The consistent drip of water down onto the floor was joined by the sound of two pairs of footsteps echoing off the tunnel's stonewalls. The first pair of footsteps was light and confident, familiar with these dark surroundings. The second seemed to bear a weight heavier than that of the man who walked behind the confident woman. Dressed all in black – except for the silver mask that obscured his face with a uniformity that glinted in the light of the woman’s wand – the man seemed to melt into the darkness.
But the man did not hear the echoing of water or his and his companion’s footsteps. Instead all he heard was the deafening beating of his own heart and the sharp raggedness of his breathing in the stale air.
The tunnel seemed to stretch on forever, reaching out into the all-consuming darkness. Finally, the woman stopped, and faced the stonewall. The man behind her stood still, not daring to come closer to the woman. She held out her wand and pressed it to a stone that looked, at least to the man, no different than any of the other innumerable stones that made up the vast tunnel.
As soon as her wand touched the stone, the light at the tip of her wand went out, plunging the two of them into complete and total darkness. Slowly, the stone that the wand had tapped began to glow, a pale light barely able to penetrate the oppressive blackness of the tunnel. Ever so subtly, the glow began to spread outward, touching the surrounding stones, and lighting them up, seeping outward, the light growing stronger, until the brightness of the stone became unbearable for eyes accustomed to the darkness.
The man shut his eyes, and saw the shape of a great door burned into his retinas. By the time he was able to open his eyes, the woman had disappeared, but the stones still glowed white-hot in the shape of a door. The man felt nothing as he passed through the stonewall, felt no burning pain nor the scrape of stones, instead, it felt almost as if a cool breeze had passed by.
Falling painfully to his knees, the man found himself in a chamber. Pulled by some unknown spell, the man’s wand rolled off into the shadows. He kneeled beside his companion, who stood gaze turned to the far end of the room, to where another man – if he really was a man – sat upon a throne-like chair. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but the newcomer could have sworn that it was a throne made of human bones.
The seated man rose, and began to approach the two. His bare feet made no sound as he walked across the chamber. A strange grin seemed to play upon his thin lips as he said, “Ah, Bellatrix, I see you have brought me Severus.”
Not taking her gaze away from the tall man, the woman said, “As you commanded, my Lord.” She bowed.
“You have served me well, but, I am afraid,” the standing man looked down at the kneeling one, before continuing, “that you must leave us.”
Bellatrix nodded curtly, biting her lower lip, and then bowed. “Yes, my Lord.” She hesitated before turning around and left the chamber the same way she had came, leaving the two men alone.
The way the Dark Lord said his name sent a shiver down his spine. Severus didn’t dare look up at the Dark Lord, knowing that in his current state, he would not be able to meet those blood-red eyes. “My Lord,” Severus whispered hoarsely. The words cut at his throat as if he hadn’t spoken in a long time.
Trying to keep his voice even, Severus continued, “I know it is not my place… I would not suggest this except… “ He took a breath, “My Lord, you have said that the Potter boy is the one mentioned in the prophecy…” He had been there when the Dark Lord revealed his plan his innermost circle, his most trustworthy, a group that he had only recently been a member of ever since he had overheard that
prophecy. “I know that you are right in deciding to kill the boy, but surely you do not need… you don’t have to… kill the mother.”
After a moment’s pause, the Dark Lord said, “So you would have me spare the Mudblood?”
Quickly, “She is clever. She could be of use to us—“
“She is a Mudblood, Severus, hardly worth saving, and besides, you know where her loyalties lie.”
“I have no doubt,” the Dark Lord continued, “that instead of joining our side, she would go right back to Dumbledore.”
Desperately, “But if you let me talk to her… I could… She’d see reason… She’d…” He looked up, and for a fraction of a second, he met those blood-red eyes. Severus felt the feeble wall that he had barely been able to make begin to crumble, and then Severus felt his presence.
Suddenly, Severus was recalling against his will… her bright green eyes as she looked up from her charms textbook, grinning at him… the feeling that he got as she took his hand, as they walked side by side from class... the momentary twitch of her lip as she suppressed a smile, a smile that given any other circumstances would have made Severus’s heart race, but this time when seen upside down, his legs in the air, Potter laughing nearby, Severus felt such a terror quake through his body… the flash of her red hair from a distance, and the feeling of pain… a flower opening and closing held in the hand of a little red-haired girl, seen from behind a bush…
It was as if he had been pulled out of freezing water. In the present, Severus was gasping for air, lying at the feet of the Dark Lord.
A grin played upon the Dark Lord’s thin lips, as he whispered, “Now I see.” He crouched down so that he was closer to Severus, so that he could whisper to the man collapsed on the floor. “It all makes sense now.” He voice was almost like a hiss. “I will admit, I am surprised. You showed so much promise… It’s a shame, Severus, that you should have this particular weakness
. It’ll be your downfall.”
Weakly, Severus lifted his head up so that he could look up into the face of the Dark Lord, not certain whether he would live or die, not certain if he’d be able to save the life of the one he had always loved. Knowing that there was nothing more that he could do – wandless, without strength, desperate – Severus whispered, “I’d do anything.”
As if he already knew, the Dark Lord nodded, and slowly began to stand up. “Anything, Severus?”
Hope flashed in Severus’s eyes. “Anything.”
“Stand up, Severus.”
It took a tremendous effort to get to his feet. Severus felt as though he had no strength left in him, but somehow he was able to force himself to stand shakily. For a moment Severus’s vision went black, and he swayed, about to fall, but his will kept him standing.
“Give me your hand.”
As if in a dream, Severus held out his hand. Hope rose in his chest, building in strength, drowning out all fear. Lily would live. Severus knew she would. She would live and be his.
The Dark Lord took out his wand with his wand-hand, and with the other, wrapped his long fingers around Severus’s outstretched hand. Holding out his wand to the two clasped hands he said, “Will you, Severus, do whatever I ask of you if I spare the girl for you?”
Looking up into the Dark Lord’s red eyes, Severus nodded and said resolutely, “I will.”
A tongue of fire leapt from the Dark Lord’s wand and wrapped itself around the two joined hands. It burned brightly, growing stronger and longer until it suddenly went out.
Severus stared at the flame and continued to stare at his hand even after the fire disappeared.
Sliding his hand out of Severus’s, the Dark Lord said in a voice barely above a whisper, “It is done.”
By the time Severus looked up, he was alone.