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Chapter 27: The Prophecy Unearthed
Beth was pacing in front of the tiny window of her flat, her feet dragging over the poor-quality carpet so often that little marks had been scuffed into it, showing up darker than the rest of the fibers. Her hands were knotted in the front of her robes, though occasionally she lifted one to rub her nose, frowning thoughtfully. Several times over the course of the evening she had mentally urged herself to stop her nervous habits, but, then again, tonight probably wasn’t the best sort of night to be quitting those cold turkey.
Severus would be arriving at her door at any moment, and she was hard pressed to keep herself from a full-on panic attack.
At first she hadn’t believed the validity of letter, even if it had been Severus’s owl that had brought it. It would have been very like Sirius to play a prank like this on her, even with the discomfort about the subject of Severus Snape that still hung over the pair of them, like a pall. But it had been his owl, after all, and the handwriting had been very much his – she would have recognized it anywhere – and it had only been after she’d read the letter a second time that the meaning of the hastily-scrawled words had begun to sink in:
I need to talk to you. I’ll be at your place in an hour – I hope you’ll be there.
That was all the letter had said; there was no indication of why he might need to talk to her so badly, or why he was desperate enough to come to her flat (her flat!) without even confirming whether or not she would actually be present. There was nothing she couldn’t take at face value, and that was perhaps the most nerve-wracking thing about the letter. Of course there was a meaning behind it, but Beth was far beyond deciphering it.
Although, she thought now, glancing quickly at the window, and only seeing her slightly harried expression thinly reflected in the dark glass, she supposed it was rather a fortunate circumstance that she was home at all when the letter came. She had, in fact, been preparing to head to the Leaky Cauldron with Sirius and Peter, a long-overdue arrangement the lot of them had made. James was preparing for a second move, repacking the boxes he’d only so recently unloaded, and Remus was still feeling ill from the most recent effects of the full moon, so only the three of them had agreed to go – and Beth had had every intention of going, until the letter.
When Sirius and Peter had shown up ten minutes later, and she’d confessed to not feeling well, Sirius had squawked indignantly about loyalty, and many other guilt-inducing claims, until Beth had told him it was a feminine problem. He had shut up rather quickly then, and he and Peter had hustled off before she could elaborate on what these problems might be. It wasn’t technically a lie – she was a girl, after all, and this could very well be a problem – but such claims were some of the perks to having an all-male group of close friends.
Beth did feel a bit guilty for tricking him. She knew that she shouldn’t be keeping secrets from him, one of her very best friends, and especially now that there really wasn’t a very good reason for her to be doing so. And he had, after all, returned her silver bracelet to her, after having found it on the sidewalk outside – which, if anything, was a show of goodwill in his favor. But there was a small part of her still that felt uncomfortable broaching the topic. And anyway, how would he ever find out?
Not that that made her feel any better now.
The ticking of the battered secondhand clock on her mantel buzzed in her ears as she continued pacing and glancing, and Beth gritted her teeth against the noise. She unwound one of her hands from her robes then, bringing it to her left wrist and toying with the small bird charm on the bracelet. It’s nothing, she told herself firmly, trying to make herself believe it. Nothing at all. He’s probably seen something he wants to tell me about, or remembered something, or…
But she knew the excuses sounded feeble, even inside her own head. He’d never written about something like that before, had he? Why should he have started to do so tonight? The almost embarrassing though of his just wanting to see her flitted briefly through her mind, but she pushed the notion away quickly. There had been an intensity in his letter that belied that.
When a knocking came at the door a few minutes later, it was almost a relief, while simultaneously sending her heart rocketing into her mouth. Beth stopped pacing at once, staring at the door as though willing it open with her mind. And, when that didn’t necessarily work, she breathed out a long breath, tucked an already-placed strand of hair behind her ear needlessly, and crossed to the front door.
Severus was standing on the threshold, his eyes catching hold of hers instantly, as though he knew exactly where to look to meet her gaze when she stood in front of him. His hands were thrust into the pockets of his robes, his expression studiously blank.
“Hello,” he said quietly, and Beth felt her pulse increase just a bit at the word. “May I come in?”
“I – yes,” she managed, somewhat flustered, and stepped back to allow him entrance. He swept quietly into the room, looking out of place in her somewhat shabby sitting room, and yet perfectly at home, all at once.
“Sit down, if you like.” Beth found, rather to her dismay, that she was fighting to keep her tone as casual as possible. What was it about his being here, she wondered in the back of her mind, that made her feel so stiff and formal, and not at all like she normally did around Severus? But he was evidently feeling the same; his posture was stiff, as though a metal rod extended the length of his spine.
