Before the Body's Cold
Disclaimer: Characters and setting are the property of J.K. Rowling, I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit fun.
Summary: Following his flight from Hogwarts Snape sets to work on his plans with the help of several, less than trustworthy allies.
The hypogriff's attack broke Snape out of the blind rage Harry Potter's words had sent him into. He remembered his purpose and checked on his fellow Death Eaters to ensure that they'd heeded his words before sprinting after Draco. In a few moments Snape had caught up to the fleeing blonde, he clamped his fingers viciously around the boy's arm and Disapparated both of them to Spinner's End.
"Why are we in this dump?" Draco demanded reflexively. "We killed Dumbledore! The Aurors are coming! We have to get someplace safe!"
Snape shot the boy a quelling glare. "Understand your position Mr. Malfoy. Your father sits in Azkaban; imprisoned by the Ministry for failing Voldemort. You brought Death Eaters into Hogwarts for the purpose of murdering Albus Dumbledore. As we speak Greyback, Amycus and Alecto are undoubtedly reporting that you don't have the makings of a Death Eater to the Dark Lord. You have no coin with anyone on either side of this war. So remain quiet and DO AS YOU'RE TOLD!"
Even as he spoke Snape flicked his wand toward the bookcases that lined the walls of his home. A heavily bound trunk slid out of the closet and the books leapt off the shelves to pack themselves neatly away.
"What's happened?" a nervous voice demanded. Draco jumped and pointed his wand at the ratty half-dressed man coming down the stairs. Wormtail held up his silver hand defensively in response.
"Albus Dumbledore is dead and the Aurors will be swarming over this place faster than fleas on your miserable carcass as soon as the first shock is passed," Snape spat. "Make yourself useful."
"But I thought…" Wormtail began as he wrung his hands.
"Leave thinking to someone better suited!" A moment later Snape relented slightly. "Things did not go according to plan - to anyone's plan."
"Where does that leave me?" Wormtail whined. Draco looked as if he would have liked to echo the pathetic, quivering little man and as if that thought thoroughly disgusted him.
"Oh my contingency plans will go ahead, with some minor adjustments. I still have use for you," Snape said darkly. He turned to include Draco. "Both of you. Take the trunks as soon as they're packed… remember no magic, I don't wish to be traced."
"I remember, I'm not an idiot," Wormtail complained.
Snape's look questioned the veracity of that statement. "Wait," he said. "Draco; I told your mother I'd look after you but your situation has become too precarious to tolerate any more of your screw-ups. I want your oath that you will obey me. Wormtail, act as witness."
"What?" Draco exclaimed in outrage. "I won't! I'm not some house-elf."
Snape glared down at the blonde. "Take the oath or I leave you to the Dark Lord's mercies. Need I remind you that both you and your father have failed him now?"
Draco paled to a grayish white. Snape grabbed the boy's wrist and yanked him to his knees. Wormtail stepped forward and held his silver hand over their joined hands.
"Swear to obey me in all things related to the war between Dumbledore's forces and those loyal to Voldemort," Snape demanded.
A faint spark of relief entered Draco's eyes as he said, "I swear." The boy flinched as a tongue of fire leapt from Wormtail's artificial hand to bind him to his oath.
"Swear that any confidences you learn about me will remain secret," Snape continued.
"Who do you think I'm going to tell? Potter?" Draco snapped. Snape just waited. "Oh all right, I swear," the blonde said and once again was bound.
Snape stepped back, his expression satisfied. "Give me your wand then help Wormtail move the books to my other flat."
"Why?" Draco complained even as he handed over his wand.
"Because I know exactly how well your parents enforced the underaged wizardry restrictions within your home and I will not be undone because you couldn't resist the temptation to take short cuts," Snape replied irritably. He turned to Wormtail. "I still need to pack my potions lab."
"Do you really have time for that?" Wormtail asked.
"You mean what becomes of you should I be caught," Snape interpreted. "And I thought Gryffindors excelled at improvising, or perhaps that should be at depending on their luck."
"Stop wasting my time with your irrelevant concerns!"
Draco frowned in confusion when Snape picked up a handle of some sort and held it to his ear.
"Come on kid," Wormtail said. He grabbed one end of the trunk and gestured for Draco to take the other.
Snape cleared his throat menacingly.
"Right, the plan. Muggle clothes, muggle conveyances. I'll shrink a set for blondie here while we wait for the taxes," Wormtail said.
At Wormtail's nickname for Draco, Snape glanced at the boy consideringly then he flicked his wand at the boy.
"What did you do to me?" Draco demanded fearfully. He caught sight of his reflection in the window; his normally shining silver-white hair had darkened to an unremarkable dishwater blond.
Wormtail grabbed the boy's arm and hauled him upstairs where he yanked two sets of clothing out of the cupboard. "Get dressed," Wormtail ordered.
