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Breaking Even by TenthWeasley
Chapter 19 : Lily's Son
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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Severus could not remember the last time he’d been to the Death Eaters’ headquarters when he could actually see sun shining through the filmy windows. Now that he was here, and the sun was doing just that, he actually found it extremely off-putting. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement among the Dark Lord’s followers that all meetings and gatherings should take place at night, the better for concealing themselves and maintaining the appearance of living normal, ordinary lives before the sun set. He had grown accustomed to living in gloom and shadows, folding himself into the night, and the harsh light on exposed skin felt too revealing; glancing at the faces of the other clustered around the table that had been set up in the long former bedroom of the upstairs, he could tell they felt the same.

His hands were splayed atop the table in front of him, pressed flat against the wood so no one would see their shaking. Severus had no idea why such a small group had been assembled at headquarters today, and not knowing what was going on was never a good sign. His eyes flicked from person to person – only five others were sitting around the table, all squinting like they, too, had felt like they were living underground until this moment.

Across the table from Severus, Lucius Malfoy was sitting absolutely and perfectly still, as though strapped to boards. His hands were out of sight beneath the lip of the table, his eyes fixed dead ahead on a point just to the right of Severus’s right ear. Next to him was Peter Pettigrew, who kept breaking the bated-breath silence by chewing on his fingernails with impossibly loud clicks of his teeth, alternatively looking at his nails and throwing furtive gazes at the rest assembled there.

He felt his lip curl as he looked at Pettigrew; the man’s watery gray eyes landed on Severus’s own, and then shot away as though he’d seen something there to frighten him away. Severus wasn’t sure what to make of Pettigrew, and therefore didn’t trust him on principle. He had seen him at Order meetings, hanging around Potter and Black and Lupin just as he’d done at school, simpering and silently pleading to be noticed. What had brought him here, to the Death Eaters, was still anyone’s guess.

He was doing exactly what Severus was doing – trading sides, playing go-between – and yet essentially seeking to obtain the opposite goal that he, Severus, was seeking to accomplish. And for that, Severus could say nothing about him to Dumbledore. What the old fool didn’t know, he figured, wouldn’t hurt him.

Roark was standing, crossing back and forth before the window on the far side of the room, the one letting in all the late August sunshine. His face was turned into a harshly silhouetted profile, and it was impossible to read any expressions on that face, if there were any expressions there at all. Every so often the hem of his robes would catch on the exposed piping jutting from the cracked plaster wall, but that was the only thing to ever slow him down.

The only other person in the room was Bellatrix Lestrange, and, Severus thought, studying her from the corner of his right eye, she was a perfect foil to the rest of them – the only one who looked as though she didn’t mind the sun, the summons, any of it. A smile was fixed crookedly on her face, her chin propped in her hands dreamily, as though this was one of the more pleasant afternoons she’d had in recent memory. Her sanity never failed to be called into question, but right now Severus wasn’t afraid to admit to himself that she scared the hell out of him.

Bellatrix seemed to sense Severus looking at her. Before he could turn away and pretend he hadn’t been, she craned her neck around and gave him a sloppy grin. “Bit exciting, isn’t it?” she whispered in a voice that was clearly meant to carry around the table. Roark stopped pacing; Malfoy and Carrow did very poor impressions of not having heard her.

Severus glared at her icily. “No,” he said tersely. Bellatrix laughed, and the sound made the small hairs on the back of his neck stand straight up.

“You’re lying,” she said nastily. She leaned closer, breath tickling his cheek. “It’s all over your face, Severus. You’re just as curious as I am about why we’ve all been gathered together like this.”

“Bellatrix,” spoke up Roark from the corner of the room, his voice low and thunderous in the expectant quiet. She waved a hand at him impatiently, wordlessly ordering him to be quiet.

“The Dark Lord isn’t here yet,” she said dismissively. All eyes in the room instantly jumped to the wall left of where Severus was seated, as though speaking about the man they served might conjure him in the doorframe, but it was as empty as it had been for the past ten minutes.

“It’s got to be something important,” Bellatrix crooned, clutching the arms of her chair and tipping it back so that it teetered precariously on only two of its legs. She looked again at Severus, who had taken up Malfoy’s tactic of staring blankly at the wall in front of him. “You can tell.”

