Pink Green Blue

Bargains by Gehayi

Rating: G. Created: May 23rd, 2007. Updated: May 23rd, 2007. Read Reviews (2)
Disclaimer: Characters, the magical world, etc, is property of J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros, not the owner of this fic.

<b>DISCLAIMER:</b> This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No copyright or trademark infringement is intended, and no profit is being made.

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Fog. Fog unseasonable for early summer in England; fog, yellow, grimy and damp, leaching onto rivers and bargeways. Fog clinging to alleyways in London, to the shores of Cornwall, to the heights of Scotland's mountains. Fog, cold and dreadful, chilling men, women and children every to the marrow of their bones.

One misty, moisty morning that June, in the village of Spinner’s End, Severus Snape received a knock at his door.

Snape favoured the door with a jaundiced eye, but otherwise did not trouble himself to respond; doubtless the person knocking was some hapless Muggle haunted by fear and fog. There was no reason for anyone to be visiting him; certainly there was no one whose presence he would welcome.

Yet the knocking persisted. Not an Auror, Snape was sure. He had spoken to other Death Eaters who had narrowly escaped capture by the wizarding world's protectors of the status quo. Every Death Eater had spoken of loud, demanding pounding in an attempt to get the householder to open the door...so that the Aurors could step over the sill into the house, where they would be protected by guest-right magic. Even attacking a guest could trigger a curse that would reverberate throughout one's century for centuries to come. And the fact that the guest was an unwelcome one made no difference, magically; the curse would take, nevertheless.

But this knocking wasn't a loud pounding. It was more like a series of short, almost tentative raps...as if the person knocking wanted to be heard...but not that badly.

So. Not a Death Eater, either. Death Eaters had a tendency toward the dramatic, such as blasting a door into sawdust and then stepping through the ruined doorway, wands in hand and feral smiles on their faces. They didn't bother to knock. Knocking was a matter of courtesy, or at least the pretence of courtesy. Death Eaters were predators, and predators did not trouble themselves with politeness toward prey.

And every unexpected meeting of Death Eaters was potentially lethal. The Dark Lord's followers did not visit each other, at least not socially. Of course, most of them knew each other, as many of the Dark Lord's followers were blood kin. But they didn't mention their membership, at least not outside of gatherings that He called. If a Death Eater had burst in on Snape, it would have been because he was, at last, suspect, and therefore expendable.

Not an Auror. Not a Death Eater. Dumbledore, perhaps?

There was really no reason for Dumbledore to come to his house--not that such illogicities had ever stopped the old wizard before. It would be entirely like Dumbledore to think that a message sent by owl would be far too risky, and yet to believe that his own presence on Snape's doorstep would be completely overlooked...even by the most fervently diligent on both sides.

The idea of Dumbledore standing on Snape's doorstep, plainly visible to the ambitious spies Snape knew were watching his house, was a discomfiting one. And it was all too probable.

Snape turned from his book, strode to the door, flung it open, started to snarl, "Come in!"

The sight of the small, nervous, fair-haired man standing on the stoop, shuffling his feet back and forth, choked off the invitation.

Snape glared down at Pettigrew. "You may be under the impression that I require more vermin in this house, Wormtail," he said disdainfully. "Let me assure you that I do not."

Pettigrew sighed. "You seem to be under the impression that I would visit you voluntarily," he replied, in the patient tone people use to speak to idiots and to old people. "May I suggest that we talk over the reason for my visit indoors--privately, away from prying eyes?"

Snape glared at Pettigrew. He had never liked the Mudblood wizard, not even when they were both first-years, and he liked Pettigrew even less now. He was a lickspittle toady, loyal to no one and nothing except to the preservation of his own miserable life. The very thought of letting the wretched creature into his home sickened him.

Unfortunately, Pettigrew was right; prying eyes were watching. Having this conversation on his doorstep would be exceedingly unwise, especially if word got back to Voldemort that Snape had treated Pettigrew with contempt. Voldemort trusted the creature; treating Pettigrew with contempt--despite the fact that he deserved it--would be tantamount to treating the Dark Lord with contempt.

