ExpidenceAuthor's Note: I was off my head with the flu when I wrote this, and I claim no responsibility whatsoever. The characters aren't mine, either, etc, disclaimer, don't sue. We can all just be thankful that I was talked out of my first flu-induced idea - Harry Potter/Disney Princess songfic!
(I swear, it seemed BRILLIANT at the time. Fortunately, kind friends interceded before I could do any real harm)
The story's finished, contains seven chapters, and will probably go up over the next few days.Chapter One
Lord Voldemort was gone.
Dead or simply vanished, it mattered little to those of his followers suddenly left exposed by his disappearance. After the initial flurry of gleeful celebration, the hunt for Voldemort's former allies had been on with a vengeance.
Lucius Malfoy was... concerned. He would not, even in the privacy of his own mind, admit to worry or fear. Several Death Eaters had already been captured, and while some would resist to the death, others would tell everything they knew in an attempt to save their own skins. Sooner or later... within another day or two, most likely... he would have Aurors banging on his door, demanding an accounting. And while he could certainly afford any number of bribes, and had taken the sensible precaution of amassing a certain amount of blackmail-material on several highly placed members of the Ministry... he was concerned. It should be enough. But it might not be.
He'd shut himself in his study to think things over, to put together contingency plans, just in case. He'd been staring into the fire for some time, still struggling to come up with something, when a soft tapping sound alerted him. Someone was knocking on his door. Not Narcissa - she knew better to disturb him when he chose to isolate himself. The servants had gone to bed or to their homes for the night, and the house elf would never dare approach his master unless summoned.
The tap came again, and this time he recognized it. Tap tap, pause, tap tap tap, pause, tap. An arrhythmic sound, apparently casual, but in fact a code the Death Eaters had used for some time. He scowled, rising from his chair. One of them had dared to come here? To his home? If they had been followed, if they had brought suspicion down on him that he could not evade...
He opened the door, and saw... nothing. He frowned, opening it wider and stepping out into the hall. No sign, anywhere, of another living being. He turned to go back into his study, and blinked, the only sign of surprise he permitted himself. Severus Snape was standing there, an invisibility cloak in his hands.
"I suggest you close the door," Snape said very quietly, his voice grim. "I've taken great pains not to be seen, Lucius, but if someone should pass..."
"No-one will," Lucius said, relaxing slightly as he closed the door anyway. "I am not to be disturbed when I am... thinking. I have made that clear to my household." He quirked an eyebrow, moving back to stand by the fire in a deliberately casual pose. "What brings you here, Severus? I doubt it was a longing for my company."
"No," Snape agreed, smiling thinly. "We are in a position to do one another a favour, Lucius. Which may, with the very least of effort on your part or mine, benefit us both greatly."
"Interesting," Lucius noted, picking up his cane and toying with it, apparently idly. Snape knew as well as he did that the cane had a wand hidden within it... but as long as it remained hidden, there was no immediate threat. "And what sort of favours might be involved?" He was willing, at least, to consider it. Snape was... intelligent. Like Lucius, he had cannily moved to hedge his bets, to ensure that if things went wrong, he would have a means of escape from blame. Had Lucius been willing to admit it, Snape had done the better of the two - with Dumbledore as his protector, he was all but untouchable.
"Nothing that requires any exertion on your part," Snape said smoothly. "I provided you with a certain substance, about a year ago. A difficult to prepare and almost impossible to detect substance, which few wizards even know exists." He drew a tiny bottle of very thick glass from his robes, stoppered but obviously empty. "I need some of it back."
Both eyebrows went up this time. "An interesting request," Lucius said slowly. "Might I ask why? You brewed it the first time, surely you can do so again."
