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In The Black by TenthWeasley
Chapter 29 : The Malleable Future
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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The responses to the twin letters Beth had sent her parents in late February, telling them of her vague and shrouded plans after the end of term, came so late that she was frankly quite surprised that either her mother or her father had bothered to write her back at all. She was completely prepared for the silent treatment, and in fact thought that that had been the case until she received a thin envelope one morning at breakfast, in the middle of April. Her mother wrote in a cool, almost distant tone:

Bethany,

Although it was disagreeable for both of us, your father and I have discussed your letter of February at great length – you appear to have sent us the same one, allowing little to no information in either. As your parents we feel it is necessary to garner more information as to your speculated whereabouts and plans. Kindly respond in full; one letter will suffice.

Mother

James, who had read this letter over her shoulder almost immediately after she herself had opened it, swallowed a great mouthful of scrambled eggs and shook his head emphatically. Lily and Marlene had both slept in that day, and he was back in his usual spot between Beth and Remus.

“You don’t have to tell them anything,” he declared vehemently, before a single word had issued from her mouth. “It’s your life, Beth. Before anyone else, you choose what to do with it.”

She smiled a bit and crumpled the letter in her hands, placing it gently alongside her spoon. “They’re not going to like this Order business, you know,” she muttered, instinctively looking to her right to make sure that no one was eavesdropping. “It’s definitely not the sort of thing they’d be promoting.”

“So?” he snorted. “You’re eighteen – you’ve been of age for over a year. I’d like to think you can damn well make your own decisions at this point.” He gestured with the fork he was still holding, jabbing it viciously in the direction of the crumpled letter. “You can respond if you want to, but just remember you don’t have to.”

“You know, sometimes your wisdom scares me,” Beth said simply, prodding the smashed letter a bit further from her as though it carried some sort of disease. “But you’re right – that’s one letter that’s definitely not going to get answered.”

*

Severus watched the light April rain sprinkle the damp ground under the roots of the tree, a smile barely visible on his face so as not to be seen by his friends – if circumstances had been different, of course, it most likely would have been considerably wider. He’d thought it pleasantly ironic that Mulciber had chosen this for the day’s meeting spot, seeing as how when he’d been here last, it had been with Beth, the morning she had come to find him before the rest of the castle was up.

It was less pleasantly ironic that Mulciber was currently the only one in their group who had yet to make an appearance, but he was trying not to dwell too much on that particular aspect of the thing.

But having to focus Beth – admittedly more pleasant than gritting his teeth about certain people who couldn’t keep to schedules they themselves made up – meant having to focus on what Wilkes had done to James Potter at yesterday’s Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Slytherin, and that wasn’t something he wanted to think about, either. That process came with a nasty and sort of foreign surge of guilt that was singularly unpleasant. He didn’t know why he should feel guilty – after all, he hadn’t cracked Potter’s jaw – but seeing as no one else seemed to, he felt a bit obligated to bear some of the burden, as good of terms as he was on with one of Potter’s good friends.

Wilkes was lounging against one of the more twisted and gnarled roots at that moment, a lazy and arrogant grin across his freckled face because of the very thing Severus was trying not to think about. Although the penalty Gryffindor had received for what he’d done had put them far up enough to guarantee their winning the game by a good margin, most of the Slytherins were treating Wilkes like a hero anyway. In their eyes, anyone who would go so far to inflict damage on a Muggle and Muggle-born sympathizer was a winner in any case, despite an outcome of points.

“He did shove me, though,” Wilkes was saying now; Severus couldn’t see the flecks of spit flying from his friend’s mouth, but knew instinctually that they were present. He wiped moisture off his cheek by force of habit, even though he knew it was probably just a bit of the misty rain. “He was asking for it, really, even before he’d begun dating Evans.”

Rosier snorted, running a slim hand through his coiffed black hair, and Severus’s lip curled without him quite meaning for it to as he observed the gesture. For some reason, everything Rosier, and really all his friends, had been doing or saying since the blood purity problem had arisen had been annoying Severus increasingly. “They’re the perfect pair,” he sneered. “It’s not as though he’s much of a benefit to the wizarding community, even if his blood is pure. He’s too noble to properly preserve it.”

“Shut up,” Severus snapped, drawing his knees a bit closer to his chest amid the nods of agreement from the others. Avery looked at him in surprise, his eyebrows inching up high on his tan forehead.

“Surely you’re not defending him?” Rosier said coolly, hitching himself up a bit higher and staring insolently at Severus, who looked at him just as levelly. “I thought you out of all of us would –“

“I’m not defending him,” Severus amended, feeling a sort of heated flush creep up his color, and was thankful that none of the others could see it in the dim light that the mist was causing. “But you can’t go about putting labels on which purebloods you’re going to – to keep, or whatever. That’s just as detrimental in the end, isn’t it?”

