This is the sequel to 'Slugging It Out'. It is canon compliant and could be read as a stand alone story with knowledge of the seven HP novels alone, however it does contain mild spoilers and references to the prequel.
Chapter 1 – A Chance Encounter
A young man approached the house, dressed all in black despite the summer heat, his shoulders hunched as though against invisible rain. Watching him through the diamond paned window, Narcissa Black turned to her fiance. 'Here he comes, bang on time. I win, by the way. He clearly hasn't.'
Lucius came to join her, peering past to watch his best friend's progress to the front door. 'It's hard to tell. It always looks like that, even after he has washed it.'
Narcissa sniffed as she turned back to the room. 'Well, he'd better scrub up for our wedding. I still don't see why you couldn't have asked Roddy…'
'Because I can't stand Roddy,' Lucius pointed out. 'Besides, Roddy's hardly reliable. He'd probably handcuff me to a harpy on the stag night, and then lose the rings. Severus may not be the most sartorially savvy of my friends, but he is without doubt the most dependable.'
'Well, I'm depending on him to look clean and presentable. I'm not having him hanging around in the back of my wedding pictures like a greasy overgrown goblin, best man or not.' Her last words were accompanied by the sound of the doorbell. A moment later the new house elf appeared in the doorway and announced, 'Severus Snape.'
The hunch-shouldered young man entered the room. Narcissa gave a smile that didn't reach her eyes. 'Severus. Well, I'll leave you boys to it.' She slid out of the room, adding sharply to the house elf, 'Don't stand around wringing your hands, Dobby, hurry and serve drinks to master. Merlin, these stupid creatures take a lot of time to break in!'
Lucius gave Severus a much warmer smile and clapped his friend on the back. 'How are you, my friend? How are things at St Mungo's?'
'Much the same. Lot of dragon pox still about – don't look at me like that, I never go near patients unless I can help it, and certainly not ones that might be infectious. Anyway, they're giving me more interesting cases now. Another month and I'm fully qualified – usually it takes at least two years, but I've done it in one. Thanks,' he added to the house-elf, which had passed him a drink.
'Interesting, you say?' Lucius took his own drink without a glance at the elf, and indicated for Severus to sit. 'Interesting as in… Muggle?'
'I don't know why I bother telling you anything, you always know it already. Yes, some chump at the Ministry decided trying to heal the Death Eaters' victims is a lot safer than trying to stop the Death Eaters. So they shipped in a whole load of Muggles. But it turns out most of our medicine doesn't work on them. It's quite fascinating, actually. Potions which heal wizards, appear to be deadly poison to Muggles. Their constitutions aren't as strong. I should have liked to be given more chance to experiment, but once the Ministry realised we were more likely to kill them than cure them, they all got removed.'
'You didn't… examine them?' The look of distaste on Lucius' face was greater than when he'd imagined Severus in contact with pox victims.
'Not directly, I didn't touch any of course. I would have loved to do some proper research on it, provide some further proof that there is something constitutionally different about wizards. That we are more than just Muggles with wands.' The two old friends exchanged a wry smile at this last, a favourite saying of their group.
'Well, I'm glad they've given up on the idea. Our Healers have got enough to do without wasting their time on Muggles. Every minute spent on a Muggle is a minute stolen from a deserving wizard.' He sipped his drink, pulled a face, and roared, 'Dobby!'
The elf reappeared beside him with a pop. It cringed away from Lucius. 'Master called?' it asked, in a tremulous voice.
'How many times do I have to tell you the correct temperature to serve whiskey? That's another fine malt you've wasted. Go to the kitchen and beat yourself. And do it silently – we don't want to hear you wailing.' He turned back to Severus. 'I do apologise, it's new and incredibly stupid. Father took our old family elf with him when he moved out. One wouldn't believe the trouble I had finding another. If it hadn't been such a bore, I'd take the worthless thing back.'
Severus, who knew nothing of the problems of inefficient house-elves, made a non-committal sympathetic noise. Lucius had moved back to his ancestral home a month earlier, after his father decided to move permanently to the agreeable climes of Spain. Severus was still living in Lucius' London flat, though now Lucius had no need of it he wasn't sure how much longer that would continue.
Lucius unfolded the Daily Prophet and indicated the front page. 'Seen this yet?'
