Title: Accounts Past Due
Age-Range Category: Four
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Severus Snape, others
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Summary: Taking the Dark Mark is not the only youthful indiscretion that comes back to haunt Severus. When an old debt comes due, Severus is forced to choose between his own peace of mind and giving someone else a second chance at life.
Although she had been a woman of ordinary prettiness in life, Severus had to admit that Maya Wardley made an uncommonly lovely corpse. As the line of attendees shuffled passed the open casket he found himself clutching his hands in his robes. It was a gift of Death, he decided. Death's finality had imparted to her a poignant stillness she had never possessed in life.
The woman could never sit still and the only thing able to make her willingly stop talking was the Dark Lord's presence. THEN she knew well enough to shut up. He was not now, nor had he ever been, a fan of mindless chatter. Case in point was the woman next to him who knew wisely to keep silent. Still at the time, he had needed Maya's mindless chatter. The distraction of her incessant buzz not to mention her easy virtue had helped him coral his sanity, kept it locked and penned securely in place when all it had wanted to do was make a break for it and disappear past the far horizon.
For that alone he owed her.
But she had not married well.
As he and his companion returned to their previously vacated pew, his eyes skimmed across to the desolate man sitting in the front row with a little girl by his side. Maya's widower was stringy and pallid, a weedy-looking mouse of a man whom the Daily Prophet obit said worked for a branch office of the owl post as a mail sorter. But since the paper had also reported the elimination of that office a few days later, he wondered if the man had any current employment at all.
He thought of the powerful men she'd entertained in her younger days — because her affections had certainly not been restricted to just him. Walden Macnair. Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange (since Bella had never hexed Maya, he assumed Madame Lestrange had not been squeamish about sharing her husband or brother-in-law with her friends), Augustus Rookwood, Benjamin Yaxley. All of them were forceful, formidable mages whose magic suffused the very air around them. This man had the look of a bureaucrat who spent too many weeks stuffed in his paper-packed office like veal. His funeral robes were all but threadbare and barely pressed, whether because grief had left him unable to pull himself together enough to summon a straightening charm or because he couldn't afford new robes, Severus couldn't say. He would not be surprised if the latter were true. Even his shoes still showed signs of scuffing although Severus guessed that a valiant effort with a polishing charm had been made. His eyes slid briefly to the little girl. She seemed presentable enough. Her hair, the same soft brown of Maya's own hair, was neatly pulled back into two braided pigtails on either side of her head. Some kind soul, because he couldn't imagine her wreck of a father managing it, had put her in a sweet little dress of white, with white tights and shoes, the traditional dress for children at funerals. Her soft brown eyes, again Maya's own, were wide, sad and baffled. Every so often, she swallowed as if holding back tears, and every time she did so the corners of her mouth tightened, displaying the dimples her mother had used to attract her suitors. Severus had recalled tracing his fingertips along them.
He shuddered and turned away.
As he retook his seat his companion slid in next to him, a bit too close for comfort. He leveled an irritated glare at her. It's not as if they needed to cram in. The turnout was merely adequate, hardly a cause for conserving space. The majority of mourners seemed to come from her husband's side of the family, meager though they were. Besides father and daughter, the front pew was occupied by a plump matronly woman with what would have been a pleasant face if it weren't currently screwed up with what Severus identified as anxiety rather than grief. Beside her was a man of about the same age but considerably taller and beefier than the widower. He had short-cropped steel-grey hair that looked like it was happier under a hat rather than exposed to the open air and a kindly face that was also marred with tension. His big, meaty hands, which, based on the callouses that Severus could see, seemed to denote a lifetime of manual labor, kept opening and closing as if trying to get a grasp of something vexing.
Surreptitiously, he scanned the rest of the crowd. Again, they seemed mostly from the widower's party — low-level clerks and civil service workers, some still in their uniform, which made Severus wonder if they'd had to miss a few hours of work to come pay their respects. Save him, none of the old crowd had attended. The entire group smelled of the kind of petty desperation that came from working too hard for too little money or dignity. On the robes of the uniformed workers he could spot the embroidered brand names of shipping companies whose offices lined the docks of Navigation Alley. Other robes bore name tags with the logos of the counting houses of Numeric Alley. And he could have sworn he saw one or two caps from the green grocers and bakeries along Basic Alley. He took another subtle glance at Maya's widower. His robes lacked a name tag or brand name and the cut of the worn fabric indicated at least an attempt at professionalism at one point. That and his pallor told him the man might have found an inside job, probably another Ministry post or perhaps a Gringotts-related position. The worn fabric told him it was definitely a low-level position with little future at best and no cushion for extras — like an unexpected funeral. He kept his expression carefully neutral as he forced down his distaste and something darker. Is THIS what Maya had fallen to?
For a brief instant the memory of his father's funeral and his mother's flashed across his mind's eye. Tobias Snape's funeral, the denouement of a death Severus had happily hastened along (and which the local court had fortuitously ruled self-defense thanks to a timely magical assist from Lucius Malfoy), had been held in a similarly tatty little chapel. He remembered peeling plaster walls, patched glass window panes and cheap albeit cushioned folding chairs. The heat had been stifling, the turnout had been poor, the meager flowers already wilting, and the afters consisting of thin, sugary punch in plastic cups with stale cold cuts and cookies served on paper plates.
