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Breaking Even by TenthWeasley
Chapter 6 : Malfoy Manor
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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Thick, fat raindrops were rolling down the impeccably polished window nearest Severus, coddled in an overstuffed armchair as he was, in the drawing room of Malfoy Manor. He had been watching this particular window, and the rain on it, for close to fifteen minutes now in thick, uncomfortable silence. Lucius Malfoy had abandoned all pretentions of playing the gracious host, and had been summoned away by the sound of the doorbell not half an hour into Severus’s visit. Lucius’s wife, Narcissa, was poor stand-in conversation.

He tore his eyes away from the rain sheeting down the window, trying not to appear as though he was obviously looking in the corner in which she had entrenched herself while doing basically that. Narcissa was a ghost in the dark room; her hair was the same color as her husband’s, nearly white, and her skin was as pale as bone. He was somewhat unnerved by her, though he couldn’t have placed his finger on what it was about her that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand straight up. A book was propped open on her lap, and in her fingers was a delicate glass flute of something clear and bubbly, far different from the cognac Lucius and Severus had been drinking before his host had been called away on assumedly important business matters.

The darkness of the room made Narcissa appear even more unreal and ephemeral against its backdrop. From the very first, it had reminded Severus somewhat of the Slytherin common room of his school days, though shining dark wood had been filtered in where the dungeons had used damp stone from the bed of the Black Lake. Heavy maroon curtains obscured every window but Severus’s; the carpet underfoot, also patterned in maroon, was thick with dust and disuse. The fireplace at the end of the room had died out long before Severus had arrived, and neither Lucius nor Narcissa had bothered to stoke it into life again.

But as he was studying her, trying to glimpse the title of her novel out of sheer boredom and lack of anything else to do until Lucius’s return, Narcissa glanced up at Severus, as though sensing his eyes on her. He hastily looked away, pretending to have been studying the painting to the right of her winged armchair, and distinctly heard her give a little sniff of derision.

Severus didn’t know why he had agreed to come. If he was being honest with himself, he couldn’t quite understand why Lucius had asked him over in the first place; Severus had never pretended to be interested in social occasions, and it had been the first time Lucius had showed any inclination of wanting a friendship with Severus at all.

But then, things had changed subtly over the past few months, even before then. Severus had proven himself worthy to the Dark Lord and his followers, and it hadn’t been taken for granted by many of the higher-ranking members of the many concentric circles that made up Lord Voldemort’s Death Eaters. He had played his part well; his partial alliance to the Order of the Phoenix had yet to be unearthed, and he found himself grateful for his training in Occlumency. Severus laughed inwardly, albeit without humor, whenever he thought about it: Roark’s weapon, used against him, stronger than he had guessed it ever would be.

Just as he was thinking over this, and pondering exactly how rude it might be to make some poor excuse and leave, Lucius’s footsteps sounded further down the hall, accompanied by the rhythmic tap, tap of the cane he still carried everywhere. Severus knew that the man hid hidden his wand in it, but he could never see the sense in it. Why he couldn’t carry his wand like a normal man, and instead strutted about with a cane like a common invalid, was beyond his friend.

Lucius appeared in the doorway, his face etched in lines of apology he clearly did not feel. Sure enough, it was an apology he uttered, crossing back to the seat opposite Severus and picking up his half-drunk glass of cognac from the table where he’d placed it. “Business matters to attend to,” he said vaguely, a cool smirk twisting his lips. Lucius raised the glass and sipped from it.

“Anything important?” Severus asked, in equally frosty tones. This was one of things he hated most about Lucius Malfoy: Though the pair of them were, for all intents and purposes, ranked the same now among the Dark Lord’s followers, Lucius constantly pretended he held some sort of power over Severus. Whether it was for age reasons, narcissism, or something else entirely was anyone’s guess; but it was eternally annoying to be belittled in this way.

“Now, Snape,” the blonde man said, in such a patronizing tone that Severus’s lip curled immediately upon hearing it. “Surely we can pass an evening together without talking of the cause?” He inclined his head nearly imperceptibly in Narcissa’s direction. She had gone oddly still, though her head was still bowed over her book; if Lucius thought she was still reading, then he was thicker than a troll, Severus thought idly.

“The cause is too great to be evaded with a glass of brandy,” Severus responded. “We are equals in this, Malfoy, and I do think you would do well to remember it from time to time.” Lucius stared at him for several moments, and then grinned appreciatively.

“I see you will not be swayed from the subject. Narcissa,” he called over to his wife. Narcissa looked up with such a measured pause that would have convinced Severus of her eavesdropping, even if he had been blind to it before. Perhaps Lucius wasn’t quite as thick as all that. “I can hear Draco in the nursery.”

It couldn’t have been clearer to any of the room’s three occupants that there was no noise, crying or otherwise, coming from the nursery where Lucius and Narcissa’s infant son lay sleeping. This in itself was quite a rare occurrence; Draco was one of the fussiest babies Severus had ever come across (though, admittedly, that number was not high), and the fact that he wasn’t crying now was almost improbable.

