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Breaking Even by TenthWeasley
Chapter 15 : Treason
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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The wind was at Severus’s back the entire way from his flat to headquarters, slipping through the fabric of his cloak and down his spine. The material had never felt thinner than it did now, but it wasn’t as though he’d had anything more substantial to put on – and anyway, he’d been in much too much of a hurry to think hard about it before leaving.

The letter had come barely fifteen minutes earlier, before the sun had even peeked over the horizon, and he had left almost as soon as he’d understood what it meant; the cut on his finger, sustained from the flap of the envelope, was fresh enough still be beading with blood by the time he’d set out. It would not have done to be late to such a summons in any case, and especially not with the considered circumstances.

The squat, sagging stoop creaked ominously under his weight as he stepped up onto it, and he instinctively checked over his shoulder. There was no one in sight down the sordid little lane – there hardly ever was, but that never stopped anyone from checking. Severus felt as though his heart was beating double-quick in his chest, excitement humming in his veins almost audibly. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door onto the dark foyer and shut it behind him immediately, his eyes immediately awash in the sort of black that only comes from plunging them into darkness after light.

“Close the door behind you.”

Severus frowned, stopping in his tracks just as he made to move for the makeshift staircase in the corner. He couldn’t yet see the person who had uttered the command – his eyes were still adjusting to the dimness of the room, coming from the early daylight as he was – but he knew enough to follow orders in this place. His fingers reached behind him until they found the coolness of the knob, and eased the door closed.

The man who had spoken wasn’t the only one in the room; he saw that at once. Ranged around the walls of the antechamber, shoulder to shoulder without a hand’s breadth between them, were men dressed in the same type of dark cloak Severus himself wore. They looked at him as he entered with frank curiosity, scorn dotting a few expressions here and there. A single candle, floating of its own devices, rotated lazily in the center of the room, the flame just stopping shy of the rotten ceiling timbers. In the dim light it cast, he could see a huddled figure in the middle of the room: A man, on his knees and folded onto himself, hands thrown up behind his neck for protection. Poor as his vision was in this room, Severus could tell he was shaking.

One of the men stepped forward, and he now realized that the man who had first ordered him to close the door was Amycus Carrow. His several chins wobbled as a stupid-looking grin split his face in two, eyes dark and eager. “Roark told us to wait for you,” he sneered. “He didn’t mention you’d be so late.”

“To your place, Carrow,” Severus said smoothly, without acknowledging his words. Carrow cracked his knuckles once, the sounds loud in the tiny room. The man on the floor gave a small whimper, and a few of the other Death Eaters snickered.

“I don’t think you’ve got the rights to be ordering me around,” Carrow grumbled.

“I’m not interested in what you think, unfortunately,” the younger man responded instantly; his fellow man was painfully obvious, especially when it came to taking orders from anyone who hadn’t already hexed him senseless enough for insubordination before. As yet, Severus hadn’t had that pleasure. “This is my task, handed down from the Dark Lord himself through Roark. Unless you’d like to take it up with him” – a tiny, humorless smile curved Severus’s mouth, though he didn’t think Carrow could see it now – “I suggest doing as I ask.”

Carrow’s eyes narrowed slightly, the dull flame reflected in them shifting, but he stepped back against the wall. Only once he was back in place did Severus remove his wand from the inner pocket of his robes, the fingers of his other hand working at the dull fastenings of his cloak. It slithered to the floor in a cloth whisper, and he let it be.

He hadn’t lied to Carrow, of course; it was his task. His early-morning letter, the one that had brought him here so quickly, had made that as clear as it was possible to be in letters these days. It was supposed to be an honor, being told that someone had been captured, and he, Severus, was meant to interrogate him. He knew enough about the man, from brief snatches of conversation he had been privy to in his infrequent visits to headquarters, and from Lucius Malfoy’s mention of him earlier that year, at his home in Wiltshire.

Calvin Bridger had donated money in support of the Dark Lord’s aims, it was true. Whatever the money had gone for, it wasn’t for Severus to say. He had made large boasts over the piles of gold and silver, professing his allegiance, saying how truly happy he would have been to stand among them, working for the noblest cause the wizarding world had ever seen. Severus had heard the others mocking him, in voices cruel and merciless.

The trouble had arisen when the time had come to turn his braggart’s words into actions. The Death Eaters had summoned, and Bridger had chosen to run; and this was the worst of any of the choices he could have made. Nobody could turn away that summons; nobody had the option. He had been caught and brought before an assembly of the very men he’d run in fear from, to reap the consequences. Looking down at the squirming, pathetic man in front of him now, Severus couldn’t keep the sneer from his face.

