by Nephele de Tourmalin
Late October, 1981
Outside a dirty old pub in an even dirtier old neighbourhood in London stumbled a young man, barely out of his teens, looking highly disconcerted and smelling of cheap whisky. His face and body had the look of someone stunted, as if he hadn’t quite lost his baby fat, and his dull, stringy blonde hair stuck flat to his perspiring forehead.
He staggered a few feet, glancing around nervously, before he ducked into the shadow against the building. No one was around to hear the loud cracking noise that echoed down the misty street when he vanished into thin air.
Seconds later, he reappeared in a dark room hundreds of miles away. It was a few minutes past midnight.
“You’re late,” snarled a chilling, high-pitched voice with disdain.
“So sorry, m’Lord, I was with Black,” the young man whimpered, clutching his left forearm with a grimace.
“And?” the high voice hissed unforgivingly. “What useless nuggets of information do you bring along tonight? I am starting to question your use to me, Pettigrew.” The speaker remained hidden in shadow, but something red glinted from his eyes menacingly, sending the young Peter Pettigrew into a fit of nerves. Bowing low and trembling, he hastily divulged his information.
“I have news, my Lord, great news! Black thinks I should be the one to hold the secret!” His beady eyes flickered up, inches away from the wand of his superior, held gingerly between long, spidery fingers. The man, who stood much taller than Pettigrew even when he was not bowing, seemed to consider the matter.
“This is certainly an improvement, Pettigrew, from your usual delivery.”
Peter nodded nervously. His back was starting to ache from bending over, but he was unsure if coming out of his bow would be a mark of disrespect.
“However, you forget the basic formula of a carefully-crafted Fidelus charm. The secret keeper must have nothing but good intentions for whom he keeps the secret.” His grip on his wand tightened, and Peter felt his spine straighten forcefully.
“Look at me when I speak to you,” his master snarled. “Now- go home. In the morning you must tell Black you are visiting relatives for the week and you think it best to wait until you have returned safely to make the switch. I will find a way around this… stipulation. Send in Bartemius on your way out.”
Peter nodded, and scurried from the room. A moment later, a taller, thinner young man with straw-blonde hair strode into the room, eager to assist. He bowed respectfully, but had the grace not to stay that way.
“How may I be of service, my Lord?”
“Send for Severus. I wish to speak to him alone.”
Soon after his dismissal, Bartemius once again opened the door, and in walked Severus Snape. The skin around his black eyes was puffy and his ill-managed hair looked as in-need of a good washing as ever, and it stuck up at odd angles from sleep.
“I came right away,” he said, as the door closed with a creak.
A tall, ornately carved wooden chair appeared behind him, and he lowered himself onto it stiffly.
“You fancy yourself an inventor- am I right?” asked the man in shadow. He perched on the edge of a second, much more comfortable-looking chair, back straight and hands folded in front of him.
“One could say that,” Snape replied warily, his eyes fixed on the long, pale fingers of his master. Suddenly, they untangled themselves and settled on the arms of his chair. Snape’s eyes flickered up to meet the glistening, red ones of the Dark Lord.
“You would like to know why I ask,” came the cool voice, “but I remind you it is not your place to question me.” He settled back into his chair before continuing.
“I am in need of a potion- one that will outsmart the Fidelus charm.”
Snape raised an eyebrow. How could one be expected to “ousmart” such a complex and powerful charm as the Fidelus? The Dark Lord read the doubt in his mind, and his catlike eyes narrowed.
“It can be done, and it must. I do not ask you to unravel the charm entirely! I ask only for a potion that will convince the caster of the charm that the Secret Keeper is pure of heart. Once my servant is made keeper of the secret, he himself will tell me what I wish to know.”
Snape’s black eyes glinted with intrigue. He leaned forward in his chair slightly, lost in thought for a few moments.
“I, too, believe I could make it work,” he said quietly, not bothering to mask the excitement in his voice at the prospect of such a challenge. The Dark Lord leaned forward as well, thrusting his head into the light, and a wicked expression crossed his face. His lip curled into what was, unmistakably, a smile.
“Excellent,” he hissed. “You have three days.”
Severus Snape stooped silently over a brimming cauldron. Certainly the time restraint had taken him by surprise- genius could not be made to jump through hoops like this! The wizarding world’s most brilliant inventions had not come about in a mere three days! He grimaced as pungent smoke began to billow from his creation.
“Not again,” he muttered, and waved a hand over the sour concoction, which promptly vanished, leaving nothing but a clean cauldron in its place. He sighed, and returned to crushing heliotrope petals.
Thirty-two hours and counting, he thought gloomily.
