Author's note: This is back-story for RAB and the Beginning of the End. Snape will seem a bit out of character at times, but that is because he is in love [and aren't we all a bit out of character when our emotions get the better of us?. The title and lyrics are from Bruce Springsteen's "Brilliant Disguise."
Special thanks to Amber for a great beta-read. Your changes were spectacular!
"So tell me who I see when I look in your eyes.
Is that you, baby, or just a brilliant disguise?"
The blustery wind whistled through the treetops while dead leaves and dust swirled around her feet. Richelle struggled to keep her Invisibility Cloak wrapped tightly around her as she made her way to his home. Correction, she thought, their home. Although she and Severus had married nearly two years before, she could barely call the cottage they shared on Spinner's End her home. Severus still resisted sharing news of their marriage with others. Because of his secrecy, her surreptitious work for the Order of the Phoenix, and her budding career with extremely long hours in the Ministry of Magic's Department of Spell Research and Development, she kept most of her belongings in a small flat in Diagon Alley. However, every weekend, she Apparated to Spinner's End to see her husband. But this weekend, she thought, a smile settling on her lips, she had a surprise for him. This weekend would change everything.
Before coming to Spinner's End, Richelle had Flooed the potions lab at St. Mungo's where Severus worked as an Associate Potions Master. Instead of finding him, however, she encountered his unlikely partner Lily Potter, her best friend and the only person with knowledge of their marriage. Lily informed Richelle that Severus had taken a vacation day. They were quite a pair, Richelle and Lily. It had been a shock to Richelle's family, specifically to her older brother Lucius Malfoy, when she was sorted into Gryffindor and even more unsettling when she befriended the Muggle-born Lily Evans who was two years older than she. Lily, who took the awkward first year under her wing, truly, was more like family to Richelle than the Malfoys. When her mother died, Richelle found the manor to be a cruel, cold fortress that she could not wait to escape, so Lily's home had been her refuge during school holidays.
As she approached the cottage and saw that no smoke billowed from the chimney, Richelle shuddered. Thoughts of her friend left her as Richelle unlocked the door of the small cottage on Spinner's End, removed her Disillusionment Charm, and moved across the sullied floor to immediately start a fire. She had hoped to find her husband starkers and waiting for her to arrive, but he was clearly not home. She went into the small, cramped kitchen to brew some tea, but was distracted by a piece of blank parchment placed on the otherwise uncluttered counter. When she picked it up, words rapidly spread across its surface in Severus's cramped, spidery handwriting.
With a flick of her wand, Richelle recast the charm that made her invisible and moved behind the door that led to the stairs. The banging open of the door announced Severus's arrival, and a shrill, unfamiliar voice told her he was not alone.
As the voices became distorted, she realized that her husband had performed the Muffliato spell and did not want her to hear his conversation, so she crept to their room, sat on the edge of the bed, and stroked her hands on her temples. After wearily rubbing her eyes, Richelle removed her shoes and hugged her knees to her chest. The room was freezing and she hated being in it without Severus – it felt so empty without him. Suspecting a long wait was in store for her, she closed her silver eyes and heaved a sigh, letting darkness overtake her. She'd had little sleep during the week because the Order had demanded much of her time. She was preparing a new spell for them, and she hoped that it was now finished. There was just one more test to run, and if this spell worked, it would help the Order tremendously.
Richelle woke with a start sometime later, instantly becoming aware of the sound of footsteps on the stairs. She stood, hurriedly straightened her robes, and took a step towards the door as it swung open. Severus Snape sauntered towards her, a smirk creeping upon his thin lips, and quickly embraced her. She raised her chin and her lips welcomed his.
"It's nice to be home," she purred when their lips parted, pulling him closer.
"I didn't think you considered this place home." He leaned away from her, his dark brows furrowed.
"Home is with you, love." And she smiled. Remembering the trinket she held in her pocket, she reached into her robes and produced it with a smile.
"What in the world is that? It looks like a matchbox." Severus squinted his onyx eyes and moved to take the small object.
"Not just yet, love." Richelle turned and set the small object on the floor next to his dresser. She backed away, flicked her wand, and muttered an inaudible incantation, transforming the tiny box into a large, ebony and gold wardrobe.
