Disclaimer: This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling who created and, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and settings elaborated herein.

Thanks to my reviewers and especially to my previewers, Bellegeste and Cecelle.

This fic is a sequel to "Who Lives in Disguise". It begins immediately after Snape's escape in HBP. As we know little of the inner workings of an Unbreakable Vow, I've chosen to assume that it exerts a magical compulsion on its maker.

Ignoring the blood seeping from three great rents in the shoulder of his robes, Severus Snape snarled at the other three Death Eaters.

"You incompetent idiots! Your bungling brought the castle's defenders down on top of us. How many have we lost?"

"Aylett and Haddon were still fighting when we left," Alecto volunteered, after a dubious glance at her brother.

"Gibbon's dead. I saw the body." Augustus Goyle shook his blond head. "And Greyback and Yaxley were down. Not dead, I think."

"You think? Five possibly dead or captured and the rest of you seen? Imbeciles! You'll all have to go into hiding immediately until our master summons you. I'll make the report on this unmitigated disaster."

Three sighs of relief, for none of the three wanted to face the Dark Lord with news of failure, and two pops later – the Carrows had Disapparated together – he turned on the miserable boy beside him and hoisted him erect with one hand.

"Lower your shields, boy, or I'll rip your mind apart," he snapped.

"You – you killed –"

"Yes, I did the job you were too weak to perform. Look at me." Black eyes burned behind two wings of greasy hair.

Draco averted his head.

"I – you can't. I know Occlumency, I – I won't show you." The headmaster offered to save us. He could have saved us. If Snape sees that!

"Do you think your feeble skills can keep me out?"

Draco forced his shoulders straight. Malfoys didn't cower.

"They did till now," he muttered.

"Idiot boy! You were under my dear employer's protection. Do you think I couldn't have ripped your plans out of your mind, if I hadn't wished to keep my cover with the old fool?'

"You – you can't. There's no time. The Dark Lord will be angry that you kept him waiting." He gulped down rising bile. Letting the Dark Lord see those memories would be even worse.

"He won't begrudge me fifteen minutes to collect the stragglers, if any make it out." As he spoke, the dark man forced up Draco's chin and glared into his eyes. "Will you show me or must I make you?"

The boy gulped and all resistance crumpled. His aunt was wrong. Snape was not weak; he was not foolish; and, above all, he was not incapable. And if he threatened to rip one's mind apart, he meant it. He dropped his shields and let his godfather ravage his most recent memories.

Draco, Draco, you are not a killer … a clever plan, a very clever plan …"

"I got the idea from the Mudblood Granger … I've got to do it! He'll kill me!"

"I can help you, Draco. Come over to the right side … We can hide you … your mother likewise …Your father is safe in Azkaban …It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters "

Snape's hand moved from Draco's chin to his trembling arm, the thin fingers gripping like a pincers.

"Stay behind me," he said. "Don't stand up or speak unless spoken to and if you and your mother both survive the night, I trust you'll remember who compassed it."

Draco's mouth dropped open. Was that a promise?


The Dark Lord was alone but for Nagini, who hissed and slithered past Snape and Draco to the door.

"Severus. You have news for me."

Snape kissed the Dark Lord's hem and rose from his knees. Five paces behind, Draco pressed his face to the floor and waited.

"It is done, Master," Snape said. "Exactly as you predicted."

Draco's eyes widened. What? As he predicted?

Unheeding, Snape continued, "The Vow led me precisely where and when I was needed, not a moment too soon – or too late – and the old fool, believing in me to the last, is dead by my hand."

Flat nostrils flared and red eyes gleamed.

"And Greyback?"

"Dead or captured, I assume. Goyle saw him fall as we escaped the castle. We waited fifteen minutes at the designated meeting place, but he didn't turn up."

Voldemort's mouth curved up smugly.

"How – unfortunate." For him. "Then it is up to me to appoint his successor, as per our agreement. Wulfrem seems malleable enough, if a trifle inexperienced. The werewolves have sometimes needed a little help in coordinating their operations with ours. Perhaps he could use a liaison assistant. You'll be pleased to be rid of Wormtail, won't you? It's about time I had some use out of that hand I granted him."

Snape bowed.

"You are most gracious, my Lord."

"Our other – painful losses?" That slitlike mouth was not made for smirking.

"Gibbon is confirmed dead, three more apparently dead or captured, and I've sent Goyle and the Carrows into hiding. They were seen."

Voldemort shrugged, his eyes on the man's bloodied coat.

"They'll keep. You're injured?"

"A few paltry scratches, my Lord. Hagrid's hippogriff attacked me as I ran. Hagrid himself was occupied with his burning house."

Lamplight gleamed off bone-white skin. Voldemort's mouth curled higher.

"Rubeus Hagrid? How very fitting, to lose his home and his best friend in one night. It seems you have many pleasant sights to show me."

