chapter seven:

bait and switch

Dobby awoke with a start. He was pressed against sweat-soaked linen, underneath which was the clammy thigh of a blonde woman. An equally cool hand rested on his head. He scrunched his eyes, opened them, and looked up. He was snug in the lap of Narcissa Vontaine, who looked down upon him like a tuberculosis-stricken angel, save her eyes, which burned. She stroked the coarse hairs of his scalp, managing a creaky smile.

"You poor little Dobby," she purred, "my only, only friend."

"M-Mistress...Dobby must help you Dobby must help you to get well Master Malfoy insists it You is must - Dobby is must - the wedding-?"

Her lips twitched."Dobby, I need you to do something for me. I need you to go to the basement. I need you to find the woman with the glasses, and the dark curls. I need you to find her. I need you to get me more of what she has."

"Of...of what?"

"Of what she has," Narcissa growled, pushing Dobby off the purgatory of her waist to the floor. "Come on, you little cockroach, you know what I mean, you know what I want. Find the girl, Maria, Masala, whatever her name is, who works with Severus. Find her. Get me more."

"But Mistress...what about Master Malfoy, and the wedding?"

"Sod Lucius, and sod his sodding wedding. Go. Go now. Get me more." She pushed him weakly towards the door with her foot, then fell back on her elbows. With a hacking retch she lowered herself back to the floor. As she fell asleep her bowels forgot themselves, giving off an aroma heralded by a terrific blast.

Dobby stumbled away from her. Procuring more of what the Mistress demanded was out of the question, most certainly, but perhaps the potionmasters could provide him with something else; a cure of some sort. Something must be done, and done quickly. The wedding was the next afternoon, and at this rate, the bride would stroll down the aisle in a wheelbarrow.

The house elf collected himself and charged out the open parlor door to the open hall door, running at full speed down the stone floors of the Manor. He did not see Lucius Malfoy, who stood half-hidden behind the entrance to he and his fiancee's chambers, listening to the exchange. He held two fingers two his chin in thought.

"The woman who works with Severus…" he said, his voice so soft it was absorbed by the tapestry beside him.

ooo

The woman who worked with Severus was in the lab with her partner, cradling a dead hamster in the palm of her now-bejeweled hand. She flipped him over, poked at his tummy, lifted his delicate paw on the tip of her now well-manicured fingernail. "Mr. Rigsby," she said.

"Oh, get off it, lab animals die all the time," Severus said. He rummaged through the bag of goods between his feet. As reached for a tightly packed box of test-tubes a gold envelope fell from his breast pocket into the bag. He looked up quickly to see if Myra had noticed, but she was examining the dead hamster, turning him over in her hands. He buried the envelope beneath the mounds of items and turned to her.

"Are you sure you fed him?" Myra asked again.

"Yes, I'm sure. Since when are you so damn sentimental about a hamster? He wasn't even a control. You've had a good five minutes to mourn this terrible loss. Now get over it, I'm sure we have some ridiculous amount of work to do."

"It's not that, Severus, I just...this feels different, somehow."

"Feels, shmeels, we had our fun, now we had better get some work done lest we blow our cover."

Myra's face lit."Our cover?"

Severus pushed the bag underneath a lab table. "Excuse me?"

"You said 'our' cover."

Severus was still for a moment. "I suppose I did."

"So you do want to come with me?"

"I didn't say that." He opened the tube and was pummeled by rolled parchments with potions orders. "Bloody...will you look at this?"

"You as good as said it." Myra beamed.

"I said no such thing, I made no guarantees nor promises nor notorized signatures, please, now just be quiet and let us get on with things, will you? And put the infernal rodent away!"

"Fine." Myra made a great show of tossing Mr. Rigsby in the nearest trash bin. "Back to work it is, then. Today, tomorrow, the next day and the next. Fine, if that's how you want to live your life."

"I don't want that, Myra, it's just-"

The lab door flew open. They both looked with a start to Dobby, who rushed instead of to Severus, to Myra. She tried to back away but the elf had a death grip on her robes. She raised her hands in the air and looked to Severus, who only shrugged.

"Miss, you need is must be helping me! Dobby needs your help! Mistress Vontaine she is ill from the thing which only you can give her! You must is needing helping her! She is to be married tomorrow and you is must be needing to help her! To make a potion, a cure!"

"There is no cure," Myra insisted.

"Are you sure about that?" Severus asked.

Myra glared. "Yes, I'm sure."

Severus crossed his arms. "Something pallative, then? Enough to get her through that travesty of a wedding?"

"Yes!" Dobby cried. "A pal - a palla - palla- acapella, yes!"

"Since when are you so concerned with Narcissa's well being?"

He shrugged. "Isn't it in all our interests to keep things running smoothly?"

She looked aghast. "Would you stop with the mixed signals?"

"Mixed nothing, Malfoy was on my back about this yesterday. As you can see I have enough to attend to," he said, gesturing to the piles of parchment orders. "Your Stunner, your tweaked out bride, you deal with it. I would strongly suggest taking a stroll up to Knockturn and seeing what you can see."

Dobby yanked at her robes. Please, miss, I is begging you please, please, you must is help!"

"Fine, fine." Myra said, kicking the elf aside. "I'll see what I can do."

ooo

Myra, irritated, threw on her cloak and portkeyed to Knockturn alley, where she was greeted by the familiar smells and sounds; rare soured vegetables, sickly sweet sex brews, body odor, outraged yelling, shattering glass. Parts of the alley were roofed by rotting wood boards, so light came through in bands that cast off some wench's warted nose, another's pallet of shining potion bottles. Myra had materialized in the small space between two shops and behind a tall barrel, her usual stop-off. She tested the air for anything to be found for Narcissa. She figured she'd use ReAnimator, a strong reviver used to animate the terminally ill for one last family function, or failing that, the Imperius curse performed by a sympathetic puppeteer. She threw the hood of her cloak over her head, walking quickly and with purpose, senses attuned to anything that might be of use.

Rounding a dark corner she stepped on something soft yet resistant. She lifted her boot to reveal a human hand, connected to an arm, presumably connected to a body hidden by the darkness. She gasped and stepped away, only to have her other boot scrape against something. She had stepped on a tooth.

She stared for a moment, but only a moment; she had a mission. Just one more stupid chore and this would all be taken care of. She stepped in and out of slates of light, looking for the shop.

"Excuse me," she asked a hooded man sitting on a stump, smoking a pipe. His face was turned toward the ground, so all visible to Myra was a bit of chubby chin and a bowl of, presumably, tobacco. "Can you tell me where I can find a bottle of ReAnimator?"

"Second left, half down the alley," he replied. "Morgaine's Closet."

Myra paused for a moment, waiting for the man to extend a hand for payment. He didn't. She thanked him and went on her way. As she melded into the darkness the man lifted his head slightly to reveal a round face with darting beady eyes, pitted skin, a singed wizard's cap, and a shock of dark, wild hair. He rose, drew his cloak around him, and continued silently down the alley after her.

The second left was quite a walk. She tried to pass through the sweaty masses quickly. She noticed an edge of panic to today's crowd, a tension that wasn't usual even for this dark place. People gathered in huddles. Faces looked strained, frightened. There were screams, not of anger, but of shock.

Out of the crowd someone recognized her, waved her down. Upon second look Myra realized it was someone she had sold Stunner to yesterday or the day before. Too late to get out of it now. The young man slapped a heavy hand on her shoulder. His face was sallow and yellowed, his front teeth missing and an incisor threatening to fall out. He exhaled heavily, his breath smelling of rot. "Hey...you...I need some more Stunner. I need some more now. She needs more."

"I don't have-" Myra looked around.

"We can pay you," he breathed, turning out his pocket to reveal a galleon and some knuts. "We can pay you anything you want."

Myra struggled under his grip. "You've got the wrong person."

"No," he breathed. "It was you. It was...please...I need..." His hand loosed on her shoulder, moving down her collarbone to her breast. He crumpled to the ground at her knees. Myra pulled her cloak out of his grip and tried to get away; as she turned she saw a woman sitting against the wall behind him. Her legs were splayed, a petticoat splashed around her knees and one shoe missing. Her eyes, completely yellow and nearly popped out of her skull, pointed in different directions. Her jaw hung open revealing dark gaps where teeth should have been, teeth that were now neatly on her lap. Her chest didn't move.

Myra held her breath and turned in another direction, any direction that would get her away. She ran full-force into an old man. "Others?" he asked, panicked.

"What?"

"Others? More dead?"

"More?"

"More dead!" he cried out. "More dead, over this way!"

The panicked faces of the crowd turned towards the dead couple as Myra made her getaway. She recognized some of the faces. Straight wizards. Aurors. Healers. Struggling to get to the bodies in this dense and panicked space. Cries of people asking for Stunner from someone, anyone.

Blindly she ran down the alley. Crowds of people were gathered around splayed, toothless, yellowed, stinking bodies, littering Knockturn like nutshells; bodies Myra began to recognize. She ran, finally making that second left. She almost fell over a man curled dead in a corner, wearing the same pants she'd complimented him on at Bob's Big Boomshanka.