Severus' grandfather, Rev. Silas Snape, a fire and brimstone sort, had preached the funeral, frequently tossing baleful looks at Severus and his mother as if wishing he could conjure the fires of hell to consume them both right then and there. Thankfully, Severus had been too concerned with his ailing mother to care what the man was saying or doing. Eileen Snape had been catatonic through the whole thing. She could move and walk if you urged her up and pointed her in the right direction. She could eat and drink if you held the cup to her mouth and fed her the food. But she could neither speak nor gesture. It was as if his father had somehow taken her with him when he'd died.
She also had not married well.
As if under Imperius, he rose and sat, rose and knelt, and gave the responses as the service required all the while lost in memory.
His mother's funeral had been glaringly different.
He had taken his mother and fled to the Malfoy estate. To his everlasting gratitude, Lucius had actually issued the invitation and welcomed them both with open arms. Even today, he was never sure just how much Lucius' welcome had had to do with the Dark Lord's request that his newest minted Death Eater be fully supplied to meet Lord Voldemort's potions requisitions with minimal delay. While he'd certainly have cause to suspect ambivalence on Lucius' part after his mother's death, to this day he couldn't pinpoint even one instance of resentment from Lucius, or indeed from Lucius' wife Narcissa, over Eileen's brief sojourn there. Lucius had dearly loved his mother, he recalled.
Eileen's funeral had been held in the Malfoy family chapel, a gloriously Gothic space of soaring stone arches and sparkling stained-glass filtered light. Her coffin had been beautifully fashioned from gleaming, polished oak, whose cushioned interior had been lined with soft satin. Narcissa had apparently stripped the Malfoy family's greenhouses bare to supply the riot of lilies and roses. Most generous of all, the service had been conducted by a minister from the local Adorant church, a denomination that somehow managed the improbable feat of staying on the Ministry's good side with respect to Muggles and Muggleborns while yet resisting the anti-Slytherin prejudice that seemed to be infecting so much of their society. He would be forever grateful for that. Given his own preferences, Lucius would have chosen the family chaplain to preach the service. But, given Eileen's ill-fated marriage to a Muggle and the clergyman's virulently anti-Muggle sentiments, that hardly could have turned out well. The pews had been packed with purebloods, not just the core of the Dark Lord's inner circle, like Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange, but others as well including Augusta Longbottom and Helena Prewett. Even Bathilda Bagshot had hobbled her way in.
Severus had sat in the front pew with Lucius on his right and Narcissa, tightly clutching his cold, trembling hand, on his left. He'd neither wept nor sobbed, but the tears had come nevertheless. Graciously, neither Malfoy took notice. Those had been the last tears he'd shed until Lily's death.
Maya had taken him to bed that night.
It hadn't been the first time nor would it be the last. But from that point on she became something of a steady companion for him. Her bed became his soft place to land whether he needed to celebrate after a successful raid or commiserate after a failure. It was only after he'd turned on the Dark Lord had he realized just how much Maya had saved him from becoming a complete monster. Killing in arguably honorable combat was one thing. Compared to modern Muggle jurisprudence, Wizard law and custom was refreshingly retrograde on that score. But the debaucheries that happened afterward, the tortures, the rapes — confined to the inner circle and hidden from the rank and file — were kept at a distance for him because he was known to prefer Maya's bed. Not even the Dark Lord had pressured him to join in since he was routinely hopping into a pureblood woman's bed. And the association had been further advantageous. Maya was Bella's friend and Bella was the Dark Lord's undisputed favorite. Having Maya's good regard muted Bella's tendency to sniff out and eliminate potential rivals. Bella never turned on Maya because, Hufflepuff that she was, Maya's loyalty was unshakable, her magic was never strong enough to rival Bella's and Maya was smart enough to never test Bella. Instead, Maya played the class clown, the boon companion, the happily subordinate hanger on. Maya made him laugh and forget all about blood and terror and eternal retribution. Maya had helped keep him sane.
He bowed his head as if in prayer, hoping that no one could hear his teeth grinding. For all her sins, she had deserved better than this, this tatty send off. Without thinking he grabbed his companion's hand, gripping it tight. From the corner of his eye, he saw her head jerk around in surprise before her gaze turned speculative. Her hand squeezed back as she settled back into her pew and returned her now subtly smug gaze to the funeral program.
Demeter Spencer was prettier than Maya. Where Maya's hair was merely brown, Demeter's was a particularly alluring — and, he suspected, potion-enhanced — shade of blonde that complimented her skin tones rather fetchingly. She had a sweet, trim figure that she showed off in the leg-baring skirts and tailored jackets that Muggle business women preferred, although today she was sensibly dressed in sedate, dark robes. He had to admit she had a sharp wit and pragmatism that appealed to his own innate cynicism. And she had so far managed to seduce him into having afternoon tea with him on a regular basis — although for him, regular meant anytime her request matched a timeslot with no student detentions, staff meetings, or potion-critical moments.
