Title: Making a Mark
Age-Range Category: Two
Characters: Severus Snape, Lucius Malfoy, Tobias Snape, Lily Evans, Lord Voldemort. (Mentioned: Albus Dumbledore, Eileen Snape, The Marauders.)
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Violence and sexuality.
Note: Thanks so much to [withheld] for the fantastic, helpful beta, and to iulia_linnea for continuing to run such a wonderful Snape fest! ♥
Summary: Severus Snape: from home, to Hogwarts, to the hilltop. No one ever explained the distinction between a life and a life sentence.
A raven-haired boy sits on the rough, uneven floor, unbothered by the cold. He stares intently down the length of his brand new wand, focusing on the leaf he rescued from the wind. His eyes narrow with concentration, then: quick whooshes, like a flurry of paper cuts, and the leaf is shredded. He would smile, but Spinner's End is not the place for it.
"Stomping on it would do the trick just as well," a voice snarls, invading his silence.
From down here, the man looks giant, but no more foreboding than usual. He sways, tries stupidly to make it look like swagger. The boy's skin crawls.
"What's that one supposed to do?"
"Slice," he mumbles, voice hoarse from underuse.
"I can't hear you, boy."
But the boy can hear him. Louder than a second ago, not as loud as the minutes he knows will follow.
"It slices," he repeats, firmer.
A woman slides unnoticed into the room, lingering at the edges like a shadow.
"Slices leaves?" The man snorts out a laugh, oblivious to the intricacy and genius of invented magic.
"Slices anything." There's a flicker of defiance in his tone. In the way he looks up to meet those cold, contemptuous eyes for the first time this week.
The man may be a blundering oaf, but he's no fool. He sees it for what it is, and his face darkens with fury.
"Oh yeah? You think you need one of those things to slice?"
A boot connects and the wand goes flying, ebony-black power suddenly impotent, rattling uselessly across the floor. The boy stares at it, unblinking, barely feeling the pain in his wrist where the boot hit. Barely registering the sharp clink of cutlery. Barely noticing the man advancing on the woman.
He definitely hears her scream.
'This — is — how — a — MAN — does — it!'
All the boy can think is that the sentence took far too long, each word punctuated, as it was, by the slice of a knife against her flesh. Light wounds, healable. He's a monster, not a moron.
She stops wailing after the third cut. Perhaps it stops hurting. Perhaps she cast a silencing charm on her own agony. That would be a useful skill, the boy thinks absently.
He no longer yells stop. No longer cries. Not since learning it only makes things worse for her. He sits silently, staring at the macabre display. Staring anywhere but at the wand he'd like to use to dismember the man. At some point it shoots across the room into his hand, entirely on its own.
No excuses now.
He feels sick.
The man is roaring at the woman that it's her fault because why shouldn't he use a knife if she can heal herself anyway? See? It's the magic that's the problem. It's always the fucking magic. If she were normal, he'd be restricted to his fists.
The boy has to learn. The boy has to learn that magic is weakness. Magic is immoral. Magic is lazy and fraudulent and "the only real power in this house is me!"
The boy grips his wand, feeling what he thought was power surge through him, but now he's not so sure.
Maybe he's just a coward.
A filthy coward whose wand slips from his shaking fingers as his father rounds on him, dropping the knife and pulling back his arm to give his fist a better swing.
The roar of applause as Severus makes his way across the hall is bewildering. No one has ever clapped for him before. Despite almost trembling with wonder, he holds his head high. Back straight, eyes forward. First impressions are everything.
He steals only one quick glance over to the Gryffindor table. He can't see her.
The Malfoy boy, Lucius, slaps him on the back and smiles broadly. Severus offers a timid smile in return and attempts to contain the explosion of sheer elation. He's at Hogwarts. He made it into Slytherin. His tiny world suddenly feels as limitless as the bewitched sky ceiling. Even the feast is enormous, more food than he's seen in his entire life. He soaks it all in for a moment, overwhelmed, but remembers what his mother taught him and mirrors Lucius. Every fork, every spoon, every sip of the delicious pumpkin juice all have their place.
Lucius notices and his lips curl in an open smirk. He extends his cup to Severus, and Severus shakily raises his own. The goblets clink together, and with that one clumsy movement, Severus sees his entire future laid out before him, ready to be snatched by his eager hands. Acceptance from the handsome, notoriously rich pure-blood fills him with warmth, and he knows he'll have everything he needs. He'll be introduced to all the right people. He'll learn about magic. Real magic. The kind that will force his father to lower his fists and liberate him from Cokeworth forever.
His euphoria is dampened only by the thought of Lily being in Gryffindor. It was inevitable, he supposes, being a Muggle-born, but he'd still allowed himself some measure of hope.
It doesn't matter. Everything has changed. He has a future now, and will be able to share it with her.
He chances another glance across the hall and finally sees her, sitting beside those unpleasant boys from the train. Mr Pompous with the glasses, (Potter, was it?) is on his feet doing an exaggerated impression of flying on a broom. Typical. The one who called him the name he'd like to never hear again is howling with laughter. Lily smiles awkwardly and Severus grips his fork until his fingers hurt, craning his neck for a better look. I'm smarter than they are, he tells himself. The only impressive thing about those empty headed Gryffindors is their ridiculous hair.
Potter taps Lily on the shoulder… she turns to him… Severus holds his breath, and —
She rolls her eyes, and even from this distance he can see Potter flush.
Severus' heart soars.
It's all going to be fine. They're at Hogwarts now, and nothing can take this new and utterly foreign feeling of unbridled joy away from him.
Two days later, Black distracts him while Potter grabs his wand and shoves him into a toilet stall, sealing it from the outside.
The years roll by in a blur of magic and mischief, with Severus dodging as many hexes as he learns.
The Hogwarts curriculum is useless in teaching self-defence, so he does his own research, invents his own shielding charms, and practices defensive spells he learned from watching his mother. Exotic sounding words scribbled on scraps of paper stolen from his father's tattered notebook. Covertly tearing less than an inch off at a time meant the old fool was none the wiser. He knew they'd be useful one day, and sure enough, he now finds himself scoffing at the other victims of Potter's little gang, clearly ill equipped to either predict or counter the relentless attacks. He is practiced in both, so for the most part, he gets by without too much trouble.
For the most part.
It escalates, of course, and by his third year, he has settled into an uncomfortable routine of stealth and hyper awareness. Perfecting a rebound spell gives him some comfort (and amusement), until one day he's accosted out of nowhere. Alone one minute, then surrounded. Potter in particular seems to appear from thin air, leaving him thoroughly shaken. These spontaneous strikes continue for months, hexes flying from dark corners, laughter fading before Severus even has time to spot his attackers. Worst of all, despite sticking to the shadows and rarely tracing the same path twice, they seem to know exactly where he is at all times.
