“You’re the one flapping your arms,” Draco pointed out.
Hydrus stopped at once. “Come and race me,” he whined.
“No,” Draco said, adopting an equally whiny tone.
“I’ll tell Father!”
“You wouldn’t disturb him.” Draco turned another page.
Hydrus landed lightly beside him. “I’ll do it,” he said.
“Fine.” He was bluffing and they both knew it. Father had sent them outside because he was busy and they had specific instructions not to bother him.
“Come race,” Hydrus said, stomping his foot.
“No.” Draco had to duck as his brother kicked a chunk of grass at him. Leaves followed that, and then Hydrus’ left trainer. “I said no!” Draco shouted, on his feet now. He dodged the right trainer, threw it back and then Hydrus threw his broomstick. Draco bolted then, before he could find anything heavier, and sought shelter in the branches of a tree in the courtyard. Hydrus appeared a moment later having reclaimed his broomstick, though not his shoes; his socks were covered in mud.
I hope he forgets and trails mud all through the Manor, Draco thought darkly, staring down at his brother. Hydrus poked his head through the double doors that led back inside and then shrugged, climbed back on his broomstick and zoomed out of the courtyard and back to the main part of the grounds. Thank Merlin, Draco thought, though he made no move to climb down. Maybe I’ll just stay here... He opened his book and skimmed through, trying to find his page again - he’d had to close it fairly quickly. He’d just settled against the trunk when a loud, brassy clang echoed out through the courtyard door. Brilliant, Draco thought darkly.
The upstairs hall window, which was only a foot or so above him flew open and hit the outside wall with a bang that almost made Draco fall out of the tree. “Boys!” Mother called. Draco sat very, very still. “Draco? I saw you come in. Where are you?”
Draco swallowed. “Here,” he called.
Mother looked down at him, surprised. “What are you doing in a tree?”
“Reading,” Draco said weakly, holding up his book.
Mother watched him for a moment and then smiled slightly. “Dobby’s busy with me up here,” she said. “Would you answer the door, please?”
“Yes, Mother,” Draco said obediently, trying not to look annoyed. Stupid Dobby. He should be able to leave Mother for a few minutes and do what he’s supposed to. He scrambled down, wandered inside through the double doors and then through more double doors into the foyer.
“Why couldn’t they Floo, whoever it is?” Draco grumbled. He knew the answer though. One did not Floo in to or out of the Manor without Father’s leave; the fireplace was charmed to reject anyone who didn’t have the right password. Said password changed with Father’s whims, and bothered Mother incredibly; Draco had personally seen three occasions in the past year where she’d said an outdated password and been spat out by the fireplace. Father had slept in the guest rooms those nights.
The bell clanged again as he passed a portrait of his great grandfather Casius Malfoy. Draco wrenched the door open. “Yes?” he said. Severus Snape was standing on the doorstep, ready to tug the bell cord again. Draco’s eyes widened at the sight of his godfather. “Sorry! I didn’t realise it was you, sir, or I wouldn’t- Sorry!”
“One apology was sufficient,” Severus said, sweeping past him into the foyer.
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” Draco babbled, closing the door.
“What are you reading?” Severus asked, waving a hand at Draco’s book.
“Magical Theory,” Draco said holding it up.
“A good book,” Severus said, nodding his approval. “Informative, but not overwhelmingly so if memory serves.”
“Is Lucius home?”
Severus gave him a look that might have been one of amusement. “Your vocabulary seems rather limited today, Draco.”
“Yes-er-I-” Draco felt his cheeks heat. “Sorry.”
“No matter,” Severus said, smiling ever so slightly. “Would you take me to see your father, please?”
“Yes, sir.” Severus was definitely smiling now. “I think he was in his study.” Draco led him up the hall, through the double doors on the right and up another hall. “Father?” Draco called, knocking on the elegant wooden door.
“I thought I told you not to bother me, Draco,” Father called back sharply.
Draco looked to Severus for help. “Might I have a word, Lucius?” Severus said.
The door opened. “Leave us, Draco,” Father said. Severus nodded a goodbye and followed Father into the office.
I’m the one that let Severus in, Draco thought, scowling. I should be allowed to hear. Smiling, Draco stomped down the hall and then tiptoed back and pressed his ear to the door.
“...arrested.” Severus was saying.
“And I suppose it expects me to pay its bail,” Father said sounding amused. “Brandy?”
“No, thank you.”
There was a clink as Father poured himself a glass and then he said, “I won’t pay a knut. The Lupin monstrosity can rot for all I care.”
