Disclaimer: My name is not J.K. Rowling, I do not work for Warner Brothers, Scholastic books, or any other company that owns the copyright info. to this series. I am also not making any money. I don't have any money. Suing me would be more than a little pointless.
Warnings: Language, gore, AU
Note: This is a mix of two mythologies - Southern American Indian and Northern American Indian. For those who haven't studied such things, yes, they are drastically different. The title is taken from a song on the "Oath Bound" album by Mercedes Lackey.
"Bloody fucking hell!" Severus Snape rarely swore. He *never* swore around students. Now, however, he couldn't think of a better way to sum up the situation.
"Severus, calm down, I'm sure he'll turn up." Remus Lupin soothed.
Severus looked at the other professor and laughed. "He'll turn up? He'll *turn* *up*? Lupin, I think you're suffering from exposure! Visibility out there is zero! It would be a miracle if the boy hasn't fallen off a cliff by now!" Some part of him was aware that his voice was taking on a slightly hysterical note. He didn't really care. All that he cared about was that Draco Malfoy, his best student, his best friend's *son* was wandering around the woods in the middle of a blizzard with nothing but a back-pack full of emergency rations and a space blanket. //'He should have a lighter, and enough sugar to keep him going even if the dry food runs out, if he can just find shelter...'//
"Well if he has, there's not much we can do about it, now is there?" Sirius Black glared at him, propping his backpack (a much larger one than Draco had been carrying) against one of the cabin's walls. "So there's no use yelling at Harry about it. After all, it's not like *he* knew the storm was coming anymore than the rest of us. That's kind of the point of calling them 'freak' blizzards."
"*He*," Severus snapped, pointing a finger at the thin, black-haired boy trying to start a fire in the fireplace with shaking fingers. "Was supposed to be Draco's *partner*. What is the point of assigning our students *partners*, people who are supposed to stay with them *at* *all* *times*, if they're going to allow themselves to get separated!"
At the fireplace, Harry flinched.
"Oh come off it!" Sirius growled, arms crossing stubbornly. "Why is this suddenly Harry's fault? He managed to stay with the group! Malfoy's the one who got separated!"
"If your *precious* nephew hadn't been concentrating so hard on saving his *own* hide...!"
"We would be missing two students!" Remus exploded, his normally even temper giving out in a spectacular burst of volume. "For crying out loud you two, would you both knock it off! This is an Outdoor Survival course! All right, we didn't exactly plan on surviving a blizzard, but Draco should have enough with him to keep him alive for at least half a day. Hopefully this will blow out by then and we'll be able to form a search party. Until then, I suggest we worry about the students we still *have*." He gestured to the nine boys who stood or sat around the room, all in various states of "freezing."
"Professors? I've got the fire started." Harry spoke up tentatively. "It should be big enough to add logs to in a couple of minutes."
"Good." Remus sighed, giving his two compatriots a warning look. "Neville? How are you doing?"
Neville Longbottom looked up and attempted to smile through his chattering teeth. Severus had to wonder why everything happened to that particular boy - food poisoning from the cafeteria food, a broken limb in P.E., and now of all the students *he* was the one who fell into the creek just outside the cabin during a blizzard.
//'Of course, we haven't *lost* him.'//
"Right," Remus started handing out instructions. "Ron, you go and find some blankets. Neville, as soon as Ron gets back, strip. I want you wrapped up in one of those blankets and next to the fire as soon as Harry has it built up. Greg? You help Harry. Blaise, Malcolm? There should be food and hot drink mix in the kitchen. You two have KP duty. Dean, you strip and get in the blanket with Neville. Vincent and Seamus, you come with me and we'll see about getting the beds made up." Light eyes fixed firmly on Severus and Sirius. "I trust you two to keep yourselves appropriately occupied?"
"No prob." Sirius sighed, heading off into the back bedrooms, clearly intent on helping set up the rooms.