For one mad moment he misses Spinner's End, where his father's stomping boots and rasping breaths announced his arrival long before he entered a room. Spinner's End was violence he could anticipate, fear he could control. But this? The unpredictability of it leaves Severus increasingly uneasy and on edge. He obsesses about Potter's tactics, researches apparition despite knowing it's impossible on Hogwarts' grounds, scours every book that mentions invisibility charms, but gets nowhere. Meanwhile Potter is everywhere and Severus finally winds up in the Infirmary.
Madam Pomfrey studies him intently, asking probing questions and offering gentle smiles. When Severus asks to leave, her face falls and her tone turns serious. Oh. This is an interrogation, he realises. He stands firm and gives nothing away.
"I can help you," she says adamantly, "but only if you talk to me."
But she doesn't look like a Slytherin, and he doesn't want to be sent away from Hogwarts, so he keeps his mouth shut.
"You need to go to the Headmaster," Lily declares, cornering him as he leaves the Infirmary.
"Are you crazy?"
"Alright, what about Professor Slughorn?"
"Just leave it alone."
"They've been hurting you Sev. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with it!"
"I'm fine," he hisses.
"No you're not. I'll go to Professor McGonagall then."
"Don't you dare!" he snaps. "I told you, I can take care of myself."
He hates being seen like this. Hates feeling like this. Like danger lingers in every corner, with every minute a fresh opportunity for humiliation. Paranoia has become a constant irritant, and the unshakable sense of vulnerability infuriates him, hardening his anger into rage. If Potter and Black refuse to play fair, there's no reason he should. Severus has invented more curses than those pampered Gryffindors even know between them, and meeting their aggression with his own pre-emptive attacks now seems thoroughly justified.
Lily comes to an abrupt stop. "What does that mean? What are you going to do?"
"Who says I'm going to do anything?" he bristles. "Are you on their side now?"
"This isn't about sides."
"Sev, the adults can help. It's their job."
Severus laughs. It's harsh and ugly and it hurts.
"What about," she hesitates, "your parents?"
"For god's sake, I said leave it alone!"
His eyes sting as he walks away, his now-too-small first year cloak flapping furiously.
His mother lied to him. One night in the dark as he wept, trying to stifle his gasping breaths as his father hurled glass bottles around the kitchen, she promised Hogwarts would be different. Would be safe. Perhaps it hadn't been a lie, but an important lesson about the perils of hope.
He's still angry and on edge when they board the Hogwarts Express, so he sits alone. A couple of Hufflepuffs peer into his compartment, but beat a hasty retreat after receiving a stern glare. He stares out the window, brooding, and is so lost in thought he doesn't notice the Gryffindors approaching.
He steps off the train at King's Cross Station shaking and bleeding. Head down, mortified, he hopes his hair covers the worst of it. His mother goes white. His father stares blankly, saying nothing, and for an insane moment Severus wonders whether he might actually raise his fists to defend his son's honour. Instead, he grabs Severus by the chin with stubby fingers and jerks his head up for a better look.
Severus averts his eyes, blinking when warm blood tickles the edge of his lashes. When the silence has dragged out long enough and he can't stand the scrutiny a second more, he glances tentatively up at his father.
Who laughs. Long and hard.
He releases Severus when people begin to stare, shaking his head in disgust. Severus feels his mother's hand close around his, but he rips himself free of it and ploughs through the crowd, face burning.
1975 – 1976
It starts small.
"I hear you're rather talented at potions."
Yes, he says, trying to keep the enthusiasm out of his voice. Lucius is infuriatingly laid back, and makes every question sound like only the third or fourth thing on his mind. Severus tries to answer in kind.
"I hear you invent spells," comes later.
Of course, he says, slightly more eager. The older he gets, the more his patience dwindles. He knows what this is. Who Lucius Malfoy is and to whom he answers. It's little more than rumour and conjecture, but he's watched closely enough to note the shift from arrogance to earned confidence. He knows power when he sees it.
"Do you know of anyone skilled enough to break into Hogwarts' potion stores unnoticed?"
Severus' mouth opens automatically as usual, but for the first time, he hesitates.
Lucius sighs. "Never mind."
"No, wait." He clenches his jaw. "I'll do it."
Lucius laughs mildly. "I didn't mean you, Snape. Obviously I meant someone older, more capable."
"I can do it," Severus repeats slowly, emphatically.
"No, you can't." Lucius' amused tone is the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head.
Severus bites his lip and tastes blood as the older man walks away.
The next time they meet, Severus shoves a tiny bag, the size of a jewellery pouch, into Lucius hands.
"It's been transfigured smaller for transport. You didn't say what you needed, so I took one of everything I could reach."
He doesn't allow himself the pleasure of enjoying the shock on the older wizard's face. He spins and walks away, exactly as Lucius had.
They wouldn't know the potions had come from Diagon Alley's Apothecary, rather than Hogwarts. He'd taken his time studying Professor Slughorn's bottles. They were mostly clear, with basic labels, similar to many purchased commercially. Severus was eager, but not stupid enough to risk expulsion. He wasn't a bloody Gryffindor. Lucius, now graduated, had no way of comparing the bottles to others from Hogwarts, and Severus had done a few quick duplication charms to disguise how many were missing. It would be weeks before even the Apothecary owner noticed anything amiss.
Things are starting to fall into place. He can sense it, the shift in the way Lucius looks at him. He's no longer invisible and is slowly beginning to prove his worth. The questions arrive by owl post with greater frequency, often disguised and coded. Some are simple: what topics does the Headmaster seem fixated on? When are certain school events scheduled? Staff movements; names of students showing sympathy to their cause. Over time, they grow increasingly complex, and by Severus' fifth year, they are stretching his potions knowledge to its limits. He spends more and more time in the library, diligently researching, before sending back casually worded responses that suggest the questions have insulted his intelligence.
Eventually, word arrives that Lucius wants to meet in person for the first time in months.
Finally. This is it.
He shivers as he trudges his way through the sleet to The Hog's Head. Eyes down, he tries futilely to blend in as he walks, as though his hair doesn't stand out like a shock of black ink in the snow. There's a loud, strangled growl somewhere in the distance and he flinches like he's been hexed. Fucking hell. His cheeks burn despite the icy wind. He's been jumping at shadows for well over a week (eleven days, thirteen hours, twenty four minutes), and he absolutely cannot make a fool of himself here.