“He was released this morning,” Severus said bitterly. “All the charges were dropped.”
“Two weeks in office and Cornelius Fudge has already blundered.”
“I have no love for Fudge but I wouldn’t call Lupin’s release a blunder, given the circumstances.”
“Circumstances?” Father asked. His tone made Draco shiver.
“It was Rufus Scrimgeour he punched. I daresay most people have had the desire to rearrange his face - the man is utterly incorrigible - but Lupin had also managed to gain custody of the Potter boy, according to witnesses.”
“No doubt you’ve seen this morning’s paper.”
“I’m aware the boy was spotted in the Leaky Cauldron. He ran out-”
“-and was found by Lupin if Dumbledore is to be believed,” Severus said.
“Indeed?” Lucius said so softly Draco hardly heard.
“The Ministry’s trying to keep it quiet.”
“Which means it’ll be in the Prophet first thing tomorrow morning,” Father said, his voice dripping contempt. He sighed. “I assume Lupin lost the boy.”
“He escaped and was re-claimed by Black.”
“We wouldn’t even need to rely on inconveniences like Lupin if the Ministry would just let the Dementors look, but they can’t, of course... not when they might attack the Potter boy instead.” His tone, which was angry when he was talking about the Dementors, dwindled into a sigh when he was talking about Potter. “He’s probably no safer with him anyway, and at least a Dementor would be capable of subduing a nine-”
“The boy is eight. Like Draco.” Draco froze at the sound of his own name. Father was quiet for a long time, long enough that Draco began to worry that they had realised he was there. He was just about to move when Father cursed.
“I’d hoped to have nothing to do with Lupin,” he said. There was another clink. “That was the point of giving him reign over muggle London.”
“Clever of you,” Severus said.
“I can’t claim credit,” Father said sourly. “He asked for the position.” Severus said nothing. “Still, he’s determined to find the boy which suits my purposes and he’s promised to bring the boy here, should he be recovered.”
“I’d have thought he’d take him to Dumbledore.” Draco thought Severus sounded surprised but he couldn’t be sure.
“I won’t have the boy in that old fool’s custody,” said Father, disgusted. “If Harry Potter is what we think he is, having him near Dumbledore is just as bad as having him near Black...” Mother had told Father what Aunt Bella said about Black not serving the Dark Lord and Father had gone from disliking Black, to loathing him. “The Ministry are no better.” He was quiet for a bit and then, “Where was Lupin last you heard?”
“Going back to his cave or whatever it is he calls home,” Severus said venomously. Draco’d never heard his godfather talk that way and it scared him. “For all we know, last night’s events were staged and he’s off to meet up with Black.”
“Still going on about that, Severus?” Father asked.
“Lupin would forgive Black’s treachery in a heartbeat if he thought it would let him get to know Potter’s son,” Severus said scathingly.
“Pettigrew was the traitor.” His tone became rather pointed. “Though with how things turned out, I’d almost believe he betrayed us too.”
“Perhaps,” Severus said sounding annoyed. “But Black’s was the betrayal that mattered in the end. He must have been feeding information to the Dark Lord with myself and Pettigrew. And, Black was the Secret Keeper. Potter was too proud to trust his life to a worthless little worm like Pettigrew-”
“Worthless?!” a shrill voice said angrily. There was a loud thump, like a chair being knocked over and a yelp of pain. Draco pressed his ear closer to the door.
“Put that away, Severus,” Father said impatiently.
“You seem to have something of a vermin problem,” Severus said stiffly.
“Now, now,” Father said, amused. “Is that any way to speak about old friends? Why don’t you tell him what you’ve just told me?”
Draco jumped as a third voice spoke. “Sirius never betrayed anyone. I was the Secret Keeper,” a man’s squeaky voice said.
“You?” Severus snarled.
“Severus, sit down,” Father snapped. “You’re not still sore about Potter’s Mudblood, are you?”
“Of course not,” Severus said coldly. “Merely surprised. It’s not every day a dead man shows up. If you qualify for a man.” There was a cry of outrage, presumably from the third man.
“Severus,” Lucius said warningly.
“My apologies, Pettigrew.” Draco sensed the words were painful for his godfather to say.
The other man spoke up again. “You always were a slimy bast-Ow!”
“James Potter isn’t around to protect you anymore,” Severus said silkily. “And it would seem that’s your own fault.” The third man mumbled something Draco didn’t hear. “Clever of you, really, to get Potter to swap.”