Twenty-nine hours later, Severus added what he hoped would be the final ingredients to the bubbling, lavender-coloured potion before him- powdered ramshorn and lapis lazuli.
No sooner had the powders sunk below the surface than the bubbles stopped, and the liquid settled into a clear, bright blue. The sweet smell it had exuded dissipated, and with a satisfied grin he surveyed his reflection in the surface of the now odourless potion.
“Hidden truth,’ he whispered.
He hastily scribbled some notes onto his parchment and stood to leave. Halfway to the floo, however, he stopped in his tracks, struck with the sudden notion of what might strengthen his potion tenfold.
Of course- the hair of a dog- it was so obvious! He glanced around thoughtfully. Where could he find a dog? He hated dogs more than any other animal- obedient, slobbering things that they were- and always made a habit of avoiding them. He recalled a time, in his sixth year at Hogwarts, when a great, black monster of a dog had chased him around the grounds and into a tree. He scowled, remembering the two hours he spent clinging to a branch before the dog lost interest and wandered away. And now he had to find just such a beast- for what creature had more loyalty coursing through its veins than man’s best friend? What creature could better contribute to this potion the façade of its servility, its unwavering faithfulness?
Having lain awake at night on more than one occasion to the yipping of his neighbor’s terrier, he recalled precisely where to find one. It was just a matter of getting his hands on a scrap of its fur without disturbing the owner- a very protective, batty old woman by the name of Mrs. Fingall. If only he had more time! He would rather find a more suitable donor, but he would have to settle for the terrier, known to bite even its owner on occasion and therefore lacking a bit in the loyalty area.
Instinctively, he reached for the poker propped against the side of the fireplace. The dog may be small, but it was best not to take any chances.
“What kind of wizard am I?” he suddenly mumbled, to no one in particular, remembering that he needed nothing but his wand to fend off the overgrown rat. He cast the poker aside carelessly, and it clanged loudly against the brick as he swept across the room to the garden door.
At one time the garden had been splendid- his mother’s pride and joy- but after her death the previous spring it had fallen into a state of disrepair. The once tidy beds were fraught with nettles, a few windows of the greenhouse were cracked, and everything save the nettles had long since died. Add to that the onset of autumn and it made for a very dreary picture indeed. Even the clothesline was unused- the rope was mouldy and broken, and it hung lifelessly in the fallen leaves that blanketed the ground.
He hadn’t stepped foot outside this door in over a year, and he did so now cautiously, respectfully, as if stepping into a mausoleum.
The chilly night greeted him with a whisper of a breeze, and he gripped his cloak tighter around him. His feet lowered noiselessly onto the concrete walkway.
At the sound of a crunching footstep, his wand was at the ready in less than a heartbeat. Whoever it was froze, in a too-little-too-late attempt to go unnoticed, as Severus spied a figure crouching beside the small stone wall. Wand held out purposefully ahead of him, Severus marched over to the cowering shadow, leaves crunching angrily under his feet.
Instinctively, Severus gripped the intruder by the collar and threw him against the garden wall, wand pressed violently against the side of his pointy little nose.
“What are you doing here?” he hissed with a sneer upon recognising the trespasser. It was no secret he despised Pettigrew.
“D-D-D-Don’t!” Peter trembled, going slightly cross-eyed from watching the wand between his eyes. His sweaty hands reached up to his collar and closed over the hand of Severus, who drew his back disgustedly and wiped it on his robe.
“I asked you a question, Wormtail,” he snarled. “What are you doing in my garden?”
“The D-Dark Lord sent me. I'm to assist you.”
“Assist me?” he growled. “You’re as useless as they come! Unless you’ve a pocketful of dog hair, I see you contributing little more than a pain in my arse.”
“Dog hair?” Peter squeaked.
“That’s right, dog hair. It possesses the essence of loyalty, and steeping the hair in my potion for the remaining two hours should do the trick. Yes, that’ll do quite nicely,” he muttered. He seemed to be talking more to himself than to Peter, but the latter’s head bobbed fervently in agreement as he listened.
Severus started towards the back gate of the garden, but felt something tugging on his robe. He turned to see if he’d snagged a nettle, and saw Pettigrew clinging to a chunk of his robe and pulling it excitedly.
“I know a dog!” His beady eyes danced with excitement.
“How lovely,” Severus snapped derisively, shaking his robe from Peter’s grasp, “but I think Mrs. Fingall’s mutt should do just as well. And it’s right across the way, so I’ll just-”
“He’s a very, er, loyal dog!” Pettigrew persisted. “And I could be back in ten minutes!”