True, she had a habit of crossing and uncrossing her legs that drew his eye to her shapely ankles and up from there. And he quite appreciated the way she'd lay her suit jacket aside and lean over just enough to give him an enticing glimpse of the cleavage that usually lay demurely covered under her jacket buttons. And more often than not, her fingers would brush his or she'd lay a hand on his arm while making a point or laughing at some sharp observation about their colleagues.
But they spent much of their time hashing out the budget for Slytherin House (something he took full advantage of; playing nice with the school accountant could only add up to more funds for his house), or sitting quietly doing paperwork. It was a pleasant time. As a graduate of the Cornwall Institute for Practical Magic, Demeter had none of the house prejudices that came with a Hogwart alumnus. To her, Slytherin was simply a name — although he had no doubt that had she been born with a full measure of magic she would have landed in his house without a second thought. She neither despised him on principal nor constituted a threat to him.
And in the year of the werewolf he sorely needed any respite he could get from any corner.
Still it had been enough for the other faculty to notice although they hadn't yet figured out how to twit him on it without getting hexed. And hex them he would. For the headmaster had seen fit to hire his old nemesis to teach defense against the dark arts.
The shameless hussy had been pursuing him all year. He had no idea what had put the notion into her head to get him into her bed but now that he looked around at this pathetic little gathering, he finally had an idea.
She wanted to marry well.
Abruptly, the corners of his mouth began twitching. The notion that HE was her target almost made him laugh out loud. And then suddenly he WAS, although he swiftly turned it into a semblance of a coughing fit. His companion turned to him in concern and began briskly patting his back to ease the spasm. He waved her off, not unkindly. The mingled looks of annoyance and sympathy from the other congregants faded back into attention to the interminable service.
It was too absurd for words, really. She considered HIM, the double-crossing, double-agent Death Eater to be a good marriage prospect? He drew a shuddering breath to will away another laughing fit. Maya would LOVE this. She always DID get a good joke. He missed her.
He could imagine what she would have said if he could have told her. So what are you waiting for? It's not as if you're going to do any better anytime soon. If you were, you would've done it by now. Look at me. Look at my widower. Do you really want to end up coming home to the female version of that?
He snorted at his imaginary Maya. She's not even a Hogwarts alum. You know what that means don't you?
Of course, his imaginary Maya countered. But it's not like a respectable full-powered witch will have you. You know what they did to me after the Dark Lord fell.
He did know. Not at first. He'd been too consumed by shock and grief over Lily and the urgent need to safeguard her son to give thought to anything else. In the months, nay year, later when he was finally able to think about other things, Maya had already been hung out to dry.
Lucius had mentioned it in passing. She'd been tried and convicted by the Wizengamot — not for murder, treason, rebellion, dabbling in the Dark Arts, use of the Unforgivables, or any of the other crimes the Death Eaters had been convicted of. She had been damned for merely associating with them. And for that, she'd had her wand broken and her magic all but destroyed. Oh she'd escaped Azkaban and even full squib-dom but for someone who had graduated as a full-fledged witch from Hogwarts, it was a devastating humiliation. Her family, anxious to stay on the Ministry's good side and to convince the world that Maya's Death Eater loyalties were an aberration rather than the result of their own collective preferences, turned their backs on her. Severus couldn't imagine anyone, even light-hearted, always laughing, devil-may-care Maya not feeling that.
She couldn't even make a decent living, not with her diminished magic. The only reason she had escaped lifelong probation was because they could curb her magic. Werewolves had wolfsbane, the convicted had Witherwitch. That fiendish little potion was taken monthly, sometimes daily, to block full expression of her magic. She had to take it for life and the Ministry would be monitoring her to make sure she did. That last was really just a petty humiliation. After a year of taking it, no one's magic would come back. There was even some evidence that it withered away the magic that was passed on to one's children, making them squibs or all but.
He spared another look at Maya's daughter. The poor thing was snuffling now, snot running down her nose along with the tears. Beside her the plump matron was holding out a handkerchief and clucking anxiously. The girl's presumed father was oblivious. Other than her mother's dimples, brown eyes and brown hair, the child was as weedy-looking as the father. Maya had always been, not fat or even muscular, but of a normal, average, healthy weight and vitality. He couldn't tell if the child's stringiness was a result of heredity or that damned potion.
He wished he could examine her, or better yet let Poppy do it. It seemed wrong that he as a potions master couldn't have done something to help Maya escape the potion's effects. It felt wrong that he couldn't have done something, anything to help her way back when.
The thought was illogical, he knew it. Back then he would have been useless in that regard. Despite his service to Dumbledore, he'd only just escaped Azkaban himself. Furthermore, he was convinced that had Dumbledore not made him potions master at Hogwarts, he would have been forced to swallow that potion too. In his case, it would have been a death sentence. The potion could only work safely — although "safe" was loosely defined — on wizards of average magic. Those who were stronger, or exceptionally strong, which constituted most of the Dark Lord's inner circle, would eventually be fatally poisoned or go mad — which amounted to the same as death in his book.
He certainly wouldn't have lived long enough for the school accountant to set her cap at him.