“Peter doesn’t deserve the credit,” Father said, laughing. “It was Black who suggested it!”
“So Black’s not completely innocent,” Severus muttered.
“Yes, yes,” Father said impatiently. “You can keep hating him. What interests me now is how you’re still alive, Peter. He was just getting to that when you arrived, Severus.”
“I-it was easy, really,” the man - Peter - squeaked.
“Obviously, if you managed to pull it off,” Snape muttered.
“I shan’t tell it if you’re going to be rude,” Peter said.
There was a pause. “Continue,” Severus said curtly.
“I’d made arrangements with the Dark Lord-” Draco listened eagerly. “-that once Lily and James were dead, he’d come to my house and k-kill Sirius when he came to check on me. We’d planned to use Polyjuice Potion - the Dark Lord would take one of Sirius’ hairs and go to D-Dumbledore, distraught, and kill him. I’d deal with Remus, m-make it look like an accident, like he’d scratched himself to death.”
“Clever,” Father said approvingly. Draco nodded importantly on the other side of the door; Father was impressed so he should feel impressed too.
“I was w-waiting for him to return, though, when my arm went cold. You both know what I’m talking about. I went straight to Godric’s Hollow and found Lily and James dead, b-but Harry was alive. I realised what had happened and was about to end the boy’s life-”
“And why,” Father asked in a voice that made Draco shiver, “would you have done that, Peter?”
“Because the Dark Lord-”
“The Dark Lord was already destroyed,” Father said, a little unhappily. Peter whimpered. “Why would you destroy his successor?”
There was a loud slapping noise, like a hand on a desk. “Harry Potter is the next pure-blood champion,” Father said. “He must be. He has some muggle blood from his rotten mother-” Severus snarled, obviously for his hate of muggle blood. “-but there are spells that can be done to fix that-”
“C-champion?” Peter squeaked.
“How else could he have defeated the Dark Lord at the age of one, if not for dark magic?” Father asked. There was a swishing sound, like robes around ankles and Draco gathered either Father or Severus was pacing; this Peter didn’t sound like the pacing type.
“And why else would Dumbledore have removed him from the wizarding community?” Father said.
“Fear, Peter, that’s why. If the Potter child could defeat the greatest wizard of all time, what chance does an old fool like Dumbledore have?”
“Dumbledore is considered one of the greatest-” Severus began.
“He can’t hear you here, Severus, there’s no need to defend him,” Father said impatiently. “Well, Peter?”
“That’s right,” Father said in a condescending tone. “And if Black’s not Dark, which you - here and alive - seem to indicate, then he’s undoubtedly taken Potter to try to turn him ‘good’. Needless to say, the Potter boy must be rescued from Black before he does too much damage.”
“The Dark Lord always rewarded loyalty handsomely,” Father said. “Doubtless Potter will be the same once he is old enough.” There was silence from inside the office. “Continue with your story, Peter,” Father said at last.
“W-well, I was going to kill Harry - but that was very, very wrong,” he added hastily, “-when Sirius s-showed up. I could have taken him, but then Hagrid was there too-”
“Dumbledore’s pet oaf,” Father said.
“I-I transformed and fled.” He was stuttering rather a lot, but Draco didn’t think he was scared; it sounded like excited stuttering. “I didn’t know what to do. I knew Sirius would be looking for me, but I could smell he’d already been to my house so I knew I’d be safe there, at least for a little while. In the morning, Dumbledore showed up.
“W-we collected Remus and Dumbledore sat us down in his office and told us what had happened. Sirius spent the next few days looking for me, not that he had much choice. Without me he had no proof that there’d ever been a swap. N-not even Dumbledore knew. He tracked me down eventually, which was always bound to happen, I s-suppose.”
“I lured him to a crowded street, shouted that he’d betrayed Lily and J-James and then, while he was reaching for his wand, I blew everything up. My wand too, unfortunately, but it made it look authentic. I’d hoped it would kill Sirius b-but he got a Shield Charm up in time, the b-bastard. I cut off my finger to make it look like I was the one who’d died, and then I transformed in the confusion and hid in the sewers.” He laughed breathlessly. “I watched as they dragged him off to Azkaban.”
“Yet this is the first time you’ve been seen for seven years,” Severus said.
“Sirius was out of the way,” Peter said, “but if I showed up in Diagon Alley people would recognise me-”
“You think too highly of yourself,” Severus said. “You are remarkably forgettable.”
“I have an Order of Merlin-”
“For dying,” Father said. “And you failed at that. I think Severus has made a good point. Why now, Peter?”