'Not today's,' replied Severus, reaching for the paper. He frowned at the headline and quickly scanned the text before looking up at his friend. 'We're planning an attack on the Pillar of Storge?'
Malfoy winced visibly at his pronunciation. 'It's Store-gay, Severus. Surely you've heard of it?'
Scowling, Severus looked back at the paper. 'Of course, I've only read about it though. I've never heard anyone say it. Anyway – since when did we threaten Britain's historic sites? That's the first I heard of it.'
'We didn't. That's just the point.' Lucius took the paper back and stared thoughtfully at the headline, Ministry defiant over Death Eater threat to heritage. 'The Ministry have made it up. It's actually quite a clever ruse. They claim that we've threatened historic monuments, and so they send a load of goons to stand around guarding bits of rock. Then when no one attacks them, they claim a victory. They look busy and don't have to risk encountering any real dark wizards, and the public all feel pleased that their government has at last scored some points in the fight against the Dark Lord.'
'That is clever – for the Ministry.' Neither man had any respect for the government of wizard Britain, who were floundering desperately as Lord Voldemort and his followers gained in power. 'So what are we going to do about it?'
Lucius shrugged. 'Nothing, I don't suppose. Let them get on with it, and we'll get on with what we need to do. Of course, He will decide.'
A chill seemed to descend on the room at the mention of their master, and the two became quiet. Severus took another sip of his drink. He hated whiskey, but liked the cachet of drinking it, especially in the company of his wealthy friend. The pause was broken by the doorbell again, and Lucius pulled a face. 'Oh, I forgot to mention. The Lestranges are coming for dinner too.'
They exchanged a glance of mutual displeasure at the thought of spending a meal with Lucius' future in-laws. With great reluctance, Severus followed Lucius through to the dining room, where dinner was ready to be served. Bellatrix – dark as her sister was fair and attractive in a dangerous way – came forward to air kiss Lucius with the same enthusiasm Narcissa usually showed Severus. 'Have you put on weight, Lucius?' she enquired innocently.
'Always such a pleasure to see you, Bellatrix,' he replied, pulling back a chair for her. She sat almost daintily and smiled up at him with a mischievous glint in her eye.
'How are you, Lucius, old boy?' cried Roddy, clapping Lucius on the back so hard the slimmer man was almost catapulted into the soup tureen. Bellatrix's husband was a large man with an ill-advised moustache who was always darting glances at his wife as though awaiting instructions. 'Enjoying life as lord of the Manor?'
'One might say I was born to it,' said Lucius. 'Severus, do sit down.'
'Oh, Lucius' little project is here,' said Bellatrix, turning to smile wolfishly at Severus. 'Still ministering to the sick and injured, Severus?'
'I'm still at St Mungo's, yes.' He sat down, glad to get several feet of solid oak table between himself and Bellatrix.
'What a shame you aren't wearing that charming uniform! I'm sure lime green looks wonderful on you.' She lifted her spoon and sipped her soup, before throwing it down. 'Cissy, this is perfectly revolting. You really need to do something about that elf, show it some proper discipline. It's the only language they understand.'
Narcissa sighed theatrically. 'I've beat it until its stupid ears are almost falling off, but I swear it's congenitally useless. I asked Mummy if she would swap it for Looby, since I have such a big house now, but she wouldn't.'
Bellatrix made a noise of disgust. 'For goodness sake, Cissy, can't you even manage to train up your own house-elf? It's not like you do anything else all day.' She clapped her hands and called out, 'Elf! Get here!'
The elf appeared instantly, clad in its filthy pillowcase, and bowed so low its nose almost touched its knees. Bellatrix watched it with open disgust. 'Come here,' she beckoned to it, 'and tell me your name.'
'My name is Dobby, mistress,' it said, in its high quavering voice.
'Dobby…' Bella seemed to be turning the name over. She reached out and took the elf by the chin. 'Do you have a hard life, Dobby? Are mistress and master very cruel to you?'
The panic in the creature's huge eyes was plain to see. 'Master and mistress is good master and mistress,' it stammered breathlessly. 'Dobby tries to be good elf.'
'Of course you do,' said Bellatrix, in a voice dripping with mock sugar. 'You work hard all day long, and then you have to punish yourself for all the things you did wrong. What a horrible life it must be for poor Dobby!'