Rosier seemed to consider this, and then shrugged, as if already bored with the topic. “I suppose,” he said, and thankfully at that moment large and sloppy footsteps could be heard running in their direction down from the large wooden doors of the castle. Severus was extremely grateful for the interruption – that had been a very close call. A few moments more, and for all he knew he would have had to tell all of them just how often he’d been talking to Beth this year. She might have been a pureblood, but he had a funny feeling that in Rosier’s eyes she would have been more the sort like James – that is, hardly worthy of the title of ‘pureblood’ at all. And of course there was the fact that he’d have to answer as to why he’d taken such an increased interest in talking with her in the first place. That wasn’t even a question he could answer when his own conscience asked it, and the continued inability to do so was gnawing at him; he preferred to just ignore the troublesome conversation bits his brain sometimes plagued him with.

“Nice of you to show up,” Wilkes called out, hiccupping a little as he choked on a bit of spit while talking; Severus smirked, eyeing the boy with considerable distaste, much as he had with Rosier earlier. Mulciber came to a halt in front of them and the tree, skidding a bit in the mud and panting heavily. In his hand he clutched a square and slightly wrinkled parchment envelope, and it became clear that it was to this all attentions were suddenly drawn.

“Excuse me,” Mulciber snapped back sarcastically, rolling his eyes and sinking onto the driest bit of ground he could find. “The Owlery isn’t exactly close to this tree, you know. Cut me some slack.”

“So it makes perfect sense that you picked this spot to meet at,” drawled Severus, smirking again at the glare Mulciber gave him while the others laughed appreciatively. All fell silent, though, as he drew out the envelope again and held it almost reverently before them.

“So, I got the answer from my father,” he said unnecessarily, and there was a general movement among the other four to not appear exceptionally interested while at the same time each knowing that they would give several Galleons to read the contents of that letter first. With a sort of smug flourish, Mulciber extracted it from its covering and smoothed out the creases; from this distance Severus saw that the letter itself was not actually parchment, but something that had been hastily used for it in a pinch. For some reason, that revelation thrilled him., the fact that proper paper could not be found in the haste to write it. He began to read aloud from an apparently relevant part of the letter:

As to the inquiries that you and your friends made into what we have discussed – and you’ll have to forgive me for not being more explicit here – matters have been arranged in a generally satisfactory manner. I have spoken with those in more prominent ranks and it is agreed that you may – if your loyalties are as true as you claim – be permitted to join our ranks after the close of term.

This letter should be burned upon reading and shown to no one but those to whom it applies. Harrison, I trust that you will be firm in this matter and know that what I am saying must be upheld. Further contact can be made towards this time, but please do not send your owl until that time. Silence is key.

Rosier had been listening to the reading of this letter with a sort of bored and disdainful look on his face, but he was the only one who was trying to maintain that sort of front any longer. Wilkes had popped up in his knees in excitement, and Avery was clenching and unclenching his hands, as though he were trying to tangibly grasp the prospect. Even Severus, practiced as he was in hiding his emotions, could not conceal fully the excitement he felt at this, the first real and proven confirmation of what they were about to do.

Finally, Mulciber crumpled the letter and, solemnly, drew his wand from the pocket of his robes. While the other four watched, he prodded the balled-up paper with his wand tip, and it instantly ignited, glowing orange, then red, and finally curling into shriveled scraps of black ash that melted with the mist and blew away with breeze.

“Whoa,” said Wilkes at least, looking at them all with a sort of childish fervor, the emotion given considerable strength due to the prominence of his two front teeth. “So we’re in?”

“We’re in,” confirmed Rosier, a small and almost twisted smile briefly appearing on his pale and pointed chin before receding. Severus studied him, but did not comment; something about the smile unsettled him, and he couldn’t place what it was.

“Right,” said Severus, now sitting up on his own knees and placing the tips of his fingers together, unconsciously assuming an authoritative pose. “What we need to do now is sort of practice our spells, you know – see what we know, and teach each other.”

The faces of his friends stared back at him blankly. “You know,” he coaxed, feeling a bit irritated now. “Like, spells we’ve read in books, or ones we’ve…” He faltered, dark eyes roving from face to face with a slight mix of incredulity and disappointment. “Hasn’t anyone else been reading up on this sort of thing?” he finished lamely.

Avery let out a sort of snort like the one Rosier had emitted earlier. “Are you suggesting that some people actually do work beyond what’s necessary to pass classes?” he said, as though even the mention of it was laughable. “Or, what – we’re supposed to have started making up little curses and things on our own? Writing a book are you, Sev?”

The resulting laughter after this snide comment grated on Severus’s ears, and he felt himself flushing red again. “No,” he snapped, lacing his fingers together and looking down at his clasped hands; he was surprised the rain didn’t sizzle and evaporate as soon as it touched him, the heat of embarrassment was so strong. More than almost anything else, he hated to be laughed at.

“Fine, then, so I guess I’ll be teaching you,” he said maliciously, looking at them darkly from under his brow.