She rushed into Morgaine's Closet and slammed the door behind her, causing the bell to fall off its hinges. The counterperson laid her copy of the Daily Prophet down neatly on the counter. "Can I help you?"

"I...I..." Myra gasped, looking from the woman out the window and back again. "I need ReAnimator."

She clucked her tongue. "I'm afraid that's not going to help your friends, my dear."

Myra shook. "ReAnimator. Please."

The woman shook her head. "Whatever you want, dearie, if you got the money. Afraid nothing's going to bring all those poor souls back to life. A week you take that drug and dead you are. Pandemic, they're calling it." She creeped, humpbacked, towards a locked cabinet in the back of the store. "ReAnimator won't be re-animating any of them," she chuckled. Poor fools."

She looked back at Myra's ghostly face.

"What?" the woman asked. "Haven't you read the news? See for yourself." She gestured towards the Prophet on the counter, and turned to slowly unlock the cabinet. Myra moved toward the counter, each step an anvil. She picked up the paper, able only to read phrases: death by pleasure, lethal dose, Death Eater plot suspected, hundreds confirmed dead, nicknamed Super Stunner.

Myra could not breath. She blankly pocketed the ReAnimator, unaware of the darting beady eyes watching from outside.

ooo

"Severus," Myra gasped, materializing back in the Lab.

He gave her a cross look over his shoulder. He was running six cauldrons and the lab was, once again, an awful mess of humidity and stink. He was late on half his orders, hung over, and had cast hexes on both the lab door and the order pipe to keep anyone from disturbing him. He had too much on his mind to deal with intruding house elves, Barties, or Luciuses.

His brow furrowed. That didn't sound right. "Myra. Luciuses or Lucuii?"

"Severus!"

"No, Lucius. Plural. How does one say that? But then, why does one care. Bastard." Severus slammed two mixtures together. "I take it you found something for Narcissa? Took you long enough, I could have used your bloody help in here. You must learn to - what are you doing?"

Myra dug in the waste bin. She lifted the stiff little body of Mr. Rigsby, holding him by the foot between her thumb and forefinger for Severus to see. Her face was white, her body vibrating.

Severus blinked. "Your point being...?"

"They're all dead."

"No," Severus said. "Not every hamster is dead. Just that one. I understand that was hard on you, but you'll have to find some way to cope."

"Everyone that kept taking Stunner, Severus, all of them, they're all dead!" She shook Mr. Rigsby at him.

"What are you talking about?"

Myra took a copy of the Daily Prophet from her robes and pushed it into Severus's chest. She stumbled about the lab, gathering her belongings together.

His lips moved silently as he read the paper, then looked up at Myra.

"We have to go," she said flatly. "We have to go, now, before they find us. We'll portkey to the Platform, grab the next train out of Britain, we can be in Nebraska by tomorrow afternoon." Her hands shook as she filled her dragonhide potions bag with her favorite bottles. She looked up at him. "Get your things. Why aren't you getting your things? We have to go."

"Who said anything about we?"

Whatever color was left in Myra's face drained.

"Who said anything about we?" he yelled. "This is you, This is your mess God damn it Myra, what the hell have you gotten yourself into!"

She stumbled against a table. "Please, just get your things, if we leave now we can make it. We still have so much money, we can go to Nebraska and we'll be safe, we'll be safe from all this."

"Why should I put my neck out on the line for you? For your big bloody mistake? How do I know if I go anywhere with you you won't end up killing another small town of people? What then, Myra?" He walked up to her, slamming the paper on the counter. "Was this your great escape from the Death Eaters you so longed to join? In by killing hordes, out by killing hordes?"

"You want out too! You want out of this awful fucking stupid life! I know you do, Severus, goddamn you, you try and act superior, you try to act like you don't hate every waking moment of this slavery, that you don't hate being under Lucius's thumb, but I know you do. I know you. All I wanted to do was to make that possible. To make another life possible for us."

"Why us?" he said softly. "You can leave, Myra, right now if you wish. Why are you so damn intent on taking me with you?"

"I can't just leave you here."

"Can't you?"

She straightened. "No."

Severus hit the table. "What business is it of yours how I choose to live my life? Who gave you the right to judge? So maybe this is not my ideal position, not where I saw myself, not how I wanted things, but this is how things are."

Myra seemed about to yell back, but the resolve left her. She looked at Severus, exhaling a long sigh of admission. Her eyes were a mixture of pity and warmth. "I can't just leave you here, Severus, because you are my friend and I love you. You're the only friend I've ever had and the only person I've ever loved, and you are too good for this. You are far, far too good for this."

He was silent. She looked at the floor.

"I never meant to hurt anyone," she whispered. "I never meant for it to turn out like this. I just...I never...oh. I can't even…" She held her clawed hands to her face. "Sev…can you...can you forgive me?"

He hesitated. "Who am I to forgive you?"

"You're who I have."

"Myra, I..."

He could sense the tension in her body. She didn't breathe. He saw in his mind's eye Myra hanging from a chain, limp, above a cold, windy, bottomless chasm. The image chilled him, a chill that reverberated to bone and back again. His friend was about to break. Keeping her together became more important than condemnation. He calmed himself.

"Is there anything in Stunner that could trace it back here?" he asked softly.

"No chemical markers, no."

"Is there anyone who you sold it to who can identify you?"

"I don't know. Before they died they were asking anyone in sight for it. Except-"

"Narcissa," Severus breathed.

"Oh, my god. Is she alive?"

Severus's senses prickled. The hex he'd cast on the lab door was being tampered with. There was a blast and a squeal, following by a muffled yell.

"Dobby and Lucius," Severus said. "Dry your face. Be still. Let me handle this. Hold on a second!" he yelled at the door. He took out his wand and removed the hex. The door opened to reveal a googly-eyed Dobby and and frustrated Lucius.

"Severus, why in the world would you put a hex on the goddamn door?" He glanced from Severus to Myra. "Ah, I trust your little field mouse is back with something that will revitalize that thing I'm to wed tomorrow. Come now, let's have it. No time to bloody waste, with hexes on the damn door and whatnot."

Myra went to her robes and dug the bottle out. She handed it to Severus.

"What is it?" he whispered.

"ReAnimator."

"Kind of harsh, don't you think?"

"It'll do the job."

"It'll have to." He held to bottle up to Lucius. "Yes, we have it right here. This should sort her right out."

"Good. Come along, Severus, let's get this over with. We've not a minute to waste."

Severus hesitated. "It's quite easily administered, really, you and Dobby can do it, as you see I've got a full sextet of cauldrons on the boil here and-"

"Let her take care of those," Lucius said, gesturing to Myra. "She's proven to be quite adept at such things. Come with me. I want you there in case anything should go awry. Hurry!"

Severus closed his eyes, sighed, and squeezed Myra's hand out of Lucius's sight. "All right. But make it quick."

"Hasn't that been my point all along?"

Severus glared, walking past Lucius with the bottle of ReAnimator. Lucius closed the door behind them, pausing to look at Myra with a knowing, cold smirk.

"Here now," Lucius said, opening the chamber doors.

Severus stepped back at the stench. "That's Narcissa?"

"I'm afraid so."

"You're sure you didn't soak a ham in vinegar and leave it in the sun?"

Lucius grunted.

Severus paused. "You're sure she's...alive?"

"Oh, she's alive." Lucius rolled his eyes. "She took the same stuff that's been killing all those idiots, but from what I understand, I got her off it before it could finish the job. Pity, really. I do wonder if this isn't love's true form." He gestured to his fiancee, lying on her side on the floor. Fluids had seeped from her into the carpet, forming a greenish stain around her. Her breath sounded like cellophane sucked through a bottle.

Lucius cocked his head. "A little color's returned to her face, and she's sweating...one sweats when a fever breaks, am I right?"

Severus ignored him and knelt down next to Narcissa, hoping his nose would numb itself to the smell. He pushed her shoulder, rolling her onto her back. Her eyes fluttered open, now a milky yellow as opposed to egg-yolk. She moaned. "Dobby," she said.

The house elf stepped forward. "Yes, Mistress?"

Narcissa looked up into Severus's face but there was no recognition. "Dobby," she said again. "Dobby, did you get me...more...?"

The house elf looked to Lucuis, who gestured to Severus. Severus produced the bottle of ReAnimator and handed it to Dobby. "Give her this," he said. "This is what she wants."

She reached out. "Dobby."

"Yes, I is here, Mistress." The elf sat cross-legged next to her, and put her head in his lap. "I have what you is needing." He uncorked the bottle of ReAnimator. A burst of sparkling purple smoke rose from it. Narcissa sighed. Dobby held the bottle to her lips. "Drink this."