He shifted uncomfortably. He was a fool for bringing her here. The woman could only get the wrong impression about his intentions. Yet he hadn't wanted to come alone. He had guessed that few if any of their old associates would attend. And he had been right. He was the only one. And as the only one, the last thing he wanted to do was remind anyone of her dark past. Still he would have expected that someone, anyone from the old days might have given her a hand. What would it have cost for Lucius to write a letter, make an anonymous deposit in a blind Gringotts account? She could have left the country, started over. He leveled a glare at the still numb widower. She would never have had to go crawling to such a piss poor excuse of a wizard for help.
He looked up, surprised. Said piss-poor excuse for a wizard was standing next to his pew with his weedy daughter in tow. The grey little man looked as timid and shaky as a mouse facing a cat. Behind him, the plump matron and the steel-grey haired man looked equally anxious if less likely to topple over in a strong wind.
Briefly, he looked around. The pews had all but emptied. Demeter stood next to him, her exit blocked by his still seated form. When had the service ended?
Pulling his dignity around him he rose to his full intimidating height and stared down his nose at the man, who gulped and backed up a pace.
"B-b-begging your pardon, professor," he stammered. "B-b-but, there's a reading — I mean a will — I mean reading of a will. Maya put you in it. So you see— " He gulped again. "We need you there, sir. That is…if…you'd be so inclined to come." He exhaled gustily and pulled out a limp handkerchief to mop his brow.
He stared in shock. Maya had a will? He was IN it? He stared at the remnants of her little household. Nothing in their manner or dress indicated anything of value to be had. This sad little funeral had been an insult. Then he froze as a chill went down his spine. Wills weren't just for bequests but also requests. Maya wanted something from him.
So his guilty conscience hadn't just been toying with him after all. It was simply giving him fair warning. Somewhere, some force in the universe hadn't forgotten his debt to Maya and now it was time to pay up.
His black gaze fell on the child before him. He only hoped he could deliver.
He inclined his head. "Lead the way."
With a steely resolved that amused him, Demeter had beaten back his attempts to send her back to Hogwarts alone and was currently waiting for him at the Leaky Cauldron. Thankfully, the reading was set not at the shabby little house he was sure Maya's family occupied but at her attorney's office in Fyleden.
Presumably, besides the lawyer, he was the only non-family member present. He sat erect in the creaking wooden chair with the faded upholstery, pulled his dignity as Head of Slytherin house around him and waited.
As he had suspected there were few bequests. The lawyer droned on and on about legal technicalities that held no interest for him. Unconsciously, his breath held as the lawyer came to him.
"And to Severus Snape, I request, in remembrance of our past friendship and my loyalty to you that you take mercy on my daughter's plight and help her regain her rightful place in my family's inheritance and the wizard world in general by using your mastery of potions to restore the full measure of her magic."
The words fell into a breathless silence.
Severus blinked. "I beg your pardon."
The attorney and widower shared a glance, the attorney's gaze clearly stating I warned you before he cleared his throat. "I'm sure you know that due to…past associations… Mrs. Bracken was required by the Wizengamot to take the Witherwitch potion on a monthly basis. You, as a potions master of course know what that does to one's magic and, frequently, to one's children."
Severus noted the lawyer cast a guilty look over to the child whom no adult had seen fit to take elsewhere. Why the oversight, Severus couldn't fathom at the moment, although he could hardly imagine it would do much good for the girl to hear that she might be the magical equivalent of the permanently developmentally disabled.
The lawyer took a breath. It was clear his attitude was in for knut, in for a galleon. "The potion has affected her daughter's magic. There IS a potion that will reverse that. However, it is prohibitively expensive and currently beyond their means. She was hoping that you as a potions master could brew it for them …pro bono."
Ah. There it was — the price of payment for retiring this particular old debt. He took in the reactions of the other adults in the room. The lawyer looked down, shuffling his papers, clearly hoping to establish some protective neutrality for himself. The widower's gaze was also down, firmly fixed on his scuffed shoes, as he held his daughter's hand tightly, his shoulders slumped under the weight of his inability to provide a better future for his own child. Seated nearby, the plump matron and her grey-haired presumably husband, stared mutely, beseechingly at him. Who were they, he wondered in irritation? An aunt, an uncle, nosy neighbors?
Abruptly he leapt from his seat and paced toward the dingy office window. "No," he said quietly.
In the translucent reflections in the window pane, he could see the lawyer nod and sigh as if this was just the reaction he'd expected. Across the lawyer's desk, the widower choked back a sob and snatched his daughter into his lap, weeping silently. The matron's face fell in anger, disappointment and disgust he noted impassively. Beside her the grey-haired man jumped up in angry dismay but the attorney jumped up with him, blocking him, hissing at him urgently. Severus could just hear the lawyer say I told you he couldn't do it, it's illegal before the man's words became unintelligible as the attorney glanced warily at Severus' turned back. Whatever else the lawyer said must have worked because the bigger man paled, turned frightened eyes on Severus and limply dropped back to his seat.
Severus couldn't help the smirk. The lawyer was MUCH more observant than he'd originally given him credit for. He subtly slid his wand back up his sleeve.
He turned to face them. Although he'd sheathed his wand, without realizing it, he'd left Death Eater persona unsheathed, sending a Dark aura through the room that caused the others to instinctively shudder and huddle together.
No wonder he was the only one of the old crowd to get the funeral notice.
But before he could speak, he stopped at the sound of the widower's voice.
