Chapter 1 : Trading Places
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Peter is lucky to find an unoccupied booth at the Leaky Cauldron at this time.
A waitress presses a tankard of warm cider into his hands as she passes, leaving a smeared ring of water on the table from where the mug was just recently cleaned. He takes a sip, letting the sweet liquid slide down his throat and trying to force the cold, snowy weather from outside out of his body by soaking up the room’s warmth. Nervously, he checks his watch. Quarter after six, we agreed, have to put the baby to bed. Well, it’s twenty minutes past, and where are you?
When Peter looks back up, a man in the opposite corner is staring at him.
Out of habit—he was the product of a respectable witch, after all—he averts his gaze. It takes him a few moments to summon the courage to look back and inspect the man, so far down has he pushed the traits that got him sorted into Gryffindor in the first place. The person scrutinizing him is approximately five years his senior, dark-haired with blue eyes that cut into him uncomfortably. He is a tall, thin man, and he has a mug sitting in front of him that he is not touching. Instead, his arms are folded on the table, a sign that he is giving all of his attention to Peter.
The younger man searches his mental database. The face looks familiar, but he cannot place the man to which it belongs. The very effort to do so is giving him a headache, and he feels hazy, surely not only as a result of drinking the cider. He has tried to divide his memory to compensate for his new lifestyle, but it’s too hard. Both groups with whom he is affiliated choose shady buildings and odd hours in which to meet, and the faces are always changing when someone dies or another new recruit is introduced. Peter has never been one for crowds and so he struggles.
Quickly, he chides himself, keeping one eye on the front door and shamefully avoiding the man’s intrusive stare. Was he at the meeting at the Burrow two weeks ago, or did I see him when I went to Lestrange’s manor to see that Muggle tortured? He wracks his brain, resisting the urge to physically assault his own head in panic.
He’d recognize her voice from anywhere; it’s warm and soft like partially melted butter and he feels sick to his stomach whenever she speaks. Still, though, he looks up and tries pitifully to replicate Lily’s sweet smile as she approaches his table.
“You saved us a place.” She sits down next to him, the chill of the winter still lingering on her robes. She is followed by her husband, James, and his best friend Sirius. They unconsciously leave a space for Remus, one that will remain unfilled. He hasn’t been seen for two weeks. Peter thinks maybe he killed someone when he changed this time. The person who has been hidden deep inside hopes he’s wrong.
“I saw Frank when we came in,” Sirius says. “Should we call him over?”
“No,” James replies softly. “Don’t bother him. He’s on duty.”
Peter looks back over, feeling his heart begin to beat uncomfortably fast as he berates himself for not recognizing one of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement’s rising stars. With the Potters’ arrival, Frank has began sipping his cider and settling back into his seat, but he never once takes his eyes off their table. The Order must have selected him to watch over Lily and James carefully tonight.
“Are we sure Harry’s going to be okay?” Lily says to James.
“Yeah, Alice is watching him. That little girl with the purple hair, Andromeda and Ted’s daughter, offered to babysit but I thought you’d prefer slightly older hands.” He chuckles. James has never lost his sense of humor, not after the deaths of his parents or even when he and Lily heard that there was a tragic prophecy floating around that could be interpreted to predict Harry’s death.
He is a good person, just as his wife is, and that is why Peter hates them both.
He sips his drink and smiles at the right times as Sirius jokes about teaching the baby how to brew a love potion before he’s old enough to go to school. This is the first time Lily and James have been out since their child was born in July, and they are understandably nervous. Peter sort of feels bad for Lily; after all, she’s only a Muggle-born and it’s probably only because of James that she’s even in this mess. She is a good witch but also a bit too trusting and so she will be collateral damage.
And the baby, well, he spat up on my robes last time I tried to hold him, anyway. Peter has gone over this script in his mind multiple times. He’s almost ready to go through with it, as soon as he finds a moment to seize. He’s never had power, especially not when he looks at Lily and she smiles at him so kindly, and it is almost his time now.
Satisfied that Sirius will not ask his opinion anytime soon, Peter begins to daydream.
