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Coward

By Charlie Hoffman

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Coward

Coward. Of all the things Potter could have called him…and he had to pick "coward". Not, "greasy git" or "bastard"; hell, even "Snivellus" would have been a more preferable choice, but no. It was as if Harry purposefully reached into his former-professor's mind and drove a stake through it; and here Severus thought that Occlumency lesson last year was "just a fluke."

Now he was running for his life as a great, screeching shadow loomed overhead; the terrifying Hippogriff ducked and dived in an attempt to do more than scratch his arm. The white-blonde, pallid figure that was Draco stood just outside the gate; gaping at the Potions Master like the village idiot witnessing a robbery. Fear was evident on Malfoy's drawn, pale face as he was reminded of an incident nearly four years ago.

"Hold on!" Snape hissed loudly, taking hold of Draco's arm in a vice-like grip and a second later, the two of them were being compressed on all sides. The pressure stopped as soon as it started and Draco blinked in surprise to feel an array of fat raindrops spray into his face. Severus' breathing was ragged, his injured arm bled fiercely and throbbed, but his grip on Draco didn't lessen until he had dragged the boy into the dingy house ahead of them.

Once inside, Malfoy found the décor less comforting than the dodgy, rain-soaked street he'd just left. The walls were lined with musty, thick books and the furniture seemed unstable in the sense that if the couch had conscious thought, it would sooner stab them with its own rusty springs than let them sit. "Where--?" he began, his hoarse voice suddenly cut-off as a tall, slender woman leapt at him and enveloped his thin frame in crushing hug.

Severus had seen Narcissa barreling towards her son and felt it wise to step aside, lest the joyful reunion—and all those nauseating emotions that came with them—have a negative affect on his health. He heard a distinct crack issue from Draco's spine from his spot near the empty fireplace before Mrs. Malfoy tried to compose her and liberated her son, only to start fussing over him afterwards. "Draco, dear, are you hurt at all? You're soaked to the bone…you'll catch your death in this drafty shack." She murmured, drying her son's robes with the flick of her wand.

"I'm fine, Mother." Draco informed her tersely, his stony eyes fixed on Snape; his expression was one of shock and perhaps…anger? Narcissa was about to argue further with her son or insist that he eat something, but another figure emerged from the dark stairwell which was hidden behind a bookcase and interrupted her.

"Really, Cissy, your Draco has surely proven he can handle himself by now, hasn't he?" Mrs. Malfoy glared reproachfully at her sister, but turned to look at Severus, who had pushed back the sleeve on his arm and successfully healed the gash Buckbeak created. She stood straight and clasped her hands together with the air of someone about to do a task they find unworthy of their time.

"Thank you for keeping my son safe, Severus."

Snape acted as if no one had spoken and continued to repair the damage done to the sleeve of his robe, removing the blood stains from it as well. Narcissa seemed a little perturbed at the fact he didn't say anything, but Bellatrix was interested in finding out the details.

"Tell me, Draco," She said, steering her nephew to the couch by the shoulder. "How did you do it? Did he beg for his life? Was there blood?" With each question, her voice grew more shrill and manic. Narcissa made an exasperated sound, but didn't show any sign of stopping her crazed sister's interrogation. It seemed she was just as curious as to what happened.

Malfoy didn't say anything at first; just stared at the back of Severus standing by the hearth. Then, he glared at his aunt and got up from the dilapidated upholstery; some color finally rising in his cheeks. The room fell quiet—say for the minute squeak of a stair that said Wormtail was listening in. Snape waited to hear how his former pupil would answer, focusing all of his attention on their conversation while looking blankly at a charred log.

The silence lingered for another moment, but before Bella could announce her impatience, Draco spoke.

"I used the Vanishing Cabinet from Borgin's and the one in Hogwarts to get the others in…but he murdered Professor Dumbledore. Not me."

