Author's Notes: Finally, here's the last part of this wretched fic, which is now over two years old! My profound gratitude to everyone who's stayed with me for all this time - you deserve better. Again, apologies for delays in posting, and for the things which are inconsistent with what we learned from Book Six.
Warning: foul language and yummy slash.
Thank you all so much for the varied and brilliant suggestions for the cat's name! There were some really interesting ideas and I'm very grateful that so many people took the time to think about it.
Shortlisted were Iniquity (thanks Stephenaux), Dalek (thanks Risi), Draco (Angeltalion, I laughed out loud!), but in the end I went with one of Kyer's…
"Pettigrew," purred the Head Boy. "I've been looking forward to having a little chat with you."
"Really?" the pudgy kid gave a wan smile. If he was attempting to look calm and collected, it wasn't working. He began to squirm and sweat in Lucius' grasp.
"Really, really," said Lucius. He smiled. Finally, things were beginning to go his way.
He raised his wand level with Peter Pettigrew's watery, sly blackmailing eyes, getting ready to show the little toad exactly what happened when you stole ancient books from your social superiors, spied on them, then wrote unpleasant little notes.
Oh, Merlin. Lucius was going to enjoy this.
Nothing could have prepared Lucius for what happened next.
Pettigrew had been wriggling and panicking as Lucius threatened him, looking so pathetic that his captor was confident that there was no way his prey could escape now. However, before he had begun to cast the first curse, Pettigrew melted.
Lucius stepped back in horror as the face and body in front of him shrank, changing colour and texture all the while. The Gryffindor became narrower and tinier so quickly that by the time Lucius had managed to recognise the sudden shape-shift for what it was, the small brown rat had scampered up the path and disappeared into the forest gloom.
Too shocked to even pursue the boy, no, the creature, who had caused him so much difficulty, Lucius stood motionless, marvelling that someone so young and apparently hopeless could master such a fucking fantastic bit of magic. Everyone knew from their first ever transfiguration lesson that McMog could turn into a cat at will, but none of the pupils of Lucius' acquaintance had ever tried to exploit this highly useful skill for their own ends. He got no farther than this, as his reverie was interrupted by the sound of Severus' voice at close range.
Remembering the reason why he had hauled himself all the way out there, he turned in the direction of his love just in time to hear him say.
"Well done, Catastrophe! You caught it! You can eat what you want but leave me the tail, it will be a useful ingredient."
"NO!" Lucius bellowed in horror, dashing forwards. "Severus, no! Stop it!"
The brat was staring at him in consternation, as the ugly little cat grappled with a squirming rat in the dark mulch in between two huge tree roots.
"Stop the cat! The rat's Pettigrew - he's an Animagus! If he dies we'll be in so much trouble!"
They fired off a battery of stunners until the struggle ceased and the motionless rat rippled, bulged and finally reverted to its natural form.
"Bloody hell!" gasped Snape, as Pettigrew materialised at his feet. He nudged the muddy and bleeding body with the toe of his boot rather gingerly, as though expecting him to vanish in a puff of smoke. "Whoever would have imagined!"
how he knew about us," said Lucius grimly. "And the dead girl
down in the secret room. He must have been one of the rats we caught
to test the potion on."
"What, in the cage?" Snape snorted. "Why didn't he change back and escape?"
Lucius shrugged. "Let's ask."
Once conscious, Pettigrew began to snivel and cringe, whining about the now-giant bite marks on the back of his neck. He soon realised that he could expect no sympathy from his audience, however, he subsided into merely pouting and muttering to himself.
"Couldn't change back, could I? Cage was too small. Would've got stuck in between shapes and that's horrid. Was going to wait until you picked me up, then was going to bite you and run away, but you blew the whole sodding place up, didn't you? Too busy…doing things to each other to pay attention to the cauldron. Nearly killed us all."
"You tried to blackmail me!" said Lucius, trying to gently infer menace without much apparent effort, as his father did. Pettigrew flinched slightly, which was somewhat gratifying.
"No, I didn't," he whined defensively. "I never asked you for any money."
"You just wrote us nasty letters," sneered Snape. "Which is perfectly all right and a noble and upright, Gryffindor course of action."
"Do you even know what happened to the rats down there?" the Animagus countered. "By the time I had regained consciousness from the toxic fumes your bloody explosion caused, I found I was buried under a pile of rubble with crushed ribs and covered in pieces of exploded rat. The door of the cage was embedded in my arm and some of that skeleton's teeth were caught in my robes," he broke off to rub a hand over his face and shudder. "And all because you," he nodded at Malfoy sullenly, "took time off from brewing that deadly potion to get down and dirty with that worthless greaseball Snape. It's disgusting!"