Not knowing what to say, the elf stared at her in terrified silence, its big eyes seeming to get even larger. After a moment or two, Bellatrix continued. 'Poor little Dobby, never gets any holiday, never gets a rest, has to wear an old pillowcase. He has such a nasty time!'
The elf's eyes were bulging now, so big and round that Severus wondered if they might fall right out of its head. It continued to make panicked, strangled sounds, and Severus realised that Bellatrix had gradually tightened her grip on its throat until her fingers were pressing into the windpipe. He knew that the slightest movement could kill it. The elf, struggling to breathe, seemed to know it too. It was rising onto tiptoes as Bellatrix moved her arm higher. Bellatrix's smile grew wider as the elf's skin began to turn a mottled colour.
Lucius cleared his throat. 'Thank you, Bella, that will do. I'd prefer it if you didn't kill my elf – though I'm sorely tempted to do so myself at times. Perhaps you could let it go so it can serve the starters. It would be nice to get through dinner before nightfall – we do have a meeting to get to after all.'
Immediately Bellatrix's face lit up and she dropped the elf. Dobby, gagging and gasping, crawled away in the direction of the kitchens. 'Tonight He might reveal His plans for the next year,' she began. 'I bet we'll take the Ministry next.'
Narcissa made a quelling noise. 'No talk about all that at the table, thank you. Now, did you know that Gulliver Pollux has apparently been seen with a mudblood?'
Conversation turned to the usual old family gossip. Severus ate his food in silence. He didn't know what was wrong with the elf's cooking – it all tasted fine to him. He wished he could afford a house-elf, even a supposedly useless one like Dobby. In fact, he wished he could have everything Lucius did, from his fabulous wealth to his solid pureblood credentials, his easy social charm to his sumptuous country mansion. Maybe one day…
After the meal, an uneasy atmosphere settled over the room. Bellatrix became restless, and paced around, picking up ornaments from the mantelpiece and putting them down, only to pick them up again. Narcissa continued her character assassination of everyone she knew, but there was a strained edge to her voice and she kept losing the thread of what she was saying. Lucius fiddled with the sleeve of his robe, rubbing at the forearm. Roddy played with the salt cellar, turning it over in his hands.
Lucius snapped his fingers, and Dobby reappeared. It had bandaged up its throat and looked very sorry for itself. 'Go and fetch the hoods and robes, Dobby,' snapped Lucius, and the elf went at once to do his bidding. The tension increased during its absence, Bella now standing at the window and staring out into the gathering darkness as though expecting to see something.
Dobby returned with his arms full of dark over-robes and hoods. In silence everyone but Narcissa collected a set and pulled them on over their own clothes. Bellatrix also donned the hood, the skull-like mask moulding itself to her face. Her eyes burned with a fanatical light through the slits in the hood. Lucius fussed with his robes, tucking his distinctive long blond hair carefully inside. Bellatrix made a disgusted noise at this. Narcissa remained seated, staring into her lap.
Finally the tension broke, as all four Death Eaters jumped, hands flying to forearms. Bellatrix gave a little shriek of delight, and disapparated instantly. Roddy and Severus followed behind. Lucius hesitated, looking at his fiancée. 'It might go on late,' he said softly, 'don't wait up.' Then he too vanished, leaving Narcissa alone.
Apparating into the churchyard, Severus almost collided with another figure, similarly robed and hooded. Everywhere around, identical figures were appearing, all heading silently into the church. Inside, up to a hundred Death Eaters gathered. There was an unnatural hush, broken only by footsteps and the rustling of robes. At first glance they were homogenous, but closer inspection in the gloom revealed a range of heights and sizes, some with female curves. Some had dressed with less care than others, and bits of hair or clothing were visible at the juncture of robes and hood.
The building was beautiful, a traditional church with a high vaulted roof and wooden pews. Huge stained glass windows glowed, regardless of the failing light outside. On the raised area at the front, a lectern stood. Instead of the usual eagle, it consisted of a golden cobra, rearing up. The images on the windows were not of Bible scenes, but of hooded figures with wands, engaged in various exploits, or kneeling in worship of the man who now appeared before them in the flesh.
