Author's Note: This story can work as a standalone, but for those who read my story "The Cactus and the Toad," this is a sequel, although that won't become apparent for a few chapters. Mild trigger warning for the first chapter: the Death Eaters have a fairly nasty conversation, although nothing graphic.
Severus had expected the pub to be crowded, but the angry, excited roar that blasted over him as he opened the door made him curl his lip in distaste. He paused for a moment, purposefully allowing the crisp autumn air to waft into the sweaty, smoky, sour-smelling room and smirking as the nearest patrons shivered.
"Close the door, would ya?" one of them yelped.
Severus shut it slowly, and rather reluctantly. He had spotted his party in the far corner, but he was in no particular hurry to join them. After this morning's headlines, he knew the talk wouldn't be of the war, but of this wretched law. He had spent the entire day trying to avoid thinking about it, yet the nervous twist in his stomach had simply coiled itself tighter around his guts. He usually ordered a firewhiskey at the bar before these meetings, but vomiting all over Lucius Malfoy seemed a poor way to earn the Dark Lord's approval, so he carefully picked his way around the rambunctious tables to his own more subdued group.
Suggestive jokes, outraged complaints, and several shouted synonyms of human genitalia filled the air like slime exploding from an ill-brewed potion, and Severus's sneer was firmly in place by the time he sat down.
Avery, damn him, had the Daily Prophet out, its appalling headline turned toward him:
WIZENGAMOT ENACTS MARRIAGE LAW
Death Eater Death Toll Prompts Drastic Legislation to Compensate for Population Loss
Severus scowled, not bothering to read further. He had as good as memorized the article this morning, when, in a haze of stupefaction and horror, he had reread it roughly fifty times.
"Why didn't we know about this?" he asked.
Lucius reclined as much as was possible in his uncomfortable pub chair. Lucius hated meeting here; Knockturn Alley might enjoy his patronage during daylight hours, but its evening swarm of lowlifes had the elegant young man's face tense with disdain, and Severus could hardly blame him. He had no doubt that his own father had spent his last night on earth at an equivalent establishment in the Muggle world.
However, at Severus's question, he offered a supercilious smirk and said, "Oh, but we did."
Severus eyed him expressionlessly, though inwardly he recoiled. Surely Lucius was not suggesting…?
"The Dark Lord fully supports this law," Lucius continued. "Perhaps you noticed, among the Wizengamot's stipulations, the requirement that marriages must occur among wizards and witches?"
"Yes," Severus said slowly. He was beginning to understand.
"Intermarriage with Muggles will no longer be allowed," Lucius said smugly. "The Wizengamot insisted that marriage to Muggleborns be permitted - the pool of potential parents would be too small, otherwise - but within a few generations, all magical blood will have escaped the immediate taint of Muggle blood."
Severus said nothing. He knew, better than anyone at this table, what intermarriage with Muggles could cost the wizards and witches involved. Though the "purity" of blood, in the sense Lucius meant, was of less concern to him, the social consequences of mingling with Muggles were another matter. He knew exactly how dangerous Muggles could be. Even in their stupidity, they could find a brutal outlet for their ignorance. And with all the Muggle-loving laws wizards like Dumbledore were proposing, soon enough wizards would lose any right whatsoever to defend themselves.
Still… "Were all the stipulations of the law necessary? Surely the law could have simply applied to voluntary marriages."
Lucius shook his head, still smug. "Not at all, Severus. The Wizengamot would never have accepted such a measure. Dumbledore," he sneered the name, "would have called it prejudice, and it would have died without going to a vote. But by masking the true intent of the law behind a crisis -"
"- you have ensured that we will all have to marry," Severus said coldly. It was rare that he dared speak up against Lucius, who was their only liaison with the Dark Lord until such time as they were permitted to join him. Avery and Mulciber, who, like Severus, hoped to join the Death Eaters, eyed him with a mixture of alarm and admiration as he scowled at Lucius.