The pub is filthy. Dark, grimy and claustrophobic. He feels right at home and is immediately hit by the urge to leave. A few minutes pass before dizziness alerts him to the shallowness of his breathing. What the hell is wrong with him? He clenches his fists, schools his face into a passive mask, and waits.
Nothing has ever been as important as this. This is, quite possibly, the moment his entire life has been leading up to. And if he's right, if all goes to plan, Sirius fucking Black and James god damn fucking Potter will never be able to lay a finger on him again.
The door opens and his stomach lurches with it. Lucius flicks specks of white off his elegant coat, nose wrinkled as though the snow has had the audacity to personally attack him. He spots Severus and begins his sauntering approach. Severus' heart thunders against his chest. He straightens, flexes sweaty hands and clears his throat.
He's about to be formally recruited.
"Merlin, this place." Lucius shudders.
Severus nods awkwardly, mouth too dry to speak.
"I know we ordinarily communicate through owl post, but this was urgent and too important."
Severus holds his breath.
"What you do know about the rumour that a student was almost killed at Hogwarts recently?"
It's like a bomb going off. For a few seconds, all Severus hears is white noise.
"It was about a week ago, apparently. Severus?"
Eleven days, thirteen hours and… his gaze wanders aimlessly in search of a clock.
"Snape, if Dumbledore nearly got some poor sod killed, the Ministry will have his job. Do you see how important this is?"
He feels his future slipping through his fingers like oil on water.
"I don't… know anything," he grinds out.
"Nothing? You're cooped up in that castle every day and you've heard nothing? Really, Snape?"
The disdain in his voice is palpable. Disappointment mixes with irritation and he stares at Severus like an errant snowflake that needs flicking into nonexistence.
I was going to be recruited.
"No," he repeats flatly, fighting the urge to scream.
"Not good enough. You need to find out who the victim was and bring him to me. It will likely be one of the younger, weaker students. A Gryffindor, perhaps a Hufflepuff. Understood?"
Gryffindor. Hufflepuff. Victim.
"Snape, what's the matter with you? I said do you understand?"
"It may be… difficult."
Lucius turns a shade darker. "If you prove incapable of following simple instructions, I will find someone for whom it is not difficult."
Severus blinks. He has spent a year following the minutia of every single instruction. He has lied, stolen, invented, destroyed. He has altered his walk, amended his voice, and scraped together pennies for half decent school supplies. All on Lucius' instruction.
"You're smart enough to know what the stakes are, Severus. You've shown promise, yes, but don't delude yourself into thinking you're the only, or even the most obvious, option."
Half-blood. He hears it between the lines, sees it etched into the sneer. His mother's face flashes in his mind and a wave of ferocious indignation crashes down, igniting something primal and vicious inside him.
"And you're smart enough to know that every advancement you've no doubt made this past year has been on the back of my knowledge, my insights and my skills."
Lucius raises an eyebrow.
"You best remember your place, Severus, unless you wish to languish in it forever." He stands, cloak spilling like fine silk on the dirt floor. "Do give my love to Tobias."
Then he's gone, leaving Severus paralysed with shock and trembling with rage.
That night he sees the Headmaster's eyes in his dreams, boring into him with an infuriating mix of concern and warning. One must be false, and he's sure it's not the latter. A wolf, giant, scarred and repulsive, snaps at Severus' heels. Potter's laughter then. No, Lily's laughter. Voice like honey, she takes Potter's hand. They both look at Severus with pity and he wakes with a sharp cry, disoriented and shaking.
His fellow Slytherins slumber on, Severus' silencing charms rendering them oblivious. He's cast the spells on himself each night since the incident. Since the 'prank.'
Violence has long been a language Severus understands, but there's something different, something decidedly more brutal about the realisation that his life is worth only as much as a cheap joke. To his classmates. To his teachers. To Albus Leader-of-the-Light Dumbledore, biggest hypocrite in Wizarding history.
Severus once thought he was comfortable with loneliness. In fact, after years spent cooped up in the tomb of Spinner's End, he considered himself an expert at weathering it. He was mistaken. Ignoring this twist in his gut is impossible; the desperately hollow ache in his chest that pulses and burns.
He could have fucking died, and not a single person would have cared. His mother, perhaps. He's not even sure of that anymore. For the first time, he suspects not even Avery or Mulciber would have lost any sleep over his demise.
No. For god's sake, stop it. You're stronger than this. Stronger than all of them. The last thing you are, or will ever be, is a victim.
His time will come. Soon. He'll be on the front line of remaking society so wizards can live without fear. He'll have status, respect, protection and power, and will be able to keep himself and Lily safe.
Power. Enough to make his mark on the world. Enough to stop his father ever raising his fists again. The Marauders think four on one is hilarious? Just wait until he has an army behind him.
Thinking about the future calms him. Belonging, he's not ashamed to admit he craves it like oxygen. He wonders what it will feel like, to finally fit.
He pulls the covers up and turns so he can see a glimmer of starlight through the window.
"We've already had this conversation, Severus."
She's shorter than him, but strides so vigorously through the grass that he struggles to keep up.
"Lily, please. Just —"
"Just what?" She grinds to a halt and whirls around to face him. He almost smacks right into her.
"I…" Inches from his face, her eyes are cold and dispassionate. Severus can't stand it, and squeezes his shut. "You have to understand."
"Oh, I understand perfectly. 'You didn't think,' right? So what you really feel slipped out. What you really believe."
"That's not true."
"Don't lie to me! I'm so tired, Sev. I'm tired of trying to figure out how you can be my friend while believing I don't deserve to exist."
It hits him like one of his father's punches. He stumbles back a step, breath catching, stunned into silence.
"It's not too late for you to make a different choice," she says quietly. "Get rid of those idiot Death Eater wannabes and —"
"And what? Join Potter and his Gryffindor gang?" he spits.
"This has nothing to do with Potter. There are plenty of other people willing to stand up and fight for what's right."
Severus practically growls. "Stop being so sentimental and wake up." He fights to keep his voice from shaking. "There's a war coming. A war. The only things that matter are being on the winning side, and having the power to protect ourselves."
Lily shakes her head, bewildered. "And you're going to get that power by joining the group that wants to hunt people like us down?"
"That's not what they're about!"
"You're in denial."
"And you just blindly believe whatever fiction Dumbledore spins to tarnish his enemies. I thought you were smarter than that."
All the fight seems to drain from her. She turns, heading back in the direction of the castle. He dashes after her.
"It's about us not having to live in fear just because we have magic," he insists. "Muggles hate us, you can't deny that. How many witches and wizards throughout history have they killed? You're a witch! Don't you think you have a responsibility to fight for your people?"
"My parents are Muggles. Both sides are my people. And you're talking about ancient history, Muggles haven't been after us for decades."