“W-with Sirius out, it isn’t safe for me anymore. No doubt he’s told the boy what really happened. N-no one’s going to listen to Sirius, not now, but they might listen to H-Harry.”
“You haven’t answered the question. Why now?”
“The brother of the b-boy I live with met Harry yesterday. That’s too close.”
“You’ve been living with the Weasleys?” Father asked. Draco just knew he was sneering. “Of all the places, Peter...”
“What choice did I have? I know they’re blood-traitors but that’s n-not new to me. If I’d shown up here you’d have d-drowned me!”
Father chuckled. Severus didn’t. “I do hope you realise Arthur Weasley will be wondering why one of his sons is missing a pet. And if word reaches Black-”
“I’m not stupid!” Peter said shrilly. “I replaced myself. I even cut the t-toe off.”
“So what is it you want from me?” Father asked.
“Protection,” Peter said piteously. “N-”
“What is Master doing listening at doors?” Dobby asked, though he’d had the sense to whisper.
Draco bit down on his tongue to stop from screaming. He grabbed Dobby by the wrist and dragged him down the hall, past the bathroom to the large window that looked into the courtyard. “I forbid you to ever tell anyone about that,” Draco whispered fiercely. “This never happened.”
“Yes, young Master,” the elf squeaked, looking frightened.
“Good,” Draco said. “Now... go get me something to eat.”
* * *
Severus didn’t give himself time to think. He added everything he had learned in the past hour to a cauldron in a room in the outer corridors of his mind, the way he might add other potions ingredients. He left it there to simmer. It would remain there until he was ready to deal with it. For the time being, he had a task.
Thank goodness it’s a Saturday, he thought as he stepped out of his fireplace. He glanced at the pile of unmarked work on his desk. They won’t be marked tonight, unfortunately. He sighed; he’d been hoping to get those done.
He scooped Medicinal Mixes off his bookshelf, Summoned his cauldron and potion kit and established himself in the brewing room adjacent to his quarters. Skele-Gro he would be able to get from Madam Pomfrey - one of the small travel bottles, I think - but the Nerve Tonic and Essence of Gecko he would need to make himself.
Neither were tricky - he’d be able to have both done by morning - but they did require a certain attention to detail. Severus got to work, chopping, squeezing, crushing, pouring and stirring. Stirring most of all.
And one pinch of dried gecko tongues. He stirred thrice - clockwise, counter-clockwise and then clockwise again and the potion turned a murky green. Finally. Severus glanced at the sky outside which was beginning to lighten.
He conjured a flask, filled it, and then set it beside the phial of Nerve Tonic. “Evanesco,” he murmured, pointing his wand at his cauldron. He packed up, placed his two concoctions in a small wooden chest and returned to his sleeping quarters. He fell straight into his bed, not caring to change his robes or take off his shoes.
Lucius must think I’m a fool, he thought bleakly. A bottle of Skele-Gro, Essence of Gecko and Nerve Tonic. Not Tonic for nerves, he’d said, but Tonic to fix damaged nerves. Though I daresay Pettigrew could find use for either, jittery thing that he is. And Lucius wanted a Pain-Reduction Remedy too... Severus smiled nastily. Pettigrew will have to do without.
Pettigrew... Reluctantly, Severus freed his memories of the afternoon from the cauldron he’d left them in. To find him alive was one thing. To find out that he had been the Secret Keeper, though...
Severus had known from the outset that Pettigrew had joined the Dark Lord’s cause. He was just the type; power-hungry and a little scared. We all were. Even Lucius. It had all seemed like fun, like a game, and then his classmates had started to choose sides too.
Potter and his gang had joined Dumbledore midway through their seventh year. Lily too. It was utterly like her - and really, as a muggleborn, what choice had she had? - though Severus had always hoped otherwise. He’d warned Potter then, that Pettigrew was the spy, not outright, never outright - it would have meant his life and he wasn’t about to die for Potter - but either Potter had been too stupid to understand his hints or too proud to believe anything but the best of his chubby, traitorous friend.
Outside school, Pettigrew had continued to feed the Dark Lord information. Dates, plans, locations... anything his little rat-ears picked up on. In return, he was never hurt during a duel, only Stunned. Severus had broken his arm once though. He’d told everyone it was an accident and they’d believed him.
Severus had joined Dumbledore’s side after hearing the prophecy and learning that the Dark Lord was out to kill Lily. He never said a word about Pettigrew, lest he draw suspicion back on himself; he’d never liked Pettigrew, going through school, spineless thing that he was, and he’d liked him less once he became a Death Eater because it meant he had to put up with him more often, and because his actions were putting Lily in danger.