Severus glanced at his wife, raising his left brow and lowering his right in silent question.
"I know it's a bit cumbersome, but wait until you see what it can do." She raised both brows and beamed wickedly, then grabbed his hand and led him to the cabinet.
"Chelle, I don't –"
"Severus, please, be patient , love. There is no need to worry." She grinned at being able to read his thought. His Occlumency skills had strengthened so much that she was rarely able to invade his psyche anymore. She opened the door then, and stepped in, dragging him behind her.
"If you wanted to snog in a closet, you only had to say so," he teased as she closed the door behind them. The cabinet suddenly began to spin before she could reply. With one arm Severus grabbed his wife and with the other he reached for the side of the wardrobe. When the spinning came to a stop, Richelle opened the door again, leading her husband into the bedroom of her flat in Diagon Alley. Richelle was so pleased with herself. She had found these cabinets that would connect their residences, meaning they would no longer have to spend so much time apart.
"I'm astounded." Severus told her, his surprise evident in his voice.
"And I hope pleased," Richelle added and began walking toward her bed while removing her outer robes. "You do realize what this means, don't you, love?"
"No more lonely nights," he answered and began inching near her, a hungry look on his face. He reached her, tossing his robes on the floor, and grabbed her around the waist placing his left arm behind her back. Reaching into her hair with his right, he released her flaxen tresses from the swept-back pony tail that she wore to work, and they collapsed onto her bed, kissing passionately.
"Where did you find the cabinets?" He asked while nibbling her earlobe.
"One of your favorite retailers," she whispered.
"You went to Knockturn Alley?" He pulled away from her, not pleased that she would venture to a place so dangerous.
"Severus, please," she sighed and rolled her eyes. There were times when his over protectiveness drove her mad. "I was on an errand for the Ministry."
His black eyes bore into hers, but she was determined he would find nothing. How often had she tried to attain his thoughts and he blocked her. He would find nothing in her eyes now, so he began ravishing her lips once again.
Richelle loved being with her husband, but she was weary of hiding with him. Each weekend, they found themselves in a tiff about their secrecy, but this time, she had a plan.
"So, do you have anything to eat here?" Severus rumbled sleepily sometime later.
"I usually get take out." She lifted her head from his chest and traced his lips with her fingers. "Aren't you just hungry for me?"
"Absolutely," he paused, running his hand through her long, wavy, honey colored locks. "But I need nourishment for stamina."
Richelle sat up, grabbed her robes, and began dressing. "Come on, then, let's get going."
"What are you doing?"
"Getting dressed to go out for dinner." Her lips curved upwards and a small dimple appeared on her right cheek.
"Richelle, you know we can't." He looked at her severely.
"I want a proper date with my husband, Severus." She looked back at him, raising her left brow and lowering her right eyelid.
"It's too dangerous." His jaw tightened in irritation.
"I don't care. I am sick of hiding." She trudged over to the mirror and smoothed her hair.
Severus sighed and ambled over to her, resting his hands on her shoulders. "Richelle, the secrecy is for your safety."
"I deserve a date." Her tone was steady.
"I'll cook for us instead."
"No." She turned to face him, working to keep her emotions in check. She knew she had to be careful how much she revealed to him now. He did not know that she was now a part of the Order of the Phoenix, and given their political divergences, she felt it best not to mention her involvement in that group. "Look, Severus, I know you are worried, but I think I have a solution."
"Richelle, your safety is too—"
"The project I have been working on," she began, "is a charm that will change a person's looks."
"A charm?" He backed away from her, his eyes wide.
"Yes. It has not been perfected just yet, but I can perform it." She closed her eyes and pointed her wand at her face before uttering the phrase, "Dissimulo!"
She turned to look into her mirror and allowed her lips to lift in a pleased smile. Her long, wavy, light colored hair was now straight, chocolate brown, and shoulder length. Her silver eyes were cerulean. And she stood at least five inches taller. Over her shoulder, she saw Severus coming closer. She turned to him.
"Incredible!" His brows raised and he let himself smile.
"We can go with just me like this, or I can change you too. What do you think?"
"Let's go now. I think it would be good for people to see me out with a woman."
She furrowed her brows but decided not to question his decision. She tried reaching his thoughts, but he was blocking her.
"So where do you want to go?" He moved to open the door.