Lucius, however, merely smiled. "If you are concerned that you will not be able to find a wife, Severus, I assure you, the Dark Lord will provide. The law will not force you to marry until one month after your nineteenth birthday, which I believe is three months from now. Four months is more than enough time for you to prove yourself worthy of the Dark Lord's beneficence."
Severus seethed. Under other circumstances, he would have swelled with pride at the suggestion that in mere months he could meet - and serve - the Dark Lord. Yet at the moment he doubted he could have shown the Dark Lord anything but the same contempt he was narrowly avoiding showering on Lucius.
Struggling to control himself, he said, "Then it is of no concern to you that the entire country will be miserable for the duration of this law?"
Lucius smiled even wider. "Severus," he said softly, "I am disappointed in you. Usually you are a better tactician than this. Of course it is of concern to us that the country will be miserable. The more miserable, the better."
Severus stared at him, processing this, then said, "You want them to be angry. You hope to direct their anger at Muggles, rather than at the Ministry."
"Preferably," Lucius said, "we will direct their anger at both. We will show them what our world has come to. Because of Muggles and this pathetic Statute of Secrecy, our population has declined. We have lost all ambition, all greatness. We have dwindled into a pitiful, timid race that would rather use magic to sweep floors and wash dishes than to make empires rise and fall. In short, we have become little better than Muggles - all because we have been forced to hide ourselves from them and their prejudice and brutality."
"And the Dark Lord," Severus said, "can change all that."
"Yes," Lucius said. "And we will be there when he rises to full power. We will help him on his way to greatness… and wizards will be great again."
Severus considered this. He could not deny that it was a devious (and therefore impressive) plan. But the personal consequences for him, for everyone, were horrendous.
Lucius, watching his face, murmured, "Severus, you have nothing to fear. The Dark Lord recognizes the hardship this will present to some of his servants. If you prove yourself to him, he will provide you with an appropriate wife."
An appropriate wife. Severus's lip curled at the thought. There was only one witch he wanted, and Potter had probably proposed to her within five minutes of reading the morning's Prophet.
There was no doubt in his mind that she would have accepted.
Mulciber, who was far sharper than Avery and knew him better than Lucius, said with a smirk, "Maybe the Dark Lord can get you that redhead you used to fancy."
Severus shot him a warning look, but it was too late.
"Redhead?" Lucius echoed. "You don't mean the Evans girl? The one you hung around in your first year?"
"Not just his first year," Mulciber sniggered. "They were friends till, what, fourth year? Fifth? Till Snape finally realized she's a filthy little Mudblood who's not worthy to lick his boots. Though he probably wouldn't mind if she licked something else."
Severus's jaw clenched with fury, but he didn't trust himself to speak.
"Evans," Lucius mused. "She's with James Potter now, isn't she?"
Mulciber sneered. "Filthy slut."
Severus tried to keep himself under control, but he knew his face must have changed color, because Lucius arched his brows with great curiosity.
"Evans," he echoed. "I'm sure that could be arranged. Potter has openly pledged himself to Dumbledore. He could be disposed of."
Severus felt a cold thrill, of fear or anticipation, even he couldn't tell. The idea of Potter gone, dead… And yet, the fact that Lucius could discuss it so calmly…
And Lily… Lily would hate him for all eternity. Even more than she did now.
"I doubt," he sneered, "whether she would thank me for getting her boyfriend killed."
He realized, too late, how much he had just admitted. Lucius, Mulciber, and even Avery were all eyeing him with varying degrees of smugness and surprise.
"So," Lucius said quietly, "you do want her."
Severus shrugged, trying to brush it off, but Lucius leaned in closer. "It could be arranged, Severus. The Dark Lord is not unaware of Evans' potential. I believe he has considered recruiting her."