"Please…please…please," he muttered as he rocked his still befuddled child back and forth. He couldn't tell if the man even realized he was speaking. The lawyer, his stricken gaze fixed on Severus, reached out a hand as if to stop his client from walking off this particular cliff.
"You don't know what you're asking," Severus said.
Surprisingly, the weedy little man looked up at him. "Yes I do," he said stoutly. "I know what you are." The man's gaze flicked briefly to Severus' left arm before returning to meet Severus eyes. "I know what you can do."
Severus raised an eyebrow at that. Somehow he'd never assumed that Maya would have told the little man much if anything about her past associates if for no other reason than to keep her husband and daughter safe.
"I couldn't help Maya," the man continued. "All I could do was give her enough of a home to stay beneath the Ministry's notice and take care of her when that foul potion made her too sick to move. And Maya couldn't help her." He squeezed his daughter tighter. Severus wondered that the child could still breathe.
"But YOU can," he insisted. "You can! I'll do anything. Just name it!"
Severus' smirk widened but he wasn't feeling it. They — no, Maya — was asking him to risk a trip to Azkaban. There WAS a potion that could reverse the effects of her daughter's weakened magic. It was fiendishly difficult to make, but he could brew it. It just wasn't legal in this country. Making it legal would blunt the impact of the penalty its counter-agent imposed and where was the fun in that? It was barely legal in other countries. Like Muggle chemical weapons or plutonium, it was a strictly controlled substance that was just as expensive in those countries that allowed it. A potions master with a solid affiliation to an academic institution could import it for research purposes. But Severus knew there was no way in the nine hells the headmaster would ever authorize that purchase. Not unless he could somehow make it appear necessary to Harry Potter's advantage or survival. And, thanks to his association with Demeter, he knew there was no way he could he hide it on the books.
He stared at the widower's hopeful face. He knew there was no way any of the aforementioned reasons would make the slightest impression on the man. He had no doubt the man meant exactly what he had said, that he would do anything to get this for his daughter. Severus shook his head. This was just TOO Mephistophelean even for him. Besides, usually the Dark Lord — or Dumbledore — played this role — with him in the widower's place. The realization made him slightly ill. "And just what makes you think that you could possibly have something that I'd want?"
He stared non-plussed as the man abruptly shoved his daughter at the plump matron, jumped out of his chair and started fumbling in his robes. His words came out in broken sentences as he searched. "Maya said…you said… way back then…you just wanted—"
Severus felt his smirk grow feral. He'd first fallen into Maya's bed after the debacle with Lily. How much had he told her, he thought frantically? And how much of it had Maya told her husband? He took a step forward, the move predatory. Like prey moving as one, the other adults pulled back and turned to the widower, hissing at him to stop, just stop talking.
"Here!" the man said abruptly. His hand thrust forward. Severus froze, his wand instinctively already in his hand. The lawyer and the others, except the child, stared down at that hand in terror. The widower was staring at him urgently, completely oblivious to anything else.
Severus' eyes dropped to the man's hand. It was a letter. He snatched it from the man's hand.
The widower dropped back to stand with the others, breathing heavily, oddly, grimly triumphant. He gestured to the letter. "She said, she said you'd need to know."
Severus glanced up at him in dark irritation. "Sit. Down."
Ignoring them, Severus tore the seal on the letter and began reading.
O sweet Prince,Well that was quite an ace he thought as he crumpled the letter.
Remember how we always said the trick of it was to enjoy the fruits of our spoils without waking up dead? Oops! I guess only one of us wins.
I'm not surprised it's you. Of the two of us, you were always the better player. Bella thought so anyway. Although she always thought she was better than both of us. I never thought she'd wind up in Azkaban. I don't want you to either but I do have one last ace up my sleeve and when it comes to my daughter I have to play it.
She doesn't deserve this. Her foolish mother yes, not her. You know this. And you can change this.
Please change this.
You don't have to go to Azkaban. You don't even have to brew it. I know what the will says. Forget that. I wrote it before I'd thought it through. Ask Lucius for the money. With Bella away and me all but a squib, you know he won't give me the time of day. He'll talk to YOU. He'll give you the money to take my girl abroad and you can get it there. It'll be completely legal. You won't even have to be on the scene. You'll never be charged.
But I need you to do this. I can't let what happened to me happen to her. You KNOW what they do to squibs. Remember old Filch? The trolley lady on the train? Stan Shunpike? I can't have that for my daughter. I can't.
I've already talked to my mother. If you can get my daughter's magic fixed, she'll let her stay on the estate. She'll be a full-fledged member of the family. All the help and support she could ever need. Her inheritance rights restored.
You can fix this Severus. I know what losing Raven's Wake did to you. Remember the night your father tried to kill you? The night he stole your magic? Remember how that felt? You were prey to anything. Even a Muggle could have killed you. If Lucius hadn't come…
Go to Lucius. If you need to, go through Narcissa.
Yes, I know it's a long shot. Since when did Lucius ever do anything for anybody that didn't have something in it for himself? You were the lone exception. So ask him for me? Please.
And I…if I had leverage on Lucius I would give it to you. You know I would. But I have nothing.
