Severus Snape walked with purpose through the crowd. Wet gravel squelched under his feet, sucking at his boots as he went. The event was beginning to take place, people were gathering in front of the main stage; the curtain had been drawn back and it was a mere half hour before the proceedings would actually commence.
The hum of different languages fluttered around him, only the closest ones being affected by his translation spell. He ignored even the conversations he could understand, he wanted to get in and out as soon as possible. The close proximity of so many people, the way they jostled about him, was almost suffocating. These were the wealthiest witches and wizards from across the continent and it showed. Snape wondered briefly if the amount of gold stashed in their vaults was directly proportional to the angle their noses poked in the air.
He bumped shoulders with a wizard in a perfectly tailored burgundy robe. The man turned to snarl at him but stopped, startled by the intensity of the sneer he was faced with. He turned his back with a harrumph, pretending Severus wasn’t worth his time.
The bell was ringing, signaling the auction was about to begin. This auction happened once every two years and was the most prestigious and awaited of its kind, a fact that meant nothing to Snape, as he was not here to bid, but to receive an inheritance. He scowled at the mere thought of it. Even in death Walden managed to be a dirty git.
He reached the side door that he had been instructed to go to by the Ministry letter he’d received a week ago. He rang the bell on the wall and waited. It wasn’t long before the hinges squawked and he was met by a burly man who looked about as pleased to be there as Severus was himself.
“What do you want? No bids allowed back here, you have to go to the stage like everyone else,” said the man.
The crackle of the translation spell tickled Snape’s mind. He produced a roll of parchment from a small satchel on his side and presented it to the man silently.
The man peered at it dumbly for a moment before spitting on the ground. “Follow me.” He handed the documents back and turned in place.
The smell of rancid, unwashed flesh assaulted his senses as he walked through the doorway. In the dim light he noted that the floor was barely cleaner than the ground outside, his feet making soft squishing sounds as he strode through the muck. They walked down a short hall and Snape was ushered through the door at the end of the hall as the man returned back to his post at the door.
He was now in a large room, empty but for two desks, each with an attendant sitting on the other side of it. One was already busy, helping a grim looking witch fill out some paperwork. He went up to the free attendant and waited for her to acknowledge him. She was looking through some papers, flipping through them almost leisurely, spectacles resting halfway down her nose as she pursued the documents.
Snape cleared his throat loudly. The witch jumped slightly.
“Sorry sir,” she squeaked. “Documents please.”
Snape again produced the documents, noticing with a small frown that there was a greasy smudge where the greeter had manhandled them. He sighed in impatience as she read carefully though the papers.
“I see. This says here that you are entitled to receive… number 2648 as of ten o’clock this morning. Everything seems to be in order here." She pulled open a desk drawer and presented him with another two documents. “If you will sign here, here and here and initial articles two and six-A, on both sets of papers please,” she handed him a quill.
Snape skimmed through the paperwork at lightning speed, snatching the quill from her hand. “That is well and good, Madam. But I was informed by the Ministry letter I just handed you that I was to be receiving a set, as decreed by the last will and testament of Walden Macnair. Where is the second set of documentation?” He had to keep from spitting at the mention of Macnair, may he burn for eternity.
The witch looked immediately frightened. She re-read the document Snape had originally handed her, flipping to the second page. “Oh my. You were also to receive number 2649.” She went back to the other papers on her desk and flipped madly through them, pulling one out seemingly at random.
“Were?” Severus practically snarled.
“Oh my,” she said again, brow furrowing.
She stood and shuffled over to the other desk with a “pardon me” to the other witch, who was still working her way through a sea of paperwork. They bent their heads together, whispering frantically. Snape was tapping his toe, leaning partially on the desk. His frustration was mounting.
The attendant finally returned, flipping a sign on her desk to say, “closed for the moment”.
“It seems there has been a mistake sir. 4629 was accidentally filed under ‘for auction’. It seems a paper was lost and-”
“Lost,” he deadpanned.
“Er, yes sir. I’m afraid the original document was misplaced upon arrival and 4629 was misfiled.”