"Haven't they?" he shrieks. "Just because you don't know what it's like to be despised, attacked and tormented because of your magic!" He slams his mouth shut, rattled by the ferocity of his hatred. "What about Petunia?" he snaps, trying to force Tobias from his mind.
She stops immediately and pins him with a stare.
"I love my sister."
"Yeah? Do you think she loves you back?"
She draws a sharp breath, then her vibrant green eyes fill with tears and Severus thinks the sight might haunt him more than his damn father.
"What happened to you, Severus?" she whispers.
He swallows, heart pounding. Everything feels heightened, his entire body buzzing with more and more anxious energy until he can barely stand still. He's losing her. He can see her slipping away and the terror of it is short-circuiting his every electrical impulse, leaving him dizzy and twitching.
"I saw an opportunity to change my life," he says through gritted teeth, "and because I'm not an idiot, I took it. You'll understand, one day. There's honour in what we're doing. We all have a chance to be part of something here, something big. He's so powerful, Lil."
"Have you ever even met the man? Or doesn't he respect you enough for a face to face?"
Shame slices through him like the sodding Sword of Gryffindor. They stare at each other, the air between them suddenly thick and heavy.
"You don't understand," he says, quietly desperate. "No one else stands a chance."
"Professor Dumbledore —"
"Is a dotty, useless old imbecile who isn't half the wizard he pretends to be. He's not clever enough to win this fight. He doesn't even understand what the rules are. He's already lost, he's just too naïve to realize it."
"I'm not. You'll lose, because you're only fighting against something you don't like. Not for something."
"And what are you fighting for? A world without people like me in it?"
"Stop saying that! That's not what it's about."
"That's exactly what it's about. You're delusional if you don't think the Death Eaters are all about blood purity. Unless…" The colour drains from her face. "They're just telling you what you want to hear. That's how they're getting to people. They're saying something a little bit different to everyone and playing you all for fools."
It smacks of derision, and the anger that's long fermented inside him finally explodes.
"Was I a fool when you asked for my help with Dark Arts homework? When I showed you spells this sodding school doesn't even teach? When you asked me to help with research? With brewing? When I told you everything about the Wizarding world? A whole world you wouldn't have even known about if not for me?!"
"Yes, some of the Death Eaters don't really like M- Muggle-borns, but if I'm on the inside, I can protect you. Don't you see? I'm trying to protect you!"
"Don't you dare use me as an excuse. Don't you dare, when it's people like me they want to kill."
"NO. My God, is that really what you think I want to hear? That you'll be committing atrocities in my name? That you'll be torturing Muggles and inventing Dark spells and probably killing people, for me?"
"It's not for you! You're twisting my words."
"What the hell is wrong with you?" she says, face slack with horror. "Oh my God. I feel sick."
He takes a step towards her and she recoils like a frightened animal. "Stay away from me," she orders, eyes alight with fear and rage, and Severus feels his heart break clean down the middle.
"I said, get away!"
Her wand is out. The tip of it is inches from his chest and he knows he's lost her.
"I'm sorry," he whispers. "Please forgive me. I never meant to hurt you."
"Hurt me?" Her voice breaks and she grimaces, as though she can barely stand to look at him. "I miss my friend, Severus. I don't know who you are anymore. And I'm scared for you, not just because I think you're being used and manipulated, but because you don't seem to care. The Severus I knew, would care." She shakes her head, blinking furiously. "I can't keep doing this. Those people are dangerous. You're playing with fire. And if you're not careful, you'll end up a part of something you don't believe in at all."
She's wrong. Of course she's wrong. But Severus realises with a sickening jolt just how insurmountable the awful, gaping chasm between them truly is.
"It's not about belief," he says flatly. "It's about —"
"Power. I know. Goodbye, Severus. Good luck."
The Mark is black and harsh against his sallow skin. It stretches and contracts restlessly, as though daring him to nourish it with dark magic. He prods at it with a finger and hisses. Lucius assured him the pain would recede, so he focuses on the positives: his search for an apprenticeship, the opportunity to rise through the Death Eater ranks, not having to see James Potter ever again.
He stares at the Mark, the culmination of everything he's worked for, and wishes pure-bloods were fair game. Perhaps the Dark Lord would make an exception for his first kill if he knew Potter was a member of The Order? The idea of that git with his arm around Lily, whispering false promises about how much he's changed, lying through his teeth about being an honourable man… the thought makes Severus' blood boil. In their final months at Hogwarts, he tried to provoke James around her, trap him into attacking when she was in the vicinity, but he was too smart for that. One glimpse of Lily and James was all sweetness and light.
So he fantasizes about killing him. He doesn't think it's entirely unreasonable. Severus has some experience with people whose thirst for violence is indiscriminate and pathological, and the idea of Lily ending up trapped in a marriage like his mother's…
He gazes at the ceiling of his childhood bedroom. The stench of Spinner's End drips from the walls, infecting him with its unique gloom. He misses Hogwarts already. His fingers brush tentatively across his Mark again. He doesn't feel any different. Isn't he supposed to feel different?
He's supposed to feel something, isn't he?
He closes his eyes and, for the first time, he imagines kissing her. It's gentle, intimate, and she kisses him back. He touches himself. Presses down through his trousers, just once, and feels the blood rush to his groin. He takes shallow breaths, not moving.
When he can't stand it any longer, he allows himself a couple of light strokes and oh god it's like breathing after being underwater. He imagines her hands on him, the taste of her lips, the slide of her tongue, and he arches up into his hand and fuck, what is he doing? She's not his. And unlike Potter, he actually respects her.
He shifts uncomfortably on the bed. He just wants… fucking hell… he just needs…
He shoves his hand into his pants, wraps his fingers around himself and jerks roughly, over and over, thinking about anything other than Lily. About potions. About white masks and black serpents. His father's fist. His mother's weakness. His own goddamn strength. Black shoving him down. Potter stringing him up. The Muggle wailing as Severus' potion melts away his flesh. Lily's bright green eyes filled with pain, disappointment, disgust and revulsion and fuck fuck fuuck he comes groaning like an animal, teeth clamping down on the pillow to muffle the obscenities he wants to scream at himself.
Not even the pleasure feels like pleasure. It burns, searing him from the inside out, orgasm ripped from him in violent, almost painful spurts. He wrings every last drop and lies for a few minutes in his own filth, like his father forced him to when he wet himself as a child.
When sleep finally claims him, he dreams he and Lily are standing side by side. Together. Then she's holding him, wrapping comforting arms tightly around his shoulders. He holds on for dear life and tries not to shake. Tries desperately not to cry.
