During the following months, the situation in the wizarding world went from bad to worse. There were more and more strange deaths. Some occured in the streets, but not the great majority of them. There was no safe haven. People died in their homes, whether they were under many spells of protection or not. In one case, no one – not even the best Auror, Alastor Moody – was able to say for sure what had happened. The mansion was well guarded by anti-Apparition charms, the chimneys were not part of the floo network and there were warding spells on all the doors and windows. And yet the old wizard and witches who lived there were found dead in their bed.
Of course, they had been known detractors of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
In late december, when Dumbledore heard that Lily and James Potter had had another narrow escape, he knew there were now "thrice defiers". Fortunately, the young couple had decided to wait for a more peaceful time before starting their own family. And anyway, Dumbledore thought he already knew who would give birth to Tom Riddle’s nemesis. In fact, there were two possibilities… unless one of the children was a girl. Alice Longbottom was pregnant and would give birth to a child in late July. Like her husband, Frank, Alice was an Auror… and a member of the Order of the Phoenix – which was to say a member of Dumbledore’s network. Isabel Defthand and her husband, Tim, worked together on a special project for the Ministry of Magic, in the Department of Mystery. They were still alive after three assassination attempts, and the young woman was also expecting a baby.
Then, in January, Lily paid Dumbledore a visit, at Hogwarts. As soon as she came into his office, he knew something was… not wrong, but…
"Professor, I can’t believe you trust him!" she said.
"I suppose you are talking about Severus Snape," Dumbledore answered reasonably.
But then Fawkes crooned and fly to the young woman’s side, and Dumbledore felt stunned.
"You’re pregnant?" he said, his eyes widening.
"Yes," Lily answered in an annoyed tone, giving the Phoenix a dark look. Then she laughed ruefully and patted his head. "I didn’t mean to tell you… not yet. I’m already cosseted by my husband… and his three best friends." She sighed, than added. "But let’s get back to the subject at hand…"
"Lily, not every man is what he did," he told her. "Some are what they could do."
She readily accepted this statement. And thus he could inquire a bit more about the matter that was of a great interest to him : her pregnancy. The young woman was already well in her third month. With an aching heart, Dumbledore undertood she had every chance to give birth to the One. He would have to protect the three of them.
Fortunately, Voldemort didn’t know about the prophecy.
If Dumbledore had needed further proof of Snape’s loyalty, he would have had that one : the young man never told a word to his former master of what he’d heard that night, in the room above the bar, in the Hog’s Head. If he’d had, Voldemort would have taken action, of course. And Albus Dumbledore would have known. Of course, he knew that Snape had removed the memory from his mind and kept it in a small glass bottle. He was a good enough Legillimens, but he didn’t want such an important information to fall in the wrong hands… or as a matter fact, in the wrong ears.
Snape understood Dumbledore reasoning: the birth of a child had been prophecized, but as long as Voldemort didn’t know about the prophecy, he wouldn’t do anything to thwart it… thus he wouldn’t do anything that would start the chain of events leading to its fulfilment. They still had a chance of defeating the Dark Lord themselves. Which was fine, as far as Snape was concerned. He was ready to protect the child, whoever he might be, even to give his life in the process. In fact, it was already hanging in the balance. If Voldemort ever learnt he was spying on him, he would die… and his death would probably be excruciating. But he would never be free as long as the Dark Lord was alive, so that was not as if he had any other choice.
Out of the three "thrice defying" witches, two gave birth to a boy. Neville Longbottom was born on July 30th, and Harry James Potter on July 31th.
Severus Snape almost had a stroke when he heard that his savior could be the son of his arch enemy, James Potter. But he recovered quickly – Harry was also Lily Evans’ son, and Lily had always been nice to him.
A few months later, on a cold December night…
"The Dark Lord knows about the prophecy, at least he heard about the first part of it," Snape said without preamble when he walked into Dumbledore’s office.
The old wizard’s eyes darted to his face.
"How do you know?" he snapped. "What happened?"
Dumbledore had never seen Snape so agitated. And in fact, he would have gladly paced alongside him round the room… but he had to remain calm – at least outwardly. Because his heart was beating so hard it could probably be heard in Hogsmeade!
"It was all my fault… all my fault… That damned bastard!"
"Severus! Get a grip on yourself and tell me."
Snape took a deep breath and started to talk.
"Two months ago, I overheard Regulus… Regulus Black, I mean, he’s the Dark Lord’s last recruit… talking to Kreature, his house-elf. He was ordering him to bring his diary back to his family house, in London – yes, you understood me correctly, the young fool keeps a diary! So I decided I had to put my hand on it and I started to tail the git. But I stopped almost immediately when I discovered he was following the Dark Lord. The Dark Lord, of all people! I thought he must have gone mad – no one in his right mind would do such a thing!
"I couldn’t spy on him any longer – I didn’t want to be caught when he would be! –, but it wasn’t really a problem, after all. I had had an idea… I started to brew some Polyjuice Potion. And when it was ready, I took Regulus’ appearance and called Kreature. When I asked him to, the house-elf brought me the diary, believing me to be his young master.
"It was very interesting, though not very detailed, as you might have guessed – he’s stupid, but not that stupid, if you know what I mean. In short, the pampered fool has taken on himself to bring down the Dark Lord. It seems he’s discovered one of the Dark Lord’s secrets, a secret concerning the steps he has taken to ensure his own immortality… whatever they may be.
"The next time I caught Regulus speaking to his house-elf, I "run into" them – on purpose, of course. I wanted to destabilize him. He stammered something, and I acted all solicitous, telling him that if he needed to talk, all he would have to do would be to come and see me. Most Death Eaters are quite dismissive, they know I’m not rich, they know I’m not from a powerful ancient family. So they think I’m not a threat and they kind of make use of me. Which is fine, because it often gives me leverage on them.
"As a matter of fact, Regulus accepted my offer. Three nights ago, he came to Spinner’s End. He was drunk. Seeing that I wasn’t at home, he took a look around and discovered the secret passageway leading to the basement. He found the memory…"
"And he brought it to Voldemort," Dumbledore finished for him and sighed.
"No, or I would already be dead. But the Blacks have a Pensieve, so he had the opportunity to take a look at it… Then he reported to the Dark Lord. But he didn’t tell him about me.
"I suppose he wanted you to help him get rid of Voldemort?" Dumbledore said.
It was a rhetorical question, but Snape answered it nonetheless.
"He had the opportunity to black-mail me, you see," added Snape, his eyes narrowing.
"Yes, I see. So you promised to help him…," interjected teh Headmaster.
"I had to. And I knew I had to come and tell you everything… but Regulus’ scheme didn’t work. He’s dead. The Dark Lord killed him tonight. I was there."
"I assume he had thought Voldemort would be so busy chasing a child he wouldn’t notice his treason. Yet Voldemort did," Dumbledore mused.
Snape could tell he was thinking hard.
And he was right. Dumbledore was already making plans.
"I’m so sorry, Headmaster. I should have brought the memory here…"
"I know you are, Severus, I know you are… Ah, well, what’s done is done. We must protect the boys… at all cost."
Now, I have to convince James and Lily to go into hiding…, he thought. Because they are Aurors, Alice and Frank cannot, but Neville will be well protected on his Grand-mother’s estate. It’s probably the most protected place in Europe, second to Gringotts and Hogwarts.
Albus Dumbledore stood up. The time had come.
A/N: I thought of a different way of writing the end, but finally, I chose that one, because it seemed more "surprising" to me... Let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: As always... thanks to JK Rowling for having created the Potterverse in which we can play...