Warning: There will be swearing in this story.
The Good Friend
Chapter 1: The Visit
"I'm not asking on behalf of the Ministry. I'm not here as Minister. I'm here as a private individual, as a friend."
I looked down at the cups in the sink and tried to quash the urge to smash them. Of course, he wasn't mentioning the fact that he had blatantly used his position as Minister to force me to meet with him in my home. If he weren't Minister, he wouldn't even know that I was alive. It was unbearable that he should corner me in my private home, the one place where I was safe.
I threw down the teaspoon I had been washing and headed out the back door. I'd had enough.
It was dry for a change, though the breeze was knocking drops of last-night's rain off the tree branches. It was coming in from the west; I could smell the ocean on it.
Shacklebolt followed me out into the garden, but at least I had more space here. I didn't feel cornered anymore.
"You've got an orchard?"
Did he think he could play me around by changing the subject?
"If you call eight trees an orchard."
"What are they?"
"Apple and pear."
"It wasn't my doing. It was here when I found the place." I could feel my resentment growing again. None of it was any of his business.
I kicked my way through the dead stalks of last-year's thorn-apple and made my way down the yard. It was getting ridiculous; I really had to talk to the neighbors about getting their goats over to eat the grass down. Somehow it kept slipping my mind.
The trees had a haze of new growth on the ends of the branches. Shacklebolt fell back as I descended the slope past the greenhouse. He was trying not to crowd me, giving me space. The thought of him appeasing and manipulating me irritated me almost as much as his prying questions. I noticed with satisfaction that he flinched a bit at the small tangle of garter snakes that always sunned themselves on the flags in front of the greenhouse.
"They're perfectly harmless," I sneered at him.
He looked at me blandly, without offense. "Of course."
Was that his tack then? Not to take offense at anything I said and be doggedly agreeable? Sod him.
I turned and picked my way half down the bank to the stream that marked my property boundary. There was my log, the one dry place to sit. I sat. If Shacklebolt was going to follow me about, he could stand or shift for himself. He ducked under the ash branches and joined me on the bank, looking down at the water.
I wasn't going to look at him again. I watched the shifting light on the stream. It usually calmed me, but now it all felt like a mistake. Why the hell had I led him down to this place? It was bad enough that he knew about one of my refuges.
I tried to pinpoint what was eating at me with this request. Shacklebolt had always been one of the few acceptable members of the Order in my eyes. None of Moody's mutterings about my 'loyalties.' None of the reckless and symbolic acts of resistance that some of the others favored. He always carefully weighed the strategic benefits and costs of any action proposed. I held a reserved judgment of him until the day that I happened to overhear him in conversation with Arthur Weasley calling Moody a 'raging cunt.' That was… satisfying.
But now he was coming to me, going far out of his way, to propose just the sort of empty symbolic gesture he had never approved before. There must be a motive behind it.
"We have to thank you, you know. The Order. Or at least they would if they knew you were alive. That's quite a gift you gave us, having Emmeline Vance come back to us, alive and well. It's the kind of thing that gives you a little hope that something positive could come out of such a bloody awful war."
I didn't look up. It didn't feel like much of a positive at the moment. I had known that Amy, or rather Emmeline, was going to come forward, change her name back to Vance, and announce her survival. She had warned me that if it were publicized, my name would necessarily be mentioned as the agent of her escape during the war. She had also done her best, in the story I had read in the Vancouver Scryer, to gloss over the details of her escape and the fate of the woman I had found to take her place. Still, even those vague allusions, "at great risk Snape managed to hide me and produce a substitute body," had made me drop the paper back onto the rack at the library and hurry away, sweating. The stories and the memories that came with them hadn't helped my dreams at all. And here was Kingsley Shacklebolt, dredging everything up again, pushing onto my property, into my home – no!
I focused on the stream and tried to distinguish the shapes of the rocks below the water, obscured by reflections.
