They didn't believe him. Harry Potter sat across the table, clutching Dumbledore's last instructions in his hands. Snape had known they would never trust him but Dumbledore the old, dead, fool had truly believed that they would accept Snape as having acted on his (Dumbledore's) orders.
It was time to leave, before things got nasty.
The Order watched silently as Snape's billowing robes whipped around the corner for what, they hoped, would be the last time.
Harry found and destroyed the last Horcruxes and defeated Lord Voldemort during what the wizarding world now refers to as 'The Final Battle'. Unfortunately the battle cost Harry his magical strength and as he lay powerless Lucius Malfoy was able to curse him. Harry died instantly as did Ginny Weasley beside him.
Ron Weasley, driven mad by grief and anguish set out to track Malfoy Sr. down and kill him. Hermione Granger, distraught at losing her three best friends, dropped out of Auror training to study Chemistry with Potions at Cambridge University.
Most of Voldemort's followers were rounded up and locked away. A select few were allowed to stay free on the proviso that they live the rest of their lives as Muggles and never ever do magic again. Severus Snape was one such wizard. He was one of the "lucky" ones.
It was raining outside Snape's house, as it often did on the coast of Wales in winter. Not that Snape noticed or even knew this because he was, at that moment, brewing an illegal sleeping draught in his hidden underground dungeon. Or rather, he was attempting to brew one.
Snape scowled heavily into the blue, gloopy, soup-like concoction in his cauldron. In his former life as a teacher he would have given any student who made such a mess straight detention, but now he had only himself to blame.
Damn lacewing flies! He'd known they were over-ripe but he had no choice other than to use them. Decent potion ingredients were hard to come by, especially when his only willing dealer was Mundungus Fletcher. Damn that thief! How dare he sell Snape sub-standard goods? They were meant to have a deal.
Mundungus took the potions Snape brewed in secret and sold them on the black market, keeping 54 of the profits for himself, buying the ingredients for next month's potions with the rest and giving whatever money was left to Snape as payment. There was generally very little left over. In fact there was far less left over than there should be even if Mundungus had bought from a top-line apothecary which he hadn't. Obviously the filthy mongrel was lining his own back pockets while spitting into Snape's. Snape brooded over his possible choice of tongue-biting words for when they met as he watched the last of his useless sleeping draught swirl lumpily down the sink.
Far above his door bell clanged loudly. That would be Mundungus now. Snape composed his face, scrubbed the last of the blue from his cauldron and moved smoothly up the stairs to open the door.
It was not Mundungus. Snape hadn't bothered to check before he threw the door open so it came as quite a shock to him when, instead of Dung's dirty overcoat he saw two sleek and very wet other people on his doorstep. They were so out of context that it took him a moment to recognise them, but there was no mistaking that hair.
Narcissa and Draco Malfoy fell in the door.
Draco was breathing heavily and staggering under the weight of his mother who appeared to be unconscious. He was pale, almost blue, shivering and drenched through from the freezing-sleety rain outside. Both his arms were wrapped around his mother who, on a closer look, was eerily silver and flushed at the same time.
"Professor" Draco croaked, and coughed "Professor you have to help her! She's ill"
Snape bit back a snide comment on this very obvious piece of information (he'd somewhat overcome the initial shock of their ghost-like arrival) and moved briskly to take Narcissa from Draco's grasp. He carried her into the warmest room in his house, the kitchen, and laid her rag-doll body on the table. Draco followed.
Snape looked Narcissa over. No visible sign of a curse that might do this to her. No outward animal bites, though there might be one under her clothes somewhere. No pock-marks to suggest re-occurring illness. Nothing really to suggest why she might be unconscious, but Draco was speaking again.
"I brought this, I found it beside her and I thought it might help…"
He held a tiny crystal vial and handed it to Snape, who lifted off its stopper and wafted it under his nose cautiously. "Aging potion" he said in surprise "Why was she taking it?"
Draco shrugged, as surprised as Snape. Snape turned the little bottle over in his hands. Beautiful workmanship. Probably unbreakable. Style… maybe twenty years old? Yes, there was the manufactured date, nineteen years ago. Definitely a custom-made piece. Forty-five, maybe fifty millilitre capacity. Forty-five millilitres would provide enough aging potion to age a person, maybe six years? Snape caught Draco staring at him.