Severus sits alone in the dark quiet, the musty scent of the air settling into his nostrils without invitation. He is staring across the room at the tarnished window—my father always wondered how my mother made this place so clean, and so quickly—and watching the sun slowly sink toward the horizon. It is six o’clock, probably dinnertime for the Hogwarts students and the other normal citizens of Britain.
Tobias Snape has been picked up by the local police for being drunk in public, and so Severus has the house to himself for the evening. He has not found a decent job for himself and thus he has no other options, but he swears that he will move into a tenement shack if he must as soon as he gets a few Galleons in his pocket. He has just turned twenty-one; he knows that the limit of his father’s patience approaches.
He sighs, lacing his thin fingers together and trying to concentrate. It needs to happen tonight. He cannot wait. The longer he sits, the more paranoid he becomes that the tattoo on his left arm will flare up and he will have missed his chance.
If the world is to ever be balanced, he must atone for his mistake.
It was perfect, the prophecy, and he was proud of himself for working it out and coming with all the answers to meet the Dark Lord. His extensive observational research had found the puzzle piece that fit, the wholesome-looking Longbottom family with their precious baby boy. They reminded him of the books his mother had given him as a child, where the prince and princess were rosy-cheeked and dreamy-eyed and the villain was always dark and ugly and cruel—like him, like his father. It had been confusing for him as a boy, but no matter, the knowledge applied now. It was just too easy to pick out the hero and heroine and humanity’s last little hope.
The Dark Lord sat patiently and took in this detailed explanation and even went so far as to congratulate Severus for his superior detective work. Would have made an excellent Auror were it not such a thankless profession, well, Severus didn’t know what to make of that. But the Potters—they had a baby in July, too, didn’t you hear?
It was the flaw in the plan, and if the Longbottoms were royalty, Lily was an angel.
Fuck. He has gotten off track again, chastising himself for his error-ridden plan. But never mind; no realization was quick enough. He has instead vowed to live a life of exact precision from this point forward—starting with tonight, with Dumbledore.
Dumbledore, who couldn’t help but let the corners of his lips turn up just slightly at Potter and Black’s antics, not even when they could have gotten someone killed. Damn him.
He has to leave soon. He doesn’t know where exactly he will end up when he tries to Apparate—new rule, be precise in as many ways as you can be—but he needs to make sure his owl goes straight to Dumbledore’s window, lest his message be intercepted prematurely. More importantly, assuming Dumbledore is trusting enough to venture out and meet with him, he needs to have his words prepared. All of them.
He does not know how to beg Dumbledore for Lily’s life. He has tried to rationalize it in terms of politics, not wanting to see a child made parentless, but it is obvious that the Potters are not the only parents at risk of being cut down by the Death Eaters. He has created a weak defense built on his former friendship with Lily, but every time it spills over into the reservoir of his true feelings and sometimes he even cries.
The realization that the truth is the only possible course is why he still sits here. “So what if he tells her?” Severus says out loud. He doesn’t know how she could not know already. He never outright told her, but it wasn’t like he hid anything from her, not a single longing glance or borderline comment, at least before James stepped in. “So what? Potter kills me for saving her life?”
And what if Potter survives, too? And the baby? Then he still won’t have Lily.
“Maybe she’ll finally—”
But he cannot complete the thought. It is filled with too much uncertainty to stand.
Severus gets up. He has decided that being out in the cold and snow will help keep his mind off of things. He has not yet found the delicate balance between thinking things through and thinking too much. With his thin robes, he will soon be able to think of nothing except the chill eating at his bones and the cry for hot food in his stomach. He looks around the house, mentally listing the things he wants to pack when he finally leaves, recognizing that all of his possessions will fit in one bag.
As he steps out the door, he decides to walk to a graveyard just outside of Mill Town. There are hardly any visitors, and his mother is laid to rest under one of the stones.
It is a perfect place from which to Disapparate.
Peter walks the city streets in the middle of the night, terrified.