"She's one of the reasons I'm here. She came to me for help, and now I'm coming to you. I'm not here to bother you or to drive you out of your home. What she's trying to do is important. It's important to all of us if we're going to move ahead and rebuild after the war. Merlin knows, I'm trying. It's a bloody hard road."
He paused and shifted. A fat rough-skinned newt was plodding towards his feet. I picked it up by its middle and turned it over in my hands.
"Another dangerous beast?" he joked.
I flipped the newt onto its back to display the bright-orange belly. "Yes. Extremely toxic, actually. Deadly to anything except those garter snakes. It's quite the mystery, how they can withstand the poison." I set the newt down on the bank and it went off into the reeds in a huffy waddle.
"You're not going to use it in a potion?"
"It's better to wait until after the breeding season to harvest. More poison for everyone."
He chuckled. "You have a good place here. It suits you. I would be happy to leave you in peace if I could."
"Ah yes, you're compelled to push appointments on me and come in here and ask me for favors."
"You know where the bodies are." His comment sank like a stone. "We can repair the buildings and build monuments and hold trials and pass legal reforms, but we can't do anything for the mourners, not really. This is one thing I can do. It won't fix anything, but it's one more tiny step towards real peace. We need to take it. We need your help."
I could feel his gaze on me. I wasn't about to look up. I skimmed a pebble at the water. It skipped off the surface and thunked into the mud of the opposite bank.
"I haven't spread your name to anyone. If you want to stay 'dead,' so be it. That's your decision. There's no reason to reveal your identity. It can all be done completely anonymously and safely."
Did he think that was it? "You think you can come in here, into my home, and ask me this as if it didn't cost me anything?" I was breathing hard. I might have gotten up and walked out if there was any 'out' left to walk.
"All right. I'm not trying to say it would be easy for you."
"Fine. What's your proposal?"
"What will you pay me?"
"Goddamn it, Snape! I'm not asking this for myself. There are families who don't know where their loved ones are; there are missing people –"
"Are they asking? Are they standing on my property, telling me what to do? They're not here. You are."
"Oh, for god's sake."
One always had to spell things out for Gryffindors. "You're asking me a favor. A favor that will cost me. What do I get in return?"
"I suppose 'the satisfaction of helping those in need' would be too much to ask."
"Too much? Not enough, not nearly enough. Try again."
He stared at me. "Let's not play a bloody guessing game. You obviously have something in mind. So, since you always have a price, let's hear it. How do I buy you?"
I threw another rock at the water. It hit the surface with a splash. The Minister was asking me my price; the sensation was at once heady and sickening. I would have to be careful.
After all, what I really wanted I couldn't ask for. And at any rate, he had told me last month that he couldn't release me from my unbreakable vow. I wasn't sure what good it would do me, even if he could. My short time in the Prince George Auror Station had brought back all the decades-old crawling memories of my own Ministry interrogation. Would the ability to speak about it help me at all or merely make them clearer? Perhaps it would be nothing more than a useless symbolic gesture. Better to simply work at burying them again. I had done it for years, and it had served me well. For the most part.
There was a noise across the stream. Voices from beyond the strip of trees above the bank. My neighbors. We both looked up.
"Perhaps we can discuss this inside?" Shacklebolt said.
I sighed and stood. Perhaps a change of venue would help clear the air after all. I took my time coming up from the bank.
The breeze was turning cold now and drawing in dark clouds above. It would be raining by nightfall.
When we arrived back in the kitchen I returned to the washing-up. I had felt crowded and cornered before at being approached in my own house, but I had to see the other side to it. I was on my own ground after all, and he wanted something from me. I could make that count for something. When I was done I leaned against the counter and wiped my hands on the dishtowel. Shacklebolt sat at the table observing me. I had the feeling he was playing along again, trying to manage or appease me. Maybe I did need managing.
"You've been thinking about your payment. Well, let's have it then. What do you want?"
