for the QLFC, Season 6, Round 2:

prompts —

[restriction: no Trio-era]

CHASER 2: Stegosaurus: Write about a character whose deceit or intent to harm ends positively for the recipient/s.

(spell) Levicorpus;

(setting) Malfoy Manor;

(quote) Pretty soon man will out live his usefulness. When that happens...well… remember what happened to the dinosaurs. ― Anthony T. Hincks.

thank you to sienna and adi for betaing and watching the goddamn willy wonka video!

wc (barred a/n and quote): 2997

. . .

"Pretty soon man will outlive his usefulness. When that happens… well… remember what happened to the dinosaurs." — Anthony T. Hincks

. . .

Severus Snape is a half-blood; this makes him half-filthy.

Better off half-filthy than fully filthy, he tells himself. He tells himself lies.

Lily Evans (not Potter, never Potter, she is not a Potter) exists, after all, and she is of the fullest filth — "Mudblood," he had said — and yet, she cleanses him.

She had cleansed him. She doesn't any longer, because she's gone. He drove her away with a single word and she hadn't looked back, instead leaving to press her lips to those of James Potter, leaving to marry him and have his children —

(Severus doesn't like to think about it. She's still Lily Evans. She'll always be Lily Evans — that is her name.)

It was his fault, anyway, for being so stupid, so young, so naïve. He was a fool for joining the Death Eaters — but then, he would be a bigger fool if he had joined the Order.

Severus Snape is living on borrowed time. He knows he will cease to be useful soon enough; he knows that one day, the only reward he will get for his faithful service to the Dark Lord will be a flash of green light.

The day will come soon; Severus knows what will happen then. A short death and a small mercy.

The moment someone better than him comes along, the moment he is no longer needed by the Dark Lord, he will be disposed of. He is not like the rest of them, after all.

So he will serve his Lord. He will try to give the Death Eaters an upper hand. He will try.

It is all he can do.

. . .

Severus is, to his displeasure, placed on the post for the Hog's Head. Albus Dumbledore — whose manner Severus had never been able to stand — is to interview an applicant for the Divination Professor at Hogwarts.

"Her name is Sybill Trelawney," Avery had told him, "and she's quite a hoax, but she's descended from Cassandra, and she might have some potential. Of course, she's not going to spout any kind of grand prophecy" — he'd snorted at the thought — "but you know the Lord. It's best to know the goings-on at Hogwarts; he may be an old bloody wanker, but Dumbledore is good with wards."

That's why he sits here today, in a washed-up pub where the Headmaster of the most prestigious wizarding school in Europe has no business being. The workmanship of the establishment is shoddy; the beige paint on the walls is chipping away (though the color is so hideous that might just be a good thing) and there looks to be a firm layer of something sticky over each table.

The old codger's losing it. Going senile, finally.

Severus pulls the hood over his head. It's not his best work, as far as disguises go, but practical enough for the occasion. The bartender's the only problem. His name is Aberforth Dumbledore, and that makes him dangerous. Still, there's no doubt that Albus will sit near his brother, perhaps for the protection or out of familial sentiment, so Severus settles close to the bar, perched uneasily on a three-legged, creaky stool.

The pub has excellent acoustics, and Severus can hear every conversation in the room. Severus sits idly upon his uncomfortable stool as he waits for Albus Dumbledore to show up in those ridiculous purple robes and that ridiculous twinkle in his eye.

Oh, yes, Severus was a fool for joining the Death Eaters, but he would be so much more of a fool if he'd joined Albus Dumbledore and his suicide mission.

He can see Sybill Trelawney sitting nervously at the front of the pub. She's drinking sherry, it appears, and she seems to be carrying… incense. This, combined with her too-large glasses, gives her the unfortunate appearance of a drunkard.

She's a descendant of Cassandra Trelawney — the talent of Sight, Severus notes with a sneer, was clearly not passed along.

Severus's sneer doesn't falter when he sees Albus Dumbledore slide into the pub and approach Trelawney, smiling kindly. He sips at his drink lightly — some sort of ale Severus can't be bothered to remember, but it's weak enough that he won't get drunk.

Severus waits for the two to finish their trivial greetings — "Hello, Sybill, how are you doing today?" — "Oh, fine, sir, just a bit on edge… nerves, you know…" — "Yes, perfectly understandable, Sybill…"

They bore him to tears. But Severus sticks it out, knowing that the Dark Lord insists upon it and hoping that perhaps this endeavor will yield something useful.

They take on basic fare of job interviews for a while. Clearly, for some reason, Dumbledore is considering Trelawney as a candidate. Severus has no idea why in the name of Merlin he would be — but then again, Dumbledore's decisions are not very understandable.

Severus takes another sip of his drink. When would this insipid interview end?

"...Of course, I can't stand pumpkin juice; I find it has a fogging effect on my Inner Eye, but —"

And then, suddenly, something transforms in Trelawney. She takes in a deep breath, and when she opens her eyes, they're glossed over, entranced, unaware. Her voice has lowered a few octaves when she speaks. "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…"

Severus blinks, rubs at his eyes, makes sure he isn't seeing things. Surely Trelawney had not made a prophecy. But none of his surroundings have changed. Trelawney's still speaking, and Severus hurries to pay attention, lest he miss any of her words.

