Author: Daphne Dunham
Spoilers: All, including HBP
Disclaimer: Not mine, etc. Not making money, etc. Please don't sue, etc.
Summary: It's summer 1997, and the fulfillment of a Vow brings about the ultimate unexpected event: Harry Potter turns to Severus Snape for help.
By Daphne Dunham
Summer involves going down as a steep flight of steps
To a narrow ledge over the water. Is this it, then,
This iron comfort, these reasonable taboos,
Or did you mean it when you stopped? And the face
Resembles yours, the one reflected in the water.
Chapter 1: Thirty Galleons
If a Muggle were watching, he or she might say there's electricity in the air tonight, a kind of sparkling, white-hot energy racing through the hall, charging every man and woman with its excitement, lighting their faces and warming their laughter. If a Muggle were watching, he or she might assume that the gathering—with all its mead and stout and jokes and cheer—is part of some holiday merriment, although Christmas has long since passed, or birthday festivities, although all in attendance consider themselves far too dark and dignified to partake of such childishness. If a Muggle were watching, he or she might scarcely begin to guess that all this revelry is for a reason quite the opposite, that it is the celebration not of life, but of death.
"Begged for mercy, did he! Begged for his life!" the heavy-set man laughs wickedly, his attention set exclusively on the tall, blond-haired teenager to his left. "Begged a Death Eater!"
The boy nods slyly, trying to uphold the cool, confidence, and callousness his father toiled so long to ingrain in him. Nonetheless, a certain excitement bubbles just below the surface of his haughty grin: secretly, he enjoys the attention, the praise, the credit for being so instrumental in accomplishing a task the great Dark Lord himself failed so many times to complete. It's a heady thing for a boy so used to being overshadowed by Harry Potter at school, and only so long will he be able to hide his pleasure at their chorus of praises—only so long will he be able to pretend to be modest as he repeats the story that causes them to sing, sing it loud: All hail Draco Malfoy, accomplice to the murder of Albus Dumbledore!
"That's right," Draco sneers, his chest puffing rather more than usual beneath his robes. In a pathetic whimper, he does his cruelest imitation of the headmaster, recounting the older wizard's last words for the amusement of the crowd around him. "'Severus, please,' he said—crying like a baby, like he was in love with Snape or something. Pathetic old man. And Snape did it. Avada Kedavra and the old man was dead. Pathetic."
The crowd laughs uproariously at the notion. By the twos, by the threes, by the dozens they snicker and jeer: There's Alecto Carrow in the corner, clutching her sides from giggling so hard; by the doorway, Peter Pettigrew has his tankard of stout raised in cheer; Fenrir Greyback lets up an approving growl from the window. They listen with perverted satisfaction and monstrous delight as Draco continues to regale them with the tale of his genius plot to murder their master's nemesis. Naturally, the boy adds the appropriate embellishments where necessary and neglects the less-complimentary details whenever possible. He tells them with great pride, for instance, of how he bullied Mr. Borgin into fixing the cabinet that emptied Death Eaters into the school and of how he'd been so brazen as to duplicate Dumbledore's Army's means of coin-based communication to command Madam Rosmerta. What he ignores is the frequent assistance he received from Crabbe and Goyle, the near failures of the necklace and the mead, and the fact that he'd almost succumbed to Dumbledore's persuasion in those final moments at the Tower.
Draco is so taken with his altered history of his exploits—as are the Death Eaters around him—that it escapes his notice that one among the lot is not as captivated as the others. Somewhere in the shadowy outskirts of the room, not far from the emaciated figure preparing needles and across from the plump, half-clad wench being pressed against the wall, stands Severus Snape. And behind him, a set of delicate, well-manicured fingertips tap him gently on the shoulder. Startled, the hook-nosed wizard snatches at the hand that has touched him, twisting the owner's wrist swiftly and breaking contact as he whirls around to face the owner of those foreign fingers: he's been a soldier, a spy, for too long now not to take the defensive when facing the unknown.