Snape had no desire to commit suicide. But the fact that Pettigrew was being pragmatic and sensible, as well as right, sickened him to the point that he could scarcely breathe. No traitor, especially one who had betrayed both sides, had any business being right on any subject.

Glaring poisonously at Pettigrew, Snape motioned him to come in.

He served Pettigrew tea. This had nothing to do with manners and everything to do, again, with self-protection. After a guest had accepted bread, salt, and water from another wizard, he was as bound by guest-right magic as his host was. This was not to say that food and drink compelled a guest to remain harmless, but any guest who harmed his host after that would be damning himself to horrors which would follow him for the rest of his life...horrors which had been known to curse souls after death as well.

Potter and Black would have taken such chances, taunting him as they did so. But not Pettigrew.

As teas go, it was quite astonishingly bad. The beverage itself was evil and bitter; the scones stale and brick-hard; the tablecloth stained and crumb-covered. He might have no choice but to serve Pettigrew food, but he was under no compulsion to make the pestilent beast feel welcome.

Certain that Pettigrew would whine childishly about the food or the reception he had received, Snape sat calmly and sipped his tea, ready to savage his 'guest' with blistering vituperation.

Annoyingly, Pettigrew said nothing. Snape gritted his teeth, hating Pettigrew for being the whimpering coward he was, hating him even more for not whimpering.

It was only after Snape referred to him several times as Wormtail that Pettigrew spoke up. "You call me Pettigrew instead of Wormtail; I'll call you Snape instead of Snivellus. Which," he added in a reflective tone, "is a better bargain for you than for me. James and Sirius called you by that nickname. Remus and I never did."

"I'm amazed you can still speak their names." Snape regarded Pettigrew with smug elation. "Do you know what I did when I heard of Black's death? I laughed."

For a second, some indefinable emotion flared in Pettigrew's pale eyes. Fear? Anger? Something else? Snape couldn't tell.

But when Pettigrew spoke, his voice sounded as if all feeling had been ironed away. "Yes. I have no doubt that you did." A sideways glance. "By the way, you still haven't asked why I'm here."

"Pettigrew." Snape's tone made it clear that he was conferring a gift by calling Pettigrew by his name. "The magnitude of my indifference to your presence is beyond the ability of mortals to calculate."

"He wishes me to become your assistant."

Snape leaned forward, his beetle-black eyes glaring into Pettigrew's pale blue ones. "I do not need an assistant," he said, enunciating every syllable with precision. "The Dark Lord knows this."

Pettigrew snorted. "Believe me, he's well aware of that. This has absolutely nothing to do with efficiency."

"And what DO you think this is about, if not efficiency?" Snape demanded. Not that he cared one whit what the creature believed, but Pettigrew's thoughts--limited and undoubtedly incorrect as they were--might well prove a useful guide, nonetheless.

"Practicality."

"There is nothing practical about forcing the two of us to work together. I can provide perfectly adequate potions on my own."

"As can I," retorted Pettigrew. "I was making Healing Potions for him for a year without your assistance, if you remember."

Snape glanced at Pettigrew's silver hand, silently daring him to say something about being able to brew a resurrection potion. After all, any normal Death Eater would boast about having revived the Dark Lord.

Pettigrew noticed the glance, winced, and hastily concealed the hand beneath a spotty linen napkin.

Well, well. So the creature wasn't proud of having resurrected their master. Very interesting.

Snape gazed at Pettigrew. "Given that neither one of us requires the other's help in doing his job, what is the point of this...assignment?"

"Er--I believe the point is to irritate the two of us as much as possible."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "I doubt if the Dark Lord would be so ridiculously petty."