Severus hesitated, his eyes straying once again to the window and the swirling curtain of white just beyond. In his minds eye he could still see them as they were heading out that morning, all smiles and laughter, Harry giving Draco a hard time by saying that the blond boy was too 'girlie' to carry a *real* backpack, Draco retorting that he could get out of more work that way. The sun had been shining, bright but weak, and while there had been pockets of frost in the shady spots between the trees, it had looked like decent weather.
//'Black's right, no one could have predicted this,'// He thought miserably. //'But what am I going to tell Lucius if we can't find him? He only thought he'd be missing his son for a weekend, not a life time.'// The thought ached - ached with a sense of failure, ached with a sense of loss. Still he tried to shove that ache to the very back of his mind as he turned toward the kitchen to help Blaise and Malcolm prepare what little dinner they could manage.
"Good news!" Remus smiled, returning to the main room from the back ones. "All of the bedrooms have fireplaces in them."
"Oh, I'm sure you and your boyfriend must be thrilled." Severus sneered, sipping sporadically at the rather weak apple cider Blaise had made. Dinner, such as it was, had been prepared and cooling for several minutes while those in the main room waited for the others to join them. "Now you can have a nice, toasty place to make out all night. Do try not to keep the rest of us up."
"Severus!" Remus stared at the other professor, shocked and, from the blush on his cheeks, a little bit embarrassed.
"Ignore him, Remus." Sirius growled, coming up behind the other man. Apparently he'd been close enough to the main room to catch the comment. Severus didn't really care. "He's just being his usual, homophobic, piss-ant self. Probably wouldn't be half so worried about Draco if the kid was queer."
Severus snarled at him over the top of his cup. //'You're lucky I don't throw this mug at you, Black. I'd be worried about Draco if the boy was a transvestite who liked naked mud wrestling with pigs, but you don't need to know that.'// Neither, for that matter, did Remus or any of the boys. If thinking he was a homophobic bastard made them feel uncomfortable, that was fine with him. //'At least this way I won't be the only one feeling miserable.'// It was a childish thought, and he knew it, but being the only one who seemed worried was really beginning to wear on him.
Remus sighed and ignored both of the other professors in favor of turning to Blaise and asking if there were enough plates. Sirius turned to ask Neville how he was doing. Left without anyone to take his anxiety out on, Severus twisted in his seat to watch the snow. It had been an hour. //'Without shelter, someone can freeze in an hour, easily. People always assume that trees mean shelter, but not in a storm like this. He'd have to find a cave, or at least a tree with a decent sized cleft in it. There aren't as many of those in the world as people would like to...'//
"Severus, are you listening?" Remus' voice managed to penetrate his thoughts.
"Hm?" He jerked slightly, succeeding in dumping hot cider down his front in the process. It wasn't hot enough to scald anymore, but it was still hot enough that having it suddenly soak through the flimsy protection of his turtleneck and saturate the skin beneath was an exceptionally rude shock.
"Here!" Malcolm shoved a handful of napkins at his professor as Remus watched, concern in his eyes, despite Severus' earlier sniping.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'll be fine." Severus hissed, mopping fairly ineffectively at the drenched cotton. "I'm just wet, that's all."
"Well, looks like Remus and I won't be the only ones enjoying the fireplaces tonight."
"*Sirius*!" Shock, anger and embarrassment warred across Remus' face, no single emotion gaining the upper hand for more than a second. The dark-haired man grinned, a nasty, unrepentant grin.
Severus tried to ignore them both. Instead he concentrated on the spill, mopping up what he could so that he wouldn't have to change clothes. //'Maybe I could let it dry by the fire?'//
"Did you guys hear that?" Harry looked up suddenly, eyes turned toward the door. Everyone else turned in the same direction as if the sound waves that had reached his ears might suddenly become visible to them.
"Hear wha...?" Half way through the question, Ron stopped, cut off by a weak thumping noise from the door.
Harry was halfway out of his chair when Severus stood, all but running to the door, pushing the boy roughly out of his way in an attempt to get there faster. He didn't stop to think that it was still snowing, that his shirt was wet and would likely freeze, that there could be a bear trying to get into the cabin. His thoughts staid where they'd been since their arrival at the cabin - on a thin, pale boy, lost in the snow.