"I thought you knew better than to sneak up on me, Narcissa," he says as he finds himself face-to-face with the mistress of the house. Slowly, he lowers her arm and releases her from his grasp. Narcissa accepts her hand back, rubbing her wrist a moment as though to make sure it's not hurt. Finding it satisfactorily painless, she lets it drop to her side.
"I've been looking for you, Severus," she tells him solemnly. "Even in closed quarters, you are quite difficult to find, you know."
"Only when I do not wish to be found," he replies. He nods over his shoulder then, in Draco's direction. "Your son seems quite taken with his newfound fame," he observes grimly.
"Yes, he does, doesn't he?" Narcissa agrees, though not with pride. As she looks at her son, the cool, painted porcelain of her face washes over with disapproval of Draco's arrogance, with visions of him behind bars in Azkaban, in a cell adjacent to his father. She looks back up at Severus and tries to force a smile. "You deserve just as much glory," she assures him softly, sympathetically. "It was you, after all, who—"
"There is no glory in cold-blooded murder, Narcissa," he says coldly, his coals of eyes flickering dangerously.
Narcissa withdraws, humbled. "Why yes, Severus, of course you're right," she apologizes hastily. "Forgive me, I only meant that…" Her voice trails off sadly, and she looks at him with wide, weepy eyes. "I only meant to thank you. Thank you for what you done—for protecting Draco and keeping your Vow—for bringing him home tonight. You have saved my son's life, Severus, and I can never repay you."
Severus eases; this is precisely the kind of sentimental tripe he has come to expect from women over the years, but the thought of his own mother and the desperation she'd shown to protect him in his childhood soften his stare. "I'll have to flee, you know," he tells her quietly, too embarrassed by her gratitude to acknowledge her thanks. "By morning, my name will be on posters and in headlines from Portsmouth to Hogsmeade."
"What will you do, Severus?" Narcissa asks. "Do you have a place to go? If there is anything I can do… anything I can offer you…." There is an evocative undercurrent in the saccharine of her voice as she adds the last phrase, and as she speaks, she steps closer to him and places a hand on his arm. Leaning into him, she nestles the pink patch high on her cheekbones against his chin. She moans softly; Severus can feel the warmth of her breath on his cheek as she sweeps her lips closer to his. Before she can humiliate herself further by kissing him, though, he turns away.
"Your husband is my friend, Narcissa," he reminds her, not entirely without kindness.
Narciss retreats a step, lowering her head shamefully. "I-I… Thank you, Severus. Not all men would…" she whispers shakily, her cheeks now burning bright. "You won't tell Lucius, will you? No, of course you won't; I know you won't."
Severus looks back at her, grasping her shoulders to steady her. "I have a place to go," he says in a concerted effort to regain the focus their conversation.
"Where? Abroad?" she demands, rather more eagerly than she intended. "Will you be safe from the Ministry?"
"I will be well hidden, I assure you," he says smoothly.
Narcissa nods, blinking away tears. "You'll leave tonight, then?" It's a question that requires no response, as the urgency of Severus' situation leaves little room for an alternative. Because of this, she doesn't wait for him to say something before she starts rummaging through her robes. From an inside pocket of her robes, she removes a small, emerald-colored velvet satchel. "Here, Severus," she murmurs, pressing it into his palm. "It's not much, but it's all I have with me. If you need more, send word to me somehow, and I'll provide anything that you require."
"Narcissa, it's really unnecessary," he protests, finding her gift more condescending than anything else.
"And Draco's broom," she continues willfully, ignoring him. "It's in the shed outside—take it; you won't be able to use magic to travel for fear of the Ministry."
"Please," she insists, folding his fingertips around the satchel despite his assertions. "It will make me feel better, if nothing else."
