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Chapter 22: The Dark Lord
The first thing Severus heard when he Apparated onto the stoop outside headquarters was the wind, whistling high through the eaves of the roof above him. It was a lonely, eerie sound, and he shivered involuntarily upon hearing it. Nerves, tight and painful, were twisting his insides uncomfortably at the prospect of walking in and telling somebody about the conversation he had overheard. There was excitement, of course, at knowing something useful, something valuable… but accompanying it was the prickling sense he knew too well as conscience. And why shouldn’t he know it well? Hadn’t he tried to smother it for years?
He bit down hard on his lower lip and shoved his thoughts firmly away, almost physically, and glad for a moment that he had been training his brain so well in the art of blocking and storing his emotions. With a quick, sure motion, he raised his hand and rapped on the door in front of him; normally, Death Eaters came and went as they pleased, but it was late, and he figured it was probably better to be safe than sorry in this instance.
There was a lengthy pause, and then, finally, the door swung inward. Watery eyes blinked at Severus from a few inches below him, and he felt his lip curl instinctively. It was Pettigrew.
“You’re here, are you?” Severus sneered, forgetting for a second what he had come to headquarters to do in the first place. Thoughts of asking to see Roark flew from his mind as he gazed with undisguised loathing at the man in front of him. He felt just the same as he had upon seeing him at headquarters the first time around, fleeing the scene like – well, like a rat. Severus was quite sure Beth had no idea that he was here, and he had a sickening suspicion that he was masking still being a part of the Order, too. He felt like jinxing Pettigrew right where he stood, right now, just for what he was doing to Beth without her even realizing it.
Pettigrew’s eyes widened a bit, evidence that he was indeed not at all pleased to see who had showed up on the step. Good. “What do you need?” he said, in a voice that wasn’t quite as strong as he evidently hoped it would be.
Severus laughed humorlessly. “What, did they set you to answering the door? That’s all you could bring to the table? Pathetic.” The idea of knocking in the first place suddenly seemed like an incredible waste of time, and he shouldered past his former classmate, not even bothering to apologize when his shoulder shoved Pettigrew into the stretch of wall behind the door.
“You’re here late,” the mousy-looking man persisted stubbornly, in what Severus thought was a tremendous show of will – he’d always seemed before as though he’d been born without a spine, in Severus’s opinion. But, of course, he didn’t admit this aloud.
“Then they figured you were expendable, in case the intruder was unwelcome,” he said smoothly, staring at a spot just above Pettigrew’s head so as avoid looking at him directly as he spoke. “I need to speak to Roark, and as long as he’s got you playing servant, you may tell him I’m here.” His eyes flitted to Pettigrew with relish as the man opened and closed his mouth several times, turned a sort of burgundy color, and then disappeared up the makeshift stairs to the second floor of headquarters.
When he was gone, Severus slumped against the wall, pressing a forefinger into his temple so hard that he could feel a bit of his skull beneath the tightly-drawn skin there. He had to tell Beth – didn’t he? If she ever found out that he was keeping this from her, that he was hiding the fact that one of her friends was very possibly playing double agent… Well, he certainly didn’t want to think about it.
But how much could he tell her without breaching that line himself? If he told her about Pettigrew, he might as well tell her about what he’d overheard Dumbledore discussing with whoever Sybill was, and that was information he wanted to keep as close to him as possible. He felt an odd sort of protection over it, even though it was Dumbledore’s, and not his. And for all he knew, Dumbledore was fighting right alongside her – he’d no idea how whatever she was working for operated, if Dumbledore was a part of it and was going to go running back, spouting about the prophecy. What mattered was that it was the key to greater things for Severus, and right now, he was willing to die with it rather than part with it.
Even to Beth.
Severus drew in a deep breath and straightened, squaring his shoulders just as he heard Pettigrew’s steps on the stairs once more. For the second time that evening, he roughly shoved away the waves of guilt that crashed over him, determined to ignore them enough that they might disappear entirely. No matter what Beth was to him, he felt that he couldn’t risk whatever success might lie in store for him here, just to appease her – no matter how much he might have wanted to.