"Severus, be careful! You don't know what that is!" All snideness set aside, Sirius started forward. He was a bit late, however, as Severus' hand was already turning the handle of the door.
The cold that rushed through the first crack between the door and its frame slammed into Severus like the side draft of an avalanche, knocking him back several feet. The door continued on it's opening arch, slamming against the wall, the sound echoed by the dull thud of a thin, shivering body falling to the floor.
"Draco!" Severus wasn't even aware that he'd said the name, was barely conscious of thinking it. His body moved forward of its own accord, dropping next to the twitching form of his best friend's son, carefully pulling the boy into his arms. Draco's normally pale skin lacked all color, his lips tinged a purplish blue. Severus brushed his fingers against those lips, feeling for breath. Air slid against his fingertips, but there was too much wind coming through the door to be certain of where, exactly, those little gusts of air were coming from.
Sirius grabbed the door and wrestled it shut, all but kicking Draco's legs out of the way. One dark eye glanced down at the boy on the floor. "He's in bad shape. If we don't move quickly, he's not going to make it."
"Ron!" Remus barked, loudly enough to make the red-haired boy jump. "Grab one of the space blankets and take it down to one of the middle rooms, where we have the fires going. Vincent, Greg! Go with him, move the bed as close to the fire as you can safely. Harry, you grab some more wood and get that fire built up! Now!"
The scraping of chairs as the boys rushed to follow orders barely registered in Severus' mind. He was too busy trying to drag Draco's twitching form to the fireplace, peeling soaked, half-frozen clothing from soaked, half-frozen skin. He didn't even realize Sirius was helping him strip the boy until he went to wrestle with Draco's pants and found them halfway off.
"I've got these." Sirius grunted, attempting to unglue the denim from Draco's leg. Reaching out with one hand, he snagged the blanket Neville had been curled up in and all but tossed it at Severus. "You worry about getting him dried off."
The blanket itself was still faintly wet, but it was a warm wet instead of the numbing chill of Draco's skin. Not bothering with an actual reply, Severus wrapped it around the boy's bare torso, rubbing vigorously, trying to coax color into those too pale lips. Time compressed and stretched in random waves, sending the world spinning on the periphery of his vision only to have it snap into extra sharp focus whenever he looked directly at Draco's fluttering eyelids or colorless cheeks. A detached little voice in the back of his mind noticed that time and space tended to do such things in times of emergency and wondered what caused the phenomenon.
"We've got the room set up." Remus knelt across from Severus, his face oddly dimmed despite the fact the firelight was playing directly on it. Carefully he slid his hands under Draco's back. "Let's get him into bed."
"Who's staying with him?" Sirius asked, taking a firm hold of the boy's now bare legs as the other two started to lift his torso.
"I am." Severus mumbled, barely audible, eyes still latching reflexively on Draco's face, never going further than a flutter away.
"Are you su...?"
"He's *my* student." Severus' snarl cut Remus off halfway through his question. "*I'm* the one who's been worrying about him. *I'll* be the one staying with him!" It was somehow important that the others know that he wouldn't budge on this point, that the boy was special, if only to him. He wasn't entirely certain why, and the same voice at the back of his head noted that his brain wasn't working quite properly. In the end, it didn't matter. What mattered was moving, as quickly as possible, which it didn't seem like he was doing, but he supposed he must be because every time he glanced away from Draco, the scenery had changed ever so slightly - now the main room before the fire, now the archway into the back hall, now part way down that hall, now one of the bedrooms.
The boys had followed orders well. The fireplace now contained a mini-bonfire, a blaze just within the bounds of safety. The bed was just far enough away to keep the bedding from accidentally catching fire, but not a centimeter further. The covers were turned back, revealing the shiny silver surface of the space blanket.