He would have been the first one the Dark Lord questioned and his betrayal would have been the death of him. Instead, he foiled plans where he could, and tried to undo the damage Pettigrew had done. He’d never suspected Black to be the traitor despite his other - and numerous in Severus’ opinion - faults, at least not until he’d heard that Potter and Lily were dead and Black was missing.
Aside from anything else, Black had never been subtle, and Severus struggled to believe that he could have missed the fact that Black was spying for the Dark Lord. What other options were there, though? Black was arrested and taken to Azkaban, Pettigrew was dead and Lily... It had come as a shock - and a painful one at that, worse than any torture he’d ever experienced - to learn Lily was dead.
News of Potter’s death had hurt too, strangely, but nowhere near enough to let Severus forgive him. He hated James Potter dead more than he had alive and he was happy to leave it that way. But now, as it turned out, Severus had not heard anything about Black spying for the Dark Lord, because Black such a thing had never happened. Black was not the traitor. He was guilty of a thousand other things, of course; breaking out of prison - he belonged there, whether he’d killed those muggles and Pettigrew or not - kidnapping and deliberate evasion of justice, to name a few. But Black hadn’t killed Lily.
It put Severus in a rather sticky situation. He’d rather liked how things were; Potter was dead and Severus hoped he’d stay that way. He’d come to terms with his grief over Lily’s death, although not his guilt. He didn’t think he’d ever stop trying to make it up to her, however, and he had reconciled himself with that. Black - popular, Quidditch-star, good-looking, Black - was hated by everyone and had spent the majority of his adult life behind bars with only Dementors for company.
The thought brought a smile to Severus’ face. Lupin had remained free but certainly not unpunished; he’d looked old the last time Severus saw him, and while some of his Marauder-induced boldness remained, the majority had been crushed by the past seven years, which he’d spent alone. Pettigrew, he’d believed dead, a fate Severus had thought he thoroughly deserved.
But he wasn’t. And it was him that had killed Lily. And only Pettigrew himself, Lucius, Severus, Black and possibly the Potter boy knew. The last two would be apprehended before they got the chance to speak, so it really only left three. Lucius had clearly seen an ulterior purpose for helping Pettigrew and, so, while it suited him, Lucius wouldn’t tell a soul. Pettigrew’s life depended on his silence so he’d never tell anyone either. That left Severus. And if Severus told, they’d know it had been him.
What would Dumbledore think, though, if Severus were to keep something this big from him? He owed the man his life, but telling him would mean doing Black a favour and that would be unbearable. As they were prone to doing in times of indecision, Severus’ thoughts flicked to Lily and what she would do, what she would want. Since he was the one that had taken away her ability to do or say things herself, he would do it on her behalf.
Lily would want her son safe, Severus knew immediately. And Black too. She was... fond of him. The thought made his skin crawl. I wonder what she’d make of this Dark Lord business... He shook his head; he could well imagine and it wasn’t pleasant. It was simply ludicrous that anyone could believe the offspring - Severus still hated that thought - of James Potter and Lily Evans could be evil. The child was no doubt as arrogant and spoiled as his saintly father, but not Dark.
And, if Black’s innocent, I can’t imagine Potter’s son is in danger from anything but Black’s lack of maturity. And wherever it is they’re hiding, they’ve yet to be found. Yesterday being the exception of course, but Lupin was the only one there and given half a chance, Black would have talked him around.
Severus’ thoughts soured. It seems I was wrong about that too; Lupin’s either a very good actor or he doesn’t know the truth. He sighed loudly and rolled into his pillow. Yet again, Potter’s son and friends are meddling with my life!
* * *
“Hydrus! Draco! Come downstairs. I have presents for the both of you,” Father called.
Draco and Hydrus glanced at Mother. “Go,” she said, sighing. She closed the book she’d been reading them with a quiet snap.
Both boys got up and sprinted down the hall, around the corner and downstairs, where Father was waiting. He frowned. “Malfoys do not run,” he said coolly.
“Yes, Father,” Hydrus said immediately, looking stricken.
“Sorry,” Draco added.
Father smiled slightly. “I have decided that you both need to learn what it is to have control over another living thing. Some would call it responsibility.”
“But not you,” Hydrus said.
Father inclined his head. “No, not me.”
“Father, that’s what Dobby’s for,” Draco said, arrogantly.
