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Chapter 3 : Dreams and Duties
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He spun about him, looking for some clue as to what had brought him there, for he couldn’t remember why it had been so important to get there in the first place. His heart still beat rapidly from the waning adrenaline rush that had hurried him to the middle of the dusty parquet, but he didn’t know why, and that was perhaps what bothered him most of all.
Suddenly, from a distant door – he didn’t recall that door being there until now – someone stepped into the room, face hidden very well in the dark shadows. Severus wondered if he should light some candles, and felt a twinge of guilt for not having lit them already.
“Can I help you?” he called, although he knew the shadowed figure had to be here for him. There was no one else. The figure took a few steps forward and threw back the hood of the cloak it was wearing.
Severus felt his heart climb in his throat, and instinctively reached into his pocket for his wand. But it wasn’t there. And yet he didn’t know why he needed his wand, for this person didn’t pose a threat… He might have been mistaken – they could have been an imposter – but surely he could never mistake the black curls or the serious brown eyes…
“Hello, Beth,” he said with difficulty, embarrassed to find that his voice had been reduced to something only slightly above a whisper. She looked back at him steadily, an enigmatic smile he couldn’t read twisting her lips. Severus waited for her to respond, but Beth just kept staring back at him before finally reaching into her own pocket, and withdrawing his wand. She turned, very suddenly, on her heel and began walking back towards the door she’d emerged from only moments ago.
“Wait!” The word burst from him before he could think about it, and he reached out a hand. He wanted to tell her not to go, to stay here with him, but the plea stuck fast in his throat. His eyes fell to the floor, to the footprints she had made in the dust. There were two sets – one leading toward him, and one leading away. And as Severus watched, those approaching him faded, until it only looked like she had ever walked away…
Severus jerked awake, already extremely conscious of the cold, clammy sweat that beaded on his forehead. The room was filled with the waning light of late afternoon, and, as consciousness slowly returned to him, he realized with a small amount of embarrassment that he had fallen asleep on the small couch in the flat he, Rosier, and Avery shared; Mulciber and Wilkes were in another, equally squalid one a few floors down.
He realized his hand was still outstretched, and hastily replaced it in his lap, only to bring it up to rub the sleep from his eyes. He shouldn’t be sleeping in the middle of the afternoon – tonight’s stakes were much too high for him to risk, even on a small scale, letting his guard down for even a moment. He had never let it happen before, but he wasn’t about to start now. Tonight – after over a year – was initiation, and he was determined to perform to his highest capacity.
Mulciber had intimated that they would be in right away, that his father had all sorts of deep and intricate connections with the Dark Lord’s followers; so, naturally, Severus hadn’t been at all surprised to find out that that wasn’t exactly the case. While it was true that his father was a Death Eater, what was less-than-accurate was that he held a position of any amount of prestige. The society was grouped into circles, and Mulciber’s father resided firmly in the middle one – contact with the Dark Lord was scarce there. The five boys were not immediately admitted into even this, and had spent the past year on the fringes of the group, along with the other sniveling, pathetic men and women who were trying to get into the Dark Lord’s good graces.
Severus had hated it – the entire year, the whole process, had been a hellish ordeal of knowing whose ear to whisper in, who to avoid, and who would make a good stepping stone for the next spot in line. But he was good at playing the political field, and success was close – he knew it. This initiation was meant to test whatever loyalties and ideals he’d claimed to hold up until this point, and he was determined to emerge victorious.
But lately he had been having dreams – dreams like the one he had just had, and sometimes worse. For some reason, Beth had cropped up in very nearly all of them, and he knew that if he wasn’t careful, he would lose focus of what he had set out to do. There was no telling her true reason for turning her back on him nearly a year ago, and he knew he could not continue obsessing over it. He had chosen his path, and she had chosen hers, and the two were not ever destined to overlap again.
And yet in the small corners of his mind, he could not let it go.
The sunlight streaming in through the narrow, cracked archway separating living room from kitchen was temporarily blocked out as Rosier appeared there, a tall glass of something that looked like firewhisky in his hand. He sank down onto the sofa next to Severus and looked over at him wordlessly, something like anxiety etched all over his pale, arrogant face.
“You ready for this?” he said, lifting the glass toward his companion in a sort of pointless toast before draining half its contents in one swallow. Severus shrugged noncommittally and ran a hand through his hair.
“Doesn’t really matter if I’m ready for it or not, does it?” he said brusquely, now stretching to get a crick out of his neck. Rosier gave a humorless laugh and swirled the drink around, ice cubes clinking against the glass faintly. “Do you know what we’re doing?” he asked now.
