Disclaimer: The characters of course belong to J. K. Rowling
Thanks to whitehound for britpicking and helping me with some language issues
The Rat and the Spy
"I don't see why you should pretend to be the lord of the manor," Wormtail said, a slight shiver in his squeaky voice. "This place isn't exactly a castle."
"I only asked you to make me a cup of tea," Snape replied, "and I'm surprised to hear that you don't approve of my humble abode. Rats usually like it. There's a small colony out in the back yard that would provide plenty of company for you. One would have thought that you would feel quite at home here."
He was sitting at the kitchen table, which he often used as writing desk, bent over a large book, which lay open in front of him. He had a quill in his hand and scribbled down notes on a piece of parchment as he read.
"I'm not your house-elf!" Wormtail said.
"You're quite right," said Snape, looking up from his work. "You're not a house-elf. You are vermin and as such you're being treated exceptionally well. The usual way of dealing with your kind is to set traps or put down poison. But as you live here for the time being and as you aren't exactly my guest, I think it only appropriate that you do your share of the domestic duties, however reluctant and lacking in talent for it you may be."
Wormtail tried to conjure the vision of Snape hanging upside down, exposing his ridiculous, pale, thin legs and old underwear to half of Hogwarts.
"The Dark Lord has put me here to keep an eye on you, Snivellus!" he said.
It never worked. He simply could not say it. James and Sirius had taken that name and thrown it like a dart straight into a bull's eye, but when he, Wormtail, tried to do the same, the throw lacked all force and direction and landed nowhere near the target.
"Or he has put you here for me to keep an eye on you," said Snape. There was a malicious glint in his eyes, but otherwise he seemed neither angry nor upset. "The Dark Lord is perhaps of the opinion that you and I, the traitors, would have a lot in common. After all we call each other by the names given to us by our long lost friends, or rather, your long lost friends. So touching of you to remember them, by the way. Weren't you supposed to be making tea?"
Snape turned his eyes from Wormtail and back to his book, and Wormtail reluctantly started to boil some water.
He had thought about telling the Dark Lord about the way Snape treated him, but then, some days ago, the Dark Lord himself had turned up at Spinner's End and he had not objected when Snape had sent Wormtail to get this and to do that, rather he seemed to approve of it.
The sound of his silver hand touching the kettle raised his spirits somewhat. Those shining fingers where the sign that he was indeed the Dark Lord's most faithful servant. He had given a part of his own body so that the Dark Lord could restore his flesh and bone and could return to full power. That must count for something. Bellatrix's stay in Azkaban had maybe been painful to her but of no benefit to the Dark Lord, and Snape had turned up two hours late at the graveyard at Little Hangleton after his comfortable years as a school master, claiming to still be faithful, whereas he, Wormtail, had actually done something for his Lord. Whenever he had the opportunity he used to polish the hand to make it shine even brighter. The hand did not impress Snape, though. He seemed to take no notice of it; only once had he commented on it and then he had said: "It's a shame this household is so sadly devoid of silver, as polishing it seems to be one of few things you really have an aptitude for."
"This is a gift from the Dark Lord," Wormtail had said once, "for my faithful services to him." But Snape had just sneered and returned to reading one of those books he always was reading.
Always reading! The sitting-room walls where covered in books, from the floor up to the ceiling. Wormtail had never been much of a book-reader himself and he hated these particular books, as they contributed to the claustrophobic air of the house and as he had once been told to dust them. It turned out nobody had done so for years, possibly not even for decades. He had almost coughed his lungs up and afterwards he had been covered in a thick layer of grey dust himself.
The bookshelves hid two doors. Behind one of them was the staircase that led up to the first floor where his and Snape's bedrooms where located. Whenever Snape had a visitor, Wormtail put his ear to that door hoping to overhear the conversation. He was looking for something that would incriminate Snape, something that he could bring the Dark Lord to prove that Snape was not after all the faithful servant and devoted Death Eater that he pretended to be.
During a visit from Albus Dumbledore Wormtail had tried to make out what he and Snape were discussing. Unfortunately he had not been able to hear a thing. The sound of their voices was drowned by a buzzing sound that came from his own head and he had cursed it silently when it happened. It ran in the family. His father had suffered from tinnitus and so had his grandfather. Now he had got it himself and he was only thirty-six years old. He did not suffer from it all the time, but as soon as he put his ear to a door the ringing started, it seemed. Perhaps he only noticed it then, as those were the only times when it made any difference. Why was he the one to age so early? Sirius spent twelve years in Azkaban, and still when he had shaved and washed his hair he was handsome. Lupin had grey hairs and weary wrinkles in his face, yet you could see that he was quite young and even Snape, who in some ways seemed oddly ancient and had harsh, bitter lines around his mouth and between his eyebrows, possessed an energy that did not belong to an old man. And James was forever young, of course. But Wormtail was balding, plump and had the carriage of someone many years older than he was. To this he could now add tinnitus.