It is only with great restraint that Severus does not smirk: only a Malfoy could be so self-centered as to consider her personal interests after all he has risked for her. "Very well, then," is all he says.
Narcissa watches as he tucks the satchel into his own robes without counting its contents. When she is satisfied that he does indeed intend to keep her contribution to his escape, she forces a melancholic grin. "Be careful, Severus," she urges, squeezing his hand—the same hand that she took nearly a year ago when she begged him to make the Unbreakable Vow that lead to this moment. Narcissa stands on tip-toe now and presses her lips to his cheek in a brief, chaste kiss—a kiss of thanks, of farewell. Then she turns and starts making her way through the crowd, heading in the direction of her son.
For a moment, Severus watches her, the top of her golden head easily distinguishable among the room of black-clad witches and wizards. It isn't until he hears a low, serpentine drawl beside him that he looses her.
"No celebration for you, Severus?"
At the sound of Dark Lord's voice, bristles form across Severus' skin, and his muscles tense from foot to neck and across his arms. Slowly, he faces his master. "My lord," he murmurs, inclining his head in a deferential half-bow. He takes the Dark Lord's bone-white hand and brushes his lips against the hard, icy knuckles. When he looks up again, Severus subtly avoids the Dark Lord's blood-red eyes. For so long, he's maintained that it's a sign of respect for the great Dark wizard that he doesn't look directly upon him; in truth, though, it's to help him, to help him guard his feelings as he practises Occlumency.
"Why you are not joining in the revelry?" the Dark Lord continues. "It is, after all, for you."
"Yes, my lord, I thank you for your beneficence," the younger wizard replies. "I apologize for not joining the festivities; I have much on mind."
"The Ministry?" There is an unmistakable note of mocking in the Dark Lord's tone; his scorn for the establishment is no secret.
"Yes, my lord," Severus replies. "Albus Dumbledore may not have been a friend of the Ministry, per se, but that doesn't mean they'll be content to let his murderer roam the streets of Britain at will either."
The Dark Lord nods in agreement. "You have outdone yourself, my most loyal of servants," he tells him. "Anything you desire, you may have."
"You are very generous with your praise and your gifts, my lord," Severus replies, half-bowing once more. "I shall leave tonight, if you find this agreeable."
"I do," the Dark Lord consents. "You have a plan, I assume," he adds, glancing at the route Narcissa had taken when she left Severus mere moments ago. The implication of the Dark wizard's words is difficult to misconstrue. The unsubtle leering in the lava of his eyes and the suggestive inflection in the hiss of his voice make it quite clear that he suspects—no, expects—some type of unholy dealing between Severus and the absent Mrs. Malfoy. It would make him only too glad to see the destruction of Lucius' marriage after the incident with the Prophecy last year; the Dark Lord had hoped Draco might be the conduit through which he would have his revenge on Lucius, but the boy's semi-success tonight against Albus Dumbledore has foiled this hope. Encouraging Severus to pursue Narcissa, he thinks, might be an acceptable alternative.
"Narcissa knows nothing," Severus tells him coolly, trying to deflect the Dark Lord's debauchery from her. "She has graciously provided me with some… resources. But that is all."
The Dark Lord's eyes are shrouded with a shadow of disappointment. "I see," he says flatly. "You do not require further assistance, then?"
"No, my lord," Severus replies.
"And if I have need for you?"
Unconsciously, the young man brings his hand to brush the spot on his left forearm where they both know his Dark Mark rests. "You have your usual means of contacting me, my lord."
A sly grin slips across the pale lips of the scarlet-eyed wizard. "Very good, Severus," he says slickly. "You have served your purpose well, and even in your splendor you have not forgotten that you are my servant." There is a sense of finality in his words, which unmistakably indicate that their conversation has come to a close and that the man before him is dismissed.