Draco picked up one of the, to his eyes, odd-looking garments. "I'm supposed to wear this?"
"Hurry, hurry," Wormtail urged. "Do you want to join your father in Azkaban?"
Draco scrambled into the clothes without any further complaints.
"Amplitudo mutatio," Wormtail ordered. With a flick of his fingers the clothes shrunk to fit Draco's smaller frame.
Wormtail donned his own outfit and they went back downstairs.
"I summoned a cab," Snape's voice drifted up from the cellar. "The driver's fee is in the pouch on the hall table, give him the address, pay him when you arrive…"
"And don't say anything else, I remember," Wormtail huffed. Under his breath he muttered, "I lived with Arthur Weasley's family for twelve years, I know about muggles." He peered out the window anxiously. "It's here. Grab the trunk kid."
"What is it?" Draco whispered.
"Haven't you ever taken the Knight Bus?" Wormtail asked as they loaded the trunks into the boot of the cab.
"Do I look like a Weasley?" Draco snapped. "I don't use plebian modes of transportation."
"I forgot, Malfoys pride themselves on their ignorance," Wormtail sneered. He got in the cab. "140 Digger's Lane," he said.
"Malfoys don't clutter their minds with worthless trivia," Draco replied archly. "When the Dark Lord comes to power he'll cleanse our world of all the disgusting muggle influences."
Wormtail snickered. "You know we're going to ground in the muggle world don't you? And if the Dark Lord comes to power, you'll be in a shitload of trouble won't you kid? Course you're not much better off if Dumbledore's people win. Chances are you're going to be laying low, pretending to be a muggle, till the day you die."
Draco flinched and shrank into a corner of the cab as he was confronted with his situation once again.
Once his two, unwelcome burdens were on their way Severus Snape sank to the floor in the center of his potions lab. For a moment his hands shook, he clenched his fists until blood welled up around his nails. "No time," he muttered then forced himself to return to packing the equipment and supplies from his potions lab that would be impossible to replace in the muggle world.
With that task done Snape grabbed up a satchel of muggle clothing and his Death Eater robes then he Disapperated to one of the Dark Lord's unplotable safe houses on the outskirts of London.
"Snape, what took you so long?" Goyle Sr. remarked upon recognizing the other wizard. "The siblings got here nearly an hour ago to make their report to the Dark Lord."
Snape gritted his teeth in annoyance. He pulled on his Death Eater robes and mask then stowed the rest of his belongings in a corner. "Their loyalties have been known to the Ministry since the debacle last spring. I had things to see to before word of my allegiances spread to the Aurors." Snape cast a quick warding spell over his things. "Where is He tonight?"
"Stormchaser's Point," Goyle Sr. reported. "Hey, weren't you supposed to have Lucius' brat with you?"
Snape ignored the question as he scooped up a handful of floo powder. "Stormchaser's Point!" he commanded as he flung the floo powder into the fire and was swept away.
Years of practice enabled the potions master to tumble out of the fireplace with a modicum of grace and dignity. At the other end of the cavernous entry room two Death Eaters leapt to their feet and pointed their wands at Snape threateningly.
Snape pulled back the sleeve of his robes to display his Dark Mark. The two guards relaxed and stepped aside to grant him entry to the manor proper. A maze of dank mildewed hallways led to the Dark Lord's current throne room. Snape swept inside and knelt. "My Lord…" he paused and waited to be acknowledged.
At Snape's silky, distinctive voice many heads turned toward the late arrival.
"Ahhh Severus, you return to us. And where is young Mr. Malfoy?"
"I left him at a safe house," Snape answered promptly. A slight, feminine Death Eater sagged in relief.
"Like his father before him, he failed me," Voldemort pronounced. "You should have brought him before me to answer for his failure."
"Draco is young my Lord. True he failed to complete the task on his own, but he came much closer than anyone would have anticipated. He showed great promise in circumventing Hogwarts's security measures." Snape hesitated for a moment. "And the task you set for him is done."
"At the cost of revealing my one spy within Dumbledore's organization," Voldemort complained peevishly. "You should have left the boy to his own devices."
Snape dropped his head and spread his hands suppliantly. "I saw an opportunity to rid you of your greatest enemy. I doubt the Order will be much of a threat to you without Dumbledore's guidance."
"Ssseverusss," the Dark Lord said in a manner that silenced the room. "I did not instruct you to break your cover. You have spent long hours persuading me that it was out of loyalty to me that you remained comfortable under my enemy's protection for all these long years. You persuaded me of the unique value your position within Dumbledore's confidence afforded me. Now that value is lost. For what? So that your wand could cast a spell that would have finished that meddlesome old fool just as truly if it had been cast by any of my other agents who were present?" Voldemort gestured to Greyback and the siblings. "If not for your rash, unthinking interference the old man would still be dead and I would have my eyes and ears within his order as well. Go Severus, bring me the boy and pray that it is only his punishment you are returning to face."