He had heard nothing of the conversation on the other side of the door, but he had persisted, hoping that he would finally catch some phrase of importance. Too late had he heard the footsteps that were approaching. He had had no time to react before the door had flown open and he had tumbled to the floor. He had stared into a pair of black boots fearing that one of them would soon trample his face to pulp.
"Ah," Snape had breathed softly, "Wormtail. I was just going to call for you. I had no idea you would be so... close. I need you to do a few errands for me. Here's a list."
Wormtail had crawled to his feet and brushed the dust from his clothes. He had tried to smile and be obliging. "Of course, of course," he had said. "What is it you want me to do, Severus?"
"Just a few things I need from one of the Muggle shops in town," Snape had said. "I'm so glad to see you so eager to help." He had smirked and then his dark eyes had bored into Wormtail's. "I hope you found my conversation with Dumbledore interesting. It may also be of interest to you that the Dark Lord is fully aware that I am seeing Albus Dumbledore. In fact I do it on his orders. Remember, Dumbledore thinks I am his agent and that is the way the Dark Lord wants it to be. Nothing you have heard tonight is news to the Dark Lord, in case you were going to convey it to him. I have nothing against you doing so, but I just want to warn you: you might be making a fool of yourself. Not, I imagine, that that would be any news to our Lord either."
"I... I don't understand... wh-what you are talking about...," he had stammered. "I... I have heard... nothing." That was the truth, at least.
"Don't lie to me, you pathetic little rodent!" Snape had said. "I know perfectly well what you have been doing and if I ever catch you at it again, you will be very sorry indeed. Now shove off and get me those things!"
He had tried to eavesdrop transformed into a rat as well, but he had been no more successful then. Not even as a rat had he been able to hear a thing. The buzzing sound had filled his head and left no room for other noises, and he knew it was useless anyway. Snape was a double agent. He was supposed to be two-faced and ambiguous. Unless Wormtail had something that without any doubt could prove that Snape was in fact disloyal to the Dark Lord he had better hold his tongue, otherwise the Dark Lord would perhaps show his displeasure and Wormtail did not want that to happen.
Raging steam emerged from the kettle. Wormtail made Snape a cup of weak tea and put it on the table before him with a bang so that some of its contents spilled on the already stained table cloth. Snape hardly took any notice, just nodded curtly and waved his hand as a sign for Wormtail to leave the kitchen. Wormtail did so, seething.
Later, in the evening, two completely unexpected guests turned up at the door and Wormtail rather quickly got the impression that they were not there on the Dark Lord's orders. One of the guests was Narcissa Malfoy. Wormtail knew that Snape was an old friend of her husband's but as Lucius had fallen from grace with the Dark Lord recently he doubted whether it would be very wise for Snape to keep the acquaintance. He did not find it very likely that the Dark Lord would have sent Narcissa here on some mission, but what made him rule out the option of this being an ordinary visit just for friendship's sake was Narcissa's companion. Wormtail did not have any warm feelings about Bellatrix Lestrange, but he very much sympathized with her treatment of Snape. She did not think him such a trustworthy and valuable asset to the Dark Lord as some others did. Narcissa seemed distressed and she looked at Snape in an almost desperate way that to Wormtail appeared to be out of the ordinary. His curiosity was raised. Even if this had nothing to do with the treason he so longed to detect, he was determined to find out what it was all about.
Snape treated him like a servant as usual and of course he protested. He liked this treatment even less when others were present. "Wormtail will get us drinks, if you'd like them. And then he will return to his bedroom." He boiled inside. Snape spoke about him as if he were not even there and he trivialized Wormtail's importance to the Dark Lord. When he had served them their drinks he slammed the door shut behind him and went halfway up the stairs, then he silently crept back and put his ear to the door. Instead of the tinnitus buzz there was a loud bang. He screamed as he flew back towards the staircase, then he ran up the stairs in panic and fled into his room. It felt as if someone had run spikes through his head and pierced his eardrums with nails. He flung himself onto the bed and put the pillow over his head in a desperate attempt to protect himself from the pain, but it was futile. It took quite a while for it to go away and then he rolled over on his back and stared into the shadows.
He did not like his room. The bed was a lumpy double bed with sheets you could see through and worn blankets smelling like wet soil. It had obviously belonged to Snape's parents. The wallpaper had been torn in several places and had some strange spots that probably had been caused by damp. The ceiling was patterned by a net of cracks. There was a creepy feeling about the room and it was not conducive to a good night's sleep. It was as if nightmares were stuck in the very walls of the room, lived under the bed and in the closet, were wrapped up in the sheets.