As he slid his arms from under Draco's back, gently lowering the boy into bed, and started to yank his still damp shirt over his head, it occurred to him that there had never been an actual *response* to his announcement that he'd be staying with the boy. Then again, maybe there had been and he'd missed it. He didn't really care. //'Sirius and Remus can go fuck themselves, and if either of them try to stop me, I'll slug them.'//
Fortunately for both of them, neither of the other professors seemed at all inclined to stop him from shucking his clothing in record time and slipping between the chilled sheets, against the even more chilled body beneath them. His hands instantly fell to Draco's arms, once again trying to rub the life into the boy. He curled himself around Draco as best he could, maneuvering the boy's head into the warm crook of his neck, hissing as cold met warm with an almost burning intensity. The sting only prompted him to move closer, running his hands over every inch of skin he could.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when another set of hands bumped into his. Blinking he looked up, directly into a pair of bright blue eyes. "Blaise?"
The boy smiled. "You w...weren't paying at...tention, where you, P...professor?"
Severus shot a quick look around the room. The others were gone. He couldn't remember them leaving. He *certainly* couldn't remember Blaise stripping and joining Draco and himself under the covers! "I guess not."
"It's going to t...take more than one person to warm him up...p." Blaise explained, shoving his nose against Draco's neck, hands still roughly skimming the other boy's chest. "So I s...stayed."
"Ah." Severus smiled slightly, despite the fact his hands, and several other parts of his body, were going numb against Draco's skin. //'I should have known. If anyone else were going to stay, it would be Blaise.'// After a moment's though, he amended that. //'Or Vincent and Gregory.'//
All conversation died then. Time worked its distortionist magic again, narrowing both of their worlds to the boy between them and the cycle of their hands. They fell into an almost natural rhythm, one of them diving beneath the covers to try and restore the circulation in Draco's legs, the other wrapping as much of their body as possible around the blond boy's torso. Between the cold of Draco's skin and the heat from the fire, their own bodies, and the continual friction, trapped by the space blanket, it was an almost comfortable temperature. Severus wanted to be hot, desperately. If he was hot, that meant Draco was warming up, getting better, thawing. It meant everything was going to be alright.
"Please be alright." Whether he was actually speaking the words or simply listening to them echo through his mind, Severus couldn't really say. They ran in a steady mantra, like the motion of his hands on Draco's neck and back, like the blood through his veins, a sort of white noise. After an indeterminable number of repetitions, he realized he must have been speaking them out loud because his throat was starting to hurt.
The temperature rose slowly, coaxing him into a half doze. At first, when the cold little nose actively nuzzled against his neck, he thought he was dreaming. The body next to his actively shifting, pressing against him, chilled little arms wrapping over his ribs brought him to his senses. "Draco? Are you awake?"
"Mmm?" The blond boy pulled back slightly, silver grey eyes looking up at his professor. He was still too pale and those eyes were glazed, but he was definitely awake.
Blaise emerged from under the covers where he'd been taking his turn at Draco's feet and smiled when he saw his friend awake. "Hey, D...Draco. You warm eno...enough?"
Draco craned his head a little and nodded, then shivered hard enough to make a lie of the previous motion.
Severus smiled. //'Always having to prove our independence, aren't we? You certainly are Lucius' son.'// Pulling the boy back against him, he looked at Blaise. "You go eat. I'll call you if I can't keep him warm."
With a nod, Blaise slid out from between the sheets, pulled his clothing back on, and left the two of them alone. When Remus came by later to make certain everything was still going well, they were both asleep, curled together in a little ball, breathing in perfect unison.
"Well, it's a beautiful morning." Sirius yawned, looking out the window at the once again bright sky.
Remus sighed. "That's something anyway. Still, I wish we had a phone or a radio or something so we could tell people where we are. We only have supplies for three days, and a scant three days at that."
"Eh, it'll be fine. Freak blizzards like these normally don't repeat themselves. As long as Draco pulls through, we should be able to make it. Probably stay in the cabin today, in case the weather turns nasty again."
"True." Remus poked at their depleted wood supply. There hadn't been much to begin with and lighting fires in every room had taken up most of it. "I'd still feel a bit better if we had more wood."