“Important, yes,” he said through gritted teeth, pressing his hands even harder into the table in an attempt to stop them trembling still. “Importance does not necessarily mean interest.”

She laughed again, bringing the chair back to the ground with a loud thud. “And that’s where you’re wrong again. Important missions are always the best ones.” She slid her wand from an inner pocket of her robes and began rolling it between her fingers. “Those blood scum, traitors and Mudbloods –“

“Don’t – !” Severus started snappishly, unable to help himself, but before he could get another word past his lips, Lord Voldemort strode into the room.

None of those assembled had heard him climb the stairs. But then, Severus thought, trying not to make it appear as though every muscle in his body had tensed at the Dark Lord’s appearance, he is not a normal man, and does not act like normal men do. In the past year, he had grown thinner, nearly skeletal. His hairline had receded, his eyes sunken into their sockets, and if Severus hadn’t known better, he might have argued that the man standing in front of him now was not the same one he had feared over a year earlier at their first meeting.

At the first glimpse of his presence, the five assembled in the room before him ceased speaking, moving, even breathing; the air took on a whole otherworldly sort of quiet, thick with the absence of anything at all. Malfoy and Pettigrew had turned their eyes to the table, and Roark was standing behind the chair at the head of it, hands gripping the back so fast Severus could see the veins standing up from the thin skin. Bellatrix was staring up at the Dark Lord in rapt adoration, lips slightly parted, eyes bright with desire. Severus fought back the urge to snort in derision.

It was the wrong reaction. Lord Voldemort’s eyes, tinged pink by something unknown and all the more frightening for that, slid over to Severus as he lingered in the doorway. “Do you find something amusing, Snape?” he said coolly.

Severus felt as though ice cubes had been slipped down the neck of his robes. “Nothing at all, my lord,” he murmured, dropping his eyes to the table like his fellows across from him. Beside him, Bellatrix cackled, and his neck burned with the injustice of her not being called out for laughing too. Lord Voldemort moved silently behind the pair of them, towards the chair where Roark stood. Roark backed hastily away and took the vacant chair at the opposite end, nearest the door.

It was only after the Dark Lord had carefully settled himself into the chair, placing the tips of his fingers together lightly, that he addressed them. “The five of you are gathered here for a reason,” he said smoothly, without preamble. “A fact which, I’m sure, you’ve guessed.”

Bellatrix let out a shivery gasp of delight and amusement; Severus ground his teeth together, trying to pretend the woman beside him didn’t exist.

“Quite a while ago, Snape brought word to me of a prophecy made in secret, in a room over the Hog’s Head.” Lord Voldemort made the barest inclination of his head in Severus’s direction, and the latter relaxed somewhat. “The prophecy spoke of a child born to those who have defied me three times – a child with the power to destroy me.”

Only Bellatrix Lestrange had any reaction to this at all, hissing quietly through her teeth.

“Now, now,” the Dark Lord chided her gently, nevertheless bestowing her with a smile that did not even come close to meeting his eyes. She didn’t seem to mind. He rose from his chair, restless, and pushed it roughly behind him. The legs dragged on the wood of the floor, and it smacked into the exposed piping jutting from beneath the window.

“I have since then debated about what child this prophecy might mean – the words are as familiar to me as anything. A boy, born in July… Two boys fit that description.” Lord Voldemort rested his hands on the back of the chair, as Roark had done only minutes earlier, but with none of the other’s tenseness or visible anxiety.

Severus, however, felt the nerves seep into his own skin at those words. Was he about to be exposed? Was this the end for him? For he knew only too well that one of the boys who fit the description of the prophecy was Harry Potter, Lily’s son, and moreover that he was double-crossing Lord Voldemort even now, working to keep Lily safe.

Oh, Lily, he found himself thinking now, lips folded tightly in silent prayer, if you hadn’t defied him… But still, the prophecy might not mean Harry. Many other boys fit the same requirements, didn’t they? He knew of at least one other, a boy called Longbottom.

The Dark Lord was speaking again; Severus forced himself to listen. “For many months now, I have deliberated and debated, wondering who this boy was, and how to go about destroying him before he destroys me.” Lord Voldemort clasped his hands loosely behind his back. “I had to identify him.”