Pettigrew approached him again across the hall, a bit of a sour expression on his face, which only made Severus smirk again. “He’s upstairs,” he said morosely, hitching his thumb back in the direction he had just returned from. Clearly he hadn’t thought that Severus would have been seen by Roark, and being proven wrong wasn’t sitting well with him. Severus swept past him and ascended the stairs lightly, the weight in his stomach increasing with every step.
Roark was standing on the landing when Severus had climbed the stairs, which was surprising – he had expected his superior to be ensconced away in one of the rooms. He was standing in front of a tall arched window, his hands clasped loosely behind his back, and was staring out through it. At what, it wasn’t easy to discern – headquarters backed up to a narrow, rubbish-strewn alley, a brick wall on the other side of it. There was nothing particularly pleasing or calming about the view.
“I must tell you, Snape, the late hour of your visit intrigues me.” Roark spoke without turning around, and the knots in Severus’s abdomen tightened even more, a thing he hadn’t thought possible until that moment. The way he was speaking was pleasant enough, but there was a sort of barb beneath the words, and it wasn’t quite extending enough to cover his evident annoyance. “Unless my watch is lying to me, and it isn’t nearly two o’ clock in the morning?”
Severus pressed his lips together tightly in order to force back the sarcastic retort that rose to the forefront of his mind; now was not the time for such things. “It’s not,” he said, as lightly as he could manage without sounding overly flippant. “I have information.”
Roark turned to look at him then, raising an eyebrow high on his hairless forehead. “Oh?” he said. “Lucius Malfoy has already been here to report the occurrences of your little mission, if that’s what all this is about.” He smiled thinly. “But unless you actually managed to capture one of the sods who ambushed you, which none of your other companions seemed able to do –“
“It’s not about that,” Severus said quickly, allowing a bit of annoyance of his own to creep into the words now. At least now he could understand Roark’s attitude. He supposed he wouldn’t have been incredibly pleased with the outcome from an independent angle, either. “It’s about something that happened after,” he continued on while he still had the man’s attention.
Roark’s eyes flicked to the stairs as a slight noise from below drifted up to them. “Come with me, then,” he said tersely. “I’d rather not be eavesdropped upon by a man who’s already displayed traitorous tendencies.” The noise stopped abruptly, and Severus knew, just as Roark had sensed, that the disgusting excuse for a human had been poking about underneath them, trying to overhear whatever Severus had come to say.
Roark led him into a little room just to the right of the window, holding the door open for Severus and closing it behind him firmly once both were inside. It looked as though the space they were now in had once been a bedroom, long ago, when headquarters had presumably still been used as a house. There was a wide discolored rectangular patch on the floor, the wood a bit darker there than in other places, where a bed must have once sat. In the far corner a wardrobe still perched, the mirror on the outside of it tarnished and splotched, a spidery crack marring one corner. Next to the wardrobe was a small door, and through it Severus could just glimpse the gleam of the pipes of a small private bath.
“What’re you on about?” the older man said abruptly, before Severus could look around more. His brow was drawn so low over his eyes that the entire iris of them looked black, glinting with a bit of a sinister light. Severus swallowed before he could think about it, and, once again, instinctively reached for his wand before launching into his story.
“After the mission,” he began slowly, “I went to – to a pub.” He gritted his teeth against the eyebrow Roark raised at this, sensing the judgment wafting from his superior in near-tangible waves, and forced himself to plow on. “And Dumbledore walked in.”
At this, the dark-skinned man really did seem interested, genuinely so for the first time all night. “And?” he prompted, when Severus stopped to choose his next words.
“And I followed him upstairs – he had a woman with him –“ He felt a flush rise in his cheeks, wondering how that phrase might have sounded to objective ears. “They were doing an interview,” he added hastily. “I think. That’s what it sounded like. And then this woman, she – she started talking strangely.” He made a vague motion in the direction of his throat, for lack of anything else to do. “And she made a prophecy, a prediction – whatever. But,” he concluded, imbibing as much significance as possible into his voice, “it’s one that, I think, will interest the Dark Lord greatly.”
He could hear Sybill’s voice in his head again, that heavy, rasping voice: “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...” He shuddered as Roark stepped closer.
“And? What did it say?”