There was a slight, mildly awkward pause as Beth watched him take her up on her offer, sinking to sit on the very edge of her sagging loveseat. When he offered no further evidence as to the meaning of his annoyingly cryptically letter, she tried again at normalcy. “Can I get you tea? Or coffee? I think there’s a tin of biscuits, if Sirius hasn’t eaten them all –“
“No, thank you,” he said. “I – I have something to tell you, Beth.” He glanced up at her again, and somehow the look sent a short, sharp chill dancing up the nape of her neck. “Do you want to sit down, too?”
Wordlessly, Beth took a seat on the opposite end of the loveseat, her hands automatically resuming their knotting of the front of her robes without her even realizing it. But if she had thought that Severus would automatically volunteer information after that, she was wrong. It was several moments before he spoke again at all.
“Do you –“ He stopped, cleared his throat, and started yet again. “A few weeks ago, after that – that run-in on the street, where you…” He trailed off and looked at her helplessly, but Beth already felt a bit of warmth begin to creep into her cheeks as he spoke. She knew exactly what he was talking about, despite his being unable to get the words out: That mission, the one that had occurred not long after Sirius had found out she was still in contact with Severus. That had been the time she’d kissed him on the cheek.
“I know,” she interjected quickly, hoping to spare both him and her any more potential embarrassment. “What about it?”
“After that, we patched Wilkes up from your curse” – his lips curved into a half-smile at that – “I took off. I didn’t go back to headquarters; I went to Hogsmeade. To the Hog’s Head.” Severus took in a deep breath, as though to steel himself for whatever he was about to say. “Dumbledore came in then, with a woman – she was apparently a candidate for an open Divination position.”
As he was speaking, Beth could feel her insides tightening with apprehension, but she stifled the unpleasant feeling. She could remember the meeting after the night Severus was describing – and hadn’t Dumbledore been acting just a bit different than usual? This wasn’t really news, of course, as the man wasn’t really sane in the strictest sense of the term. But why hadn’t she paid closer attention?
Severus looked a bit ashamed to be saying the next bit. “Well, I – you know what I’m doing, Beth.” He sounded frustrated, though she could tell it wasn’t at her. Unthinkingly, she laid a hand on his arm, and it seemed to imbibe a fraction of resolve into him. “I followed him up the stairs, to the upper rooms. And… I listened into the conversation.”
He stopped again here; Beth frowned. “Okay,” she said slowly. “Well – but, I mean, what does that have to do with -?”
“No,” he interrupted insistently, and she popped her mouth closed at once. “I mean, that’s not it. Their conversation was…” He breathed out, a long, slow breath, and dropped his face into his hands. “I overheard a prophecy,” he said at last, the words heavily muffled through his skin, “that this woman made to Dumbledore.”
Her throat had suddenly gone very dry; she swallowed against it, willing her heart back into its normal place, which it hadn’t resumed to begin with. “What did it say?” she asked, in a rough whisper.
Severus lifted his head at that, and the look in his eyes sent small, stabbing pains through Beth’s heart. He truly looked sorry for whatever he was about to say, and although that made her feel none the better, anticipating what it was, it made her wish more than anything that he didn’t feel obligated to tell her. That they were on the same side in this war, and didn’t need the secrets, the quiet, or the fear about whatever the next day would bring.
“It spoke of a child born at the end of July,” he said, speaking fast, though nothing was ever less pleasant just because it was spoken in a rush. “Who – who could defeat the Dark Lord.” As soon as he had finished, he stood up from the sofa and threaded his fingers through his hair.
But for a moment, Beth still didn’t realize just what this news had to do with her – did it mean that Severus was in greater danger than he already had been? And then something clicked in her brain, the piece that sometimes still refused to acknowledge just how old she really was. Because she did, in fact, know the exact significance that Severus’s words held…
She looked up at him helplessly; his face was drawn slightly, a mask of desperation and apologies. It seemed that he had watched her work out exactly what it meant, a child born at the end of July. And it was a sure bet that Severus himself had come to the same conclusion. It could mean Frank and Alice’s baby – or it could mean Lily and James’s.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered raggedly, and Beth let out a long, shuddery breath she hadn’t even known she was holding. “I know it doesn’t affect you directly, but I –“
“Of course it does.” Her voice was softer than she expected, but Severus stopped talking at once as soon as they had left her mouth. He dropped his hands slowly, silently, to his sides. “You know just as well as I do who that could mean, don’t you? Sev, it could mean my best friend.”
He winced visibly. “You know Lily’s due then,” Beth continued, her voice increasing in pitch as the reality of the fact began to sink in, sending small shivers racing up her arms. “And you’ve been sitting on this information –“
“Because it’s not mine to tell!” His fingers went again to his scalp. “The things that could happen to me if anyone knew I was here at all, if anyone knew I’d told –“
“Then why did you tell me?!” Beth’s voice had risen to a tremulous shout now; she stood up hotly off the couch, turning herself so she faced Severus directly. His mouth was half-hanging open in apparent shock.