Pettigrew gave him a look that said clearly, Snape, you're full of dragon droppings, and then sighed. "Look. He doesn't trust either of us. You've been undercover for years. I've been away from...well, everyone. On both sides. And yet we've both provided things he needs. Information. Health. He needs us, but he doesn't believe that we're...um...whole-hearted in our support."

"If he suspects us, why not kill us?"

"At this point? I doubt he has anything solid. And as I said, he needs us. What if he killed one of us--or both of us--and then discovered later that someone else was betraying him?"

"I'm surprised that he would even think of suspecting me," said Snape. "You, on the other hand, have turned treachery into an art form."

Pettigrew gazed up at the ceiling. "Oh, he's thought of you. He's asked me questions about you. Just as I suspect he's asked you questions about me."

Snape forced himself not to react to the last comment. Probably just a lucky guess on the creature's part.

"Very well," he said evenly. "Say that you are correct. Why would he put the two of us together, if he suspects us both?"

Pettigrew continued to gaze at the ceiling. "Because we loathe each other," he said softly. "We've loathed each other since we were boys. We've used each other's quirks and habits and styles of speech to play Lord alone knows how many practical jokes. We know each other painfully well.

"He knows we can't stand each other. He'll be expecting you to complain to him about me, and me...well. I wouldn't complain, not to him. But I would beg him to rescind this assignment. And because we do know what's normal and what's not, he'll want us to come up with details about behaviour that isn't QUITE right, that's just a hint off. Details that'll comprise evidence, eventually.

"It's much simpler than setting people to spy on us. Why waste the valuable time of other Death Eaters, when we'll willingly spy on each other?"

Snape turned this theory over in his mind. Reluctantly, he admitted to himself that Pettigrew might have the right of it. The Dark Lord was always suspicious, always on guard. Hardly surprising. Almost all of the Death Eaters were Slytherins--at heart, if not in actuality--fiercely ambitious and willing to double-cross anyone to gain what they most wanted.

In the case of the purebloods, Voldemort could threaten their finances and their families. Neither threat would work on them. Both had been poor as boys, and neither was swimming in Galleons as an adult. And as for their kin...

Snape had no memories of his Muggle father; his mother had left him when Snape was a small boy. His mother had died extraordinarily young, under circumstances he knew nothing about even now. He had no siblings. As for his mother's father, Octavian Prince...well, he'd seen the man precisely once, when his mother had taken him to his grandfather's house in a vain attempt to interest him in little Severus. There had been a monstrous row, mostly about him and his contemptibly impure blood. It had ended with Octavian casting curses at Snape and his mother as they fled the house. Not his worst memory by any means. But it came close.

Snape knew little of Pettigrew's kin, and cared less. He was aware that Lucius and Bellatrix had killed Pettigrew's sisters, husbands and children. He didn't know even now if the two had killed on Voldemort's orders--slaughter of family and friends was quite good at persuading people to turn traitor, and Pettigrew was far from the first the Death Eaters had used that method on. On the other hand, they might merely have been overzealous. It didn't matter now, except to Pettigrew. Dead was dead.

Nor did they have any friends whose lives Voldemort might use to ensure their loyalty. Pettigrew had betrayed the only friends he had ever had. And Snape doubted that his complicated relationship with Lucius Malfoy would be deemed friendship. It was more like a long-term political alliance--comfortable and convenient for both in many ways, but subject to change any time the wind shifted. And Dumbledore was no one's friend; the old man was entirely focused upon winning the twenty-year chess game known as Voldemort's war. If Dumbledore hadn't seen him as potentially valuable to the Order, he never would have bothered to trying to bring a young Dark Wizard in from the cold. Yes, Dumbledore had wanted to believe the best of Snape...but others had tried to change sides, pleading Imperio or claiming to have seen the error of their ways, only to be met with a demand for information they could not provide.

No family. No friends. Only the residue of an ancient hatred, which Voldemort was clearly hoping to use as a tool of espionage against them both.

And it would have worked. No question of that.

"Very well," he said grudgingly. "Let us suppose that, against all logic, I have decided to believe you. What do you suggest we do about it?"