"Matilda's – it's a new eatery at 93 Diagon Alley."
They exited her flat and strolled down the cobbled streets, past Flourish and Blotts and Madam Malkin's. Richelle wanted desperately to hold Severus's hand, but she knew that he did not like public displays of affection. The streets were buzzing with people and there was a large crowd waiting outside of the popular new restaurant. Knowing that Severus hated waiting, Richelle glanced over at her husband. As expected, his aversion was clearly written on his face.
"Pardon me," Richelle excused herself as she pushed through the crowd of would-be patrons. When she reached the hostess, she uttered, "Melissa Gladstone – I have reservations."
"Yes, party of two. Right this way, Ms. Gladstone."
Richelle turned to her husband and flashed him a grin, her newly altered eyes sparkling like sapphires. As he followed her to the table, Severus leaned in to prod, "Reservations? You were so confident that you would convince me, were you?"
As she took the seat that the hostess offered her she retorted, "I have never doubted my persuasive abilities."
Matilda's was everything Richelle had heard it to be. Happy couples sat at cozy, candlelit tables in comfortable, chintz armchairs. Soft music resonated through the room and the aromas of various gourmet foods filled the air. While Severus studied the menu, Richelle scrutinized the crowd. Most of the clientele were couples although there were a few small groups present as well. Richelle was startled as she saw her brother Lucius and his wife Narcissa dining at a table in the corner behind Severus. Just then, she noticed Narcissa look over at their table. Richelle started to acknowledge her but caught herself just in time and instead averted her eyes to the menu.
Richelle was deciding between the Persian chicken with pomegranates, pine nuts, and yogurt sauce or the black pasta in pink gorgonzola sauce when she became aware of Narcissa and Lucius's arrival.
"Severus, darling, how nice to see you again," the words flowed melodiously out of Narcissa's taut lips.
"Two times in one week," drawled Lucius. "And to think, before this week, we hadn't dined together in years."
Richelle raised both eyebrows before she remembered that she wasn't to show that she cared about Severus eating with these people. Schooling her face back into an expressionless mask, she tried to reach his mind instead, but to no avail.
"Yes, I do feel ever so fortunate." Severus's tone was even.
"So, aren't you going to introduce us to your friend, darling." Narcissa smiled smugly at Richelle.
"No." He returned his eyes to the menu.
Richelle stifled a snigger and extended her hand. "I'm Melissa."
Lucius took her hand and raised it to his lips. "Delighted to make your acquaintance, Melissa. Severus can be a bit irascible at times. I certainly hope he is more pleasant with you."
"Now, Lucius," Narcissa admonished with feigned concern, "you know what a private person Severus is, and I seem to recall you interfering with his last liason."
"Well, that was my sister."
"I am sure that you two would like to get back to whatever it was that you were doing before you ventured to our table." Severus's eyes were hard and his lips were barely visible as they were so thinly pressed together.
As Melissa, Richelle offered a polite good-bye. When she saw that they were once again seated at their own table, she turned to Severus, raising her right eyebrow.
"When were you going to tell me that you had dined with my brother?"
"I wasn't. "
"What were you doing with Lucius?" She stared impertinently.
"I don't want to lie to you, so let's drop this conversation." His eyes bore into hers. "We have agreed to keep our politics out of our relationship."
"I will drop it, for now," she acquiesced in the interest of a peaceful evening. "Tonight is a night to celebrate the beginning of the rest of our lives. I don't want to remember it as a row."
Before he could retort, the waitress requested their orders. Richelle decided on the Persian chicken and then trekked to the restroom when she saw Narcissa going there.
Narcissa's pale skin and platinum hair were quite striking, but her looks had always been her greatest strength. Never had she been considered particularly intelligent or magically gifted, and she possessed no Occlumency skills whatsoever. Richelle, on the other hand, had perfected her own Legillimency talents so that she no longer needed eye contact. Narcissa would be easy prey; Richelle should easily extract the reason for Severus's visit from her brain.
Richelle found her sister-in-law in front of the mirror, and quickly entered the realm of her consciousness. Richelle's stomach lurched as she saw flashes of Narcissa attempting to seduce Severus – touching his face and drawing close to him; the woman's desire for Richelle's husband was strong. Incredulous, Richelle wouldn't leave these thoughts, and she dug deeper, feeling the emptiness and heartache of the woman's marriage and the pain of many miscarriages, but always at the forefront of Narcissa's mind was her desire for Severus and jealousy of the woman she saw him with tonight.
