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Chapter 8 : The Patronus Charm
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“Shove up,” he said in a whisper, as though afraid whoever was inside the house they stood outside of could hear them. “I don’t know why we’re here, all right?”
Wilkes glared at him. “Don’t recall asking you outright,” he muttered, but scooted a bit further away. Severus tried to feel bad for being so short, but it wasn’t within him at the moment. There had been no contact from headquarters for quite a while after completing the mission Malfoy had set them - no letters from any owls, no Aurors at their door, and not so much as a word from someone higher up in the chain of command than them.
And then, almost when they had given up hope, the summons here, to a narrow and run-down townhouse in the middle of scenic nowhere. None of them had ever been here before, and for a while Mulciber had resisted their going, sure it was a trap or a joke. When Rosier had pointed out that the letter had been written in a nearly identical hand to one that had been sent them earlier, and furthermore, that it was cursed in the event it should fall into the wrong hands, he’d reluctantly agreed to come along. Now, however, he seemed to be having the same anxieties as Wilkes, although was admittedly less vocal about them.
Severus tipped his head back and looked at the top floor of the house; he thought he saw a curtain move, just barely, as though tapped with a hand or blown slightly away from the glass. The thought that someone might have been watching made the hair on his arms stand up, although that might have been the odd, chill wind that suddenly turned the corner without warning.
“Are we knocking on the door, then?” drawled Avery from somewhere behind Severus’s left shoulder, in a sort of bored, monotonous voice. Rosier shot him a look and, as though in defiance, stepped forward and rapped with the back of his hand on the peeling black paint covering the door.
For a long and rather hesitant moment, there was no sound from within, and Severus made to step back. Perhaps they had gotten the wrong house - but there was that disconcerting fact of the moving curtain. And then, so silently that he didn’t even see it until it was more than halfway open, the door shuddered inwards, and a dark face appeared in the crack between the door and its frame.
The dark-skinned man with the deep voice - the same one who’d admitted them into that first room, over a year ago - glared at them all, challenging their presence. “We were sent here,” Rosier said boldly, and to his left, Severus heard Wilkes whimper, just barely audible. He sneered and moved a bit further away, wanting nothing to do with that display of cowardice, minute as it may have been.
“Inside.” The door opened a bit more, and Rosier stepped quickly over the threshold, Severus following close at his heels. Once Avery had come inside, the door was shut behind him, and the entrance hall was in near-complete darkness. There was a little hiss, following by a rapid succession of short, staccato pops, and gas lamps burst into clarity all along the walls, the wallpaper surrounding them peeling just as badly as the paint on the front door had been.
There was a sort of shuffling sound, as though someone was dragging a heavy length of cloth over the floor, and then, to Severus’s right, a previously seamless panel of wall swung inward. The dark-skinned man jerked his head at the opening, and he led the way in, not a little nervous.
“What’s all this, then?” Wilkes finally spoke up; they were in darkness again, whatever lamps might be in this room not having appeared yet, and Severus rolled his eyes in annoyance. But the man who’d led them in didn’t speak again until the section of wall had folded back into place, and for a minute, there was only the sound of breathing.
At the moment a brilliant chandelier over their head burst into being, an unknown voice spoke from the corner. It belonged to a squat, misshaped sort of man, his arms crossed uncaringly over his chest while the plant of his feet spoke to the fact that he did, in fact, care very much.
“Well, boys, I’d assume all this is because you’ve got a few ounces more guts than some who’ve come before you.” He arched an eyebrow at Wilkes, whose mouth had popped open in the shock and fear of the stranger’s sudden appearance.
“Amycus Carrow.” He stepped a bit further from the shadow that fell across the corner, and now Severus saw that there was a sort of table in the middle of the room, five seats ranged along one side of it. The table did nothing to ease his nerves.
“I’ve heard of you,” said Mulciber suddenly, stepped forward a bit into the clearer light of the chandelier. “My dad said something about you once - you went to school together, the two of you did.” Carrow’s lip curled in obvious disgust.
“Yeah, I know who you are. I can tell. Carbon copy of your dad, aren’t you?” He gave a great sniff and drew a massive fist under his nose, and Severus felt his own lip curling. “Yeah, right, well, we’re not here to discuss genealogy,” Carrow added, jerking with his flabby chin at the chairs. “Sit.”
“You might tell us what we’re actually going to be doing in this room,” Severus called out suddenly, the only one of his group to not immediately take his place at the table, “instead of just herding us around like cattle for slaughter.” Carrow raised his eyes to his, and for a long, level moment, they just looked at each other.
The dark-skinned man, who was just about to pass through the section of wall that concealed the small anteroom, looked at Severus in something that might have been approval. Carrow glanced at him - it looked as though he’d never really been stood up to before - and, with a little shrug, the first man passed out of the room.
“Guess that’s fair,” Carrow said, wiping his nose again and placing his hands on the opposite side of the table from the boys. His ugly fingers, splayed in front of him, were covered in equally ugly, knobbly rings, made to look like gold and yet chipping to show the true metal beneath.