This was the moment he had been waiting for; if he sought power from this information, then Severus knew he had to assert it now. Telling this information to anyone who might relay it to Lord Voldemort without his knowledge would get him nowhere, and Roark would more than likely take the credit for the information if he had a chance to. “That,” he said haughtily, curling his lip more out of instinct than anything else, “is something that the Dark Lord’s ears alone should hear.”
Roark stared at him for a few long seconds, and then snorted. “You’re a kid,” he said venomously.
“And I have the information he needs,” Severus responded coolly. He drew himself up to his full height, a few inches shorter than Roark, and looked him in the eyes as best he could. “I know the risks; I’m here in part because of them. I wouldn’t be here telling you this if I thought it was something to be taken lightly.”
Roark continued to stare at him, his jaw working, although so sound was coming out of his mouth. At long last, he seemed to have realized that Severus was in earnest, no matter his displaced that earnest might turn out to be, and cursed softly under his breath. “Merlin help you if he isn’t pleased,” he spat, and shook back the left sleeve of his robe. A tattoo was etched onto his forearm, a dark skull with a snake coming out of its mouth like a grotesque tongue – a Dark Mark, identical in every way to Severus’s own. After the briefest of hesitations, Roark reached forward with the index finger of his opposite hand – and pressed it to the inky skull.
At first, Severus didn’t think anything had happened, and he couldn’t conceive why Roark was just holding his finger a bit absurdly to his forearm. Then, all of a sudden, there was a man in the room where a man had most certainly not been before – he appeared swiftly and silently, without a single announcement preceding his arrival, and Severus let out a yell, stumbling over his cloak and nearly falling.
This, he knew at once, as he desperately tried to pick himself back up and compose himself, had to be Lord Voldemort.
At first glance, there was nothing to mark him out as particularly special or different. He looked old, to be sure; his hair had still somehow retained the dark color it had more than likely held in youth, although the hairline had drastically receded. His skin was nearly white with paleness, and there was something about it – the bones, the tightness of the skin? – that made his features sharp, almost cruel. His eyes, which had evidently once been near-black, were now an odd mix between that color and red, a sort of dusky maroon that sent inexplicable shivers up Snape’s arms.
He did not look at Snape directly, though he had faced him when he had first appeared in the room, but instead turned to Roark, who had drawn himself up to full height as soon as his master had entered. “Why have you summoned me?” he asked imperiously, his voice high, cold, and drawling; Severus shuddered with renewed chills.
“My lord,” the other said in a deferential murmur, “the boy” – they both looked at Snape then, Lord Voldemort with a mixture of curiosity and distaste – “brings news he thinks is of importance to you. A prophecy, overheard from Albus Dumbledore.”
Voldemort’s eyebrows rose almost imperceptibly. “A prophecy?” he spat in contempt. In a sleek movement, he removed his wand from his robes; Severus caught a brief glimpse of a tattoo twisting on the other man’s white skin, identical to those of his followers. Voldemort paced slowly over to Snape, who eyed him warily, though he kept his ground.
“And where were you,” he said softly, “that you were near enough to Dumbledore to hear what he was saying? How am I to know your loyalties lie where you say they do?” He flicked the tip of his wand up to hover near Severus’s chin, and the latter swallowed hard against a lump of apprehension thickening in his throat.
“I would not be afraid to swear on it with an Unbreakable Vow,” said Severus, but Voldemort merely laughed, as though the idea was a ridiculous one.
“Don’t play that game with me,” he sneered. “We’ll have no need for vows, Unbreakable or otherwise.” He raised the point of his wand, rising until it rested at a point on Severus’s forehead, right in the center and only an inch or so from his eyes. “Legilimens.”
Instinct told Severus to resist the spell – he had been growing increasingly adept at doing so since his lessons in Occlumency had continued – but something stronger, something like common sense, allowed his mind to be invaded. It would not have done, he told himself, to have hidden his thoughts from the Dark Lord without cause. There was a nauseating sensation while his vision wavered, and then he was falling, falling into memories…
Severus pressed his ear to the door frame, trying desperately to hear what Sybill and Dumbledore were saying just on the other side of it. Sybill’s voice spoke into the silence, low and raspy and unnatural…
“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…”
He craned to hear more, and then footsteps sounded behind him –
With a great, shuddering gasp, Severus was returned to the present, feeling like he had just been doused with a bucket of extremely icy water. Lord Voldemort was standing over him (when had he fallen to the ground?) with a peculiar expression on his sharp face; he was twirling his wand between his fingers absently, as though he was not aware of the gesture. Roark was watching anxiously from a shadowed corner of the former bedroom.