He poured the potion down her throat, which she accepted eagerly. She smacked her lips, made a small cat noise, and seemed to fall asleep. Dobby looked questioningly at Lucius, who looked angrily at Severus. For minutes nothing happened, and Severus, oddly, felt no fear. Under usual circumstances, had he been unable to save Lucius's fiancee he would have been retarded with panic. As he looked down at Narcissa's motionless face he realized he didn't care whether she lived or died, what that meant for the Death Eaters, or what Lucius might do or have done to him.

Narcissa's back arched, her eyes flew wide as dinner plates. Her arms and legs spasmed and she hacked, hacked, hacked until a great green glob of slime erupted from her mouth. She sat up, emptying the rest of the contents of her stomach onto her lap. Sweat began to pour off her, torrents out every pore, her eyes draining in a steady flow. She looked up at her audience in horror, her face colored, her eyes back to their sharp cold blue, but cheeks still gaunt.

"Oh..oh my god. Oh my god." She looked down at herself, arms dripping. "Oh my god, what happened? Lucius - Lucius-?"

"Your own fault, cow," he sneered. "You'll pay for this."

"No, no, it wasn't, it was -" She paused, choking. "Oh god. Water. Water. I need water." She tried to get up towards the bathroom, stumbled and fell, leaving a trail of sweat. She crawled on hands and knees to the bathtub, choking. Dobby hopped ahead of her, turning on the faucets. She plunged into the tub face-first, bum and legs hanging from the edge, till she managed to drag herself into it entirely, submerging herself as Dobby fretted over her.

Severus jabbed a thumb in her direction. "Side effect," he told Lucius. "She'll need to soak a while. Re-absorb the fluids she's losing."

"How long?"

"A few hours."

"Will she come up for air?"

"Let's hope not." Severus lit a cigarette.

"Cheers to that," Lucius muttered. "Stupid, stupid harpy cunt. To get in such a state right before our wedding. Such fucking disrespect." He sighed. "I suppose I owe you a debt of gratitude, seeing as you fixed her."

Severus didn't respond, only smoked. He wasn't much in the mood to discuss debts or gratitude with Lucius. He wanted to leave that room of stink as soon as he possibly could, but he was exhausted, wanted to finish his cigarette, and, he realized, glancing at the bathtub, he had further business to attend.

Lucius lowered himself to the floor beside him. "Could I bother you for a fag?"

Severus wordlessly gave him the pack.

Lucius lit a cigarette and inhaled. "Quite some stuff, that Stunner, isn't it? Or rather, wasn't it? Had me worried for a bit there. Was cutting into our bottom line something awful."

"I told you, I'm not in the business anymore."

Lucius rolled his eyes. "I know, I know. Yet still, let's discuss this Stunner, shall we? You've heard the news, I expect, and you realize the Ministry is quite anxious to get their hands on whoever was responsible for this. I can only imagine what would happen to those people. Terrible, terrible things. And of course they think we're behind it. The Death Eaters, that is." Lucius leaned in close to Severus. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"

"About what?"

"About any Death Eaters involved in Stunner?"

Severus sighed dramatically, even as his chest went cold. "What are you getting at?"

Lucius stared hard at him. "Did you have anything to do with this, Severus? Were you trying, in your ninny little passive aggressive way, to put us out of business?"

"I'd never produce anything that clumsy and unprofessional. Don't insult-"

"Because," Lucius continued, "in the interest of said debts of gratitude, if you were to have been involved, well...I could see to it that you are never implicated. I have connections in the Ministry. A word from me and-"

"I wasn't bloody involved."

"Ah. Very well then." Lucius took a long drag off his cigarette and stared at Severus. "Do you have any idea who was?"

"Not a clue." Severus said, flat, but unable to meet Lucius's eyes. "Probably some kid who thought he was onto something. The whole production was too...unplanned, obvious, accidental. We're smarter than that. It was just some teenager with a potions kit in his mum's basement, I suspect."

Lucius looked at Severus, puzzled, for a few long moments. He sighed and took another drag off his cigarette. "Well. Let's just hope this kid doesn't come up with something just as addictive and a lot less lethal, shall we? We wouldn't be able to compete with that."

Severus smoked.

"Oh, and...I need a favor. I need you to speak at the reception tomorrow."

Severus choked. "W-what? Why me?"

"My other best man died from Stunner. Just make something up, you know, about love and chains and whatnot. You're literate enough. Oh, and make sure that Myra of yours is in attendance, will you, in case Narcissa has...difficulties?"

"Of course."

There was a splash and a flail from the bathroom. Severus leaned forward, looking a lot more interested than he actually was. Narcissa's wet blonde head popped above the rim of the tub, gasped, and went under again. Severus stood up, pretending to be alarmed, grabbing for his wand.

"What?" Lucius said.

"You may want to leave the room," Severus said solemnly. "I need a moment alone with her."

"Whatever for?"

"I have to do a supplemental curative spell and your presence may cause it to backfire."

"Surely-"

"Do you want a bride tomorrow or not?"

Lucius paused, looking from Severus to Narcissa and back again. "Fine." He put out his cigarette on the Persian rug. "I have things to do anyway. Just fix it." He stalked out of their chambers, slamming the door behind him. Severus waited till he heard his footsteps fade down the hall. He went to the bathtub, where Narcissa was peacefully submerged.

He thrust his hand into the cold water and grabbed her by the hair, yanking her head out of the tub. She spat and fought, but before she could scream he aimed his wand at her and commanded "Obliviate!"

Her eyes went soft. Severus pulled her face close to his. "You don't remember anything. You have no idea who sold you Super Stunner. It was passed to you by a perfect stranger in a club, you have no memory of his name or face. You know nothing. You'll be married tomorrow well, healthy, with all your faculties intact, but you will have no memory of where you obtained that drug. And you-" he aimed his wand at Dobby, "I order you, from now till your death, never to reveal where Narcissa got Stunner. Should you break this order you will wrap yourself in tin-foil, throw yourself into the nearest oven and broil yourself. Do you understand?"

"Y-yes, Master Snape."

He yanked on Narcissa's hair. "Do you understand?"

She nodded, what little she could.

He released her and she fell back into the bath.

"Soak," he spat,and stormed out of the room.

ooo

Barty was completely embraced. He'd never felt such a sensation before, as though he were a newborn kitten curled within the warm circle of its mother. He was sleepy yet his body hummed with satisfaction. It was so pleasurable to lie still, so pleasurable that he had to move, then to lie still again. He accidentally cracked a knuckle against the firm, warm body next to him, all around him, and it felt so good it was as though a demon was excorsized from the joint.

"I feel like I don't know Lucius anymore," Barty said.

"Nor do I," Voldemort replied softly.

"I don't think he's mine anymore," Barty said, not afraid of offending his new lover with mention of the old; the Dark Lord had emphasized that Barty could tell him anything.

"Nor mine. Well, he'll always be mine, you're all mine, but in that way...no. I've no interest any longer." Voldemort's soft, comfortably elongated, satisfyingly firm, shape-shifted body moved to accommodate Barty. The boy purred and snuggled.

"Oh no," Barty sighed. "I don't want him. Not anymore. Not if...I mean, not if..."

Something of Voldemort's, a finger, a tentacle, a proboscis of some sort, lifted Barty's chin. "Not if what, dear boy?"

Barty's watery blue eyes met his master's inhuman red ones.

"Not if I can have you," Barty said.

"You can have me, whenever you want if you wish, if you swear fealty to me," Voldemort said.

Barty giggled. "I did already, silly," and tapped Voldemort's no-nose. The Dark Lord blinked at the tap, like a cat. Barty giggled and tapped his no-nose again, and the Dark Lord blinked again. This little love-game went on for a few more moments, until Voldemort moved so his pale upper body hovered over Barty's and he looked directly into the boy's eyes.

"Say what's on your mind," he said.

"I...I swear to you that I'll love you and only you, forever," Barty said, somehow sensing this was what he was to say.

"And...?"

"I'll do your bidding, yours and only yours, forever and ever."

"And?"

"I'll...I'll do everything I can to see that your wishes are carried out, forever and ever."

"Even if...?"

"Even if...even if it means death or torture, I'll be yours and love only you, and be your faithful servant, forever and ever. Even if I have to break out of Azkaban, disguise myself as an Auror I've really locked in a trunk and pretend to be him for a year straight in order to perform a not-very-well-thought-out killing, I'll do your bidding, again and again and again, forever and ever."

Voldemort smiled. "Very good, my boy."

And then he slid and vibrated and adjusted his form to whatever he knew would please Barty at that moment, and in that way put another Dark Mark on him, in a very different place.

ooo

The sun was up and the cauldrons had been covered with wooden lids and left to simmer. For a half hour there had been calm and silence in the lab, and the whole Manor seemed to be at rest; only Myra and Severus remained awake, sure to give whichever potion that clockwise or counterclockwise left-hand stir whenever which timer went off. Severus was calmer than Myra but only by a small increment. He'd spent a great deal of the past night trying to convince Myra that he'd diffused the situation for the moment, that they were safe for one more day, that if they didn't show at the wedding someone would be sent after them with a lot less restraint than an officer of the Ministry.