"And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…"

Severus finds himself leaning in closer, trying to hear. He can see Dumbledore, and the look of surprise etched onto that knowing face. He takes satisfaction in the fact that even Dumbledore thought she was a fool and a fake, that even Dumbledore isn't as omniscient as he pretends.

But then the bartender is standing in front of Severus — oh, the ways of families — and says, "You're awful interested in what they've got to say, aren't you?"

Severus hums noncommittally in answer. Aberforth Dumbledore is not impressed.

"Get out," he says. Severus is irked he didn't get to record the prophecy or hear it in its entirety, but the act is up now. As it is, all of the prophecy's words are sewn into his mind already, repeating and repeating themselves…

Severus scowls at the bartender and picks up his glass, downing the rest of his drink. He sets it down onto the table with an unnecessarily forceful motion.

Then, with a swish of his cloak, he stalks out of the pub.

At least, he thinks to himself, the Dark Lord won't dispose of him… not now, when Severus alone can provide him with such valuable information…

And Dumbledore! Surely, now, all his plans… everything he must have had ready for a swift takedown of the Death Eaters… Dumbledore had been unusually cunning, a snake in lion's clothing, fangs poised upon the Death Eaters' operations, waiting to strike.

And Severus had taken the snake by its jaw and defanged it.

He smiles as he walks all the way back to Malfoy Manor. The Dark Lord will be pleased.

. . .

The Dark Lord is pleased.

"You have done well, Severus," he says thoughtfully, steepling his long, pale fingers underneath his chin. "This is good news indeed…"

"The problem lies in finding the child," notes Severus. "We will need to know who fits the criteria."

The Dark Lord waves his hand dismissively. "That will not be a problem," he says. "I will have to find people who fit the prophecy's requirements and have recently had a child. The list is not very long, as you can imagine… it will take a bit of searching, but I shall find the child." His voice is thoughtful, as if the death of a child is a mere puzzle, a riddle solved with a snap of his fingers.

Severus pities the child. Then he silences the thought, because in matters of the Dark Lord, all emotions are foolish. Severus is enough of a fool as it is.

He allows himself relief. He is still useful to the Dark Lord; for now, he lives.

. . .

Severus brushes past a peacock on the front lawn of Malfoy Manor. He hates those gaudy peacocks and the ornate hedges. He hates that the Dark Lord lives here.

The Dark Lord is going to be sitting serenely in Lucius's armchair when he comes in, orange light from the fireplace illuminating his face, painting his face in a way that reminds Severus of vomit. He will say, very calmly, the names of the parents he has discovered.

Severus knows that there are two children who fit the prophecy's requirements. He has done his own research, and he knows the Dark Lord must have done it far more quickly.

But the Dark Lord will be saving the murder for the day after tomorrow. Halloween. He must feel it will give him some sort of power. Or perhaps it is a guise to roam the streets of London undetected. Either way, he plans to kill a child on October 31, and if Severus has predicted right —

The peacock sidles closer to him; Severus kicks it away sharply, ignoring the cry spilling out of its beak. He has no time for silly birds.

He presses on into the Manor, sneering at the pathways. Then he realizes that he's working himself up into a rage. It won't do.

Severus breathes and inhales the clean air. He tells himself to stay calm; anger will only annoy the Dark Lord — not to mention cast suspicion upon Severus.

He strides into the Manor and nods respectfully at Narcissa Malfoy, who is just coming down the stairs to greet him.

"The Dark Lord wishes to see you," she says without preamble.

"And a good day to you too, Narcissa," replies Severus.

She merely smiles, the lines at her eyes crinkling. She's only more tired since little Draco's birth.

Severus walks briskly down the hall, controlling his emotions — it won't do, block it block it block it the Dark Lord is a Legilimens stop thinking — and pauses at the door's threshold, taking one breath. He blanks out his mind, and then swiftly raps the knocker on the door.

"Come in, Severus," calls the Dark Lord's clear voice. "We have much to discuss."

Severus opens the door. Sure enough, the Dark Lord sits in Lucius's armchair, the fire casting a glow upon his skin.

"My Lord," says Severus, inclining his head.

The Dark Lord, it seems, does not have time for formalities. "No need, Severus. Come here. I have narrowed down the prospecting children for the prophecy."

"Oh?" Severus asks. "Who are they?"

"There are but two," says the Dark Lord. "There is one, Neville Longbottom… and the other, Harry Potter. Potter is my intended target: his parents are more dangerous…"

The rest of his words are drowned out by the rushing in Severus's ears. One name, repeating over and over again…

Harry Potter.

He had expected this, of course, but to hear it from the Dark Lord's lips is different. Potter is her child. Lily's child.

And it was, naturally, in the Dark Lord's plans to kill the parents and the child… why had Lily been such a fool? Defied the Dark Lord three times and then had a child during the peak of the war?

(It wasn't foolishness, he knew. It was bravery. There was the difference between him and Lily. He was a fool, and she was brave.)

