“Kill me, then. Kill me like you killed him, you coward –” Harry Potter panted. He was lying on the ground, his wand several feet away, looking up at the greasy haired, sallow-skinned face of his potions master. Severus Snape had his wand pointed at Harry, with a look of pure hatred in his eyes. Harry was not scared, he was angry.
It was no secret that the enmity between Harry and Snape had been absolute since Harry had first set foot in Hogwarts nearly six years ago. Harry’s dislike had turned to contempt last year when Snape had goaded Harry’s godfather, Sirius, into going to the ministry of magic where he died. But tonight Snape had crossed from loathing to pure hatred. He had murdered Dumbledore. Not only would Harry never consider forgiving him, he was quite ready to kill Snape. If only he had his wand . . .
Snape’s expression had changed. Suddenly his features were demented, inhuman, and he looked as if he was in pain. “DON’T CALL ME COWARD,” he screamed.
Making a slashing motion with his wand, Snape’s spell caused Harry, who had just started to get up, to feel something white-hot and whip-like hit him across the face and he was thrown backwards again. The fall knocked the wind out of him, he could not move. Laying on the ground once more his vision was obscured by something, and he heard a rush of wings. The hippogriff, Buckbeak, was flapping his wings and clawing at Snape.
Snape turned and ran as fast as he could for the gates to the school grounds, Buckbeak chasing after him. Once he was off the grounds he could Disapparate. He’s probably going to tell Voldemort that he succeeded in killing Dumbledore, Harry thought furiously as he crawled around on the ground. If he could find his wand quickly enough perhaps he could catch Snape before he could Disapparate. As Harry’s hands closed over his wand handle, he knew that it would be too late. The murdering git had escaped. Turning towards the entrance to the grounds Harry saw Snape grab hold of someone with blonde hair. Malfoy had waited. In the blink of an eye the pair disappeared.
The deed was done; the dark lord would want to know straight away. The gates were in sight. If he could just get there quick he would be able to Disapparate. The hippogriff was still giving chase, but it had not been able to get close enough to continue clawing him, and with only a few feet left to traverse before he could disappear, Snape was confident that he would not have to feel the beast’s claws on him again. He flew past the winged boars and into the lane that lead to Hogsmeade. There, waiting for him, stood Draco Malfoy. Without a word, Snape grabbed Draco’s arm, and the pair vanished with a small pop.
Seconds later, they appeared hundreds of miles away with another pop. Gone were the mountains that surrounded the castle. Snape and Draco now stood at the bottom of a hill staring up at a large manor house. Many years ago, it had been a fine house, the largest for miles, with wide, sweeping grounds that were kept immaculate. The manor house had once been the pride of the small village of Little Hangleton, even if its owners were not. But now the house, having been empty for more than fifty years, had fallen into decay and disrepair. The roof was nearly bare, many of the tiles having fallen off. Much of the house was covered by overgrown ivy. The little not covered showed peeling paint, and more than a few broken windows.
“You should not have waited.” Snape said angrily to Draco as they began to ascend the hill, their robes whipping in the wind. “You can Apparate, I believe. You should have left.” Draco muttered that he didn’t have a license. “In this situation, that is unimportant. The dark lord cares little for that sort of bureaucracy. If all goes well here and you are spared, it would be wise for you to remember that.”
“Is . . . .is – I – I –it likely to go well?” Draco asked tremulously, looking at Snape. “I mean . . .. He’s dead isn’t he? Wasn’t that the whole point of the mission?” Draco’s voice and demeanor would have been unrecognizable to anyone that knew him. Gone were the drawl, the sneer and the cocky attitude. His body was shaking so much he could hardly walk, and when he spoke those few words he sounded as though he were seven instead of seventeen.
“The end result was what the dark lord desired. However, he wanted you to do it. It is impossible to say what his reaction will be,” Snape replied trying to calm himself. He was still quite angry about his altercation on the Hogwarts grounds. Potter, the insolent, arrogant – how dare he call Severus Snape a coward! If only he knew . . .
Draco shook a little less at Snape’s words. He was sufficiently calm to look around for the first time. When his eyes took in the appearance of the dilapidated house they were approaching, he felt disgusted.
“Why does he want to meet here of all places?” he asked a little of the familiar sneer coming back into his voice.
“That also is unimportant. It would be extremely foolish to ask such a question,” Snape spat. “As a follower of the dark lord you should know not to question such matters. If he wishes us to know he will tell us. You are risking the cruciatus curse, at the very least in asking about matters that do not concern you. In fact, I would caution you to keep your mouth shut unless directly addressed. Your inability to do so is what landed you in this stupid situation in the first place.” The look that Snape shot Draco was venomous. “I thought that you had more sense,” Snape sneered, and then added, “You are becoming more like Potter every day.”