"If we'd left last night we could have been halfway to Nebraska by now, Myra said, her face white. She was on the green couch with her knees pressed together and shoulders hunched.

"If we had some beans we could make beans and toast. If we had some toast."

"Thanks for that."

"Anytime." Severus lit a cigarette.

"Will you come sit with me?" Myra asked, her voice barely a whisper.

"Oh, don't start with the needy-"

"If you were going through what I'm going through you'd have shat yourself long ago, so get over here and sit with me, will you?"

He shook his head and plopped down on the couch next to her. "Would you like me to materialize a cup of chamomile tea while I'm at it?"

"Would you?"

"Honey and lemon?"

"Please."

Severus waved his wand. A steaming mug appeared in his hand.

"I didn't you'd actually do it," Myra said, taking the mug.

"It's just a damn cup of tea. It's not like I killed thousands of people."

Myra froze.

Severus hunched his shoulders. "Uncalled for. I apologize. I am a loaf."

"No," was all Myra could manage as she sipped her tea. "No, there's no way to make light of it. I wish there were."

"Don't give up hope. Anything can be mocked. Anything and everything. That's how we'd get through life together. Constant hilarity. You and I can make anything laughable. And I imagine there'd be plenty to laugh at in the states. Good god."

Myra cracked the barest hint of a smile. "You'd adore the politics. And the awful crap excuse they have for nightly news. The BBC makes American news look like twenty-four hour children's programming."

Severus shook his head. "Afraid I haven't much basis for comparison there, but I'll take your word for it."

"You honestly think you'd be comfortable in Muggle society?"

"I'm not comfortable in society, why should it matter which one?"

"Good point." She was silent for a moment. "We could live in one of the huge abandoned manses right on the Falls. We could have a lab, make new potions, perhaps even ship them from there to Salem for a little income. We could have a library and a sitting room, a nice big kitchen...oh, I miss cooking."

"You cook?"

"Used to. I can bake bread that'll make you come."

Severus rolled his eyes. "That's easy."

"Without magic."

"Ah! Well. I look forward to that."

She chuckled. "Coming?"

"Always."

Myra smiled. "I'm glad you've decided to come with me," she said softly.

Severus considered this. "It'll take some practice but I'm sure we can make it happen."

She hit him on the arm. "That's not what I meant, you ass." She sighed. "Running off with a fugitive isn't. I mean. It probably isn't the best way to get out. It wasn't what I planned. I mean I never planned on being a fugitive or all...all those people...this wasn't how I wanted it, Sev, I screwed up. I screwed up bad."

"Badly."

"Badly. Are you sure you want to come? Because I...I don't want you to get hurt. Not on my behalf."

Severus took a long drag off his cigarette. "How very gallant of you. And the truth is, no, I'm not sure. I'm not sure in the least."

Myra flinched like he'd blown a dart in her neck.

"What you said before is true. I hate the utter lack of respect here. I feel like I made a deal and that deal was reneged. I'm not getting what I was promised, but then, I think, I was so starry-eyed at the time, maybe I misunderstood...then again, what does one expect when one makes a deal with the Dark Lord?"

"You expect what you're promised?"

Severus shrugged. "I can't remember what I was promised. Not really. Not in any concrete way. What solid thing did I think was going to come of this?"

"I don't know what he promised you, but my blood isn't any more pure than the day I was born."

Severus leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "Maybe that's they key. This whole Death Eater thing is a bait-and-switch operation."

Myra nodded. "And you're not sure you want to come with me?"

He was silent for a few long moments. "When the choice, Myra, is to rot or to run...half of me says run, and the other half says hang yourself." He looked at her. "Running is the less painful proposition. So if I'm going to run, I may as well run with you."

He put his hand on her knee.

"Well. That's probably the sweetest thing you've ever said to me," she said.

Severus averted his eyes. Swallowed. "Earlier you said that you..." He trailed off. "That I was too good for this. I believe that's the only sweet thing that's ever been said to me. And perhaps the only true thing as well."

Myra gave him a sideways smile. "Leave it to you to self-aggrandize."

"You know me."

"That I do. So," she said, "can the man who just gave me a cup of tea give me a hug?"

He rolled his eyes. "You sappy thing."

"Come here." Myra wrapped her arms around him, resting her head on his chest. He sighed with more impatience than he actually felt, yet let his arms drape around her and his chin rest on her head.

"We need to start getting ready for the wedding," Severus said softly.

"Just like those sadists to hold the ceremony at nine in the morning."

"I'm sure the whole affair will be painful as possible," he replied.

"Bloody bastards." She raised her face to his.

He kissed her.

"What was that for?" Myra whispered.

"You started it."

"Did not."

"Did too."

She kissed him, a long, soft kiss. "I started that."

"Whatever, let's finish it," Severus replied. Their lips met and there sounded throughout the manor an earsplitting chime, as though a five story alarm clock had gone off in the front lawn. They jerked apart.

A voice boomed, "Residents of the Manor, please rise to meet a new day, the day of the Malfoy / Vontaine wedding It is now eight fifteen in the morning. This notice is to all those who may still be in bed - don't you think it would be a good idea to get up? It would be such a shame to be late. A deadly shame. Please remember that during the ceremony and reception there will be no apparating on or off the Manor, so if your robes are at the dry cleaners, you have a long walk ahead of you. Thank you, enjoy your respective breakfasts, and see you at the ceremony!"

"I told you they'd make it painful as possible," Severus said.

"We heard that," the voice boomed.

ooo

Narcissa Vontaine soon-to-be Malfoy was being strapped into a corset. She held onto a bedpost with one hand and chugged a bottle of water with the other. She was surrounded by at least twenty giggling, pecking bridesmaids, whose peachy youth and enthusiasm were a sharp contrast to Narcissa's still-sunken eyes and sickly complexion. Whichever bridesmaid was pulling at her corset strings yanked hard enough to make Narcissa spill the water over her face. A little went up her nose. She sputtered.

"As it's my wedding day, I don't think it'd be impolite to say I don't know who the hell half of you are," she spat. A few of the girls looked up in surprise. "Yes, you cows. What are you doing here? Are you Lucius's relations? Will I have to get to know all your names and pretend I care about your children?"

"Don't mind her, she's just a bundle of nerves this morning," said a silky voice from the door. There was a chorus of gasps. Voldemort had entered the bride's dressing room in full wedding regalia, which consisted of a white llama pelt fur so thick it nearly tripled his actual size. He slipped the coat off to reveal a form-fitting white unitard pantsuit, on which, in transclucent green sequins and feathers, writhed a Chinese dragon. He wore white silk gloves with (presumeably) blood-stained fingertips, equally blood-red lipstick, and huge black bug-eye sunglasses. His black hair was in sharp, slick braid down his back, and on his head was a red Chinese rice farmer's hat. The bridesmaids swooned and clapped as the dragon on his pantsuit swam across his chest and down his legs, where it hovered over the massive circumfrence of his bellbottoms. On his feet were fourteen-inch patent white platforms, which sparkled when little bits of matter and antimatter collided in the leather.

He shoved Narcissa's corset-stringer out the way and stood next to the bride, hands on her shoulders. "Congratulations my dear, you look fabulous this morning, like an absolute corpse. Whiter than the dress you're to wear. You've got some dark circles, my dear, have you tried a coconut compress?"

"You flatter me, my Lord." Narcissa replied.

"No, I don't." He clapped his hands and gestured at one of the bridesmaids. "You, get this woman a compress, stat, she looks overworked. But of course you would, I heard you were on a bender that'd put me to shame, you hedonistic, undignified little tramp. But you look fabulous, my dear, just fabulous, honestly. You look like a drab hotel maid next to me, but isn't that the point?"

"Certainly," Narcissa said through grit teeth.

Voldemort clapped his hands. "Oh, I just adore, weddings, adore them. I simply must be part of the pre-show." One of the bridesmaids handed Voldemort the coconut compress and he slammed it onto Narcissa's face, rubbing it around. "I. love. weddings! Barty!"

Barty appeared coyly around the corner, dressed in a black tuxedo. "Yes, my Lord?"

"Lover darling, make me a smoothie, will you? I'm parched from all this prep work, oh." Voldemort threw the compress to the floor and sighed, collapsing into an armchair. "Closest I'll get to being a bride myself one day." He gestured to Narcissa. "Dress her, you ninnies, dress her!"

ooo

The wedding was to be held in the expansive backyard of the Malfoy Manor, if one could call it that; it was not so much a backyard as a perfectly groomed, sparkling green meadow only little smaller than Iowa. The trees were draped with laurels of roses and white banners of silk. A great mass of chairs had been set out in rows facing the huge altar, which was hand-twisted of gold and steel into a complicated terrace of vines and blooms, complete with thorns sharp enough to draw blood. The guests had arrived fearful and early, and they milled about as a quartet played nervous chamber music.

