|Beth H (bethbethbeth) wrote in hp_beholder,|
@ 2010-05-16 12:14:00
|Entry tags:||beholder_2010, fic, het, rating:r, severus snape, snape/sybill, sybill trelawney|
FIC: "Steps to the Lightning-Struck Tower" for odogoddess
Title Steps to the Lightning-Struck Tower
Pairing Severus Snape/Sybill Trelawney
Word Count ~ 9,270 words
Summary Everybody meant well, even Dumbledore, in opposing Voldemort's schemes, but Fate is a malicious entity and Divination its ally.
Author's Notes There is one quotation from canon in this; you will no doubt recognise it, even without the italics. Thanks to my reader Slashpine, and to the mod bethbethbeth, who also beta read the fic for me, for her admirable patience with a delinquent writer. I hope, psyfic, you enjoy this!
Early spring and summer, 1980
The barman had disappeared even before Severus chose an obscure table in a corner of the tiny bar room, one which gave him a view of the street entrance, the bar itself, and the dodgy-looking stairs leading upwards.
He scuffled his feet in the sawdust to clear away some of the rubbish, and set his elbows on the grimy table, keeping clear of the worst stains, even if they were probably only butterbeer. Then he stared down into the smoking glass of Firewhisky in front of him. He didn't drink any, though he had appeared to set the glass to his lips; his upbringing had given him a strong distaste for dirty glasses, as well as for filthy floors, tables and bar-tops. Eileen Snape might not have been the best mother, or the wisest witch, but she taught her son all the magic she knew, and kept a clean house, and held her head up as best she could.
He had to wait, and to do that he had had to buy a drink, but it would take a stronger need than this to force him to put this rotgut in his belly, even as he resented having to pay for it.
Dumbledore had said, "Follow me upstairs. The way will be clear. Then pay attention."
Severus hadn't liked the lack of direction, the withholding of information, but almost anything was better than Voldemort. For his own reasons Dumbledore had accepted his offer of information on the Dark Lord's plans (in so far as Severus could learn of them); Severus had been almost grateful to his master for ordering him to try to get the Potions Master position Slughorn was said to be leaving behind. That order became an opportunity he would be mad to ignore; Severus didn't need Felix Felicis to let him see a good chance. Severus couldn't leave his lord, not and live, but he could hamper him, and he would do it with a will, even working with a prejudiced old wizard who twinkled repulsively at every inappropriate moment.
So now he was sitting in a filthy pub both his parents would have despised, waiting for his future employer to show up and do something he wanted Severus to report back on. Using one's initiative was all very well (with any luck Dumbledore would not punish failures of interpretation there as Voldemort did), and limiting information to "need to know" was no doubt important to security for Dumbledore's resistance movement, but a sympathiser needed basic information to be efficient.
He flashed a quick glance under his eyebrows at the bar. The old goat-keeper was still absent; not surprising, given how few customers he ever seemed to have. Probably a cut of the deals done in his shabby pub gave him a better income than any drinks sold or rooms rented. (Though the goats, unlike the building, were clean and handsome, and were kept in decent quarters, as Severus knew from his Hogwarts days; perhaps the fellow actually cared about them.)
He stuck a finger in the Firewhisky and sucked it. The dying flames were heatless, and the raw spirit didn't compare with what Lucius Malfoy offered. Severus pushed the glass a little away, thinking, Come on, old man; bloody do something. I can't sit here for ever; Lord Voldemort is going to want to know what I was doing as it is.
The street door opened – silently, despite the apparent neglect of maintenance, but the sudden increase in the sound of steady rain alerted Severus, as did the waft of cold night air.
Severus didn't turn his head, but he watched the wizard in the brilliant turquoise robes walk in. The robes were quite dry, as was the elaborate hat with its stars and moon buckle on one side, unlike his own plain black wool robes, which were faintly damp around the hems; he had been in too much of a hurry to get here to pay full attention to drying charms.
Dumbledore didn't look around, any more than Severus did, but he knew Dumbledore saw him as clearly as he saw the Headmaster, who went behind the bar without hesitation, through the doorway and up those rickety steps. Just as he disappeared into obscurity, his right hand made a patting gesture, which might mean anything from "wait a while" to "good dog".
Severus repressed a snarl, reflecting that working for Dumbledore was obviously going to have its irritating moments. Maybe he got to be head of the Wizengemot and Chief Mugwump by being more mysterious than any competitor. Thank goodness he hadn't chosen to be Minister for Magic as well; the wizarding world would be in even worse shape than it now was, a state of complete confusion.
After a few minutes he rose to his feet and followed the Headmaster.
At the top of the stairs was a small sitting area, with doors giving off it. Severus ignored the window, running with rain on the outside and grimy on the inside, and the fireplace with its meagre fire (and the picture of a vacuous-looking girl child over the mantel, no doubt a sample of the kind of brat he would be teaching next September). He stood quite still, listening, then rotated to look at each door in turn. Silence. Damn. Which room was Dumbledore in? He could hardly open the doors to check. Like the front door, they must be more effective than the look of the place suggested.