"I'll take a couple of the kids out to get some."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Why not?" Sirius shrugged, automatically reaching for his pack. "If we take a line with us so none of us get separated and stick close to the cabin, we should be able to make it back even if another freak blizzard comes up. We'll even take our packs, just incase. 'Sides, we'll be able to carry more that way."
"I suppose..." Remus gnawed his lower lip, watching his boyfriend with slightly worried eyes. "Just be careful."
Sirius cast him the most rakish grin known to man. "Hey, no worries! I've survived snow storms outside ya' know."
"Yes, but none of the kids have and I don't want you to have to again."
"Like I said, no worries." Sirius hefted his pack over his shoulders and called out. "Hey, Greg! Vincent! Grab your packs, we're gonna go for some wood real quick."
"Yes Professor!" One of the burly teenagers called back, he couldn't tell which one. They emerged from their shared room a couple of minutes later, wrapped in every layer of clothing they had, packs strapped across their back. Despite the storm of the previous day, both seemed perfectly at ease.
Sirius scooped up a length of rope (one of the many, apparently random little things one *must* carry with them into the mountains), tied one end of it around his belt loop, then tossed it in to the boys. By the time they finished tying it to themselves, the three of them were left with five feet of rope between them. "Okay, here's the deal, we go out, grab as much firewood as we can as quickly as we can and come back. No leaving sight of the cabin. We're linked together, so that won't be as big a problem as it would be otherwise, but we've still got to pay attention. If I say 'No further,' I mean it. All clear?"
"Gottcha." The boys nodded in unison.
"Great, let's go." Tossing Remus one last smile, Sirius headed out the door. He instantly wished he'd brought sunglasses on this trip. The sunbeams bounced off the still deep snowdrifts, colliding into one another and ricocheting into his eyes. He held up one hand to ward them off, but it wasn't very effective.
Behind him, one of the boys grumbled. "Okay, I vote we head straight for the trees."
"I second the motion."
"It's unanimous then!" Gritting his teeth, Sirius headed for the line of blessed shade. Once there, the three of them fell to scanning the surrounding area for wood. The closeness of the trees hadn't managed to keep out the driving snow, so *dry* wood was out of the question, but the sharp points of sticks jutted up from the surrounding white like wrecked ship hulls on a beach.
It took them awhile to get used to moving in almost near unison. There were several times when Sirius and Greg managed to rob poor Vincent of any movement at all as they both stretched as far as they could in opposite directions. On a different day, this might have lead to squabbling and bad temper as their blood chilled and tempers frayed, but with the sun out and shining after a good night's rest, the three of them were soon laughing, comparing the sizes of their finds, and taking bets at who would find the most wood.
Sirius checked back over his shoulder almost compulsively. They'd almost reached the point where the cabin was just a random flash between the trees when he decided to call a halt. "Don't go any further." He told the other two, not bothering to shift his gaze from the piece of wood he was in the process of wriggling loose from under a particularly heavy snowdrift. He'd have just dug at it, but that required two hands. "We'll get a few more pieces then go back."
"Gottcha Profe...Shit!" There was a sudden tug on the safety line as Greg tripped over something buried in the snow. The bundle of wood in his arms went flying as he windmilled his arms, frantically trying not to land flat on his face in a snowdrift. Luckily, he managed to stay upright.
"You okay?" Sirius was fairly certain he knew the answer, but things had been going wrong enough lately he felt compelled to check.
"Yeah." Greg replied, reaching down to retrieve as much wood as he could, trying not to trip on the whatever-it-was again. "Just tripped on something."
"Fallen tree branch?" Vincent suggested hopefully. The wood would be soaked, but if there was an ax back at the cabin, or the branch was small enough to break up, it could be dried by one of the fireplaces.
"I dunno." Greg shrugged, placing the firewood collection down in a neat little pile under a nearby tree. "Here, help me dig it out."