"Thank you, my lord," Severus says again, genuflecting and pressing his lips to the Dark Lord's knuckles once more. As he drops his head, he feels the latter's eyes, hot and boring, on his skull. His master is curious, suspicious; he wants to know how Severus feels in the aftermath of Albus Dumbledore's death—to whom the young man was being loyal when he uttered the Killing Curse that sent the headmaster over the ramparts—and where he now intends to flee. Sensing this, Severus buries his thoughts; the Dark Lord will kill him if he discovers the truth—what's more, he will kill her. And while he offered on countless occasions this past year to renege on his Vow and forfeit his life in order to save the headmaster, he cannot risk her life; he will not see another die because of his mistakes.
Stone-eyed and placid, Severus stands. He is unreadable in this state. Only Dumbledore was keen enough a Legilimens to penetrate the boundaries of his Occlumens mind. Nonetheless, he refuses to take the chance that his concentration will waver and turns to leave. He does not look back as he slips from the hall, sliding out a nearby side door and into the foyer. If the Dark Lord is still watching him, scarlet eyes burning with curiosity, he does not know, does not care.
The broom shed of Malfoy Manor is a rather impressive structure compared to most. Its walls are high, proudly displaying the wealth of brooms owned by the family. Antique brooms, valuable brooms, treasured brooms—like the one Lucius rode at school when he lead the Slytherin team to four house championships in a row and the platinum-plaited one that is rumoured to have once belonged to Grindewald—are mounted behind glass like trophies. Sport brooms—which range across a broad variety of models and years—are lined neatly against the far wall. Special occasion brooms—the ones adorned with jewels and intricate carvings and intended for stylish travel to events like weddings and parties—are kept stacked in boxes on the right. And on the left there are everyday brooms—the family's brooms, the most used and frequently replaced items in the shed.
Even amongst this dramatic display of wealth and waste, it doesn't take Severus long to identify the object of his search: Draco's broom, the new Firebolt he received for Christmas, propped up beside Narcissa's somewhat more modest Nimbus model. It is a handsome broom, and doubtlessly Draco will be most displeased when he discovers its absence in the morning. Severus can only begin to imagine what monies Narcissa will have to consent to lavish on him to make up for the injustice of his Firebolt's robbery. But Severus can't think of the boy's selfishness now; there is no time to spare in his race against the Ministry, and he's done enough for Draco's sake tonight. Unceremoniously, he seizes the boy's broom and exits the tool shed.
Outside, the breeze blows cool; it is only early summer, and the day's heat is quick to fade by this time of night. A gust rustles Severus' robes, tattered by the drama of the night, while he mounts the borrowed broom. As he moves to straddle the handle, an obstruction within his robes distracts him. Narcissa's satchel of money, buried where he had placed it in an inner pocket of his clothing, presses uncomfortably against his hip. Remembering the bundle, Severus pauses a moment to move it, its ties loosening in the process.
In the moonlight, the emerald satin lining of Narcissa's satchel takes on a different hue; it seems more of a putrid green—a green of sickness, a green of decay. So too do the coins within seem different. The golden Galleons look more silver in the shadows; there are thirty of them, Severus counts: thirty pieces like silver. A wave of nausea sweeps over him at the thought, at the realization of the pittance he has been given in exchange for the innocent life he took. This is blood money, dirty money, cursed money. For a moment, Severus is quite convinced he's going to be ill; then, he goes the only thing that he can do—that he should do. With trembling hands, the hook-nosed wizard reaches into the satchel. Handful by handful, he hurls the Galleons at the broom shed door with nothing but the purest loathing. The coins scatter the across the steps, making dull thudding noises against the stone as they drop.
With savage satisfaction, Severus turns away from the tainted Galleons. In his next breath, he'd darting up from the ground on Draco's broom, flying faster and higher than the boy ever dared to fly it. He jets over the roof of Malfoy Manor, beyond the horizon, above the clouds into the stark, dark cold of the sky until his black, black robes and frozen soul blend with the atmosphere, making him nothing more than another piece of the night.