Although only of average size, his presence was so powerful that he seemed larger. He was dressed in robes like those of his followers, but wore no hood. His face was strange; flattened, with odd angles to the cheekbones, and his eyes gave a reddish glow. He raised his arms, and his assembled followers flinched back. 'Welcome,' he said, in a surprisingly soft, sibilant voice. 'My loyal followers, my Death Eaters. Bow, bow down before Lord Voldemort.'
The Death Eaters bent as one, in the best bow that could be managed in the limited space. Voldemort smiled, showing teeth that looked more like fangs. 'You will no doubt have been reading the Daily Prophet,' he continued. 'I am sure that you, as was I, were most amused to read of the Ministry's latest desperate ploy to appear they are in control. But we must not let that distract us from our work. Complete dominance of Britain is within our grasp, but we must not become impatient. Each one of you has his or her part to play. Each and every action committed in the name of Lord Voldemort must contribute to the grand plan.'
Here Voldemort paused and looked around at the masked faces of his followers. 'All of you know the plan and your part in it. You must continue, exactly as instructed, to carry out the work of Lord Voldemort, to further our noble cause. You must not fail. Remember well the fate of those who displease me.'
A short pause allowed everyone to reflect on the unpleasant fate of those foolhardy few that tried to leave the organisation, or messed up their assignments. Voldemort continued, 'I have matters to attend to overseas, and we shall not meet for some time. In my absence, you must carry out my instructions and if anyone deviates from those, I will know.' He paused again for dramatic effect. 'Lord Voldemort knows all, he sees all. There is nowhere to hide from me. I always know.'
A few Death Eaters shuffled their feet, no doubt thinking of the things they'd rather the Dark Lord didn't know. For it was true, Voldemort had an unnerving talent for looking into the minds of others, taking what he saw there and using it to destroy them or bend them to his will. It was one of the most terrifying things about the Dark Lord, and one of the reasons his followers remained loyal even when their participation put them at risk.
Severus wondered what matters Voldemort had to attend to overseas, and whether it meant their activities would be expanding there shortly. He doubted that his master would be content with domination of mere Britain. Of course, it didn't pay to speculate too much about Voldemort or his activities – certainly not to speak of it. With Voldemort's uncanny ability to see into minds, Death Eaters even tried to avoid thinking about such things.
The meeting continued with more of the usual anti-Muggle rhetoric, the valediction of fallen members, and finishing with the pledge to Voldemort. Severus rather enjoyed these meetings. He liked the sense of belonging, the togetherness. But he also found it frustrating that he was no more than one of many, despite his talents.
Severus had joined the Death Eaters straight out of school, thanks to Lucius, who was part of the inner circle of those closest to Voldemort. Severus had been particularly desired for his skills as a Healer, already well developed even before he started at St Mungo's. He would never forget the initiation ceremony, in this very building.
The church had appeared different, a ruin. The windows were gaping jagged-edged holes, the stonework crumbling, the interior gutted by fire, graffiti daubed on the walls. He remembered gaping around as Lucius led him inside. He had knelt, terrified, before Voldemort, not daring to meet those reddened eyes. And yet despite his fear, excitement had flared within him. Voldemort was truly terrifying, truly powerful, truly worthy of his awe and respect. After being let down by so many people, here at last was someone who was clearly destined for greatness.
That night he knew with certainty that Voldemort would win. The very thought of him failing was impossible to even countenance. So he pledged his allegiance, meaning every word, and Voldemort touched his wandtip to Severus' naked forearm. A moment later terrible pain erupted, and he bit hard into his lip to stop himself screaming. When the worst agony died down, he saw that the shape of a dark skull with a snake emerging from the mouth was burned into his flesh. It ached painfully. But there was more. He felt a strange affinity, a sense of connectedness. It was terrible and wonderful, and he knew he'd never be the same again.
And as he looked up, he realised the church had transformed before his eyes, from a place of dereliction and despair to a glorious monument to the power of Lord Voldemort and his followers. That was his first taste of the power of the Dark Mark, his first realisation that this was not simply a tattoo. The Dark Mark was a powerful magical talisman, linking all Death Eaters and Voldemort himself, changing the way that he perceived the world.