Narcissa played along, however; obediently she rose from the winged armchair, placing a marker in her book and laying it on the end table next to her. She crossed to her husband and gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek before exiting the dark drawing room. Both men heard her quiet steps on the broad staircase leading to the second floor, and only after she was gone, Lucius spoke again.

“That was Pettigrew,” he said shortly. “He’s been sent to play messenger boy again, no doubt.”

“And he was sent all the way over here, when the next meeting is only a week away?” Severus asked, frowning slightly and lifting his glass to his lips again. He hated the cognac; it was bitter and sour, but that was to be understood. Lucius wouldn’t have wasted his best liquor on Severus.

Lucius drained the remnants of his glass, holding the silence again, and Severus had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from saying something he would no doubt regret. His friend was all too clearly enjoying knowing something that he, Severus, did not. The blonde man rose from his chair, crossed to a dark-wood cabinet on the opposite wall, and took another bottle from within it.

“Dolohov has been successful with Adalbert Waffling,” he said at last, and arrogant though he was, he couldn’t hide the excited, triumphant gleam that appeared then in his eyes. “He was captured and killed early this morning. Outside his home, Pettigrew said, the stupid oaf.”

Severus couldn’t tell whether the term ‘oaf’ was meant to indicate Waffling or Pettigrew, but supposed that it really didn’t matter. Adalbert Waffling, he knew, had been sought as a valuable ally for some months now; he was in close allegiance with Dumbledore, and was one of the more prominent magical theorists of any recent age. He had refused to comply, however, and was therefore a threat, a target; it was what happened, when you refused the Dark Lord. The fact that he was no longer in the picture was an undeniably incredible coup for their side.

“That doesn’t explain why he was sent to you,” Severus said smoothly, swirling the dregs of his drink around in the bottom of his glass and intentionally not meeting Lucius’s eyes, instead of celebrating, as he perhaps ought to have been.

The smile fell away from Lucius’s lips as he crossed back over to the chair, reseating himself in it. “It was apparently deemed necessary that I know.” Severus smirked, but did not comment further on the subject. He didn’t pretend to know why Roark, or Bellatrix, or one of the others who all but lived at headquarters had sent Pettigrew over. It was likely that Lucius would be involved in the next target, as he had been involved in Waffling’s capture.

Despite himself, Severus felt a small twist of jealousy in the pit of his stomach. He had not been made to focus on these captures; most of his work for the Dark Lord had been along the lines of the prophecy he had brought to him, all those months ago. It was why he was working in secret to protect Lily, that prophecy; it was as though his entire world, everything he was working for, orbited around it now.

If Lucius only knew what danger was, he found himself thinking sourly. The man knew nothing about what it meant to risk one’s life on a daily basis, and here he was, sipping liquor, thinking he was special because a rat-faced man had been sent to him, made to herald… He knew nothing of what the world truly was.

But he let the subject go. Adalbert Waffling was dead, and Lucius had helped – and what was the death of one old man, compared to all the lives at stake in this game? Severus was still protecting Lily while pretending his loyalties had not changed, would never change. If he tried to start arguments with Lucius now, it could very well turn into something larger down the road, and so Severus only sat back in his chair and once more raised the cognac to his lips. The sound of the rain on the window next to his head grew louder, the drops falling more and more rapidly, until it looked like the glass was melting from the force of the water rushing down it.

His thoughts were cloudy again, the stuffed feeling pressing against the front of his head – and he was tired, so tired. Perhaps he could just drift off to sleep…

Some minutes later, Lucius – already halfway through his new drink – spoke again. His tone was light and pleasant; he, too, was putting the previous conversation aside, as though it hadn’t happened at all. Nevertheless, there was something needlelike lurking beneath the words as he said them. “So, tell me, Severus. Is your work going well? You’re not often seen around headquarters.”

“Fine.”

Lucius waited, as though hoping his guest would elaborate; Severus did not feel like sparing more breath on this man. When it became evident that that was all that was going to be said on that front, the blonde man tried for another conversational tactic.

“Calvin Bridger has donated to our cause. Have you heard? Apparently Travers has been working on him for several months; he gave several hundred Galleons, if I’m not mistaken.”

Severus looked up at him sharply. “What did you say?”

Lucius’s eyebrows rose high on his pale forehead. “Travers,” he repeated slowly, as though fearing that Severus might be a bit thick. “He solicits – you know this,” he added impatiently, not even bothering to finish his sentence. His eyes flicked once to the glass in his guest’s hand; Severus realized now that he was clutching it very tightly, and had no idea why.

“Who is that? The man who's donated, who is he?” he asked instead, and was immensely surprised to find the words sort of choked from him. What was happening to him, that he couldn’t even speak normally? He glanced inside his glass as well, but there had been no evidence of poison there; he was an expert at potions and draughts, he would have known…

Lucius was looking at him now rather as though he had grown an extra head. “Calvin Bridger?” he said in a cautious voice, as though the name was supposed to mean something. “He works in the Ministry office connected with Gringotts? He has a daughter – she was in your year at Hogwarts. Beverly, or – no, Bethany. It’s Bethany, I think.”