“Why haven’t we seen the Dark Lord?” Severus was still standing, his hands resting on the back of the chair in front of him with a casualness he did not feel. Carrow laughed harshly, in a rather good imitation of Wilkes’s propensity for saliva.
He shook his head with enough force to make his chins wobble. “You won’t be seeing him for some time yet,” he sneered, and drew himself up a bit, obviously feeling himself superior to the boys in front of him. “You’re, well. Amateurs, as it were. You’ve got a lot to go through to even prove you’re good enough to be working for him.”
“Like you are,” Rosier spat suddenly, looking just as angry as Severus felt. “Stuck telling us how to get there, why aren’t you off with him?”
He had struck a nerve. Carrow’s face took on an ugly, twisted look. Severus took his seat at last, satisfied that, if nothing else, they’d be progressing now that they’d targeted this stupid-looking man’s weaker point.
“That is none of your business,” he said roughly. “What is your business” - and here he reached inside an inner pocket of his robes, extracting a small box of sliver-thin vials, and setting it on the table -“is your next bit of training.” The vials were set before the five boys, and they all stared at them a bit dumbly. All except Severus, who knew exactly what the trace amount of liquid that little glass container was.
“Do you know -“
“Veritaserum.” He spoke smoothly, interrupting Carrow, and, with a small surge of some powerful feeling, noticed how all eyes turned to him. “Colorless. Tasteless. Causes the drinker to spill their deepest secrets.” He sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, extremely pleased at the disgruntled expression on Carrow’s face. He looked ready to spit.
“Go on, then, if you’re so smart,” Carrow sneered again, shoving the vial at him roughly. It clattered across the table with a series of small clinks, and Severus only managed to catch it in the palm of his hand. “Have a go. All of you!” He turned nasty expressions on the rest of the group, and they hastily reached for their own vials.
Avery, who had been completely mute up until this point, looked at his with equal measures of fear and expectancy. “We’re supposed to drink this?” he asked, shaking his container a bit, as though there was anything else in the room that it could be confused for.
“Yes, drink!” Carrow snarled, clearly still rather annoyed at being put in his place by someone several years his junior. Severus smirked again and popped the cork off his vial with his thumb. “It’s a mind-control tool, that potion. Messes with your head.” The lumpy man tapped on his temple with a broad forefinger to emphasize his point. “Veritaserum, the Imperius Curse - blimey, you know what that is, don’t you?” he asked, as Wilkes gave him a blank expression.
“Yes, we know,” Rosier snapped, and made a motion that, judging from Wilkes’s reaction, indicated he’d kicked the curly-haired boy in the knee. Carrow rubbed a hand over his face and muttered something indistinguishable.
“You’ve got to learn how to keep your mind away from people who want to use it against our cause,” he said, suddenly deadly serious as he leaned toward them again across the table. “There’s magic, powerful magic - and thankfully we’ve got a bit of it on our side - and it can get further into your mind than even you can.”
Severus was frozen, listening to this man who he already had almost no respect for, because he was suddenly talking sense. With a glance to his left, and noticing that the others seemed to be waiting for him to make the first move, he downed the few drops of potion in one swift gulp.
For a moment, he didn’t feel anything - it felt like water going down, common and insignificant, almost not there at all - and then there was a curious, floating sort of sensation, working its way from the front of his head and slowly wrapping around it. It was a curious and completely consuming fog, and Carrow’s voice pierced it as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
“You. You’re the smart one.” Carrow’s great ugly face twisted again in discontent. “Your worst memory.” He was looking straight at Severus, and the answer was rising steadily to his lips, as natural as breathing…
But the answer wasn’t the one he would have given a little over a year earlier, and he watched the memory play on the inside of his eyelids, puzzled. It should have been Lily, and not Beth - it was supposed to be the day he’d called her that word, out of thoughtless anger. And there was the lake, but it was definitely Beth… He could hear her voice in his ears as though she’d only just spoken.
“I’ve got my own things to do after school, and it’s recently become clear to me that you just – I don’t want to do this anymore, it’s not good for me… I know about your Patronus…”
And he had stood there, by the lake, watching her go and not even making an attempt to stop her when it was everything his body was screaming at him to do…
“Didn’t you hear me?” Carrow’s voice broke through the fog again, but it was not natural anymore - it was a rough and painful thing to be called away from, and Severus’s temples suddenly throbbed with the pitch of it.
“I’m not telling you,” he muttered, his tongue suddenly thick in his mouth, as though he’d swallowed a large amount of cotton. He stood up roughly from the table, his thoughts racing along a track that had nothing to do with this, nothing to do with the Death Eaters, and nothing to do with anyone else sitting in that room with him. The other five watched with slightly gaping mouths as, under the influence of the Veritaserum, Severus stumbled out of the room without telling the truth, wrenching back the hidden section of wall and lurching into the corridor beyond.
Rosier gaped after Severus with increasing measures of incredulity. “I… he just fought that,” he said, sitting back in his chair, his own potion untouched in his left hand.
“Was that supposed to happen?” Wilkes spoke up stupidly, craning his neck to see where Severus had gone. Carrow looked ready to punch something, and was actually eyeing the wall nearest him - his entire being spoke of how annoyed he was that whatever had just happened, had not happened according to some predetermined plan.
