Chapter 43 – Dark Minds in Dark Times
Despite a great deal of meticulous planning, there really was no way that Snape could tell what each new day would bring. He dared not make any further contact with the Order, as his presence at the side of his master was now being requested with alarming regularity, and now he was beginning to ask himself when the time would come that his continuing loyalty to Albus Dumbledore would be brought to light. If it happened too soon, then his death (painful or otherwise) would almost certainly occur seconds later. He couldn't say for sure if there would ever be an ideal moment, but whatever hope there was rested largely on the shoulders of Harry Potter. As much as he despised the boy, he couldn't escape the fact that he was relying on him to do the right thing. Snape didn't especially like having to rely on anyone, least of all a young wizard whose volatile and rebellious nature could very likely spell the end for both of them.
Another thought that concerned him greatly was the whereabouts of Malfoy, something the Dark Lord had refused to disclose, and Snape knew perfectly well that this wasn't because Malfoy had managed to escape. Wherever the boy had run to, Snape could only hope that he too was capable of doing the right thing.
In the meantime, he could at least be thankful for the small mercy that he was back in his own house. The fact that he was unable to enjoy the comfort of familiar surroundings alone was something he would simply have to endure.
"Wormtail, if you will insist upon casting your shadow in my living room, I would appreciate it if you do so in silence. It may yet be possible for both of us to pretend you're not here."
The wizard referred to looked up from the mass of tattered parchment and paperweights over which he had been whining and muttering to himself for the better part of an afternoon. Though he clearly resented being spoken to in such a way, his appointed task had given him an evident sense of superiority.
"And what exactly is your solitary comfort when compared to the Dark Lord's will?" he scoffed, "You were ordered to assist me!"
These, thought Snape, were the kind of words that could end in a serious disagreement. No matter though; there were very simple ways of crushing such delusions of grandeur. In this instance, all that needed to be done was to show that the words had been heard and taken to heart. He set down a cup of herbal tea, rose slowly from his armchair, and advanced upon his unwelcome companion. Wormtail was doing his utmost to return his attention to his research, but the dark and heavy gaze of Severus Snape was not easily avoided.
"Despite the numerous death threats you have received from our master, Wormtail, I can assure you that you are safer in his presence than in mine. He does not kill you because he has found you to be annoyingly useful from time to time."
Swooping down upon the man, like an eagle on its prey, he continued, watching the fear growing in Wormtail's eyes.
"I, on the other hand, have yet to see such worth in you, if you get my meaning. As for the Dark Lord's will, I only wish you realised how little you understand it."
He lingered for a moment for these words to take their full effect. He would not have chosen to be in this situation at all, and having such a cowardly imbecile for company only made matters worse. As he turned away, however, it appeared that the conflict had not been brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
"I have shown Lord Voldemort more loyalty than any of his followers!" Wormtail shrieked.
Though he considered further social interaction with this creature to be beneath him, this was clearly a notion to be addressed. He turned on the spot and fixed the man with a stare of cold contempt.
"Mr Pettigrew," he said, in the kind of slow, disgusted tone he would have normally reserved for an unruly first year Potions lesson, "You had a choice of facing a life in Azkaban or seeking out the protection of the most powerful Dark wizard ever known. It was fear that inspired your decision, and it is with that same blind fear that you obey orders without question. Loyalty does not enter the equation. You know as much of loyalty as Lord Voldemort knows of compassion. And before speaking in such a manner to me in my own house, I would beg you to remember that you would have surely died four years ago, were it not for my intervention!"
Peter Pettigrew had never even been a leader of rats, never mind wizards. He had led his life clawing at the heels of those who stood in the limelight. In this way, he had followed and admired James Potter, Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. In this way, he had been swayed by the Dark Arts, and in this way, he had been pulled into the service of Lord Voldemort. Every time he had been put down and stepped on by those above him, he had endured it in the hope that all his bowing and scraping would earn him handsome rewards in the end, but somewhere at the back of his mind lurked the sneaking suspicion that he would eventually crack under the strain. As Snape slowly turned his back once more, he believed that time had come. Voldemort was a wizard whom he wouldn't dare challenge, but no longer could he bear to be belittled in this way by a mortal. He quivered with furious indignation and felt his hand reach for his wand, almost as if it had a mind of its own. Feeling the presence of a wand tip poised to attack him, Snape spun around with his own wand drawn and sent Wormtail flying against the wall behind, to which he became bonded as if with unusually strong glue. The Potions master walked slowly towards him, never blinking, his wand aimed constantly at the petrified man's head.