Severus and Lucius looked at each other, neither sure how they ought to react.
"We thought you were just a rat," said Severus quietly.
"I found the book once I'd dug my way towards the door. It looked important so I thought I could use it to get back at you," he mumbled. "Cause you some grief."
There was a long pause, during which the stunner on the cat wore off and it jerkily got to its feet, hissing suspiciously at Pettigrew. The puncture wounds on his neck were now bleeding alarmingly freely, so Severus stepped up and began to cast some of the healing charms he had been forced to teach himself after years of fights with Foul Foursome. Pettigrew allowed this, but bared his teeth resentfully.
"Be careful, you freak," he snorted.
"You turn yourself into a rat to avoid what you've rightfully got coming to you, and you have the cheek to call Severus a freak?!" gasped Lucius, with a laugh. "I don't understand you lot at all. Why on earth do you and your cohorts hate him so much?"
"Not everyone hates him," the Gryffindor said snidely, then bit his lip as though he hadn't meant to let anything slip.
"Oh yes, you're right, the Begonia boy is in love with him," Lucius remembered.
"Lupin," Snape corrected automatically.
They almost took a step backwards when the Pettigrew's face instantly transformed into an expression of such pure violent hatred that he looked ready to commit murder.
"I don't know what revolting dark magic you've cast on him, Snape, to make him fall for you, but you're going to pay for it!" he spat, struggling to stand. He made an absurd picture, covered in blood and mud in the middle of the forest, clenching his fists and his chubby schoolboy's face scarlet with fury. At his insinuation, Lucius glanced sharply at his lover.
"I haven't done anything!" protested Snape. "Why on earth would I want that pathetic little sap following me around when I've got…" He trailed off, trying to be discreet, then, remembering that all those present were in on the secret, stuck out his chin and continued defiantly. "When I've got the most handsome and intelligent person in the school in love with me."
Lucius beamed to hear him say the words with no upsets or dramatics. Severus smiled softly at him, flushing a delicate shade of pink as they gazed at each other tenderly. The moment was shattered by a movement from Pettigrew, then a flash of magic as Snape intercepted the Animagus' clumsy attempt to punch him.
"Don't you dare call Remus a sap!" Pettigrew squealed, having been thrown onto the floor once more. "He's a kind, sweet and wonderful person!"
The Slytherins stared.
"You love him," Severus concluded. Pettigrew grimaced with anger but said nothing, turning away to try and regain some control.
"And while he's mooning around after Severus, he won't even look twice at you…" Lucius continued, piecing together the whole story when no denial was forthcoming.
"…so you chose an extra opportunity to take revenge on me, by harassing Lucius and I about our relationship," Severus took up the narrative.
"And I imagine you encourage Black and Potter in their juvenile bullying games, too," added Malfoy, with distaste. "You really are a thoroughly loathsome individual."
Pure physical torture would not be sufficient retribution in this case, Luicus decided. After a brief conference with Snape, during which Pettigrew and the cat both tried to show as much hatred for each other as they possibly could, Lucius forced their adversary to touch wand-tips with him and incanted the rites of Vassal's Favour. Evoking the ancient spell to demand a service at a time of the caster's choosing meant that Pettigrew could be pressed into any useful act at any time. Allying with a cunning and despicable person so close to young wizards with a promising future of power and influence could only be an asset to Lucius' arsenal - another twig to his broomstick, as Icarus had put it. There would be conflict with those particular Gryffindors outside the school gates in the years to come, Lucius was absolutely certain, and once his prefect's badge no longer gave him authority over them, he would need a way of making sure that he came out on top. What better way to manage the little shits than by enslaving on of their own? There was no need to rush things, however. Vassal's Favour was an important hold over a person. It ought not to be wasted, nor entered into lightly.
Pettigrew looked sick to the stomach as he limped away, knowing himself to be defeated, and Lucius could not resist a smirk at the idea of this pathetic little child thinking himself intelligent enough to best two of Salazar's finest.
He led Severus to a small clearing, where a few beams of light managed to penetrate the trees, and they both sat down for serious discussions.
"You accept that I love you, then?" the older boy asked anxiously. "Without running and hiding or having hysterics?"
"Yes," snapped Snape, apparently irritated at being reminded of his earlier flighty behaviour.
"Good," Lucius leaned over and kissed the scowling face, enjoying the moment of calm before everything got ruined again. "Because my father gave me a piece of unpleasant news over tea this afternoon."
It went down much better than Lucius had dared hope. Snape's natural tendency to look on the bleak side of life meant that he had imagined the wedding happening sooner rather than later, so there was just the matter of misery and resentment, rather than any explosions or yelling. He even made no attempt to contradict Lucius' promises of continuing their affair after the marriage, though a slight furrowing of the dark brow gave Lucius cause for concern.