“You will take me to my possessions. Legally, 4629 is my property and I will not leave here empty handed because someone was too much of an idiot to read through an entire paper,” he barked, his hand hitting the desktop sharply. Bureaucrats be damned!
Her eyes bugged out of her pudgy face. “Of course, sir! We must hurry, you will have to follow me through the pens; it’s the fastest way.” She picked up what Snape hoped was all of the relevant paperwork and led him through a door behind the desks.
Any appearance or pretense of civility was gone as he stepped across the threshold. Wooden and metal crates held what could easily have been hundreds of people. Guards and auction staff were milling about the lanes between them. In here the smell was nearly intolerable. There also must have been a silencing spell between where the paper pushers sat and the holding area because in here sounds were overwhelming. People were wailing and yelling. The sound of the whip the guards used to keep the prisoners back as they pulled a group for auction lanced through him.
He began to clear his mind as memories surged up like a huge wave. There could be no faltering now. He willed his feet to continue following the little witch, who navigated the maze of cages with no hesitation. She hurried over to a tall man with a short but unkempt beard; he was no cleaner than the rest of the room. Snape continued to sneer, Occluding as he tried to keep his temper in check.
She talked quickly with him in hushed tones, showing the paperwork and gesturing wildly. The man put a hand to his forehead and Snape could see him sigh.
“We are in a bit of a mess,” she said to him as she returned, the man hurrying off to a set of cages in the very back of the room. “4629 has already been put up for auction. It may take a little time, but we will get everything sorted out. If you would follow me again, I can take you to the holding block that contains the Lycanthropes.”
She rushed away not giving him a chance to start the rant that was building inside him.
He followed her to a large iron door. She knocked twice and a small grate opened on the side of it. A man’s face peered through; he saw her and gave a nod. The sound of a lock being opened was heard and the door ground reluctantly open. They passed two cages crowded with wretched faces when she stopped in front of one near the end.
A guard came to her side and the barred door was opened. Frightened eyes peered out at them from the confines. The guard went into the cage, baton at the ready. These captives gave him plenty of room, huddling in the far corners of the pen. He dragged a limp form up from off the floor. “You sure you want this one? It’s near dead. We have an incinerator; we could dispose of it for you, sir. A werewolf in this shape isn’t worth spit to anyone,” he said, dropping the form in a heap at his feet.
Snape pushed the unconscious man onto his back with the toe of his boot. Wand in hand, he scanned him swiftly. “That will not be necessary. It is in very poor condition. Is this the reputation your company aspires to?” he snapped, kneeling next to the injured man.
The witch’s eyebrows rose past her bangs. “Inheritance items are dealt with in an ‘as is’ fashion. We are not legally required to do any upkeep, just to hold the item for pickup.”
Snape growled. “Go clear up this miserable failure. I’ll be here when you are finished and need my presence to complete the transaction.”
The witch stood there for a moment. “There are benches off to the side if you wish to wait there.”
“Just go, woman!” he shouted.
She squeaked and turned heel. Snape muttered a curse as he levitated his slave over to the benches and lay him down on one to get him out of the filth on the floor.
He ripped the shoulder of the already disintegrating shirt barely clinging to the man’s torso. He was met with a large expanse of magically burned flesh. It had been left for too long, pieces of the garment he was wearing had healed into the skin in places and the wound was clearly in all out infection. The burn was among the worst of the injuries, trumped only by the obliterated masses of what used to be feet. A couple broken or possibly bruised ribs appeared to be the only other truly troubling factor. At least his lungs didn’t seem to be damage, though breathing was labored, but probably from an illness or as part of the infection. Or else from the pressure of the damned iron collar that was clasped tightly around his neck.
Snape ran his fingers along the band, trying to feel for a clasp or a break in the middle; there was none. The blasted thing was held on magically, there was no way to remove it now, not sitting here on a bench in the middle of a slave auction holding pen.