I know before he went to kill the boy you asked the Dark Lord for the mudblood's life, Severus. You told the Dark Lord, who told Bella, who told me. Of course I would never betray Bella or you. But I need you to do this for me. So. You have a week to get the potion for my daughter. If you don't, my mother has my pensieve and it WILL go to Lucius. Everything is there. You don't talk in your sleep but for someone, for a woman who's paying attention, you don't need to. Why do you think Bella always suspected you? No she didn't have any evidence. Not until you asked for that mudblood's life. And for the Dark Lord that's still not enough. But it is for Lucius. And he sits on Hogwarts board doesn't he? What would happen to your position as head of house if he thought you weren't loyal? Maybe the headmaster could protect you but what about all of our old friends? Not all of them are in Azkaban.
Don't think I would do this for any other reason than my daughter's future. You know I wouldn't do this otherwise.
You have 7 days. Don't fail me Severus.
He shifted his attention back to the pathetic little group huddled before him. He focused his attention on the child. "Come here."
He expected the girl's father to hold her back. Instead the man urged her forward, ignoring the worried mutterings of the people behind him. The girl showed no fear as she approached. She walked slowly forward, wide-eyed. As she stopped politely before him, hand neatly folded, he took out his wand.
At that point the lawyer spoke up. "Of course you understand that Mrs. Bracken filed her testament with Gringotts."
Severus' eyes flickered back to the attorney. Of course she had, he thought. How else could Maya come up with enough magical power to tie him to this blackmail? He had to give the man credit for courage for saying it out loud however. The lawyer was making it clear to everyone present, but most especially Severus, that goblin magic would prevent him from avoiding the consequences of refusing what Maya wanted. Because goblin magic worked differently from wizard magic, it would take tremendous effort on his part to neutralize the magic enforcing Maya's request. Such a service wasn't unheard of albeit expensive. Where this obviously cash-strapped family got the funds for that service he couldn't bother to speculate. Given enough time he could figure it out but that still was no guarantee it would give him any advantage let alone free him from Maya's threat.
"Thank you for that entirely unnecessary bit of information," he said silkily and returned his attention to the child.
"I'm going to cast a spell on you," he said quietly. "It won't hurt. But it will tell me if your…family is telling the truth. Do you understand?"
She nodded solemnly, her gaze never leaving his and he wondered idly exactly how old she was. She was on the thin side but he would have guessed age 10 maybe 11 — which only added to her caretakers' urgency. She was just about the age when they'd start looking for her to receive her Hogwarts' letter. That they were looking for it meant she had some magic. The question was would she become a near squib?
Potentia he incanted.
The wand glowed with a soft, sunset orange radiance as the magic wound around her before lightening to the pale sunlight of dawn. He sighed in relief. The spell wasn't as detailed as Pomfrey would have done it but it was enough. The child DID have potential. She would respond to the potion IF he could procure it.
Behind her, her father stepped forward hesitantly, eagerly. "Will you do it?" He gently placed his hands on his daughter's shoulders. She looked back at him once, catching his enthusiasm before staring back at Severus with the same hopeful energy. Perhaps she understood more of what was going on than she'd let on before now.
Severus lowered his wand, lips pursed. "I have 7 days to try," he said drily. "We'll know at the end of them, won't we?"
His ambivalent answer did nothing to dampen the widower's or his daughter's spirits. The lawyer however looked anything but happy. The married couple just looked confused and scared. Severus could relate. He had 7 days to help Maya's daughter regain her magic or his betrayal of the Dark Lord would become known to the one man who could make him pay for it and not get caught. And the only thing he knew for sure was he could NOT go to Lucius Malfoy for the money.
Over the next three days, when he wasn't occupied by classes, meetings or detentions, he wracked his brain over where he could get the money. He already knew the right sources. He'd contacted them on the day of the funeral upon his return to Hogwarts with Demeter. Ignoring her questioning looks and forays for information, he'd retired to his dungeons and begun floo'ing and sending out owls. The messages were simply attempts to ascertain that all the sources he knew were still in place. The next day he'd made a trip to Knockturn Alley, ostensibly to shop for potion supplies. In reality, it was to get a solid price.
The last time he'd heard of anything remotely relating to a price for this potion, it was selling on the open foreign market for 60 galleons per ounce. That was 10 years ago. Today, pushed by the number of former Dark Lord supporters who had fled to the continent or other countries and the Ministry's demand for its counterpart, the potion's price had skyrocketed to 295 galleons per ounce. One 8-ounce dose cost over 2300 galleons. And that was only if he gave the girl the single dose and hoped for the best. Frequently one dose was enough but the protocol required a 30-day course of 8 ounces a day for a guaranteed, irreversible restoration of magic. That added up to a breathtaking 70,000 galleons or more. It was a paltry sum for Lucius. But there was no way he could round up that kind of money in so short a time. Only if he threw himself on Dumbledore's mercy, pleaded the safety of the Order or resorted to Dark Magic could he hope to acquire the sum.
But he was at the end of his rope. True he had 4 days left. But once he factored in arranging time off, getting the girl an international floo so she could travel to a country where the potion was legal and then administer the dose, he was looking at a loss of 2 or 3 days. There simply wasn't enough time.
He'd have to brew the potion himself. There was no other way. Not if he wanted to keep his cover and his life.