At this point, all eyes roved onto Severus, but it was Draco's hard, unforgiving look that gave the Potions Master pause. Snape returned this with menacing stare of his own, but broke it when he vaguely felt Malfoy throwing up a barrier around his mind. What doesn't he want me to see, Severus wondered to himself.

The cackle of Bellatrix Lestrange jarred Snape from his reverie and caused everyone else to jump.

"So, you went through with it after all, Snape?" she said snidely, casting her nephew a rather tempestuous scowl. "I'm disappointed in you, Draco. It appears you didn't retain any of the Black backbone. Of course, I'm not too surprised you were the one to carry out the mission, Severus. Your own skin was on the line and you knew my nephew was a coward--"

Snape spun around, his robe and hair swishing simultaneously from the movement.

"You might remember, Bellatrix, that you were our witness for the Unbreakable Vow. My skin was not 'on the line' then, and yet I agreed to it all the same." He spoke with deadly calm, sneering at Bella as she sputtered in rage. Narcissa glided over to her sibling and the two of them became engaged in a series of harsh whispers that didn't differ much from a fight between alley cats.

Severus ignored them, feeling Draco's glare burning into the back of his skull. He turned around and met the boy's gaze, but again only felt the mental barrier Malfoy made.

Damn that lunatic for teaching him Occlumency! Snape seethed inwardly, yet was surprised when the pale young man stepped forth and spoke.

"Why did you do it?" he asked so quietly, Severus wasn't sure he had heard right…but he did hear. The Potions Master sneered and his carefully structured façade took place. "If I hadn't, the Vow would have killed me, we would have failed the Dark Lord, and you would suffer a fate worse than death. Surely you've figured that much out?"

Draco didn't say anything—despite the warring emotions on his face which gave Snape glimpses of his thoughts—and began to storm towards the stairs, where Pettigrew sat looking disappointed that more wasn't said about the mission.

There was a sudden hiss that filled the tiny living-space as four people concurrently drew a sharp breath; each one clutching their left forearm as they did. In all the rush, they hadn't thought about Lord Voldemort calling for their report…to announce the death of the greatest wizard who ever lived.

A loud "crack" told the three remaining Death Eaters that Wormtail had Disapparated, and in one fluid motion, Bellatrix grabbed her nephew and did the same.

This left only Severus and Narcissa, who didn't seem to know what to do with her hands as she was constantly wringing them. Snape sighed and rubbed his temples. "The Dark Lord won't kill him, Narcissa. Albus is dead and that's all he cares about; it won't matter who killed him…"

She glanced up at him as if just realizing he was there; and maybe she was. "Yes…of course, you're right, Severus. Dumbledore's dead…" Mrs. Malfoy murmured, sounding slightly awed.

Even those who hate him are stunned... mused Snape before he too Disapparated.

After Voldemort was informed that it was Severus who finished his arch-nemesis off and not Draco, Snape was proved right. He could've cared less about who did the dirty deed as long as it was done. And from that point on Severus had to keep one ear on the latest rant of domination and power—so he knew when to cheer or boo—while his mind wandered safely behind his Occlumency.

He still could taste the foul curse on his tongue; could still see the eyes of Lily Evans glaring hatefully up at him. Could still hear the word "coward" ringing in his ears…

"…And now my faithful Death Eaters, we enter a new era! One where the strong survive and weak, old fools perish…" The formerly known Tom Riddle proclaimed with confidence and almost bestial delight as, once again, he reveled in the fact Dumbledore would no longer be there to thwart them.

Draco was shocked to find his parents' lives were still at risk from Voldemort as he had failed to follow orders, but when he gave thought to this later, was ashamed at his own foolishness to believe a simple murder could solve anything.

Little did any of them know—say for Severus, who had some idea of Harry's quest for the Horcruxes—their celebrations and future plans would have little affair when the Potter-brat became increasingly more dangerous each day. Silently, behind his Death Eater's mask, Snape swore to keep his promise to Albus.

After all, he had said "please."

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