“Because I – I thought you’d want to know!” he said, cheeks paling as his voice rose to match hers. “We both said we knew the risks, and this is one of them.”
She bit down hard on her bottom lip, rubbing her nose. “Taking risks doesn’t mean you coming here and putting your life in danger just so you can ease your conscience. We also agreed that we’d keep our affairs separate, if you recall!”
“There are some things more important than who might or might not find out whatever I’ve been doing with my time!”
As soon as the words had left his mouth, a thick, ringing silence descended over the room; no rebuttal was offered, no further defense provided. Beth stared hard at Severus, and as he returned the gesture with equal force, something inside of her caved quietly; His last words had not escaped her, though she couldn’t yet find it within herself to be pleased at the meaning behind the angry tone they’d been said in. For what seemed like a veritable eternity, neither of them made a sound, but just stood looking at each other, challenging the other to make the next move.
She broke first; sighing deeply, Beth pressed the tips of her fingers lightly to her eyes, her heart clenched uncomfortably in the middle of her chest. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. She felt drained, exhausted, as though she’d just sprinted up seven flights of stairs; her head was throbbing horribly. “I’m not thinking. I know you’re right.”
And then, to her immense surprise (though not, she had to admit to herself, unwelcome in the slightest), there was a slight rustling movement, and Severus wrapped his arms around her, hands resting lightly on the blades of her shoulders. Beth rested her forehead on his chest, breathing in deeply and trying desperately not to cry – what was she crying about, anyway? – while he held her to him.
“You don’t have to be sorry,” he said at last, his voice rough. “There’s nothing to be sorry for. And I promise you – I promise you – that everything’s going to be all right.”
Beth said nothing; there was nothing to say, standing here with Severus’s arms around her. But her mind clicked into gear nonetheless. And that, she thought horribly, as silence once again descended around the pair of them, is exactly the sort of promise that nobody can ever end up keeping.
“Lily?” James poked his head around the corner of the corridor, his voice slightly muffled from the quill clamped between his lips. He didn’t like the way it echoed, either; it made the flat seem much emptier than it actually was. Then again, this very well might be something he and his wife would have to get used to, at least until things with You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters quieted down a bit. He hated moving, but Lily’s safety – and their baby’s – was much more important than his present opinions about the matter.
“Lily, where are you?”
He worked with difficult to extract a bit of Spello-tape from his finger, cursing softly as it ripped a small patch of hair from one of his knuckles. He’d been stupid enough to try and label and tape the cardboard box of kitchen dishes at the same time, and wasn’t proud enough to deny times when he needed his wife’s help. But still there was no answer, though he’d distinctly heard her puttering around in the near-empty bedroom only ten or fifteen minutes earlier. Still trailing a bit of the impossibly sticky tape on the bottom of his shoe, James scuffed his way in that direction.
He stopped cold in the doorway, bracing himself on the frame of the door with either hand. Lily was looking into the long mirror still affixed to the back of the couple’s closet door, her hands on her hips. She was – James squinted a bit, trying to remember precisely – into her seventh month of pregnancy now, her old robes long having since been switched out for a special set of maternity ones. It was these she was wearing now.
“Lily?” She didn’t turn around, but James knew that she had heard him. She turned her head slightly to the side, studying her reflection, her eyes downcast slightly – looking at the baby, he realized, with a sudden and rather foreign emotion, something like wanting to smile and gasp at the same time. It came out instead as a sort of strangled little cough.
“Do you think we’ll be happy in Godric’s Hollow?” she asked suddenly, as though only voicing one of a stream of thoughts that had been running through her head. James fought back that weird emotion again and, having finally disentangled the Spello-tape from the bottom of his sneaker, padded softly across the carpet towards her.
“Of course we will,” he said softly. “I’ll have you there, won’t I?” She smiled briefly at him in the mirror, and then looked back down again, gnawing on her bottom lip. A sort of ache centered itself around James’s heart at that small gesture, and he closed the rest of the distance between them, placing his hands lightly on her shoulders. “Hey. You’re going to be great, Lils.”
She grinned at him then, and it looked so much more like her old self – not this new Lily, this Lily that made his heart hurt for her – that he grinned back out of relief.
“We’ll be absolutely fine,” he repeated, more firmly. And, for just a minute or two, he could almost bring himself to fully and completely believe it.
A/N: I love getting to post chapters every week for you guys, and I'm always really, really excited to do it. But these past few weeks, I've started to realize just how close to the end I am. And then there will be a short break, like there was between the first two books, and then I'll start posting Breaking Even -- and it's just too weird! How did it get to the point where I was approaching being done with a fourth of the last book in this trilogy (working on the sixth chapter of twenty-eight total)? When did I write all those words? Life's weird.
Mad, mad props to Callie for being such a dear and reviewing most of this story's chapters in one go, by the way! That really meant so much to me. All of your reads and reviews and favorites do! Thank you for stopping back by once again, everyone!