"As my Lord commands," Snape replied. He rose smoothly and strode purposefully out of the room.
A moment later Narcissa Malfoy came running after him. She'd thrown back her mask and her eyes were wild as she caught Snape's arm in a desperate grasp. "You swore to protect him," she hissed.
Black eyes flashing, Snape jerked his arm away and pinned Narcissa against the dingy wall. "This is all your fault!" he ground out as his hands convulsed with bruising force on her arms.
"You swore!" Narcissa repeated. "He's my son, Gryffindors aren't the only ones who love their children above all else."
"I didn't know what I was promising" Snape spat at the woman and Narcissa laughed.
"The master spy, caught in his own bluff," she taunted. "Your oath was still given, you have to protect my son. Stop sulking; you're just like the rest of us now. No more protection because He can't send you back to Hogwarts shaking with the aftereffects of the Cruciatus. No more playing both sides so that you can claim you were always the loyal servant of the victor. No more pretending to be indispensable. You're just like the rest of us now."
"No more leverage with which I might have protected your precious son," Snape replied in a low vindictive tone. "I swore that I would, to the best of my abilities, protect him from harm. I have done that, but your egotistical brat thwarted me at every turn and Madem, I am sorely tempted to turn him over to our lord and let the gods decide if I've satisfied the terms of my vow."
Narcissa went limp in Snape's arms. "Please Severus, he's my only son, he's all I have left. Please don't turn him over to that monster," she whispered.
Snape leaned in closer to her ear. "Careful, one might suspect that your enthusiasm for our lord is wavering."
"Draco is my child," Narcissa reiterated.
"Stay here, wait for me to return," Snape instructed.
When Snape made it back to the flat he'd rented in Muggle London months earlier he found Wormtail and Draco Malfoy crouched in front of the icebox.
"I thought he said no magic," Draco said as he opened the door and the light came on.
"It's not magic, it's eketricity," Wormtail said snidely.
"Well how does it know when to turn on?" Draco demanded.
Wormtail was stumped for several seconds. "Maybe it's on all the time," he offered.
Draco pressed his eye to the crack in the door then opened it quickly. "I think I saw it come on," he said.
"Let me see." Wormtail shouldered the teen out of his way so that he could see this miraculous thing for himself.
Snape rolled his eyes and their antics. He strode across the room and pressed a small button in the frame of the icebox door. "It's a switch, opening the door releases it," he told them shortly.
"A 'switch'?" Draco wondered.
Snape ignored the teen. "The Dark Lord is less than pleased with me," he warned Wormtail.
"But you killed Dumbledore," Draco exclaimed.
Wormtail cringed. All color drained from Snape's complexion, his long fingers clenched convulsively and Draco got the distinct impression that his Professor was a hair's breath from strangling him. "Get out of my sight," Snape said coldly.
Draco scrambled to his feet and hastily retreated into the living room.
Snape turned his attention on Wormtail. "I was ordered to bring the boy to Him. Things will not go well when I return empty-handed."
"Who cares about Malfoy's brat?" Wormtail asked. "Just give him to Him already."
"There are three remaining Horcruxes. Three pieces of the Dark Lord's soul remain scattered. Dumbledore managed to destroy two, the third was destroyed by Potter four years ago," Snape continued. The look in his eyes convinced Wormtail that he didn't want to suggest sacrificing Draco again. "Potter will be looking for the remaining Horcruxes. You know what must be done."
"Snape, I can't…"
"Did Potter, Black and Lupin pity you when you cried 'I can't'?" Snape asked.
"Shut up!" Wormtail cried.
"You learned you were nothing but a hanger-on years before you betrayed everything you held dear - Only we're sorted by what we aspire to not by what we're capable of. Isn't that right, Gryffindor," Snape continued. "You wanted to be brave and noble, in short to play the hero. But when your chance came you gave up your idol, his wife and his infant son, all to save your own miserable hide."
"You think I don't know what I did?"
"I think you need to be reminded," Snape spat mercilessly. "You framed the one person who knew of your culpability for your crimes and for your murder. You faked the heroic death you wished you'd died and that is the only thing anyone remembers you for. Now you don't even have that. They all know it was a lie. Finally the single, solitary reason that you continue to draw breath if because that boy stopped Black and Lupin from taking vengeance on you for your crimes.
Wormtail's face was screwed up into a pained grimace as he cowered in the corner.
"Your guilt and your debt have gnawed away at you until you had nothing to loose, not that you were much to begin with." Snape lowered his voice to a menacing hiss. "So don't tell me you can't. There's nothing else left for you. Find a way."