Abruptly, cauldrons, stirrers, and a host of dark, squishy, partially diced ingredients slammed into the dungeon walls. By the time his ears had recovered from the resounding, bone-crunching clatter of metal crashing against stone, Demeter was yelling in his ear. "What's wrong?"
He stared at her blankly for a moment. Then he remembered. They had been scheduled to have tea. He had missed their appointment. Demeter stood, a handful of papers clutched anxiously to her chest, as fetching as ever despite her concern. He sighed. He had no energy for idle chit chat, no matter how pleasant. With a flick of his wand he cleaned up the mess. He stared at her again for a moment, then pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose and wordlessly waved her through to his office. He followed a moment later to where she had already taken a seat before his desk, arranging her papers into a neat pile on the edge of it. He liked that she made practical use of his desk without presuming to take up too much space. He liked that her expression said Clearly we won't be having tea today thus sparing him the need to explain his embarrassing outburst. Most of all he liked the quiet competent way she said "How can I help?"
He let out a bark of a laugh — gods, he almost sounded like Sirius Black there for a moment, he was losing it — and opened the secret drawer where he kept his firewhiskey. He summoned a glass and held it up in wordless offer. He started pouring at the shake of her head and then tossed back the drink. He clenched his teeth at the burn as it went down, then sighed as the alcohol hit his system. Now that helped. He poured himself another, sipping this one more slowly, but still draining the glass relatively quickly. Demeter watched silently as he placed the now empty tumbler on the desk with exaggerated precision.
"There IS no way for you to help," he said at last. "Unless you have 70,000 galleons you can extend to me at a moment's notice." He smiled bitterly at her.
Without surprise he watched her gaze turn speculative as she leaned back in her chair. "I see," she said quietly.
"Do you?" he countered. He leaned forward across his desk. "If you had the chance to start your life over only this time as a Hogwarts student instead of being enrolled at that downmarket excuse of a school you actually attended, how much would you pay for the opportunity?"
He saw his comment rankled her but to her credit she ignored the insult and tried to focus on the question. "I don't understand. What do you mean start over?"
"Of course, you don't understand, nothing can help you. You were born this way. No potion created you, no potion can fix you. But there are others you see who can be helped. How much would you pay to have that chance?"
He saw her bite her lip, look down at the pile of papers on which her hands rested and watched as the edges crinkled and bent under her suddenly claw like hands. "I think I'd give anything," she whispered.
"Exactly," he countered. "Yet all it costs in this case is 70,000 galleons. Pretty fair trade wouldn't you think?"
Demeter's gaze returned to his as her brow wrinkled in confusion. "Then why do YOU have to pay?"
He poured himself another drink. "And that my dear is the 70,000 galleon question. Very good. You would have done well in Slytherin. If the sorting hat would have even let you in the door."
"So," Demeter said tightly. "Exactly who is getting this second chance?"
"No one you know," he said dismissively. "Certainly not someone old enough for you to be jealous of."
"I never said I was—" Demeter took a breath. "I never said I was jealous. Certainly not of a child, which is what it sounds like." She glared at the empty glass and the diminishing contents of the bottle and started gathering her papers. "Fine. For whatever insane undisclosed reason, some child somewhere could get a second chance that YOU have to pay for. It has to be Maya's daughter. Why else would you be so wound up so soon after the funeral? Why bother with any of this at all — unless she's yours?"
Severus leapt from his chair. "Oh for gods' sake woman! Do you think I would leave my own child to suffer such a humiliating fate?"
Visibly, Demeter relaxed as she picked up her pile of papers and rose. "Then perhaps your failure to get the money is a sign that it's second chance she's not supposed to have. Did you ever think of that?"
Severus stared at her as if stunned at the thought. But a moment later his expression hardened as he remembered the consequences of failing Maya. "Unfortunately I don't have that option. Bad things will happen to me if I don't make this happen for her. And I'm on a schedule."
He watched Demeter's eyes become distant as she weighed the situation in her head.
"Can you extend the deadline?" she asked.
"And you can't go through your…usual channels?" she asked carefully.
"No," he said and there was no mistaking the chill in that response.
"Do you have an emergency fund?"
"No-oo-o, I—" he stopped. He was an idiot. Of course he had an emergency fund. It simply hadn't been created for THIS kind of emergency. Technically, it was more of an escape fund, only not for the type of escape anyone else would opt for. Although he'd created it and regularly added to it, he'd trained himself not to think of it. For one thing, it was for his knowledge only and only to be used as the absolute last resort. For another, it wasn't supposed to exist at all. It was not deposited with Gringotts. If the Inland Revenue ever caught an inkling of it, he was sure to see a round of Azkaban simply on tax evasion. He found himself glancing at her from the corner of his eye.
"So you DO have one?" she pressed even as she struggled to rein in her own irritation. It was always the same. People lied more about money than they did about sex. Why had she expected him to be any different?
"Yes," he said firmly.
"Then use the emergency fund," she said. "It's as simple as that. That's what it's there for. And as long as you have enough your problem is solved." She turned and headed toward the door. "Oh and this is going to sound crazy coming from an accountant. But money is just like a talent. You HAVE to use it or you'll lose it. Use it wrongly and it's gone forever. Use it wisely and it always comes back to you. My grandfather taught me that."