He had squinted at the windows, trying to see through the enchantment. With an effort, he could just about see them as they truly were, broken holes. Voldemort spoke. 'You like to test the boundaries, I see.' He sounded amused, but Severus stopped immediately, shocked and mortified. 'You will not break the enchantments of Lord Voldemort. This is a trifle, compared to the magic I can perform. You will see, in good time.'
A year later, trooping out of the church, Severus reflected that he had seen remarkably little of Voldemort himself in the intervening year, let alone his magic. Mostly, he received his instructions along with the rest of his cell, from Lucius as leader. He felt a shiver across his Mark and Lucius' voice rang in his head, 'Wait for me under the yew tree.' That was another benefit of the Dark Mark, its use as a communication device. Of course, they weren't really supposed to use them for organising their social lives, but everyone did.
He waited obediently, until a tall hooded figure joined him. It spoke with Lucius' voice. 'You haven't forgotten that I need you to get the rings tomorrow?'
'Of course not,' he replied with a hint of irritation. He'd never yet forgotten to carry out one of Lucius' instructions.
'Good. You can bring them on Thursday before the cell meet, and dine with us. Then on Friday we will go for the final fitting of the robes and you can come to the barber with me – all on my account, of course. Cissy is very insistent about how everyone looks. See you then.' Lucius disapparated with a snap, leaving Severus with a sinking sensation. He was dreading the wedding. He was not looking forward to getting dressed up and standing around whilst all the pureblood elite sneered at him from behind their orders of service. Still, at least he knew his presence would annoy Narcissa. Every cloud had a silver lining.
He sighed, grasped his wand and turned on the spot. Before he'd revolved round to face the same way, he had disappeared into thin air with a sucking pop, leaving the graveyard to the owls.
The jewellers' was small and exclusive, tucked in a corner of Vertic Alley. It was London's premier wizard purveyor of jewellery, with prices ranging from eye-watering to astronomic. Despite being located at the heart of wizard London's shopping district, and the beautiful weather, the street was quiet. Several of the shops were boarded up, and a grubby hawker with a tray around his neck stood on the corner shouting his wares. 'Lucky talismans! Get your Protective Pendants today! Now updated to protect against eight kinds of dark magic!'
Severus sneered as he went past, knowing the 'talismans' were no more than cheap pebbles with at best a few shield charms on. He'd lost count of the number of people he'd treated for horrible injuries who were still clutching their useless trinket as though it might yet work its power to undo the harm.
Inside the shop, the assistant regarded him with disdain, until the name 'Malfoy' was mentioned, at which point his demeanour changed to obsequiousness. Severus was entreated to sit and wait for just a few moments whilst the rings were fetched from a secure room at the back. 'You can't be too careful these days, sir, you just can't be too careful!' oiled the jeweller, backing out through a doorway into the recesses of the shop.
Bored, Severus leaned against the counter, toying with his wand. He was wondering how long the robe fitting and hair cutting would take on Friday. He'd far rather spend his day off working on his latest potion, than dragging round with Lucius having people fuss over his appearance. In fact, he couldn't think of anything he'd less want to spend his day off doing than that.
He was interrupted from his thoughts by the shop door opening. A couple entered, about the same age as Severus. At the sight of them, he got the same sensation as when a broom entered a particularly steep dive. The man had dark, messy hair and glasses, whilst the woman had long red hair, and beautiful big green eyes. Severus could only gape, certain that even his heart had stopped.
The man, James Potter, saw him straight away, and his eyes narrowed in dislike. 'Well I never, if it isn't Snivellus Snape,' he said contemptuously. 'Got bored of murder and trying a spot of robbery?'
Regaining his senses enough to speak, Severus replied, 'Potty. I was rather hoping you would be dead by now. I heard you joined Dumbledore's Order of the Foolish. If you wanted to commit suicide, you only need have asked me, I'd have been most happy to oblige.'
'We both joined, actually,' said the woman, with dislike etched in every line of her face. 'We both wanted to fight. We hate the Death Eaters, and everything they stand for.' She glared at him.
Unable to bring himself to reply, Severus simply gazed at her, wishing he could think of something to say. Lily Evans was at least ten times as beautiful as he remembered her, and standing so close to her in this little shop, able to smell her scent and see the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed… he felt as though he was suffocating. To think he'd once been best friends with this woman! Spent their holidays together, riding their bikes on the moors, talking until even the long summer evenings grew dark. Sometimes it all seemed like a dream.