Wormtail stared up at the potions master with glazed eyes but he nodded.
"Dumbledore believed that the last Horacrux was created at Godrick's Hollow that night. You were there, you will figure out what it was that he used."
Snape turned sharply on his heel and left Wormtail in shivering heap on the floor while he went to deal with his other less than promising ally. He found Draco slumped against the wall as if his legs had gone out under him.
"Mr. Malfoy you will stay within the walls of this flat until further notice or until you hear word of my death," Snape commanded.
Draco stared up at his professor blankly. After a few moments he realized Snape was waiting for a response and nodded.
Hours later Draco was still sitting in the living room of 140 Digger's Lane waiting for Snape to return. Like any good Slytherin Draco had been listening at the keyhole after he'd been sent out of the kitchen but all he'd really heard was that his Professor intended to defy the Dark Lord over him.
So Draco watched the door and waited to learn what protecting him had cost his teacher.
Draco leapt to his feet at a loud bang. He stared at the door, filled with trepidation then he crept to the window and peered outside. Even though he knew that neither Death Eater nor Aurors would knock he expected to find either, or maybe both standing on the doorstep.
The angle was bad, any self-respecting wizard would have had an identification spell cast on the doorstep, but they were pretending to be muggles and it seemed that muggles didn't worry about opening the door without knowing who was on the other side. Or if they did they had some obscure muggle means of finding out, like switches and lights that came on without magic when needed. He pressed his cheek against the glass and peered out into the pre-dawn darkness, trying to get a better look. He caught a glimpse of long golden blonde hair and that was all he needed to see. "Mum!" Draco cried as he rushed to throw open the door.
Narcissa Malfoy stood on the on the doorstep, struggling to keep the much larger Severus Snape on his feet as she prepared to kick the door a second time. Draco hurried to help his mother support his professor across the room to the couch.
"No magic, I can't imagine how muggles manage," Narcissa muttered under her breath. "Severus, where do you keep your Crucio Cure?"
"Medicine cabinet," Snape mumbled. His eyes rolled back and he passed out.
Narcissa and Draco exchanged a mystified look. "We'll just have to look," Narcissa declared. "There's not a Death Eater alive who doesn't keep a cache of that handy. Not that we dare carry it in the Dark Lord's presence."
"I didn't see any potions in the front rooms, it must be in the bedrooms or the bathroom," Draco said. "We could ask Wormtail, only he left a few hours ago, worthless rat."
While they quickly searched through drawers and cupboards Narcissa muttered, "I hope it's just this hiding in the muggle world idea of his. Even as a first year Severus never slipped into using muggle terms."
"What!" Draco exclaimed as he turned to stare at his mother.
Narcissa gave her disbelieving son an amused looked. " He's been your head of house and your teacher for six years and you didn't have a clue that he was a half blood did you? Keep looking Draco. We aren't nearly as curious about our elders as about our peers are we? You'd never know he was familiar with muggles from talking to him but it didn't do him any good as a student. When he was sorted into Slytherin and we didn't recognize his family name we all started digging, it didn't take long for us to find out. I suppose his mother couldn't do any better for herself after she lost her magic."
Draco gave a triumphant cry when he located a stash of potions in the bathroom. Narcissa joined him in looking through the labels, trying to decipher Snape's cramped handwriting and his personal abbreviation system.
"Severus' mother must have started teaching him to act as one born to the Wizarding World years before he received his Hogwarts letter," Narcissa remarked. "I have it!" Clutching the small vial Narcissa rushed back to the front room. "Severus, wake up. You need to drink this," she said as she shook him lightly.
Snape stirred weakly. "So many years, still remember this," he slurred. His hand shook as he reached for the vial. Narcissa steadied his hand and helped him to down the potion.
"Draco-dearest, help me get him to his room," Narcissa ordered.
"Yes Mother," Draco responded automatically.
They helped Snape to his room then returned to the living room. Narcissa carefully shut the door behind them. "Draco I want you to obey your professor," she said quietly. "All three of us are in a very precarious position. You lack the experience in intrigue to strike out on your own."
"You've got nothing to worry about on that account," Draco said with a sudden surge of bitterness.
"Good," Narcissa said. "I can't stay. When your professor awakens tell him I overheard some speculation that we might be lovers and that is why he failed to bring you before the Dark Lord. I believe it would serve us to encourage these rumors. They're tawdry enough to keep them for more profitable lines of inquiry."
Draco made a face, "You're not really…"
"No, we are not Draco," Narcissa said. "In truth, Severus is rather put out with me and I am reluctant to strain his hospitality by staying uninvited."
"Mother, why is Professor Snape protecting me?" Draco asked.
"Consider learning that answer for yourself to be an excise in intrigue," Narcissa said. "But remember, I want you to trust him in this, he has your best interests at heart."