some of your men to fetch it next week, alright?"
"I'll tell my father, same time?"
Julian nodded, closing his journal to which Evan shot a quick look, shaking his head.
"Still a bookworm, I guess things don't change that much. Do you have news of Oreale?"
The young wizard shrugged. "I received a letter a week ago, her pack is moving up North for the coming months, something to do with the ritual fight for leadership."
The vampire frowned. "She'll be there for our annual gathering at Shades?"
The smirk on his human friend's face was answer enough. "She better not hear you say that. As if any alumni would miss this day..."
"True," replied Evan, "By the way, do you want to come with us tonight? We're hitting Sins with Moreen, Kale, Reana and Auguste."
Julian sighed. "I'd have liked to, but I need to be at my master's manor tomorrow morning for my isolation..."
Julian rolled his eyes. "No, I just fancied locking myself up for a few days. You know… just for the kick of it."
Evan was looking at him with worried eyes, ignoring his friend's sarcasm. "Do you need some of us to be here?"
Julian sighed. "I'd rather not. It won't be safe for anybody to be nearby... You remember what old Zoar said."
The vampire nodded. "Alright, but call me if you need help."
"That implies that I'll be able to call for help...," retorted Julian.
"You're not helping, Julian..."
The young mortal smiled genuinely. "I'll promise I'll call you as soon as this is over and then we can go hit Sins together..."
Evan reluctantly returned his friend's smile.
Julian finally stood up. "I need my rest, so I think I'll call it a night. Not everyone is gifted with your sleeping habits..."
Evan rolled his eyes. "Not like I can do anything about it…"
Julian stood up, smoothing his robes. "It was good to see you Evan, take care of yourself and call me should you require help."
"Ever modest, what makes you think that I'll need help? Don't forget about the ceremony, I'm counting on you to be there…"
"When will it take place?"
"In a month, I'll send an escort for you. I assume you'll dress accordingly."
The young man nodded, a faint smile on his lips. "I'll be there, just make sure your people will be warned that I'm not part of the snacks… We wouldn't want a repeat of my last visit," he said, a mischievous glint in his eyes.
Evan laughed with mirth. "By the Goddess, I wouldn't mind another show, but I'm not sure the others would… You do realize that some of them are still talking about that…"
Julian smirked smugly. "I hope so…" He yawned. "Well, I'm going. Take care, Evan."
"You too Julian, may the Goddess watch your steps."
"May she guide you in the Shadows."
Both placed their hands over their hearts and tilted their upper body forward.
Having done that, Julian straightened himself and headed for the door. After a few steps, he stopped and dug in his pocket, taking out a vial filled with a thick, dark ruby red liquid. Turning sharply on his heels, he threw it at Evan.
He then walked out of the room, footsteps silent, as he merged with the shadows.
Smiling slightly as he looked at the vial, Evan walked back to the High table to sit next to his Sire.
"Will he come?"
Evan nodded, as he took a sip from Julian's vial. Immediately he felt a rush of power course through him, leaving him positively giddy and as alive as he could feel. Wizard's blood willingly given… Nothing tasted sweeter to a vampire.
Corking the vial, he carefully placed it in one of his pockets. "He will, we'll just have to send men for him and warn the clans of his arrival. By the way, the next shipment is ready."
The elder vampire smiled, a proud and satisfied look in his eyes as he could feel the power flowing from his heir.
"Very good, I'll send Markus and his men to fetch it."
A soft cough interrupted them.
"Forgive me, Princeps, but I was not aware that you knew one of my servants," said the Dark Lord, curiosity gleaming in his crimson eyes. He had followed the interaction between the Princeps' heir and the teen who had been debating with Devlin for the whole meal.
Devlin rarely deemed people worthy enough to debate with him, particularly when it came to Potions. That alone spoke volumes for the young man. But the fact that he knew the Princeps' heir as well as he seemed to, was intriguing if not worrisome. The vampires were picky with those they mingled with.
Evan raised an eyebrow. "And I was not aware that Julian Richards pledged himself to you."
The Dark Lord frowned. Indeed, he couldn't remember any recent inductee with that name. However, he had heard it before. That did nothing to reassure him. He didn't need a rebellion among his servants. That boy would have to be watched closely and disposed of should he be a threat to his authority.
"He has not pledged himself to me yet, that is true. Could you, however, tell me how you came to know of that young man?" Voldemort was careful to keep his tone conversational. Vampires were easily offended and he wanted their support in the war. It was worth sacrificing part of his pride when dealing with them…
Evan shot a look at his father who nodded. "He went to Nightshades with me and I was assigned as his mentor." He omitted to mention that Julian had graduated with him, having skipped two years.
The Dark Lord frowned…. Richards, Nightshades…. Potions…
"He is Severus' apprentice."
Small gasps were heard from several Inner Circle members.
Evan smirked. "If you meant Potions Master Severus Snape, then, yes, Julian is apprenticing under him."
The Princeps rose to his feet, blood red robes rippling as he moved. "My son and I have business calling us away. You will have our answer in the coming weeks."
Voldemort nodded, thanking the two vampires for coming at his request.
As soon as the two of them had disappeared through the shadows, the Dark Lord turned towards his Inner Circle, his tone chilling and his eyes icy.
"I want everything known concerning that Julian Richards and I want it quickly. Lucius, fire call Severus if needed, but I'd like to keep this inquiry as quiet as possible."
That said, Voldemort stood up and walked out of the room, heading for his own quarters, trying to recall what Severus had told him about the boy during his visit to the man that had been his right hand. The boy was intriguing and familiar at the same time.
Well, time would tell who this Julian Richards was, but until then, he would keep a close eye on him.
After all, any wizard who could be that close to vampires was a potential threat and Voldemort had not become a Dark Lord to not take the possibility of an upstart wannabe Dark Lord seriously.
Well, done for now, next chapter: Harry's coming of Age, Voldemort looks for answers, some Vampire interactions and action, more about Hogwarts, Dumbledore and Neville and more about Nightshades and his peers during the annual reunion of Nightshades alumi.
The issue reguarding Harry's Hogwarts' letter will be addressed in the next chapter.
This is not a Severitus story. Snape will be a mentor of the snarky snappy sort to Julian, he won't turn to be his father.