The front of the manor was rife with Aurors making careful notes of who attended the wedding. Guards had been put upon them, as most were animagi disguised as common outdoor animals. Orders had been put forth to fire stunning curses upon any stray bird or cat which wandered too close, so as the day progressed the front of the Manor started to look like a Pink Floyd show.

One of these gaurds, a certain nondescript Grindow Holland, was taking aim at a yellow-eyed, scruffy black owl perched on a branch over the roundabout. Just as he was about to fire, he felt a hand on his. He turned, surprised to find a tuxedoed Lucius Malfoy.

"Not that one," he whispered.

Grindow lowered his wand. The owl flew up and over the roof of the manor to the backyard.

ooo

Severus had had to dig his old dress robes out of where they'd long ago fallen off the hanger in the back of his wardrobe. He was surprised to see that he still had them. The last time he'd worn them was to some ridiculous fancy-dress party the Dark Lord decided would be instantly held one winter night. The entire manor was forced to eat petit-fours and sip tea out of thimbles while speaking Old English dialect, then sit perfectly upright and listen to the Dark Lord recite a forty-seven page epic quatrain on manners he had composed. No one ever spoke of the tea party again, but for weeks afterward the fear that it would become a regular event hung heavily on the Manor.

He slipped the robes on and dusted them off, bothering only a cursory glance in the mirror. It wasn't worth it. Down the hall he met Myra, who wore a maroon paisley fifties house dress complete with moth-eaten petticoats.

"Ugh. Do I look like June Cleaver meets The Telltale Heart?" She smoothed her skirt.

"You look fine. Can I have a moldy cookie, corpse mum?"

"Oh, god. It's all I had."

He put his hand on the small of her back as they walked down the hall. "Come on, no one's here to look at us. I'll be a fair bit shocked if the Dark Lord doesn't fire neon doves from his armpits."

"Think Narcissa is walking?"

"She's fine, I'm sure. Re-Animator. I wouldn't have thought of that. Nice work. Oh good Christ." He stopped for a moment, holding his fingers over his mouth.

"What?"

"I just remembered Lucius asked me to give a speech at the wedding. I have to think of something to say."

"Are you kidding? Why you?"

"You killed his first choice."

"Fuck."

"If it's any consolation you didn't hold a wand to their heads and make then take Stunner," Severus said quietly.

"Don't bother. I plan on spending the rest of my life drowning in endless guilt. The fact that I'm still in shock is the only thing keeping me together. I'd kill myself as soon as we got to Nebraska, but then you'd be bored."

"You're going to entertain me with your endless self-pity?"

"Oh sure, and you'll do likewise. We'll be great team. You, me, and remains of the town I murdered. But hey, we can always liven things up with board games. And I have a great collection of 45's. But I mean... I'm going to be pure slime. Probably for years."

"Sounds...great. Hey. Cheering charms."

"There's that."

Severus's mouth twitched. He glanced at an alcove behind them where there was a window overlooking the reception. He gently took Myra's arm and guided her to it. They watched the crowd gather in silence for a few moments.

"I do have something," Severus said. "Something that could help you with that. A potion I formulated back at Hogwarts. Thoroughly illegal. It causes long-term memory loss, to be replaced with a history of the administer's choosing. You could, write down whatever history you want to remember, and I'll tell it back to you, and I'd never…."

Mya looked out the window. "You'd carry that burden for me?"

"Certainly. Myra, you've never been hesitant when I was in need of aid. Besides," he said clasping his hands greedily, "it gives me a chance to test it on a human subject."

Myra looked up at him, eyes wide.

"I'm kidding. Well I'm not, but I'm certain it'd work."

Myra was silent, looking out the window.

"It's an option," Severus said. "How do you feel about it?"

"Oh Severus," Myra said. "I can't feel anything." She put her hands on either side of his neck and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. "Other than gratitude," she whispered, "that I ever knew you."

They kissed for a long time, longer now that there was no chime to interrupt them. Only the dark solid presence of the Manor and the ever-present shuffling footsteps, the light warm light through the window. They stood holding each other. Severus gently kissed her forehead.

A harried-looking Dobby watched silently from the hall, waiting for one of them to acknowledge him. When neither did he gave a polite, tiny cough. Severus gave the house elf a hawklike look over Myra's curly head.

"You must is coming going, Master Snape, Mistress Psue," he said. "Wedding is starting."

Severus's eyes met Myra's. "Are you ready?"

"Yes." She squeezed his hand. "Let's go."

ooo

"...and of course, I had killed six wizards before breakfast and hatched a plan to do away with most of Manchester when I heard Lady Malfoy was in labor. So I promptly designed some protective spells for the boy, spells of such genius and magnificence they've never been matched by any wizard, anywhere, ever, by anyone, and never will be. Oh, and I almost forgot, a week before that I had begun the outline on my soon-to-be-bestseller "How I Conquered The Wizarding World (And Now You Are My Slave)", which will be released as soon as I have usurped all power from the insignificant witches and wizards that dare challenge me. Yes, that was quite a day. That was the day little Lucuis Malfoy was born."

Lord Voldemort, who stood in front of the bride and groom wearing a priest's collar, smiled and nodded toward Lucius. "And now here we are, on this joyous day, as man and woman are to become Man and Wife."

Lucius squeezed Narcissa's hand, not so much out of tenderness as to keep her awake. She had almost nodded out twelve times during the Dark Lord's fifty minute speech. She startled, smiling numbly at Lucius and Voldemort. The groom glanced out to scan to crowd to see if anyone noticed, and for a millisecond met eyes with Severus, who sat near the back of the congregation next to Myra. Lucius's eyes rested longer on her than Severus, which registered as unusual somewhere in Severus's mind, but quickly filtered away again.

He glanced at Myra. Her face was stolid and unreadable, somewhere else. He nudged her with his elbow. She looked up with a start.

"All right?"

"Nervous."

"Don't be," said the woman next to them, beaming. "They'll have beautiful children."

There was a long pause.

"Right," Severus said.

Voldemort boomed, "by the power vested in me by myself, I now pronounce you Man and Wife! You may kiss the bride."

There was thunderous applause as Lucius took his sleepy bride by the shoulders and kissed her roughly on the lips. White rose petals rained down from the trees as he mashed his mouth to hers and put her back solidly on her feet. Lucius made a sweeping gesture to Voldemort, who bowed with as much modesty as he could muster. The gathering leapt to their feet.

"And now..." Voldemort began. He waved his hand and tables appeared, piled high with tiered silver platters of food. "We eat! Eat, you maggots! Eat your fill! EAT!"

Everyone stared at the Dark Lord, startled silent.

"Excuse me," he said. "I just love weddings so. I get all worked up. I SAID EAT!"

The guests charged to the tables assigned to them on the cards they had received before the ceremony, some knocking each other over in the process. "Christ," Severus muttered as he located their table and pulled out chairs for Myra and himself. They watched the Death Eaters running past in a flurry, collapsing into their seats as though the record kept skipping in their game of musical chairs. Myra and Severus glanced at each other, the only still people in the mass of confusion.

The bride and groom toasted the gathering, toasted each other, toasted Lord Voldemort, as the guests ate plate after plate of delicate pastries and endangered species. Severus chewed numbly on a sparkling onion tartlet as he tried to piece his speech together. Myra was very still, shoulders tense, pushing the yolk of a quail egg around an otherwise empty plate.

"Severus," she said quietly, "when do you speak?"

"After this guy, I think." Some portly, drunken uncle was guffawing about something or other as Lucius looked on, barely trying to hide his boredom. Narcissa looked hypnotized by the ropes of her sixth glass of champagne. They and the rest of the wedding party sat on a raised platform under a white linen sunshade. Voldemort sat in the center on a huge throne strung with perfect white roses, a house elf hovering over his glass with a bottle of champagne, pouring every time the Dark Lord took a sip.

Myra glanced up at the afternoon sky. "It's getting late."

Underneath the table Severus patted her knee. "Don't worry about it. Everything's going according to plan. After my speech we'll slip out of here and no one will be the wiser."

She bit her bottom lip, nodding stiffly. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "It's a beautiful day, at least." She watched as a breeze rustled the garlands of roses that decorated the nearby copse of trees, sending a gust of warm, rose-scented air their way. Despite himself Severus inhaled deeply and was filled with a momentary sense of peace.

Myra's hand slipped into his. She squeezed.

"You'd best eat that," Severus said, nodding to her egg yolk. "Long day ahead."

She smiled. It didn't touch her eyes.

"Come on now," Severus said. "Just keep your mind on those pretty roses over there. All right?" There was a cheer and applause. The uncle had finished his speech. Glasses clinked. "I think this is me," Severus said.

Myra leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Good luck."

He squeezed her hand. "Thank you." He rose, straightened his dress robes, and made for the stage. Myra watched him go. She scooped the egg yolk into her fork and swallowed it, then took a deep breath and looked towards the roses as Severus has instructed her. She concentrated on the scent, on the different hues of pink, on the way they pushed against each other in the breeze, and in between them she saw two luminous yellow orbs shifting out of the darkness. Her breath stopped. It was a pair of eyes, a pair of shining, luminous, jewel-like owl eyes.