He wakes curled on his side, clutching the pillow to his chest like it's a human being.
The invitation is on silver parchment, lined with red and gold. He runs a finger across the black letters. It's the last time he'll see her name written as 'Evans.'
He doesn't know what to feel.
He doesn't feel anything.
He tosses it into the sink, watching it dampen slightly around the edges.
The sun hangs high and bright the day he makes the decision, so he waits until nightfall. Murder on a vibrant spring day seems obscene, even for Spinner's End.
He has put it off too long and the others are starting to whisper. It's not a requirement, of course. Provided you're satisfied remaining on the outskirts, just another nameless face behind a mask.
Severus has never been satisfied with anything.
His mother languishes upstairs, immobile and in pain. Neither magic nor Muggle medicine have provided any answers. Severus doesn't need them. He knows what a toxic cancer looks like: a useless lump on the couch with size eleven boots and a bottle permanently dangling from one hand. It's disappointing really. He would have preferred Tobias sober for this.
It doesn't seem real. When he used to imagine this moment, it was all rage, adrenalin and violence. It was ripping him off his mother just in time, slicing him into ribbons and tending to her wounds while he bleeds out in a corner. It wasn't this calm, steady approach; standing before him in the tiny sitting room, wand hanging limp by his side.
Tobias' gaze moves from Severus' shoes to the wand. It lingers there for a moment before crawling up the length of his body and arriving at his face. He smirks.
"Finally grown a pair, eh? Only took nineteen years."
He doesn't look afraid. Severus' fingers tighten around his wand.
"She's dying," he says flatly.
Severus' voice drops to a whisper. "Not before you."
Tobias laughs and takes a long swig from the bottle. Severus' hand twitches.
"She's dying," he repeats, his anger rising.
"And what do you expect me to do about it?" There's a bitterness in Tobias' voice, laced not with anger, but helplessness. It chafes against Severus' convictions, so he shoves it to the back of his mind and calmly raises his wand.
"Coward," Tobias spits defiantly.
Severus feels rage flow through him. It burns, from his stomach to his fingertips.
"Well? What are you waiting for, boy?"
"Eager to die, are you?"
"I'm eager to get this charade over with and get back to enjoying my drink."
"I don't think you quite understand —"
"Oh, I understand just fine. You might think I'm stupid, but I know you, son. I know all the things you're too thick to comprehend, and I bloody well know what you're not capable of."
Severus' head spins. Everything after "son" is a blur. Not 'boy.' Not 'git.' Not 'cretin.' Son. After all this time, now he has the audacity to call him son?
"You never quite grasped the danger of hubris, did you?" he says, as evenly as he can manage.
Tobias rolls his eyes. "No amount of poncy words are gonna convince me you've got the stomach for murder." He has another drink before placing the bottle on a side table. "The truth is, we're both a waste of space. The only difference between us is that you've always been too blind to see it."
Something inside Severus snaps. Without taking his eyes off his father, without saying a word, he slowly, meticulously, rolls up his left sleeve. Tobias goes white, frozen with shock and dread.
That's more like it.
"Do you know what this is?" Severus purrs menacingly. "What it means?"
Tobias says nothing.
"You might be a waste of space, but do you have any idea who I am now?"
"All those years…" Tobias mumbles, after a long silence.
"Speak up!" Severus snarls, in his best impersonation of his father. "I can't hear you."
"'Don't be so hard on the boy,' she used to say. Convinced, she was. Convinced that you'd grow up to be something. I told her she was wrong. From day one I knew there was something rotten in you. Day fucking one."
Severus digs sharp nails into his palm and throws everything into his Occlumency shields.
"I suppose you put money on it like everything else? How much will my blighted soul net you?"
Tobias winces. His voice drops to a whisper. "Boy, I've never wanted to be wrong about anything more in my life."
His shields slip. No, they collapse. Decimated by the force of the idea that his father might have wanted to love him. Could have even, if Severus hadn't somehow made it impossible.
"Fuck you," he grinds out, throat tightening. An old, familiar nausea settles in his chest, bleeding self-loathing out to every inch of body. "No. You don't… you don't get to pretend that…"
"This is my house and I'll do whatever I want," Tobias growls. "Christ. Look at that thing. You really did learn nothing from me."
"What was the lesson? That power should be measured by the amount of blood on the carpet? "
"Don't you dare talk to me about power. Not with that abomination on your arm. You never understood real power, and you never will."
"And you do?" Severus shouts. "You're nothing! Nobody. You've sat in this bloody tomb your entire life leeching off Ma like a bloody Dementor! I have a future now. Connections. Money. Influence. I'm doing something important. This thing has already given me more than you ever did."
Tobias snorts. "Influence? What tosh have they been feeding you? One look at you and I know you don't have influence. Real power comes from knowing exactly who you are and embracing it. Making no apologies. Not changing your accent, your clothes, using fancy words and trying to paint over all the rough edges so maybe no one'll notice you've come from dirt."
"Mock me all you want. I might not have any power out there, but I sure as shit have it in here."
A spark of danger flashes in Tobias' eyes, and Severus feels himself shrink.
"Where do you belong, boy? Where's the little corner of the world that's yours to rule? You couldn't even manage to be the man of this house and I couldn't have made it any fucking easier for you."
"I will be now."
"Now that you've gone and made yourself a slave to some monster? He owns you. Do you understand that?" He grimaces in disgust. "I might be nothin' and nobody, but at least I can say I'm my own man."
"You've never been a man," Severus says, voice shaking.
Tobias pushes out of his chair in one swift movement. Face deformed by fury, teeth bared, he rounds on Severus.
"You ungrateful, wretched —"
When his father's fist comes up, Severus stumbles back and smacks against the wall with a thud. Tobias stops mid stride and laughs.
"Fear. That's all you've ever had. I should have tried harder to beat it out of you."
Severus doesn't even feel the spell leave his wand before Tobias' chest splits open in a neat, clinical line. The older man looks down in shock at the slow spread of red across the white material.
Paralysed, Severus holds his breath.
Tobias pokes at the wound. "Is that the best you can do? It's a bloody paper cut."
Severus exhales; his heart hammering so fast the beats are almost indistinguishable. The flood of relief confuses and infuriates him. Just end it already.
Tobias moves unsteadily back to his chair. "I don't know much about your messed up world, but even I know that thing makes you, what? Some kind of Nazi? Jesus Christ. So, you wanna get rid of all the weaker folks and make a superior Wizard race? Is that it? Your mother's not exactly in her prime, does that mean you want her dead? Is that how this works?"
"Of course not," he says roughly. His father's sneering arrogance and ignorant presumptions make him want to scream.