Obediently, his servant met his gaze.

Draco's fists clenched tighter. If the Dark Lord saw everything the man had seen in Draco's memories, death would be the best-case scenario.

"I've got back-up. There are Death Eaters in your school tonight … Right under your nose and you never noticed … He's a double-agent, you stupid old man, he isn't working for you, you just think he is …"

"We must agree to differ on that …"

Voldemort laughed out loud. Draco flinched, his innards churning.

"To the last, indeed!" Voldemort said. "What more?"

Severus … Severus … please…"

"Avada Kedavra!"

"And he actually pleaded for mercy?" Voldemort crowed. Severus allowed himself a thin smile. "He begged you to save him? The old hypocrite! I knew his fearlessness was just pretence. 'Things much worse than death', indeed!"

"Indeed, my Lord," his servant agreed.

"It's over, time to go! ... Run, Draco!"

"Incendio!" An explosive bang and a dancing orange light spilled over them.

"Fang's in there, yeh evil –!"

""Now come! It is time to be gone, before the Ministry turns up –!"

The Dark Lord laughed again.

"Excellent! You have done well, Severus. There remains only to deal with the useless spawn of the fool who wasted my younger self –"

Snape did not move, yet somehow contrived to be standing between the Dark Lord's wand and its target. Draco couldn't breathe.

"A moment, my Lord, I beg." Snape's voice was as oily as his hair. "You'll recall I expressed concern at the time over the Vow's second clause. I underestimated Narcissa's cleverness, I admit."

The Dark Lord paused.

"It's still effective, then?"

"I believe so. I feel the compulsion yet, my Lord. It seems I am still bound to the boy's protection. A most fatal weakness; punish him as you choose, but know that his demise will be mine."

Voldemort's wand hand dropped and he frowned.

"Pity. Perhaps we can persuade her to undo it."

Draco bit his lip almost clear through. No! Mum!

"She is a very loving mother, my Lord," Snape interposed. "And with a backbone of steel."

"You think she would endure torture and die in his place?" The snaky head nodded. "Very likely, the Blacks are martyrs all for a cause. No doubt you've thought of a plan?"

"If it please you, my Lord. Let him but swear an Unbreakable Vow to my protection and your service and we can safely send him to spy in my place."

Red eyes opened wide and a gash of a mouth twisted into incredulity

"You think they could be enticed to accept him, even after this?"

"Perhaps, my Lord, if he turns himself in, with information leading to the capture of some of your more expendable recruits." Black eyes met red in shared cold mirth. "Imperio is a plea that has served us well in the past and I am a ready scapegoat. Let him blame his guilt on me; it cannot increase my danger. At most, they'll throw him into Azkaban, where he'll be safe enough not to trigger my Vow. And who knows? He proved himself not completely without use in his previous task; if he argues well, they may even give him a pardon. Especially since he has not yet merited your Mark."

A single hot tear fell on Draco's sleeve before he brushed it away angrily. He'd wanted that Mark so much for so long and been so proud when Aunt Bella temporarily transfigured the skin of his left forearm to ensure Borgin's cooperation. He'd been so confident after that early success, boasting to all his friends on the train, taking care not to let them see by his bare arm that it was a reward to be earned, not an honour already bestowed. Now all he wanted was tonight back and the dotty old headmaster hiding his parents somewhere safe.

"Ingenious, indeed. Narcissa, meanwhile, to remain a hostage to his good offices." Voldemort pondered. "Very well. Do it now and I shall be Bonder."

Snape bowed his head.

"As you will, Master. Rise, Draco, and kneel with me before our Lord."

Draco shuffled forward, back straight but head down, and knelt down where he was shown. He didn't want this, he wanted out, but what choice was there? If he refused, it would be his mum dying in front of his eyes, in horrible, screaming agony, and himself too, if her resolution failed. No, dying from the Vow, if he absolutely couldn't bring himself to keep it, was the better option.

His godfather knelt too, grasping Draco's right hand with his own, and Voldemort stood over them, the tip of his wand touching their linked hands.

"Will you, Draco," said Snape, "be loyal and true to the one whose mercy has sheltered you this night, aiding and furthering his cause with your life, if necessary?"

"I will," Draco answered.

A tongue of red flame shot from the wand and wound around their clasped hands like the swirl of a peppermint candy cane. Draco suppressed a nervous giggle.

"Will you repay protection with protection, guarding me from all harm or betrayal for as long as my true master –" Snape's eyes flicked to Voldemort and back. The snake-man gave a nod of approval. "– or I shall desire?"

"I will."

A second swirl of flame followed the first. Draco watched it unfurl. The two flames entwined were like the necklace he'd bought Pansy for her sixteenth birthday.

"And will you do all in your power to assist me in serving my true master, keeping my secrets and performing my will without question, let or hindrance?"

"I will."