Carefully setting their own armloads down, Sirius and Vincent wandered over to where Greg was carefully feeling out the perimeter of the thing he tripped over. Sirius frowned. If it was a branch, it was a very large one, well over five feet long, but not quite six. "I'm not sure we're going to be able to carry that."
"If it's rotted out we might." Vincent replied, starting to dig. "I mean, we have no way of knowing why it came down, or how long it's been lying here or...oops. Looks like I found something. It feels like a smaller side branch."
Greg, having finished what he was doing, knelt down next to his friend and started to help him unearth their find. Sirius just stood, watching. An uneasy feeling was building in the pit of his stomach, a sort of sixth sense saying that someone in Denmark had forgotten to take the garbage out. Slowly, little points began to emerge from the snow, five little sticks, curling back down toward the snow.
Vincent frowned. "I've never seen a tree with a branching pattern like that before! And what are these little white bits at the end? They look almost like fingernails."
Sirius moved closer, the remainder of the previous night's meager meal threatening to work its way back into his mouth. Kneeling down next to Greg, who had resumed digging, apparently determined to solve the mystery himself, he examined the little protrusions. "They are fingernails."
"Come again?" Greg stopped digging instantly, staring at his professor with wide, stunned eyes. Vincent was also staring, horror and disbelief written across his face in bold letters.
"Keep digging." Sirius wasn't entirely certain what the proper procedure was when one found a dead body in the middle of the mountains, but he was fairly certain that identifying the corpse was a top priority. He also had the sinking suspicion that he didn't want to know the dearly departed's identity. In fact, the little tremor in his stomach told him he definitely didn't want to know. He ignored it and dug as quickly as possible.
It took them at least twenty minutes to completely uncover the corpse, partially because none of them had gloves and they had to stop every now and again to coax feeling back into their poor, abused fingers. When they finally stopped digging, they sat back on their heels and stared at the result in dismay.
"God." Vincent looked like he was going to be sick. "What the hell got him? Her?"
"Him." Sirius confirmed, his eyes darting toward the corpse's crotch and away in the same move. The body lay in a jumble of oddly positioned limbs, none of which seemed to actually be broken, but clearly being held in place by muscles and ligaments that had been stretched in ways they weren't supposed to go and ripped. The body had been stripped of skin and hair, its eyes gouged out, leaving empty sockets staring up at them, but outside of the ripping, all of the muscles seemed to be in tact. There was no sign that anything had tried to rip open the bodily cavity and get at the internal organs, which was usually one of the first things any wild animal went for.
The entire scene reminded him uncomfortably of stories his Grandfather used to tell him as a small boy, tales told to frighten him into good behavior and to keep him inside on winter nights. It had been years since he'd so much as thought of them, let alone believed in otherworldly monsters that stalked through the snow, killing anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path, eating the skin and leaving the rest of the corpse for the animals. Now, however, the nightmares those stories surged to the forefront of his mind. He shook them off. //'Get a hold of yourself, Black, you're being ridiculous. There's no such thing as snow demons, you've known that for years. If nothing else, you've been out in enough snow storms that if they did exist, they'd have eaten *you* by now. This poor guy was just unlucky enough to run across a...a...'// A what? His mind couldn't provide him with any animal that would even consider eating only skin.
Greg had started digging around again, not at the corpse, but around it. Sirius was about to ask what he was doing when the boy let out a grim gasp of triumph. "Found something! I bet it'll tell us who he is!"
"Good thinking." Sirius smiled at the boy's foresight and moved over to help him dig. Vincent staid where he was. He was still looking a little bit green and had his face turned away from the corpse. Sirius couldn't really blame him.
It took less time to unearth Greg's latest find than it had to unearth the one before it, as this one was much smaller and more compact. In fact, they didn't even bother working it all the way loose. Before they had it uncovered a quarter of the way, they knew what it was - a backpack, bright orange like the ones they used, with black straps that attached to the steel frame. Half way down they found an identification tag, carefully slid inside the plastic sleeve that came with all good mountaineering backpacks.
"Tell me I'm reading that wrong."
