Title: The Life Debt
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Alternate Universe;
Relationship(s): None Yet
Content Rating: PG
Word Count: 1835
Professor Severus Snape stared fixedly at the piece of parchment in his hand. It had only taken him a matter of moments to write the letter, but now that it was time to send the missive on its way, he was unsure if he was making the right decision.
The raven colored owl hooted softly as if reminding him that time was of the essence. The man stared at the bird solemnly for a moment before attaching the note to the owl’s leg.
“Make sure no one else sees this.” He spoke softly, staring into the animal’s clear eyes, almost as if he was imparting more information than just the spoken instructions.
The owl hooted once, part acknowledgment, and part indignation that she would do anything other than what she was told, before taking flight.
The professor watched the owl until she disappeared from view before turning around and leaving the owlry. It would be several days before he received a response, whether that answer was an affirmative, or a negative. If the answer was no, Severus would have to make other arrangements; If it was yes, Severus would have to work quickly; either way, he had much to do.
Harry James Potter sat back on his cot and scowled at the door. He was back at Number 4 Privet Drive and more than a little tired of been sent away like a naughty child. He was seventeen years old, a legal adult in the Wizarding world, and still, the headmaster insisted he return to his relatives, who were just as unhappy at his return as he was.
True, the Dursley’s had stopped demanding he cook and clean for him, had, in fact, stopped speaking to him altogether, which was both a blessing and a curse. In the past, these lulls in their attention were always followed by periods of extreme violence. Harry wasn’t sure if their inattention was due to some leftover fear of what might happen to them if they treated him poorly, or if it was just the calm before the storm.
What was more troubling than the treatment he received here, was the idea that Dumbledore thought he was safer here than anywhere else. It was true that Hogwarts wasn’t exactly safe at the moment, not after the school had suffered damage from the latest attack from Voldemort and his Death Eaters.
However, it was also true that the protections that Dumbledore had placed on Privet Drive all those years ago would no longer keep the madman at bay. Voldemort was getting more and more daring, his attacks were becoming more reckless, and by extension more dangerous.
He had lost more than a third of his original Death Eaters due to raids made by both Aurors and members of the Order. The Lestranges had died by Voldemort’s own hand when they bungled an attack on Hogsmeade that lead to Harry escaping with an ancient book that Voldemort was very interested in possessing.
That had happened nearly a month ago, and while there had been many Death Eater attacks in that time, Lucius Malfoy had not been party to any of them. In fact, it had been nearly six months since anyone had seen Lucius Malfoy anywhere Dumbledore’s spies would have heard of it. Remus and Moody speculated that perhaps the senior Malfoy had also lost his place in Voldemort’s inner circle.
Harry personally thought it was more likely that the Dark Wizard was biding his time. His belief in this scenario had less to do with his faith in Voldemort’s loyalty towards his seemingly most devoted supporter, and more to do with the fact that neither Severus Snape nor Draco Malfoy, seemed distraught over Lucius’ apparent absence.
Draco had been granted asylum at 12 Grimmauld Place after his mother was murdered for refusing to turn Draco over to the Dark Lord. It was unclear precisely what the Dark Lord wanted him for. The popular theory was that Voldemort wanted Draco only as another in a long line of second-generation Death Eaters. Harry had his doubts that that was Voldemort’s only purpose in attempting to gain access to the youth.
The Dark Lord had at first demanded that Narcissa turn her son over to his service. When she refused, he demanded her torture at the hands of her demented sister, Bellatrix Lestrange. While Bellatrix was not opposed to torturing her own sister, Narcissa proved far stronger than they had originally believed. In the end, Narcissa was killed, and Draco was safe. Voldemort then attempted to have the younger Malfoy kidnapped. That too failed, leaving Draco frightened and willing to accept help, regardless where it came from.
When asked where his father was during all of this, Draco claimed he didn’t know. Most of the order had believed this, and in fact, this information seemed to lend credence to the theory that Lucius was in fact dead.
Harry was not so convinced.
The raven owl did not have to travel far. She was familiar with the recipient of her message. This was not the first message her master had sent to this particular Wizard, nor would it be the last. Though there had been no letters back and forth between the two in recent months.
This, she assumed, was due to the fact that the Wizard in question seemed to have been away. She could have found him anywhere it was true, but her master did not seem to think that was necessary. Her instructions were to wait, and so she did.