Myra held her hand over her heart, hypnotized.

ooo

Lucius had suggested something about love and chains for Severus's speech. Severus's mind remained a total blank, but he wasn't nervous. Public speaking was not one of his fears. He knew something would appear in his head once he was on stage. He stepped up onto the platform to shake Lucius's hand.

"Severus," Lucius said. "Thank you so much for all your help."

"Of course. Congratulations." He nodded towards Narcissa. "Congratulations to you too. You look stunning."

Narcissa smiled coyly at Severus. "Say that again?"

"No time for foreplay right now, Narcy, my dear, Severus has a toast to make. Here you are," Lucius said, pouring Severus a glass of champagne. Severus took a slug. He looked out towards the tables. Somewhere near the back he located Myra. She was looking towards the copse of trees with some interest.

Severus cleared his throat and tapped on his glass with his wand. The gathering grew quieter, glaring up at him. He was yet another in a long line of people who'd interrupted their conversations and meals.

Lucius leaned forward and said, "This is Severus J, Snape, our potionsmaster and my dearest, oldest friend." He lovingly clapped Severus on the shoulder, gave a big, broad smile, and settled back into his seat. Severus stared at him, momentarily thrown.

"Yes," Severus began. "My dearest and oldest friend, Lucius Malfoy."

Something in him began to turn nauseated and cold. He pushed the feeling down.

"It is true," he began. "I've known Lucius since we were first years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We were...practically inseparable in those days. Not so much any more, as the pressures of adult life have busied us, Lucius with things I'm sure I don't know about," he paused for light laughter, "and myself with...well, with the requests of you fine people. The bombardment of requests, day and night, constantly, both nessecary and not, by you fine, fine people before me.

"Lucius, being my oldest friend, has always expressed his friendship in unique ways." He paused. "He has shown his friendship to me throughout the years by faithfulness when he was in adversity. He always encouraged my talents and thereby always benefitted from them. He never let anything get between us, especially not my wishes, and he's never failed to remind me just how much I have to gain by my years of association with him. And yes, I have gained a tremendous amount by having Lucius Malfoy stolidly at my side.

"I have gained mostly knowledge. Knowledge about trust, about failure, about respect of the self. I've learned from Lucius the capriciousness of human nature. But the most important thing I learned from Lucius Malfoy is the difference between a false friend," he glanced back Lucius, "and a true one."

He searched the crowd for Myra. Her seat was empty. His heart skipped a beat as he panned the crowd for her. There was a spot of movement by the copse of trees. Myra was there, neck craned, staring at something above her. She stepped into the forest and out of his view.

"I...I..." Severus said. He raised his glass hurriedly. "I wish the couple a lifetime of happiness. Congratulations, Mr. And Mrs. Malfoy. Here here."

"Here here," the crowd said. Severus made to rush off the stage. Lucius stopped him, grinning. "Thank you Severus, beautiful speech."

"You're welcome," he said. "Congratulations to you both." Severus hurried down the steps trying not to look hurried, then slipped into the copse after Myra.

"Dammit," Lucius muttered, watching him go.

ooo

Severus stalked the relatively dark copse, shoulders hunched and head forward like a bull. "Myra," he hissed, "Myra!", but the trees yielded nothing. The air was deep, organic, and thick. The light through the canopy was dim, what little of it came through the leaves was a soulless gray-green, illuminated by floating specks of golden dust.

His chest was tight and there was a chill on his skin. He pulled his cloak around him, noting that the shade alone couldn't account for a temperature differential quite this drastic. He ignored the discomfort and searched on.

What in the world could have dragged her in here at a time like this?

He stepped lightly over the gnarled roots of a billion-year-old tree. He put his hand on the rough bark, circled the trunk, and saw her. She stood with her back to him, arms limp at her sides, staring up at something in the trees above her.

"Myra!"

She tilted her head towards him almost imperceptibly.

"Have you gone mad? What are you doing in here?"

She pointed up. "Look," she said.

Severus walked to where she stood and looked up. In the branches above them was the sharp silhouette of an owl, black save two eerie golden eyes, which stared down at Myra as fervently as she stared up at them.

"That's...that's a very nice owl, Myra, but we have to go now." He put a hand on her shoulder, trying to move her. She shook but didn't budge, slack-jawed, fixated on the bird.

"Come now, it's cold in here, Myra." He took her hand. "Let's go, now. Let's go."

Severus looked up at the owl, which didn't acknowledge him. He was tempted to fire a curse at it but not before he knew what he was dealing with.

A twig snapped behind them.

Severus whirled.

Lucius Malfoy appeared, dashing in his white tuxedo. He held his hands clasped behind his back. He bore a closed-mouthed, expressionless smile and oddly glinting eyes.

"Severus," he said.

"Ah, Lucius. You'll have to excuse my hasty exit, my assistant here-"

"Why don't you get back to the reception?" Lucius interrupted. "The band's playing waltzes and we'll be cutting the cake soon. The Dark Lord's so festive he's started casting prospertiy charms. You wouldn't want to miss that."

"No no, not for the world," Severus replied, clapping both hands on Myra's shoulders. "I think my assistant here has had a bit too much to drink, as you can see. Just let me get her sorted and we'll be right there. Myra? Myra!" Severus turned back to Lucius, feigning sheepishness. "Just like her, you know, one glass of champagne and she's blitzed."

"She's not drunk. I'm afraid she's quite hypnotized by that animagus up there."

"Animagus?" Severus looked up at the owl. "But...who?"

Lucius sighed. "Please go back to the reception, Severus.

Severus paused, calculating, pushing down the fear brewing in his blood. "I'd really rather see to it that she's sorted if you don't mind."

"Severus, please. Go back to the reception."

"Lucius...what is going on here?"

The blonde man shook his head. "I was hoping you wouldn't have to bear witness to this but you leave me no choice. Ah, well." Lucius jutted his chin up at the owl. "Moody!"

The owl vanished from the tree and reappeared on the ground. In that speck of time it had broken eye contact with Myra, who woozily fell back onto Severus's hands. She shook her head, dizzy, wincing. Severus watched the bird as it crumpled and grew and mutated into a hulking, scraggly-haired, rounded-chin man with pitted skin and a disheveled, singed wizard's cap.

"Malfoy," he grunted, voice saturated with disgust.

"So glad you could make it," Lucius said. "Please, please, let us make our proper introductions. Severus, this is Alastor Moody. You may have heard of him. He works for the Ministry as an Auror."

Severus's blood ran frigid. He'd certainly heard of him.

"And this, Moody," Lucius continued, "is Miss Myra Psue, with whom I know you are familiar. Miss Psue seems a bit out of sorts but I'm sure she'll be right as rain in a moment." He adjusted his jacket. "The other afternoon, as I was sorting through some old files, I saw something quite shocking, Severus. Something quite shocking about our friend Miss Psue."

"Can we bloody well get on with this?" Moody grunted.

"All in due time, Moody. Severus, you see, I discovered that Miss Psue, this quiet, nondescript little mouse," he lifted her chin with his index finger, "was responsible for the Tokyo Falls Massacre. Seven thousand innocent souls Can you imagine such a thing? And you can imagine I knew the proper authorities must be notified posthaste?"

"I can't imagine that, no," Severus replied.

"It was rhetorical." He gave a heavy sigh, "I'm afraid that the Manor can't keep such a murderous fugitive under its employ. We try to do our part for the Wizarding community, as you know, and Moody knows."

Moody snickered. Lucius artfully ignored it.

"Severus ... Severus, what's going on?" Myra muttered to him, blinking awake.

"Shh," he said.

"So you see," Lucius continued, "I gathered the evidence of her crime - quite a bit available in those files, you know, more than enough to convict, and sent them off to Mr. Moody here, who presented those files to his superiors. He has returned to us, with, sad to say, a warrant for her arrest and sentence." Lucius made a grand gesture towards Moody, who stepped forward, unrolling a scroll he'd taken from his cloak.

Moody began, "Miss Myra Psue, you have been found guilty of seven thousand counts of murder in the first degree, an offense punishable by-"

Myra evaporated. Severus stumbled forward, sucked in by the vacuum of air she left. A small brown lizard skittered over the dead leaves.

"There she is," Lucius said calmly.

"I see her," Moody replied, training his wand on her. An instant passed. A explosion of light burst from Moody's wand and Myra burst forth into full human form, running like hell. Lucius fired something red and glowing at her feet, which tripped her. Myra flipped on her back, trained her wand on Moody, firing something slick, silver, and sharp from her wand. There was an arc of blood as Moody stumbled backward, holding his hand over his face, yelling - another burst of light not a millisecond after the first and Lucius hit the ground, face contorted in pain as he held his shin to his chest.

Myra got to her feet and charged away.

Severus ran after her.

"Get her!" Lucius shrieked after him.

Myra glanced back at him, eyes wide, as though for a second she expected Severus to actually be chasing her with the intent to "get" her, but it only took a moment of contact to know this wasn't the case.