But, despite himself, Rosier knew Carrow was impressed, if nothing else.
“You. Drink that,” he snapped, waving a beefy hand at Avery. “Then go and grab your friend, make sure he didn’t get far with that stuff. Let’s see if any of you’ve got the control he’s got.”
There was a small alley next to the townhouse, although Severus did realize that he wasn’t sure quite where the townhouse actually was. It didn’t matter, of course, unless Aurors were to run across him where he stood, and then he’d be in a spot of trouble - but really, those thoughts were sort of secondary now. Somehow, something in that Veritaserum had cause his brain to light upon a fact that he’d managed to overlook in his near-obsessive musings of the past year.
He had been wrong when he’d thought that she was going off to join the Death Eaters - he knew that. But she clearly had to be doing something, and that something involved her being near the exact bridge he’d passed by when out with Malfoy and Rosier and the rest. How could that be a coincidence? It was all so clear to him now.
His worst memory had shifted entirely, to that moment when he’d let Beth get away, over a year earlier - and yet he’d found her again, hadn’t he, by that bridge. A second chance? A false hope? What was it supposed to mean?
And his Patronus - she’d talked about his Patronus, a fact he still couldn’t quite grasp the concept of. He pressed the tips of his fingers into his forehead, wanting to grasp the abstract concept that kept slipping away from him right when he thought it was in reach.
His Patronus was a doe, and James’s Animagus form was a stag. Stag and doe, James and Lily - but his worst memories had shifted themselves.
Had his Patronus shifted too?
He couldn’t extricate his wand from his pocket fast enough, heart beating rapid time against his throat, feeling as though it might rip the thin skin there from the pressure of it. The spell was in his mouth, a tangible and fighting thing, and he didn’t need to speak it.
From the end of his wand, there blossomed a massive silvery shape - and it was not the same shape it had been before. It was a horse, but more skeletal, more deathly, almost more reptilian than equine. Its milky eye turned and looked at him balefully, and from either side of it, great leathery wings flapped once in a halfhearted gesture.
He had never seen a creature like this, but he had read enough about them to know exactly what it was, almost without any doubt at all. This was a thestral - a creature that could only be seen by those who had witnessed death - and it was as far from a stag as could possibly be hoped. But what was it doing here, in front of him?
“My grandmother died when I was ten, in the same bed I sleep in.” Beth could see thestrals - she had seen one while he was there, in those dark, early-morning hours underneath the tree near the forest. The night she had let it slip that her emotions had prevented her from changing into her Animagus form. Her emotions about him.
He gasped audibly, his hands covering his mouth to contain the sound even as it escaped his lips. This was it, then. She’d assumed something wrong, and there had been a verbal mix-up of extreme proportions, and now - now he had to do everything he could to set it straight. He could fix this.
He jumped as there was the sound of a door closing behind him, and spun around, wand drawn. But it was only Avery, a bit pale and sweaty-looking, coming out from the narrow house where the other three were still presumably inside. His pupils were dilated slightly, reflecting every bit of light thrown at them, and Severus could only assume he’d had his measure of Veritaserum.
“I’m supposed to come and find you,” he said, shaking his head a bit as though to rid water from his ears. “You all right, mate? You left in a bit of -“
“I’m fine,” Severus cut him off quickly, shoving his wand back into the pocket of his robes. “I just - sick, you know -“ He couldn’t seem to talk but in short bursts of speech, and thankfully, it was enough that Avery didn’t get overly suspicious.
But Severus’s mind was on anything but what awaited him when he returned back to that inner room. He knew what he needed to do, and it had nothing to do with Carrow, or Veritaserum, or any of it.
He waited until Rosier had long since been asleep before sitting down at the kitchen table, blank parchment and quill at hand. He couldn’t remember the last time his stomach had clenched so hard with nerves, and in fact was liable to be sick from the sensation. He couldn’t mess this up - too much was at stake. It really was the last card he had left to play.
Beth hadn’t protested when he said he’d owl her, and that thought alone gave him courage. He slowly dipped his quill into his inkwell, letting it sit for some time while he caught his breath and tried to think with some modicum of rationale.
Slowly, he lifted the quill and began writing, carefully, deliberately:
I need to talk to you. Meet me at the bridge next Sunday night- it’s very important.
He hesitated, wondering if he should write more. But what he needed to say was much, much too complicated to put into writing that might go astray - and anyway, the whole point of meeting up was to explain it in person. Besides, simplicity was never overrated.
He hesitated over the signature for the briefest moment before simply signing his name. Now all he had to do was trust Rosier’s owl would find her - and then go to the bridge, and hope she showed up. There was nothing else left to him.
A/N: Yes! Finally I get to post this chapter! I've been waiting for this moment for months, ever since I began exploring Beth and Severus's Patronus Charms in the first place. Severus's Patronus couldn't switch until he had seen death, by killing the Muggle alongside Rosier, because thestrals only appear to those who have seen death. And now... his Patronus isn't symbolic of Lily anymore. -cue dramatic music-
So what's going to happen, do you think? I'd love to hear your conjectures. Thank you as always for reading, and I look forward to your opinions!
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