And just like that she was gone.
Severus stared at the door after her.
He had enough. He'd counted the galleons twice, thrice now and the sum never changed. He had 71,398 galleons in his emergency fund. If he used the fund for Maya's daughter, he'd have a grand total of 598 galleons left. More in line with a teacher's salary but hardly enough to cover his own emergency needs. But he had no choice. He could not let Maya's pensieve get to Lucius. Too much was at stake including the life of a boy he could barely stomach yet had sworn to protect. He could hardly swear to protect Lily's boy then fall on his sword at the first sign of trouble. He had to be smarter than that. He had to be Slytherin.
Yet this did not FEEL Slytherin.
He remembered the day he'd opened this account. He'd been alone and he'd done it on a macabre whim. He hadn't been fooled by the Death Eater's ruthlessness. Perhaps he'd been self-deluded about the level of violence they would inflict on others. But he'd had no illusions about what they could do to each other. The Death Eaters were like the Roman senators. Ever happy to present a face of sane and sober politicking when it suited their purposes but just as eager to resort to treachery and assassination among their ranks when it suited them. As he had told Maya and truly believed the point was to enjoy the fruits of their spoils before they woke up dead. But after the Moorsden massacre he'd abruptly come to the conclusion that one day he WOULD in fact wake up dead. His life could end in an instant whether by the aurors' wands or by rival Death Eaters. And he realized that the last thing in this world he wanted was to literally wake up dead. He wouldn't put it past the Dark Lord to learn of Severus' death and then reanimate his corpse for some nefarious purpose. The thought of his rotting body walking around to do the Dark Lord's bidding had made him vomit up his guts like nothing else before or sense.
When he died he wanted to be dead. He wanted to face whatever eternal damnation he was slated to face with the false hope or true horror of his dead body still walking around disconnected from his soul. He had no idea what such a situation would in fact do to his soul but he had no intention of finding out.
There were wizards who specialized in that arcane branch of magic, the magic of safeguarding his body. Muggles did it by burying the body right away no less than a week after the death and sometimes on the same day. Wizards did it through mummification or, the option Severus chose, magical cremation. The latter option left nothing of the body that could be used either here or on the astral plane. There would be no way to retrieve his body or body parts for Dark Magic. The thought gave him immense peace.
So he'd taken the money he earned with Voldemort — his share of the spoils from different raids, the fees the Dark Lord gave him for the potions he developed, the gifts of money given to him for his birthday, for Yule, for clothing allowances — and put it all into an account he'd opened with Bury Den Funeral Services. To anyone else, he knew, the action would seem to be insane. Who in their right mind would leave so much money with a funeral home? But to him it made perfect sense. Either serving the Dark Lord or Dumbledore, he never expected to make to the end of his service with either of them alive. He knew how the Dark Lord could turn his dead body into an inferi if the Dark Mage wished. But he could easily imagine what would happen to his body if Dumbledore was victorious. Assuming he was killed before he could be tried, convicted and sentenced to the Dementor's Kiss, the rabid mob would tear him apart, limb from limb and take pieces of him home as souvenirs. He couldn't bear it. He wanted nothing more than to disappear into the ground, never to be heard of again. He was banking on Bury Den to give him that security. And the beauty of it was, since the fund was in place for his future funeral expenses he was neither required to report its existence as belonging to him or to pay taxes on it.
It was perfect.
Severus stood in the middle of the crypt room, staring at the marble drawer that had been assigned for his future remains. The key to it was pressed tightly between his fingers cold and biting on his flesh. He didn't want to give it up. That key represented his security, his hope for an undisturbed death.
But that hope was already gone. He'd signed the papers that morning releasing the funds in his account and transferring them to his supplier in exchange for the potion. This place was Bury Den's branch office in Switzerland, where his remains were to have been cremated and scattered among the Alps to safeguard against magical use. The only thing the key was good for now was returning to the front office. His plans for a peaceful undisturbed death were obliterated. He turned his back on the wall of orderly marble drawers and headed toward the front desk.
Later than night in his quarters, he stared moodily at the pensieve before him. As he had fulfilled Maya's request, the pensieve had been sent from her mother's estate. He need have no fear that his secret would be exposed to anyone else. The goblin's magic was binding and he trusted it. More than he trusted his own at the moment.
Beside the pensieve, his hand rested on the letter of gratitude Maya's widower had sent. Foolish man. Had it fallen in the wrong hands it contained enough information to condemn them both. When he'd seen the address he'd almost incinerated it before noticed the seal from Bury Den's Swiss office. At least the simple man had been smart enough to correspond through them. Wizards were extremely sensitive about death. No one in the Ministry would presume to interfere in death-related correspondence without a very strong motive. There was just too much potential for karmic backlash. Add in the Swiss' powerful privacy charms and he felt safe enough. Anyone who had dared to interfere with his post would learn only that the daughter of an old friend whose mother's funeral he'd recently attended was taking a health break in Switzerland and getting much better. Oh any snooper would suspect but they would have no proof. After all, no one could prove that Maya's mother hadn't paid for all of it which she should have done in the first place Severus thought bitterly.
But he'd known what he'd owe Maya. Blackmail or not, at least here was one debt he could count paid.