“Dobby belongs to the family, not to you,” Father reminded him. “These, however, are yours.” Father held out two small, brown shapes.
“It’s a rat,” Hydrus said flatly.
“It is your rat,” Father said, passing him one of the two. His was slightly larger than the one Father gave Draco, and slightly darker in colour. Otherwise, there was little difference between them. Draco cradled his carefully, with two hands. “You’ll have to be careful. They’re not toys. Don’t squeeze it,” Father warned as Hydrus lifted his up, curiously.
“I wasn’t going to,” Hydrus said.
Draco stared at his curiously. He didn’t like rats much; once, when he was younger, he’d got lost in the cellar and spent the night listening to them squeak. Father had put up wards the next day to keep them out, but the damage was done. This one seemed friendly enough, though. Its whiskers twitched as it sniffed his fingers.
“What are they called?” he asked.
“That’s for you to decide.”
Hydrus was quiet. “Bosworth,” he said finally, with a little grin. “Like the cheese.”
His rat squeaked. “I don’t think he likes it,” Draco said.
“It’s a rat,” Father said coldly. “Of course it likes it. And yours, Draco?”
“Roquefort. They can both be like cheeses.”
Draco’s rat squeaked too. “Yours doesn’t like it either,” Hydrus said.
“Enough petty bickering,” Father said. “They both like their names and that is that. He glared at both rats as if to make his point. “Play nicely now.”
“I’ll show you the house,” Hydrus decided, cradling the rat carefully in his hands. “This room that we’re in,” he told Bosworth, while Draco stared, “is the foyer. Those stairs lead to the upstairs hallway where my bedroom and Draco’s bedroom and Mother and Father’s bedroom and the library and the guest rooms are.” Hydrus strode toward the double doors on the right into the hallway and stared explaining the rules about Father’s office.
Roquefort squeaked at Draco. “What?” he asked it. “I’m not giving you a tour.” The rat squeaked again, as if to ask why. “Because you’re a rat, stupid.”
The more time Draco spent with his rat, the more he disliked it; all Roquefort wanted to do was sleep and he had an unfortunate habit of biting Draco’s things, and if Draco tried to stop him, Draco’s fingers. Hydrus on the other hand, refused to be separated from Bosworth.
He’d claimed the small wooden potion chest that Severus had brought to the Manor earlier that week and stuffed it with blankets; Father had been furious when he heard Hydrus planned to let the rat sleep on his pillow. Roquefort wasn’t allowed on Draco’s pillow either - Father had forbidden it, but Draco wasn’t keen on the idea anyway - and he slept in the cage Draco had made Dobby buy.
“Draco, look!” Hydrus called, walking past with Bosworth sitting on his shoulder; to start with, Hydrus’ gait had been too uneven and the rat had often squealed before sliding slowly and inevitably down his back but it seemed they’d mastered it.
Draco watched, a jealously and poked the sleeping lump in his pocket. “Why can’t you do that?” he asked Roquefort; he too had tried to teach his rat to sit on his shoulder but Roquefort had fallen off after a few yards, bitten Draco when he tried to pick him up, and refused to be handled for the rest of the day.
* * *
“I will attack the Potters this time next week,” the Dark Lord said in his cold, high, voice. “They will, I presume, have returned by then.”
His red eyes turned to Pettigrew who trembled. “That is correct, My Lord. James said they’ll be leaving St Mungo’s tomorrow.”
“Which is when they’ll feel most vulnerable,” the Dark Lord said. “Let them sit and grow confident again.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
“You will organise a meeting time with them, Wormtail,” he ordered. “A time when they will, without doubt, be there. And the boy. The boy must be there.” Pettigrew bowed. “Leave.” He left. The Dark Lord turned his terrible eyes on Severus. “I suppose you are wondering why I have called you here.”
“I’m sure My Lord has his reasons,” Severus said, not meeting his eyes. He felt a light, probing touch in his mind and did nothing to resist it. In fact, he titled his head and met those red eyes. The Dark Lord’s consciousness crept in as a snake. He could even feel its scales - cool, smooth and a little slimy - as it slithered through the dungeon that was his mind.
There were thousands of corridors, cold, dark and unwelcoming - most ended in doors that would deposit an intruder on the outside of his mind. Others simply ended. Some never did. Some had doors which led to storerooms of potion ingredients, or potions themselves. Some rooms were empty. Only one path would take anyone into the depths of his mind and it was a long journey, with corridors that doubled back on each other, and so many forks it was almost too difficult to bother with.
