Dear Bella

Severus Snape sighed wearily as the meeting finally started to grind to a halt. The inner circle of Death Eaters were seated around a large oval mahogany table in the Malfoy Manor's small dining room with their Lord at the head of the table in an almost throne-like chair. Severus himself was seated two chairs down to his left. The honour seats next to their Lord were currently filled by Antonin Dolohov next to Severus and Bellatrix Lestrange to the right of the Dark Lord while the host himself, Lucius Malfoy, was relegated to a seat further down the table. Nagini slithered around the table before resting her head in the Dark Lord's lap. The snake was bigger than ever, obviously well fed.

The meeting had gone on for several hours with reports from different groups, including some that weren't in the inner circle, but no food had been provided. The elves had kept everyone's glasses topped up with wine or champagne and some of the members were starting to look a bit drunk. Severus always drank sparingly if at all during the meetings and the Dark Lord never touched anything. He was at least grateful that they could meet in the elegant rooms of the Manor rather than outdoors as had been their main option before the raid on Azkaban that freed Lucius and the others imprisoned there, since kneeling in mud in the rain was not his favourite pastime. Lucius himself was not quite out of the doghouse yet after his failure in the Ministry some two years earlier and his own son's failure last year. He had chosen to slink back into the shadows rather than vying for favour with their Lord and Severus wondered how long the blond man would last before a mistake had him killed either by accident or by the Dark Lord's orders.

The last year had been … interesting, to put it diplomatically. At least the school year was finally over but that in turn meant that he would be expected to spend more time in the company of the more sinister one of his two deranged masters. The Dark Lord had surprisingly enough left Harry Potter and Hogwarts more or less alone save for a few impromptu raids on Hogsmeade when one of the senior Death Eaters got bored, focussing instead on gaining influence in the Ministry and on harassing people in Diagon Alley as well as upping the terror in the Muggle world.

Finally the Dark Lord ended the meeting, abruptly rising and leaving the room first, Nagini slithering beside him. Bellatrix hurried after him but he shooed her away and called for Wormtail instead. She shot the rat a venomous look as he scurried after his master. Severus rose slowly and followed Lucius out, wanting to hear if anyone said anything of interest before leaving the room without eavesdropping too obviously.

The person he least of all wanted to talk to cornered him just outside the room.

"Bellatrix." He inclined his head towards her, after all she held the Dark Lord's favour.

The witch looked wild and untamed in her black Death Eater robes. "Severus Snape. I know you're a traitor, Sevvie-boy, and I will make sure you can't hurt my Lord."

He raised an eyebrow at his more-or-less sister-in-law, a bit unsettled at her words but not really concerned. Raising his champagne flute in an ironic toast to her he turned away from her to go join Lucius in the small library, but he knew he had made a mistake when he felt her curse hit him in the side and heard her cold laughter following him. He winced but didn't break stride as he made his way to the other room.

Lucius had seen the event and sauntered over to meet them. The man was impeccably dressed as always but his eyes looked haunted.

"What did you do to him?" he asked his sister-in-law.

Bella only laughed, a deep rich laughter full of glee. "Women's magic, Lucius dear. Poor little Sevvie will waste away painfully over the next six months until he's nothing more than a ghost. Virginem anathema."

Severus went very still as she spoke. He recognised that curse. Very dark, very old magic, from a time before wands and the thin veneer of civilisation, not often used these days.

"Counter it!" Lucius snarled at her. "The Dark Lord will be most displeased with what you have done, Bella."

Bella pouted at them both and faked a sad look. "Oh, I'm so terribly sorry, I can't counter it. There is a counter to it but unfortunately I am unable to do it, and no one else will either. He has to sleep with a willing virgin to lift the curse. Not that he would ever find one, of course."

"Surely you're joking, Bella!" Lucius exclaimed but the witch sauntered off with a smile and a languid wave of her hand, altogether too pleased with herself.