Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of its characters.
Written for Cuban Sombrero Gal's Idiom Challenge on the HPFC forum.
Dedicated to my friend Vikki, because she needs a hug, and if I can't do it in reality I'll do it virtually, and to Charlie, because he understands what it is to be a leopard.
A Leopard Can't Change His Spots.
Severus Snape's eyes swept around the circle, mentally counting and determining that there were just two left to arrive. He was safe in the knowledge that they'd come though. They'd always come. Really, it was far too dangerous not to. They'd chosen their team, now there was no choice but to stick with it. Of course, sometimes he wondered if he'd chosen the wrong side. Maybe the right side was her side. Lily's.
He shifted slightly in his place and instinctively rolled his eyes when he felt the heavy material of his attire shift with him. He was immediately glad that the ridiculous outfit came with a mask so this faux pas wasn't witnessed by the Dark Lord, who had just turned to face him as he scanned the circle. Fear twisted his stomach as he worried for a moment that he knew anyway, somehow he just knew, but he brushed the unwelcome feeling away. Even if he had seen, it could easily be construed as annoyance at the tardiness of his fellow Death Eaters rather than irritation at the ludicrous get-up.
Like a leopard's skin aids it in camouflaging itself in the grassland and woodland of its natural habitat, surely one of the aims of the Death Eater outfit should be to hide them in the environment they felt most comfortable in: the night. But it wasn't night-time. It was twenty past three in the afternoon and they were standing in a field, surrounded on all sides by thick trees, but not exactly hidden all the same. In fact, if he strained his ears... yes, there was the sound of muggle vehicles passing on the road beyond the trees. Standing in their black garb and masks, they couldn't be more conspicuous if they wore fluorescent clothes and flashing neon lights, playing the Macarena and other such garish muggle holiday music at full blast. Human beings obviously hadn't mastered the art of concealing themselves quite as well as the leading predators of the animal world just yet.
Snape rolled his eyes, this time internally just to be on the safe side. Honestly, there was a difference between being self-assured and being downright cocky. They hadn't taken over the Wizarding World yet.
With a slight popping noise the last of the Death Eaters arrived and took their places in the circle. The Dark Lord regarded the members of the ring closely, ensuring that all fidgeting had ceased and that all attention was fixed solely upon him before deigning to speak.
Never one to mince his words, they were all informed in no uncertain terms exactly how displeased the Dark Lord was about recent events. Very little progress had been made and that had to change or Lord Voldemort would have no qualms in expressing his discontent on the families of his followers. The Death Eater whom Snape knew to be Lucius Malfoy glanced down at the ground for a brief moment at this point, uncomfortable but neither willing nor unwise enough to argue.
The meeting cum 'pep-talk' was over quickly. Such meetings had become more a formality than a necessity as of late as a stalemate situation seemed to have been reached. Something major had to happen soon if there was to be hope of pushing forwards.
Snape for his part had been assigned the task of spying on virtually everything Albus Dumbledore did. He now knew the ethereal whiteness of the man's hair was surprisingly unnatural (which Snape found utterly perplexing as he could list at least four hair colours more fetching, and six more interesting, than white) and way too much about the old man's underwear shopping habits. Tonight he would have to go on another mission that would most likely prove fruitless once more, when he played detective on an interview for Divination teacher between Dumbledore and Sybil Trelawney.
Once the thoroughly pointless meeting had been endured there really was no reason to hang around. The Dark Lord had... inspired (Snape's lip curled at the euphemism) them quite enough for one day and now his followers were leaving, the fear of retribution if they failed refreshed, to pursue the Dark Lord's purposes with renewed zeal. Snape himself was just about to apparate back to his home too, when a slight hand with a strong grip rested on his arm.
"I trust you are not growing weary of your task. I'm sure I could find another to undertake it should you become... indisposed."
Snape felt a shudder pass right through him. He was under no illusions as to what was meant by that and was never in need of a reminder. Fail to do the Dark Lord's bidding and you're dead. Argue with the Dark Lord's motives and you're dead. Fight the Dark Lord and you're definitely dead. Better just to do what you're told, keep your head down and hope you live to see the end of it.
"No, my Lord. I will never tire of doing what you ask of me. All for the greater cause." Snape bowed his head slightly as he replied.
"Yes. Don't forget that. And don't be seen."
"Of course my Lord. I understand the need for disguise my Lord."
"Good." With that Lord Voldemort left Snape alone and breathing slightly easier.
Snape moved over to a shaded spot in the trees to apparate, thinking as he did so. Yes, camouflage was the key when stalking prey. Wild animals had cultivated their appearance for this purpose over hundreds of years to help them survive.
Maybe he would forgo the Death Eater robes tonight. They were good for meetings but would hardly help him blend in at the Hog's Head. That was the good thing about humans. They could change their appearance to fit in. Animals (with the exception of a chameleon) didn't have that option. They were satisfied in the skin they were in. They would have to be. Their choices were made and they stuck by them. Only humans were fickle enough to base their alliances on what would serve their own purposes better.
Fortunately, in the human world, there were few choices that could not be rescinded. However, this wasn't one of them. Severus Snape was a Death Eater and didn't see how he had any choice other than to be one until the day his heart stopped pumping and his lungs stopped inhaling.
A leopard can't change its spots. It could never change who or what it was. The difference was that, unlike some humans, it would never want to.