Severus turned the rest of his body, slowly, to face Peter Pettigrew. He glared down at him, sharp black eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“Why should I trust you?”
Pettigrew seemed to shiver slightly in the cool air, but he didn’t blink, and he answered in a small, desperate, but resolute voice.
“The dark lord told me he will kill me, my family, if this plan does not succeed. If you need a loyal dog- the most loyal of dogs- I know just the one.”
Severus’ beetle-black eyes remained fixed on Pettigrew’s for a few seconds longer before he reached in the pocket of his robe. He withdrew a silver pocket watch and frowned at it.
“Right. You have ten minutes. If you’re not back by then, I’m using the next best thing.”
He had a feeling Pettigrew would botch the whole operation, but he had to admit having a dog of the right temperament was much more useful to him. As soon as Peter had disapparated, he headed for Mrs. Fingall’s, intent on having a backup ready in case Wormtail never returned.
With two cracks, Peter reappeared in yet another overgrown garden. His feet sank into mud as torrential rain pelted him without mercy. Having arrived fully unprepared for the sudden change in weather, he wrapped his arms over his head, but they proved of little use and he was quickly sopping wet. He sprinted as fast as his short legs would carry him towards the entrance, known only to himself and three other people. Not even Dumbledore knew of this breach in the fortification of the shack.
He crouched low under a boarded window and spoke the incantation, but his words were inaudible over the howling of the wind and the splashing of droplets into puddles. To his surprise the shack acquiesced, and a small knot in the wood began to glow gold. He prodded the knot with the end of his wand and a door appeared where seconds before there had been nothing but wet wood. He hurried into the shelter, shivering from the cold, trying not to trip in the darkness.
“Lumos,” he said clearly, sounding almost afraid of the space. He knew there were no ghosts, but the energy in the shack could at best be described as unsettling and at worst terrifying. In the pale yellow light of his wand he could see the last vestiges of a brawl between animagi and feral wolf: the wood stained dark with blood, the tufts of fur, and the long, violent gashes in the wood. He hurried forward and snatched up a few stray hairs.
Gray… gray… gray… black!
He shuddered thinking about the consequences of accidentally using werewolf hair in the potion. Careful to filter out any of the short, coarser hairs he recognised as belonging to Prongs and the grayish-brown ones of the wolf, he quickly amassed in his palm a small collection of shiny black hairs.
He glanced at his watch as lightning flickered through the pores of the shack. How could he have been gone a mere six minutes? As a particularly loud clap of thunder rolled over him, his shaking hand nearly dropped the lot of it.
He caught sight of his reflection in a cracked windowpane. His breath quickened and his heart pounded furiously, but he tried to collect himself. He couldn’t let Snape see him like this.
It wasn’t as if he wanted to hurt his friends. But what choice had he been given? Lord Voldemort had already assured him that with or without his help, his friends would be killed. By cooperating he could save the lives of his family and himself.
It’s too late now, he thought, what’s done is done. He wiped his eyes with the back of his fist and stumbled to the door, trying to forget.
Severus Snape slipped through the garden gate as quietly as he could, thankful that Mrs. Fingall had left Sir Chopsy so easily accessible near the window. He couldn’t help but smile at his craftiness in obtaining nearly a fistful of fur from the little terror, either. Then again, it was a wonder what one could do with a good shedding hex.
Just as he pulled the watch from his pocket, a loud crack signified Pettigrew’s return.
When he spotted Severus, he hurried towards him, looking as if he had gone swimming fully-clothed.
“I've got it!” he nearly squealed, and held out a hand. Ten or twelve wet black hairs, each around a finger’s length, clung to his outstretched palm like bloodworms.
Severus dumped his own ill-gotten fur into the nearest flowerpot and brushed his hands together briskly. Then he plucked the hairs, one by one, from Pettigrew’s chubby hand, depositing them into his own with care. When he turned to walk into the house, he heard a brittle, yet squelching sound from behind him, and turned to see Pettigrew following him, dry leaves clinging to the wet mud on his shoes.
Severus raised an eyebrow and addressed him coolly.
“Surely you don’t think you’re stepping foot into my house, Pettigrew?”
Peter’s face fell, but Severus continued.
“You should be getting back to the Dark Lord.” He suggested, relishing in the fearful expression that overcame Peter’s face. “Do let him know I’ll be along soon. I just have to put the finishing touches on the potion.”
And with that, he left Peter Pettigrew standing alone and dripping, mouth agape, on the back patio with nothing but the nettles for company.
A/N: Please review! I would love to know what you think of it, since the characters were so different from what I usually write. I'm still on the fence about whether or not it feels unfinished. Thanks for reading!
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