“My lord,” Malfoy spoke up, strain clearly evident through a voice of forced calm, “no child could harm you. You are strong, much stronger than an infant. My own son is only over a year old –“

“Ah, your son.” Lord Voldemort turned toward Malfoy with a cold, calculating smile. “You think I don’t know how concerned you were that your son – Draco, isn’t it? – would be born in July? Draco was born prematurely and you sang praises. Your lips drip lies, Lucius.”

Malfoy’s face turned the color of sour milk, and he dropped his head again, chewing feverishly at his bottom lip. Bellatrix let out another whispering laugh. But Severus kept his eyes trained on Lord Voldemort, willing him to say the name, to reveal the boy he had chosen to target…

The Dark Lord kept his eyes trained on Malfoy for a few more seconds, but the blonde man didn’t try to give him any more reassurances. When he finally turned away, there was a tight eagerness to the corners of his pink eyes and pale mouth, and Severus gripped the edges of his chair. Without really meaning to, his mind observed, This is the moment.

“I must kill Harry Potter.”

It was as though Severus’s entire world had been plunged underwater; sounds were at once faraway and too close at hand, the sounds mixing and swirling. Lord Voldemort, he could register, was still talking, but he couldn’t have made out the words for the life of him. Only two stuck out in his head – Harry’s name – but they circled without meaning, and he was unable to grasp them.

Lily’s son.

It was Lily’s son.

There was a scraping of chairs from all around the table just then, and he realized, several beats too late, that the Dark Lord had adjourned the meeting, having spoken his piece. Presumably he had been given instructions as to what he was supposed to be doing, and Severus faintly remembered having nodded after hearing them, but what they were supposed to be he had no way of knowing. He glanced at Bellatrix, and noted that her cheeks were flushed with the excitement of the information Lord Voldemort had shared with them tonight.

He followed Malfoy wordlessly out of the disused bedroom, down the makeshift set of stairs and into the foyer, following the blonde head like one would a spectre. In the sunshine washing through the front windows, his skin was still splotchy and odd-colored, and Severus knew that he had been as shaken by the idea as he, Severus, had been – although admittedly for different reasons. Malfoy had a son that was the same age as the Potters’; he could only be thinking of what it would be like, having his own son ripped from him like James and Lily were about to have ripped from them.

Malfoy turned to Severus once both of them were outside, hands held limply at his sides. “What do you think?” he asked dully, and left it at that.

“I’m not here to think,” he responded. And he knew, even as the reality of the news began to dawn on him, that that was the right answer – that his opinions had no business interfering with whatever the Dark Lord did or did not decide to do. No matter how much he sought to protect Lily – and, by extension, James and Harry – he could do nothing to prevent what Lord Voldemort was planning.

Malfoy’s lips thinned against his wan face. “Please,” he spat, desperation disguising itself as annoyance as he spoke. “You brought this to him. You can undo it if anyone can.”

“And why do you care so much about the son of – of someone like her?” Severus closed his eyes briefly, unable still, after all these years, to say that word.

“I don’t,” he protested instantly. “But –“ Whatever he was trying to say, however, never made its way out of his mouth. Perhaps he didn’t even know what he was trying to say. Malfoy straightened his shoulders. “Never mind.”

“See you later,” Severus said shortly, and, after a curt nod from the other man, turned on his heel, Disapparating and reappearing moments later outside the crude brick building where he had his flat. The crack of the Disapparition reverberated in his ears, and along with it, the words Malfoy had said to him moments earlier.

“You can undo it if anyone can.”

But was that true?

Panic was clawing its way up his throat now, along with another emotion, one he seemed to be alone in possessing – guilt, sour and vile, churning in his insides. He had gotten Lily into his. It was his fault that the Dark Lord knew about the prophecy at all. It was his fault. And now her son was going to die because of him.

Severus threw open the front door, taking the steps in the tiny, sour-smelling steps two at a time, and still feeling as though the flight of stairs stretched endlessly before him. He was out of breath by the time he reached his landing, and what was more, the stuffy, cloudy feeling in his head was creeping slowly in again, sucking at the corners of his mind.

