Cat and Mouse – Epilogue

By Ya Nefer Ma'at

Snape disapparated outside a large stone hunting lodge on the Malfoy estate. He reluctantly approached the oak doors. Lights blazed from the lodge, but not noise… Snape's brows contracted briefly as he noted that Malfoy and his fellow Death Eaters seemed to be unusually quiet in their debauchery. He knocked, closing his face and squaring his shoulders.

The door was opened by Dobby, the Malfoy house elf. Snape followed the bandaged creature through the lodge to the main room. He stopped within the well lit room, casting a comprehensive look around it. It was empty save for Lucius, who was at his ease on a deep leather chair by the roaring fire. He swirled brandy in a crystal snifter, looking quietly up at Snape. A pair of handsome wolfhounds beat their tails as Snape drew closer.

"Please." Malfoy drawled, waving Snape to a second leather chair. "What would you like? Brandy? Elven wine?"

Snape sat slowly, studying Malfoy. He would have felt more in control of the situation if Malfoy had his cronies with him, ending the night with more drinks and rekindling of past escapades. That was quite normal behaviour for the former Death Eaters, these days. Indeed, it was all they had left. The quiet way Lucius met his eyes was hard to interpret. "Brandy, thank you."

Lucius nodded to Dobby, watching coldly as his servant poured brandy for Snape, then crept toward him, decanter ready if he wanted more. He took the decanter before waving the elf away. "I will call you if we need anything more." he snapped dismissively. Snape thought that Dobby's face held a shadow of relief as he apparated back to the manor.

Malfoy raised his glass to Snape. "To you and your lovely bride, my friend." he purred, clinking the snifter Snape slowly raised in return to his, and holding Snape's gaze as he made his toast. They both drank, eyes still locked in silent consideration. "I trust that you settled her to your satisfaction." he probed.

Snape nodded shortly.

"Good. You certainly took your time."

"Not surprisingly, she was rather upset, Lucius." Snape ground out. "I'll thank you to treat her with more respect in the future."

"Of course, old friend. I wouldn't dream of offering anything else to your wife." Lucius spoke disarmingly, his eyes cold above his warm smile. "Where did you leave her?"

"At Spinner's End." Snape reluctantly admitted.

"Ah." Lucius nodded. "I thought as much."

"Where are the others?" Snape asked sharply, once Malfoy let the silence stretch.

"I sent them off." Lucius absently swirled his brandy, enjoying the heady aroma. "You and Miss Al Amar gave me rather a lot to think about." He smiled at Snape. "They were disappointed, of course, but obedient."

"Will they leave Fennen alone?" Snape demanded bluntly.

Lucius chuckled at the cold fury in Severus' face. "Of course, Sev. Do not fear on that account. I have full control of them. I told them that I changed my mind, given Miss Al Amar's status in an ancient and renowned pure blood wizarding family. That silenced them." Lucius considered the matter dispassionately. "They may be out hunting for a substitute among the Muggle women who so stupidly parade themselves late at night, but that is not our concern."

Silence fell as Snape relaxed fractionally. He didn't much like Malfoy's continued obsession with Fennen, obvious behind his polite words. Malfoy looked broodingly into the fire, though whether he was still considering what his cronies might be doing, or thinking about Snape's revelation, was unclear to Snape. At length, he turned to meet Snape's dark gaze.

"Sev, you haven't got a romantic hair on your head, and yet, you reveal to me tonight a rather romantic secret." Lucius said softly. "I recall Fennen at Hogwarts, dogging you like a pesky little sister, but I can't recall any interest on your part. You were always obsessed with the mudblood, Evans."

Snape's face echoed the old, deep pain at hearing Lily's name. Such sadness, such regret, almost to the point of madness. Perhaps well into madness, given the dangerous dance he had subsequently made between Voldemort and Dumbledore. Pain he thought would never temper, but Fennen had changed that, reawakening his heart and healing his aching soul.

"You've always been a very private person." Lucius continued, "Forgive my curiosity, but I would like to know how this engagement came about." He shook his head. "As you said, professors may not look at their students that way, much less act on their passions. How have you come to this point, when it seems so out of character for you?"

Snape frowned slowly, considering Malfoy. "Why are you so interested, Lucius?" he asked, honestly puzzled. "Why shouldn't I marry?"

"Oh, it's not that, not at all. I am delighted that you are to marry, as it so happens. I thought that you'd pine for Evans to your grave, given your reaction to her death." Lucius said bluntly. "Instead, not only do I see you restored to life, but with such new fire. You never would have overtly challenged me before. Covertly yes…" He flashed a smile, narrowing his eyes, "but never before have you stood up to me, as you did tonight. No, what I don't understand is how you would let yourself become involved with one of your students… that doesn't sound like you at all, both because of your annoying devotion to your calf love, and as I would have wagered that your sense of duty would never allow you to look in that way at one of your students."

"If I tell you, will you let the matter drop?" Severus snapped at Malfoy.

Lucius looked calculatingly at him, then slowly nodded. "On my honour, old friend," he promised, "but only if you satisfy my curiosity."