He keeps his robes close to his body, though the rain continues to fall intermittently into his thinning hair and onto his face. The last twenty-four hours have been too stressful to eat or sleep, and so the cold penetrates his skin with ease and moves right down to the bone. He wishes that he had counted the number of steps between his flat and the abandoned building in which he met the Dark Lord tonight, just so he might know how many more he will have to take from here to get back home. The wind blows with an unforgiving chill and he tries to remember that now he has leverage.
His moment had come at last during a meeting last night. Only the Dark Lord’s most prized followers were invited, but Peter found out their location by way of bribery and hid in the shadows to listen to their conversation. If their master knew—and surely he did, for Peter had come to believe that he was truly invincible—he did not expose the young former Gryffindor. Voldemort had become aware of a prophecy that concerned a child who could rise up and overcome him, and he had convinced himself that James and Lily Potter were the parents of this child. He could be mistaken, he admitted, though Peter doubted that he actually believed that. Peter’s theory was that James and Lily had the spark of youth, a sense of stubbornness and defiance that infuriated Voldemort. That was why they were ultimately targeted. Perhaps most infuriating was the fact that the Dark Lord could not find the Potters. It was the final piece of the puzzle, and he ridiculed his Death Eaters that night for not being able to finish it for him.
It was so perfect that Peter had to restrain himself to keep from screaming it aloud. Here it was; the universe was handing him the moment of which he had dreamed. No offer could make him consider changing his mind, not now when it was so close.
His veins flooded with boldness, he followed the Dark Lord after the meeting and arranged to give him the necessary information in private the following evening. If Voldemort doubted him, he was too desperate to turn down the chance at victory.
Peter turns onto his street, rushing toward his flat and the possibility of a dry albeit drafty place to rest. He slips in a puddle and has to correct himself hard to avoid falling into it and soaking his clothes. He’ll have to hang them to dry overnight as it is. Cursing under his breath at the effort, he lunges at the stairs and climbs quickly.
He remembers lying awake atop a lumpy mattress, wondering what the Dark Lord would say when he finally found out where the Potters were hiding. The truth was that it had been anti-climactic, superficial, a simple task of handing off a burden. Peter was not queried about his supposed friendship with James and Lily or asked how he had come to know their painstakingly hidden location. It was disappointing, in a way, but Peter chose to view it as a gesture of trust rather than one of disinterest. All the same, the Dark Lord departed as soon as he received his answer.
He opens the door and slams it closed behind him, triple-locking it despite the fact that he lives in a nearly abandoned part of town. As soon as he closes the last lock, he immediately stumbles into the bathroom, where he retches violently into the sink. When he is finished, he collapses onto the floor, wishing he would just pass out.
Peter realizes in that moment that he feels nothing—no regret, no sadness, not even relief. It seems his body has emptied the contents of his lonely conscience for him.
After the dizziness of his panicked fasting settles, Peter gets carefully to his feet, making his way into the other room and lying down on the bed. He closes his eyes and tries to sink into sleep, but he can’t relax. His mind is filled with thoughts of Sirius and Remus arming themselves with their wands and coming to look for him, as if the news of his betrayal has been broadcast to the entire wizarding community. He squeezes his eyelids shut and then re-opens them, and in the brief flash of red he wonders what Lily’s body will look like with her hair all a mess. And for a few seconds, Peter cries, mourning what he had to give up just to live in his own skin.
It will not be until after Sirius is put in Azkaban that Peter sleeps through the night.
Severus’s composure has fallen to pieces all over again. It reminds him vaguely of being back at school, except this time instead of running from James, he runs to him.
Breathless and sweaty, he turns the corner, trying to avoid the streetlights because he looks suspicious on a good day and must look like an escaped convict right now. He’s never been in particularly good shape and should have chosen another method of transport. No Floo, not when someone could see him mid-journey, and there are rumors that the Ministry has started tracking Portkeys so that wasn’t an option either. If he Apparated, he would have no time to think about what he might see before he saw it, and there would surely be swarms of Aurors there if it was true—
So he runs, faster than he even thought possible, snaking through dodgy alleyways and clenching his wand tightly at his side just in case. His mind is clouded. What if he’s still there? What if I am given the chance to avenge her? Am I even capable of it?
