Nobody ever asked my birthday

Where darkness outshines the light

Snape's boots clicked on the floor of Malfoy Manor. It was a deliberate sound, full of pride and confidence.

To be summoned by the Dark Lord was an honor, after all.

Snape purposefully blanked his own mind, turning it into a cup ready for wine. As he poured the wine in, he changed it to a sieve.

Catch only the important bits.

He'd been summoned without Draco Malfoy, and that meant something important was happening. When the Dark Lord wanted a fawning, adulating audience, he summoned all his Death Eaters. When he wanted to plot, and plan, and get things done, well, that was why Severus Snape had been summoned.

Snape passed out of the last of the airy, pristine Malfoy halls, and stepped into the Dark Lord's throne room (that used to be a smoking room, and still smelled sweetly of cigar). It was a proper throne room for a Dark Lord - Gothically intimidating, furnished with blacks and rich woods, and accented in red. While the Malfoys preferred hard stone, there was plush carpet here.

And a good thing too, if only for Bellatrix's knees. She was on her knees already, looking like some sort of unworthy cur. Azkaban had stolen what few wits the barmy bitch had left.

Lucius Malfoy stood, at the Dark Lord's right. Snape approached, then executed a fine bow in the old style, nearly on one knee.

"Stand, old friend," The Dark Lord said, the purest lie shining in his words. The Dark Lord wasn't honey, like Lucius could be - he was smoky and sweet, like molasses-shot sugar.

"Rise, Bella," The Dark Lord said, to the woman who kissed the robe at his feet.

Though the Dark Lord might name more to the Inner Circle, these select few were his trusted council. Dolokov, Yaxley, and the others were only brutes in comparison.

Bellatrix had a keen mind for tactics, even if she'd lost all sense of strategy.

Lucius had a mind for people, more precisely, for manipulating people. He was the Dark Lord's primary influence on the Ministry, and as such, he knew many things about the lowliest clerk to the highest minister. Even the Minister of Magic, apparently.

Snape was the Dark Lord's Man on the Inside - of both Hogwarts and the Order of the Phoenix. And he was a dab hand at strategy. Deep within a sea of sand, a pebble of unease sat unhappily. Snape was sure no one would find it, not even the Dark Lord. There were so many more interesting fish in the sea, after all. The pebble lay under a flounder, who watched for predators - both eyes up.

"We ought to return to conquering Britain, don't you think?" The Dark Lord said in his eerie, half-snakey voice. Somehow, without an s in the words, he managed to hiss it.

[a/n: This chapter came across as more of a tease than it could have been. Want more from the Dark Lord and his fellow Knights?

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