Severus felt another cold thrill, and this time he knew it was fear. Lily would never accept the Dark Lord's offer. And if she openly defied him, as Potter had…
"She might resist you," Lucius added, "at first. She would mourn her boyfriend, I daresay. But the stipulations of the law are clear. In time, she would come to accept you. And if not…"
Severus didn't meet his eyes. He didn't dare consider how Lucius might finish that sentence. The stipulations of the law are clear… Yes, they were very clear. All wizards and witches between nineteen and forty years of age were required to find a magical spouse within one month of the implementation of the law. Any witch or wizard who reached his or her nineteenth birthday after the law came into effect would have one month in which to marry. And after the wedding…
He cringed at the quote from the article, which had been burned into his brain that morning: "Copulation will occur once per week every week until a child is conceived."
And Lucius thought Lily would accept that? She would sooner throw herself from the top of the Astronomy Tower.
And he would sooner throw himself from the top of the Astronomy Tower than hurt her.
"Evans is not an option," he said, wishing he had bought the whiskey after all.
"You underestimate the Dark Lord," Lucius replied. "If this is truly what you want, then he could give her to you."
Give her to you. As if she were an object, to be handed out at will. Did Lucius really think so little of him, to imagine he would want that?
But then, didn't Lucius think that? Hadn't he said the Dark Lord would provide him with a wife? Severus doubted any other witch would be any more willing to have him than Lily. And Lucius had implied there were other Death Eaters in the same position. Did the Dark Lord simply intend to abduct whichever women they wanted?
Severus allowed the implications of that to burn through him.
He had made many compromises, during the past few months since graduation, when it came to his principles. Even at school, he had learned to consider the Dark Lord's more violent (and, Severus privately thought, Muggle) tactics as necessary. Naturally, the world they wished to build could not be achieved through peaceful resistance or protest. Without force, nothing would change. He had accepted that, as he had accepted the demeaning little tasks Lucius had delegated to him, the blackmail and thievery and vandalism, because he knew they were necessary, as he knew that one day the Dark Lord would recognize his more impressive talents, and assign him tasks that brought him only honor.
But this? There was no tactical necessity here. The wording of the law could have been changed. Copulation - he still cringed at the term - might not have been required.
And to force witches into it…
He gave Lucius a sideways look, hoping he had misunderstood the man's intent. Could it be possible, he wondered, that Lucius simply did not grasp the extent to which Lily (or any other witch) would despise him? Narcissa had been resistant to Lucius's advances at first, but only, Severus knew, because she was coquettish. She had been more than willing to accept him when his proposal finally came.
Just like Lily, with Potter, came the involuntary thought. But that was unfair. Lily was not coquettish. Severus was certain that she really had tried to resist her feelings for Potter - at least until Severus had called her a Mudblood. After that, any hesitation she might have felt out of loyalty to him had vanished.
But no matter what, she would not have wanted him. If it hadn't been Potter, it would have been some other wizard. Severus was not delusional enough to believe Lily harbored any secret attraction to him. Why would she? He had never been anything but a poor, weak, shabby little boy with nothing to offer her but his love. Lily wanted more than love. He knew she wanted a home, a family, children, a position in society that would place her forever above the accusations that she, as a Muggleborn, did not belong. Potter, he knew all too well, could offer her all of that. Severus could not. He barely made enough money at the apothecary to feed himself, his only reputation was that of a nasty little git who'd been stripped naked and humiliated in front of the entire school, and the idea of producing children, if he was honest with himself, was utterly repulsive to him. He hated children.
If it weren't for this worthless law, he might have had the time to change all of that. She might not have felt the need to marry Potter at once, and Severus might have risen in the world, made a place for himself, not as the pampered heir of a wealthy pureblood family, but as an intellectual, or even as a revolutionary if the Dark Lord's plans succeeded. It would not have been Potter, but Severus, who had a high place in the world. And he could have given her everything. Even, if she insisted on it, children.
But now that was all gone. She would marry Potter, and that would be the end of it.
"Evans is not an option," he said again, flatly.