This was justice; this was fair. The rules were broken, and so punishments had to be administered. And yet even as he stood above the man, sneering at his cowardice, knowing full well what he was going to do – Severus hated it. And even worse than that, he hated himself for hating it. Who was he to punish a disloyal man if such traitorous thoughts were swimming around in his own brain?

This will not be you, he told himself, watching as Bridger let out another whimper. You will never be this man. He deserves what is coming to him. The man’s left leg nearly slipped out from under him, but he didn’t dare remove his hands from the back of his neck. One of the nameless, faceless black cloaks laughed again. Severus took this as his cue.

“Calvin Bridger.” He twisted the words in his mouth, lacing them with all the scorn he could muster, and felt a surge of pride as Bridger, startled, visibly jerked as Severus spoke. In the thin light of the floating candle, eddies of dust swirled up around him, rising from the floor beneath. “You have come before us as a traitor to –“

“It’s not true!” the man screamed out, so suddenly that nearly everyone in the room jumped. For the first time since Severus had entered the room, Bridger looked up from the floor, eyes rolling in his face as they searched for a sympathetic face among the gathered, and found not a one. His face was red and swollen with frantic, frightened tears, nose streaming mucus like a child. Severus recoiled a step in disgust.

“I’m not a traitor,” the older man moaned, “I never did anything – I’ve been loyal, always loyal – you can’t kill me!”

“Shut up!” roared Carrow from his spot along the back wall; other jeers were lost among one another as the Death Eaters laughed uproariously, as though a man begging for his life was the funniest joke in the world. Severus took another step back.

“You can’t! You can’t!” There didn’t seem to be any words left in Bridger’s mouth but these; he repeated them over and over in a keening wail, like some sort of twisted mantra. His eyes continued to rove over the men around him, fingers scrabbling for purchase on the splintered wood beneath him, and then he looked at Severus at last.

As soon as he did, a splitting pain seared through Severus’s head; he stumbled back still more, until his back thudded painfully against the wall behind him. Eyes, he thought, and he did not remember thinking it. He closed his own, briefly, and –

The figure from the corner of his eyes, the figure that had been plaguing him for months, flashed briefly in front of him, so vivid that Severus could very easily have tricked himself into thinking it was real. A young woman – dark hair, pale skin – Bridger’s eyes –

The apparition vanished, as suddenly as it had appeared. Severus was breathing heavily, staring down at the slumped form of Calvin Bridger in front of him as though he had seen a ghost. He had – but no, no, his mind was playing tricks on him, that was all. It was the earliness of the day, or the pressure of the task, nothing more…

Severus withdrew his wand from his pocket, a high, triumphant note soaring in his ears. He swallowed. Bridger was sobbing like a child, hands scrabbling at the stubble on his cheeks, clearly days old – how long he’d been an enemy of the Death Eaters, on the run, Severus couldn’t rightly guess. But, he thought wryly, with a minuscule smile, it’s not as though it truly matters now…

Sectumsempra.”

Bright blossoms of crimson splashed across the front of Bridger’s robes; he screamed, his fingers tangling in the material around his throat, trying to relieve whatever was happening to him. Severus could have told him it would do him no good; he didn’t waste the breath. All around the walls of the room, the others were laughing breathlessly, as though it were the funniest joke in the world to see another man die before their eyes, drenched in his own blood.

And at that moment, there came across Severus such an overwhelming, overpowering feeling of nausea that he stumbled back against the door again, clutching at his ribs. Carrow, across the room, glanced up at him, and a cruel smirk twisted his lips. Can’t handle it, eh? it seemed to say. Poor man…

He bowed out into the dark foyer, squeezing his eyes shut, unable to rid them of the burned-in image of Calvin Bridger and his scarlet-drenched robes and the panicked, pleading expression that still marked his face, even as he tried to evade his death. Another splitting pain – the girl with the dark hair, with Bridger’s eyes – he reached out for her, unsure if she was real or not, but unable to help the action nonetheless –

Severus was on his knees; he didn’t remember dropping to the floor. Sweat was trickling down the curve of his spine, beading at his temples, and he wiped it away disgustedly. He felt – it was, he reflected shakily, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand, the same feeling that he had the few times Roark had been able to penetrate his mind during their practicing at Legilimency. And surely this meant that there was a modicum of truth to the vision of the girl.

Lucius Malfoy’s voice came back to him, all at once, as he sat and tried to regain his breath. It came from very far away, as though Malfoy had been speaking underwater. “He has a daughter… It’s Bethany, I think.” And Severus thought of the girl with Bridger’s eyes, who he was now almost certain he had seen somewhere before.