Snape frowned, eyes narrowed. "I'll try, old friend." He took a deep breath, looking at the fire as he gathered his thoughts. "I admit that I should never have thought of Fennen as a lover, much less asked her to marry me." Snape smiled ruefully. "Easier said than done, especially with a girl who has worshiped me from her first day at Hogwarts. Adoration is a powerful thing. And, as you have so clearly noticed, she's not the awkward little outcast who timidly joined Slytherin House 7 years ago."

Lucius agreed silently, his expression eloquent. He didn't speak, afraid that Snape might clam up if he was interrupted.

"I paid little attention to her in her first year, despite her persistence. You're right, I only had eyes for Lily. Even without that, Fen was too young to be of interest. Still, she was undaunted. I realize now that she just wanted to be with me, on whatever terms I allowed her. At the start of my last year, she neatly slid under my guard by asking for help with her potions homework." Severus chuckled, lost in reminiscences as he spoke, looking at the crackling fire without seeing it.

Lucius listened quietly, enjoying the emotions playing on Snape's normally closed face.

"I had already developed a sort of brotherly affection for her… she was such an outcast, as I was. I understood her pain, and was pleased to help shield her from the sort of torture I had suffered. Over the course of that year, we became close friends. I opened up to her about my fears and problems. She was always there for me. No jealousy, no demands, no head games, just unconditional love, had I but seen it. We kept in touch once I graduated."

Snape fell silent, his face filled with the ageless pain surrounding Lily's death as he relived the terrible time following his graduation. "Fennen helped me immensely in the turbulent times before I returned to Hogwarts, on the Dark Lord's order." he continued at length, shaking Lily's ghost away, "I could talk to her when I could talk to no one else. I think I forgot how young she was. She understood me so well, and offered such mature support."

A smile played ruefully at Snape's lips. He shook his head as he continued. "When I returned to Hogwarts as her professor, Fennen had become a young woman, blossoming with beauty and grace. She had learned to fit in, and had gained a gentle confidence. She became the top student in potions, and I knew it was all for me, to please me. I did resist, despite that thrill. I don't think anything would have changed for us this year, if not for the curse Fennen acquired over the summer."

Snape slowly tore his eyes from the fire, meeting Malfoy's grey gaze. Malfoy nodded encouragingly. "You saw Fennen when the curse was consuming her; you know what offer the spell made of her innocence. It was subtle at first, but when you saw her, the power of the curse was strong enough to break the coldest man. Jareth and I ended up battling the spectre that had possessed Fennen. I succumbed to the spell, then, for a brief period." Snape clenched his fist, his face tortured. "I could so easily have hurt her, even killed her if I had allowed the spectre to gain more power over us both."

Snape started when Lucius poured more brandy for him, distracting him and easing his emotion.

"Instead, we managed to destroy the phantom and break the curse." He looked at Lucius, a hint of his anguish escaping his cold façade. "I came so close not only to losing Fennen, but to being the instrument of her destruction, Lucius. I couldn't bear that thought, any more than I could stand by and do nothing once I realized that I adore the girl, student or no. It took every ounce of my strength to behave with decorum as she finished the semester. In the Christmas break, I took the liberty of following her to Marrakech, where she was to spend New Year's Eve with her cousins. I surprised her at the masked ball she attended."

He tossed his head suddenly, throwing hair out of his eyes. "I was romantic enough to sweep Fennen off her feet that night, Lucius; you'll have to reassess your opinion of me! We got engaged on her 17th birthday, with the promise that we'd keep our love secret until she graduates. We'll be married as soon as she's no longer my student."

Lucius smiled as Snape fell silent. He swirled his brandy reflectively, obviously enjoying the image of Snape playing the role of the gallant. "You are right, old friend… I do need to review my understanding of you. I think, perhaps, that I need to become acquainted with you all over again, in light of how Fennen has changed you. And I will, have no doubt… we Death Eaters must stay strong and united, in readiness for the Dark Lord's inevitable return."

Snape stiffened, his eyes narrowing. His face slid into its normal blankness, guarding the thoughts and emotions within.

Malfoy frowned, watching his friend withdraw. "For tonight, however, I'm tired of intrigue and of posturing, Sev!" he suddenly exclaimed, "Tonight, let's just be friends, without examining the nature or power structure of our friendship! Let's just celebrate that you have found a wife at long last." He stood, his expression calm and welcoming, as it had been ages ago, when he and Snape were simply good friends, before the complication of the Dark Lord, before Malfoy had been seduced by the dark promise of wicked power. "Let me toast you, old friend, and your lovely bride, again!" Malfoy raised his glass, smiling at the other.

Snape studied Malfoy's open face, his own expression as closed as ever. At length, he seemed to relax. Standing, he murmured, "Ah, for those simpler times again! If only we could turn the clock back, Lucius." Snape shook his head, smiling at his thoughts. "But then, I would be back to useless longing for Lily, watching those Gryfindor brats corrupt her. Instead, I have been granted a second chance at love; true, deep love. Here's to happiness, Lucius, both in our friendships and in our beloveds. The happiness we deserve. While it lasts." Holding Malfoy's gaze, he touched glasses with his old friend, and drank.

The End

Ya Nefer Ma'at