A thousand owls have flown across London tonight, or at least it seems that way. Members of the Order exchanged them, sending short and cryptic notes urging one another to hold off on their grieving until it is confirmed that Frank and Alice Longbottom are still safe. Writers from the Daily Prophet sent frantic first drafts of stories to their editors, determined to be the one who gets the front page tomorrow. One came from a mother to her daughter, have you heard the news and didn’t you go to school with that girl and these are terrible times we live in. Stay safe. I love you.
Severus makes it to Godric’s Hollow and doesn’t even have to enter the neighborhood for his worst fears to be confirmed. An eerie green glow drifts lifelessly through the air like radiation poisoning, the source of it a pile of rubble at the other end of the street. He walks in the shadows, passing by scarecrows that wear smiles but are littered with ash, some of their stuffing blown apart by spells. Severus steps over a half-obliterated pumpkin in the street and turns his eyes upward, looking for the trademark sign of a Death Eater attack, but there are only ignorant stars on a black canvas. Of course not, he realizes slowly. Those are perpetrated by the others, not the Dark Lord himself. He is above arrogant tricks—or is it that what he has done tonight is enough of a display of arrogance in and of itself?
He sets his jaw, careful not to continue too far down this line of thinking. Soon he will find a way to remove the blight from his arm; on that day he will be free to think what he wants. If only his seventeen-year-old self had been capable of such forethought.
Crouching in the bushes, Severus wonders what he’ll find when he finally gets inside the house. His feelings are confusing, not that emotions have ever been his forte. The Killing Curse leaves no traces, no wounds, no sign of a struggle except that bright green light from which Severus is attempting to hide. If the Dark Lord is as efficient as he lets on, Lily will be resting peacefully on a couch or the floor. Severus could convince himself not to look in her lifeless eyes—but it’s futile to even imagine that. Mingled with this odd sort of peace is a sense of horror at the thought of confronting Lily’s son. What was his name? Harry. Harry Potter. It sounds sensible. He hates it. Would have picked a different name if she had one with me, not so Muggle-sounding—
He stops himself again. Who knows who is listening in on everyone these days?
There are five Aurors combing the wreckage from what he can see. Gawain Robards, the newly appointed Head of the Auror Office, is there with Kingsley Shacklebolt. The others have never been in the newspaper, so he doesn’t know their names yet. No bodies have been pulled from the house in the past few minutes, so perhaps Severus still has a chance to see Lily one more time before the mortician gets her. He only has to figure out how to get past the Ministry officials.
A young woman who looks a little green around the gills—maybe that’s just this awful light—asks Robard for a break. She needs a cup of tea and a rest before she can begin her in-depth examination of the crime scene. Robard grants her pardon and the other two unknowns seize the chance to leave with her. Severus slips further back into the underbrush as they pass, finding himself feeling appreciative at the way they keep their silence while still on the scene. It is a gesture of respect that his fellows would never practice. Instead, they make jokes and ignore their nerves.
When they are gone, Severus turns his eyes back to Robard and Shacklebolt. They are still looking through the mess in the yard, maybe for a dropped wand or some other sort of confirmation that this was indeed the Dark Lord’s doing. They will find nothing—he is too careful—but they need not look. No one else would want the Potters dead. No one else would be so heartless as to leave a child without his mother. Inside, he hopes that soon they will settle on this truth and take a break, go get some tea, have a rest. Then, finally, he will have a chance to sneak in and see her.
So, just as he has always done, just as he always did for her—Severus waits.
Peter enters the room to a celebration.
Narcissa Malfoy is beside herself with how many guests she must entertain this evening. She stalks about the room, ordering house elves to refill glasses and replenish food, but no servant could keep up with the appetites of relieved Death Eaters. The news that James and Lily Potter were dead has travelled quickly, and Bellatrix Lestrange has insisted on getting drunk and rejoicing properly as they all wait for the Dark Lord’s triumphant return. Obscene songs reach Peter’s ears, conflicting as they meet from different corners of the room, and he averts his eyes each time Bellatrix laughs and threatens to remove a piece of her clothing. Vaguely, he wonders if this resembles a post-Quidditch party in the Slytherin Common Room.