"Don't follow me! Go away!" she cried, dodging behind a tree.

"Myra! Myra, stop!" He put forth his fleetest foot and caught up with her, taking her by the shoulder to force her to a stop. She wriggled away from his grasp and aimed her wand at him.

"Don't make me." Her lip quivered. "Please, Sev."

He put his hands up. "Myra, listen to me-" he replied before he knew he had nothing for her to listen to.

"He sold me," she whispered.

Severus was speechless. "Yes."

"You have to get out of here, Severus. You have to get away from me. Something awful's going to happen. It's here. It's here in the forest, I know it." She held her wand steady on him. She shook her head, eyes welling. "I knew it would happen. One day...one day I knew this would come around for me."

"Don't talk nonsense!"

"Go," she pleaded. The cold turned smoky and demanding. Myra trembled. The frustrated voices of Moody and Malfoy echoed. She jumped. "They'll kill me, they'll find a way, it's only a matter of time."

"Apparate out of here," he commanded. "I'll meet you when I can."

"I can't," she said.

"Of course you can."

"No, I can't, and neither can you. The entire Manor is blocked for the wedding. Oh, it's coming, can't you feel it?" Her teeth began to chatter.

"What's coming?" Severus asked, though he felt a deathly chill and knew. He knew that sick cold that came over them like wet concrete. The air became too thick to breathe, and miasma of misery hit him like a hammer to the throat.

Myra rocked back and forth on her feet before falling to her knees, as a dark, floating, scabby-handed, hooded creature floated on a mist from the depths of the dark copse. Every bit of warmth left them.

"A dementor," Severus said. "Moody brought a demetor." Severus raised his wand, weakly, as a lifetime of hurt and destruction bubbled within him. "Expecto...expecto...," he fell to his knees. There wasn't enough to summon a Patronus.

The dementor hovered over Myra, savoring her. Her long black curls blew away from it, as though that was the only part of her capable of resisting the creature's lure. Severus was so lost in his own world of pain he could barely see her.

"It's finally come for me," she said, dropping her wand, awestruck.

"No."

She closed her eyes and gave a deep sigh, looking almost beatific with the great demon hovering over her. She studied the endless pit of it's face. "There I am," she whispered.

"No!" Severus reached for her, his arm like jelly. "No, Myra!"

The dementor leaned in. Myra took Severus's hand through the watery winds of a dementor preparing his kiss.

"Promise me," she said, "promise me one thing."

"Anything."

Her eyes seared his. "Get out."

She squeezed his hand. A spark of warmth transferred from her to him, and she tilted, back arching toward the demon, eye beginning to shut, mouth beginning to open, her body going limp as the tiny sapphire sphere of humanity rose from her throat.

No. Not like this.

Severus reached for his wand, aimed it at Myra, and screamed "Aveda Kadrava!"

She collapsed. The dementor gave a high-pitched, inhuman shriek, fleeing from the bright green flash. Severus's arm went limp at his side and he fell to the ground, watching the glowing marble of Myra's soul as it hovered for a moment over her body, then shot off into the sky.

ooo

He woke staring into the gaping maw of a vicious monster.

Gasping, he batted the offending thing with his hand and hit rubber. The impending maw jerked away and back again, and he held his hand to his chest; it was just Jackson staring down at him from the bedpost where he hung. Severus exhaled sharply, resting back down into his pillow, glad to be done with whatever nightmare he'd just finished.

"I can't believe you still have that thing," said a voice next to him. Lucius sat beside him in his wooden desk chair, one arm slung over the back, his strange white boot on Severus's mattress.

"What are you doing in here?" Severus asked.

"Waiting for you to wake, of course. You've been quite ill."

"I've...what?"

"The dementor came after you when it couldn't get to her. Had your soul halfway out your body before I stopped it. You're welcome, by the way, and yes my patronus is fabulous, I know."

Severus looked slack-jawed at him, momentarily baffled, before the previous day's events came rushing back to him. His breath stopped.

"Myra," he said, before he could stop himself.

"Yes Myra," he replied. "I've been ever so curious about that. I found her not so much a soulless shell as completely dead. I was wondering if you could possibly illuminate me as to how that occurred?"

Severus felt a stabbing in his chest. "I've just woken up, Lucius, could we do this later?" He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, trying not to reveal any pain.

"I'm afraid not, it's of the utmost importance. Miss Psue was to suffer the loss of soul as per dementor's kiss, not death as per whatever killed her. Moody would have investigated but he had other things to worry about. So I'm to report back to him. For his files, you see."

"Since when are you conspiring with Aurors?"

Lucius snorted. "Since always, you fool. How do you think we keep this operation running? The Malfoys have a long history of lacing the pockets or reputations of certain members of the Ministry. It's tradition."

"Why her?" Severus asked, the knife in his chest twisting.

Lucius raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"

"She was a knowledgable assistant," stab, "and as you've taken her expertise from me I think you owe me an explanation."

Lucius rolled his eyes. "Fine. But only because it's you." He sighed. "I owed Moody a favor from a while back, so I said I'd turn over this miss Tokyo Falls fugitive. Made him look good, great for the papers, we had a deal. She was a peon, after all. No one would miss her."

Stab. "That can't possibly be all," Severus said.

"It very well could possibly be all, but, my astute friend, you're right, it isn't. You're aware that Miss Psue was behind Stunner."

The stab turned into a pickaxe. "I told you I don't know anything about that."

"Oh, that's right, you don't know a thing, amazing how she slipped that under your gigantic nose." Lucius rolled his eyes, snorted. "You see, Severus...in the drug game, there's a thing called supply and demand. Your Myra invented this Stunner. Now, she could have come to me with it, and perhaps we could have gone into business together, the three of us. But she chose to go behind my back and pirate my customers. She couldn't have been very smart, else why would she do such a thing?"

I wanted to make another life possible for us, she pleaded in Severus's mind.

Lucius stretched, resting his hands behind his head like a cowboy. "I wasn't about to let that scheming rat shut me down. So I shut her down first. Good thing, too, she was a fierce little bitch." He glanced down at his leg, the white boot resting on Severus's bed. Severus realized it was not a boot at all, but a cast. "Cunt hit my femur with some degenerative spell. The healer said I'll have to walk with a cane now, do you fucking believe that?"

Severus was speechless.

Lucius shrugged. "The only reason I'm not more upset is that there's a wide array of very fashionable, distinguished canes and I'm betting I can start a fashion. Besides, it could have been worse - Moody lost an eye. A fucking eye. That woman was dangerous. Good riddance to her. That reminds me - how did her riddance occur?"

There was a moment of silence before Severus whispered, "It was me. I - I killed her."

"In self-defense, I'll be kind to presume?"

"Yes," Severus replied hoarsely. "May I rest now?"

Lucius did not hear the request. He was smirking down at Severus, quiet, smug. "I hope, my friend, that you learned a lesson from this."

Severus closed his eyes. "What lesson?"

Lucius looked hard at Severus, so hard Severus could feel it through the thin shelter of his eyelids. "About what happens to people who cross me. How fortunate it is," he said slowly, "that you aren't one of those people."

Silence. There was a fire in Severus's chest but his face didn't betray it. He imagined he was one of his own cauldrons, that he was set for a steady, low burn, and inside him was the potion that would eventually peel the flesh from Lucius Malfoy's wretched bones.

"I'd like a shipment of metapmorphine ready for sale day after tomorrow," Lucius stated softly. "You'll have it ready?"

Under the sheets Severus dug his fingernails into his palm. "Of course."

"Good then," Lucius said, clasping his hands. "I'll let you get your rest. A pleasure, as always." He rose from his seat, unsteadily, step clump step, step clump step, his new gait accompanied by his new cane. The door shut behind him and Severus rolled onto his side, elbows in his stomach.

"At least you got him in the leg," he whispered. "Good on you, Myra." He thought of her hair, her little face rising to kiss him in the hall before the wedding, the feel of her cloak, Nebraska, her different laughs, her glasses sliding down her nose, and then he saw her, and she said-

Promise me one thing.

"Anything," he whispered.

Get out.

Get out of the Death Eaters.

Severus sat up, wiping his face. How the hell was he supposed to get out of the Death Eaters now, without her? And even if he did get out, where would he go if not Nebraska with Myra, to live their quiet little hidden-away life?

Get out, you tell me. Get out how?

He was hot.

He throw the covers off and was startled to see he was still in his dress robes from the wedding. He sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, then stood, slipping the robes off. He walked towards the closet to hang them. His foot caught on something. He looked down to see he was dragging by the handle, from underneath his bed, the bag of trinkets he'd bought that day with her, the rings and clothes and other useless things that now seemed nearly holy, and in the bag he saw a glint, a corner, of gold.

He picked it out. A gold envelope. Minerva McGonagall's gold envelope.

Open this when you're ready.