“And just what is it that you know how to do that we all should learn?” Rosier drawled, yawning as though even the idea bored him. Severus’s eyes flashed dangerously. He decided that, if he was going to do this – and he didn’t know why, but it somehow seemed imperative that he impart his knowledge – he was going to have to start with something to grab their attention.

“Corporeal Patronuses,” he said, drawing himself up an inch or two further. To his satisfaction, the reactions this statement received were positive; even Rosier looked mildly impressed, and Merlin knew that he liked to be as big a git as possible whenever he could.

Wilkes, naturally, was the first to speak in his eagerness. “D’you know how?” he said in a hushed, almost awed sort of voice. Severus shrugged as though it were no big deal, although he was quite pleased to play the superior.

“Taught myself a year or so ago,” he said with a nonchalance he certainly did not feel. “I’ll show you in a bit, if you like.” Mulciber nodded enthusiastically.

“I’ve always wanted to learn to do one of them,” he said happily, brushing away a bit of the ash from the burned letter from the sleeve of his robe. “This is excellent. Thanks, mate,” he added, nodding a bit deferentially to Severus, who felt extremely smug in his current role as the bearer of knowledge, as it were.

“I suppose we’ll see if you can do one, then,” Rosier said, but a glimmer of excitement had made itself evident on his features, as well. Severus curled his lip a fraction but said nothing more. The rain began to fall with increasing intensity at that moment, having shifted from a vague mist into something more substantial, and Avery squinted up into it.

“Should we head back inside?” he said, perhaps a bit needlessly, Severus thought, as a raindrop apparently fell straight into his eye; he quickly shook his head to clear it, rubbing the affected eye with his hand.

“Guess so,” Rosier said, nimbly climbing to his feet and brushing the stray leaves and dirt from his robes; as though it was a signal, the other three boys copied the motions. Severus, however, remained seated on the ground, staring at the surface of the lake, which was now being pockmarked by the rain.

“Hang on – I’ll be along in a moment,” he said, waving his hand impatiently in their direction. Rosier looked at the other boys, raising his eyebrows, but they just shrugged; Severus’s behavior seemed to have taken them by surprise as well, for indeed the sort of thoughtfulness that had just overtaken him had come out of nowhere. He did not want to go back inside with them, he realized, but only desired to be alone for a few moments, although explaining this felt a bit rude. He watched briefly as they began to trudge back up to the castle, and then turned back to watching the black, rippled surface of the water.

He wasn’t going to tell them about the spells he’d written in last year’s Potions books – of that much he was absolutely sure. Patronuses, various curses, yes – but not the ones of his own making. Although the thought occurred to him that he hadn’t hesitated to tell Beth about it, that night under the tree (and why did so many of their interactions happen under trees?), but that, he argued, was different. She wasn’t plotting any sort of subversive acts after seventh year; she had nothing to gain from the knowledge that he’d invented those spells.

But was that really the case? He ran a hand thoughtfully through his hair, narrowing his eyes as he strained to remember exactly what she’d said to him, sitting above him in the very tree he now sat near. She had mentioned exams, and he had said he wasn’t concerned about them because they would not mean much to him, or something of that sort. Well, that had been a risk, saying that, but she hadn’t seemed to make anything of that. And she had said something else… She had agreed, saying they didn’t mean a lot to her either.

He grinned without realizing it, burying his face in his knees and hoping against hope that he wasn’t reading into a conversation. But surely – that sounded like she was plotting the very thing Severus had assumed she wasn’t. Beth had always been the sort of girl who worried herself sick over exams when she didn’t need to, who studied when she already knew the information. It wasn’t in her nature to not care about exams.

Another recollection popped into his mind without warning, that of the argument they’d had a month or so ago – he had lost track of time, as it was yet another thing that he didn’t want to think about, that argument. But it certainly seemed as though she’d changed her tune, if he wasn’t misreading things, and he was rather certain that he wasn’t.

He stood up, easing the stiffness from his joints, a smile still fixed firmly on his face, foreign, but not at all unpleasant. Yes, he was certain that he was correct. It was almost too good to be true – being able to perform a great service to the wizarding world, and having converted Beth to seeing the rationale of this same service.

And then, at last, he could finally admit to her – well, that was best saved for later. No need to get stupid when he was only talking to himself. But the smile was still fixed there on his face as Severus followed the others back.

A/N: I think one of the more interesting facets of Snape's character -- and this could just be me, because I spend a lot of time just thinking about things -- is how one-track his mind is, and how stubborn he can get. In canon, that's especially true, and it's something I thought was important enough to try and incorporate here. If he thinks something's right, it's right, no matter how many people might be against him. Which, of course, presents difficulties later on, but he isn't a largely forward-thinking person.

Anyway. Enough of that ramble -- just a bit of insight into how some of these character traits are appearing. Thanks to everyone who's been reading this, silently or otherwise, and to those of you who have left reviews, as well. You cannot imagine what it means to me, all this support, and this small bit of gratitude doesn't even begin to cover my feelings!


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