"How…dare you!" he seethed, "Rest assured, if you raise your wand to me again, it will likely be the last thing you ever do. You may not be facing the Dark Lord, but you are trifling with a man who is every bit as capable of ending your pathetic existence! Do I make myself clear?"
Wormtail was on the point of nodding his reply, when a devious smile spread across his features. Snape only needed the briefest moment to question this before lowering his wand and watching his target fall unceremoniously to the floor.
"My Lord," he said quietly, bowing his head a little.
From the shadows of the hall, a pale, emotionless face emerged through the doorway, surrounded by heavy black robes. The face glanced from one to the other, and finally rested on Snape.
"Severus, my trusted servant," said Voldemort in his inimitable blood chilling voice, "If this hapless creature hasn't already explained the nature of his research, allow me to emphasise that it is of the most paramount importance to all our futures. Though I would not condemn you for wishing him dead, I must ask that you give this task your full attention."
Snape nodded humbly in acquiescence, as the Dark wizard slowly turned his head.
"As for you, Wormtail," he continued coldly, "I will allow this most upright of Death Eaters to deal with you as he sees fit if you should fail me now."
Wormtail couldn't meet his master's eyes. Instead, he bowed low repeatedly and muttered his assurances that such a measure would not be necessary. Voldemort ignored him and settled himself in the armchair that Snape had vacated, before finally addressing the two of them.
"There has been a rather interesting development," he began, "It appears that I have partially underestimated the companions of the young wizard I seek to destroy. Following the arrival of the Dementor guards at Hogwarts, I am told that three of their number perished at the hands of a witch who came to his rescue, and from what I can tell, one who was evidently wise beyond her years. An impressive feat to be sure, though needless to say, I cannot have such a reckless young lady running free. Mr Potter must be lured out of hiding very carefully indeed, and the absence of his cherished mentor is no reason to believe it will be any easier. Mistakes, gentlemen…will not be tolerated."
The Dark wizard vanished into thin air before he had even finished rising to his feet. Wormtail, very much aware that his greatest protection was now absent from the room, remained seated on the floor as Snape took his place at the table and gazed over the scattered mass of faded historical documents. He wasn't so much trying to derive meaning from what lay before him as asking himself the most important question of all. The question was easier to examine if worded in the way of a Daily Prophet reporter. How far would, or could he go to serve a villain whilst protecting a hero? Hero. Snape hated that word. There was a time when he understood a 'hero' to be one who overcame insurmountable odds by virtue of their own hard-earned personal strengths. Harry Potter wasn't a hero. If he emerged triumphant, he would doubtless be hailed as one, but personal strength would be of little matter when compared to blind luck and the unspoken deeds of those who stood in the shadows. The whole idea made him feel sick, but something told him that another encounter with Voldemort would expose the boy for what he truly was; either a true wizard or an unfortunate corpse.
His attention returned to the task in hand, realising that he would need to be prepared for the worst at every moment.
"Julianne Ygadrir…" he murmured, vaguely aware that Wormtail was now vertical, "Reported life time exceeding one hundred and forty years, practiced her arts with daughter Pandora…no, there must be more to this. Nearest approximate year of passing seems to be ten seventy-two, but this depiction in ink…could have even been in the time of Hopkins…and how to account for the remaining centuries…?"
He glanced momentarily at Wormtail, who was hovering beside him, still dusting himself off.
"Quite how you gave our master the impression that you had a firm grasp of the facts is quite beyond me," he muttered, resuming his teacher's air.
"I'm perfectly capable, thank you," was the short reply.
Snape raised an eyebrow and sighed, his eyes never leaving the table.
"Hardly riveted to your studies, were you? One of your many problems, Pettigrew, is that you never appreciated the wealth of knowledge that Hogwarts had to offer you. You should never dismiss the ability to learn effectively from historical sources, but then again, I suppose becoming James Potter's lapdog was so much higher on your list of priorities."
Casting a far more critical eye over the scrolls that lay weighted down, it was most worrying how easily the wheels in Snape's head were turning, and just how easy it would be to give the Dark Lord the information he required.