Of course, Severus was not foolish enough to frustrate the Dark Lord. The moment the Dark Lord had ventured in, his mind had re-shaped itself to form a dungeon identical to that of Hogwarts’. The Dark Lord, as a former Slytherin, knew his way around perfectly. Severus feigned disappointment. The Dark Lord stopped in several of the storerooms along the way.
In one, he glanced at the array of unlabelled potions with interest and his tongue flickered out to taste the fumes of an Essence of Euphoria. In another, his Legillimency took a human form and he strode over to peruse the shelves of ingredients. He picked up a jar of daisy roots and tossed it to the floor - the Dark Lord could be gentle when he wanted to, but unexpected gestures were a good way of testing one’s defences. Severus winced, knowing the Dark Lord would see it, as the jar shattered into nothing on the stone floor.
Satisfied, the Dark Lord continued into the office that Severus had moved into only days before, when Slughorn moved out. Severus had remodelled the core of his mind to show the office instead of the Slytherin Common Room for the sake of security; those that might try to force their way into his mind were not likely to be as intimately familiar with the Head of Slytherin’s office as they were with the Slytherin Common Room.
Jars lined the walls, as did bottles of potions and each contained a thought, memory or emotion. The Dark Lord scooped up a small jar of pollen from a tiger lily and opened it. A memory of Severus and Lily paddling in the little river that ran through their thicket emerged.
The Dark Lord watched with interest and then placed the jar back on the shelf and picked up a roll of bright green snakeskin. The Sorting Hat’s voice booming ‘SLYTHERIN!’ echoed through the stone room. Another object - a phial labelled Veritaserum this time - was chosen at random and opened. Severus heard his seventeen-year-old self pledging his allegiance to the Dark Lord. Smiling now, the Dark Lord swept over to the gleaming silver cauldron that was simmering in the corner.
The Dark Lord glanced with slight amusement at the ragged cloth beside it. “You polish your cauldrons even here, Severus?” Severus didn’t respond because he didn’t trust his voice.
The Dark Lord dipped a hand into the cauldron - which contained a potion of Severus’ thoughts - and Severus heard snatches of his voice; ...didn’t wash his hands... potion’s useless now... find my office so easily?... be better defended than this... too powerful... My Lord... Seeming pleased, the Dark Lord backed out of his head.
Severus sank to his knees, his eyes on the floor. Already, his mind was reshaping itself into the maze-like labyrinth it usually was. Already his magic was scouring the surfaces and floors the Dark Lord had touched. The memories that had been disturbed were righting themselves and settling into their usual places.
And he’d succeeded; the Dark Lord had knocked over that jar of daisy roots - those were in fact just a figment of his imagination - but the powdered bumblebee stings on the shelf above it were not. They contained the memories of his true reasons for siding with Dumbledore and remained untouched, as did the pellets of muggle rat poison that were the memories of the - unheeded - warnings he’d given Potter about Pettigrew in their seventh year.
In another storeroom, a packet of cactus barbs that contained his memories of his mother - who was very like a cactus; not necessarily pretty, but resilient, practical and prickly - lay innocently in a drawer only a few feet from the Essence of Euphoria the Dark Lord had looked at and surrounded by other pretend ingredients and potions. The ragged cloth the Dark Lord had asked about held his memories of the conversation with the Sorting Hat, as he begged it to put him in Gryffindor with Lily.
Better yet, the potion in the cauldron that contained his thoughts worked rather like water and oil, with two distinct layers, and the Dark Lord had not suspected a thing as he ran his hand through the top layer. Severus was almost giddy with success but didn’t show it; he hid that memory in a small phial that contained a clear liquid - it was pure alcohol - sometimes used in Befuddlement Draughts or Healing Potions - but looked like water, and while it might make him feel good, too much would certainly kill him.
“Rise, Severus,” the Dark Lord said.
Severus stood. “My Lord,” he said, inclining his head. “You found what you were looking for?”
He still looked pleased - Severus knew he was happy that his memories of becoming a Death Eater had been stored in a phial of ‘Veritaserum’. It wasn’t Veritaserum, of course. It was water - necessary if one wanted to survive, nothing more - but it looked the same and had no smell that the human nose could pick up on, so the Dark Lord wouldn’t know any different. “I did.”
“I’m glad I’ve been useful to you, My Lord.”
“There is more,” the Dark Lord said softly.
“More, My Lord?”
“It concerns your... fondness... for the Potter Mudblood.”
“She was a good friend to me growing up,” Severus said carefully. “Nothing more.”