Draco did not comment on this, but he fixed Snape with a contemptuous look. Quite apart from his own dislike of being compared to the boy who lived (he inwardly scoffed at the name) it was common knowledge that comparing someone to Harry Potter was the worst insult Snape could think of.
Their approach was being watched. From a window on the second floor another robed figure looked down upon them. The figure’s hood was up, but the white, flat snake-like nose, and gleaming red eyes were clearly visible. At the moment his eyes were flashing angrily. Lord Voldemort had been expecting their arrival for some time now. This tardiness was most displeasing. For their sake, they better have good news.
As Snape and Draco approached the house the front door opened. No one stood on the other side. They walked in and it closed behind them. The stairs stood before the duo. They began to ascend. The dust here was thicker than it had been three years previous when the old Muggle caretaker, Frank Bryce, had climbed to his death. Light from a fire was flickering in the room at the end of the hall. Draco followed Snape towards that light. As it got bigger, his sense of foreboding increased.
Crossing the threshold of the room Snape and Draco laid eyes on their master for the first time. His eyes were gleaming scarlet, showing fury. The slit-like nostrils of his flat nose were wider than usual. They fell to their knees automatically and made to crawl forward to kiss his robes, as was required of every Death Eater upon meeting with their master. This evening, however, Lord Voldemort did not have the patience for this custom.
“Get up!” They immediately rose, but remained silent, waiting to be addressed. “Well?” He asked impatiently when neither was forthcoming. “What news have you of that Muggle-loving old fool?”
“He is dead, master,” Snape said, keeping his head bowed, not meeting those scarlet eyes. He still had not sufficiently calmed down from his altercation with Potter to chance it.
“Is he?” Voldemort asked quietly. His scarlet eyes flashed again. This time, however, he seemed pleased.
He had indeed been hoping that this plan would succeed and the old fool would at last be killed. The young Malfoy had seemed eager to join the dark lord’s ranks. This was, as the Muggles say, a way to kill two birds with one stone. The first was to grow his army, and perhaps get rid of the thorn in his side that was Dumbledore. The second was retaliatory.
Lucius had not only failed in his mission to gain the prophecy, when faced with six teenagers, but because of his blunder the idiots at the ministry had learned that he, Lord Voldemort, had returned. Lucius needed to be shown what a failure of that magnitude cost. Thus the dark lord had given the task of disposing of Dumbledore to Draco, expecting that the boy would have no chance, and would be killed in the process. No great loss by all accounts. If, however by some stroke of luck the mission succeeded than the old man would be out of the way
“Well done, Draco. I am pleased that you were able to accomplish this difficult mission. In future you shall be rewarded with greater and more challenging tasks.” Voldemort turned his back to stare out of the window, down into the graveyard that had been the scene of his rebirthing.
Draco was staring at his feet. Before coming face to face with Dumbledore he had little doubt of his ability to commit the murder should he get the chance. . He did loathe the man after all. But when Draco had reached that tower, and successfully disarmed the so-called most powerful wizard ever (thank you very much!), the headmaster had been so kind to him that he found he couldn’t do it. Dumbledore, who from his appearance seemed to be teetering on the brink of death, had shown his would be killer mercy. He had offered to hide Draco and his family so that the dark lord would not be able to kill them when he, Draco, did not complete the task that was set for him.
Draco had never experienced such behaviour in his life. He was on the verge of accepting when Greyback, Amycus and Alecto had burst through the door onto the tower. He had delayed too long in making his decision. Then Snape had burst onto the tower and with little thought had shot the killing curse at Dumbledore.
“I – I didn’t,” Malfoy said in a small voice. Voldemort turned to stare at the frightened teenager.
“You didn’t?” he asked, his eyes narrowing. The task had not been completed as he had ordered? “You did not complete the task that I set for you?” Draco shook his head. “Tut, tut, Draco,” Voldemort said in a quiet, calm voice. “”Have you forgotten the conversation we had about the consequences of not completing your mission?”
Draco shook his head. The calmness in the dark lord’s voice caused the teen to resume trembling. He was sure he knew what was coming.
“It seems that dear Narcissa is going to be all alone in Malfoy Manor. Draco you really ought to have taken your orders more seriously.” Voldemort raised the wand that he held in his long spider-like fingers, “AVADA –”
“MASTER, WAIT,” Snape called. Voldemort looked at Snape, not lowering his wand.
“What Severus?’ He asked, turning those scarlet eyes to the man standing before him, his slit-like nostrils flaring again. How dare Severus interrupt him!