Rosier shook his head briefly. “None of us do, do we? I mean, we’re not supposed to have any of that information at our fingertips.” Severus’s lip curled slightly at the contemptuous note in his friend’s voice, but didn’t comment.
“We’d better head over soon,” he said instead, glancing at the small clock perched on the opposite wall, which dutifully ticked out the time on a face with no numerical markings. “Are the others ready?”
Rosier swallowed the rest of the firewhisky and burped, and again, Severus could feel the sneer on his face. “Avery’s downstairs,” he said, tapping the floor with his shoe to indicate the direction of Mulciber and Wilkes’s flat. “Have you got the address?”
Severus nodded and stood up from the sofa, rubbing the last of the nap from his eyes and trying not to remember the expression in Beth’s eyes, in that stupid dream of his. He didn’t know what it had unnerved him so much, but he couldn’t erase the image of the disappearing footsteps from his mind, or the sort of leaden weight that accompanied it. Without another word, he swept towards the front door, and Rosier followed him out.
Loud voices indicated that the other three were already waiting on the landing for Severus and Rosier to descend, and sure enough, Wilkes hung over the railing as they cleared the last flight of steps, grinning in a way that suggested something much more lighthearted than initiation into a secret society. “Thought you lot might have forgotten what today was,” he said in his usual spitty fashion. “Mulciber here was saying we shouldn’t have trusted you with the address, Sev!”
Severus raised an eyebrow in the boy’s direction as Wilkes clapped him on the shoulder in what was apparently supposed to be a friendly gesture; Mulciber was staring determinedly at his feet. “Well, we’re here now,” he said shortly. “Come on, then, before it gets much darker.” Instructions had specifically demanded they meet at the street corner indicated on the parchment in Severus’s pocket before night fully descended, and disregarding rules at this stage seemed highly imprudent.
“You’ve got to stop looking so serious,” Wilkes said now, linking arms with Severus, to the great displeasure of the latter. “We’re in the home stretch now! We’re unstoppable!”
He withdrew his arm from the ginger boy’s and instead felt in his pocket for his wand – the dream still haunted the very corners of his mind, and he was compelled to check now that it was actually there, and that Beth didn’t have it. Not that she could have, of course – he hadn’t spoken to her since the day she’d turned away from him…
He could not think of her now.
“I don’t know what this night meant to you,” he said coldly, smirking, “but this initiation is of rather high importance to me, and I’ll thank you to keep your opinions where they belong.” He felt only a little bad at the sour expression on Wilkes’s face at having been told off with such terseness; of all of them, he was the one who had apparently refused to grow up since leaving Hogwarts, and it had the tendency to annoy.
A purple, dusky light was on the small neighborhood as Severus and the other emerged onto the pavement, and the silhouettes of the leaf-ridden trees dotting the lane at intervals cast long, reaching shadows onto the asphalt. He glanced around instinctively for signs of anything suspicious, but everything appeared normal – quiet, hushed, run-down. The area, consisting almost entirely of apartment buildings, was ideal in its out-of-the-way locale – it was nearly twenty miles from London proper.
Wordlessly, Severus motioned for the others to take hold of the sleeves of his robes, fishing the parchment with the street corner address out and studying the careful black print upon it. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the words, burned into his mind’s eye, before turning on the spot; he and his friends were sucked into the oblivion of Apparition at once.
Time and space compressed his chest, and then he was stumbling onto a new stretch of pavement, the others equally unstable about him. Severus checked his pocket once more – the wand was still there – and cast his eyes about for a street sign, something to indicate where they had ended up. A few yards away there was a post, and he squinted to read the words on the perpendicular signs jutting from them.
“This is the place,” he said shortly, stuffing the parchment back in his robes and catching Avery’s eye; the latter was biting his lip unconsciously, and looked distinctly paler than normal, even under the artificial light of the street lamp. Severus wondered if he looked any different too – the anxiety of the thing was starting to sink in – and he cleared his throat to smother the question.
“D’you think they remembered we were coming?” Wilkes whispered into the expectant silence that had settled over them, rubbing his arms bracingly, although it wasn’t especially cold now, at the very end of August – or was it September now? Days had a curious habit of slipping by him when the actual dates didn’t matter as much as they once did.
Rosier bestowed upon him an especially withering look. “Idiot,” he said conversationally. “They didn’t forget.” Wilkes glowered briefly, but before he could retaliate, Mulciber spoke up, almost hesitatingly.