"Yeah, well, excuse me if I don't take your word for it. I want you out of this house, right now. You're not going anywhere near her ever again."
Severus is so stunned he lowers his wand. "You. Want to protect her. From me?"
"Yes." He straightens, shedding the feebleness of age and morphing back into the imposing figure of Severus' nightmares. His lips twist into an eerie, joyless smile. "And if you have a problem with that, then raise that fucking piece of wood and take your best shot. You know I've never needed a stick to put you on the ground."
All the fury, adrenaline and righteousness drain from Severus in one startling moment. He feels sick. Feels utterly naked as layers of confidence and conviction are peeled away by his father's piercing gaze. He's eight years old again.
Raise your wand. Do it now.
Tobias cocks an eyebrow, baiting him.
You are a Death Eater. You have brewed potions to rival the effects of the Cruciatus Curse. You have held your wand to better Muggles than this and watched them writhe, scream and cry.
Tobias casually collects his beer from the table and takes another swig.
You're not helpless. He can't hurt you anymore. You're the one with the power now.
"What are you waiting for?!" Tobias roars and Severus jumps mortifyingly, wand still limp by his side.
I can do this. I have to do this.
Tobias shakes his head in disgust.
Reality hits Severus like an Unforgivable to the chest.
I can't kill him.
He hovers stupidly in the centre of the room. The walls suddenly seem giant. Shallow breaths cut through the silence and it takes Severus a moment to realise they're breathing in unison. It's the most united they've ever been.
He jerks his sleeve down and turns without a word.
"That's right, walk away. Coward."
He hesitates only briefly, fingers tightening around his wand in a vice grip. When he steps outside, his father's booming voice dances after him on the crisp night air.
"Good riddance. For a second there, I worried I might actually have to respect you!"
Severus slams the door and forces one foot in front of the other, like an automaton. Like a slave, Tobias' voice snarls. He pounds the pavement blindly, over and over, stopping only when his feet hit grass. He squints through the darkness and realises he's stumbled his way to his and Lily's old spot by the lake.
You're deluding yourself, her words drip into his mind. If you're not careful, you'll end up a part of something you don't believe in at all.
Severus sinks to the ground and stares out into the dark, watching the tiny flowers shiver in the wind.
What future is there for a Death Eater who can't kill?
The most seismic shifts happen in the tiniest of moments.
His first wand, Hogwarts and even the Mark, all ended up changing very little. Severus still found himself at the end of a fist, a wand tip, or disapproving eyes. Even now, he stands in the middle of the crowd, straining to see above the hoods to the pure-bloods at the front. Those the Dark Lord addresses directly and by name. Who give orders rather than take them. He is young, yes. But he's smarter than most and prodigiously skilled.
But he doesn't have Lucius' easy confidence or connections, is not as derangedly loyal as Bellatrix, and gave years of ingenuity away in his eagerness to court favour. In hindsight, a critical mistake. Then there's also his… absence of blood lust.
So, he bides his time, carries out meaningless errands and does his best to shake off the feeling of stagnation that sticks to him like Cokeworth mildew. He thinks of the future, nursing the enduring bitterness that now sits like a calcified lump in his stomach, and waits.
He waits and waits until his eyes glaze over at the banal repetition. What was once thrilling about torture, the indescribable surge of power and control when he was first allowed to partake, soon dims. The novelty of imagining his father, or Potter, when stripping layers of flesh or casting a quick Crucio, is long gone. So he mostly watches. Until one night, in place of the wailing Muggle, he sees his mother. Occlumency hides the worst of it, but the blood and screams grate on him like nails on a Hogwarts chalkboard.
Sometimes he misses the castle.
Still, the Death Eaters accept him. There's a kinship in the Mark and a shared purpose. And occasionally, when the masks are off, he catches a glimpse of something in another's eyes that mirrors exactly how he feels. He finds himself clinging to those fleeting moments with a pathetic desperation. Perhaps they all have these thoughts. Perhaps they really are all united in silent, miserable solidarity.
Perhaps this is what belonging feels like.
It happens when he least expects it. Crouched on the ground like a dog clawing at a door for scraps, straining to hear something, anything. Even a single word to take back to the Dark Lord and make his master finally see him.
Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined the gift the universe deigns to drop into his lap.
"…the power to vanquish the Dark Lord…"
Vanquish. A threat on his life. A prophecy delivered to Albus Dumbledore himself. He has become quite a talented spy these past months, but all of his finely honed skills in stealth and situational awareness fall away as adrenaline takes over. He barely hears a single footstep of warning before being yanked to his feet by the scruff of his neck.
He babbles stupidly at the furious looking man. Then suddenly, light floods the corridor and his eyes connect with Albus Dumbledore.
He stops breathing.
Dumbledore regards him with Occluded eyes, but for a heart-stopping second, Severus swears he sees a flash of menace in them.
Then, he's being shoved out into the piercing winter chill. He hits the pavement hard, on his hands and knees, and finally allows himself some frantic, gasping breaths. His lungs burn. His eyes sting in the wind. But that doesn't matter. None of it matters.
This is it. Finally. Everything is about to change, and this time it's for real.
He clamours to his feet and runs, stumbling through the dark, seeking out Lucius Malfoy because of the goddamned bloody chain of sodding command. He feels his lips twitch unexpectedly. He's about to make the chain of command redundant.
"What's the message?" Lucius asks a short time later, not bothering to look up from his papers.
"I want to give it to him myself. Privately."
"That's not how it works, Severus," he says, sounding irritated and bored. "You know that."
"This time it does."
The older man finally looks up. He stares blankly at Severus.
"I have made potions, shared information no one else could possibly provide, risked expulsion stealing ingredients and potions —"
"Did you honestly think we wouldn't realise those were stolen from Slug & Jiggers, rather than Hogwarts' private stores?"
Severus' mouth hangs open, frozen a second from speech. Reluctantly, he forces it closed.
"The Dark Lord does not like liars, Severus."
"Yet here I stand. So I suspect he appreciates creativity, resourcefulness and nerve. Or perhaps," he pauses for emphasis, "you'd already disingenuously taken the credit and were unwilling to admit to the lie."
Any trace of humour drains from Lucius' face. "What is the message."
Severus swallows. Stay calm. Calm is control. Authority. Power.
"I will give it to the Dark Lord directly and privately, or not at all."
"If you cannot follow orders or adhere to the proper chain of command —"
"The Dark Lord doesn't need another brainless drone," Severus hisses. "You approached me. Years ago. For my cunning, ingenuity and unique skills, all of which you have utilised to great effect. And if you don't want the Dark Lord to discover just how many of your supposed talents are actually mine, I suggest you allow me this one request."