Perhaps it was my thoughts about my Ministry interrogation that were leading me to my old debts. "Why is Lucius Malfoy sentenced to Azkaban?"
"Largely because the Wizengamot gave him that sentence."
I stared at him.
"I'm not being flippant. I may have some influence on individual Wizengamot members, yes, but I can't and I won't dictate their decisions. If you're asking me to spring him as payment, that's not the sort of favor I'm capable of. The simple fact is that he pled guilty to collaboration with Voldemort's reign, under coercion."
"It was taken as a mitigating factor and his sentence is less than some others –"
"And longer than some others."
"That too. The Wizengamot determined that while he ended under coercion, he did not begin that way."
"And the other mitigating factors? His cooperation?"
Shacklebolt winced. "His advocate approached me with his claim of aiding the Order by cooperating with you. His claim. There was conveniently, no proof, and you were 'dead' at the time. I can't say I believed him. It was too pat. The advocate didn't introduce it at the trial. She must have known it would be ripped to shreds with nothing to back it. If she brought it up and failed, well, it would have been a bit of a liability for Mr. Malfoy among the other residents of Azkaban."
God, I had sunk him.
"And now are you telling me it's true?" he went on.
"Are you telling me there's no proof?"
"Of course not; he said you and Albus arranged it in secret. He was to confirm information about Voldemort's plans to you and nothing else."
"There was a contract. Albus made a contract to protect him after the war."
"Well, where is it?"
I stood there gripping the counter behind me. I didn't want to admit that I didn't know. It was a basic safety precaution to keep all the dominoes from toppling. If I had fallen before the Dark Lord, Albus would have needed Lucius more than ever. He was the only one who knew the location of the contract. Only… at the end of the war, his portrait was to pass all information to the Order. As a portrait, he couldn't do much, but talk he certainly could, as I knew all too well. He should have given the contract location to the Order straight away, along with all the information I had given him. He was certainly adept at dumping out loads of information after a crisis was over. Was he deliberately withholding it for some reason? I didn't like the thought; whenever I didn't know his plans, it meant trouble.
Shacklebolt was going on. "He claimed that there was, but again, he couldn't produce it or even tell us where it was. I didn't believe him. Is that what you want as a favor? I might be able to arrange a sentencing hearing for him if we could present new evidence. A physical contract would help, but even without that, what about your memories? We might be able to arrange something. I could accidently 'discover' an extracted memory that you left behind for the Order in some secret location, for example."
I sighed. It would be impossible to show the memory to outsiders and have them understand. No one who hadn't served the Dark Lord would ever understand; it would probably bury Lucius even further. I had a hard enough time to make Albus understand.
It had been a hard time for me on many fronts. My position with the Dark Lord had been very shaky after his second rise. My reception at the graveyard… I still didn't like to think about it. I knew that I couldn't trust any information He gave me. It was possible, even likely for him to test me by feeding me false information and seeing if it would leak to the Order. I was of no use at all if I couldn't deliver information, and it was vitally important that I had some method of verifying my information. I chose Lucius.
I knew that I would have to force Lucius to cooperate. The stakes were far too high for him to agree otherwise. He couldn't in good conscience put his family at risk of the Dark Lord's wrath unless I gave him absolutely no choice and solid assurance of his safety. No choice, in that Albus bound him to a chair while I explained exactly how I would set him up as a traitor to the Dark Lord if he refused to join us. Solid assurance in the form of a contract between Albus and Lucius to be presented after the Dark Lord's fall and bring the Malfoy family intact through the aftermath of the war. He would have signed anything to keep Draco from the Kiss.
I knew that all the coercion was merely the leverage by which Lucius could free himself from the Dark Lord, but Albus couldn't quite understand the no choice was the only way he could take that step. Of course the Wizengamot wouldn't understand it either. If they saw my memory, well, the sight of Lucius Malfoy spitting at me from his captivity and calling me a 'stupid little hybrid' probably wouldn't aid his cause.