He retrieved three vials from in his robe pocket and forced them one by one down the man’s throat, holding his nose to be sure he would swallow and not choke too badly. Hopefully that would keep him from dying while they waited for this grand mess to be sorted out.
He put a stasis spell on the lifeless man, the strongest that he knew. He hadn’t had to use that charm since the last battle of the war, and it wasn’t always as effective as one would hope. Once he was finished, as he had done all he could in this place, he settled down to wait. There was no way he could leave without both of them; Albus would never have forgiven him if he did.
Maybe forty minutes later, the witch bustled back over to them, puffing slightly. “Alright then Mister Snape, we’re almost done. I can have 4628 ready to go; it will be waiting at the back door for you when we’ve finished clearing this all up. If you will just come with me this one last time we can hopefully be done here.”
Two auction workers came up from behind her and went over to the prone man, hauling him up by the feet and arms like a large sack of potatoes, carrying him from the room.
“My patience is wearing thin, Madam,” Snape cautioned, falling into step with her.
“I can well imagine, sir. I will take you to Arden. He deals with the smaller ones. Believe it or not they have a lot more fight than any of the other items here,” she tittered lightly.
If she thought it a good idea to use humor as a tool to calm him, she was sorely mistaken. Thankfully his mind was clear; he was in control and stayed silent.
These pens were smaller, more cramped and sorely overcrowded. If at all possible, the little faces peering from between the bars were grubbier and more misery filled than in the other rooms. Their hands and feet were clamped in irons and the scant clothing they wore was falling off their thin bodies in rags. He wondered briefly how long they had been here to be in such a state.
“Arden!” she called. A man in his fifties slinked out from the shadows nodding in response. “This is Mister Snape. You will get all of this cleared up like we discussed?”
“Yes ma’am. Not a problem. Pleased to meet you, Mister Snape.” He held out his hand to greet Sevetrus, who gave him a blank stare until he retracted it. The witch left without another word, most likely pleased to be able to pass him off to someone else.
“Number 4629 is it? Feisty little beggar. I’ll retrieve it for you if you’d like to wait.”
“I will accompany you.” It wasn’t an offer.
“Suit yourself, this way then.”
He was led to the last pen in the row, large enough for five people comfortably and it held nearly ten. Arden clanged on the bars with his baton. “4629! 4629 step forward!”
The children all huddled to the back, pushing one stumbling child to the front of the cage like an offering to an angry god.
Arden opened the door and grabbed the boy roughly by the manacles on his wrists and yanked him into the isle, closing and locking the cage behind him.
Snape could see the other children relaxing and filling the cage again. He turned his attention to the shivering boy standing in front of him. He was about five or six years old, but looked much younger. He was bruised and undernourished and tried to make himself smaller by hunching and holding himself with his arms tucked around his chest and stomach.
Again, Severus knelt to get a better look at him. He scanned him as he had the other. No injuries that would require immediate attention. The child tried to back up, but Arden blocked his escape. Snape moved to brush the hair away from his face, motions slow, trying not to spook the boy too badly. The child flinched away from his hand and he retracted it immediately.
Arden knocked him none too gently on the head. “Respect! Have you learned none here?”
The boy cried out and held his arms up to ward off any more blows that may be coming.
Snape stood in one swift movement. “You’ll take care to keep your hands off of my merchandise if you’d like to keep them attached to the rest of your body.” Unlike others who made such threats, he had the will and the ability to carry them out.
“I could say the same to you sir,” said a voice from behind them.
Snape turned to see a man looking down his nose at the whole scene. He was flanked by two other men who were clearly there to be his muscle.
“Ah, Sir Moriek!” Arden groveled instantly, bowing and removing his hat. “How may I be of service?”
“You can prepare my slave so that I may be free of this hole,” came the haughty reply. His voice carried the authority of someone who was rarely refused. He strode forward. “And you can tell me who this man is and why he has his paws all over my goods. I paid top dollar for that little beast.”
Snape looked at the man in disdain. “Then perhaps you should read the fine print on more of your purchases. 2649 legally belongs to me. I have all the papers in place. You will have to ask Arden here for a refund.”