Lucius' eyebrows climb to the ceiling. His voice slinks in the opposite direction.
"Are you threatening me, Snape?"
"It doesn't feel that way."
"Then perhaps you should learn to negotiate better."
Lucius stiffens, and Severus wonders whether he's gone too far. He waits for the explosion, but instead, Lucius' lips slowly widen into a disgusting smirk that hurtles Severus straight back to Spinner's End.
"No?" Severus' control finally snaps, his hands trembling from the unfairness, the injustice, the sheer fucking cruelty of it all. "Fine."
He spins on his heel and starts to walk away.
"Finally!" Lucius exclaims with delight. "We've all been wondering how many years it would take for you to grow up and become a man worth respecting. Truth be told, I overestimated you by fifteen months."
His grin is broad and mocking. Severus feels himself turn scarlet.
"Look for my owl later this evening," Lucius says, returning to his paperwork. "Do not be late."
Late. As if it's even possible to be late to an appointment one has waited an entire life for. The trick, Severus thinks giddily, walking at a brisk but reasonable pace, is to not be obscenely early.
Halfway to the meeting point, an uncomfortable notion sinks its claws into him: the Dark Lord will want to kill the child. It lingers like an irritant, needling and prodding, trying to throw him off course. He cannot let it. This is far too important. So he reminds himself that unfortunate tragedies occur all the time. Horror doesn't discriminate, so there's no reason a person should be spared simply because of their age. He certainly wasn't. Furthermore, the Dark Lord will no doubt want to be rid of the child as quickly as possible, likely killing it as a newborn. A baby won't even know what's happening. It will be quick and painless, not even a cruel death. Certainly kinder than anything he's ever been subjected to.
Besides, if it's destined to kill, it can hardly be considered an innocent.
He picks up pace.
Anxiety flutters restlessly in his stomach, but there's a lightness to his step. Finally he has his ticket, the thing that will set him apart from all the others. This is more valuable than potions, crude torture or murder. He'll be responsible for saving the Dark Lord's life. This is how he'll make his mark. This will keep him alive and secure his future.
When the words come, they roll like velvet from the Dark Lord's private sitting room and feel like validation, acceptance and indescribable relief.
"Severus, please come in."
He knows my name.
Severus straightens like the young, freshly anointed Slytherin from his memories and steps inside, heart filled to bursting with conviction and hope.
His knees hurt. Something sharp digs into one. A stick, perhaps.
Tobias never needed a stick.
He'd sent the frantic message to Dumbledore before fully understanding its implications.
He was on his knees at his enemy's feet before realising he had nothing to give but himself.
The moon creeps behind curtains of black sky, and he wonders how long he's been on this hilltop, alone, his only company the clatter of brittle branches and the howling wind. The Headmaster left some time ago, taking his silencing charm and Severus' soul with him.
It was so simple, in the end. It almost sickens him. All those weeks, months, years spent painstakingly crafting a life from sheer determination and raw, desperate ambition. Thousands of hours navigating the intricacies of worlds he was never quite welcome in. And he did it. He succeeded. He was brilliant. He had everything at his fingertips.
All of it wiped away in a single moment, with a single word: Potter.
There is an unbearable irony of that being the word that tears his life apart. Potter wins. Without even fucking trying, Potter wins, and Severus' whole world collapses as all his intellectual arguments are shattered by one blinding, emotional one.
It's an odd, unfamiliar sensation, to care this much. This deeply. To feel fear he cannot blunt the edges of.
The Potter family.
Over and over the Dark Lord had said it. Potter. Family.
Severus' palms hit rough grass as he dry retches.
"Anything." It rings in his ears like an echo. He's not sure what he signed up for, nor what he's signed away, but he's beginning to understand the magnitude of it.
Lily will be safe now, he tells himself. His own life is over, of course, but that scarcely matters. The idea of her being in danger because of his own stupid, selfish ambition —
He throws up.
Shaking violently, his knees finally give, limbs tangling beneath him until he's a mangled lump in the dirt.
So what if there won't be fame or glory in his future? His dreams have never been worth her life. And if he's being honest, they were never really his anyway. He's been living on borrowed time and stolen opportunities for years. How fitting that all his scraping and clawing for power has left him a slave twice over.
Perhaps he doesn't deserve greatness, not anymore, not after the things he's done. Not after ignoring her pleas. Not after dreaming of murder. Not after Occluding his way through torture and Unforgivables, deluding himself he was any better than the screaming Muggles or the contaminated blood running through his own veins.
His eyes sting against the lashing wind. He squeezes them shut.
Tobias is a vicious monster. Potter and Black hurt people for sport. Lupin could kill at any moment, yet they all seem to be doing just fine. It shouldn't surprise him that he seems destined to be punished for no worse than everyone else gets away with, but the inequity boils inside him like poison.
Where do you belong, boy? Tobias' voice ascends from wherever it's taken up permanent residence inside him. If he could rip himself apart with his bare hands to be rid of it, he would.
The Order will never accept him. Nor would he want them to. Dumbledore will demand and use and bleed him dry, but they will never be true allies. Not with this thing on his arm. The details of their brief conversation are already evaporating in the fog of adrenaline and shock, but one moment cuts through clear as lightening: "You disgust me."
It plays in his mind on a loop, drowning out even his father's incessant commentary. You disgust me. There's an ironic comfort in the pure, brutal honesty of it. It's nothing like the steady parade of threats, mockery, and minds games he's used to. Just raw truth, something Severus can believe and hold onto. He clings to it and, infuriatingly, feels the first grudging embers of respect for the man.
As if answering that blasphemous thought, his left arm abruptly explodes.
He screams, savagely enough to split his throat and taste blood. He grabs at his arm but misses because all he can feel is burning and agony and oh god, oh god all he can see is hot, red flames. The red builds and bursts into blinding white and he screams again.
It's never felt like this before.
The Dark Lord knows.
Panting, he manages to grab his upper arm and dig down with his nails, breaking skin. He barely feels it through the haze of scorching, nauseating, excruciating pain. There is nothing else, no strength, no Occlumency, only unending torture and a delirious loop of What have I done? What have I done? What have I done?
Eventually, it begins to subside. His cheeks are wet. The realisation dawns slowly, like the turn of a screw inside him, peeling back the last of his defences until suddenly, he's crying. Like he hasn't in years. Hot tears streaking down his face as an avalanche of shame and grief comes crashing down. He doesn't even know what he's grieving, only that the loss is shattering.