Severus had struck again. Lily Evans (not Potter, never Potter) was now the Dark Lord's target —

And Severus had painted the bull's eye on her back.

You fool, Severus tells himself, and then tells the Dark Lord, "It is wonderful news. I expect your rule shall soon be cemented."

"It is wonderful news indeed, Severus," replies the Dark Lord.

Severus hates himself for the smile he forces on his face.

. . .

Severus remembers the days when he hadn't made the foolish decision to join the Death Eaters — the days when he was just a boy who read more than he talked and studied so much magical theory he was making spells at thirteen years old.

Those spells were his pride and joy, and then their purity had been corrupted.

It had been a hot day when one of his spells had first been used to harm him. Hogwarts very rarely got such heat spells, and so it was always very hard to adjust to the weather when they came.

Severus had been sitting under a beech tree on the grounds, Advanced Potion-Making resting in one hand and an apple in the other. He bit at the apple as he read, immersed in his potion theories, wondering if he could make something new…

"Oi, Snivellus!" a familiar voice had called, and Severus looked up in dread. James Potter sneered down at him, his hazel eyes alight with disgust. He was flanked by Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew.

"What do you want, Potter?" Severus asked, annoyed.

"Too busy in the clouds?" asked Sirius Black.

"A shame the clouds won't wipe the grease off your head," said Peter Pettigrew snidely.

"You know what it's really like in the clouds? I ought to show you…" mused Potter.

"Oh, you wouldn't, Prongs!" exclaimed Black.

Potter only smirked in response as he said, "Levicorpus!"

Severus felt himself flying into the air, his world spinning on its axis. Dimly, he realized that Advanced Potion-Making had fallen out of his hand; only the apple remained in his grasp, and Severus gripped it tightly, as though it were a lifeline...

Then, Levicorpus had become a staple in Severus's days. Life is a fickle thing, and James Potter had been its quarry back then —

James Potter who will die because of him —

No, Severus tells himself, stop. Forget it, forget it. Forget about it. Who cares about James Potter?

But he can't forget what his actions will do. It's not about James Potter, not really. He can't forget that a few words of his will kill his best friend, his only friend, his love, his Lily.

He's going to kill Lily. He's going to kill her bright smile and her green eyes and her dark red hair and the way she lit up the world… he's going to kill her.

And what is he doing here, reminiscing about a young boy's muttered spell on a balmy day?

Severus shouldn't be here at Spinner's End. He should be anywhere but here and lounging around. Lily is going to die tomorrow.

Severus sighs. He should have known, should have thought the Dark Lord would come after her. He had been (foolishly, as he did everything) holding onto the hope that he would try the Longbottoms, but it is clear now, to whom Severus must turn…

The very same man who started it all.

"Expecto Patronum!"

The doe shoots of his wand, bright, shining silver, and ready.

. . .

It's funny that he's back at the Hog's Head, but Albus Dumbledore has assured Severus that the place is safe.

"So, Severus," Albus begins, "why do you wish to speak with me?"

"Sybill Trelawney made a prophecy, as you are aware," says Severus. "The target is the Potter family."

"How do you know this?" asks Dumbledore, a hint of surprise on his face.

"I heard the prophecy. And I told the Dark Lord about it."

Perhaps Dumbledore can see the shame on Severus's face, because he does not say anything of this matter. Severus is grateful.

"So why are you coming to me with this?" he asks instead. "Is this not precisely what you want?"

"It would be," answers Severus. "But he's going to kill achild. I can't let him do that."

It's a lie. Why should Severus care about the spawn of James Potter? It is the mother he cares more about…

"How do I know you aren't lying? That this isn't some ploy for your Lord?"

This hadn't occurred to Severus when he had decided to come to Dumbledore. How, now, would Dumbledore be convinced? Of course he would not be, he chided himself— Severus is a Death Eater, Severus is deceitful, Severus has no time left.

"I'll tell you anything you want to know. You can dose me with Veritaserum if you like. I don't care," Severus answers desperately. "I'll be your spy, your double agent, I'll join the Order — whatever you want. I'll do anything."

How far Severus has fallen. From hating Albus Dumbledore, thinking him senile, to begging, entirely at his mercy.

No matter what happens to Lily, Albus Dumbledore will get a double agent, a spy, if he accepts.

Severus is a fool, and now he will do the most foolish thing of his life by joining the Order of the Phoenix.

Dumbledore knows it. He knows Severus wouldn't make this offer if the threat wasn't real.

Oh, all of this will end quite splendidly indeed for Albus Dumbledore. And yet there is no other option for Severus, destined to die a fool's death for his decisions and sentenced to a lifetime of watching — watching Lily happy with her husband and child, watching the Order try to defeat the Dark Lord, watching little Draco Malfoy grow up under the wing of his father's master…

"I think Hogwarts is in need of a new Potions Master," Dumbledore says finally. "Horace is getting fearful, you see. And you are good at Potions, aren't you?"

. . .

She dies anyway.

"You must press on, Severus," says Dumbledore. "Protect the child. For her."

"I suppose I must," agrees Severus. "He's Lily's, after all."