Sirius swallowed spasmodically, feeling the movement of his Adam's apple as if someone had replaced it with a knife. He wanted to answer the boy, wanted to assure him that yes, he was misreading and the name on the label wasn't familiar at all. He couldn't.
"What is it?" Vincent asked, still not moving from his crouched position next to the corpse.
All three of them turned to stare at the body. It was between five eight and five nine, the same height as the blond boy, with his slender build. Vincent had gone white and Sirius was fairly certain he could feel his own face losing color.
"Maybe..." There was a soft smacking sound as Greg wet his lips nervously. "Maybe Draco just dropped his pack? He didn't have it when he came in last night. Maybe he tripped over this guy too and just...dropped..."
"Yes." Sirius nodded briskly, almost decisively, as if he were trying to convince himself as much as his students, which he was. "Yes, that's undoubtedly just what happened." He wondered briefly if the boys were convinced, because he sure as hell wasn't. The entire situation was just a tad too weird for his comfort level. "Well, let's go back to the cabin, shall we?"
"What about the wood?" Vincent's voice was strained with a quiver running through it.
The wood. Sirius had forgotten the wood. He looked at the three piles, each neatly stacked, waiting to be picked up and carried back to the waiting fireplace. He turned and strained his neck to look around the tree next to him to the cabin. "Fuck the wood."
Neither of the boys seemed eager to argue with the decision. When Sirius stood, they stood with him, and when Sirius started moving, a brisk walk which not so slowly morphed into a full out dash through the snow, they followed.
The three of them shoved their way into the cabin as one, Greg falling behind a bit only because the door wasn't wide enough to let three through abreast of each other. The crash of the door slamming open, their boots pounding the wooden floorboards, and the harsh gasps of their breathing brought every eye in the room to focus on them. Sirius' eyes scanned the room frantically, taking a quick inventory of everyone there. Remus was staring at him from the table, Harry on one side of him, Blaise on the other. It looked like they'd been making an itinerary of the remaining supplies. This theory was supported by a small pile of rations sitting on the middle of the table and Ron and Dean going through a row of packs lined up against the wall. Seamus and Neville were crouched in front of the fire. Both looked sleepy, meaning they'd probably just woken up.
//'Malcolm's not here.'// Sirius felt his heart drop. //'Neither are Draco and Severus. Okay, don't panic...everything's probably fine...'//
"Sirius?" Remus eyed him, confused. "Is something wrong?"
"Wrong?" Sirius tried to sound cheerful. He was fairly certain he failed. "No, I don't think so... okay, maybe. I just want to check something." He scanned the room again, hoping that at least Malcolm would materialize if he did. Needless to say, nothing of the sort happened. "Where's Malcolm? And have Draco or Severus been out at all today?"
"Malcolm's in the bathroom." Remus frowned. "And no, the other two haven't gotten up yet. I was about to go wake them, though, it's getting late."
"I'll do it!" Sirius volunteered instantly, not even waiting for a reply as he headed across the room. He nearly ran over Malcolm as the boy tried to enter the room at the same time he was leaving. He mumbled something that was supposed to be an apology, although he wasn't really paying attention to the words, and continued down the hall, his eyes fixed on the door to the room Severus and Draco had been sharing. A dry, rusted voice creaked through his mind, wheezing its warning down through the ages.
"*You listening, boy? You stay inside when the weather turns cold. The Wendigo hunt in snow storms, hunt for human flesh to fill the empty pits of their stomach. Ravenous they are, hungry enough to eat anyone they find. They don't care if you're young. They don't care if you're lost. They just care that you're food.*"
//'Ghost stories.'// Sirius shivered. //'Ghost stories meant to frighten little kids, nothing more.'// Raising one hand, he let his knuckles fall against the wood paneling of the bedroom door. "Severus, are you awake?" There was no answer. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he tried again. "Severus, Draco? It's time for you two to get up."