Severus turned the envelope in his hands. It gave no hint as to its contents. It didn't feel like a curse, or for that matter anything ill-intentioned. It felt strangely compassionate. The envelope knew his woes and inside was a way to fix them. But what could the note inside possibly say to make things right?

Severus considered the envelope, and was compelled to put his dress robes back on. He sat on the edge of the bed, turning it over and over and over in his hands. He thought of smug, self-loving Lucius Malfoy, of being stuck under him, forever. He thought of the Dark Lord, who'd promised him so much and had made so much of his talents, who barely remembered his name. He thought of Myra.

He gently slipped his nail, then his finger under the seal of the envelope. There was a white card inside. He took the card and there was a great rush of air past his face and he was somewhere else, somewhere he'd been before, on the floor of a tall circular office covered in portraits of headmasters past.

He leapt to his feet. There were wands trained on him, a total of ten aurors surrounding him, five on each side of the desk where Albus Dumbedore sat. Severus panted, looking from Dumbledore to the aurors and back again.

Seeing Severus was unarmed, Dumbledore motioned for the aurors to lower thier wands. They did, slowly.

"A pleasure to see you again, my boy," the old wizard said. A chair rolled out to meet him. "Please...have a seat."

ooo

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup and slither while they pass they slip away across the universe...

He'd heard the song, for the first time in a long time, as he walked though Diagon Alley an afternoon a few weeks later. It was stuck in his head, but as it was a beautiful melody, it was welcome there.

Nothing's gonna change my world...

Potions for the lab. Supplies for Lucius's metamorphine. Right. It would be busy in the lab today, the Death Eaters were planning an attack and needed a specific subset of potions, the purpose of which Severus had divined as best he could earlier in the day for Dumbledore. He would have sent his new assistant Grindow Holland out for the supplies but he professed to need some fresh air.

Fresh air.

After their first meeting the old wizard sent him careening back to the Manor, shell-shocked yet exhilarated. Right back onto his bed he landed, sitting up, holding the envelope, next to the wand he'd foolishly not thought to grab. There was a knock on the door. Severus was silent, terrified. Had someone heard him return?

"Is Master sleeping?" came a small voice. "Is Dobby, here with soup, sir."

Severus pushed the envelope under his pillow. "Come in.

The house elf opened the door, carrying a tray with a covered bowl of soup, a mug of something warm, and fresh daisy in a tiny vase. "You meal, Master Snape. Where would Master like it?"

"Oh, just on the desk is fine."

The house elf put the tray on the desk. "Is there anything else you is needing, master?"

"No, no, I'm fine, thank you, Dobby."

"You is feeling better, sir?" the house elf asked entreatingly.

"Yes, I'm much better."

Dobby stepped towards the door and poked his head out the crack. When he was satisfied no one was coming, he said, "Dobby is sorry to hear about the Master's loss, sir. Dobby knows Mistress Psue did not like him, but Dobby is sorry besides." His voice lowered to a whisper. "Dobby is brought something for you."

The elf reached up onto the tray and handed Severus a fancily folded napkin. "I is thinking you would want them. Good afternoon, Master Snape." The house elf bowed and left the room.

Severus unfolded the napkin. Inside was a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. Myra's glasses.

After that day Severus had adopted his usual routine, adapting back to his work environment so fast even Lucius was surprised. He took to his duties with graven silence and extreme diligence. He did whatever Lucius ordered, letting the newlywed prince think he'd broken him. He made the metamorphine on time, recited poetry to a bored Narcissa, did whatever was asked of him with the obedience of an old dog.

He never mentioned Myra. He did not so much as twitch when he started his early mornings in the lab and saw her supplies just as she had left them, tirelessly awaiting her return, just as he suspected a part of him always would be. When Grindow Holland began work in the lab and used her bottles, gauges, and beakers, Severus managed to restrain from strangling him, instead commending him on a job well done when he produced unsubtle potions with soulless, robotic effeciency. He allowed Myra's presence in the Manor to pass quietly away into history everywhere but in him. He slipped her glasses into the inside pocket of his cloak when he went to meet his contacts in the Order.

No one suspected a thing.

In fact, there was only one instance in which he had even been alarmed, and it had to do with Barty Crouch. Since the wedding the boy had been strutting around the Manor, newly calm and silent, his childish giddiness replaced but some newfound maturity and pride. The boy had begin to look oddly at Severus whenever they passed, and Severus, still paranoid, began to worry he knew something. One day Severus decided to engage Barty in conversation, just to see

The boy was in one of several lounges. He held a martini and gazed out the window over the expanse of backyard, sitting back with authority. He looked not unlike to a contemplative, stern Lucius Malfoy. He turned the stem of the martini glass between his thumb and index finger while Severus ordered himself a vodka neat.

"Barty," Severus said, "long time no see."

"Hm."

"How have you been?"

"Fine, thanks. Yourself?"

"Well. Mind if I have a seat?"

"I'd be delighted." Barty gestured to the chair opposite him. They sat in silence for a few long moments, listening to the birds chirping outside and the gentle piano in the next room. Severus drank his vodka.

"Barty," he began, "I can't help but notice there's something different about you."

Barty smirked. "Really. How so?"

"Oh, just...hard to pinpoint, really. Your carriage."

"My carriage?" he snickered. "What do you mean?"

"I mean you carry yourself with a new sort of...dignity, I suppose."

"Was I undignified before?"

"Oh no, not at all," Severus said quickly. "But you were, I might say, rather emotional about Lucius's marriage."

Barty laughed. "Lucius? Ha. I can't believe I was so wrecked over such a pansy fruitcake." He shook head head, taking a long drink of his martini.

Severus was wide-eyed with amusement. "You don't say?"

"I do say."

Severus paused, unsure whether to press on, but his curiosity got the better of him. "What happened, if you don't mind my asking, to cause such a change of heart?"

Barty looked reflective for a moment the lean forward, closer to Severus, his face cruel and smug.

"When you have a creature like the Dark Lord as a lover any mortal thing seems awfully boring. He's taught me power like I never knew. I never understood I was so much. I've been enlightened, Severus." He leaned back in his seat, rasing his glass. "Cheers."

"Cheers."

Their glasses met, and Severus realized not only that his double agent dealings couldn't be further from the boy's mind, but that Severus had no more feeling for him, sexual or otherwise. He sipped the bitter vodka. As he watched Barty's self-satisfaction the thought occurred to him that what he had been attracted to in Barty was not his body but his innate purity, a purity that now been quashed by the ministrations of a fiend. Whatever Severus had sought in him was gone.

Now that men were just men he found it easier to work, easier to keep up the charade he pulled every day, every moment. All he had to do was stay under the radar, where everyone expected him to be. He reported to Dumbledore, whose pride in him was an infection Severus didn't want. He resisted the old man's offers of candy and comfort, instead giving him flatly the information he requested in return for protection, for a new life, when the time came.

He'd kept his promise. He had gotten out.

Night after night he finished his work, closed down the lab, pocketing various thing he found that were Myra's, put them in a wooden box in his closet. A pen, a feather, a book. He folded her tiger pelt corset, neatly, and closed the lid. He found Nebraska on a map, cut it out, and put it on the box. He imagined the house they would have lived in, nights of experimental potions and coffee. Sometimes, late at night in his bed, he thought he saw a blue light in the corner of his vision but it was never there. He woke in the morning. He went back to work.

As time went on Dumbledore became more and more demanding, in his softly manipulative way. Severus tried to crush the resentment when the old wizard asked for the impossible, seemingly unappreciative of the risks he was taking even though he made every effort to show how appreciative he was.

Death Eater plans started to be unraveled by the nigh supernatural knowledge of the aurors. They were getting smarter, everyone figured, thinking more like them. New tactics would have be to attempted. New strategies tested. Voldemort called meetings, often, to inform the Death Eaters of what they needed to know, and seemingly to boost morale.

They gathered before the Dark Lord, kneeling, their marks burning as a reminder of their service. Lucius and Narcissa bowed as well, but Barty Crouch stood near Voldemort, head held high. Everyone was beginning to have a healthy fear of Barty, of his growing fanatical devotion to the Dark Lord.

For this particular gathering Severus was in the front row. He knelt, his head bowed, as Voldemort spoke.

"My faithful Death Eaters, it is you, you who will usher in the coming of the new age. The new age of power. And you will be rewarded greatly in the end. Your work will be the joy of your descendants for generations to come. Rosier!"

Rosier looked up.

"You, Rosier, have shown fealty to me unceasingly though the years. I thank you. And you, Wilkes, have performed acts of savagery, so elegant in their execution - you have made yourself indispensible. And you, Snape."

Severus looked up, up into the face of Voldemort, and saw there, for a moment, the face of Dumbledore, then Voldemort again, and saw that they two were, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable.

The song came back to him. Nothing's gonna change my world...

The Dark Lord took Severus by the chin, his gentle fingers cold. He smiled down at him, his lipless, serpentine smile. Severus didn't breathe.

"Severus Snape. Of all my Death Eaters, I know you would never betray me."

death eaters at the malfoy estate

the end