“Get up,” Voldemort spat, and Snape scrambled to his feet, his heart racing. “Hold out your arm.” He didn’t need to indicate which arm he referenced; what other arm would he be talking about? He shoved back the sleeve of his robe in his eagerness to do as he was asked, some new emotion accompanying the fear in him now: Excitement, or anticipation, or perhaps even a combination of both. He watched, eyes wide, as Voldemort pressed the tip of his wand to the tattoo.
White-hot pain shot up his arm, and Severus gritted his teeth, but he refused to cry out. Yelling at the Dark Lord’s sudden appearance, falling to the ground when he’d let his mind be invaded – he had already displayed enough foolhardy weakness for one evening. He was strong, and he was determined, and he would not toss away the chances he had just attained for himself on the whim of acting selfish. It was duty before self now; he knew this with painful clarity.
“You will tell no one of this,” Lord Voldemort commanded, and with that, he swept from the room soundlessly – and yet, just before he left, Severus caught something in the man’s eyes that could have been fear. Roark watched him go steadily, toying with the gold ring on his thumb, and only looked back at Severus once the door had shut behind their master.
“What – what is this?” At a loss as to any other questions to ask, despite the fact that a thousand were now buzzing about in his brain, Severus showed Roark his tattoo. It looked no different, although it still tingled faintly with the fiery pain of a few minutes earlier. The other man glanced at his arm indifferently.
“That will allow you to summon him as you saw me do,” he said at last, slowly and cautiously, as though meaning to imprint upon Severus the seriousness of his words. “In the most extreme circumstances, of course – I need hardly warn you of that.” He turned away then, studying his reflection in the wardrobe mirror. He was right: Severus didn’t need to be told.
After a brief pause, Roark turned back. “Snape, I have to impress upon you the gravity of the situation. You are both more secure now – you have told the Dark Lord something valuable – and in a more precarious position than ever before. Watch your steps, lest you should become tempted to renege on the promises you’ve already bound to this place.”
Severus regarded him mildly. “I can assure you,” he said softly, “I’ve no intention of crossing.”
Roark nodded. “Let us both hope that it stays that way.” He swiveled again, back to the mirror. “It would be wise for you to leave now.” And, with no other direction, Snape obeyed.
It wasn’t until he was outside – down the stairs, through the entrance hall, and out the door, with no Pettigrew in sight – that the reality of what he had done hit him. Trembling slightly, Severus sank onto the crumbling stoop, hiding his face in his hands. It had been a very, very long night, and he wanted nothing more than to return to his flat and drift off into sleep without probing questions from Rosier or Avery, or any of the others, if they were still up. He knew this was unlikely, and the thought made him all the more weary.
Unbidden, an image of Beth swam into his mind’s eye, and his stomach was plagued with conflicting emotions of happiness and guilt. If he thought hard enough about it, he could still feel the place where her lips had touched his cheek before she had Apparated away. And how had he repaid her for it? He had become even more ensnared in the very thing that still might cause him to lose her forever.
But this was what he had set out to do from the first – to go places, to make a name for himself. And that’s what he was doing, wasn’t it? Beth could understand that. He had made it this far, and still they had rekindled something – no small feat, to be sure. She would never have to know about this prophecy, it wouldn’t affect her…
Severus raised his head and looked up at the sky, moonless and dull, the stars dim. He let out a sigh, his stomach clenching, and stood at last. This is what I am supposed to do. And yet, as he started for home, the guilt lingered still, toying incessantly with his mind and refusing him peace for the rest of the night.
A/N: And thus marks the end of three chapters that somehow all turned into being focused on Severus, despite the fact that this is Beth's story. But then again, he really is a very large part of her story at this point in the game, so I'm justified in doing that. And the fact that I love writing Snape, of course, didn't factor into it at all... What did you think? If you have the time, a review really would be so appreciated!
As in the previous chapter, the lines of the prophecy that Severus quotes and remembers are written by J.K. Rowling. I do not own any of them and do not pretend to do so.