"So, Melissa," Narcissa's voice pulled Richelle back to the ladies' room. Richelle could sense that the woman thought Melissa to be no competition. "Are you enjoying your evening with Severus?"
"Oh yes," Richelle's lips curled nefariously, "but dinner will not be nearly as splendid as the appetizer or the dessert."
The jolted look in Narcissa's eyes gave Richelle a sense of triumph that nearly eclipsed her resentment of Narcissa's behavior. She spun on her heels and returned to the table.
Severus offered her a glass of wine. "So, how badly did you hex Narcissa?"
"Why didn't you tell me that she tried to seduce you?" Richelle narrowed Melissa's indigo eyes.
"What good could have come from that?" He tilted his head curiously.
She heaved an exasperated sigh. "This is why we should tell everyone about us."
Severus did not respond immediately. He just took another sip of Ogden's Old Firewhiskey. Richelle tried to touch his mind without looking at him. She had not told him that she no longer needed eye contact to do so, but she found that his mind was quite closed.
"Chelle," he whispered and touched her hand lightly. "If I thought you would be safe, I would take out an ad in The Daily Prophet proclaiming our marriage to the world."
Tears brimmed in her eyes. Richelle knew that he meant his words. It was his love for her that kept their marriage a secret. She had known for awhile that Lucius had given him tasks from the Dark Lord. Severus insisted that she would not be safe if his feelings for her were exposed. But Richelle felt differently. She was certain that Severus's heart was not dark.
They enjoyed their dinner with little more drama, and Richelle was sipping the last her wine when she heard a familiar voice. She rolled her eyes, summoning her strength to avoid a confrontation. The last time she had seen Sirius Black was at Lily's birthday party, and she and Severus had argued because of it.
"Snape, how do you do it?" Sirius's speech was slightly slurred.
"Do what, Black?" Severus tightened his lips and avoided looking at the man. Instead, he focused on his wife and her brilliant disguise.
"Get the beautiful women to consent to a nice meal with you. I know you're good with potions, not doing anything illegal are we?" Black shifted his weight and rested his hand on the table.
"I certainly am not, but I cannot speak for you, Black." Severus took a sip of the Firewhiskey.
The man huffed and turned his attention to Richelle. "Sirius Black. And you are?"
Richelle was not going to let Black get to Severus. She looked at her husband and kept her voice even. "Severus, do you think we could skip dessert here? I only have an appetite for you and I don't think I can keep my hands off of you one more moment."
Severus did not smile, but Richelle noticed a glimmer in his eyes as he stood and reached into his pocket for the galleons needed to pay for dinner.
"It was," Richelle hesitated before continuing, "interesting to meet you, Sillius."
"That's Sirius," Black was flabbergasted.
"If you say so, but I thought my pronunciation was a better fit for someone so juvenile," she pronounced with slight indignation. "Shall we go now, Severus?"
With that, they swooped out of the restaurant and returned to her apartment. Hours later, as she lay in his arms, Richelle tried to read Severus's mind, wishing that she had not taught him to be such a strong Occlumens. She had chosen not to perform a contraception charm earlier and reveled in the thought that their baby was now growing inside of her. She was sure that a child would make Severus see the necessity of revealing their marriage.
Suddenly, Severus pulled his left arm from beneath the pillow, and that is when she saw it, a mark on his left arm. She admonished herself – how could she have not noticed it? Was he concealing it? Was it darker now because the Dark Lord was summoning him?
Richelle felt her dinner churn in her stomach. The man she loved had become a Death Eater. The events of the day replayed in her mind. The meeting in their home… keeping his meeting with Lucius a secret… the attempted seduction by Narcissa… Her eyes stung with tears as she wondered if she knew this man at all anymore. She was not sure what to do now, but she knew that if she were having a child with this man, she had to get him back, get him away from the Dark Lord. And she knew, without a doubt, that there was nothing she would not do to save his soul.
So when you look at me,
You better look hard and look twice.
Is that me, baby, or just a brilliant disguise?