A sharp sting in his arm jolts him back to reality. He swipes his face roughly with his right hand and tries to pull himself together. He doesn't have the luxury of fear, not with Lily's life at stake. He shakes off his earlier, delirium-fuelled paranoia: the Dark Lord might be all-powerful, but he can't know about Severus' betrayal. Not this soon.
Trembling, he wraps a hand around his wand. Hesitates.
Lily's life, he reminds himself.
He disapparates, leaving nothing behind but dirt and dust.
"Where is Severus Snape?"
The silky voice, just as he slips into the back of the room, chills him to the bone.
"Here, my Lord," he croaks, fighting to stay calm.
The Dark Lord peers through the crowd. The sea of black robes and white masks parting as two dozen faces turn to stare at Severus, sandwiched between the lowest ranking Death Eaters and the back wall. The Dark Lord studies him from across the room with an odd, unreadable expression.
"Come down here, my boy." His tone is low and gentle, almost kind. But even from this distance, Severus sees an edge to his posture, a glint of anger in his eyes.
This is it. It's over. I should run. I can't run. Lily. My life doesn't matter. Lily's life matters. It's over. He's going to kill me. It's not over. Even if it is, I have to try.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, Occlumency, fuck.
He hastily wraps shields around his racing mind and steps forward.
"My Lord, I apologise for being late. I encountered someone I believed was working with the Order," he lies. "I followed him, but regretfully have nothing new to report."
His shields are holding, but he wonders if the Dark Lord can hear his hammering heart.
"Look at me."
"M— my Lord?" he says to the floor.
"Remove your mask, and look at me."
Fear clutches its familiar ice grip around his heart. He takes a slow, calming breath, clearing his mind and schooling his face into a blank expression. Severus learned to master fear years ago. His father, the Marauders, all ironically gave him his greatest gift: the ability to weather constant dread without so much as a blink.
His hands don't shake when he removes the mask. His expression is perfectly composed when he raises his head and meets the Dark Lord's eyes.
The invasion is immediate. A smooth, painless entry, slicing skilfully through the outer layers and probing deep into his mind. Severus quickly conjures images of Diagon Alley, and the back of a nondescript hooded man weaving through cobblestoned streets. It's over in a matter of seconds. The Dark Lord slips out and continues talking as though nothing happened.
"Never apologise for your loyalty, Severus. I was simply disappointed you missed the first moments of our meeting as I spent them discussing you. Indeed," he says, at Severus' shocked blink. "I felt it prudent to illustrate the value of hard work and resourcefulness. Some here, even those with the benefits of age and experience, seem satisfied with listless apathy. Can a war be won with apathy?"
"No, my Lord."
"Can a war be won with apathy?" he repeats, voice booming with Sonorus.
The room erupts in a spontaneous, unanimous "No, my Lord!"
"That's better. Now, show some respect for the young man who has proven himself more valuable than you all."
The room erupts again, this time with frenzied applause, and there's a sharp twist in Severus' gut. He has only ever been applauded once. A lifetime ago, in a place full of magic and hope, to cheers of "Slytherin!" and the promise of a glorious future.
No one ever explained the distinction between a life and a life sentence.
A blood-curdling cry suddenly cuts through the commotion. The Death Eaters quickly slip into horrified silence, watching Lucius writhe and scream, arms and legs pounding the floor with sickening crunches. Severus curls his fingers into fists and tries not to panic. Tries to stem the rush of guilt and remind himself this cannot possibly be his fault.
When the Dark Lord has had enough, he ends the Crucio with a dismissive wave and looms over Lucius.
"That… was not for every lie you told about skills and talents that weren't your own. It was for presuming I was somehow witless enough to not know."
Severus' stomach falls through the floor.
"M— my… my Lord, I'm s—"
"Not to me!"
Lucius' eyes widen and flick to Severus.
"M— my Lord?" he stammers, scrambling painfully to his feet. "Surely you don't mean —"
"On. Your. Knees."
Lucius' face warps with a mixture of outrage, mortification and disgust, but he dutifully drops to his knees before Severus. Staring down at the older man, Severus feels a rush of the power he's craved for so long. Pure, unbridled authority and supremacy. It's almost dizzying.
He waits for the euphoria to hit.
He searches for respect in Lucius' eyes, but doesn't find it. He glances at the Dark Lord, but doesn't find it there either. Doesn't find it anywhere.
"I… apologise… Snape." Lucius grinds out.
He feels nothing. He has a Death Eater at his feet, the Dark Lord by his side, and he feels nothing. Nothing, other than long held convictions slipping like sand through his fingers, and the slow, brutal crack of his world coming apart.
The Dark Lord turns his attention to the others. He stalks slowly across the room, deathly silent, staring pointedly at each individual mask for a few seconds. He doesn't need to speak. The lesson is crystal clear, and Severus, as it turns out, was completely irrelevant. A prop.
How very unusual, he thinks wryly, fighting to choke back an unexpected wave of emotion.
No matter. Severus has nothing more to learn of fear; he is already its master. He glances at Lucius, who is still hunched over in humiliation. He expects to see rage or hatred, but his eyes are eerily empty, as though he's retreated somewhere unreachable. It's disconcerting. He may be weak, he may be a coward, but Lucius Malfoy has always stood tall and proud, and Severus can't tear his eyes away from this shrunken facsimile. He was the Dark Lord's favourite, for Merlin's sake.
Everything suddenly hits him at once: the stakes, the extent of the danger, and the reality that his actions may well condemn each person in this room to death, or worse. Under every mask here there is a Slytherin. He thinks of his mother, and his resolve almost crumbles.
It won't be easy. He was a fool to think otherwise. Peering through windows, crouching in shadows, and amusing oneself with an enemy who'd sooner absolve than attack, is very different to what he now faces: contending with the greatest Dark and Light wizards of all time, without losing his life to either.
A sense of unbearable foreboding buries itself under his skin, deeper than the Mark, an itch he'll never be able to scratch. He's doomed. He knows it now, feels it right down to his bones. But he'll do what's been asked of him, because it means Lily will live. That alone is enough to justify throwing away his future, or even his life. She may never speak to him again, he made peace with that years ago, but he will not abide her blood on his hands. Not for anything. So he'll bow to Dumbledore's every demand. Find a way to stare into the eyes of the greatest Legilimens of all time and lie.
Spinner's End was nothing but poison. A malignancy of rot and decay that swallowed his childhood. But somehow, prolonged exposure inoculated him against despair, and instilled in him an innate capacity for determination and hope. So, while this may not be the life he wanted, it's the one he now chooses, willingly and without regret, because she'll live. She will. And if he's being grudgingly honest, there's at least one other good thing about betraying his every core belief and switching allegiances to Albus Leader-of-the-Light Dumbledore.
At least he'll never ask Severus to kill.