Pettigrew shrugged. "He's dug a pit for us to fall into. It would be impolite for us to avoid it."

"If you look closely," Snape said in an icicle tone, "you may notice that I am not even remotely amused by these pathetic jests."

Pettigrew, oddly, did look amused. "Avoiding the trap would tip him off. Seeming to fall into it--and please note, I said 'seem'--might work a bit more to our advantage."

"Just what do you have in mind?"

"Cooperation. Compromise. We report on minor, insignificant details that genuinely irk us--he'd notice if we didn't grumble about each other--but we keep the spying on each other to a minimum. And we stay out of each other's way."

"And if anyone should chance to drop by?" Not that he was expecting witches or wizards to drop by; few people visited him. However, the Dark Lord might well decide that their observations about each other should be checked by a third party.

Pettigrew looked him in the eye for the first time. "Then I play the nervous, inept Mudblood the rest of the Death Eaters see me as." He shrugged again. "It's no effort for me to play at being frightened in the presence of purebloods; I've been doing that since I was eleven. Besides, they'll believe any incompetence, any stupidity, of those who are...less than pure."

Yes. Snape knew that to be true.

"And what makes you think I would be amenable to such treachery?" he asked, steepling his sallow, potion-stained fingers. "What you are proposing, after all, is deception of the Dark Lord. Unlike you, I do not make a practise of betraying my allies."

Pettigrew shot Snape a look. Come now, Snape, the look said. You've already deceived Dumbledore and the Order; you've been doing so for years. The only side you're on is your own. But when he spoke, his voice was calm, almost mild. "I would think that you would be glad not to have another spy spying on you."

"I would only have your assurance that you would refrain from spying. Or that you are not, in fact, betraying our Lord yet again."

A deep sigh. "Leaving aside the whole issue of me and betrayal, let's consider the practical side of this, shall we? You know perfectly well that I'm not reporting to the Order; you would have heard if I had."

Snape sneered. "Am I supposed to believe that you are so fiercely enamoured of the Death Eaters that you would not even think of turning your coat again?"

Something in Pettigrew's face shattered. For a second, the muscles in his face twisted the wrong way, as if he were fighting not to cry.

"What I would or wouldn't do doesn't matter," he said softly. "The Order wouldn't listen to me, even if I handed them the method for winning the war on a silver platter."

"Hardly sensible."

"They're Gryffindors. Which," Pettigrew added, looking away from Snape, "you are not, and I...never was. They don't think in terms of sense, but of honour." Wonderment tinged his voice as he said the last sentence; it was as if he were observing some rare but incomprehensible, and ultimately useless ability, like fire walking.

"Honour," Snape said dryly, "does not win wars."

"I don't think they understand that yet."

A pause stretched between them as Snape thought. The idea of relying on Pettigrew's imperfect loyalty was a sickening one. Yet the bargain might, ultimately, prove to be a good one. After all, to almost the entire wizarding world, a wizard who had turned Dark could not possibly return to the side of light. Pettigrew had nowhere else to go.

Nevertheless, Snape had no intention of risking his life on Pettigrew's isolation. Not without proof.

"You've made an adequate argument," he said at last. "But I require a show of good faith."

Pettigrew raised his eyebrows in a 'From ME?' expression. "What kind of good faith?"

"Evidence that you are not going to scurry back to the Dark Lord and inform him that I am not only able but also eager to avoid his scrutiny...with your connivance, of course."

"I don't know how I can prove that," Pettigrew said slowly, rubbing his chin. "It's not as if you ever considered me particularly trustworthy at the best of times."

"I never considered you trustworthy at all," said Snape, his mouth contorting in a small moue of distaste. "However...I have heard rumours that the Dark Lord has, on occasion, used the Legilimens spell on you."

Pettigrew, turning porridge-grey, shivered, sat straight up, and clenched the arms of his chair in a white-knuckled grip. "Y-y-yes."