The door was, thankfully, open, despite the fact that Avery was absent from the flat. For the first time, Severus was glad his friend was a bit of an idiot and nearly always forgot to lock the door behind him; he might have blasted a locked door open today, in his nervous impatience. He fought to breathe steadily, clenching and unclenching his fists in turns, looking about him wildly for nothing at all.

You can undo it if anyone can, he told himself, repeating the words to himself over and over until they lost meaning. He swore violently, reaching out his hand and sweeping a cheap lamp off a nearby end table. It exploded across the floor with a satisfying crash, bits of porcelain and glass skittering everywhere.

Severus sank down onto the couch, grabbing his hair in his fingers and yanked, feeling the blood rising to the spots on his scalp where the hair pulled at the skin. He sucked in hair through his nose, blew it out through his mouth, and the cotton feeling in his head thickened –

Beth Bridger.

“No!” he cried aloud, not realizing he was speaking, the words pouring from him automatically. “Not her, it’s Lily!” The wavering mental picture of the young woman with the dark hair, dark eyes, light expression faded from his view to be replaced by the familiar red and green of his childhood best friend.

But something about the act of destroying the lamp, of destroying his possessions in fits of misunderstanding and confusion, brought Bridger’s face to his mind again, and this time he held it there. It was blurred, like he was seeing it through wet glass. The thick feeling in his head deepened.

Why is she so firmly ingrained into my mind? Severus wondered. Who is she? Why can I see her whenever I close my eyes?

Severus yelled in anguish, sinking to the floor, guilt throbbing like a bruise. “Lily,” he forced through his teeth. He repeated her name, just to keep him remembering who he needed to focus on, who he needed to save. “Lily.”

He could not go to her, and anyway, she would turn him away if he did. He could not go to James, and he would not go to Black or Lupin.

And he couldn’t even begin to think about Bridger.

He rose from the floor, shoving his hair away from his face, ignoring the thundering pulse in his veins, the clouded feeling in his head, the apprehension in his heart. And just at that moment, there was the sound of the knob turning, and Avery backed into the room, handles of a paper grocery bag clenched between his teeth.

“Mmphf,” he said, turning around and kicking the door closed with his shoe. He took the bag from his mouth and made a face, evidently at how it tasted, and slung it into the counter, slamming his wand down beside it. “I know, I know, I didn’t lock the door behind me,” he added, seeing Severus standing in the middle of the sitting room. “But get this, there was this stupid Muggle down –“

Avery stopped midsentence, his eyes widening as he looked at what was before him: Severus, looking certifiably mad, standing amid the shards of the broken lamp. His eyes flicked from his flatmate to the lamp and back again, as though trying to piece together a puzzle, and coming up short.

“Are you all right, mate?” he finally asked.

Severus felt red patches bloom on his cheeks. “I’m going out,” he said tersely. He brushed past Avery, pretending not to notice the way he recoiled, and out the door, slamming it so hard behind him the frame rattled. He rushed back down the stairs, fingers gliding along the sticky, peeling stair rails, and spilled from the building back out into the bright afternoon sunshine, which still seemed wholly and thoroughly wrong for how the day had turned out.

He didn’t know where he was going, and so he just let his feet take him anywhere as soon as he hit the pavement again, turning west and heading for the end of the street. He took a left, and then a right, and another right, losing himself in the haphazard maze of asphalt avenues and alleyways that surrounded his flat building. He could feel himself getting thoroughly lost; he didn’t care. His mind was more important things than where he would end up at the end of his walk.

Severus’s options were painfully limited, but he couldn’t sit idly by while Lily lost her son. He’d messed things up enough where she was concerned – couldn’t he do anything besides make her life more miserable? – and he would be damned if he was going to let history repeat itself yet again.

He was going to have to go back to talk to Dumbledore.

A/N: I don't know what it was about this week that made it so hard to wait to post, but I've been mentally ticking off the days until Sunday, just because I was so excited about getting this chapter up for you all to read! Now that we're on chapter 19 out of 30, the story's really beginning to make the ascension into its climax, and some really big stuff happens in the upcoming chapters, which I'm so excited to post. I really hope you all enjoy it, too!

So, what are your thoughts on this chapter? Blending canon into my own version of events is sometimes tricky, but I thought it was very important to attempt it, and I hope I've done it justice here. If you have the time to review -- even a couple of lines -- I'd really appreciate it so much! Thank you!


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