Snape shook his head. "I no longer have any access to ezerin seed. Even the Dark Lord could only procure for me a very small supply, and it is long gone." He smiled that thin, cold smile again. "Which suits me well, as it happens, as I can prove conclusively that I have no access to it. I need it to... take care of a certain complication. I am well settled at Hogwarts, and Dumbledore has entirely accepted my tearful protestations of penitence... such a trusting soul, it's quite touching. There is only one... complication, remaining. Someone who knows something rather damaging, but is not yet aware that they know it. Once that person is disposed of..."
Lucius nodded. This he understood; it was why Snape had given him the poison in the first place. Sometimes witnesses needed to be gotten quietly out of the way. It was no great effort to make it look like a suicide, or to ease the blame for the murder onto someone else. "And what favour would you do me in return?"
"One that no-one else can do for you," Snape said quietly. "I can tell Dumbledore, under the influence of Veritaserum, that I saw the Dark Lord place an Imperius Curse upon you."
Lucius blinked again, his face remaining calm even as he was siezed by a sudden, wild joy. It was true... once, as a punishment, Lord Voldemort had placed the Curse upon him and forced him to injure himself. Snape had seen it. He could swear under any drug or spell that Voldemort had put Lucius under the Imperius Curse and had forced him to do things... with such proof, he would be safe. "A useful favour," he conceded coolly. "I think that would be... acceptable."
"Good." Snape offered him the bottle. "Then if you would be so kind as to provide your part, Lucius, I will be able to return to Hogwarts and attest to your innocence. The Aurors will be here sometime tomorrow. I suggest you hurry."
Lucius nodded, taking the tiny bottle, and drew his wand from its hiding place inside the cane. "Of course." He didn't let the news that they were coming distress him... he would be protected, now.
He went to the small cabinet where wine and brandy awaited his pleasure, and the few guests he permitted into this sanctum. He had more secure hiding places, of course, but the poison would be of less use if it were not readily to hand. Besides, his grandfather had had a hiding place built into the cabinet, for that very purpose. He opened it - simple, once you knew how - and drew out the small, rather dusty bottle. He opened its tiny spout just a little, and carefully filled Snape's bottle a single drop at a time, careful not to let the poison drip or splash, or come into contact with his skin or clothes. Fifteen drops sufficed, and he carefully closed both bottles, before hiding the one again and returning the other to its owner. Then, with a challenging smile, he poured two glasses of wine, offering one to Snape. "A drink?" he offered, meeting the black eyes with another smile. "To old times."
"Of course," Snape said, returning the challenging look. He tapped the small bottle with his wand, making it glow briefly, and then tucked wand and bottle away. "Still very potent. It won't remain so for more than another year." He accepted the glass, and lifted it to Lucius with a small, mocking smile. "To survival," he said softly.
"To survival," Lucius agreed, and as one they drained their glasses. He hadn't poisoned it, of course; Snape was, at this point, far too useful for him. But the possibility was always there, for another time.
Snape set down the glass, and tapped it lightly with his wand. "Hygaeus," he whispered, and the residue of the wine was gone, the glass appearing never to have been used. "My thanks, Lucius," he said, inclining his head. "I'll take my leave of you now. It would be best if we are not seen in one another's company for... some time. Rest assured, however, that I will keep my part of our bargain." That thin, cold smile appeared again. "You and I know far too much about each other to be... indiscreet. The other might do the same."
"Mutual interest forms the strongest basis for... trust," Lucius agreed. "Goodnight, Severus... I trust we won't need to meet again for a while." He opened the door, and Severus stepped through it, drawing the cloak around him again and fading from view.
"Goodnight, Lucius," his disembodied voice murmured. "And farewell."
Lucius shut the door, smiling a little now that there was nobody there to see. Things had worked themselves out to great advantage, he thought, returning to his comfortable chair by the fire. He had a witness to his 'innocence', and one who would be vouched for by Dumbledore himself. Yes, things were working out very well, he thought, surprising himself with a yawn. Past midnight... it was later than he'd thought. He would get up in a moment and go to bed, but he was so comfortable... he'd just rest another moment first...