"Your mother will be fine. She's doubtless withdrawing from twenty years of aging potion"
He lifted one of Narcissa's blue-white hands to check her pulse and was unsurprised to find her arm deathly cold. He noticed that Draco too was shivering and that a pool of icy water had dripped onto the kitchen floor from his cloak.
"Stay here and get rid of those wet clothes. I'm going to go find you both some robes"
Snape left the room and went up two flights of stairs to his parents' room. He hadn't been in their part of the house for years. His father's muggle clothes still hung in the big cupboard and his mother's in the walk in wardrobe. Snape, not wishing to linger, pulled out a nightie from his mother's chest-of drawers and tugged a shirt and drainpipe trousers from his father's.
By the time he got back to the kitchen Draco had stripped to his underclothes and had taken off the wettest of Narcissa's garments. He pulled on the trousers and top appreciatively and draped his mother's nightie over a chair. Snape left the room long enough for Draco to finish undressing Narcissa and to pull the nightdress on over her head.
Together they carried her limp form up the stairs to a guest room. Snape discreetly checked the mattress for insects and made up the bed with musty bedclothes he found in a dank airing closet. Must remember to spring-clean everything sometime. Together they heaved Narcissa into the bed where Draco tucked her in. He seemed reluctant to leave the room until Snape set up the ancient monitoring system his own mother had used when he was a baby. It would alert them to any difficulties Narcissa may be having and would sound an alarm if anything drastic happened, like if she got up and started to walk about. The ministry officials who seized his magical possessions had overlooked it in their haste.
Snape led Draco to his sitting room, the same one where barely three years earlier Narcissa had begged him to save her son. It was ironic but still Snape didn't allow himself the luxury of a small smirk. Instead he told Draco to sit in an armchair opposite the fire and offered the boy – well, man really – some elf-wine. His last bottle of it actually. Thankfully Draco declined, saying he wasn't overly fond of drinking anymore. Snape made them tea instead.
He had five or six different types of tea in his cupboard and picked out Classic Blend as the best to settle nerves. It should be served with Rich Tea biscuits, MacVites brand preferably, and they had to be the long thin ones instead of the round ones because round ones don't fit the cup properly. But Snape hadn't been paid yet, nor had he particularly wanted to face the weather outside to go shopping so there weren't any biscuits. Not even the round ones. He decided he'd make Earl Grey instead.
Snape allowed his mind to wander as the kettle boiled. The Malfoys, he knew, had been placed under the same magical restrictions as he, Snape, had been. That meant they were allowed no magic, no spells, no magical equipment and no potions whatsoever. Violation of this article would result in immediate imprisonment. The reason Draco risked life and limb to reach Snape's house when he could have gone to a nearby healers was becoming clearer. Snape was a man with significant healing abilities who would (probably) not turn them over to the authorities. What Snape wanted to know was how Malfoy got here without violating said law. He put the question to him as he walked back into the sitting room.
There was an embarrassed pause in which Malfoy sipped his hot tea.
"I drove" he muttered eventually.
Snape did smirk this time. "You drove? A Muggle car? Why, Draco, I didn't think you had it in you."
"I had to drive!" Malfoy said defensively. "There was no other way to get here. I drove for three hours straight and then we had to abandon the car because the wind blew us off the road. I had no choice. I carried mother six miles up the valley road in the rain. I thought she was dying and I couldn't think where else to bring her other than to you…"
Only for the pounding rain there would have been no noise in the room. Draco drank the rest of his tea in several gulps and then sat staring at his empty cup awkwardly. Snape drank his slower, savouring its hotness and sweet taste. He stared at Draco, taking in the pallid skin, pinched cheeks and bags under his eyes. It looked like being a Muggle wasn't suiting Draco any more than being a minion of the Dark Lord had done. He felt slight pity for the boy, somewhere far down in his stomach, and stood to leave.
Draco looked up. Snape stared down his nose a moment then said,
"You may sleep here by the fire tonight. Move a settee closer if you want, and if your mother isn't better tomorrow I'll set you up a guest room. There should be blankets at the back of the wine-closet. Goodnight."
Snape glided in his usual manner out the door, carrying the two expensive china tea-cups carefully in one hand. Draco didn't bother asking why (on earth) Snape had blankets at the back of his wine closet. He was just too tired to care. Gratefully, he dusted off the thickest shrug of the pile and wrapped it around himself. Seven and a half minutes later he wouldn't have been woken by a rampaging hippogriff, if one had cared to enter the room.