Mistaking his silence, Lily continued, 'What, too grand to speak to a Muggleborn now Severus? Scared I might contaminate you?'
'I'm not scared,' he blurted. 'I speak to Muggleborns all the time, I treat them. I'm a Healer, I'm a Healer now!' The last part came out as a yelp, which sounded desperate even to his ears.
James Potter laughed mirthlessly. 'Treat them? You put them there in the first place. You make me sick. I know what you do, Snape, maiming and torturing innocent people all night and then playing the hero the next day. Accepting thanks from those poor relatives who don't realise that the great Healer is really one of them. I can see right through you, Snape.'
'You don't know anything about it,' he snapped back, raising his wand.
Fortunately at that moment the shopkeeper returned, and looked alarmed to see Potter and Severus standing across from each other, about to duel. 'Yes? Can I help you?' he asked of Potter.
Immediately Potter was all easy charm again, pocketing his wand. 'Oh, hello, we're getting married this summer and we want to choose some rings.'
Severus felt as though someone had hit him hard over the head. His ears rang, his guts churned, his heart once again seemed to have stopped. 'Married?' he gasped.
Potter's smirk of triumph was the worst sight he'd ever seen. The jeweller however missed this completely. 'Oh yes, of course sir. If you'll give me just a moment to finish serving this gentleman. Here are the rings, sir,' he addressed Severus, producing two small boxes. 'If you'd just like to check them.'
Distracted, he looked at the rings. They appeared to be round, golden, and with a hole in the middle - which met the basic criteria for a wedding ring in his book. 'Yes, that's fine, wrap them up,' he muttered.
'You're getting married?' asked Lily in tones of great surprise, as the shopkeeper performed a wrapping spell and handed the parcel to Severus.
'Lucius. I'm best man,' he said, unable to articulate better in face of a direct question from Lily.
Her face fell. 'Of course,' she said flatly, turning away.
He felt a terrible urge to grab her, haul her away from Potter, drag her back to his flat and lock her away. But instead he shouldered past them, pushing open the door, falling into the relatively fresh air of the street. His eyes were stinging as he forced the package into the pocket of his robes. Over a year since he'd last seen her, and he'd thought it was getting better. He'd kept busy, suppressed thoughts of her, avoided anything that might remind him of her. All that, undone in one stupid second.
And she was marrying Potter. Her name would change to that of his enemy. He felt terribly sick as he staggered up the street. How could one person have such a dramatic effect on another? She's nothing, he told himself. Just a stupid mudblood. She's below you, far below you. Just forget her.
'Protective pendant, sir?' called the hawker, hopefully. 'Keep the Death Eaters at – argh!'
Severus could move with great speed for one so apparently scrawny and ill-coordinated. The man was crushed against the wall, Severus' wand pressed to his neck. 'I wouldn't go speaking the name of the Death Eaters if I were you,' Snape hissed. 'You are not worthy to speak of them. And believe me, if the Death Eaters want to kill you, no number of stupid protective charms will make a difference. Understand?'
The trader tried to nod, then realised he risked decapitation, and whispered, 'Yes! I understand!'
Severus released his grip, kicking the man's legs from under him, and he sprawled on the cobbles. His tray hit the ground with a crash, protective amulets rolling everywhere. 'Grovel at my feet where you belong and beg me to spare you,' said Snape, feeling a thrill of power run through him, blocking out the pain for a few minutes. Sobbing, the trader did so.
It grew tiresome eventually, and Severus turned away in sudden disgust. He saw a face at the jewellers' window, the green eyes wide, the mouth downturned in contempt. Lily Evans was staring at him as though she'd never seen him before, as though he'd done something terrible. His heart sank even further. Once again he'd made things worse.
This story is primarily from Severus' point of view, hence the use of 'it' rather than 'he' for Dobby in the narrative text. The Pillar of Storge is a bit of a fandom in-joke. 'HP and the Pillar of Storge' was one of the rumoured titles for book 6. I included reference to its destruction in one of my earliest fan-fics, and decided it would make a useful plot device here. The story is essentially 'gen' fic, in that I do not focus on romantic relationships. However it does contain references to canon 'ships' - Narcissa/Lucius and James/Lily, and of course Severus' unrequited feelings for Lily.