There was still no reply. A shiver worked its way through him. Dark eyes closed and he offered up a quick prayer. //'I'm going to open the door, and when I do, Severus is going to wake up, glare at me, throw a pillow at my head, and demand to know what I think I'm doing. Draco will look sleepy, roll over and pull the other pillow over his head. That's all that's going to happen. That's all.// Opening his eyes again, he twisted the handle and pushed the door inward.
The smell hit him the before the door was even completely open, caking itself to the back of his throat, blood and bile, shit and urine. He stood frozen in the doorway, his jaw working desperately as if that would coax fresh air into his lungs, as if oxygen would turn the scene in front of him into some sort of bizarre hallucination.
Snape lay sprawled in the middle of the floor, eyes staring blankly back at Sirius, his expression stunned, almost confused. It was almost as if he was asking why: why the front of his throat was lying a few feet away from him in a puddle of red, forcibly removed from the rest of his body; why half of his hair was missing, stripped from its lodging and leaving an oozing layer of muscle behind; why his face had received similar treatment, one eye held in place solely by a ring of ocular muscle and veins.
The creature bending over him looked up at Sirius' intrusion and grinned. Half of that smiling mouth was young and pale. It matched the pale silver eye and silvery blond eyebrow arching above it. The other half was older, sallow, recently ripped from Severus' corpse and joined in unholy union with the young half, a marriage of Malfoy and Snape that never should have happened. The eye on that side of the face, half hidden behind a fall of greasy black, was missing, leaving behind an empty socket that actively glowed, a dim red color echoing up from inside.
Sirius' mind yelled at him, a million different things - Run! Faint! Puke! - and in the end shut down on itself, gibbering incoherently. He watched, dumb struck as the creature reached out one, slender hand, pale where the skin showed through the caked blood, and plucked Severus' eye from where it rested in its ring of naked muscle. The eye was halfway to the creatures' mouth when the sound of footsteps registered in Sirius' mind. The creature's one silver eye swiveled just to Sirius left as Remus' voice joined the footsteps in their intrusion.
"Sirius, what's going on? You're acting really strange."
Sirius wanted to tell him to stop, to go back, not to look at the weird scene from the twilight zone playing out on the floor of the room beyond the door, but he still couldn't convince his muscles to move, even the little distance it would take to turn. He managed to get his lips to move, to form words, but no sound came.
"Sirius? Lord, Sirius, what is that sme...oh God."
He could feel Remus next to him, even though they weren't touching, feel the sudden tension in the air as the other man froze, also staring. The creature in the room grinned. Apparently it liked the audience. Grinning, Draco's perfect teeth looking out of place in its mouth and dyed red, the creature finished lifting the eyeball to its lips.
Something in the gelatinous goosh of the eyeball popping between the creature's teeth freed Sirius from his paralysis. Placing one hand against Remus' shoulder, he pushed the other man down the hall, turning as he did so. Once he'd started moving, he didn't stop, simply picked up speed, half stumbling, half running, dragging Remus, who was in about the same condition, down the hall. Bursting into the main room he looked around wildly at the boys, still spread out across the room, busy at their various tasks. They stopped what they were doing and stared at him, eyes wide.
He didn't stop to think what he and Remus must look like, the two who were supposed to be calm and in control, shaken and trembling. He didn't think of the snow drifts still outside. He simply opened his mouth and croaked out the first words that came to his lips. "Out! Grab what you can and get the hell out!" Putting action to words he grabbed the nearest thing he could get his hands on - a blanket someone had carelessly left on the floor - and made for the line of packs. The room exploded in a flurry of activity as the boys followed his lead. None of them asked why, they all sensed the words their leaders didn't dare waste the breath to say out loud.
'Better to take our chances with the snow than with that!'
The last of the pounding feet retreated, followed by the slamming of the door. Grinning from his crouched position on the floor, he reached out and tugged the other eyeball free from its socket, curling his tongue around it before mashing it between his teeth.
//'Mmm, so good to have fresh food after so long.'// He purred, deep in his hollow throat, then set about losing another strip of sallow skin from his breakfast. //'These should last me a week, no matter how they run. Fools. Don't they know I control the weather?'//