“I killed Dumbledore,” Snape said, meeting his master’s eyes for the first time.
Voldemort’s fury now turned from Draco who, having so narrowly escaped death, had sunk to the floor, to the one that had so far been his most useful servant
“You? You saw fit to take this task on when it was made clear to all of my Death Eater’s that Draco was to do it. Did you take issue with my plan Severus?’ The Dark Lord’s scarlet eyes were burning into Snape; his voice was barely more than a whispery hiss.
“No, my lord, of course not –” Snape began, not lowering his eyes.
“Then why did you feel the need to disobey them?”
“Narcissa Malfoy asked me to see that the task was fulfilled. She guessed, correctly it seems, that her son would not have the ability to murder Dumbledore,” Snape said still staring directly into those angry red eyes. In spite of his abject fear, Draco was able to fix his former professor with an angry look
“I see,” Voldemort said coldly. “And exactly how many others seem to have an issue with following my orders Severus?”
“I do not know, master.” Snape looked down for the briefest second.
Voldemort was now in a towering temper. He was flitting around the room, his black robes billowing behind him. The dark lord’s anger did not bode well for the two Death Eaters before him.
“Who else knew about this little back up plan?” Voldemort fumed. His voice was now starting to rise, a sign that he was likely to curse someone soon
“Bella was our bonder,” Snape explained. Yet more unwelcome news to the dark lord.
So, thought Voldemort as he continued to stride around the room, anger pulsating through his veins. Draco, Snape, Narcissa and even dear Bella had decided to disobey him. They would need to be reminded what happened to those who did not follow orders.
Yet, the plan had succeeded. Dumbledore was dead. This meant that he was clear to pursue some of his grander plans. The dark lord would not be too vengeful to his followers. Despite their sudden need to be independent, they had been successful. Some of his anger dissipated.
After another minute or two he turned back to Snape and Draco.
“Very well, they shall be dealt with in due course. Despite certain neglect of the plan, it was no less effective. You two shall be spared.” Draco stopped shaking and sighed in relief, Snape merely bowed again. “If –” Voldemort continued, ” – you can give me useful information on Harry Potter.” He turned to Snape. “You have taught him for six years Severus, surely you know something about the boy.”
Snape’s lack of useful information on Harry Potter had thus far been an irritation to Voldemort. With the old fool Dumbledore out of the picture, there was no more excuse . . .
Snape raised his gaze. The fury that he had been attempting to contain came back in full measure. Had he not been able to control his temper he might have foolishly spat out that he couldn’t see why the dark lord was even bothering with the boy.
“Potter is an arrogant, no talent little prat who gets by on luck and by sponging off the skill of others. He –”
“Silence.” Voldemort waved his hand, and Snape immediately fell quiet. “I am not looking for another of your diatribes on Harry Potter. I want information Severus. Do you have anything useful? Anything that will help get to the boy?”
Snape remained still for a few minutes; hatred still etched on his face, and then shook his head. “Nothing new that I can think of at the moment my lord,” he said quietly.
“Very well. I shall give you some time to think about it. I expect to see something useful from you two, or I may have to reconsider whether you are worthwhile to keep in my service.” Voldemort’s face spread into a wide, mirthless grin, his flat nose, and nostril slits giving him an even greater likeness to a serpent.
“Thank you for your kindness master,” Snape said. He and Draco bent again to kiss the hem of Voldemort’s robes.
“Oh yes,” Voldemort said slowly. He pointed his wand at the two figures kneeling at his feel, “Crucio!” The duo writhed in agony. Voldemort watched them for a minute, as though bored with the proceedings. Then he lifted his wand. The pair lay there panting, Draco wincing in pain. “That is just a taste. It will be worse if you fail me again. You may go.”
With another wave of his wand the two were on their feet. They left the room, walked down the stairs and out of the house, the door opening and closing without their help as it had when they first arrived.
Lord Voldemort watched them walk away from the house and then Disapparate. They had better be of more use this time. He would rather not have to kill Severus, as he had been quite useful. And the boy, given a little time, might be even more useful than his father.
Yes, they had better dig deep and find some information that would be of use in getting to Harry Potter, the boy who lived. Voldemort scoffed at the name as Draco had done. True, he had not succeeded in killing him yet, but now with Dumbledore out of the way, and the boy’s coming of age in just a few weeks . . .
He looked down at the graveyard again. It was there two years ago that his plan had gone awry. The boy had escaped him yet again. But now, the tide was turning in Lord Voldemort’s favor.
Voldemort smiled again and let out a high, cold laugh.
Harry Potter would certainly not live to see his eighteenth birthday . . .