This was Bethany Bridger; he was almost sure of it. What he was less sure of, was why it was important – why her face kept appearing to him. But as he slumped on the floor, trying to forget what he’d just done, and that he’d have to go into that antechamber and face Carrow again, Severus felt abstractly sorry for this man’s daughter, a girl he had never truly known.

*

The sound of an owl’s beak pecking insistently at her bedroom window was the first thing Beth Bridger awoke to. She groaned aloud, pressing her pillow around her ears, hoping that Oscar would get the hint and go flying for another few hours before trying to wake her up again. She had let him out to hunt before going to sleep last night; no doubt he was returning now with a mole or another horrible sort of rodent, expecting her to be proud of him.

Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap.

“Bloody bird,” she grumbled, throwing the pillow at the wall in annoyance. Never mind the fact that she moonlighted as one – birds were obnoxious creatures to behold when it couldn’t have been much past eight o’ clock in the morning, which was death to a weekend riser. Beth blinked at the still-weak rays of sunlight creeping through her window, and only then registered that the owl perched on the sill wasn’t Oscar at all.

A faint tremor of panic shot through her, turning her legs to water. Something tickled at the back of her mind at once, a faint foreboding, and her thoughts turned instantly to Marlene. Beth had been thinking about Marlene a lot, ever since the Order meeting where she’d found out her entire family was gone. The entire group of them had, she knew – Remus was even more withdrawn than normal, James and Lily holding Harry a bit more tightly than normal. Even Sirius was prone to long periods of silence, and normally he would be the one trying to break it with something more lighthearted to get their minds off everything.

Now, looking at this strange owl and willing herself to cross the small stretch of floor to let it in the window, all she could see was Marlene, and she felt sick. Whose name would be in the letter this time – which face would she be recalling next, knowing she’d never see it alive again?

You’re being stupid, she told herself crossly. There’s no reason there should be anything wrong with this letter at all. As a safety net, her hand lifted to her nose, as though of its own accord, and rubbed it absently. She remembered, in a clutch of hope, that Peter had mentioned that he had finally gotten an owl of his own, one he had saved up to get for six months. Beth had no idea why he would be sending her a letter so early on a Sunday morning, but there could be any number of innocent reasons. The important thing now was to be calm.

Her feet like lead, she moved to the window, lifting the latch with slight difficulty. The bird hooted its thanks and soared to the bedpost, alighting on top of it and sticking out its leg obediently. Beth noticed as she untied the twine around its leg that her fingers were shaking slightly. “Stop it,” she muttered aloud, and the owl blinked at her.

As soon as she had removed the letter, it ruffled its feathers importantly and took off for the still-open window. Beth watched it go, a dark shape over the roofs of the neighboring flat complexes, until it disappeared entirely. Her attentions turned back to the letter, and with hesitant movements, she removed it from its envelope.

Her stomach plummeted at seeing the St. Mungo’s seal at the top of the letter, the rest written in a hasty scribble on neat-looking, official stationery:

Miss Bridger,

We regret very much to inform you that your father, Calvin Bridger, was admitted earlier this morning to the critical care ward on the fourth floor (Spell Damage) of the hospital. He was in critical condition; numerous wounds were borne from an as-yet undetermined curse, along with splinching of the lower part of the left leg, sustained in his attempts to reach the hospital. Though great efforts were made to heal him, the work of our Healers was not enough, and he passed away twenty minutes ago.

Your mother, Amelia Prescott, has also been notified of this occurrence. The staff of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries extends their condolences to you in this time.

Cordially yours,
Delilah Dumpkirk
Healer-In-Charge, Spell Damage


The letter slipped from Beth’s fingers, spiraling down to the carpet and slipping underneath her bed. Her brain buzzed; she couldn’t control her limbs, her entire body, anymore. The last line of the first paragraph ran through her mind on a continuous loop, and it appeared to be the only thought that could break through the numbness.

And then it shattered – with a sort of strangled half-sob, she jerked her cloak from over the door of her wardrobe, slinging it over her shoulders, shoving her feet into the trainers she’d chucked by the door so haphazardly the evening before. Beth burst into the sitting room, grabbing her wand from the coffee table, and turned on the spot with a loud crack, concentrating as hard as she could on her destination, willing herself not to think of her father.