Something hot was creeping up the back of Severus’s neck, raising the hairs there and spreading into his cheeks. “I don’t remember her,” he muttered under his breath. But surely that wasn’t true, was it? He could picture her somewhat – she’d been in Gryffindor, he thought. Bethany Bridger…

And quite suddenly, an image flashed in his mind, clear enough to have been right in front of him, had he not been fully aware that he was sitting in the drawing room of Malfoy Manor. He had been at the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix recently, but had arrived too early; the room had been too full of people, all with suspicious eyes cast in his direction.

There had been a girl there, who had looked at him as though he were a ghost. That’s her, Severus thought, instantly knowing he was right without knowing how he knew it. He focused his mind (shouldn’t it have been stronger than this – hadn’t he been training it for nearly two years?), trying to scrounge up any minute details. Why did he have the weighty sensation that Bethany Bridger was important? What was the matter with him?

She had worn a bracelet on her arm – a silver bracelet, with a charm dangling off it. Severus remembered that now, because it was one of the first things he had noticed about her, that bracelet. He wrapped his fingers around his temples, shielding his eyes, unsure whether his sudden headache was from the cognac, or the cognition.

“Snape?” Severus raised his head quickly; he had, inexplicably, almost forgotten that he was being watched. Lucius’s expression was one of much more than just mild alarm now.

“I – sorry,” he muttered. His head throbbed; nausea roiled inside him. Perhaps Lucius did poison me after all… he found himself thinking, even while a more detached part of him knew such rational was imbecilic. “I’m not feeling well – best be off –“

He rose abruptly from the chair, but even as he did so, the ill feeling faded. Nevertheless, it was an excuse to leave, and he took it without questioning. Muttering more apologies he did not feel, Severus bolted for the front door and let himself out into the torrential, not feeling entirely safe until the massive bolt to the front door had been automatically drawn shut behind him.

*

Lucius Malfoy heard the front door of the house click closed behind Severus Snape, but he remained rooted to the spot, eyes focused unseeingly on the rain-splattered window. That, he felt sure, was one of the more bizarre things he had seen in a while – and after seeing everything he had in his few years on Earth, that was certainly saying something.

The conversation had been progressing normally, for all intents and purposes. It was only after Lucius had mentioned Calvin Bridger and his daughter Bethany – Lucius thought that was her name, though he couldn’t remember precisely at the moment – that Severus had taken his leave. But he had never done anything like that before, to the blonde man’s understanding.

Lucius sighed and rubbed the inside corners of his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. Well. He had known Severus was rather strange, hadn’t he? He’d been an odd sort at school as well; he might have expected this. Jealous, probably, he thought, smirking slightly. Always a step under me in the rankings of the Dark Lord’s favor, I’m afraid…

There was a light step at the door to the drawing room; he did not have to look around to see who it was. Narcissa crossed the room with ghostlike silence and laid her hands upon her husband’s shoulders, her lips landing a feather-light kiss on the crown of his head.

“Are you coming up soon?” she whispered. “It’s growing late.”

“In a minute.” He touched her fingers lightly with his, and she took it as a gesture of dismissal; Narcissa picked up the glass of cognac that Severus had so hastily abandoned and retreated from the room. Lucius was left to stare out of the window, still reflecting on what, if anything, had just happened.

*

Severus normally really did hate walking in the rain, treading through puddles and having his shoes and the hem of his robes soaked. Tonight, however, he found he didn’t mind it too much; there was still an uncomfortable amount of heat left in his cheeks from his evening at Malfoy Manor. He had been walking for nearly an hour, too restless to return to his flat.

He didn’t know what to think, or what to make of his seemingly adverse reaction to Lucius’s mention of Calvin Bridger – whoever the man was, as Severus still didn’t really know.

Bethany Bridger… He didn’t know how he knew, but he did: She was the girl at the Order meeting, the girl with the silver bracelet on her arm. Why it was important, he had no idea. But there was a nagging feeling inside him that told him that it was.

Whatever she meant, Severus was going to find it out.

A/N: Another glimpse at what Severus is up to! I am really quite sad that Severus and Beth's interactions in this story are (understandably) virtually nonexistent, but we'll be popping in from time to time to check up on him, to be sure. He's still quite a key player in this story... even if he can't remember why! And I'm going to go sit in the corner for a few minutes now and ponder how mean that last sentence was.

I was looking over my outline for this story just now, and holy wow, I have ten chapters left to write. And about eight or nine of those are BIG chapters, so I'm super excited to write them! (My original fiction might get neglected, if I'm not careful). And I'm really excited to have you guys read them already. Thank you for all the reviews thus far -- I seriously do appreciate them so much!


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