“Such lies, Severus. I saw the memories.” Severus resisted the urge to snort; his most significant memories of Lily were his most fiercely protected, tucked away in obscure places; in a jar with the petals of the blossom she’d scared her sister with on the day they first talked, in a potion that was the same green as her eyes, in a jar of dried heather because that had been her mother’s name, in a jar of the roots of a gorse bush because that’s what he’d sat under after his Defence Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. exam... The Dark Lord had seen none of those.
“Forgive me, My Lord, but I have some small talent with Legillimency and consequently understand the futility of attempting to deceive one who is vastly more gifted than I.”
The Dark Lord seemed to consider that for a moment. “Even so, Severus,” he said finally, “you will be saddened by her death.”
“Is it... not possible to... spare her?”
“She has made it clear that her loyalties lie with Dumbledore,” the Dark Lord replied, watching him carefully. Severus gave a jerky nod. He was on dangerous ground here and they both knew it. “She dies next week. Do with that what you will. Leave. Send Lucius in.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Severus bowed and swept out of the room. “Lucius,” he said, nodding. Lucius passed him, his pale face unreadable.
Do with that what you will... Severus repeated the words in his head. So he knows. Knows or suspects. It’s a test. Lily was as good as dead unless he did something and if he did, he was dead. Give me a stupid Master over a clever one any day, Severus thought bitterly.
Not so much any more... A plan formed in Severus’ head. What if both Lily and I can survive this?
“Sev? Was it bad?” When Regulus Black joined partway through his seventh year - it had come as a shock to Severus, who’d always picked the younger Black to be a bystander in the war - they had become friends of sorts, despite Severus’ loathing for his brother.
“Bad enough,” he said.
Regulus fell into step beside him. “What happened?”
Severus knew Regulus - despite them being on opposite sides of the war - would hate for harm to come to Black or his friends, and he also knew if anyone could tip them off without giving everything away, it would be him.
“Another murder plot,” Severus said, working to sound bored.
“Who?” Regulus asked, his shoulders stiffening.
“Potter and Lily,” Severus said. “And their son.”
“Why didn’t you just say ‘The Potters’?” Regulus asked, puzzled. “They’re married.”
A fact I work awfully hard to try to forget. Regulus, of course, would remember it vividly because Potter had invited him. “Oh, yes.”
“When’s the attack?” Regulus asked, his grey eyes oddly bright.
“This time next week. Pe-plans-” Severus said smoothly, “have been made to ensure they’ll be there at the proper time.” For the very same reason that this was likely to work, Severus also couldn’t reveal Pettigrew’s true nature; Regulus was prone to having fits of gallantry - Severus supposed it was a side-effect of growing up with Black - and if he told Black, the Dark Lord would kill him. Since Regulus was as good a friend as Severus had had since Lily, he wasn’t about to do that-
“Enough,” Severus said and the dream-memory halted. With a wave of his hand the dark corridor disappeared taking Regulus with it. “Wake up,” he told himself.
Severus opened his eyes after dreaming of the war for the fifth time in as many nights after seeing Pettigrew again. It made sense, that after seeing the man who had betrayed Lily, Severus would find himself remembering when he had betrayed the Dark Lord in order to save her. It didn’t mean he had to like it.
War memories were hard to deal with at the best of times, particularly when they came unbidden. This one at least, had ended reasonably well; Severus had gone to visit Draco - who had only been about two months old on the night of the attack - and Hydrus, who had been only ten months old.
Not only had he met the child he was secondary guardian to - since he’d already met Hydrus - but he was also in Lucius’ presence and could not be blamed for the plan being foiled. And it had indeed been foiled; Severus later learned that Regulus had staged a fight with Black and drawn Potter, Lily, Potter’s son and even Lupin to his brother’s apartment, and out of harm’s way. The Dark Lord’s trust in Severus had been renewed, thus giving him more freedom, and with that freedom, he had served the Order.
Beyond that memory, things were not so happy; Regulus had died a week later - Severus never learned how and he didn’t think the Dark Lord had either; Regulus’ Dark Mark’s magic had informed him - and Severus had had to take the news to Walburga Black and endure her misery for the best part of an hour.
That brought back memories too; the house elf had been distraught to hear Severus talk about his Master’s death. Even now Severus could hear its croaky wailing and see its big, bloodshot eyes...
He blanked his mind with Occlumency, focusing on the grey stone walls of his dungeon-mind but the thoughts were still there, just hidden. He sighed and rolled over, trying to get back to sleep, though he suspected it was a futile endeavour.