When several minutes of promises and persuasion had no effect on the brat's despondent demeanour, Lucius resorted to the time-honoured argument of actions speaking louder than words, pulling Severus into his lap and kissing him. The usual feeling of intoxicating arousal swept over Lucius as Severus returned his attentions with a kind of desperate fervour, clinging to him with all the strength in his arms and legs and devouring his mouth as though his life depended on it.
Lying sated among the fallen branches and clumps of moss on the ground a short while later, Lucius was disconcerted to find that they were being watched. The cat was observing their tangled heap of limbs and robes with great interest, the permanent sneer resulting from her twisted lip even more disconcerting when one was sprawled outdoors, covered in come and showing one's bare bottom to the world. His afterglow fading rapidly under such scrutiny, Lucius sat up and rearranged himself.
"Did I hear you correctly earlier, love?" he asked the dozing Snape. "You have named the beast 'Catastrophe'?"
"Mmm," nodded the boy, sleepily running his hands through his hair and plucking out a stray leaf.
"That's a dreadful pun," he chided, with a smile.
"But apt," argued Snape cheerfully. "It leaves a trail of destruction wherever it goes." Recalling the state of his room just after he presented the cat to Severus, Lucius had to agree.
They made their way back to the castle, stopping every now and then for a languid kiss in the privacy of the trees, careful to keep an eye out in case Pettigrew was lurking anywhere, trying to have the last word. Lucius in particular was careful to make sure he never underestimated the kid again. Catastrophe prowled behind them, keen to have another go at the strange rodent which had not played fair after she had been clever enough to catch it. Emerging onto the secluded part of the school lawns, the first people they saw were Potter and Lupin, strolling aimlessly along about a hundred yards away.
"Do you suppose Potter and Black know about Pettigrew's little crush?" asked Snape.
"I sincerely doubt it's something he brags about," smirked Lucius. A smaller shape bounded into view next to the two Gryffindors, jumping up at the taller boy, who laughed heartily and threw a stick. "I didn't know Potter kept a dog."
"He doesn't," frowned Snape. "They aren't allowed as familiars, it must be one of Hagrid's dog's pups."
"No, those mongrels are all brownish. This one is black, in fact, I think I've seen it somewhere before…"
The dog stiffened and stared in their direction, scenting the air. A few steps ahead of Snape, Catastrophe gave a growl.
"Oh, no," whispered Severus. Potter gave a whoop and laughed again. Geranium raised his hands to his face in horror as the dog began running towards them, its beady eyes fixed determinedly on the cat.
"Go on, Paddy!" called Potter encouragingly.
"No!" shrieked Geranium. "Stop it! Sss…Padfoot, don't!"
"Spadfoot?" echoed Lucius. "That's even more ridiculous than 'Catastrophe'."
Catastrophe refused to run, contenting herself with merely glaring and flicking her tail threateningly as the scruffy dog pounded towards her. Not sure what to do when the prey failed to flee, the mutt slowed down for the last few yards and cocked its head on one side. Catastrophe sneered. Lucius and Severus had drawn their wands in preparation, but it was all over very quickly.
"Woof?" went the dog, in confusion. He stuck his snout towards the cat for a curious sniff. With the speed of a striking cobra, a ginger and black paw swung out, five claws gouging into the assailant's wet black nose with painful accuracy. The dog gave a scream of pain and leaped into the air, before turning and fleeing back to Potter with its tail between its legs, yelping pitifully.
The Slytherins roared with laughter, clutching each other to stay upright as the tears rolled down their cheeks. Lucius swooped down and picked up the cat, congratulating her on a brilliant manoeuvre and secretly relieved that his gift to Severus was perhaps more useful than he had thought.
"You're perfect! Such an intelligent little thing!" he chortled at her, failing to notice the rapidly narrowing eyes, or the warning sound in the back of her throat. "You will look after my Severus for me when I leave, won't you?"
There was a moment's silence as she appeared to consider the request. Then she bit him.
Back in Lucius' room, Snape was applying healing salve to the wound, looking more cheerful than he had in…well, ever. Malfoy noted grimly that it was the self-same lotion which the brat had applied to the scratches on his face back when Rachel Goldstein had showed her displeasure at being dumped after their rather forgettable tryst by the lake, before he had spotted the more fascinating side of Severus. Memories like that usually made young men huff about the sheer irrationality of females, but Lucius knew from experience, that boys were just as bad. Or his boy was, at least.
"Did you mean it, about Lupin?" he asked nonchalantly.
"Oh, well done!" exclaimed Snape. "You finally got it right!"
"Lupin, not Foxglove, Pansy, Chrysanthemum or any of the others you've used in the past!"