Peter moves into a sitting room adjacent to the noisy parlor and settles into a chair. At first, he is so comforted by the quiet that he believes himself to be alone. Soon, a shifting jacket sleeve alerts him to the presence of Regulus Black, who is sprawled unceremoniously on the couch across from him.
“Some party, isn’t it?” Regulus says, turning his dark eyes upon present company.
“Yeah,” Peter replies. He doesn’t know the boy well, save for his relation to Sirius, but he has nothing against Regulus. In fact, it’s nice not to be the youngest, most naďve person in the Dark Lord’s service—or at least he hopes.
“I heard it was Lupin that did it. He always did skulk around a lot when we were at school, like he was hiding something.” Regulus sits up. “But he’s not here. You are.”
Peter says nothing, though he feels that his sudden increase of anxiety must be obvious. It was assumed that he would be the unorthodox choice of Secret Keeper; in fact, Lily and James had staked their lives on it. Did others know his secret, too?
“Sirius is going to be very upset with whoever it was,” Regulus pries.
Peter stands up. Perhaps he was wrong about young, naďve Regulus Black after all. In fact, he feels confident that Regulus earned his filthy place in Slytherin House. “You seem a bit tense,” he remarks coldly. “Why not join your cousin for a drink?”
He wanders back toward the party. The hour is late and the festivities have calmed somewhat, such that more people are sitting while enjoying their drinks and conversation. Narcissa appears less harried but just as haughty as ever; he suspects that she did not have much say in how many drunk acquaintances crossed her doorstep tonight. Peter moves past Bellatrix, who has at least moved from a standing to sitting position on the table, and begins to pour himself some red wine.
A whisper reaches his ears as he finishes. “I don’t think he’s coming back.” It is Avery over in the corner, talking to Mulciber. Peter is getting better at names.
“Of course he is. Why wouldn’t he celebrate with us?” Mulciber answers.
“It’s been nearly three hours since it happened.”
“Maybe he’s in hiding.”
“In hiding?” Avery scoffs. “No, he’d show it off, after all his plotting.”
“You’re mad,” Mulciber replies. “You need another glass of whisky, mate.”
“I don’t fancy being ill in the morning,” Avery says. He lowers his voice slightly, and Peter moves closer as subtly as possible. “We’d best have our wits about us come sunrise, anyway. If something has happened—or even if it hasn’t—you know they’ll come looking for people associated with him to blame for all this.”
“He’ll protect us, you idiot.” Mulciber finishes off his glass.
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Avery replies, and then he goes to get more Firewhisky, as if he doesn’t want to prolong the awkward conversation any longer. He, like Peter, knows that suspicion travels even more quickly than rumors among these ranks.
Peter stands in place, surveying the room as he considers Avery’s fear. It’s nonsense, of course; the Potters were formidable, but they would be scarcely more resourceful than common Muggles when faced with someone like the Dark Lord. He doubts Voldemort is hiding from a bunch of hapless Ministry workers, either. It is odd that their leader has not turned up in three hours’ time, but he doesn’t see any reason to doubt that he’ll show exactly when he means to—probably when the alcohol runs low and Bellatrix runs out of inappropriate jokes, he thinks, smirking.
He takes a sip of his wine, happy that he’s finally decided to join the party. He is beginning to view it as a personal celebration of his success, of the way he has delivered exactly what he could uniquely offer to the Dark Lord’s cause. He is a hero.
Then, with the Dark Lord’s protection on the horizon, Peter breathes a sigh of relief.
Severus is surrounded by enemies. It heightens the traumatized paralysis of his heart to realize, again, that he put himself in this position somewhat of his own accord. It wasn’t his idea, naturally, but he did agree to Dumbledore’s conditions.