A third swirl of flame leapt from the wand to wind around its fellows, as thick as a hangman's noose.


As they landed in front of his house at Spinner's End, Snape stumbled a little. Keeping his balance by dint of leaning a little more heavily on the boy, he pulled him inside and locked the door.

"Wormtail! Wormtail?"

No answer. Good, he must have been called already. In a little while, the boy could collect the rat's few possessions and pitch them into the street, but first things first.

He lurched to the nearest chair and sat down.

"Accio Firewhisky and a glass."

They flew into his hand. He poured himself a shot and leaned back, closing his eyes briefly. He would need the salve and bandages too, but that would have to wait. His coat was too tight to remove one-handedly and Draco had a more urgent task before him.

"Don't stand there gaping," he snapped, his eyes once more open. "I need a Secret-Keeper immediately. The small, blue book on the topmost shelf behind you, Fidelius While Burners Roam; find it and start practising the incantation."

Draco stared, then jumped and turned towards the bookshelves. It shouldn't have been too hard – most of the books were bound in black or brown leather – except the top shelf was above his reach and he wasn't sure he could summon the one right book out of hundreds. Sighing, he Accioed a chair from the kitchen.

"It was all a trick," he grumbled as his hand hovered along the top shelf. "You never expected me to do it."

"If you didn't realise that till now, then I think the less of your intelligence." Another shot and another; eventually, the pain would dull to a throb.

"You knew all along what I was up to. All those times you called me in and pretended to try to interrogate me, you knew –"

"I knew exactly as much as I needed to be able to face both my masters without lying. The Vow was a set-up, on both sides. They approved it – separately, of course – before I made it. Dumbledore was playing for time – he knew his was limited – time for me to keep on spying and you to change your mind, and the Dark Lord wanted me able to plead ignorance. Both knew the Vow would drag me in at the pivotal moment and both trusted me to settle it to their advantage." His long-fingered hand clenched on the arm of his chair, but his mouth smirked. "But one of them was only fooling himself."

Draco found the book and started riffling through the pages.

"Do you feel it, Draco?" the man sneered. "Do you feel the tingle of compulsion through your veins, forcing you to your promise? It's there always, but it becomes stronger whenever action is required. It kept me in my rooms tonight till I was needed and led me to the Tower at precisely the optimal moment. In its own way, as effective as sipping Felix Felicis, only much more long-lasting."

Draco shivered, but he didn't take his eyes off his book. He couldn't. Ah, here was the spell. He began conning it feverishly, his wand hand practising the unfamiliar moves with surety and grace.

"The Dark Lord is a master manipulator. He knew exactly what to tell your mother and your dear aunt to send them haring off to me. And then I sprang the trap. Your aunt was so obligingly predictable, I barely even needed to hint them in the desired direction. Of course, she also insisted on training you for the task," Snape continued. "And you followed her lead, declining my proffered assistance, enabling me to tell my dear employer with utmost truth that you refused to tell me your plans."

The boy scowled at him briefly, then returned to rehearsing the incantation under his breath.

"How delighted Bellatrix will be to learn that she was so essential to my success," Snape mused aloud, his thin lips still resolutely smirking. "How pleasantly surprised to discover her part in cementing me in the Dark Lord's favour. I must remember to tell her some time."

The Firewhisky was almost gone. He poured another shot. The boy could not betray him now and, once the Fidelius was performed, he'd have an impregnable safe haven. Neither Dark Lord nor Aurors nor that pestilential brat of Dumbledore's adoration could find him here. And the girl? That blasted know-it-all child who, by now, must know what he'd done since leaving her. Would the plan hold? Did she trust him still? She could wait. She'd have to.

A/N The Legilimised glimpses are from HBP, chs 27 and 28, "The Lightning-Struck Tower" and "The Flight of the Prince". The quote, "Things much worse than death," is from OotP, ch 36, "The Only One He Ever Feared". The Unbreakable Vow is based on the description in HBP, ch 2, "Spinner's End".

Canon doesn't specify whether the Death Eaters that invaded Hogwarts were masked. It would seem logical that they were, but descriptions like "four people in black robes", "brutal-faced man", "the spell hit him in the face" seem to imply otherwise. Just to be on the safe side, I've had Snape say they were "seen" rather than "unmasked".

I've chosen to identify the huge blond as Goyle Senior (a first name of Augustus is not canon), even though he seems far more competent a fighter than one would expect any progenitor of Gregory to be, and Amycus and Alecto as the Carrow twins. Thanks to Red Hen's careful scrutiny of the fight scene that Harry chased Snape and Draco through, I've assumed the existence of two extra unidentified Death Eaters, who were fighting Ron and Lupin while Ginny fought Amycus, Minerva Alecto and Tonks the blond (Greyback and brutal-face, whom I've identified as Yaxley, had already been Petrified) and I've named them Aylett and Haddon.