Cautiously Severus moved towards one of them, not surprised, now, that the floorboards didn't creak. The stairs hadn't, after all, though they had seemed ready to collapse. He bent to the keyhole. Nothing. Only at the third door did he hear anything. A woman's voice, a bit whiny, saying something about her great or whatever grandmother. Severus rolled his eyes, then knelt. Vital information, oh yes. Dumbledore's response didn't sound as if he were any more interested than Severus.
The inane conversation continued, though there was a lot of it he couldn't catch. It seemed to be a job interview. There went the neighbourhood of the staff room, if Dumbledore took this blatherer on. The woman was sounding desperate now – as no doubt she was, if she was as incompetent as she made herself seem. A seer, apparently, not that Dumbledore seemed disposed to believe her. He was starting to sound remote rather than stern-but-kindly; definitely losing interest.
Someone else spoke, in a deep, grinding voice.
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…"
Then the damned floor betrayed Severus: a hard hand grabbed his shoulder, pulling him away from the door, shoving him against the wall. The hand slammed his head into the wall, and Severus couldn't even hear the tone of the voice continuing behind the door for the ringing in his ears. Through involuntary tears of pain he saw the old bartender glaring at him, furious blue eyes seeming to snap sparks behind his smudged glasses, and a thin mouth saying things he couldn't make out.
That hard old hand twisted in the neck of his robes, half choking him, holding him against the wall, while the man turned to batter on the door as he probably wanted to batter Severus himself, shouting, " Headmaster! Sneak! Get out here!"
The door opened, and Severus was shoved at the Headmaster, who caught him before he fell to the floor and kept him upright long enough for Severus to get his balance and stand for himself.
Severus fought fury and humiliation and the need to get his breath, but he didn't try to summon up excuses. He'd been caught dead to rights, and was that what Dumbledore had wanted, rather than for Severus to overhear that astonishing prophecy from that second-rate seer?
"Dear me," Dumbledore said mildly, and Severus managed to repress a snort of hysterical laughter.
He looked the Headmaster in the eye, but found nothing helpful there, just that deceitful mild blue gaze.
The barman continued to splutter wrathfully, but Dumbledore said mildly, "I'm sure you must be mistaken. I've hired this young man to teach Potions, starting next term; he must have been looking for me, and simply slipped. The floors are a little uneven, you know, and that carpet outside has nearly tripped me more than once, and I'm used to it."
The barman had stopped with Dumbledore's first words, and now turned to stare scornfully at Severus, who was careful not to sneer back at him. If Dumbledore was prepared to cover for him, good, but Severus shouldn't give this surprisingly strong old fellow reason to gossip about him. Severus didn't doubt the man would continue to hold to his first opinion, but he had no plans to frequent the Hog's Head.
Severus said stiffly, with the appearance of embarrassment he did marginally still feel, "My apologies, Headmaster. I should have waited below instead of looking for you up here." He turned, and added, "Madam," seizing the opportunity to look at the woman.
She was tall, and far too thin, but the most noticeable things about her were the pale green eyes magnified by the thick-lensed glasses she wore, and the mane of uncontrolled hair snagging in the glasses, and in the strands of beads she wore and the shawls haggled about her narrow shoulders. Severus had no licence to despise anyone else's looks, and knowing how unimportant his own were in comparison with his abilities, he looked into those eyes and saw fading bewilderment and – great Merlin! – a hint of the sort of interest he had seldom met, though quite often enough to recognise it. She was older than he, by perhaps fifteen years, if not more, not very competent, or self-confident, but she was, after all, a Seer indeed, and therefore of great interest to him and, he could see, to Dumbledore.
Dumbledore said placidly, "Allow me, dear lady, to introduce to you a member of my staff, almost as newly appointed as yourself. Sybill Trelawney, Divination: Severus Snape, Potions."
The woman brightened, and tried to hide her astonishment. So she didn't know what she'd said. She smiled up at him, since he was a little the taller, tremulously, but with a faint hope that suddenly made Severus uncharacteristically sorry for her, if nothing in her life led her to expect better than the possibility that a young stranger might not express contempt. If his life was an ugly desolation, what must hers be?
A Seer who did not know what she prophesied – yet Dumbledore must have been expecting something, to invite him to be here, to listen, to take back to the Dark Lord whatever he managed to catch. Did he hope to threaten Voldemort, with this hint of the advent in the summer of some stronger wizard, with powers Voldemort could not match? To make him cautious, to slow him down, to distract him from a straight drive to control of the wizarding world? All possibilities. Severus doubted if Dumbledore believed in prophecy any more than he did, but he certainly had a good grasp on warfare of the mind, encouraging Voldemort to handicap himself.
And the woman had fancied him, on sight. Severus wouldn't mention that to his master – it could pass as trivial, not worth sharing, but it offered a slight hope of getting more information from her. Dumbledore must have had some hint, some idea she could be induced to See, and to speak. Perhaps Severus could get the trick of it. Getting the prophecy whole, or any other, was worthless as a guide to action, but as a device to ensnare Voldemort in his own fears – oh yes, that end it could indeed serve!
Severus smiled at Sybill Trelawney with unaccustomed warmth, and saw her straighten up a little, fill out, as if with new confidence in herself.
She had no idea of how Dumbledore used her, or how Severus would, either, but he could at least be courteous about it. He had learned, since his schooldays, that it could be worse than folly to make enemies unnecessarily.