Beth’s aunt’s home, where her mother was currently staying, was only fifteen or twenty away from the Bridger mansion, but it was not in the slightest like Beth’s childhood home. She’d been to her aunt Karen’s often when she’d been younger, but she hadn’t been there in years; the house had hardly changed at all since she’d last seen it. It was built from dark stone, with a dark tile roof and dark shutters bordering its windows. Beth remembered abstractly, even as she was running through the front garden towards the front door, that she’d always found it a sort of foreboding place when she was younger. It seemed, if possible, even worse now.

Beth hammered hard on the front door with her knuckles, and then again, just in case whoever was inside hadn’t heard her the first time. If she could only outrun her emotions, then she would be all right – but they were already catching up to her in waves, and she shoved away mental images of her father, broken and bleeding, outside the shabby department store that disguised the front of St. Mungo’s –

The door opened, and Aunt Karen stood on the other side. She and her sister were extremely similar in appearance: Slim, short, with dark hair and delicate features. Aunt Karen’s face was lined with years of solitude.

“Where’s Mum?” Beth burst out, already pushing past her aunt into the entryway. Her aunt’s eyebrows climbed her forehead in cool surprise. When she didn’t respond, Beth clenched her fists to her side. “My mum, Aunt Karen, where is she?!”

“Bethany?”

Beth whirled around, her cloak tangling about her legs. Amelia Prescott was halfway down the stairs leading into the entryway, her expression nearly mirroring that of her sister. She took the stairs three at a time to meet her, reaching forward and wrapping her arms around her mother’s waist – something she hadn’t done in ages.

“Beth, dear,” said Amelia, sounding nonplussed, “what is this about?” She gently ushered her daughter away from her, holding her at arm’s length. “Darling, you’re still in your pyjamas. What if someone had seen?”

Something bitter rose in the back of Beth’s throat. She sniffed loudly. “Mum… didn’t you hear about Dad?” she asked tentatively, wrapping her arms around her middle, nearly pitching off-balance on the narrow stairs. She was painfully aware of her aunt’s gaze, fixed on the pair of them from below.

“I did,” said Amelia stiffly, and Beth felt her insides turn to ice. “Is that why you ran all the way over here before dressing properly? Goodness.”

“Mum.” Beth felt like shaking her; her mother’s face was impossibly blank, a mask of humanity. “Dad is dead.” Her voice broke over the words. “My father, Mum, and I know – I know you divorced him, but – Mum, please!”

“Karen, would you go and make tea, please. Beth needs to calm down.” Amelia turned back to her daughter, patting her cheek. “We’ll talk about this then, sweetheart. Just try and relax.”

But if her mother’s words had meant to soothe, they had the complete opposite effect. Beth stumbled back down a few steps, her hand clenched hard around her wand, lips trembling. “I’m not going to bloody calm down –“

“Young lady,” the older woman interjected sharply, “you’ll watch your tongue under your aunt’s roof.”

“I’m not a child!” Beth knew she was screaming – knew that, by screaming, it took legitimacy from her protest, but she couldn’t find it within her to care. Nearly three years’ worth of anger at her mother and, yes, her father, was bubbling inside her like liquid fire, and she couldn’t seem to control herself. “I don’t want to talk about it, I want you to – Mum, you loved him once.”

“Bethany, your father was involved in all sorts of things he didn’t understand,” Amelia snapped. “This was always the end that was coming to him. I knew it long ago, before we ever separated. I did love your father once, but romantic love fades, Beth. That is what comes of growing up. You say you’re not a child? You had best realize that now.”

Beth laughed, pressing her fingers to her forehead and then looking back up at her mother. “You don’t know anything about love, then,” she spat. “Love doesn’t go away, Mum. You are so wrong.” She backed down the rest of the stairs, her trainers thumping on the hardwood floors.

“Beth –“

“I’m going to St. Mungo’s,” she interrupted her mother. “You can come, or you can stay, but I’m going. Because in case you forgot, that man you stopped loving is still my father.” She turned on her heel, half-hoping to hear her mother’s steps on the stairs behind her.

But Amelia Prescott stayed where she was.

A/N: So, who else realized how bad I am at telling dates apart? I did not even realize that June 8th was a Saturday, not a Sunday, until just yesterday, and then I felt quite the fool. Never fear -- Sneth updates are returning to their regularly scheduled Sundays! I had a lovely holiday, but it's very nice to be back and posting again.

Although now that I've said that, the subject of this chapter certainly wasn't very... happy. Poor, poor Beth. Poor Severus. Poor EVERYBODY. I forgot I made such dismal things happen in quick succession. I swear that this story isn't always going to be as depressing as all this, I really do! But my oh my, how is Severus ever going to come to terms with what he's done...

Reviews are always super appreciated! I love hearing what you think. ♥ Thank you for reading!


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