Mulciber snorted. "Didn't expect you to give up so easy, Snape. Bit of a fight might make it fun."
Severus glared at him. He hoped Mulciber meant a fight with Potter, and not…
"Evans is a bitch. It would serve her right."
Severus roiled with anger. Very quietly, he asked, "What would serve her right, exactly?"
Mulciber knew that tone, but he grinned, perhaps assuming Severus would control himself in front of Lucius. "Er - what was the term - copulation?" He sniggered again.
Severus felt like something had fallen away from him, perhaps the floor. He might have launched himself at Mulciber, if he hadn't been frozen in place, too shocked to do anything.
Vividly, he remembered what Lily had once said about the wizard in front of him: "Mulciber's and Avery's idea of humor is just evil. Evil, Sev." He had barely been listening at the time, but now…
Lucius was eyeing Mulciber with mild distaste, but he said, "Evans would learn her place eventually, Severus. There would be no need for a… fight. There are methods of ensuring compliance… The Imperius Curse is most effective -"
"Or a love potion," Avery suggested, smirking. "Slughorn did say yours was the best in the class -"
Severus, whose body now felt so frozen in place he doubted he'd ever move again, remembered Slughorn's words just as vividly as Lily's.
"Perfect! Exquisite! And that mother-of-pearl sheen - don't think I've ever seen a finer!"
Of course he hadn't. Severus had added a few drops of strawberry juice to get it that fine, deviating from the useless textbook as he usually did.
"But I'd be careful, m'boy! Love potions are tempting, very tempting, especially for the less - ah - prepossessing among us!" He had boomed with laughter and clapped Severus on the shoulder as the rest of the class laughed. "But the real thing's better, I promise you!"
Severus had boiled with rage and mortification, watching Lily turn away in distaste, listening to Potter roar with laughter while Black, grinning, had said loud enough for everyone to hear, "But Snivellus'll never get the real thing, will he? I bet even if he paid someone -"
Severus wrenched himself out of the memory. It was not Potter and Black, but Avery and Mulciber who were laughing about it now.
But unlike Potter and Black, they were entirely serious. Severus could see the edge in Mulciber's eyes, the anticipation in Avery's. Even Lucius, who looked bored with the conversation, seemed more offended by their amusement than by their actual suggestions.
For the first time, he understood exactly why Lily had detested them all.
He had never seen it before. The Dark Arts were not repulsive, they were fascinating, intoxicating, empowering and challenging in equal measure. Lily's distaste for them had always baffled him. And he had assumed that her distaste for Mulciber and Avery was founded in the same baffling attitude.
He was beginning to suspect that that was not the case.
Could he really have been so blind? Were the Death Eaters really no more than - than - evil? No more than his father, abusing women and children? No more than the despicable Muggle criminals he had seen on his father's television, in the news reports that left him full of disgust and horror for the world that was clearly so inferior to his own?
And Lucius - he had admired Lucius. Perhaps not for his daintiness, but certainly for his elegance and sophistication, so dramatically opposed to his father's crude, uneducated lowness. He had admired his power and wealth. He had admired his ruthlessness.
"Well?" Avery prompted him. "Which'll it be, Snape? Love potion or Imperius?"
Severus stared at him for several seconds, unable to answer. But these were dangerous people - Lucius especially. He needed to pull himself together. "I will consider all possibilities," he forced out, in a voice that despite his best efforts sounded strained. "As Lucius pointed out, I have time to decide."
"Do not take too much time," Lucius said, watching him closely. "The Dark Lord can offer you much, but only if you prove yourself to him first."
Severus nodded, scraping back his chair with unusual clumsiness and standing. "You will have my answer tomorrow," he said.
He was shaking as he turned away, and couldn't block out Mulciber's parting comment.
"How much d'you want to bet he's gone to kill Potter now?"
"Snape's not a killer," Avery replied.
"Not yet," Lucius said.