The man paled in fury. “What is the meaning of this?”
“It’s true, sir. 2649 is the inheritance of Mister Snape here. You will be able to select another item from the pen, of any value you wish, as compensation. Or we could give ypu a full refund. Unfortunately, Mister Snape’s papers have been in place for weeks now.”
The child, stuck in the middle of the arguing adults, seemed to shrink smaller and smaller. His shoulders were shaking, he was crying quietly to himself, trying not to be noticed. Moriek grabbed him roughly by the shoulder, “But I paid for this one!” He was clearly outraged, sarcastically he added, “Perhaps we should just cut it in half and both be satisfied?”
The child cringed.
“You are very peculiar indeed if that is what you wish to spend your gold on: half of a dead werewolf whelp. What did you pay for him in his present condition?” Snape drawled, his rage was about to get the better of him. Any minute now…
“I paid fifteen thousand Galleons for this wretch. I will go home with no other.”
They both looked at Arden, who quailed, unsure what to do. Moriek was one of the auctions dearest patrons; his family had been doing business with them for generations. But the auction hated getting the Ministry involved for any reason; their trade was barely legal as it was.
Snape reached into his satchel and extracted his coin purse. Into another bag he counted out that very amount in Galleons; it was worth any sum to be out of this damned place with what he came for.
He said in a mocking voice, “Arden here will either refund you your money, or allow you to pick another slave. Won’t you Arden?” Arden nodded quickly. “I will reimburse you also; here is the amount you paid, in full. Is that enough to make you go away?”
Moriek considered. “Make it eighteen for my trouble and you have a deal.”
“Sixteen and not a Knut more.” Snape dropped the coins into the bag
Moriek nodded. “That is acceptable.” He took the purse from Severus.
“I take it you have an attendant intelligent enough to find this man a slave that is not already owned?” Snape asked Arden in a cold voice.
“Yes sir, sorry sir, thank you sir!” Arden handed a pleased Moriek off to another employee, who began to show him the back pens.
Arden peered down at the child. “What is so special about you, you little monster?” He grabbed his chin so he could look more closely at his face. “You aren’t much to look at, and you’re definitely not as pliant as the others. A werewolf, to boot. You must have a sweet arse, can’t see no other reason.” Arden stroked his cheek, looking over at Severus. “Want to pick him up in an hour, maybe make some of that gold back?” He smiled slyly at Snape. “I could break him in for you.”
Snape pulled the child out of the man’s reach. “You will do no such thing. Give me my papers and get the hell out of my sight before I do something you are going to regret,” Snape said dangerously. “I have no time for these games! Your incompetence has cost me an entire day, not to mention thousands of Galleons for something that was already mine!” By this point he was bellowing.
It seemed mere moments before the papers were in his hands and the child was beside him at the exit, the unconscious man levitating behind them. He handed the papers to the attendant at the rear exit. “You can remove the cuffs when you’re at home, sir,” she told him, nodding to the boy. “Just tap them with your wand; they will recognize you as his master and release. He’s so young; I’ll bet he was one of those infected by that Greyback fellow.”
Snape shot her a withering look.
She cleared her throat. “You were made aware on the finalization process for item 4628?”
Severus nodded. “What about the collar?”
She shuffled through some papers. “It’s not usual for his kind to be collared… ah, here. It was on him at the time of his arrival. A magical suppression collar, that is. He’s apparently had a full formal education. A werewolf, can you imagine? I’d recommend leaving that in place.”
“I’ll take your recommendation under consideration. However I will also take the word of release,” he said in a stern tone.
“Simply, “te solvo” would release the collar. Please do not do so on our grounds; you will be liable for any damages it causes. Have a good day, sir.”
He gave no reply, shaking his head and going straight toward the exit.
They were finally outside, the child hiding his eyes and blinking in bewilderment at the sun.
“Place your hand on his good arm,” Snape instructed the boy.
The child did as he was told without hesitation. Snape put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and activated his Portkey. They were finally going home, or what would soon be passing for it.