I couldn't even dredge up a large supply of memories of his cooperation with me. His own favor with the Dark Lord ended too quickly after the battle at the Ministry, just as my own rose with Emmeline's capture. His help with that matter… well, it held its own complications of criminal liability. His greatest service to me was probably simply in my knowledge that he was there and my information was accurate. If I appeared before the Dark Lord in that delicate time just that degree more confident and assured, could it have been the difference between the Dark Lord growing to trust me or trying to trap me? Of course it was impossible to know, and it would be ridiculous to try to convince the Wizengamot without proof.
I shook my head at Shacklebolt. Impossible.
"Well, no contract and no memories. You could appear before the Wizengamot and testify."
I stared at him.
"I would be happy to arrange a special session if I could count on your help."
"You're sodding loony."
"No," he said calmly. "If you're worried about security, we'll arrange security. And I've had plenty of practice fending off reporters."
"You think I'm going to walk into a Ministry hearing room, surrounded by Aurors and Ministry officials, and testify?"
"I would hope that you would consider it."
"Sod off. I'm not going to walk into a Ministry trap."
He sighed. "We've been through this already, but fine, let's go over it again. I've seen your record. I understand why you would distrust the Ministry. I've already explained that I'm not here as Minister and I'm not here to coerce you. I'm here as a private individual because I feel that I personally owe you. I'm here as a private individual to ask you a personal favor because I believe you are the only one who can help. I expect that you have a certain resistance to trusting me because of your experiences with the Ministry, and I'll happily disregard any rubbish you spew about the Ministry on that basis. Fine. But if you can't look past the office and the title and see the man in front of you, then we have a problem. In all my dealings with you, I have never betrayed you, I have never broken a promise to you, and I have never done anything to harm you. I have helped you and I want to continue to help you. Even when you talk rubbish at me, I'll give you some allowance because you've been to hell and back, and anyone who's been through that is bound to say some rubbish once in a while. I'll forget all the rubbish because of what I owe you and what you've done, but if you keep treating me as your enemy, someday I'll start remembering. Now, I would appreciate it if we could just take it as read that I'm not plotting to have you tossed into an oubliette somewhere!"
I felt the blood drain from my face at the last words.
"Dammit, Snape, I didn't come here to dress you down in your own kitchen. Is there any more tea?"
It was a peace offering of sorts. "No, no more bloody tea." I grudgingly took a seat at the table.
"Well then, let's take a look at this stupid situation. No contract."
"Is there anything I can do, in my power, to make you feel secure about testifying?"
"Not bloody likely."
"I can't," I admitted.
"It looks like we're stuck on that. And even with everything in place, if I arranged a new hearing based on the discovery of new evidence, that's not a guarantee of anything. I won't say that I've been successful in all of my reforms so far, but I have managed to separate the Wizengamot from the office of Minister at least. I can feel them out ahead of time and discuss it with them, but that's as far as my influence goes.
"Now, is there anything else I can do so that you would feel secure enough to come back and show us where the bodies are?"
He was silent for a moment. "You may not believe me, but if you had given me that answer from the beginning, I would have taken it." He rose. "Well, it's time for me to leave you in peace. You know how to contact me if you need anything."
I reset the door wards and alerts after he left. All my security back in place, I turned and surveyed my room. Everything was all in order again, undisturbed except for the small black box he had left behind, my posthumous Order of Merlin first class.
This story is a continuation of the series beginning with A New Skin and continuing in The Clear Cut. The Good Friend takes place roughly a month after the end of The Clear Cut. Though there will be references and characters from the previous stories, I will try to provide enough context (and footnotes, when necessary) so this story can be read on its own. And of course I encourage you to check out the earlier stories if you're interested!
This story is completely written, aside from editing/revisions/typing/etc. Because of the ongoing editing, I'll be posting every other week at first. I hope to move to a weekly posting schedule as the editing is completed. The story will be novella length, roughly 26 chapters.
Thank you for reading! I'll respond to every review that I can.