Seventeen of them are gathered at McGonagall’s flat. The young professor is beside herself with tears, unable to comprehend that the recent string of deaths has culminated in the double murder of twenty-one-year-old former Gryffindors. She cradles a small baby boy in blue pajamas in her lap; as if he realizes that she is ill equipped to tend to his needs at this moment, he stays silent, looking up at her. Severus stares at the child, who looks every bit like James. His heart shatters at last.
He wants to cry the way he did as a little boy when his parents were fighting and he was certain that this would be the last straw, that his mum would leave and perhaps not take him with her. He, too, looked a bit too much like his father. But he won’t let himself show any weakness right now. It would make him even more conspicuous.
None of the Potters’ closest friends are here tonight. Lupin hasn’t been seen for several weeks, and no one can make contact with Black. Pettigrew is missing, too. Dumbledore has already said not to make any assumptions that they are also dead. Severus wonders if Lily would have wanted him to be here, as a shabby last resort.
Dumbledore announces that they are all that is left of the Order of the Phoenix, a name that still doesn’t feel right on Severus’s lips, and that he has gathered them all in case Voldemort and the Death Eaters are looking for collateral damage tonight. Moody is out searching for the remaining stragglers; he is the only one who wouldn’t admit to being afraid of running into the Dark Lord, the only volunteer. Everyone else is holding their friends and families close in shadowy corners, waiting with quiet breath to see what the morning will bring and trying to digest the night.
They look up once in a while, spot Severus, and frown. He is clearly not trusted. For a few moments, he misses the comfort of the Dark Lord’s inner circle, his protection. If the rumors are true, however, even Voldemort was not protected from the small child sucking his thumb in McGonagall’s lap. Lily is gone, and Severus is vulnerable.
He sits down at the end of the table. Mary MacDonald walks by, her eyes red-rimmed. She glances down at him and stops short, clearly unsure what to think. When Severus finally brings himself to look up at her, he recognizes her as one of Lily’s friends, the one who ran into him the night he sat outside the Gryffindor Common Room and moaned hopelessly for Lily to forgive him. He also remembers hearing Mulciber tell a story about practicing curses on her at school. At last, she puts on a strained smile, and the sight of her effort chills Severus down to his bones.
“Have a cup of tea,” she forces out, setting it down on a saucer in front of him. Fortunately, there is cream and sugar in the center of the table, so her work is done here. She pushes her feet along and moves away from him toward Shacklebolt.
“Thank you,” he whispers when she is out of earshot. The words feel so awkward.
He looks down the table and sees Molly Weasley, who is holding a red-haired boy close to her chest as she keeps five others close by, two of them identical twins. What would it be like to have a family? he wonders. He suspects he will never know. He has been looking for it in all the wrong places and now he has run out of time. Molly catches his eye and her stare makes him uncomfortable. He stands up.
Severus walks over to an unoccupied dark corner of the house, close to where McGonagall sits and rocks the baby. He forces himself to look upon the boy, the one Lily reportedly gave her life to save. The child, seemingly unsure what to make of all the unfamiliar faces and strange surroundings, glances up and meets his eyes.
The boy suddenly looks a lot less like the enemy.
Then, the child—Harry, was that his name?—begins to cry at last. He could be hungry or tired or perhaps the weight of what has happened has found its way to him, whispering the ugly truth in a language he can understand. With his balled up fists and untidy black hair, he breaks Severus’s illusion. This will be difficult indeed.
Across the room, Dumbledore looks at him warily, as if expecting him to bolt.
No, Severus thinks, Lily deserves better. He leans against the wall and takes a sip of his tea, which is nearly cold. Still, it feels good slipping down his throat, helping him to settle in and distract himself from the empty pain in his stomach. A few more gulps, and perhaps he can comprehend his mission of looking after this crying child.
I have to, he thinks, feeling quite tired. No one can take better care of him than me.
This was a long one-shot, but I thoroughly enjoyed writing it and hope that you enjoyed reading it! I feel pretty proud of my characterization, but I’d love to hear what you think about how I tackled these two very difficult characters. Of course, any other comments you wish to leave in a review are welcomed.