It was only two days before he returned from wherever he had been. In that time she noticed that though the grounds surrounding the old castle were no different than any other time she had been sent to deliver messages, they didn’t quite feel the same.
The protections around this place were strong, as they had always been, but now there was something new to the magic enshrouding this place. She did not wonder what it was, for it was not her place to do so.
It was night when the man returned. He was tall and imposing, even though he wasn’t dressed in any manner that was normal, at least as far as the general population of the Wizarding World was concerned.
But then the man in question had just returned to Britain after being away for many moons. He was tired, this she could sense. Not just exhausted from so much time abroad, traveling in secret, but a bone-deep weariness that no amount of sleep could fix.
She hooted, drawing the mans attention.
“Shadow.” He spoke quietly, lifting an arm out towards the bird. “What have you brought me?”
The wizard carried her into the castle, escorting her through the powerful wards she could not have entered alone.
Once inside, Shadow perched on the familiar birch wood branch inside the small room off to the right of the entryway.
The wizard set his bags inside a closet and retrieved the letter from Shadow’s leg, and slowly opened it.
The letter only had a few short sentences, in a carefully written print that would not give the author away:
I fear the time for waiting is over. Recent events have shown me the truth of this. I trust you understand both the necessity for secrecy and the inevitability for the action I proposed.
Lucius Malfoy sighed as he penned his response.
Midnight, Thursday; You know where.
The Death Eater rolled up the parchment and placed it on Shadows leg, picking her up and taking her through the wards and back outside where she would be free to return to her master.
The dark wizard was in great need of sleep, but he had much that needed to be done before Thursday. He had decisions to make, plans to implement, and a son who needed him.
“Why is he not safe Hogwarts?” Lucius finally asked.
Severus stared across at his oldest friend and sighed. “The headmaster expects a great many things.”
“So you’ve said.” Lucius acknowledged. “What you have not said is how these…expectations lead to your concern for young Mister Potter.”
Severus sighed again. His relationship with Lucius Malfoy had always been complicated, Contrary to what most people believed Lucius was not blindly devoted to the Dark Lord. He was not, in fact, devoted at all.
He was a Dark Wizard, that much was true; however, his loyalty had always been to his family. The Dark Lord had power, and among the older Pureblood wizarding families, influence.
The Malfoys followed the Dark Lord so long as it was beneficial for them to do so. Until recently it had been in their best interests to follow the Dark Lord. Now however it was apparent, at least to one who knew Lucius Malfoy as well as Severus did, that things were shifting.
Lucius was many things; however, a cold, heartless man was not one of them. He may appear that way to the world at large, but Lucius valued his family above all else. Now, Narcissa was gone, leaving only his son.
A son whom he would do almost anything to protect, even something that was previously unthinkable. It was this that had led Severus to believe this plan of his was not only possible, but the best way to ensure not only Harry Potter’s continued survival but his godson’s as well.
When Severus had started spying for Albus Dumbledore nearly twenty years previous, Lucius was the one who had weighed all of the pros and cons and helped him decide whether the benefits outweighed the risks.
Severus’ turning ‘traitor’ as some would term it had not hampered Lucius’ relationship with him in the least. Their loyalties were not so far removed as one would think.
Severus had always been loyal to the Malfoys, regardless of his shift in loyalties where Voldemort was concerned. That loyalty was returned, and though there had been occasions where they had not seen eye to eye on the correct way to deal with a given situation, this was the first time where that hard-won trust might be tested beyond its limits.
Through the years Lucius had kept Severus’ secret, just as Severus had done his best to keep Lucius’ secrets. Now it seemed their separate lives would connect once again.
“You place me in a precarious position,” Lucius said quietly when it didn’t appear Severus would continue. “The Dark Lord will want a report once he learns I have returned.”
“This is why we must act quickly.” Severus agreed. “Draco has been relatively safe, for the moment. However, once you return, you will no doubt be required to present him.”
“Yes.” Lucius agreed. He paused, “How is he doing? I couldn’t afford to owl him.”
“He is…changing, Lucius. He’s had a lot of time since Narcissa’s death to think. He’s confused, but he is handling it very well, all things considered.”
Lucius nodded. “Very well. What exactly did you have in mind?”