“So… what do you think we’re doing?” He shuffled a bit, kicking some small pieces of the pavement that had cracked and broken off at some point. “Like, complicated spells, or…?” He let the question trail off, but Severus distinctly noticed him cast a sidelong look in his direction. He had helped the other four with their wandwork toward the end of last year, in preparation for their joining up, and he suddenly wondered if he should have done that – perhaps it would have been better to have the upper hand…
Footsteps approaching from behind, adjacent to the street the boys had just come up, met Severus’s ears, and he turned quickly, drawing his wand and holding it out defensively. The newcomer hesitated briefly, and then approached with noticeably less speed, hands held up in a sort of surrender.
“Easy there, Snape. It’s just me.”
The voice was familiar, and as the figure stepped into the small circle of light that Severus and his friends clustered under, the face of Lucius Malfoy could be seen more clearly than before. He pocketed his wand, slightly abashed, but not before noting a sort of approving look in the older man’s eyes.
Severus and Malfoy had briefly known each other at Hogwarts, but the latter had been considerably older – around six years or so – and they hadn’t spoken until earlier that year. Malfoy had risen fairly quickly in the ranks of the Dark Lord’s most trusted, no doubt because he had the sort of money to grease the many palms he encountered along the way. Now the blonde man stood there, regarding them all as though evaluating them for auction.
“You know, I presume, why you are here?” he said at last, his icy eyes lingering last on Severus, who felt a twinge of something in the pit of his stomach. He pushed it away firmly, and instead nodded. To his right, Wilkes nodded as well, albeit a bit more enthusiastically. Without further ado, Lucius set off across the street, his own wand held aloft. With a brief glance around at the others, Severus followed.
The last vestiges of daylight had now disappeared behind the buildings in the distance – he couldn’t say expressly what sort of buildings they were, as he was unfamiliar with whatever part of town they were in, although he assumed it was just outside London. Mulciber’s father had told them that the group was focusing primarily on England’s capital first, as well as a few undisclosed and discreet cities across the continent.
The sound of swishing water reached his ears, and, rounding a gradual, curving corner, the small group came in sight of a river – not a proper one, but an apparent tributary to the Thames. A bridge made of dark, almost black stone crossed the narrowest part in a tight arc. It was at the foot of this bridge that Lucius stopped, resting one hand lightly upon the end of it.
“Any particular reason we Apparated to the street corner only to walk here?” Rosier spoke up, a bit sourly, as he leaned down and adjusted the heel of his shoe. Malfoy watched him with some amount of distaste, and Severus smirked.
“I suppose secrecy isn’t a high consideration of yours, but it is a very important one to our cause,” he said coldly, lifting his wand imperceptibly higher. Rosier turned a funny sort of maroon color and muttered something under his breath. “The task at hand is relatively simple,” he continued, as though the previous statement hadn’t been said at all.
Severus sucked in his breath without realizing it, something cold – anxiety, or excitement, or maybe misgivings? – flickered up his spine, and goose bumps rose on his eyes despite the mildness of the night.
“All you have to do” – and here he smiled with a darkness nevertheless hanging at the corners of it – “is… well.” His eyes flickered over across the street, at a door which had just opened, letting a square of yellow light out into the darkness. A sound of drum music briefly hit the air before the door was shut again, and a throng of Muggles, laughing drunkenly, began meandering down the pavement.
Severus’s eyes dropped to Malfoy’s wand, and in a rather sudden flash, he knew what he was getting at. The weight in his stomach, still left over from his disturbing dream, grew tenfold, and his hands moved unconsciously to clutch it.
The other four still looked confused, but Malfoy had seen Severus’s movement, and turned toward him. “Are you serious?” he asked in a low, urgent voice. Half of him wished it was a joke, and the other half was angry at the first for feeling the need to question in the first place. Malfoy’s grin widened.
“Come, now,” he said, clapping the younger man’s shoulder and giving it a brief squeeze. “You can’t tell me you never thought this would come?” The delight, the absence of any sort of conscience, on Malfoy’s face made Severus feel as though he were about to be sick. The image of Beth from his dream, staring boldly at him, just looking, swam up before his eyes, and he pushed it firmly away.
“Hang on,” said Rosier loudly, with the desperate air of needing to make up for his earlier mistake. “You don’t mean… Are we going to…” At a loss for words, he made a sort of slashing motion with his finger in the general direction of his throat. Wilkes’s mouth popped open.
A/N: This book is, overall, a lot darker than the first book, and although I haven't started the third yet, I think it might be the darkest of the lot. For some reason, a lot of these chapters, especially the earlier ones, take place at night, so maybe that has something to do with how I perceive it! There's just a lot more secrecy, more nerves, more espionage. It's different, but a lot of fun to write!
I've got to give credit to HarrietHopkirk and her story Dominique for inspiring me to start out this chapter with a dream sequence. If you've not yet read that story, it's one I highly recommend! Thank you for reading, and as always, please let me know what you thought!
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