Snape gazed at him, taking careful note of the stammering and the trembling. "Legilimancy frightens you?"

A wince and a shudder. "It's...it feels like an ice pick in the brain."

Actually, the more subtle and painless Legilimancy was, the more likely the caster was to garner accurate information, uninfluenced by physical or emotional agony. Moreover, Snape was far better at blocking invasions of his mind than he was at reading the minds of others; he had always found dabbling the disorganised thoughts and violent emotions of others to be most distasteful. But he saw no reason to mention these things.

Pettigrew, cringing against the back of his chair, looked very much like a cornered rat. Snape couldn't decide if he was going to flee or leap for Snape's throat. At last he squinched his eyes shut. "All r-r-right," he whispered. "I-i-if this will reassure you."

As Legilimens spells went, it wasn’t much. Snape had neither the desire nor the inclination to delve deeply into the cesspool of a Mudblood’s mind.

It was indeed unpleasant. Pettigrew’s brain all but seethed with fear and desperation. Hatred--for Bellatrix, for Lucius, and most of all for himself--pocked his mind like black holes dotting a galaxy. There was no loyalty to the Dark Lord, only memories of pain and torture, and terror that the smallest disobedience--or reports of disobedience--would cause the agony to recur. And death was a horror that Pettigrew could scarcely endure contemplating, a waking nightmare filled with once human, multi-faceted, mindless eyes that were mutely screaming.

Snape dug deeper, searching for hidden motives. To his surprise, he found nothing. Oh, he found dislike, anger, even contempt...which Snape, considering the source, found more than a little absurd. He discovered twenty-year-old memories of schoolboy taunts and insults, which Pettigrew had apparently buried in his mind like pirate treasure.

Plenty of dislike for Snape himself. But no deception, no planned double-cross. Nothing but a ferocious desire to survive at all costs--even if it meant abasing himself before an old enemy.

Snape withdrew from the other wizard's mind swiftly and studied Pettigrew thoughtfully. Not an ally he'd ever coveted, and not one he'd ever be comfortable with. Pettigrew was a coward, a traitor, an opportunist. And right now, he was staring at Snape as if Snape had suddenly metamorphosed into a Dementor.

But he was a survivor. A very perceptive survivor. And that might make all the difference.

"Very well," Snape said at last. "Consider it a bargain...at least for now."

After all, things could change abruptly. The war might intensify. Dumbledore might retire from the Order, or be killed in some pointless raid or other. The Potter boy might conveniently perish, and simplify matters enormously. The Dark Lord could, without warning, decide that a third party was the traitor. Any of these things could cause their Lord to terminate Pettigrew's assignment. He might even terminate Pettigrew. No harm in keeping a good thought.

Pettigrew merely nodded at his words, as if Snape's agreement were no more than he had expected from a reasonable man.

This galled Snape. Pettigrew should be grovelling in gratitude, not nodding in assent as if he were a princeling granting a favour.

"I shall not make any promises--magical or otherwise--concerning this arrangement of ours," he said, more curtly than he had intended.

"Oh, I didn't expect you to."

And that galled even more. "What do you expect of me, then?"

Pettigrew favoured him with a bland expression. "I expect you to obey the precise terms of the agreement," he said, with just the faintest mimicry of Snape's tone in his voice. "And I also expect you to search for loopholes that will enable you to get rid of me with ease and with a minimum of fuss. By the same token, I expect you to realise that any double-cross you implement will be repaid in kind. I learned how to do that, years ago. From experts."

Exactly what Snape himself would have planned. This did not make him feel any better.

And the fact that one of the tormenters of his childhood had thought of this just made things worse.

Perhaps it was this last that caused him to lash out in a way he was sure would hurt. "Completely worthy of you, Pettigrew. Sly, calculating, and utterly devoid of honour."

Pettigrew smiled bitterly. A mocking light glinted in his pale blue eyes. "Honour," he said calmly, "is for Gryffindors."

***

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