Disclaimer: I'm just playing around in the wonderful world created by JK Rowling. She's not to blame for anything I make her characters do in this story.
Author's Note: Lots of Honeydukes' best chocolate to my brilliant beta readers Jo Wickaninnish and Whimsy!
This story is dedicated to Whimsy, my beta reader, motivator, inspirator and co-founder of M.U.S.T.
Not for the first time in his life, Severus felt superior to the people around him, though he had to admit that, compared to the witches standing a few feet away from him, even Dedalus Diggle would look like an intellectual. The three middle-aged witches paid no attention whatsoever to their surroundings – a highly unwise thing to do in these times. They therefore had no idea that Severus was eavesdropping on their gossip.
Naturally, Severus had not come unprotected. He was wearing his ragged Invisibility Cloak, which he had bought with the small sack of gold the Dark Lord had given him as a reward for murdering Dumbledore. The Cloak bore some holes and patches, yet it rendered him virtually invisible if he stayed in the shadows and no one was actively looking for him – which the three gossiping witches were definitely not.
“It’s awful,” one of them said for the third time since Severus had arrived. She pretended to wipe her eyes with the sleeve of her purple cloak, and a second witch laid an arm over her shoulders to comfort her.
“They were just going to move, too,” the third witch commented, her eyes glittering with excitement. She was the one with the information: she had already informed the other two of the names of the Ministry officials that had come to investigate; and she had also listed the most valuable possessions the Waterhouses had owned.
“Were they?” the second witch gasped. “How dreadful.”
“They had bought the house a week ago,” the knowledgeable witch continued. “A beautiful old house in London, much larger than this one. They had been saving up for years.” She watched the shocked faces of her companions with a satisfied smile.
“It’s awful,” the witch with the purple cloak said.
Severus had heard enough. He slowly moved out of his shadowy corner towards the side of the house. The witches were too immersed in their conversation to notice anything, and he safely made it into the back garden. There he approached the back door of the house. He knew from the gossiping witches that the Ministry had already finished their investigation and removed the bodies, so he could have a look around inside without being disturbed.
The back door proved to be no hindrance. Within a minute, Severus had disabled the locking charms on the door. He curled his lips in contempt. Either the Waterhouses had not expected to be attacked or they were not capable enough to properly lock their door, and neither possibility did anything to gain Severus’ respect.
The inside of the house looked quite unexceptional. The wallpaper had a disgusting flowery pattern that matched the couch in the living room and the apron in the kitchen, and there were an appallingly small number of books, but otherwise nothing stood out to Severus in particular as he swiftly moved through the house. He therefore settled himself at a plain writing desk and started to read the correspondence stored in the drawers.
He soon found out that Mr Waterhouse had had a boring job at the Ministry and had offered a cauldron repair service in the evenings, while Mrs Waterhouse had busied herself with tea and knitting parties. One of the witches in Mrs Waterhouse’s knitting group was married to the brother of a wizard whose mother used to be a friend of Narcissa Malfoy’s, but that was hardly a reason to murder the Waterhouses.
The only faintly interesting letter was a short note from the current owner of the house the Waterhouses had been planning to buy. The man, called Jeremias Smith, confirmed that the Waterhouses would sign the contract of purchase at a certain date – which happened to be today. By disposing of the Waterhouses, the Dark Lord had prevented the contract from being signed, whether he had intended it or not.
It was the only remarkable thing Severus had been able to find in the house; therefore he pocketed the note before he left. It was time to investigate into the Smith family and a certain old house they owned, and he was determined to succeed.
“Are you any closer to finding out what Draco is planning, Severus?”
“No, I’m not,” Severus snarled. He did not appreciate the Headmaster mentioning his ongoing failure every time they met.
Dumbledore turned his scrutinising gaze on him. “Have you given up?”
That only served to enrage Severus further. “I never give up.”
“It is very important to keep track of Draco, Severus,” Dumbledore said calmly. “I have given Harry a task –”
“What task?” Severus interrupted. “Surely you cannot expect Potter to do anything worthwhile.”
“I do,” Dumbledore replied. “I myself have not succeeded, but I am certain Harry has the necessary skills that I lack.”
Severus snorted, but managed to keep himself from making a sarcastic remark about Dumbledore’s favourite student.
“He might need a short while to accomplish the task,” Dumbledore continued, “and I plan to inform him of my full suspicions concerning Lord Voldemort after that. It is therefore imperative that I stay alive until that time.”
“Potter can take his time, then,” Severus said, “as you are healthy enough to live several more years.”
Dumbledore gave him an exasperated look. “Severus, you are aware of Draco’s mission –”
“Draco is not a killer,” Severus stated firmly.
“I do agree,” Dumbledore said, nodding. “Yet we both know that when Draco clearly fails to carry out his mission, you will –”
“I will do no such thing,” Severus said vehemently.
Dumbledore sighed. “I am afraid you have little choice in the matter, Severus. You took an Unbreakable Vow –”
“Which means it is either my life or yours that will end,” Severus finished for him.
“Your life is far more valuable, Severus,” Dumbledore said softly. “You must not jeopardise your position among the Death Eaters; it would greatly diminish our chances of defeating Lord Voldemort.”
“Your death will diminish those chances as well,” Severus said through gritted teeth. It was all he could do not to start yelling. Even though they were far from the castle, at the edge of the grounds, near the Forbidden Forest, it would not do to risk attracting unwanted attention.
“That cannot be helped,” Dumbledore replied. “I am an old man, and I am already injured.”
Against his will, Severus’ gaze was drawn to the withered hand just visible outside Dumbledore’s cloak. This only fuelled his anger.
“You will die hunting those Dark objects,” he growled. “You don’t need for me to kill you.”
“Nevertheless, Severus,” Dumbledore said, “if the situation arises, you will do what is necessary to stay alive, even if that means sacrificing me.”
Severus felt he was losing this battle, and against his will, he raised his voice. “And what if I don’t want to? You take too much for granted, Albus! I might just have had enough of all this!”
“You will do as I ask, Severus,” Dumbledore said, slightly raising his voice himself. “Have you forgotten about our – agreement?” Then, softly, almost in a whisper, he added, “Does that mean so little to you?”
Severus did not answer. He knew he could not refuse. It didn’t matter if he died, as he would be dying from the Unbreakable Vow he made to Narcissa in any case, but he simply could not refuse. His honour did not allow him to.
“I have no desire to discuss this any further, Severus,” Dumbledore said firmly. “You will continue your investigations in Slytherin house, and you will let me know as soon as you have more information. Good night to you.”
He nodded to Severus and then strode away towards the castle. Severus stayed where he was, seething, but not quite sure whether he was furious with Dumbledore or with himself. Consumed in his own thoughts, he did not even notice Hagrid walking out of the Forest only several yards away from him.