"Oh, I don't care what he's called. He's a weedy little creep with a weedy name. What I need to know is whether you were telling the truth earlier on, in the forest. Are you really not interested in him?" Before falling for Severus, he would have hesitated before showing weakness to anyone by asking such question. But then, before Severus, he had seldom felt weak at all. He no longer minded acknowledging his softer, more insecure side - in private at least - it actually felt good to indulge it, rather than pretending that it didn't exist.
Snape corked the little bottle and sat next to him on the bed, staring at him with a thoughtful intensity.
"It really matters to you whether I intend to jump into bed with Lupin once you have left school, doesn't it?" he asked. Lucius swallowed.
"He fancies you," he pointed out, rather sulkily.
"People of all ages and genders fancy you," Snape countered ruefully.
"Well, they shan't get me!" exclaimed Lucius. "Just because someone considers me attractive, there's absolutely no reason to think I would sleep with them!"
Snape beamed and helped himself to a long, wet kiss on his lover's lips.
"Precisely," he whispered.
The sound of desperate hammering on the door made both of them start, bringing with it unpleasant recollections of their near-miss with Icarus and Dumbledore. Snape dived under the bed as an almost frantic Goyle tumbled in.
"Malfoy! Merlin! You'll never guess! Oh, wow!" in his excitement, he forgot to breathe and went red in the face for a second until Lucius slapped him hard on the back. "Urgh! Thanks! Wow, oh Merlin! You'll never guess what's happened!"
Lucius gave an involuntary sigh, knowing perfectly well what had happened, and realising that his adult life would begin in approximately ten seconds. He wanted to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it. Instead, he gave Tiberius a serious frown to set in motion the complicated set of roles he would have to play over the next few months, if his father's plan was to succeed.
"You'd better tell me," he said. Goyle took a deep breath, his eyes shining with delight at having such amazing gossip.
"Andromeda Black has run off with a MUGGLE!" he yelled, then clapped his hand over his mouth as though such a filthy utterance should not be heard, even between friends in the privacy of the dungeons. Rosier appeared in the doorway, biting his nails. Lucius pretended to gape at him.
"Is this true?" he asked the smarter boy for confirmation.
"Seems to be. Frightfully sorry, Malf," he looked sympathetic, but his eyes shone with a sort of glee which made Lucius instantly wary. He must not forget that other people would develop their own agenda during the social upsets caused by the scandal. Who knew what plots other families as cunning as his own might hatch in order to seize opportunities which would otherwise not have been available. He narrowed his eyes as he remembered that Rosier had always been rather fond of Narcissa.
"Good grief," he said aloud, sinking into a chair as though stunned. "I think I need to be alone for a second. Do you mind, lads?" Rosier stared speculatively at him before grabbing Goyle and dragging him away. Lucius cast a silencing charm in case of earwiggers and dropped to the floor next to the bed.
Snape's baleful black eyes peered at him from under the valence.
"The end has just begun," he sneered, but with more sadness than venom.
"No," said Lucius. "We're just entering Phase Two, that's all."
"There's too much at stake for you to handle distractions. You will forget all about me while you concentrate on the Blacks," the younger boy murmured, his lower lip giving a worrying twitch.
"No," repeated Lucius. "I'd be a pretty poor Slytherin if I couldn't handle the scandal of the century at the same time as the love affair of the century."
"Is that what this is?" Severus managed a little smile, which Lucius returned immediately.
"Yes," he said, reaching a hand under the bed to cup the brat's cheek. "All the plots in the wizarding world couldn't come between us, Severus."
"You won't forget me?" he wavered, a hint of hope in his eyes at last.
"Not for a second," Lucius promised. "We've come through too much to let a little thing like my having to marry someone else get in the way!"
Severus wriggled out from under the bed and sat up, folding his arms across his chest and grimacing with resignation.
"I don't know why," he huffed, "But for some pathetic, irrational and utterly nonsensical reason, I think I believe you."
Lucius grinned, just as someone else began knocking on the door.
"Oh, Merlin, can't they give us another minute?" he snapped in annoyance. "We're trying to have a deep and meaningful conversation here!"
"Malfoy!!! Dumbledore wants you in his office RIGHT NOW!"
"Go on, love," Severus kissed him on the cheek and pushed him away gently. "Go and take over the world. I shall be here when you get back."
"Malfoy! It's urgent!!"
"Do you promise?" asked Lucius.
"I promise," said Snape, sincerely.
As Lucius walked to the door, he turned back to look at Severus, sitting cross-legged on the carpet with a scintillating expression made up of equal parts annoyance and adoration.
"I love you," Lucius couldn't resist reminding him.
"Sod off," beamed Snape.
Lucius laughed out loud and opened the door.