He knew Snape's room was not much better. Maybe it was even worse. He had managed to enter it as a rat once. The door had been slightly open and he had taken the chance to get in. Once again he had been looking for something incriminating, but not found it. The room was smaller than his and contained a narrow bed that looked as lumpy and worn as his own, a writing desk and a small closet. And piles of books. Always those damn books! The walls were empty. No posters or pictures. He had managed to climb up the desk. On the top there was another pile of books, all about potions, it seemed, and he had been disappointed when he had found a piece of parchment lying about and realised that all that was written on it were some notes on a potion recipe. The top of the desk was full of scratches and little holes. It was old and worn just like everything else in this house. Some of the scratches looked like letters that had been carved into the wood but they had made no sense to him at all. He had not been able to open the drawers in his rat form and he had not dared to transform into his human shape in case Snape might suddenly come up there and find him. It was easier and quicker to hide if you were a rat. He had left the room without finding anything of interest. You could never get to Snape. There was nothing there to tell anything about him, except for the books, and they did not really tell anything either. It was impossible.
Wormtail lay on his back for hours and the disappointment over his own failure slowly grew into the familiar feeling of being misunderstood and undeservedly underrated. He had betrayed his friends, he had lived as a rat for twelve years, he had made huge sacrifices for the Dark Lord, but was never fully acknowledged. They all treated him like some house-elf. The friends he had betrayed had not been better, rather worse. Wormtail was always the perfect background to bring the good looks and the cleverness of James and Sirius out in relief. Without them it might have been him hanging upside down, exposed to laughing Hogwarts students and he knew that he must be grateful, but they always had that condescending tone when they spoke to and about him. It had not been that hard to betray James. They had talked so much about their friendship, of how strong it was, how important, but to him it had most of all been a refuge and now he had found the Dark Lord, who was more powerful than James Potter had ever been.
What had made it difficult was Lily. He had visited them. She had made him tea. They had been sitting facing each other across the kitchen table and she had had the boy on her lap. The child had played with a strand of her red hair. She had smiled. She had complained about the fact that they had to hide, she wanted to go out for a walk with the boy, play with him outside. "If only there were no Death Eaters in the world!" she had said. "If Harry could just grow up like a normal child in a friendly world and I'd not need to worry so much about him." And she had told him not to be sad. "I know these are hard times. So many terrible things happen. But I hope it'll soon come to an end." He had known it would. He had known she would soon die. She, James and the boy.
His thoughts returned to the present. He realised that the guests probably would have gone by now, but Snape had not come up to his bedroom yet. Maybe he was in the sitting-room, reading. But maybe the guests were still there, after all. He felt curious and decided to once more go down there, and he chose to do it as a rat.
To his surprise and satisfaction he found the door slightly ajar. The house was all silent. Cautiously he peered through the opening. He could see no sign of the guests. He entered silently and climbed quickly up one of the bookshelves and hid in the shadows on top of a row of books. The candles in the lamp were still lit, but the corners of the room were in the dark. If he kept still he was not likely to be seen.
Snape was there alone. He was not reading. He was sitting curled up on the sofa, his legs pulled up against his body, his arms held tightly around them. His forehead rested on his knees and the black curtain of greasy hair completely concealed his face. Though he would not have thought it, the sight made Wormtail feel uneasy. It was the position of the vulnerable, of the foetus, of someone who was crying. To Wormtail's relief no sobs could be heard from Snape, just strained, slightly uneven breathing. Apart from that breathing he was entirely still. Wormtail did not dare to move either. He was terrified of what might happen if Snape caught him.
He realised that this might be the very moment he had been looking for all these weeks. Snape had never acted anything like this before and Wormtail reached the conclusion that this behaviour must have something to do with the visit that had been paid to them earlier that night. He realised that this might be the longed for crack in the solid, black wall of Snape's facade, something that might look suspicious to the Dark Lord and make him question Snape's skill and loyalty. Excited, he took a deep breath and realised that he had not done a good job dusting the books after all. His nose was filled with small, irritating particles and he could not help it. He sneezed.
Snape looked up. The black eyes turned towards the shelf. Wormtail saw immediately that Snape had seen the rat and recognized him. Scared, he waited for the spell to hit him. He looked into Snape's eyes and was even more frightened. He stared into the darkness of them. It led him deeper and deeper into endless tunnels; still, at the same time, it was impenetrable.
They kept looking at each other, he could not tell for how long, then Snape's lip curled into a sneer. He said nothing, he just remained sitting on the sofa in that odd position, the only difference being that he held his head up. After a while he finally moved. He put his feet on the floor and stood up. He walked towards the door and on his way he passed Wormtail, who was cowering on the shelf. Snape left the room and Wormtail could hear his footsteps on the creaking stairs and the door to his bedroom slam shut. Then there was silence.
He started to think about what he was going to tell the Dark Lord. "Mrs Lestrange and Mrs Malfoy came to visit...". "Snape sat in a strange position on the sofa." He could not think of any information to bind these two statements together in a way that would seem convincing, though, even if he tried hard. His heart sank and before his inner vision he saw the Dark Lord's long, white fingers reach for his wand, raising it, pointing it at him, Wormtail. And he saw, as vividly as if it had been for real, the Crucio flaring in the Dark Lord's scarlet eyes. He sighed and decided to go to bed.