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By Now Should Be Antique

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Argus's cloth glides along the dark, burnished edges of the picture frames, which have become landscapes now for the most part, empty of their inhabitants. Tidying up is the only task left to him this year, the Death Eaters' year, and he performs it quietly, staying close to the wall as the children's uneasy footsteps file along the corridor behind him.

He hopes that if he keeps to himself, if he just goes about his business like everything's right, he won't be seen as yet another impurity to be cleansed. Best, in fact, if he's not seen at all — if he's merely part of the castle, a thing that's always been here. Like a dusty floorboard, or a bannister worn smooth by many thousands of palms.

He hears the stiff hesitation in the children's steps, feels the chill of their fear on the back of his neck as Headmaster Snape passes through the adjoining hall. Fixedly polishing a spot he's already cleaned, Argus sees only a flutter of black out of the corner of his eye, but he hears clearly Snape's cool and hollow voice to an unknown, unreplying listener:

"...and report to Professor Carrow for immediate punishment. She shall soon learn that at this school, second chances are in scarce supply..."

Argus's knuckles whiten as he grips the cloth. The injustice of it — all they've taken from him, and what they've done with what they took.

As the new Headmaster's voice fades into echoes, Argus remembers when Severus was young: when you could still hear in his speech where he came from, his words drawing the outlines of mills on the smoky Midlands skyline. Headmaster Snape has now in his speech that over-perfectness of one who's worked hard to get rid of an accent, giving the unsettling impression of someone who doesn't come from anywhere at all.

Argus shuffles sideways to wipe the other side of the frame. As he moves, he notices how the light's sheen upon the paint spoils the picture's illusion, turning the inviting country scene into nothing more than strokes upon a canvas, deceptive and flat.